MT VOID 09/26/03 (Vol. 22, Number 13)

MT VOID 09/26/03 (Vol. 22, Number 13)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/26/03 -- Vol. 22, No. 13

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Free Films (announcement):

There will be a free showing of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE on the wide screen on Thursday evening, October 2, at the Strathmore Art Cinema of Matawan, New Jersey. The film will show at 5 PM and at 7:45 PM. The theater will also be showing LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL at 5:15 PM and 7:30 PM, AMELIE at 5:30 PM and 8 PM, and CINEMA PARADISO at 7:15 PM. I realize many of our readers do not live in New Jersey, but this is for those who do live in the New Jersey area (where this club was founded and still has many of its members). The theater is on Route 34 in Matawan. People in our area used to have only the theater in Red Bank, which had only two screens or had to drive to Princeton to see art house films. The Strathmore has been around for many years competing with the neighborhood theaters, which it had problems matching. Showing those hard-to-find art house films is a supremely good idea. Evelyn is all a-twitter. [-mrl]

Placebo Follow-up (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In our July 18 issue I did some serious investigative reporting on the whole field of placebos and their effectiveness. It seems that that article has ripped the field wide open and other journals are following my lead. People should note major similarities between my coverage of this subject and the polished but less insightful coverage at "The Onion" this week I will point out that while their coverage is in their usual Onion style, my coverage is more like a parfait. [-mrl]

Trailers for Upcoming Films Presented at Torcon 3 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week I was talking about the trailers for upcoming films that I saw at the presentation at Torcon. Frankly they do not look that good to me. The second half looked a little better.

I don't think the trailer shown at Torcon tells much but I understand the plot involves a psychologist who wakes up to find she is now a patient accused of a murder that she does not remember. Halle Berry and Robert Downey, Jr., star.

The third of Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" stories. Apparently if he makes such good films on $5000 someone wanted to see what he could do with a $10,000 budget. It is not that he makes great films, but on his budget it is amazing he can make films at all. While Hollywood is making expensive super-violence films with flat characters, nobody can match Rodriguez for his ability to make inexpensive super-violence films with flat characters. (Actually the budget for this film is $30,000,000 which, it should be explained, is not really a lot of money. It's paltry. Puny. It is only a little more than three times what the first STAR WARS cost. It is about the cost of MOONRAKER.) P.S. Word on the street is that this actually is a super-violent film with flat characters.

There was a set of pilots for Canadian TV programs that seemed to be connected with Jim Danforth, a Ray Harryhausen protege. They had titles like STARHUNTER 2300 and BATTLE QUEEN 2020. The first was about a future bounty hunter. One had to do with virtual reality helicopter battles. They looked a little like satires of everything that is wrong with Hollywood films. The same things are wrong with Canadian films.

Weird animator Bill Plympton had two trailers. One for MUTANT ALIENS (2001) and one for HAIR HIGH (2003). The former is about a human stranded in space and who comes back to Earth with alien pals looking for revenge. There were some humorous images of aliens who look like human body parts. HAIR HIGH is supposed to have the feel of GREASE! or HAIR SPRAY. The latter trailer seems to be little more than images of people with pompadour haircuts. Supposedly there are lots of shock scenes in any Plympton feature film (and the small sample of them I have seen, namely I MARRIED A STRANGE PERSON, bears that suggestion out).

What can I say? It is the British Navy in the Napoleonic wars. I am an old Hornblower fan, though I have never read the Patrick O'Brien novels, but I will definitely see this film. Russell Crowe stars and Peter Weir directs. Yeah, I'll be there.

I seem to be about the only one not excited by the trailer of this film. Maybe it has BUBBA HO-TEP's appeal. Two college kids are looking to find attractive partners for certain social/biological acts. They seem to be getting really lucky until they discover the foxes are really alien monsters in disguise. Call it a Honey Trap. It seems to me like a familiar joke.

This is a film that looks stylish from the trailer, but it has had no press screenings (always a bad sign) and probably the film is not very good. It essentially deals with what appears to be an attempted takeover of the Catholic Church opposed by an order of protectors of the Church. VATICAN DRAGNET, maybe?

This looks like a revisionist live-action version of the oft- dramatized children's story. It looks like it might have mild violence that will make it appeal to a teenage audience. Jason Isaacs plays Captain Hook and Jeremy Sumpter is Peter Pan. I think the trailer say something like "Forget everything you know about Peter Pan." Since some of what I know about Peter Pan is what was in the book, that is not a good sign.

This is a ROGER RABBIT-like mixing of animated figures and live- action. Actually I think the animated figures were done with 3D animation like was used in SHREK. The film may be amusing, but not much could be inferred from the trailer beyond the concept. The trailer does have a good joke not from the film.

Apparently this film has already played a couple of years in Asia and is quite popular. A family of brothers from Shaolin use their fighting discipline to become a super-powered soccer team. Neither soccer nor martial arts is my thing, but the film looks recommendable to others. Combining soccer and martial arts seems like a cheap shot.

Peter Jackson is trying to make the last chapter of the series "ultimate" in more ways than one. It is claimed to have the most complex battle ever put on film. It should not be hard to have the greatest number of fighters since the vast majority of those fighting are CGI. Also you can put a digital image into danger into which you would not put a stunt man. On the other hand, a digital warrior frequently looks a lot like a digital warrior.

Trailers are supposed to tempt the viewer. I guess the films I am most tempted to see are TIMELINE, MASTER AND COMMANDER, and THE RETURN OF THE KING. But that is a reflection of my taste. [-mrl]

UNDERWORLD (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: If a vampire loves a werewolf, where can they set up housekeeping together? Nowhere. At least not in a world where werewolves and vampires have fought for a thousand years. Kate Beckinsale plays a vampire Death Dealer who is a ruthless werewolf killer and who discovers that her new love interest is from the other camp. But really she has to stop a sort of coup to take over the vampires. This is a film of non-stop action and non- start intelligence. Lots of gunplay and the look of THE MATRIX borrowed for another realm. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

UNDERWORLD is a mass of contradictions. That is not necessarily a bad thing in a film. Some very good films are paradoxical. UNDERWORLD actually could be paradoxical if it was better done, but it is just poorly thought out. This film seems like one long violence episode and the violence is not even very well done. It seems that the vampires and the werewolves have been at each other's throats for nearly a thousand years. Unbeknownst to us in the real world there is a population of vampires and a population of werewolves and they are at war with each other. It does not really matter a whole lot to the plot that they are vampires and werewolves. With a little rewriting they could easily be two rival street gangs, or Stalinists and Trotskyites. But then there would not be so much use for the gore makeup and the CGI effects. The beasties do very little chewing of each other preferring to use automatic weapons on each other. There are a lot of automatic weapons in this movie. There is the frequent staccato of gunfights so totally lacking in 1930s vampire films.

Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a beautiful vampire who wears these skin-tight leather outfits. This is the same Kate Beckinsale who played the comely nurse in PEARL HARBOR. Apparently she could not resist the urge to play an action hero. She is a "Death Dealer" which means she earns her daily blood by hunting down werewolves in a war of attrition between the two armies of monsters. Selene has to be very careful not to let the world of humans know of the existence of these two armies in their midst so when she has a wild gunfight on a subway she keeps everything very discrete in some way not obvious to the viewer.

As sort of a sort of a secret agent in the war she sees something that perks her curiosity. There is some strange behavior on the part of the werewolves involving a human named Michael (Scott Speedman). Michael is somehow involved in a strange plot involving vampires and werewolves. (Are there any other kind of plots involving vampires and werewolves?) The vampire Kraven (Shane Brolly) wants rule all the vampires and is making deals with (gasp) werewolves. Selene has to stop him. In the meantime she is falling in love with the human Michael who may no longer be human. The result may be the first love between a vampire and a werewolf, like Romeo and Juliet, but without any sort of gentle poetry. In fact there is not much in this film that is gentle. Certainly nothing is gentle that can be made violent just like nothing is quiet that can be loud. Just about everything is overdone. The battles all have wirework and lots of gunfire. In her battle to stop the evil Kraven (the name just sounds evils, doesn't it?), Selene has a secret weapon. She can revive the great ruling vampire, like the King of the Gypsies, to come to her aid. This is Viktor (Bill Nighy of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE and the upcoming LOVE ACTUALLY), an age-old vampire powerful but at the same time decrepit.

About the best thing about UNDERWORLD is its production design and art direction. The entire look of the film seems to imitate THE MATRIX with dominant colors being black, gray, and steel blue. Occasionally there is some muted red added because what is a vampire film without blood. But the look of the film is far better than the script. Many scenes are staged for visual excitement but not logic. Selene will be running and from nowhere a fist will sock her on the snoot. Then you will see that it is from an enemy that she should have been able to see from across the room, but then there would not have been the exciting scene.

One of my pet peeves from BLADE holds true here. The vampires seem to be vampires by virtue of a special blood type. The same goes for the werewolves. That would be okay if they were purely scientific creatures, but they both have supernatural powers. There are scenes of both running upside-down on the ceiling. That is a supernatural power and could not possibly come from a blood type. The writers should decide if their vampires are supernatural or preternatural and not confuse the two.

The nice thing about this film is you are never more than five minutes away from the big dramatic or action scene. If you go out for popcorn you will miss it. But don't worry, there will be another one along in another five minutes. And none of these scenes will be clear in your mind in two hours. I give UNDERWORLD a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

LOST IN TRANSLATION (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Two Americans meet in Tokyo and spend the week as close platonic friends. On the way we see their frustrations with the strange culture in Tokyo and how each deals with his loneliness. They get to know each other discussing love, marriage, and their lives. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) is in Tokyo filming commercials for a familiar brand of Japanese whiskey. Harris was a big star in America, though most of his films were made in the 1970s. Now he is on the downside of his career and he still seems to be idolized by the Japanese but mostly as a matter of form. These days he is less an actor and more a family man living with the little stresses with his wife.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) has had two years of a meaningless marriage to John (Giovanni Ribisi) her photographer husband, currently assigned to Tokyo. Both Bob and Charlotte are at loose ends and a little tired of a town that is so strange to them. After seeing each other a few times in the bar of their hotel they strike up a friendship. Bob goes out with Charlotte and meets some of her friends in Japan. They decide to share their time and their minds, becoming intimate in several different ways, all of which are platonic. The film builds to Bob and Charlotte coming to a bittersweet understanding of their relationship.

Though the two had found initially they could not really connect with each other, as time goes by they are more willing to open up. Charlotte (in her early twenties) needs help with a marriage that is not really working after two years. Bob's marriage of twenty-five years is working, but has become routine. There are a few (not nearly enough) heart-to-heart talks between the two, each lonely and lost in a different way. Bob ties to give Charlotte the benefit of his fifty-plus years of experience. (Side note: I saw the film on Bill Murray's 53rd birthday.) The middle-aged man gives his wisdom about marriage and how to get through life.

LOST IN TRANSLATION is about several things including the difficulty that some American have adjusting to the Japanese society. One continuing theme is the brashness of Japanese advertising. Besides the fact that Bob is in Tokyo to create some very Western-looking whiskey ads (with a convenient product placement). We return to images of Technicolor bright neon advertising at night. During the day office buildings project films of dinosaurs and elephants on their mirrored windows. Karaoke comes up several times and the singing is uniformly painful. In fact, bad singing in general is a recurrent theme.

Bill Murray's acting as Bob has gotten much positive comment though I think he overuses that bemused look and cynical half smile he is famous for. The humor is frequently slapstick as in a run-in with a ski machine. Scarlett Johansson of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE is quite capable in the role of Charlotte looking like a younger version of Uma Thurman. It really is their film with Giovanni Ribisi in third billing having a much smaller part. The film works best when the two of them are having quiet talks together with Bill Murray playing it quiet and sincere. Sadly there are fewer of such moments than the film needed.

LOST IN TRANSLATION was written, directed, and co-produced by Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola who gets and executive producer credit. I rate the film a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. (I can't quite figure out where the Harris family could have lived to be having breakfast when it was 4 AM in Tokyo. Perhaps it was Hawaii.) [-mrl]

SECONDHAND LIONS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: A young adult film with a boy being dropped off to live with his two strange old grand-uncles. The story revolves around the boy's adjustment and his investigation into just what really is the history of these two weird eccentrics. If you look at this as a serious adult film, it seems contrived and does not quite work. If you see it as the same sort of strange kids' story that HOLES was, it is kind of fun. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

SECONDHAND LIONS is being marketed as a mature film to show off the acting talents of Robert Duvall and Michael Caine in a sort of character study. I suppose that is true as far as it goes, but an important point is being left out. This film is not so much an adult film as a young adult film that most of us can appreciate. It is a near-fantasy with a whimsical feel well attuned to teens. Duvall and Caine play Hub and Garth, two crusty old men with some kind of a past, but it is not clear what. These two weird old coots live off by themselves in the baked fields of Texas farm country. But I am getting ahead of myself. The real main character is Walter (Haley Joel Osment of THE SIXTH SENSE and A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE). Walter's mother Mae (Kyra Sedgewick) is a woman of checkered past industriously proceeding to checker her present and her future. Unannounced she drops Walter off at the farm of her two weird uncles. Before she goes she hints that the two might have a treasure hidden on premises and Walter might pass the time looking for it. Then Mae goes off to take a course on being a court reporter.

The uncles and Walter quickly come to an agreement. Walter does not think much of his eccentric uncles and they would prefer that Walter was someplace else. Walter has no idea what to do in a house with no telephone or television. He watches as his uncles take sport in shooting at traveling salesmen who come by. It is going to be a long and painful summer for Walter, or so it looks at first. It is no surprise that by the end of the film everyone has a great deal of affection for everyone else. The real question to be solved is not where the money is but what did Hub and Garth do during the forty years that they seem to have disappeared off the earth. Some say they were robbing banks. Garth tells Walter an outlandish tale of pulpish high adventure in North Africa.

Robert Duvall is one of our great actors and there are few roles anyone is likely to cast him in where his performance would be likely to disappoint. He is just fine as a Texas lunatic. Michael Caine, on the other hand, finds playing a Texan to be just a little beyond even his immense capabilities. It would be easy to pay too little attention to the performance of Haley Joel Osment, who is, after all, just a kid. But he also happens to have an interesting face that adds a lot to any scene that he is in. It may well be true that he serves the film better than Caine does. Walter, all grown up and benefiting from his experience with his uncles, is played by Josh Lucas of A BEAUTIFUL MIND and HULK. And the lesson he has learned is that it is better to believe in something that it is worth believing in than it is to believe in something less worthwhile even if you are sure it is true. (I am not certain that is not a dangerous or even immoral philosophy.) I noted watching the film that there was something in the score I could not describe but which reminded me of the score to MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. This score and that were contributed by Patrick Doyle. The film is written and directed by Tim McCanlies who wrote the screenplay for IRON GIANT, another adolescent film the whole family could enjoy.

I am not sure I can recommend this film whole-heartedly to adult viewers. Too much seems a little contrived and unreal. The story is just not told on a mature level. On the other hand SECONDHAND LIONS seems a very good match for teenagers. Now the question is how to get them to want to see it. I rate SECONDHAND LIONS a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

ANYTHING ELSE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Woody Allen's ANYTHING ELSE is mildly amusing, but that still makes it the best film he has made in a while. A younger version of Allen is manipulated and dominated by the people around him, all sending contradictory messages. The movie is a little slow toward the middle, but its point is made by the end. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)

I will give Woody Allen credit. For decades he has been experimenting with different genres. That makes him a constant neophyte against more seasoned directors for each of these kinds of films. In the last decade he has tried a musical, a pulp adventure, a murder mystery, and several other films varying his approach. But his misses have been far more common than his hits. In ANYTHING ELSE he returns to his home genre. He is telling a story about the neurotic intellectual trying to iron out his love life and his life in general, much has he did with ANNIE HALL. He is telling a story about a nebbish who can talk intelligently about Sartre at parties, but who is a complete jerk in his love life. It is familiar territory for Allen, but this time he seems to be making a real point and though the success is mild, the film is at least likable.

Woody Allen plays a supporting role as his usual disturbed character, but that character is not the main focus. He has another actor playing the confused, trademarked insecure Jewish intellectual schlemiel. Jason Biggs (who plays Jim Levinstein in the AMERICAN PIE films) here plays Jerry Falk, a comedy writer and aspiring novelist. Jerry sees the sultry (?) Amanda, played by Christina Ricci, and immediately decides that he must have her. This is in spite of the fact she is the current girlfriend of one of Jerry's friends and that he is already in a relationship. Once he has won her, he finds that it is really a high-maintenance relationship. Amanda is self-obsessed and selfish, but she knows how to talk her way around Jerry so that she gets what she wants.

Actually Jerry has several people manipulating him at the same time. There is his friend David Dobel (Woody Allen), another comedy writer who has decided to latch onto and train Jerry with life lessons and survivalist skills. Jerry's agent and manager is Harvey (Danny DeVito) who has quietly upped his percentage to 25% and does not seem to be doing much for Jerry at all. Jerry also has an analyst who never says anything at all useful to Jerry. But in each of these relationships Jerry wants to be a nice guy and cannot tell these people that he is getting nothing nourishing out of his relationship with each of them. There is a nice subplot showing Dobel has inner fires eating at him, somewhat atypical of an Allen role. He hears slights in other people's comments that nobody else hears. He can give in to moments of shocking violence. And he feels anybody living in the city needs to keep a loaded gun handy. Dobel pulls Jerry in one direction; Amanda pulls him in another. And Amanda's delinquent mother Paula (Stockard Channing) moves in and makes her own demands on Jerry.

The big fault with the script is that once we get to the middle act the story does little to develop. There are worse things in life than listening to Woody Allen dialog, but even with that the viewer get impatient. The film's middle makes the same point repeatedly: that each of these relationships seems to be doing nothing for Jerry. The psychiatrist does nothing at all, he agent makes excuses, Dobel gives bad advice, and Amanda does exclusively what she wants to do and gives Jerry excuses that that doing so is good for their relationship. One can easily see and--even more hear--a younger Woody Allen in the role of Jerry. The young comedy writer talks in Allen-like language and even seems to think like Allen. He makes little comments aside to the camera in much the same way that Allen does in films like MANHATTAN. The story is building to a nice ironic twist, but it takes longer than need be to get there. ANYTHING ELSE does work, but it is not nearly so ambitious as Allen's work of fifteen years ago. After his CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS he seems to have lost his way.

While this is really only a shadow of what Woody Allen has given us in the past, it has some substance and is better than any film Allen has given us in a long disappointing period. I give ANYTHING ELSE a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

DUMMY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

Rating: +1

DUMMY is a likable comedy about a collection of mildly dysfunctional people trying to work out their lives in Long Island. The center of attention is Steven, played by Adrian Brody just prior to his making THE PIANIST. Early in the film he decides to try ventriloquism as a hobby and it becomes a driving force in his life. He is able to give his dummy a personality of its own, far more aggressive than his own nebbish approach to life. Much of the humor derives from what this irreverent piece of wood is going to say. Steven's girlfriend is Fangora (Milla Jovovich), whose punk rocker exterior hides a sweet person inside desperately trying to stay hidden. Like Steven she is out of work and is so desperate that she gets her group a wedding gig playing Jewish klezmer music. Then she seriously studies klezmer in and effort to do justice to a form of music that she has never heard of. Fangora was hired by Heidi (Illeana Douglas), Steven's sister, a wedding planner with her own problems. Her ex-boyfriend has started stalking her and is going to Steven for advice. Their father played by Ron Leibman has retired and is starting a new career as a child.

Probably the oldest cliche in the very small genre of ventriloquist films is that the dummy gets a personality of his own and behaves in ways and says things that the ventriloquist would not. Steven has romantic interest in his employment counselor, but the dummy's frankness is a major impediment. Even worse, Steven turns to the unimpressive Fangora for advice on how to impress her. This film follows the schizophrenic relationship between Steven and his dummy about as far as it can. The dummy's comments are cutting and insightful. Too often even when he is sitting by himself, the dummy has just the right expression on his face. The screenplay by writer and director Greg Pritikin has cute touches, but it takes a long time to make the viewer care about characters. At times the plotting seems a little contrived.

Incidentally Brody is a ventriloquist and does his own work in the film. [-mrl]

BUBBA HO-TEP (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

[This review ran in the 10/25/02 issue after its screening during the Toronto International Film Festival, but since the film is opening in theaters this week, we are re-running it.]

CAPSULE: In a Texas nursing home Elvis and JFK live on. And they need each other's help. There is a murderous mummy on the loose in a cowboy hat. Most of the action takes place in the nursing home and the joke outstays its welcome. Clearly this is the sort of film that will have a small following that thinks it is CITIZEN KANE and a large number of people who will be accused of just not getting it. I got it, but I didn't particularly want it. Rating: 4 (0 to 10), low 0 (-4 to +4)

There is not a lot to this ultra-low budget film. Most of what you get from the film is the idea. It takes place for the greatest part in an East Texas rest home in the present day. Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) is one of the residents. How he came to be still alive and in an East Texas rest home is part of the story. Another resident may or may not be John F. Kennedy. (Ossie Davis... Don't ask.)

At this star-studded rest home some pretty weird happenings happen. Just why takes some explaining, but a resurrected mummy dressed in a cowboy suit walks the halls and kills people as part of his evil plans. Presley and Kennedy team up to kill the mummy. The mummy mythology, that part of it that comes from films, seems to come entirely from Brendan Fraser mummy movies. The Joe Lansdale story pre-dates those films, but the script's emphasis on scarab beetles seems to come from the most recent films.

Don Coscarelli (PHANTASM) directed and wrote the screenplay based on a story by Joe R. Lansdale who also wrote RAZORED SADDLES, a collection of western horror stories. Some of the dialog is fun, but there is very little here to attract the average horror fan and less for the average film fan. There are much more rewarding films to rent.

Some of my friends had particular reasons for liking this film. If you have a special interest in one of the actors, Elvis stories, or rest homes this film may just be down your personal alley. For everyone else I would have to put this film down in the range of a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale or a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]

[The story by Joe R. Lansdale can be found in THE KING IS DEAD: TALES OF ELVIS POSTMORTEM, edited by Paul M. Sammon, or WRITER OF THE PURPLE RAGE by Joe R. Lansdale.]

This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

No, it's not a wedding--it's my recent reading.

The "something old" was L. Ron Hubbard's FEAR. First published in 1940, it's a *lot* shorter than Hubbard's later work and, while not great, is certainly readable enough--and after sixty years, that's saying something. Basically, a professor finds he has lost four hours of his life and tries to discover what has happened. While it's billed as a horror novel, it is not (by today's standards) horrific, but it is a classic.

The "something new" was Howard Waldrop's A BETTER WORLD'S IN BIRTH! (The exclamation point is part of the title.) The premise of this alternate history is that Communism takes hold in Europe in 1848 rather than later. As usual, Waldrop manages to write something good, but based on history so obscure that most readers won't follow it, and then publish it in a chapbook where most who could won't find it.

The "something borrowed" was Robert Charles Wilson's BLIND LAKE, which I borrowed from a friend. Somehow it's not up to his previous work, perhaps because I found the character of the ex- husband to be a bit over the top and not really necessary to the story. I would have thought the idea of a secret installation observing alien life on a planet circling a distant star enough premise for the story. I also thought the premise of the "viewer" to be a trifle too unbelievable--too much fantasy and not enough science fiction. (Of course, I have the same complaint about some of the "science" in Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END, about which I will say more next week. I guess it's just Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.")

And the "something blue"? Well, Bill Bryson's A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING had a blue cover. It could equally well have been titled LIFE, THE UNIVERSE, AND EVERYTHING, since it is about how the universe and our solar system came about, and how life arose and developed. Of course, the latter title was already taken. The book lacks much of the humor of Bryson's travelogues, thought there are a few witticisms scattered throughout. Bryson spends a lot of time talking about the people who actually made the great discoveries first, but then failed to achieve recognition, either by not publishing or by publishing in the wrong place or at the wrong time. All in all, it's a very readable history of, well, nearly everything. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Women want mediocre men.  And men are working 
           hard to become as mediocre as possible.
                                          -- Margaret Mead

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