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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 02/21/97 -- Vol. 15, No. 34
Table of Contents
Unless otherwise stated, all meetings are in the Middletown cafeteria Wednesdays at noon.
DATE TOPIC (no meetings scheduled) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 908-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 908-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2D-536 908-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Backissues available at http://www.mt.lucent.com/~ecl/MTVOID/backissues.html or http://sf.www.lysator.liu.se/sf_archive/sf-texts/MT_Void/. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week:
Last week's URL of the week should have been: http://www.panix.com/NESFA/hugos96.html. [-ecl]
This week's URL of the week is: http://fanac.org/. The FANAC FanHistory Archives, with lots of information about SF fan history (including some of my old Worldcon reports, with more to follow!). [-ecl]
I am fascinated by animal behavior and that of otters particularly. I heard an account of someone who trained animals for zoos and sea animal shows about how hard it is to train an otter. The problem is not that otters are stupid but that they are too smart to be easily trained and have keen minds. They become interested in the boundaries of a problem. The speaker was trying to teach an otter to go through a plastic hoop. Each time the otter swam through the hoop, he gave the otter a piece of fish. The problem was that the otter was not really motivated by the piece of fish. The real motivation was to understand the boundaries of the task. And if the trainer did not have the task really well-defined, the otter would change it. The otter would go through the hoop, but then trail the hoop on his foot and would want to see if this would get him a piece of fish. The otter would stop halfway through the hoop and would try to find out if that would earn him a piece of fish. No? Well how about through down to his knees, was that enough? And the trainer had to have the task very precisely defined, because that was how the otter--who after all went through hoops professionally--thought of the problem. The trainer described the problem to an ethologist. An "ethologist" is someone who studies animal behavior. (I often thought I might like to be an ethologist.) Anyway the trainer told this to an ethologist and even the scientist did not know the extent to which an otter studies the problem. He said he had students whom he taught who he could not get to think in that much depth about a problem.
And otters in the wild apparently have to solve complex problems. Suppose an otter is out foraging for food for his family and he is found by hunters. He will return to his nest, some place that is hidden away, and want to be let back in. Now the mother otter has a really hard decision to make. She can let the father otter back into the nest, but then she runs the risk that the hunters will see the otter enter the nest and they will kill her babies. Or, perhaps if she thinks the hunters are too close, she can turn her mate away knowing that she will never see him again. The depth of otter affection for mates may well rival our own, considering the minds that otters in captivity seem to display. Since otters seem to have good memories, the mother otter will probably remember the decision she made the rest of her life. I guess I think about how a mother otter would make such a decision. Someone who thinks a lot about animals and what they do when faced with this sort of dilemma and how they themselves would face the dilemma are called "Bambi-ists" by hunters and sportsmen. I suppose it means people whose thought processes about animals and sport hunting have been warped by seeing BAMBI or in general by an overabundance of empathy for a non-human. I suppose I myself am a confirmed Bambi-ist. I do not really have a name for the person who would create this sort of situation for an otter. Somehow "sportsman" or "hunter" does not really cover it. [-mrl]
L5: FIRST CITY IN SPACE:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: The first science fiction film in IMAX 3-D is the curiously subdued story of a rather prosaic mission to help maintain the L5 colony. The process may be more interesting than the rather sterile and idealized view of life on the nearly self-sustaining space colony. But besides the size of the screen there is little in the process that was not present in 3-D films of the 1950s. Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4)
Back in the 1950s and 60s the film industry wanted to give the public something they could not get on TV. They invented a wide- screen process using three strips of film and a screen that wrapped around the audience. The process was called "Cinerama." And the films made in this process were mostly just demonstration films to show what could be done. The films had names like THIS IS CINERAMA, CINERAMA HOLIDAY, WINDJAMMER, and THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD. Eventually the public got bored with just picturesque documentaries and the filmmakers had to start putting plots into the films, but they kept them simple and episodic with big action sequences. After all audiences did not need Cinerama for MACBETH. They wanted exciting action sequences. So they made films like HOW THE WEST WAS WON which was really more a set of short stories which featured thrill scenes like runaway stage coaches. THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM actually had a story that went the length of the film, but it also had sequences of fairy tales. The films were intentionally kept big and kind of stupid to make the best use of the process. The final film I remember being made in the process was supposed to take the viewer on a scenic ride into space. I suspect it was originally intended to be that and to have only the faintest whisper of a plot. It was given a kind of vacuous name to imply that it was a sort of WINDJAMMER in space. It was to be called 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. By the time this film was finally made some of the people behind it had sort of meddled with the concept a little. For one thing it was not really an odyssey any more, but it was still a sort of futuristic, science- fictional demonstration of the new medium. And it proved to be the most popular of the Cinerama films.
For the new IMAX 3-D process they did not wait so long to try science fiction. One of their first films is a voyage into space. And not to mix my analogies, but just as the film THE CONQUEST OF SPACE was heavily based on a speculative non-fiction book, THE CONQUEST OF SPACE by Willy Ley, L5: FIRST CITY IN SPACE is based heavily based on Gerard K. O'Neill's THE HIGH FRONTIER, in which the author describes in detail a mammoth space station that will be placed at the L5 point. L5 is a point first described by the mathematician and astronomer Comte Joseph Louis Lagrange which will hold onto matter in a stable equilibrium. As soon as the matter starts to move away from the point gravitational forces from the Earth and the Moon will pull it back. A space colony placed at the L5 point will need to expend no energy to remain at the that point. O'Neill described a sort of perfect world, nearly self-sufficient, hanging in space at the L5 point. L5: FIRST CITY IN SPACE is a story set in this future world.
Director Toni Myers seems to share Stanley Kubrick's belief that in space the furniture will not be wooden but all the people will be. The story seems to be performed by catatonics. There is not a lot to the story here, since the entire film is only 34 minutes long (and sports a hefty ticket price of $9). The film starts with a sort of tour of the interior of the L5 station, much as it was described in THE HIGH FRONTIER. Interiors are short live-action but the exteriors are done in 3-D animation, but using art very much the style of O'Neill's illustrations. We meet Chieko, a little girl living in the L5 colony with freshets of water feeding long rows of perfect palm trees, hydroponically grown to produce perfect fruit of exotic types. But her parents and grandfather are worried (note the worried expressions on their faces). The L5 colony has a problem, just about the most prosaic problem imaginable. It is not the same problem that plagued the runaway forest in SILENT RUNNING, but it is just as basic and it is just as amazing that it takes the characters by surprise. But it is a serious problem, enough so that the actors can look worried. Fixing the problem involves travel to a comet that happens to be hurtling by. But the story is told with little dramatic tension in explaining threat so there is not much excitement. There is just quiet worry that is eventually alleviated.
Among the things that bothered me about the film was that in the exteriors the stars seemed to be in 3-D with some appearing closer than others. In a word we got parallax on stars. This is a total absurdity added to use the 3-D effect. The film shares the book's optimism that everything on the L5 colony would be just about ideal. The fruit grown from hydroponics is just perfect looking. And even the view of Earth from the colony is perfect and beautiful. On the dark side the cities show up as perfect little jewels of bright light. I could believe some pinpoints, but not as big as the film shows them to be. The final unlikely element is the presence of a Holodeck sequence--I know of nothing else to call it--whose technology is unexplained.
Some comments should be made about the IMAX 3-D process itself. First the screen in New York seems smaller than other IMAX screens I have seen, at least as I remember them. Even sitting close to the screen, due to arriving late, I could see both edges at the same time. The fact that we are seeing a 3-D process makes the screen look even smaller. I do not know exactly why that is, but 3-D processes I have seen seem to make the screen look smaller than it looks without the goggles or glasses. This 3-D process is actually quite primitive, in spite of the supposedly advanced presentation. The goggles use simple polarized lenses and if one tips ones head only the slightest, a ghost image comes into view. The ghost image often would show up even without tipping. The 3-D process, in short, presented little technology that was not present for DIAL M FOR MURDER in 1954.
It is not clear that you can rate a little demonstration film like it was a feature film in a more standard theater, but this one satisfied like a film that would have gotten a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
WAITING FOR GUFFMAN:
(a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: This mockumentary is of a small town celebrating its 150th anniversary by putting on a show in complete ignorance of the fact that nobody in town has any talent. The film invites comparison to the classic comedy SMILE, but that film at the same time was far more serious and more funny than this one. While this film has its moments and the occasional funny bit, it never really takes off as well as it might have. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) New York Critics: 9 positive, 1 negative, 4 mixed
The town of Blaine, Missouri, was a mistake from the very beginning when pioneer Blaine Fabin overestimated the distance he had brought his party and assumed they had reached California. The residents of this town appear to have over-estimated their accomplishments ever since. The town, famous for its footstools has dubbed itself the Stool Capital of America. As the town approaches its sesquicentennial it is planning for a celebration large by Blaine standards, capped by a play telling of major events of the history of Blaine in a musical pageant called "Red, White, and Blaine." The production is to be put in the hands of the multi-untalented auteur Corky St. Claire (played by Christopher Guest who also co- authored, directed, and wrote some of the music for the film). The stars of the show are the town's myopic dentist (Eugene Levy), the town's two travel agents (Fred Willard and Catherine O'Hara), the cute waitress from the Dairy Queen (Parker Posey), and the town hunk (Matt Keeslar). Corky is temperamental and has the same over-estimation of his own abilities that seems nearly universal in Blaine. The only person in town who seems to have any taste at all is the tightly wound music teacher who leads the band in too small a part for Bob Balaban. The film has repeated gags on the ego and vulgarity of the town residents, but for the most part the characters are more caricatures than believable people. WAITING FOR GUFFMAN might be more impressive if it was not so similar in approach to the wonderfully-observed SMILE, directed by Dennis Ritchie. In that film, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of a California town's hosting of a teenage beauty pageant, the characters seem considerably more real and are at the same time a lot more funny with often-caustic humor.
Christopher Guest has written the meatiest role for himself as the fey director and only at times has the talent to carry the film. Guest previously co-wrote THIS IS SPINAL TAP, but his most creative film was THE BIG PICTURE, a particularly insightful lampoon of the Hollywood film-making process. Perhaps this film's most memorable image is Guest's odd little improvisational stomach dance, done wearing his pants backwards. When the Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers proposed making the film AIRPLANE!, the studio wanted to cast the film with well-known comic actors in the major roles. The filmmakers very intelligently held out to get a set of actors not associated with comedy and the film was all the more funny as a result. Guest would have been well-advised to follow a similar policy since one has already seen over- the-top comedy performances by Levy, Willard, and O'Hara. Their characters needed an air of authenticity and credibility that these actors simply lack.
WAITING FOR GUFFMAN is certainly worth a viewing for the parts that do work, but afterwards, for a real treat, rent SMILE and see what can really be done with a lampoon of a small town and its icons. In this film there certainly are at least three good laughs and no slow portions, so WAITING FOR GUFFMAN does work as a comedy but it never works well. I rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 908-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh 1-1/2 tons. -- POPULAR MECHANICS, March 1949