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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/26/98 -- Vol. 16, No. 52
Table of Contents
MT Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair: John Jetzt MT 2E-530 732-957-5087 email@example.com HO Librarian: Nick Sauer HO 4F-427 732-949-7076 firstname.lastname@example.org Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell MT 2E-537 732-957-6330 email@example.com Factotum: Evelyn Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-2070 firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/~ecl. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
URL of the week: http://www.eviloverlord.com/. How to be an Evil Overlord. [-ecl]
Leaves: A recent telephone exchange:
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper?
LawnMedic: This is Joe Robb at LawnMedic. How you doing tonight?
Me: Just fine.
LawnMedic: Did you get the sample we left for you today?
Me: You mean the plastic envelope with the sick looking leaves in it. What a thoughtful gift!
LawnMedic: Those were leaves we found on your trees. Did you look at them?
Me: I sure did. Those are some sick looking leaves. One of them had a hole in it. Next time could you leave something a little nicer?
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper, those are examples of the insect damage we found in your trees.
LawnMedic: Yes, and those leaves are just a sample what we found on your property.
Me: Oh my gosh! And the envelope said to contact my LawnMedic Horticulturist for more information. Is that you?
LawnMedic: I wanted to give you a call and discuss your problem.
Me: But the envelope said I should contact you. How come you are contacting me? The envelope specifically said I should contact you.
LawnMedic: I wanted to give you a call and discuss your problem.
Me: The envelope said I should not open it in the house. Now you have me scared. Is there some special way I should be disposing of your leaves? I mean, I don't know what kind of terrors you have let loose on my house.
LawnMedic: You can just throw out the envelope.
Me: But how do I know the waste disposal will not open the bag and let them loose?
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper, they are just leaves.
Me: That's what I would have thought, but the envelope says not to open the envelope.
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper, they are just leaves.
Me: Oh, okay. You're my horticulturist.
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper, these leaves indicate that you have an insect problem.
LawnMedic: These insects pose a real danger to your trees.
Me: How bad a danger?
LawnMedic: They could kill your trees.
Me: Boy. That is real danger, isn't it?
LawnMedic: Yes, it is.
Me: And you'd know that because you are my LawnMedic Horticulturist, aren't you?
LawnMedic: Well, yes I am.
Me: I sure am lucky that you found this problem, aren't I?
LawnMedic: Well, I think so.
Me: You know I live down the street from a heavily wooded area. You figure that is where the insects are coming from?
LawnMedic: It may well be.
Me: So why do you figure that the insects would pick on my tree? Living in a woods like that?
LawnMedic: Well, maybe they also pick on the trees in the woods.
Me: Do you treat the trees in that woods?
LawnMedic: Well, no.
Me: Well, I can tell you that is a pretty healthy woods. In fact I think these insects must be commuting a pretty long distance to get to my tree. You may be my horticulturist, but I am guessing you are not much of an entomologist.
LawnMedic: Well, they could be attacking other trees in your neighborhood.
Me: Fair enough. Where are all the dead trees?
LawnMedic: What dead trees?
Me: You can't be treating all the trees in the neighborhood. If these are dangerous insects, where are all the trees they are killing?
LawnMedic: Mr. Leeper, have a good evening.
THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: THE X-FILES is just an elaborate episode of the television series done large for the screen. There are some nice visual touches and some good character actors, but the plot lacks the intelligence to make the film more than just a throwaway. Mulder and Scully are buffeted like corks until the script contrives to put them at the right place and time. You can get by seeing the series and not the film or vice versa. Rating: 5 (0 to 10), low +1 (-4 to +4)
THE X-FILES is, of course, a screen version of the popular television show. The first thing that people will want to know is if they are not fans of the TV series, will the film make sense to them. Well, I can say only what my experience was. I would say that I am not particularly a fan of the X-FILES show. I probably have seen in the range of six to ten episodes and have not seen anything that would make me want to be a more regular viewer. So not keeping up with the series was I confused by the film? I would say only in the right places. An X-FILES plot is intended to be somewhat confusing. I certainly did not feel at a loss to understand what was going on for any lack of following the television series. I think that if the viewer only knows that the series is about two FBI agents who battle government efforts to cover up paranormal phenomena, he is ready to see this film and, as far as I know, will not miss a lot of what is going on. How about the other side of the coin? Will regular viewers who miss the movie miss a lot of the arc of the story line? Again my guess is that the answer is no. In spite of claims in the coming attractions that all will be revealed; it would be too radical a departure from the X-FILES formula to tell much of anything helpful. That highly successful formula keeps the viewer tantalized but never reveals enough to really clear up the basic mysteries. The film appears to me to be no more and no less than a very deluxe version of an episode of THE X-FILES television series, one with good special effects and a few very respectable character actors.
The problem with THE X-FILES is that as political thrillers go it really does not cut the mustard. In a really good political thriller, say SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, the characters do intelligent things and it makes the film all the more compelling. It is clear from the script (written by series creator Chris Carter) that Mulder is supposed to be a very clever agent of the FBI, and certainly his continued (albeit limited) success at keeping his investigations going would lead one to believe that he should be fairly bright. In the film he never gets to exercise much intelligence. The plot is repeatedly moved forward by people who are privy to secret information dropping Mulder surreptitious clues as to what is really going on, or by Mulder making extremely lucky guesses. Remove his lucky hunches and his Deep-Throat-ex-machina informants and Mulder really does not do a lot besides going through the obvious motions. In fact the only time we really get to see his professionalism is when he blurts to a barmaid that the FBI is covering up an alien invasion. Carter would like us to believe that Mulder is intelligent, but apparently Carter has no idea how to write Mulder that way.
Toward the end of the film Mulder's incredible luck becomes almost laughable. He has what amounts to a needle-in-a-haystack-within- a-haystack quest. Suddenly Mulder falls through a hole, drops a long way, and lands amazingly uninjured within a few feet of exactly what he is searching for. This guy Mulder must have friends in much higher places than the cloistered rooms of conspirators in which the film glories. Mulder must be friends with "the Guy Upstairs"... Chris Carter, that is.
But I am getting ahead of myself. The film opens with the familiar eerie whistle and almost immediately the plot twists start coming thick and fast, though this may be "thick" may be in the sense of "stupid." We start with a short prolog taking place in a glacier- bound Texas of 35,000 BC (more or less). Somewhere deep inside the ice something scary is happening. We cannot really see it well, but it is something with a lot of sudden jumps and loud noises. When the same violent thing happens again in present day Texas (minus the glacier, of course), the government finds itself with some dead bodies. And it would want nobody to ask too many questions about them. In one of those great government conspiracies it tries to conceal the deaths. And you should hear the absurd way they try to cover it up! I discuss some of the problems with the government plan in the spoiler section below. Part of the cover-up uses agents Mulder and Scully and sends them looking for answers to all the most embarrassing questions. It will lead them to the edges of a new conspiracy bigger than the ones before, a conspiracy to change our whole future.
In addition to series regulars David Duchovny as Special Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully we have some impressive character lending their talents: Martin Landau, John Neville, and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Glenne Headly is present for a single scene as the barmaid. Long on style and visuals, but short on story, THE X-FILES rates a 5 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Incidentally, even in the worst of the Ice Age the glacier did not extend south to Texas. Remember that the glacier tore up the ground in the North, leaving that region good only for industrialization. It did not roll over the South, which is why they later could remain agricultural. That was a big part of the cause of that ruckus we Americans had in the 1860s.
The initial cover-up with the building explosion could not have worked. First, I am sure the fire department knew to where the firemen had been dispatched and it was not where they supposedly died. The black-eyed boy's mother also would have known her son was not by chance in the exploded building. And it is very unclear why the bomb expert was willing to commit suicide for the good of the cover-up. Also given that they had worked out all those problems, the last people they would have wanted involved with the cover-up would be their two star paranormal investigators Scully and Mulder. It is within minutes of the start of the film that it starts losing its credibility. [-mrl]
FOUNDATION AND CHAOS by Greg Bear (Harper Prism, 1998, 342 pp., Hardcover, $24, ISBN 0-06-105242-6) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):
FOUNDATION AND CHAOS is the second installment in "The Second Foundation Trilogy." This time, Greg Bear takes the reigns as the second of the three "Killer B's" (Gregory Benford wrote the first of the trilogy, FOUNDATION'S FEAR, which I reviewed last year, and David Brin will write the final installment, which will probably be out in 1999) to attempt to fill in gaps and flesh out a tale that Isaac Asimov started long before I was born (1959, for those of you who might be wondering about that). Bear does an admirable job with the second installment in the trilogy, given the tale that he has to tell.
Where FOUNDATION'S FEAR took place early in Hari Seldon's life and involvement with psychohistory and Imperial politics, FOUNDATION AND CHAOS tells a story at the other end of the spectrum--Hari is an old man, and is going on trial for treason against the Empire. It is several decades after the events of FOUNDATION'S FEAR, but it takes place in the timeline before Asimov's last installment in the series, FORWARD THE FOUNDATION. And in many ways, it is a totally unrelated book, for most of the events of FOUNDATION'S FEAR are not even mentioned here.
In many ways, this is a robot story, more in line with THE CAVES OF STEEL and THE NAKED SUN. There is a schism in the robotic community, with the two factions being the Calvinists and the Giskardians. Susan Calvin, as most Asimov fans know, is the roboticist involved in the early Asimov robot stories, and her "followers" here adhere rigidly to the Three Laws of Robotics. The Giskardians are followers of the long dead R. Giskard Reventlov (although his head with its accumulated knowledge is still around), the robot who came up with the "Zeroth Law" (which, if I remember my laws correctly reads, "A robot may not harm humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm"). The Zeroth Law, contend the Calvinians, is an abomination, allowing the Giskardians to pervert the original three laws. R. Daneel Olivaw, one of the robots involved in THE CAVES OF STEEL, and who has been around for 20,000 years, is a Giskardian who has been pushing and prodding Hari Seldon in a path that would save humanity after the fall of the Galactic Empire. Of course, the Calvinians want to stop Olivaw and Seldon.
There are other robots involved of course, who are pushing and prodding in one direction or another throughout the course of the novel. The new fly in the ointment are the mentalics, humans who can, well, push and prod other humans, and, it turns out, robots, via their thoughts. One f the robots involved, Lodovik Trema, has his positronic pathways stripped of the Three Laws by none other than the sim Voltaire, of of two obvious links to the prior novel. The other is the sim Joan, who also plays an important part in the story. Anyway, the mentalics are being recruited to populate the secret Second Foundation, and there are three who play key roles in the story: Klia Asgar, Brenn, and Vara Liso. All three have very interesting and important parts to play in the future of the Galactic Empire.
To make the play complete, we have three Imperial politicians who play key roles: Farad Sinter, who is attempting to control Emperor Klayus, and Linge Chen, who has put Hari on trial, and appears to be the real power in the Empire.
Having laid out all the players, a whole bunch of setup is done, not only for the storyline (something inherent in second installments of trilogies, and the Seldon Plan. We learn how the Foundation is formed, how its location was determined, things like that. There's some explanation to fill in some of the facts of things mentioned in the original trilogy. We even get to experience the first of the recordings that Seldon made that were played at critical junctures during the fall of the Galactic Empire.
Quite frankly, I enjoyed this novel. It started out slow, and I wasn't sure where it was going. By the end, I was hooked, as all the tangled webs began to be unravelled and explained. When in his later years Asimov started to merge all his universes together, I was a little dubious, but Isaac would have been proud of what Greg Bear did here. This merging of the Foundation and Robot universes is well done in FOUNDATION AND CHAOS.
Anyway, I recommend the book. It's an easier read than FOUNDATION'S FEAR, but that doesn't make it a lousier book. It just tells a different story in a different manner. And I'm sure there will be a third type of story told when David Brin finishes up the last book in the trilogy.
MULAN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: A young woman secretly substituting for her father in the all-male army becomes a war hero. Disney Studios' resurrection of a Chinese legend is one of their best animated films since BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The animators know how to use computer animation to create some fantastic effects. If only they would learn not to sacrifice the carefully achieved style for the sake of some uninspired silliness. Rating: 8 (0 to 10), high +2 (-4 to +4)
The first thing I ask of a Disney film is whether the storyteller took large liberties with the original source. Unfortunately, though I have several books on Chinese history and folklore, Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan, as she is called in this film) lies somewhere in the gray area between the two, a real person of whom much is told but little is remembered. There were some patchy references to Mulan on the Internet, the best of which were under http://www.chinapage.com. That reference indicated that there are is only a little in common among the tales of Mulan, and for the most part this animated story is fairly accurate to what is common in those tales. The one variance is that the original Mulan stories had her fighting for years and then retiring before her ruse was revealed. The Emperor offers her a position at court, but she refuses it and takes instead a horse as her reward. This is somewhat different from the Disney version, but then it is hard to compress an entire military career to an 88-minute movie. Since there are no specific stories of her service, the scriptwriters are probably justified in presenting the time as being just a few months. For once Disney Studios animated films are reasonably accurate to the source material. Perhaps this is some penance for their travesty on Victor Hugo's HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.
Fa Mulan is the daughter of a former soldier, once a strong soldier but now old and infirm. The high-spirited young woman is being forced into the traditional role of young Chinese women her age. She has to try to make herself look pretty and submissive enough to be matched with a man who will prize a submissive and pretty women. But she knows that is not her. She asks her mirror, "When will my reflection show who I am inside?" But the time is approaching. The Huns have attacked the Emperor's lands and her father is called into service in the Emperor's army. Mulan's father is old and sickly, but the law says that each family must provide a soldier. (In the legend Mulan has brother, but he is too young to fight.) To the mind of the army that means that Mulan's father must return to military service. But Mulan knows her father is too weak to serve, and she has other ideas. She disguises herself as a man and joins the army herself. Mulan's ancestors wish to send a powerful dragon spirit to guard her and give her wisdom, but through a trick they instead send Mushu, a comical little dragon who needs protecting himself. Well, you probably know the rest of the story. This is a standard telling complete with the nudity jokes that might seem out of place for a Disney Studios animated film.
The artwork is generally extremely good in MULAN, though for stylistic reasons most of the characters look two-dimensional, and perhaps a little less realistic than characters drawn in the past. On the other hand, there are spectacular aerial views that look more like live-action film than animation. Other scenes show good imagination in recreating classical China from village life to the Emperor's palace suggesting the Forbidden City, but exaggerated from what that palace was to what it might have been in stories. In a film about Chinese fighting in hand-to-hand combat, the film could have easily degenerated into excessive and ultimately boring animations of martial arts techniques. Happily, the Disney animators resisted that temptation, if indeed they had it. And once again each major character is created by a different team who does art work. That is the right approach. Familiar actors voice many of the characters, and I strongly recommend that the audience stay for the credits. But I would like to call specific attention to the speaking voice of Mulan's grandmother done by the wonderful June Foray. Foray was the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel and virtually all of the female characters on ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE.
But the film is far from perfect. The antics of Eddie Murphy as Mushu--who presumably takes his name from a popular Chinese dish-- are sure to be a pleaser, but only for those in the audience for whom any comedy is better than no comedy. But it is a sad misstep for others. One can only feel sorry for the stylists who worked so hard trying to create an atmosphere evocative of China of the ancient past only to have that effort sabotaged for the sake of a joke. The inclusion of Murphy's Mushu was obviously inspired by the Robin Williams schtick in ALADDIN, which was equally out of place. The Chinese history is a little amiss also. If this were, as is claimed, the Emperor who had the Great Wall built, that would make him the Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. But he ruled from 221 B.C. to 206 B.C., well before the time of the Huns, and was anything but the benevolent despot we see in the film. But except for the inclusion of the painfully inappropriate Eddie Murphy this is a respectful and respectable version of Mulan's story.
In the end, MULAN is a sort of YENTL with warfare. Even at its silliest it is fun, and at times the images on the screen are the most impressive of any Disney animated film to date. Probably the best two Disney animated films in recent years, or any years, are BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and MULAN. Perhaps at Disney they do their best work treating vulnerable female heroes. Overall, Walt would have been proud. I rate MULAN 8 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.
Ode of Mulan Anonymous (c.5 A.D.) Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek, Mu-lan weaves, facing the door. You don't hear the shuttle's sound, You only hear Daughter's sighs. They ask Daughter who's in her heart, They ask Daughter who's on her mind. "No one is on Daughter's heart, No one is on Daughter's mind. Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan is calling many troops, The army list is in twelve scrolls, On every scroll there's Father's name. Father has no grown-up son, Mu-lan has no elder brother. I want to buy a saddle and horse, And serve in the army in Father's place." In the East Market she buys a spirited horse, In the West Market she buys a saddle, In the South Market she buys a bridle, In the North Market she buys a long whip. At dawn she takes leave of Father and Mother, In the evening camps on the Yellow River's bank. She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling, She only hears the Yellow River's flowing water cry tsien tsien. At dawn she takes leave of the Yellow River, In the evening she arrives at Black Mountain. She doesn't hear the sound of Father and Mother calling, She only hears Mount Yen's nomad horses cry tsiu tsiu. She goes ten thousand miles on the business of war, She crosses passes and mountains like flying. Northern gusts carry the rattle of army pots, Chilly light shines on iron armor. Generals die in a hundred battles, Stout soldiers return after ten years. On her return she sees the Son of Heaven, The Son of Heaven sits in the Splendid Hall. He gives out promotions in twelve ranks And prizes of a hundred thousand and more. The Khan asks her what she desires. "Mu-lan has no use for a minister's post. I wish to ride a swift mount To take me back to my home." When Father and Mother hear Daughter is coming They go outside the wall to meet her, leaning on each other. When Elder Sister hears Younger Sister is coming She fixes her rouge, facing the door. When Little Brother hears Elder Sister is coming He whets the knife, quick quick, for pig and sheep. "I open the door to my east chamber, I sit on my couch in the west room, I take off my wartime gown And put on my old-time clothes." Facing the window she fixes her cloudlike hair, Hanging up a mirror she dabs on yellow flower powder She goes out the door and sees her comrades. Her comrades are all amazed and perplexed. Traveling together for twelve years They didn't know Mu-lan was a girl. "The he-hare's feet go hop and skip, The she-hare's eyes are muddled and fuddled. Two hares running side by side close to the ground, How can they tell if I am he or she?" From: The Flowering Plum and the Palace Lady: Interpretations of Chinese Poetry By Han H. Frankel, Yale University Press, 1976.
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door. The violence of revolutions is the violence of men who charge into a vacuum. -- John Kenneth Galbraith