MT VOID 08/09/96 (Vol. 15, Number 6)

MT VOID 08/09/96 (Vol. 15, Number 6)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 08/09/96 -- Vol. 15, No. 6

Table of Contents

Upcoming Meetings:

Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.

  DATE                    TOPIC

08/13   WINDOW TO PARIS (Metuchen Library, 7:30PM)

Outside events:
The Science Fiction Association of Bergen County meets on the second
Saturday of every month in Upper Saddle River; call 201-933-2724 for
details.  The New Jersey Science Fiction Society meets on the third
Saturday of every month in Belleville; call 201-432-5965 for details.

MT Chair/Librarian:
              Mark Leeper   MT 3E-433  908-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  908-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  908-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
              Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  908-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  908-957-2070
Backissues available at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.


Well, I guess I would be remiss this week if I did not say anything about the huge revelation this week. For those who have not heard the news ... WAKE UP! A meteorite whose origin seems to be Mars shows the presence of organic compounds that may indicate life at its point of origin. It seem to be evidence that there is extraterrestrial life in the solar system. Now what does that mean?

I hope I am not exaggerating in my own mind the implications of what I am reading and hearing. I think ... think ... that the universe, or at least our view of it, has changed markedly over the last 24 hours. (I am writing this the evening of August 7, by the way.) How is the universe different? I have always said that we have absolutely no information about how likely life could be in the universe. There could be life all over the universe or this life we see on Earth could be it. Given that we are here contemplating whether or not there is life elsewhere, the odds are exactly 100% that intelligent life would arise on this planet. This is an application of what mathematicians call Bayes' Law. The odds tell you nothing, absolutely nothing, about how full or empty of life the universe is. Our first discovery of life off this planet would give us a tremendous amount of data. Its distance from Earth would tell us how likely or unlikely life is. I was betting on very unlikely, so unlikely that we would never find life anywhere else in the universe in the life of our species, much less my own lifetime. This is not to say that the life is not out there, but we are little creatures with short life spans in the scale of the universe. The nearest life might be too far away that we would ever find each other.

Life, as I saw it, has got to be a freak accident and a very low probability event. That first significant data point almost had to be so far away that we would never reach it in my lifetime. I was even more certain when the space program wound down rather than accelerating that finding other life was a lost hope. I don't think there is even a space shuttle up at the moment. Finding extraterrestrial life seemed pretty much impossible this week. Suddenly there seems to be evidence that there has been in the past extraterrestrial life. And where? Mars! It is the first place we have seriously looked and that there could be life. Sure, we visited the moon, but without any expectation that there could ever be any life there without an atmosphere. I don't find the possibility of life on the moon very likely. Mars was our first real shot and now there is evidence that there has been life there at least at some point in the past. This may well be the biggest scientific discovery of this century. Perhaps the biggest that has ever been made.

Finding life just about the first possible place we looked makes it sound like life is straining to exist everywhere that it can in the universe. Just like here on Earth, just about everywhere life could exist, if you look closely enough, it already does exist. Choose any pond in the world, take the first teaspoon of water you happen to find and look at it under a microscope and you will find it full of living organisms. It is an amazing phenomenon. Life spreads to wherever it can find. But that is life from Earth. To find signs of microorganisms on Mars seems to indicate that that almost the same principle is true outside of Earth. Where life is possible it will either spread or generate. The implications of that are just incredible. It seems to say that the universe has to be a veritable menagerie of life. It must have a truly glorious diversity of life forms. And while this event could have chosen a slightly better time to occur, INDEPENDENCE DAY is still playing in theaters, finding life has independently generated on Mars would be a tremendous shot in the arm for Humankind's Sense of Wonder. At least I hope it will. I can think of nothing that Humankind could need more. I would like to see people all over the world staring at the sky and telling themselves, "There are intelligent beings up there. I have to some day get up to where those lights are." With a goal like that rather than individual success and greed, there might be some hope for the human race.

On a slightly more parochial side, I would love to see this be a stimulus for science fiction also. We currently have a lot of stories implying that human society is in a real mess. They say we will get into brave new messes in the future. Too much science fiction acts less like entertainment and more like a reprimand. I want to see more exercises in imagination of what sorts of things could exist out there. Nothing would be better for science fiction than to return to adventure and wonder. That has been missing in science fiction too long. If we look at this discovery as being a vindication of the imagination that got many of us interested in imaginative writing in the first place, this discovery could make science fiction feel young again. A discovery like this could make the world seem young again and full of wondrous possibilities. [- mrl]


(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A vivid look at Edinburgh's community of heroin addicts. The film is a LOST WEEKEND for the 90s with a little bit of crime film mixed in. This is a decent little indecent film, perhaps neither as hip nor as funny as it was intended to be. It cannot live up to its current hype. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4)

It has all been done before. This is a superficially non- judgmental look at four friends who are heroin addicts. A fifth friend, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is clean--at least of heroin--but is just on the near side of psychopathic. However, you have only to step back half an inch to see that this really is a morality tale about just how bad life can be when heroin becomes your closest friend. Much of this film is strongly reminiscent of THE LOST WEEKEND. Recently we saw much the same approach in BASKETBALL DIARIES. In TRAINSPOTTING the addicts' lives are seen through the eyes of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), marginally the least hooked of the group of addicts. Also in his group are the rather sodden Spud (Ewen Bremner), a Bond film enthusiast trying to be suave, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), and the retiring Tommy (Kevin McKidd).

For the first three quarters of the film there really is not much plot. The viewer does get a grand tour of places the viewer does not want to be. This includes a side tour outside and inside "the worst toilet in Scotland," dunking for drugs. This particular treat is a sterling example of the kind of in-your-face (sometimes nearly literally) humor that packs this film. Some really is funny, but much is more a successful attempt to churn the viewer's stomach. It is humor that is more depressing than funny. As the film opens Mark, an Edinburgh junkie maybe in his early 20s, has determined to get off drugs. From there basically all that really happens is that he gets off, he gets back on, he gets in trouble with the law and he gets off again. At some point Mark decides that he wants to get away from drugs and junkies, only to be pulled back as surely as Al Pacino is in the "Godfather" films. Along the line he gets himself the first serious girlfriend he has had time for in a while. Toward the end of the film a little more does happen, but not a lot. Plot is not TRAINSPOTTING's strong suit. Texture and background is really what it is all about. It takes the viewer inside the life of a junkie and that it does very well- -perhaps just a spot too well. These are people you do not want to invite into your home and the film gives good reasons why not. But much of the wacky behavior and even some of the dating jokes have little to do with the main premise of the film unless to show that in some ways the main characters are not a whole lot different than they would be off of drugs. The humor is never quite as wild or as hip as intended. These are people who are disaffected from being Scots--as they describe it, the colony of a bunch of wankers--and find escape in hypodermic needles.

American viewers may have a problem making out some (perhaps much) of the dialogue. TRAINSPOTTING uses Scottish slang and the dialogue is spoken with a heavy Scottish accent. Generally I was able to make out about 80% of what was said. My average was a little less with the character Spud, but toward the end of the film it become clear that even people in the film are not always sure what Spud is saying. Irvine Welsh's novel TRAINSPOTTING--the title is a hobby that never actually gets mentioned in the film--was a bestseller in Europe and the American publishers had to push up the date of its publication here. It seems they had planned an edition to coincide with the release of the film, but so many copies of were being brought in from Europe that the publication had to be moved forward to compete. The book was adapted to the screen-- leaving a bit too much out some say--by John Hodge. Danny Boyle directed and Andrew Macdonald produced, as they did for the film SHALLOW GRAVE.

TRAINSPOTTING has its creative moments and sometimes it can be funny, but the viewer should be prepared for a downbeat experience and should expect to find himself some places he would never go of his own accord. As with the film CRUMB, there is a happy ending in which viewer escapes the theater and the people with whom he has just spent an hour or so of his life. I expected a film more original than this one was, but I give it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 908-957-5619