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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 03/06/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 36, Whole Number 2109
Table of Contents
Mini-Reviews, Part 4 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
ABOMINABLE: If this film had been released something like seven to ten years earlier than it was it might have been considerably a reasonably good animated and it would have showcased some recent animation technology. It could have had some reasonably current social messages for its audience. The figures would have had some impressive visual surface textures for its characters. That was then. This is now. ABOMINABLE builds more character in its figures than most animation, but the creature seems like a ball removed from a long-hair cat, not really cute, just homely. Three teenagers decide to try to reunite the creature with its family. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).
AMERICAN FACTORY: When a director films a documentary it often seems to go in unexpected directions. That is just part of the game. In this case the film covers what happens when Chinese company Fuyao and General open a factory in Moraine, Ohio. They run it with Fuyao's managing and with General Motors management. The workers start out very positive on the each company's cooperation with the other. Just how the two companies work together is the subject of the film. The subject matter is serious, but the style is familiar. It is very much the sort of story Michael Moore would have told but with more humor in the telling. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
I LOST MY BODY: In a French animated feature of feature-length a young boy loses his hand in a horrifying tools shop accident. We see in a flashback what led up to the incident. The style--particularly the visual style--is enigmatic and surreal. Often the weird images seem to be heavily influenced by Bill Plympton and his Plymptoons. It is often hard to follow what is happening, especially so when we see through the eye of a fly and we see its connection with metaphysics. Jeremy Clapinis, the lead actor, directs. The boy finds as he loses his hand he gains understanding. Rating +2 (-4 to +4)
Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Supplement) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
After Mark published his overview of 1944 candidates for the Retro Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Cora Buhlert pointed us to a spreadsheet that containing several presentations Mark missed; we also had input from Nicholas Whyte. Some are very short films (e.g., Warner Brothers cartoons) or radio programs, and Mark was concentrating on what were considered at the time feature films.
Mark is currently tied up on other projects, but I have decided to jump in and comment on the new additions to the list (feature films only). And here they are.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: This is one of those English fantasy films so popular in this period: not the high fantasy of elves and dragons, but the "Twilight Zone" sort of fantasy where ordinary people end up in a weird situation. In fact, the "Twilight Zone" episode "Passage on the 'Lady Anne'" bears more than a passing resemblance to this one. In this one, ten people find themselves on a steamship--somehow--that is going ... somewhere. They are supposedly a cross-section of society (including Americans), and we are given ample opportunity to like the likeable ones and dislike the others. Not quite as talky and preachy as THEY CAME TO A CITY, but of the same ilk.
THE CANTERVILLE GHOST: Based on the Oscar Wilde story, this suffers from too much "thee" and "thou" and "yea" and heavy under-cranking in the first scene, and one wonders how the Allies won the war if American soldiers were this wacky. Then again, this is in keeping with other American comedies during the war--the soldiers seem a cross between Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers. (I suppose the idea is to downplay the fact that these soldiers are supposed to go out and kill people, and make them just like the friendly neighbor back home.) Charles Laughton is a bit over the top (but he always is) and Una O'Conner is way over the top (but she always is). And while the curse will be lifted when a Canterville has to do something brave while wearing the signet ring, no one thinks to give the ring to Margaret O'Brien, who keeps doing brave things. Still it's more enjoyable than something like THEY CAME TO A CITY or the many low-budget horror films Mark covered in his article.
COBRA WOMAN: Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu, Lon Chaney (Jr.), Jack Pierce, Vera West, ... in Technicolor, no less. Clearly designed as a (low-budget) adventure romance, it has no real fantasy elements--it doesn't even seem to be a lost race story.
THE HALFWAY HOUSE: (We were unable to find a copy of this.)
IT HAPPENED TOMORROW: Not quite along the lines of BETWEEN TWO WORLDS and THEY CAME TO A CITY, this is another fantasy that is similar to a "Twilight Zone" episode--in this case, "Printer's Devil". Larry Stevens is a reporter who gets copies of the next day's newspapers, but when he tries to act on the advance information, things don't turn out as he hoped. (No surprise there.) There is also a romance, and a lot of comedy, but altogether it is nothing special.
THE PHANTOM: (We were unable to find a copy of this.)
THEY CAME TO A CITY: Like BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, this is one of those English "Twilight Zone" fantasy films of the period. The best known is probably DEAD OF NIGHT, but there are enough that someone should write a book about them (and probably has). In this one, nine dissatisfied people are transported from their ordinary lives to ... someplace, and someplace with very striking art direction (by Michael Relph, who also did the art direction for DEAD OF NIGHT). The "Twilight Zone" episode this evoked for me was "Five Characters in Search of an Exit". THEY CAME TO A CITY is very talky--Lord, is it talky!--being not much more than a filmed stage play, and extremely heavy on its socialist message, but still worth watching. As noted above, very similar to BETWEEN TWO WORLDS, but much more stylized and artificial. (By the rules, this could be relocated into Long Form.)
TIME FLIES: Though this is claimed by some to be the first film with a time machine, there is apparently an earlier Hungarian film. However, since the latter is basically unavailable, this should be recognized as the first widely seen. That said, Mark observed it was more on the level of a "Carry On" film that a serious look at time travel. It is mildly amusing, full of puns and the like, but not Hugo material. (By the rules, this could be relocated into Long Form.)
THE TOWER OF THE SEVEN HUNCHBACKS: The only fantasy content in this Spanish film is a ghost that wants the main character to protect his daughter from a gang of hunchbacks. The main story involves this gang counterfeiting money in an underground city built by Jews who were hiding there after the Expulsion. The latter idea may be more bizarre than the ghost, and the set design is more interesting than the plot. (By the rules, this could be relocated into Long Form.)
WHILE NERO FIDDLED (a.k.a. FIDDLERS THREE): Not the 1948 Three Stooges movie. (We were unable to find a copy of this.)
Novella Reviews ("Exit Strategy: The Murderbot Diaries" and "Come Tumbling Down") (reviews by Joe Karpierz):
EXIT STRATEGY: THE MURDERBOT DIARIES by Martha Wells (copyright 2018, Tor.com, ASIN: B078X1N8VF)
"Exit Strategy", the fourth novella in "The Murderbot Diaries", brings to a close (well, sort of) the chronicles of the Murderbot, part human, part machine, and trying to find its place in the galaxy. "The Murderbot Diaries" have been wildly popular and successful, with both the first ("All Systems Red") and second ("Artificial Condition") entries winning Best Novella Hugos. The stories are well written in a clear, concise, and easy to read manner that can--and should--be read on multiple levels. "Exit Strategy" follows that formula.
The plot is basic. The Murderbot has evidence that will bring GrayCris Corporation down. GrayCris is the outfit that tried to murder one Dr. Mensah in the opening installment. Dr. Mensah is the closest thing the Murderbot has to a friend, and so the Murderbot plans to bring that evidence to Dr. Mensah so that GrayCris can be shut down and the Murderbot can ride off into the sunset.
We all know it can't be that easy.
As with the other three installments in the series, "Exit Strategy" is exciting and interesting. The Murderbot is always conflicted, and here it's no different. The Murderbot has to reconcile its feelings about people in general with its feelings, if any, about Dr. Mensah. It's a nice, fun read. If you've read the first three, read this one. If you haven't read any of them, I recommend that you go do so.
In the first paragraph, I said that "Exit Strategy" "brings a close (well, sort of) to the chronicles of the Murderbot". I say "sort of" because NETWORK EFFECT, a full length Murderbot novel, is coming out later this year. You see, you just can't get enough of a good thing.
I like "The Murderbot Diaries". It's well-written adventure fiction that has a message that doesn't hit me over the head. It's interesting and fun. The four-novella set tells a nice story. But it should stop here. What I fear is going to happen is that Wells will continue to write Murderbot stories until people get tired of them. There is no beginning, middle, and end to the Murderbot story. Well, there was, but now it keeps going. People want to know what happened to the Murderbot after "Exit Strategy". People always want to know what happens to their favorite characters once a story is done, and they clamor for more. More is not always better. Eventually the great stuff becomes good stuff becomes mediocre stuff becomes bad or uninteresting stuff (see Orson Scott Card's "Ender" Series--and yes, I have an Ender book on my stack waiting to be read and reviewed--and the "Dune" series (and I have three of those waiting to be read)).
Stop now, so our memories of the Murderbot will be fond ones.
COME TUMBLING DOWN by Seanan McGuire (copyright 2020, Tor.com, ASIN: B07QFKY2PX)
"Come Tumbling Down" is the latest installment in Seanan McGuires Wayward Children series, and it's a good one. In a sense, it's a direct sequel to "Down Among the Sticks and Bones", the second Wayward Children book, and my favorite of the first four. It's not clear to me whether the new entry is better than "Bones", but it certainly is better than the other three books in the series.
Sisters Jack and Jill were last seen leaving Eleanor West's School for Wayward Children. This is nothing unusual--children leave the school all the time, either by going back to their birth home or going back to the world they visited when their door opened for them. In this case, they were leaving for the Moors, their new home on the other side of the door. The local area is precariously balanced between the scientist and the vampire. When Jack and Jill went back, however, Jill was dead because she was killed by Jack.
One thing that we know to be true. Once you go to your final home, you never come back to the school. Well, not any more. It seems things have gotten a little bit out of control in the Moors, and Jack comes back--sort of--in an effort to enlist help to get things straightened out.
As has been the case with the first four entries in the series, the story is about family, friends, and identity, and that a person needs to be who they need to be. This is a terrific entry in the series. I've read this is supposed to be an eight-book series, so I hope McGuire finds room for one more adventure with Jack and Jill. The opening is certainly there for it.
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) (film comments by Evelyn C. Leeper, with spoilers):
THE INVISIBLE MAN does not credit H. G. Wells anywhere, other than naming its main character Griffin. This is just as well, since it has nothing to do with the Wells novel, other than that they both have an invisible man.
Wells's novel is about how a normal man who is doing research to improve the world ends up corrupted by the power invisibility brings. The movie's invisible man is a psychopath before he even becomes invisible. In the Wells novel, there is some suggestion it may be the chemical involved that makes Griffin insane. In the film, it's a suit that makes him invisible, not a chemical, but he's already insane anyway.
And the movie telegraphs almost everything important. There are many instances of "James Bond" syndrome; in a James Bond film, when Bond is shown some device, you know it will be important later.
And Cecilia is apparently every man's victim: her husband controls and abuses her, her brother-in-law manipulates her, her male friend refuses to believe her, and her prospective employer comes on to her in her job interview.
And far too much of the film consists of people being savagely attacked by the invisible man. [-ecl]
THE SHOCK OF THE OLD (TECHNOLOGY AND GLOBAL HISTORY SINCE 1900) by David Edgerton (book review by Gregory Frederick):
This history book puts forth the idea that though technology and invention has expanded and grown in the last hundred years there is still a dependence on old technology for many years. An example includes the following: by 1920 half of all farms in the US mid-west had cars, and telephones. But only 10% of these farms had tractors, running water, or electric lights. Those farmers where still using horses to do farm work, and did not have indoor plumbing. And another example is that during WWII the German army, which many would think was highly mechanized, actually had a very large amount of their soldiers and equipment moved by horses. Total amount of horses in the German army in 1945 was around 1.2 million. An Air Force bomber, the B-52, which was first made in the early 1950's was still in use to fight in today's modern warfare. Though this is an interesting book with an original perspective on the history of technology, the author can be hard to follow and his writing is too wordy. [-gf]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
For the philosophers among you, I have just discovered the following two BBC adaptations of Plato by Jonathan Miller:
"The Drinking Party" (from "The Symposium"): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al9u1lal6KY>i "The Death of Socrates" (from the "Phaedo"): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6y7_0KuT5E>i FOUNDATION'S EDGE by Isaac Asimov (ISBN 978-0-553-29338-8) is the fourth book in the "Foundation" series, or (alternatively) the sequel to the "Foundation Trilogy". (One story is that the publisher was originally going to label it "The Fourth Book in the Foundation Trilogy", though he later claimed it was intended as a joke, and they decided people would not get it.) Written over thirty years after the original trilogy, there are noticeable differences.
First, there are more women and they have more central roles. The trilogy had only four women characters: Bayta Darrell, Arkady Darrell, Lady Callia, and Mrs. Palver, and the last three appear only in the third volume. Of course, the attempts to increase the role of women in this novel often consist of throw-away lines, such as "Palver's wife had been a speaker in her own right," while Preem Palver himself gets a lot of mentions as a major historical character. And though there is a woman mayor, sexism is still alive and well. When Trevize meets Bliss, he says, "She's only a girl," and thinks "it was irritating, though, to have them send a girl. They might have sent a military officer, for instance, and given us a sense of some value, so to speak. Just a girl?" Given that Bliss is treated as an object of sexual attraction, either these characters are pedophiles, or "girl" here is just a disparaging term for "woman". And one major female character decides she is happy just being a helpmate to a man, when it is clear she could be so much more.
(Is it just me, or does Harla Branno appear to be modeled on Golda Meir?)
Second, the names seem marginally less European. Although the names in the trilogy are not names currently in use, there is definitely a European structure to them. I am sure a linguist could define it better, but I'll just give some examples that I have made up. "Morven" has a European choice and arrangement of consonants and vowels; no one would mistake it for, say, East Asian. But "Fokihara" is clearly derived from Japanese, not from a European language. So Mun Li Compor's middle name is more East Asian than European, and Jogoroth Sobhaddartha's and Namarath Godhisavatta's names are definitely South Asian. (And in passing, I'll note that "Janov Pelorat" is almost definitely named after Asimov's wife, "JANice asimOV".)
There is also more questioning of the validity of Salvor Hardin's predictions after the Mule, and of the role of the Second Foundation. The former is rather glossed over in the trilogy, with the claim that after the Mule was gone, everything would return to Hardin's predictions. As noted in FOUNDATION'S EDGE, though, once the Mule has upset all of Hardin's predictions, there is no way for everything to return to what it was. That would be as if someone prevented World War II, but within a hundred years, everything returned to what it was in our world: complete with the geopolitical situation so obviously the result of the (non-existent) war.
But one respect in which Asimov (or his characters) is sloppy is that everyone talks about how it has been five centuries since Hari Seldon, and hence the Interregnum is half over. But Seldon predicted the fall of Trantor in three centuries and a thousand-year Interregnum after that.
Someone refers to himself as a groundhog; did colonists really take groundhogs throughout the galaxy?
Asimov seems of two (or more) minds regarding information technology (and technology in general) in the future. One the one hand, he seems to assume hard-copy books will be the standard: "He had printouts in his possession which had been taken off hyperradiational signals from as far away as Infia."
But he also says, "When one's home has a really excellent computer capable of reaching other computers anywhere in the galaxy, one scarcely needs to budge, you know," and, "My library. It's indexed by subject matter and origin and I've gotten it all into one wafer." And he refers to "fat computer-discs" (I have no idea what he was thinking of). Admittedly, one can be connected to other computers, etc., but still have to print out books--it just seems very unlikely, and certainly by the 1980s, the concept of reading books on a screen would be an obvious possibility for the near future, let alone thousands of years in the future.
He seems to predict the idea of a GPS (and possibly even an autonomous vehicle), though his character seems to worry that "the computer [might not know] the one-way streets and the traffic regulations." And there seem to be "plastic coffee containers" as well.
Given how Asimov's technological assumptions for a society thousands of years in the future are often somewhere in our past, the claim that "however brilliant this semimythical science of psychohistory must have been, it could not rise out of its roots. It surely would not allow for rapid technological advance," seems more than a bit ironic.
This is the book where Asimov decided he had to start tying all his novels into a single "Future History". This may be a good idea when one is just beginning, but his post hoc attempts to connect his robot works and THE END OF ETERNITY with his "Foundation" series are just clumsy. (I am reminded of the Showtime "Outer Limits" series, which was an anthology series of unconnected stories--except at the end of each season, they had an episode that somehow tied them all together. It looked pretty silly, too.
(Even the "Foundation" series doesn't hang together, though it was back in SECOND FOUNDATION that it really fell apart. In that book, it seems to be vital that the existence of the Second Foundation is a secret, yet in FOUNDATION, Hari Seldon reminds the viewers of its existence every time he appears in the Time Vault. This continues in this book as well.)
It is not a terrible book, and the discussion of possible futures at the end is mildly intriguing. But it still has all the flaws of the earlier works (long expositions, sexism, etc.), without the excuse of them being typical of the time. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones. --John HolmesTweet
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