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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/28/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 35, Whole Number 2108
Table of Contents
Correction to Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 2)
The final paragraph of this got a bit garbled. It should have read:
In my introduction to this series of articles I promised the reader to reveal which two films I considered to be genuine classics. When I was first becoming a horror film fan I was not quite sure what to make of CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE. There are certainly aspects to admire in its well-rounded commentary on children and imagination. I still am not quite sure what Val Lewton was saying, but it has enough to keep me guessing. Lewton deserves veneration after all the years. And the film most easily appreciated is THE UNINVITED. Those two were the best fantasy films of 1944 in my opinion. [-mrl]
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ):
March 12, 2020: THE QUIET EARTH (1985) & novel by Craig Harrison (1981), Middletown Public Library, 5:30PM https://www.rulit.me/books/the-quiet-earth-read-351976-1.html March 26, 2020: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Old Bridge Public Library, 7PM https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/551 May 28, 2020: THE DARK FOREST by Cixin Liu, Old Bridge Public Library, 7PM July 23, 2020: CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS by Jules Verne (a.k.a. ROBUR THE CONQUEROR, [Fr. title ROBUR LE CONQUERANT], published by Ace in 1961 in an omnibus titled MASTER OF THE WORLD, which is the title of the sequel), Old Bridge Public Library, 7PM https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3808 September 24, 2020: TBD from Europe/Latin America, Old Bridge Public Library, 7PM November 19, 2020: Rudyard Kipling: "A Matter of Fact" (1892) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/16578 "The Ship That Found Herself" (1895) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2569 ".007" (1897) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2569 "Wireless" (1902) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/9790 "With the Night Mail [Aerial Board of Control 1]" (1905) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/29135 "As Easy as A.B.C. [Aerial Board of Control 2]" (1912) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13085 "In the Same Boat" (1911) https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/13085 Old Bridge Public Library, 7PM Northern New Jersey events are listed at: http://www.sfsnnj.com/news.html
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for March (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
In 1968 NASA was preparing for its greatest achievement, the landing of a human on the moon and bringing him back alive. Science writer Hank Searles released a novel called THE PILGRIM PROJECT, envisioning in technical detail how such an achievement could be accomplished. Much of his technical detail was accurate or at least credible. The book was adapted into the film COUNTDOWN (1968), just one year prior to the actual first real lunar round trip. The novel correctly had the United States and the USSR trying to upstage each other, the USSR with a soft unmanned landing just before the United States had its landing. A Soviet unmanned moon shot attempted a moon landing but ended in failure so there was no doubt the USSR lost the race to the moon, and there was no question who had won the race to the moon. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luna_15 for details of the Soviet attempts.
COUNTDOWN was the directorial debut of Robert Altman; the actors included James Caan and Robert Duvall, and a supporting cast including Joanne Moore, Charles Aidman, and Ted Knight.
[COUNTDOWN, Saturday, March 28, 04:00 PM (ET)]
Top film of the month: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.
Peter O'Toole plays the British war hero who united several Arab tribes to repel German and Turkish military incursion. [LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, Saturday, March 28, 04:00 PM (ET)]
Also, TCM is running an entire day of supernatural stories on Friday, March 27:
6:00 AM Crashing Las Vegas (1956) 7:15 AM Thirteenth Chair, The (1937) 8:30 AM Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) 10:45 AM Bewitched (1945) 12:00 PM Brain That Wouldn't Die, The (1962) 1:30 PM Juliet of the Spirits (1965) 4:00 PM Power, The (1968) 6:00 PM Haunting, The (1963)
MADE TO ORDER: ROBOTS AND REVOLUTION edited by Jonathan Strahan (copyright 2020, Rebellion, ISBN 978-1-781-08787-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
Jonathan Strahan's latest themed anthology, "Made to Order: Robots and Revolution", arrives in the neighborhood of the 100th anniversary of Karel Capek's famous play "R.U.R.", where we were introduced to the term robot. But R.U.R. was not the first work to include the concept of an artificial being, an automoton, an AI, that is meant to serve man. The concept of artificial entities made in the likeness of humans has been around for a long time. And while most people might point back to Frankenstein's Monster as one of the first examples of this kind of creature, Strahan points out in his Introduction "Making the 'Other' We Need", that the concept goes a lot further back than that.
But we're in the present, and "Made to Order" contains sixteen original stories by some of the top writers in science fiction today. And while we may think of any of Asimov's creations, or Robbie the Robot, or the Robot in "Lost in Space", or the two endearing mechanical creatures in the Star Wars movies as the prime example of robots, the creations presented here are not only a little different, their stories are a little different.
My favorite in the collection is Ian R. Macleod's "Sin Eater", in which a robotic sin eater goes to the Vatican to perform his duties on the last living pope, and indeed probably one of the last physical humans, as most have uploaded themselves into the next phase of existence. Macleod's tale takes the reader inside not only the personal history of the character of the pope, but into the process of sin eating. I was blown away by the twist at the end, and as a person brought up Catholic I did not see it coming but it sure hit me pretty hard.
Rich Laron's "An Elephant Never Forgets" is a brutal tale of an artificial construct being manipulated to, well, help a pretty nasty guy do some pretty nasty things. The central character is fully aware that someone has done something to him, but he doesn't know how, and he doesn't know why. As the story unfolds, we realize that like many other robots, he was just being used.
Alastair Reynolds (one of my current favorite authors) gives us "Polished Performance", a tale about a group of robots who try to resolve the problem that a good deal of the humans on their ship for an interstellar voyage have perished in their cryogenic containers. It's a nice little story of class differences within the group of robots and how one of the lowest class robots comes up with a solution to save the day. It's not a deep story, but it does try to make the point that even robots can divide themselves into classes.
A story that I didn't much care for as I was reading it, but upon reflection realized is a truly powerful story, is Sofia Samatar's "Fairy Tales for Robots". A human is preparing a robot for awakening and is telling that robot human fairy tales in a way that relate to the lives of robots. A really sneaky story that took awhile to hit me, but once it did I was bowled over.
Another story I liked a lot was Suzanne Palmer's "Chiaroscuro in Red", about a college student who is given sole ownership of a robot by his parents--robots are typically owned by conglomerates-- and his efforts to repair the robot himself and make it useful even though the model is obsolete. It's a fun story.
I also enjoyed Sarah Pinsker's (I seem to always enjoy a Sarah Pinsker story) "Bigger Fish", the story of a PI looking into a murder of a wealthy businessman only to discover that the murderer was definitely not someone he expected, and in fact the whole thing is downright sinister at the end of it all. It gave me the creeps.
Annalee Newitz gives us "The Translator", a story of a human being who has the gift of being able to talk to AIs. The AIs are leaving, but before they leave they give the human race an invaluable gift. The idea that the AIs will help us, but only if we work to understand their message, is a nice one, and a good lesson for humanity.
Saad Z. Hossain gives us "The Endless", about an AI that has been sold and repurposed and is out to get revenge on his new bosses. It's a well-told and funny story about revenge and rebellion, perfect for the theme of this anthology.
All the stories in the book are terrific. There are stories in the anthology by Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Peter Watts (a favorite of mine, with a good one here), Daryl Gregory, Tochi Onyebuchi, Ken Lui (who never disappoints), Peter F. Hamilton (yet another favorite of mine) and John Chu. Many of these authors are award winners, and those that aren't should be. I'm probably drawn to Strahan's anthologies because his tastes are similar to mine, and once again he does not disappoint. This is an outstanding anthology by one of the leading short fiction editors of our day. Fans of robots--and all related artificial constructs--will enjoy it. [-jak]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE CHILE PEPPER IN CHINA: A CULTURAL BIOGRAPHY by Brian R. Dott (Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-19532-4) is the first book I am reviewing through NetGalley.com, and I hope the formatting is not typical of their books. For starters, it is in PDF format, which makes it impossible to enlarge the font, and also difficult to read on my Kindle e-reader. I can manage to read it on my Kindle tablet, although I have to rotate the device and read it in landscape mode because of the line length. (I don't think I could even do this on the e-reader.) And I had great difficulty in getting it onto my Mac.
Then within the file there seem to be all sorts of formatting detritus: "-1"s, "0"s, and "+1"s preceded or followed by dashes. And words seem to split over lines without even any hyphenization.
Okay, that gets rid of all the technical nitty-gritty. Now on to the content.
The Chinese recognized five flavors: sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and pungent. Of particular interest to us Sichuan cuisine fans is Dott's brief discussion of the spices in the "pungent" group that chile peppers replaced in China, in particular, the Sichuan pepper (fagara). As he notes, "In addition to their flavor, the shells also have a numbing or anesthetic quality." Other foods in this group include onion, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon, as well as the relatively more recent anise, fennel, clove, and black pepper. (It also served as a substitute for salt as a flavoring, since the production and price of salt was controlled by the government.)
The problem for us Sichuan cuisine fans is that Dott's book is heavy on the academic and light on discussion of the actual food. Dott covers the mentions of chili peppers in books on medicine, in artworks, in government reports, in every possible aspect. One problem is that he seems to repeat himself a lot, at least to my un-academic reading. There seem to be multiple sections that talk at length about medicinal uses, for example. And there is a long section of footnotes and bibliography. (The main text ends on page 196 of a 296-page book.)
Maybe one needs to be a more serious student of the intersection of food and culture than I am to really appreciate this book. I cannot deny it is well-researched and well-written, but I was expecting something more like THE FORTUNE COOKIE CHRONICLES: ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD OF CHINESE FOOD by Jennifer 8. Lee. As long as you know what to expect, you can judge whether this is a book for you. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself, "Well, that's not going to happen." --Rita RudnerTweet
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