MT VOID 06/25/99 (Vol. 17, Number 52)

MT VOID 06/25/99 (Vol. 17, Number 52)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 06/25/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 52

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 201-447-3652 for details.

Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-817-5619,
Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-332-6218,
Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell,
HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt,
HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer,
Back issues at
All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.

Kitty Genovese

On March 13, 1964, at about 3 AM, Catherine Genovese, known as Kitty to her friends and neighbors, was returning to her Queens, New York, apartment when she was attacked by a man with a knife. She called for help and woke her neighbors who yelled for the man to stop. He went away momentarily, but returned minutes later. He attacked her three times that hour. Each time Genovese called for help, each time the neighbors--38 witnesses to the crime--gave her verbal support, for whatever good it did. But nobody came to her aid. Nobody even wanted to get involved enough to call the police. It is, of course, inconvenient to get involved. Worse it is possibly dangerous. The third attack was fatal.

For a little while afterward the Genovese incident was a point of national shame. What kind of people had we become to stand by and let this sort of thing happen? Incidents afterward have shown that that sort of attitude is really not typical of the American people. Similar incidents have occurred, perhaps not as newsworthy, and people have come to the aid of others in danger. I would like to think that the latter behavior is more representatives of the American people. Look at nations, however, rather than people, and it is a different story. Nations act a lot more like Kitty Genovese's neighbors and for many of the same reasons.

When one starts examining international diplomacy, Genovese- neighbor attitude is much more common. Many countries consider isolationism a virtue. That is why there is international bewilderment as to why President Clinton would want to involve his country in a war in Yugoslavia. And he did more than that. He goaded NATO into taking action. And it was a dangerous action. Countries that become embroiled in the Balkans often find they have bit off more than they can chew. But then so do people who take on knife-wielding strangers in the night. Some risks you take because they are moral. Or put another way, if there were no risks in being moral it would not be a virtue.

And the motive for our going to war in the Balkans is one we do not see very frequently in international politics. We were doing it because of what we, and what most people, would consider inhumane treatment of the Albanian population of Kosovo. And that was not just the excuse; that WAS the motive. It was really not to protect our supply of a commodity like petroleum. It was not because our diplomats had been kidnapped. It was nothing of the usual sort of reason. It genuinely was a matter of principle. People were being murdered and raped and we thought it had to stop.

Going to war for a principle is extremely unusual. It is unusual to see wars that do not serve a physical need for land or a hatred or a fear. And of course most wars are for economic gain. People understand that kind of motive for going to war. And then you make up excuses like that you had to save the noble German people in the Sudetenland. But the Serbs are no threat to us militarily and they are not economic competitors. We went to war because one people was torturing another people. I am not sure what the right word is. "Persecuting" is far too mild a word for the raping and murdering that was going on in Kosovo. There was general consensus in the United States and the world that the Serb government should not be doing what it was doing. But it takes more than consensus.

The question was what should our reaction have been? Well, this is what it could have been. In time-honored tradition of nations of the world we could have gone to the United Nations and clucked about the killing in Kosovo. That would have been good and safe. We would have had an automatic exit strategy. When it was over we drive up some limousines to the UN and drive our UN staff to dinner. There is not much risk there. It is always easier to withdraw diplomats from the UN than to withdraw troops from a war zone. There would have been no entanglements. Of course, it would not have stopped anything. But we would be on the record for opposing genocide. Kitty Genovese's neighbors would have understood that approach. We would have been opposing the carnage verbally and the carnage would have continued. But that wasn't what we did. But we went to war for the human rights of a people half a world away and a people who do not otherwise touch our daily lives. There is no big Albanian lobby in Washington. Few politicians court the Albanian vote. As far as the press has covered, there was no big Albanian contribution to any Clinton Election Fund.

The war really did have some costs. There were some errors. At least temporarily we alienated China and Russia--paragons of morality neither. They need our approval much more than we need theirs. Clinton lost some points in his popularity polls. They will come back. I certainly expect that the history books will see that Clinton did the right thing and in the words of Mark Twain he really did gratify some and astonish the rest. But rightly or wrongly we have for years taken on this role of being the moral leader of the world, and one of the prices of that role is occasionally we have a responsibility to lead morally.

We could have been entangled in another long conflict. It still might happen. We took one very large risk to set things right in a political backwater that really does not amount to much in world politics. But then knife-wielding assailants are dangerous too, and Kitty Genovese was just a barmaid. [-mrl]

TARZAN (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: Disney Studios has made three films about the Tarzan-like Mowgli. No they finally have made a film about Tarzan himself, but what a disappointment. They have aimed it at a very young audience and thrown in a lot of anachronistic humor. They have turned their backs on all but the basics of the original plot. The Phil Collins songs are nauseating and the so-called comic style is just as bad. The animation is great, but little else will be of interest to Burroughs fans or adults. This is a real letdown for Disney animation after MULAN. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

Disney Studios seems to love the concept of feral children. They have made three films from Rudyard Kipling's THE JUNGLE BOOK. Now they are starting in on Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs's even more popular character originally inspired by the Mowgli tales. And with luck, starting is all they will do. Tarzan would be a good choice for Disney studios since Disney never feels particularly obligated to be faithful to the source material. After all, why bother? Their version will be the canonical one after it is released anyway, right? But Burroughs fans are used to disappointment. With all the many theatrical film versions of Tarzan almost none have been accurate to the Burroughs conception. Until the Disney version the original 1918 film version of TARZAN OF THE APES and the first half of GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES are the only films that even look at where Tarzan came from and how he got to be Tarzan. The rest just assumed there was this man in the jungle.

In the new Disney animated version we begin with a mother, father, and baby escaping from a burning ship and trying to survive ashore in equatorial Africa. (In the book they were Alice and John Clayton, but the name Clayton is used in this film for the villain.) At about the same time the she-gorilla Kala (voiced by Glenn Close) lost her own baby to Sabor the fierce leopard who holds Kala's tribe in fear. The grieving Kala hears the cry of a human baby and finds a tree house destroyed by Sabor, and in it a dead man and woman, and their still-living baby. Over the objection of her mate Kerchak (Lance Henrickson) and the disapproval of the other apes Kala adopts the baby, naming him Tarzan. Tarzan (Alex D. Linz as a boy and Tony Goldwyn as a man) grows up an outsider with an androgynous friend Terk (Rosie O'Donnell who brings entirely too much Rosie O'Donnell humor to the film). Tarzan struggles to win the approval of Kerchak, but Kerchak is a bigot who is not ready to accept a human into his family. (Yes, there are many politically-correct lessons in the course of the film.) Eventually Tarzan meets humans who come in an expedition to find gorillas. The expedition is made up of Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), his daughter Jane (Minnie Driver), and guide Clayton (Brian Blessed). Of course, the expected love story is told one more time.

I cannot think what Disney's studios could have done to so alienate Hans Zimmer that he would leave them in the lurch when they so desperately needed him. Zimmer, who scored films like THE LION KING, has a feel for the sound of African music. He could have done a beautiful score for TARZAN. Instead we have a collection of totally obnoxious songs by Phil Collins. Mark Mancina's music harmlessly fills in the spaces. On the other hand, the animation is little short of wonderful with odd stylistic touches that mix flat animation with some impressive three-dimensional animation. In Disney's new tradition, a different team animates each of the major characters. One advantage of this, I suppose is a lot more people can be working in parallel on a single scene, yet a single character is consistently animated through the entire film. Some parts of the screen may look like traditional flat animation; others will seem to be almost filmed as live-action. It could be bothersome having more than one animation techniques in a single scene, but it really is not. The one animation problem is that the words do not really fit the characters' lips well.

Several problems with the script and its visualization show how this film talks down to its audience. We see Tarzan skid over tree-limbs with obvious skate-boarding motions. And the tree limbs would have to be thirty feet long or more for the time he spends on each limb. And where in the world are there so many major waterfalls in such close proximity? We know immediately that Clayton is a villain because he is so ugly. Just once it would be nice to have an attractive villain and an ugly hero. (Lookism apparently continues to be exempt from the Disney agenda.) How likely is it that the expedition has brought a magic lantern and a praxinoscope and hence is prepared to teach Tarzan about civilization. This seems like in the worst traditions of "Gilligan's Island."

There are no African people in this version. That is not surprising since however they are portrayed there would be someone unhappy with the representation. Though Africans are present in the original novel, Disney decision-makers probably thought it was best side-stepping the issues of including them in their adaptation. There have been some people taking issue with the fact they have been eliminated, but it is relatively few. It is ironic that the filmmakers may be afraid to put in native Africans since they have Tarzan himself ask the question, "why are you afraid of anything different from you?" Apparently the filmmakers felt they themselves had something to fear. But it is doubly ironic because Tarzan himself is a symbol of the power of diversity. After all he is presumably the lord of the animals because he is actually human, and he is an invincible hero among humans because he was raised by animals.

Disney studios had the potential to make a very good adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic fantasy TARZAN OF THE APES. Instead they have set their sights considerably lower and made a film that will have little appeal beyond grade-school level audiences. I rate it a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

DISTRACTION by Bruce Sterling (1998, Bantam Spectra, HC, $23.95, 439 pp, ISBN 0-553-10484-5) (a book review by Joe Karpierz):

It took me the longest time to figure out why DISTRACTION is classified as a science fiction novel; I look for more than just "well, Bruce Sterling is an established science fiction writer, therefore it *must* be science fiction novel." I scratched my head, shrugged my shoulders, and came up with "I get it--it's a political science novel, with the operative word being science. Therefore it must be science fiction."


I have a tough enough time with the "soft" sciences being the central theme of a science fiction novel without having to deal with something like political science being thrown in the mix. Now, I know that this really isn't a "political science" novel, but it's the only way I could justify it, even though it contains many trappings of "near future" science fiction novels. It even has some neurological science mumbo-jumbo near the end of it, but by then it doesn't count.

DISTRACTION follows the story of one Oscar Valparaiso, a political spin-doctor and campaign advisor to a newly elected Senator from Massachusetts. The good old U.S. of A. is one screwed up country, politically, socially, and economically. There are some sixteen political parties, the country is broke, and Wyoming is on fire (and Sterling never delves into this one for the reader, and yet I'd find this one intensely interesting). And Oscar decides he wants to save "big science," or something like that.

Oscar has a couple of problems, however: one of them is his "background problem," which is genetic, and the other is Green Huey, the politically corrupt governor of Louisiana, the location of a big government lab. It does turn out that Green Huey is behind everything (like *that's* a surprise) from the start, including the big neurobiological thingamabob that works its way into the end of the story.

But, I say, so what?

I find Valparaiso completely unbelievable. By the time the novel was over I wanted to slap him upside the head with all the politcal weasel wording that he used in ordinary conversation. I also wanted to smack every other character who bought into him, asking if they were stupid or what? I also just couldn't suspend my disbelief for the way he got out of some situations. Other than the characters acting stupid, I could pretty much deal with the rest of them. The only character that I thought was interesting at all was Green Huey, maybe because his motivation made sense (and don't ask what that says about me--I don't want to know myself). And yet Sterling introducing Green Huey's big science thingamabob well past the half way mark of the novel, and really only delving into it near the end, ticked me off to no end.

I guess that's what it comes down to--Sterling didn't do anything interesting, in my opinion, with the ideas that were interesting to start with. So, as a result, the novel itself wasn't interesting to me at all.

I tried. I really did. I wanted to give this novel a fair shot. And I did. And I *still* don't like Bruce Sterling novels. [-jak]

LIMBO: (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Capsule: A failing economy and times of stress in Alaska take their toll on an ex-fisherman, a singer, and her daughter. John Sayles wrote, directed, and edited LIMBO with a good feel for dialog and character. He holds off a long time before revealing where the plot is going, leaving even the viewer in limbo. Rating: 7 (0 to 10), +2 (-4 to +4)

Limbo is "a place or state of restraint or confinement; an intermediate or transitional place or state; a state of uncertainty." The essence of limbo is being between this and that. Limbo is waiting. One knows what has passed, but not what is coming. John Sayles has constructed LIMBO like a fractal pattern of limbos within limbos. Alaska is in limbo politically. And within Alaska the town of Port Henry is in limbo economically. And within Port Henry most people are within a state of limbo in their personal lives. As the film opens a major chapter has just ended in the life of Donna De Angelo (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). When the film closes a major chapter in her life is about to start and there is complete uncertainty as to what that chapter will hold for her. The film covers that period of limbo. It also covers a limbo in the life of Joe Gastineau (David Strathairn), once a fisherman that he can no longer be and waiting for the next chapter in his life.

LIMBO begins with a 1950s travelogue showing what wonderful times it is in Alaska. The film has faded, but not as badly as the local economy. Hard times have hit in Port Henry, Alaska. With demand vanishing for canned salmon the local economy is slowly dying. Factories are closing one after another. A few wealthy people plan the next big thing for Alaska with more enthusiasm than wisdom. ("Think of Alaska as one big theme park.") Within Port Henry people are trapped between the old and the new. Their old jobs, mostly in the local salmon canning plant, are coming to an end. There may be a future for Port Henry or there may be just oblivion.

Donna has for years stayed without commitment with one man and then another. In her singing career she does the same. Currently she has a not very good job singing in the local saloon. She has a troubled daughter, Noelle (Vanessa Martinez), who has seen her father only twice. Unknown to her mother, Noelle has a friend and confidante, Joe Gastineau, and in spite of his much greater age Noelle is starting to think of him in romantic terms. Joe used to be a fisherman, but for his own reasons wants to stay away from the water--not an easy feat in Alaska. Donna is sour on all men and barely notices when she meets Joe that he may in fact be something special. Still, the two of them build a relationship.

For most of the film Sayles lets the story drift along without any obvious direction. We just spend time with the three main characters getting to know them very well. Noelle is very intelligent but completely alienated from her mother and is rebelling purely by being morbid. The film delves into her relationship with her mother as Donna and Joe become increasingly serious about each other. Eventually all three relationships will be tested by hard realities of survival in the Alaskan wilderness.

This is a film that has been wisely cast. David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio are two very fine actors who rarely get the public attention they deserve. Certainly they are far more talented than many actors with much more bankable marquee value are. Mastrantonio even does her own singing in this film. Strathairn has the quiet, likeable stage presence of a Henry Fonda. Kris Kristofferson is along with a small role as the bush pilot Smilin' Jack.

Sayles's story is an enigma and a curiosity. It very clearly is an independent film, because it does some things and goes some places that are more intelligent than profitable. Not everyone will be pleased by some of the decisions that Sayles makes, but on reflection, it is just those decisions that are the point. I give LIMBO a 7 on the 0 to 10 scale and a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale. [- mrl]

                                   Mark Leeper
                                   HO 1K-644 732-817-5619

Quote of the Week:

     [Democracy is] the blugeoning of the people, by
	    the people, for the people.
                                   -- Oscar Wilde