MT VOID 01/09/98 (Vol. 16, Number 28)

MT VOID 01/09/98 (Vol. 16, Number 28)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 01/09/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 28

Table of Contents

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  732-957-5619
HO Chair:     John Jetzt    MT 2E-530  732-957-5087
HO Librarian: Nick Sauer    HO 4F-427  732-949-7076
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist:
       Rob Mitchell  MT 2D-536  732-957-6330
Factotum:     Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433  732-957-2070
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

URL of the week: URL of the week (and aannouncement): Because the Worldcon is being held early this year, Hugo nominations must be received by *MARCH 10* to be counted.

See for a copy of the ballot and details on who may vote. [-ecl]

Arthur C. Clarke: Four other knighted science fiction (or fantasy) authors (besides Sir Arthur C. Clarke) are Sir Kingsley Amis, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir H. Rider Haggard, Sir Fred Hoyle.

There are also a couple of barons: the Right Honourable Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Lord Dunsany, and Baron Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, who wrote at least one science fiction novel, THE COMING RACE. [-ecl]

Y2K: It is 6:20 AM on January 1, 1998. I am up early even though I was up past 2 AM. Why am I up? Well the coming of the new year has me a little nervous. I am thinking about the millennium problem in science fiction terms. What is going to be like in just two years? Well let me say at the start I have no idea, but I am picturing something very dramatic that our science fiction writers have missed the boat on. The image I have is December 31, 1999 Japan winks out. As one time zone after another goes past midnight we see the countries in that time zone come to a halt. That is what a day just two years off may be like. That is a really scary image. I am not saying that will happen, but at this point it is a possibility and is a lot more probable than a lot of the futures we read about. You know how many stories were done of nuclear war coming. Also very dramatic. But let me tell you, this future of the technology winking out on a front moving west at 1000 miles per hour, this really could happen.

First a review of what the base of the problem is. A lot of computer programs were written assuming that you could use a two digit number for the year. To any program written in this way we will very soon be going from the year 99 to the year 00. This means the program will think that the world has jumped back 99 years when you and I think that it has advanced one. This could break all its calculations. Complicating the problem is that programming takes many forms. It is not just in the form of computer programs, the very chips we put into computers are essentially computer programs made out of matter. That was what shocked me into writing the last piece I did on the problem, learning that some cars are dependent on pollution control chips that divide by the last two digits of the year. The whole chip has to be replaced or the car will not run and it will fail some time around the fateful midnight.

Our technology has long chains of dependencies. That gives a problem like a Year 2000 bug its power. Think of yourself as if you were a technological entity. You are a big computer controlled system. So you make a high priority preparing for the year 2000. All the lines of code that control your heart are checked out and fixed. The same for your brain (and think what a big job that is). Word is your pancreas checks out A-OK. Lungs are all set. Some programmer stayed up nights and got your lymph nodes working perfectly. Your kidneys took a lot of attention but they are all set. Team after team came in and made sure everything would work. It was a huge task. And you know what happened? The team that was working on your liver missed one place where the year is used. Come that fateful morning two years off first there is no liver and then there is not going to be a you. You are a large network of inter-dependent processes and all of them have to work. Of course this is an absurd example. You are a system of biological parts, not computer components.

But most everything humanity has built over the last thirty years or so is dependent on computational parts. And the parts we most rely on are systems of inter-dependent processes. Power plants have complex computer control systems. One or two pieces overlooked really could bring down the whole power plant. Power plants themselves are inter-connected. One power plant going down can take down its neighbors. That is particularly true if the neighbors just happen to be having their own computer problems at the same time and are vulnerable. The whole grid winks out. Then it does not matter what computers have been fixed for the problem. They may have great software, all fixed for the year 2000. They just are missing electricity. So they go down. Some have battery backup, they can stay up a while. But how soon can the computers that caused the problem be fixed without electrical power? And with even unrelated things like cars failing? It can't. And add that other computers are failing as soon as they come up. As near as we can tell, that was what took out Japan. China was next and when midnight came it went dark in its turn. There was wide-scale looting in India when the technology stopped there. But the first real violence we heard form a few battery-powered reporters came when the curtain of darkness swept over the Middle East and pent up religious hatreds suddenly were no longer pent up. Europe went next with more riots and looting. At about that same time what was once called "the Dark Continent" was again dark.

Times Square, which had been ready for its biggest New Years ever had a change in plans. People had been listening to the news all day, or lack of news, from parts east. A few people were in the streets but most had stayed home as if a tidal wave was coming. As indeed it was. For the few that were present a local disk jockey was at the microphones that had been arranged days earlier for some very different sentiments. As the minute approached the stragglers in the street checked their watches nervously. "Ten... Nine... Eight..." [-mrl]

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Jack Nicholson plays a misanthropic apartment dweller who makes a hobby of being nasty to people. When he is pulled into relationships with a waitress and his gay neighbor he begins to come out of his shell and show a little humanity. The plot twists are all fairly predictable, but James L. Brooks give us some characters we can care about and an amiable plot. One can almost see this as a pilot for a TV comedy series. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), 1 (-4 to +4)

James L. Brooks has built a career being the executive producer on some of the most popular TV situation comedies including "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Rhoda," "Taxi," "The Tracy Ullman Show," and "The Simpsons." His touch is comedy with a strong dose of human character, especially characters with foibles. His film-work has been more spotty but includes TERMS OF ENDEARMENT and BROADCAST NEWS. His new film AS GOOD AS IT GETS is more like his TV series than it is like his better films. In it he tells the story of a solitary misanthrope, a hermit living in is big city, who finally discovers his humanity and finds joy in relating to the very people he despised previously, not at all unlike Ebenezer Scrooge. The film's release around Christmas time only exaggerates the parallels to Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Melvin Udall (played with the usual gusto by Jack Nicholson) is a boy-man who lives by himself in a New York City apartment building. And by himself is just how he likes it since there is nothing he can see that is very positive in his neighbors or anyone else for him to care about. He is finishing his 62nd book in a series of romance novels whose popularity he ascribes to the fact that he actually loathes women. His hobby is candor raised to the level of a martial art. There is a firm mutual hatred between him and his apartment neighbors, particularly Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear of SABRINA), a gay artist. Simon's dog messes the hallway, and Melvin wants to see the little dog destroyed. Melvin's favorite person in the world (meaning he has only a mild dislike for her) is Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt of TWISTER) the waitress who serves him at a local restaurant. Circumstances--with a strong assist from Simon's professional manager (Cuba Gooding, Jr.)--force Melvin to take Simon's dog into his apartment and care for him. In spite of all his worst instincts, Melvin finds himself actually liking the dog and this opens a chink in his shell that allows him to start relating to both Simon and Carol. What follows one of the last act of A CHRISTMAS CAROL played in slow motion. Melvin also takes an interest in medical care for Carol's sickly (dare I say "Tiny-Tim- like") child.

The film itself is sporadically funny and occasionally touching, but offers little that is not available on TV. One difference between this film and a TV comedy is the shock value of Nicholson's comments and insults. Melvin goes well beyond the limits of Archie Bunker or even of the Simpsons making obscene suggestions about Simon's sex life. One can do that in a movie and not face TV censorship, I guess, but they do little to improve the viewing experience.

Beyond the go-for-the-throat comments, Brooks has done here little that he could not have done on the set of a situation comedy. Certainly this is a story told on a smaller scale than his TERMS OF ENDEARMENT or BROADCAST NEWS. The script, which Brooks co-authored with Mark Andrus is funny only on a hit and miss basis. Perhaps part of the problem is that once it is established what a creep our main character is, the audience has less emotional investment in seeing him rewarded with a happy ending. One is torn between whether the best ending has him finding happiness or being hit by a truck.

This is certainly one of Brooks's more minor contributions to American entertainment. The film is watchable, but tepid. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

JACKIE BROWN: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Quentin Tarantino's third directorial effort is a well-made if surprisingly uncreative crime drama based on Elmore Leonard's RUM PUNCH. The busy Samuel L. Jackson this time plays a scheming low-life and dealer in high-powered guns to drug lords. A delivery of a half-million-dollar payment sparks games of cross and double-cross. The production is over-long and over-powered with name actors, some in surprisingly small roles, but at the end of the day it is a good, solid drama. And by today's standards the violence the actually fairly light. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4) Very minor spoilers in a section after the review.

Tarantino has become a cult item after the success of RESERVOIR DOGS and the award-winning PULP FICTION. He is the director that everybody caught early in his career and on his way up and from whom everybody expects great things. That put a lot of pressure on him to make his third film be really something special. His public may be disappointed to discover that they now have to invest two hours and thirty-five minutes in his new film and in return they will get a plain, old-fashioned, unspectacular crime drama. This is just a good, hard-boiled crime film, perhaps with a somewhat convoluted plot. Most directors could be proud of JACKIE BROWN as only a third effort, but I suspect that it will fall well short of the expectations for the over-hyped Tarantino.

Ordell Robbie (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is an ambitious and vicious gun dealer working out of his Hermosa Beach pad owned by his girlfriend Melanie (Bridget Fonda). To Melanie life is eating, sleeping, getting stoned, getting it on, and watching TV. To most other people dealing with Robbie, life is short, or at least it is once they become inconvenient to Ordell. But Ordell wants to get out of the gun business and in general out of the business business. He thinks it is time to retire to Mexico with Melanie and his low-life, lower-IQ partner Lou (a role that wastes Robert DeNiro's talents). But before Ordell can retire he wants to get half a million dollars in payments up from Mexico. His courier is Jackie Brown (Pam Grier, still around after a quarter of a century of black exploitation films). Jackie is a stewardess for a cheap Mexican airline and supplements her meager income by running payments for Ordell. But this time it gets her into trouble. Jackie is arrested by ATF agent Ray Nicholette (Michael Keaton) and policeman Mark Dargus. That makes her inconvenient for Ordell, both she and Ordell know it. Her one edge is that Ordell does not know that she knows it. She strikes up a shaky partnership with the honest-seeming bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) whom Ordell uses professionally. Together they have to outsmart Ordell to stay alive.

It is difficult to believe that this Samuel L. Jackson is the same one who was in EVE'S BAYOU. Jackson is a powerful and versatile actor who has been getting a lot of work, but deserves the attention he gets. One actor who does not get the attention is Robert Forster, who is something of a poor man's James Garner. He has Garner's ease and grace in a role, but just does not have Garner's following. For a treat sometime see his HOLLYWOOD HARRY- -not a great plot, but a fun performance by Forster. Moving down the list we get to Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, and Bridget Fonda. And what are they doing in this film? It is nice to see a familiar face in a role, but these are parts that should have gone to some deserving second-stringers who could have brought just as much to the film as the people cast. I suppose they may have wanted to work with Quentin Tarantino. But still, folks, let's move aside and give some other actors a chance to be seen.

The film is by far Tarantino's least violent film, as some of his fans will be happy to know. Violence is neither a plus nor a minus with me, but I do know of people who refused to see PULP FICTION because of its violence. Overall, Tarantino has made an acceptable film, even if it is over two and a half hours long. If it has less magic than his previous work, it certainly has competence. I rate it a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Spoiler.... Spoiler.... Spoiler.... Spoiler.... Spoiler.... Spoiler....

Are you kidding? In a dressing room? Presumably some have discreet anti-shoplifting surveillance. I doubt that anyone who knew what they were doing would ever assume that a dressing room is completely private.

There is a humorous bit at the beginning that involved a cameo by Demi Moore. I wonder how realistic that was? I also wonder if the noise from Keaton's leather jacket was intended as a subtle joke.

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   MT 3E-433 732-957-5619