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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/17/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 3, Whole Number 2128
Table of Contents
Early Writings of the Leepers Now Available:
The Fanac Fan History project has started scanning in issues of "Lan's Lantern", a major fanzine from 1975 to 1998, having been nominated for the Hugo Award 10 times, and having won twice. Some of our earliest fan writing appears in these issues, including Mark's spot-on article "Who Wrote STAR WARS?" in issue #6 (Autumn 1977).
There are also several special issues dedicated to classic authors such as Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford Simak, Jack Williamson, and others.
About two dozen have been scanned; another two dozen are waiting.
These issues can be found at
Apology (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Sorry if my writing seems a little foggy; I'm having an eight-tana-leaf day. [-mrl]
LA TRAVIATA (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
From Mark's Journal, July 8, 1994:
While I was in Estonia, I got to see LA TRAVIATA for something like $1.50. I don't know how many of you have seen the opera. In it, Violetta is a sort of Paris good-time girl with a bad reputation and worse lungs--mostly due to the ravages of consumption (tuberculosis). (Now it is tough to do consumption well in opera because singers tend to be heavily-built and have strong voices. But let that pass.) Alfredo deeply loves her and has given up fettucini for her. (And you know those two were inseparable!) The two are living in a villa outside of Paris when Alfredo's father visits Violetta and says that she has to call the affair off because Alfredo's sister's fiance's family objects to the name Violetta is giving the family. Violetta agrees to leave her lover and return to her life of partying. She writes him a note and leaves.
Now the second scene of the second act is really dramatic. How can I convey it to you? I know! Think of Alfredo and Violetta as being played by Bogart and Bergman a la CASABLANCA.
Alfredo attends a gambling party when who should walk in with a count on her arm but Violetta?
Alfredo: Of all the gambling tables in all the parties in of Paris, she walks into this one!
He is more and more insulting as the night wears on, beating the Count at cards and finally provoking the Count to challenge him to a duel, knowing as an older man the Count hasn't a chance. Violetta asks him not to kill him...
Alfredo: Tell me who was it you left me for? Was it the Count, or were there others in between? Or aren't you the kind that tells? [pause] Why are you here? To tell me why you ran out on me at the villa?
Alfredo: Well, you can tell me now, I'm reasonably sober.
Violetta: I don't think I will, Alfredo.
Alfredo: Why not? After all, I got stuck with the wine bill. I think I'm entitled to know. Violetta: Now I see what has happened to you. The Alfredo I knew at the villa, I could have asked him not to kill the Count. He'd understand. But the one who looked at me with such hatred... well, I'll be leaving the party soon and we'll never see each other again. We knew very little about each other when we were in love at the villa. If we leave it that way, maybe we'll remember those days and not Paris, not tonight. [She breaks down.]
Violetta: Alfredo, Alfredo, we loved each other once. If those days meant anything at all to you.
Alfredo: I wouldn't bring up the villa if I were you. It's poor salesmanship.
Violetta: Please. Please listen to me. If you knew what really happened, if you only knew the truth...
Alfredo: I wouldn't believe you no matter what you told me. You'd say anything to get what you want.
[Flash back to happy days at the villa. Drinking wine together. Falling in love. Then Alfredo getting the farewell note, his heart breaking. Crumpling it up and throwing it down.]
Well, to make a long story short, or silly at any rate, Alfredo's father tells him that Violetta was acting out of nobility all along. In the next act Alfredo rushes to the dying Violetta to tell her:
Alfredo: We'll always have the villa. We didn't have it, we'd lost it, until we met again. We got it back last night.
Violetta rushes to Alfredo only to die in his arms.
Now if this touching ending seems to have familiar chords, it is because it is reminiscent of the following night's opera in the same opera house, Puccini's LA BOHEME.
Yes, here on the same stage the TWO TUBERCULAR TITANS OF ITALIAN OPERA, on consecutive nights competing for the coveted Palm d'Eath Award!
And in the event of a tie they will be together on Sunday on one colossal stage: Violetta *and* Mimi, duking it out in sudden death competition.
Boy, I love opera! [-mrl]
THE DECAMERON (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE DECAMERON in the 04/10/20 and 04/24/20 issues of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
FYI: Interesting Decameron podcast (30 min.)
AI Sentencing (letters of comment by Sherry Glotzer, Kevin R, Keith F. Lynch):
In response to Mark's comments on AI sentencing in the 07/10/20 issue of the MT VOID, Sherry Glotzer writes:
I enjoyed your essay on Sol Wachler and Computer Sentencing for A Crime. If every crime could be reduced to AI sentencing, why would we even need a Supreme Court? We could just refer to the AI Manuel for an answer. Time and circumstance complicate outcomes for justice. And we need a humane approach to determine how a crime affects the society in which it is committed. Justice cannot be blind to circumstance. [-slg]
Kevin R writes:
Let the record show that Mr Wachtler is a convicted felon and ex-con who, among other things, threatened a child.
Since last September, Mr. Wachtler, 64, has been serving a 15-month sentence for his conviction in a campaign of harassment and threats against Joy Silverman, a Republican fund-raiser, after she broke off their affair.
Mr. Wachtler pleaded guilty to a single charge of threatening to kidnap Mrs. Silverman's daughter.
[/quote] - New York Times, 27 August, 1994
If this disgusted NY Mets fan needed another reason to loathe the incompetent and gullible Wilpons, who were sucked in by Bernie Madoff, Fred W gave the crooked Judge Wachtler a nepotistic job. Plenty of less-connected offenders might have to wait for their release because no such sinecure is available to them.
BTW, if we called off the War On People Who Use Certain Drugs, folks who cut heroin could buy their supplies through regular channels, with no need to steal any. Just as street dealers recruited children as confederates to help sell drugs, since if the goods were found on the kids they'd be tried as juveniles, under Wachtler's "leniency for Moms with starving babies" rubric those who need formula would get recruited to split their haul with those stepping on the drugs.
Some of the Moms selling baby formula are real crooks.
An alternative to mandatory minimums that allows judges some discretion are sentencing ranges.
Given that the vast majority of criminal sentencing is done at the state level, the American Law Institute and the American Bar Association have each recommended such systems for all the states, and nearly half the states presently have such systems, although significant variations exist among them.
I learned decades ago that stores were putting such formula in locked cases, or behind the cash wrap, because it was an item high on the list of shoplifted products. [-kr]
Keith F. Lynch responds:
Ad hominem. Criticize the man's ideas, not the man's character. [-kfl]
BBC Series and Serials (letters of comment by Paul Dormer, Scott Dorsey, Keith F. Lynch, Kevin R, Peter Trei, Dorothy J. Heydt, and Tim Merrigan):
In response to comments on QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and others in the 07/10/20 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:
[Mark wrote,] "What the BBC plays actually constituted was not exactly a series. It was a sequence of plays, each one highly popular. Each was so good the public demanded a sequel." [-mrl]
It's what we call in the UK a serial. A single story told in a number of episodes. There was a tradition, for instance, in the sixties for the BBC Sunday evening classic serial. Often a work of Dickens, but I do remember versions of JANE EYRE and IVANHOE. And episodes of serials often had cliffhanger endings.
Just yesterday, I was talking about a favourite children's serial I saw in the early sixties, "Pathfinders in Space", about a British rocket to the moon (with a crew including two school children). There were sequels to that, "Pathfinders to Mars" and "Pathfinders to Venus".
[Mark again wrote,] "Only one or two chapters of "The Quatermass Experiment" remain. Then the broadcast technology improved and nothing was ever lost again. [-mrl]
That was irony, right.
I well remember a serial from 1961 called "A for Andromeda". (Fred Hoyle was one of the writers.) Or rather, I don't, really. It was on at 20:30 (according to the BBC Genome archive project) and I was only eight, so my parents wouldn't let me stay up that late. I think they let me stay up for one episode.
Only one episode survives, apparently, and that missing the pre-credits sequence according to Wikipedia. [-pd]
Scott Dorsey notes:
Indeed, and we have shown it at Arisia! [-sd]
Keith F. Lynch replies:
I have the novel [A FOR ANDROMEDA]. I think it's the first-ever depiction of a computer virus. [-kfl]
I read a library copy when I was a teenager. Can't remember much about it now. [-pd]
Mark responds to Paul's earlier comments:
No, that was not actually irony. I think that the BBC recognized that Quatermass was a valuable property and did not let any more of it slip through their fingers again. The missing materials are just an initial segment of the series. [-mrl]
Kevin R responds to Paul's earlier comments:
Enough of those [serials] made it to US airwaves by the early 70s that PBS started "Masterpiece Theater" to have a regular spot for them. I was a particular fan of "The Pallisers." "The Forsyte Saga" kicked it all off. I also liked "The Onedin Line," which was an original story.
I never got into "Upstairs, Downstairs," but it did inspire this:
Perhaps Grover's finest performance. [-kr]
Regarding "The Onedin Line", there were six novels based on the serials, of which Cyril Abraham wrote five. [-ecl]
Peter Trei replies to Kevin R:
The intro to that [YouTube clip] has a bit of interesting background.
Cookie Monster is standing in for Alistair Cooke, Americans Of my age knew him pretty much only for this role, introducing British costume dramas on Masterpiece Theatre, on PBS, for over twenty years.
In Britain he was known as the go-to explainer-about-America, For decades he did a fifteen-minute weekly "Letter from America" on Radio 4, and a TV series about the country in 1976.
I see that his career goes back a lot further, and was more varies, but it's interesting that in the two countries he is best remembered for entirely different things. [-pt]
Dorthy J. Heydt adds:
I also saw [most of] his series "America." I must look and see if it's available on DVD or anything. It'll probably be very dated by now, but it was good.
For some years, when KQED (the San Francisco PBS channel) ran a pledge break, they'd play a short video in which CM gushed about all the great things he liked on PBS, including "Monsterpiece Theatre", with Alastair Cookie.
Cut to Cooke, saying, "Good evening. I'm ... Alastair Cookie." [-djh]
Paul replies to Peter:
Indeed, I remember hearing "Letter from America" in the Sixties. There is a Monty Python record which includes a sketch "Alistair Cooke being attacked by a duck" which parodies this.
And Paul responds to Kevin R:
"The Forsyte Saga" was a big cultural event in the UK in 1967. Supposedly, pubs were empty as people were at home watching it. It went out Sunday evenings (19:25, according to Wikipedia).
It went out on BBC2 and it is claimed it was an attempt to get audiences for the channel which started in 1964. BBC2 broadcast on a different standard to BBC1 and ITV--625 lines as opposed to 405. You needed a new set if you wanted to watch BBC2, and ours had a switch on the side that you flicked when you went to for 405 to 625. BBC1 and ITV didn't start broadcasting on 625 lines till 1969.
I don't think we watched it in our house. (I think we could watch BBC2 by then.) It was still made in black and white and was not much repeated when colour became prevalent.
Incidentally, the theme tune to "The Onedin Line" was from Khachaturian's ballet score Spartacus. Even today, people associate that music with the programme.
[Kevin R wrote,] "I never got into 'Upstairs, Downstairs,' but it did inspire this..."
"Upstairs, Downstairs" was ITV, not BBC. [-pd]
Paul Dormer notes:
Incidentally, I'd call "The Onedin Line" and "Upstairs, Downstairs" series rather than serials. Each episode a self-contained story.
But there is a degree of polysemy here. In the UK we also use series for what in the US would be called a season. "The new series of 'Casualty' starts tonight." "'Casualty' is a long-running TV series set in a hospital A&E." [-pd]
Tim Merrigan translates:
A&E? Check Google: Ah, ER. [-tm]
And Paul Dormer elaborates:
Indeed. Accident and Emergency. [-pd]
"ER" being "Emergency Room". [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
(Day 3 Introduction): At the beginning of Day 3, the ten Florentines (and their servants) move to another palace, less than two thousand paces (about a mile) away. Again, everything is a lot closer than we envision, given our perspective of both population density and cars.
Boccaccio's description of the beautiful grounds and flora and fountains of the new palace reminded me of Tolkien's descriptions of places like Lothlorien and Rivendell in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, probably because I am re-reading the latter concurrently with THE DECAMERON.
Masetto the Mute Gardener (III-1): This story sounds familiar to me; I don't think Chaucer used it, but I'm sure I've read it somewhere, and I and not refering to the 2017 film THE LITTLE HOURS, which was based on it (see below).
The trope of randy nuns (and lustful monks) is common in Gothic literature of the 18th and 19th centuries, but in Gothic Literature it is portrayed negatively (usually alongside oppression, cruelty, and corruption), while here it is presented more as something quite natural, and the celibacy requirement as foolish.
Regarding THE LITTLE HOURS (now streaming on Netflix), Mark and I liked it, but it's not for everyone. The setting is medieval, but the dialogue is modern. (For eample, it has dozens of F-bombs.) I read that they did not work with a fixed script, but let the actors improvise from an outline, much as Christopher Guest does. There is a lot added to the story (SPOILERS): Jews, lesbians, witchcraft, graphic descriptions of violence and torture, and a lot of above-the-waist nudity and (simulated) sex. (Well, how could Boccaccio have included the latter unless he also invented the graphic novel in the process?) For film fans who are reading THE DECAMERON I would recommend it, but for the audience of "Classical Stuff You Should Know" it's probably a poor choice.
There are apparently a lot of films based on, or at least inspired by, THE DECAMERON after Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1971 film, THE DECAMERON, but many are not truly based on Boccaccio's stories, or are not readily available, at least in the United States. (Most of them are Italian.) There is also a film based on the framing story of THE DECAMERON, VIRGIN TERRITORY, which I have have requested on DVD from Netflix.
King Agilulf, Queen Theodolinda, and the Horsekeeper (III-2): This takes place some time between 590 and 626; Agilulf and Theodolinda are real, and Agilulf did frequently accuse her of adultery. But in this story, Agilulf seems to have decided it was not her fault, and it wouldn't do any good to shame her, and himself in the process. And the horsekeeper shows some cleverness, although were Agilulf less willing to cover everything up, all the stablehands could have ended punished for what the horsekeeper did.
Payne describes what Agilulf (and later the horseman) did as "polling", which even in his day was probably an archaic term. "To poll" is to cut hair, in this case, to cut the long locks on one side ut not the other. I suppose it could become a new trend.
The Lady and the Confession to the Friar (III-3): This relies a lot on the friar telling the object of the woman's affections in detail what the woman accuses him of, so that he can do precisely that. One wonders if Boccaccio was starting to regret committing to a hundred stories as the "Quarantine Stuff You Should Know" podcaster apparently did (and for that matter, as did Chaucer, who promised 120 stories, but delivered only 24). However, Boccaccio did eventually deliver a hundred stories; it's just that some of them are pretty thin.
Dom Felice Tricks Fra Puccio in Order to Enjoy His Wife (III-4): And this is another weak tale, with Dom Felice convincing Fra Puccio to stand a sort of vigil so that Dom Felice can sleep with Fra Puccio's wife without fear of interruption. The wife, by the way, is twice described admiringly as plump ("freah and fair and plump as a lady-apple" and "so fresh and plump'). These is 250 years before Peter Paul Rubens, but evidently also a period in which a full-figured woman was preferred to a slimmer one.
Fra Nastagio's preachments seem to have been lost to us, but the "Complaint of Mary Magdalene" is a real thing, about which poems and hymns have een written.
Il Zima Deceives Messer Francesco (III-5): The plot is similar to the third story of the day ("The Lady and the Confession to the Friar") in that someone gives instructions to a prospective lover through false attribution of words. The description in Payne's translation is almost incoherent; were he constructing such a deception, the lover would not have a clue as to what was intended. :-)
The idea of love even after death ("if in the other world folk love as they do here below, I shall love you to all eternity") is a recurring one in poetry. The best known example may be Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnet 43":
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of every day's Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right. I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
Ricciardo Deceives Catella (III-6): Well, actually it's more like Ricciardo rapes Catella through deception, and first convinces her that if she claims it was rape, no one will believe, and then convinces her to willingly continue their adultery because he's such a good lover. Maybe the Italians thought this a light, diverting story, but it is really quite offensive.
Of course, there is a lot that passed for humor or even normal that we now realize is offensive. And I don't mean just people in blackface, or ethnic slurs. Many people have pointed out that Benjamin Braddock in THE GRADUATE is what we now would call a stalker. In TOPPER, George Kerby's driving while intoxicated was considered humorous in the 1930s; now he's a drunk driver who luckily killed only (!) himself and his wife. For that matter, in the 1930s, intoxication was used a lot as a comedic element--it probably had something to do with the end of Prohibition. In THE QUIET MAN, an old woman hands John Wayne a stick and says, "Here's a good stick, to beat the lovely lady [Maureen O'Hara." But I have wandered somewhat afield from THE DECAMERON.
Tedaldo Is Thought Dead, But Convinces Ermellina How to Save Her Accused Husband (III-7): We are now getting into the realm of the truly obnoxious, where Tedaldo (in the guise of a friar) tells Ermellina that if at some point she accedes to a man's desires, she is obliged to continue to do so even if she changes her mind, because it's not fair to him otherwise. (Did they have the word "incel" in medieval Italian?)
The Abbot Convinces Ferondo He Is in Purgatory (III-8): We're back with the randy abbot, who drugs the husband and then locks him in a dark basement for months, telling him he is in Purgatory and needs to expiate his sins. Then after he gets the wife pregnant, he tells the husband he is being allowed to go back to earth, but that the husband needs to avoid all sins, including jealousy, which lets the abbot and the wife continue their trysts.
Gillette Deceives Her Husband to Get Him to Accept Her (III-9): I could swear I've read this story somewhere else: Man forced to marry someone he thinks beneath him in status. He swears never to live with her as a couple until she is wearing his signet ring and has his child in her arms. So she takes the place of the girl he is trying to seduce, gets the ring, and pregnant. When she shows up a year later, he is so impressed with what she did to get him, he decides she is worthy after all. Bleh. [And sure enough, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summary_of_Decameron_tales mentions that this was the basis Shakespeare's ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL."
Putting the Devil in Hell (III-10): This was apparently considered so salacious that Payne did not even translate a major chunk of it, but left it in the original Italian. (This reminds me of Samuel Pepys use of foreign languages to "encode" the racier parts of his diary, or Richard Burton's use of Latin in his journals for the same reason.) The plot here involves a girl described as being "simple" who is so devoted to God that she decides to become a hermit. She eventually finds another hermit who decides to use her as a temptation to test himself. He fails the test and ends up teaching her how to "put the Devil in Hell," the Devil being something he possesses and Hell being something she possesses. It is hard to see the male hermit as anything but a rapist, since the girl is clearly not giving any sort of informed consent. Eventually she goes back to her home, but is relieved to find that she can continue her religious duty of "putting the Devil in Hell."
(If the content of the stories was why the "Quarantine Stuff You Should Know" podcaster gave up in the middle of Day Two, one can only imagine his reaction to some of these stories!) [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: My grandmother was a very tough woman. She buried three husbands and two of them were just napping. --Rita RudnerTweet
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