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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/19/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 34, Whole Number 2159
Table of Contents
Mini Reviews, Part 8 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):
Here is the eighth batch of mini-reviews, featuring stunning cinematography.
THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020): The Clark Gable adaptation of the Jack London story had to shift the focus from the dogs to the people for not having enough to say about the dog. This version uses motion- capture CGI, which helps solve that, and this is the first version I know of that is centered on the dogs. The special effects are below standard but it doesn't matter much in this improved version. Released 02/21/20; available on DVD from Netflix and on Amazon Prime. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)
GREYHOUND: Tom Hanks has played multiple different combat roles in war films, most notably in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. (He also plays a Civil War veteran in NEWS OF THE WORLD, reviewed last week.) Here he plays the captain of an anti-submarine destroyer. The film takes one incident of submarine warfare and stretches it out to a real thriller with the help of a lot of (authentic-sounding) Navy jargon. The musical score is only minimally used and adds some tension to the margins, and the color palette is largely blue/gray except for the fires, which are bright yellow. Released 07/10/20; available on Apple TV+. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4)
NOMADLAND: This is a narrative film in the form of a fictionalized documentary. It uses mostly non-professional actors chosen from real nomads, and the screenwriter worked with each of them to craft their dialogue as authentic. (Frances McDormand and David Strathairn are the only professional actors.) This is a somewhat romanticized view of RV and van owners, with some beautiful Western scenery. This film has a shot for audience awards. Released 02/19/21; available on Hulu. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
TITANIC and Public Domain (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I wrote about works going into public domain, for films a process that currently takes 96 years. So that means that TITANIC, made in 1997, will not be in public domain until 2093. I guess that means I will never get to see a movie made about what happened to Sven and Olaf, though my suspicion is that on April 15, 1912, they probably considered themselves the luckiest sons of bitches to ever walk the earth. [-ecl]
THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2020, CAEZIK SF&Fantasy, 374pp, trade paperback, $16.99, ISBN 978- 1-64710-013-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
I'm going to lead off this review with a prediction, and it goes like this: Robert J. Sawyer has won just about every major award in the science fiction field there is to win. He's won the Nebula for Best Novel, for THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT, the Hugo Award for best novel for Hominids, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for MINDSCAN, *9* Prix Aurora Awards (not counting the Lifetime Achievement Prix Aurora), 3 Seiun Awards, and a handful of others. What I don't see on the list that I'm looking at right now is the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. I believe that Sawyer's latest novel, THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE, must be a contender for that award (I would say it should be the winner, but since I don't, as a rule, read alternate histories I don't think I know enough about the competition to make that kind of definitive statement).
THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE is a terrifically researched and written tale of Oppenheimer's involvement with the research and development of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is abundantly clear that Sawyer did a ton of research for this book. In fact, a very large portion of the novel is not science fiction, but science fact. Not only is most of the story public record, but the extensive bibliography at the end of the book shows how much research Sawyer put into the novel to make it as absolutely authentic as possible. Even some of the dialog can be found in the pages of history. The story of what actually happened is gripping. I didn't know much, if anything, about the story of Los Alamos, the University of Chicago, the Manhattan Project, and other parts of the historical record that make up this novel. I found it fascinating.
I've called this an alternate history story; it could be called a secret history story. Yes, Oppenheimer and his high-powered physics colleagues were all involved here. The book reads like a who's who of physics. But what really happened to them after the bomb was dropped and the war was over? The answer to this question is what turns this novel from an accurate historical account into an alternate history. While Oppenheimer and his team are developing the atomic bomb that will eventually be used to end World War II, Edward Teller wants to develop what he calls "the super", a bomb that uses nuclear fusion, not fission. Teller's research causes his to research how the sun generates its energy, and he comes to a frightening realization: In the early to mid 21 century, the sun will eject its outer layer, the result being that the entire inner solar system will be destroyed, including the earth. The story then shifts to how Oppenheimer, Einstein, von Braun, Teller, Dyson, and all the rest of the high-powered physicists of that era work to solve the problem.
The beauty of the novel is that Sawyer doesn't beat the reader over the head with out it was all worked out. He dropped hints and suggestions, things the reader might throw aside--and no, I'm not going to tell you what those clues were; you need to read the book- -and then pulls them all together at the very end of the book when he finally *does* drop the hammer on you, but in a subtle, gentle, touching way. The ending is fabulous, and makes you believe that humanity does indeed have the power to solve problems that seem out of reach.
Sawyer used to crank out a novel a year, on average. The last two novels, RED PLANET BLUES and QUANTUM NIGHT, took roughly two years each, and THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE was published four years after QUANTUM NIGHT. While there were indeed several reasons for the delay, it gave Sawyer the time to spread his writing wings and turn out what I believe to be his best-written novel to date. While it was great to get a novel from him every year--and the novels were terrific at that pace--I'm willing to wait the extra time for a novel from him that is even better than those in the past. I just don't want him to take too long. [-jak]
REALITY IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS: THE JOURNEY TO QUANTUM GRAVITY by Carlo Rovelli (book review by Gregory Frederick):
This is another science book by the physicist and author Carlo Rovelli. This author takes us on a journey from the ancient past up to the present scientific understanding about what exactly comprises the elementary ingredients of the Universe. This journey starts with Democritus from ancient Greece and proceeds to discoveries by Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Einstein, Bohr and others. Subjects such as classical physics, relativity, and quantum mechanics are covered in the beginning sections of this book.
This material is needed because the author eventually leads us to the latest information about one of the theories that combines quantum mechanics and general relativity into a Unified Theory. And that theory which is preferred by some physicists including Rovelli is Quantum Gravity. The other such Unified Theory favored by some physicists is string theory. String theory anticipated that super-symmetry particles would be discovered by the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) and these particles have not been discovered so far therefore Quantum Gravity has a slight edge in the race to a Unified Theory. But the race still has a long way to go before one of these theories or a new one is determined to be the correct Unified Theory. During the time of Newton the elementary ingredients of the Universe consisted of space, time and particles. Einstein in 1905 combined space and time into space-time but other elements such as fields because of Faraday's work and particles existed. Quantum Gravity combines these all ingredients into only one entity known as Covariant Quantum Fields. Rovelli is at the forefront of the research into Quantum Gravity so he is a great author to read if you wish to learn about this subject. Rovelli is also a very good at translating complex subjects into information that is accessible for the lay reader. [-gf]
Westerns (letters of comment by Fred Lerner, Kevin R, Gary McGath, Keith F. Lynch, and Scott Dorsey):
In response to Evelyn's comments on Western movies and books in the 02/05/21 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
Theodore Roosevelt begins his book THE WINNING OF THE WEST in the eastern foothills of the Appalachians. (And for that matter Daniel Boone was born in western Pennsylvania.) [-fl]
Kevin R writes:
Films set after "the closing of the American frontier" (~ 1890) all have the problem of characters carrying the historical or metaphorical "West" around in their heads, while having to live in "modernity." Unless its Wister's THE VIRGINIAN, the "ur-Western," dime novels aside, may be Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales."
QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER gives us an English station owner in Australia explicitly importing what he thinks is an exemplar of the American West of song and story. It's a collision of, in my counting, at least 4 cultures. That of the American tribesman is only recounted to us as back story.
I have a soft spot for "edge Westerns" set when the Old West starts to modernize. On TV we had HEC RAMSEY, NICHOLS (starring James Garner,) not to mention the steampunkish and retro-STFnal LEGEND.
I don't think I ever got to see 1971's BEARCATS!
I've got a nomination for "Is this a Western?": 1961's THE MISFITS
Rounding up wild horses with an airplane? [-kr]
Gary McGath asks:
What about THE VALLEY OF GWANGI? It has many Western tropes, but it also has dinosaurs. [-gmg]
A PRINCESS OF MARS starts out as a Western, then things change. There's also COWBOYS & ALIENS.
Sometimes you need Bat Durston to come to the rescue, at least here on Terra, I reckon. [-kr]
Keith F. Lynch responds:
And don't forget C. L. Moore's character, Northwest Smith, who sounds like he belongs in a Western set here on Earth, but is actually a character in various 1930s space Westerns set in some unspecified future century. They're complete with space Indians, i.e. aliens with primitive cultures. [-kfl]
Keith F. Lynch also writes:
Am I the only one who is more interested in "Western" stories set in the 16th and 17th centuries than the 19th? Perhaps partly because that's when the frontier was in my neighborhood.
I'm also interested in "space Westerns," set in the future when the frontier is on other planets. But only if they're not just regular Westerns with a few words replaced, and only if they get the science right. I consider Weir's THE MARTIAN to be a good space Western.
[Randall] Garrett's "Despoilers of the Golden Empire" is in a category all its own--a 16th century non-fiction Western that fools you into thinking it's set in the distant future on another planet. (Do I really need a spoiler warning for a story published 62 years ago?) [-kfl]
Scott Dorsey responds:
You might like Matthew Sharpe's JAMESTOWN which takes place in the future but also in he past. [-sd]
Evelyn responds to several:
Yes, of course THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a Western. So is RANGO.
I have regularized the capitalization of "Western" here, since these days a "western movie" could mean a movie made in Europe or the United States rather than Africa or China. (This will probably start a whole new thread of discussion. :-) ) [-ecl]
Heroes (letter of comment by Kevin R):
In response to comments on heroes in the 02/12/21 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:
To many fans of ice hockey, plentiful in NE, a "grinder" can be a hero.
[NY Islanders defeated Boston Bruins last night, 4-2]
This article explains the different names for the sandwiches, but leaves out the New Orleans Po' Boy and Muffuletta. In Norristown, PA they have a variant called a Zeppelin, or Zep.
Vietnamese immigrants brought us the Banh Mi. [-kr]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, ISBN 978-0-316-30013-1) is our upcoming discussion book, and I was really looking forward to it. I have liked Robinson's writing, and I have liked Robinson's infodumps. But one can have too much of a good thing, and 576 pages of which about half are infodumps (either to the reader directly or from one character to another) is too much--especially when a lot is repetitious.
For example, on page 44, Robinson writes, "Also the mass extinction is one of the most obvious examples of things done by humans that cannot be undone. ... Evolution itself will of course eventually refill all these emptied ecological niches with new species. The pre-existing plenitude of speciation will be restored in less than twenty million years. Then on page 58, in case you missed it, he writes, "Collapse--meaning most of the species currently on Earth dead and gone. The surviving species subsequent to this event would be free to spread in all the empty ecological niches, spread and evolve and speciate, so that in twenty million years, maybe less, maybe only two million years, a differently constituted array of species would fully re-occupy the biosphere."
"... the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought the governments or disabled them from action against them, and bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized time, which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling optimistic--beyond that, apres moi le deluge." [page 57] I find it (possibly intentionally) ironic that Robinson uses "apres moi le deluge" in a context that is symbolized by rising sea levels.
And doesn't this sound like someone we are familiar with: "Those who feel [the Gotterdammerung Syndrome] are usually privileged and entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and sense of entitlement are being taken away. If then their choice gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they have erred." [page 298]
At the beginning, Robinson writes, "38 degrees. In Fahrenheit that was--he tapped--103 degrees. Humidity--about 35 percent. The combination was the thing. A few years ago it would have been about the hottest wet-bulb temperatures ever recorded." In New Jersey, summer humidity is normally in the 75-85 percent range, and the temperature is often in the upper 90s. So why aren't we having the horrific effects Robinson describes in the first chapter?
Robinson's early books were of a much shorter length. The "Mars" trilogy in the 1990s were in the 600-page range. ANTARCTICA in 1997 was "only" 414 pages, but his next, THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT, was 660 pages, and he has pretty much stayed in that range. (I'm not even counting GREEN EARTH, which was a condensed updated version of three earlier thick books, and was over a thousand pages.) If you can slog through all the technical details and info dumps, this book probably has a lot to offer, but I think it is beyond my limit. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A man will go to war, fight and die for his country. But he won't get a bikini wax. --Rita RudnerTweet
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