MT VOID 05/28/04 (Vol. 22, Number 48)

MT VOID 05/28/04 (Vol. 22, Number 48)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
05/28/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 48

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. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

The Laws of Cartoon Physics (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Readers might enjoy "The Laws of Cartoon Motion" adapted from the book ELEMENTARY EDUCATION by Mark O'Donnell. O'Donnell has watched too many Warner Brothers cartoons and is trying to formalize the laws of physics as they seem to apply to Bugs Bunny, the Road Runner, and their associates. It is perhaps more fun than watching the cartoons. See [-mrl]

The Mini-Article of Comments on Mammoth Books (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I would like to talk about a publishing phenomenon that I find very interesting. Personally I find that I am enthusiastic about a certain line of books, but just about nobody else seems to mention it as anything special. I now consider the publisher associated with it to be for me the second most interesting publisher in the world. (Before you ask, the most interesting publisher for me is probably Dover Books who do fascinating reprints and whom I will talk about some other time.) Yet while Dover has lots of fans I have never heard anyone but myself talk about this publisher.

My interest in this line of books must have started maybe twenty years ago when I first started noticing that some unusual reprints of pop culture novels were coming from the same source. A publisher I had never heard of, Carroll & Graf, was reprinting books like the very earliest novels of Leslie Charteris's character The Saint. It got so that if I saw a bunch of books spine out on a shelf in a bookstore I would look for the Carroll & Graf books. I discovered that a fair proportion of what they publish would be books of some kind of special interest. They might be might be about sports, about true crime, science fiction stories, whatever.

But there are other publishers who have interesting books. That is not what I would call a real publishing phenomenon. What started my interest was a book that was apparently a reprint of a thick anthology from Britain. They retitled if I remember correctly. The new title they gave it was "THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF {Something or Other}." I forget what it was the book of, but it was probably something like THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE STORIES or THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF GHOST STORIES.

Anyway, that was my first THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF.... That had to be ten or fifteen years ago at least. Now Mammoth Books seem to be showing up all over the place. They are taking up a lot of space on my bookshelf, only partially because a mammoth book does take up space.

The set of possible topics seems to have exploded. They have history books; puzzle books; science fiction, horror, fantasy, and detective stories; pulp fiction stories; puzzle books; sports; gay and lesbian and straight erotica; books of prophecies. The latter categories don't interest me that much, but they have a very large range.

The paper and the binding are not as good as Dover books. Dover uses acid-free paper and binds in signatures. Mammoth Books have a thicker and less smooth paper. These books are bound with glue, but I have never seen one with a binding problem.

The books are uniformly five by seven and three-quarter inches and the thinnest are one and a quarter inches thick. Some are nearly two inches thick. That depends on the number of pages, of course. They all seem to be at least 500 pages and some may be closer to 650.

Some publishers will make their book big by using a very large font. They think they are bringing their material to the partially-sighted, I believe. Carroll & Graf does not do that. The font size will vary but it never is so large that it seems to be stretching insufficient material. And with 500 to 600 pages that means there is a lot of material in each book. In truth I never have read one of these books cover to cover. I probably never will. There is just too much in each one. They are mammoth. Or nearly so. And they are not too expensive. I think that currently they are at most about $12.95. If you read a quarter of the book that is a lot of entertainment for the price.

All of this would be meaningless if the topics of the books were not particularly interesting. And while this is the hardest thing to demonstrate without just listing titles, the subject matter is what is really surprising. I can look down a list of titles of Mammoth Books and probably more than half of their titles are appealing to me. How many publishers can you say that about? That is an amazing batting average. They have a whole line of eyewitness accounts of history. World War II memoirs, accounts from the age of fighting sail, accounts from the age of exploration. I think one of my favorite books, John Carey's excellent EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY (from another publisher), may have inspired this line of eyewitness accounts for Mammoth Books. They have numerous fiction anthologies. And the stories are reprints, not original stories. (At first that does not sound like a virtue, but it means the editors did not commission the stories and then pretty much had to take what they got back. Most anthologies seem to be collections of commissioned stories these days. Mammoth anthologies are collections of stories that somebody thought were worth reviving. To me that means something.) They have books on chess and books of puzzles. The list is extensive. A few belabor their subject to the point of tedium. Those I can skim. I just don't know where they can get all the material to fill those books. What amazes me is just that they have so much output. [-mrl]

Pizza (letter of comment by George MacLachlan):

Enjoyed your discussion for pizza purists. I believe that you and Evelyn have been to Japan. Did you not come across pizza with corn and even fish on it?? I had the same reaction to those varieties as you had with pineapple.


Good to hear from you, George.

A lot of people seemed to like that discussion. That's ironic. I was a little too indirect and I think EVERYBODY missed the point of what I actually was saying. I am afraid that this editorial was a complete failure. I made the joke to Evelyn and she really liked it and told me I should expand it to an editorial. We both were too close to the joke and its origins. Neither of us realized that it was too subtle for anybody else to understand and indeed it was.

I should explain what it was REALLY about. Massachusetts had just started allowing same-sex marriage and a number of conservative columnists were complaining vociferously that it wold make marriage meaningless. I saw no reason why letting gays be married would ruin marriage for straights any more than the fact that some people put pineapple on pizza should ruin pizza for someone who likes pepperoni and mushroom on pizza. After all it's still the same pizza. So I started repeating all the right wing's arguments, but I substituted the issue of pineapple on pizza.

Well, when Jonathan Swift wrote GULLIVER'S TRAVELS he saw it as an angry, sarcastic diatribe against the society he saw around him. Instead it became a pleasant fantasy classic.

Actually, anybody can eat anything they want on pizza and it is fine with me. For the record, pizza is an amazing food. Just about anything that anyone likes on pizza, I think tastes pretty good on it. I am not just being diplomatic. In Scotland I had pineapple on pizza and actually I thought it was quite a good combination, just a little unexpectedly. A little bit of pineapple juice in your mouth that you get when you bite into the pizza is tastier than I would have thought. I did not have Japanese revisionist pizza simply because when in Japan I liked the native Japanese food too much. Noodle shops were great at lunch and department store sushi for dinner were some of the best sushi meals I ever had. My whole time in Japan nothing I was served or bought ever went unfinished. I did break my rule having pizza rather than Lithuanian food occasionally in Lithuania. The Lithuanians like fresh herring on pizza. And, you know, that tastes pretty good. But you need the real fresh herring; not the sugared stuff you get in jars here. [-mrl]

SHREK 2 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: There is distinctly less magic and fun in SHREK 2 as the title ogre has problems becoming accepted by his in-laws. All the same cast is back with the same voices, but the tone of the film is darker and we don't learn a lot more about the characters that we liked in the first film. One new character is engaging, but overall we just know these characters too well from the first film. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

If there had not been a SHREK, then SHREK 2 would have been a better film. Much of the novelty of this world has fallen off the production. The fun of for the first time meeting Shrek and especially Donkey are gone. Donkey is a good character, but he has a smaller role in this film where he is not really important to the plot and he gets fewer good lines. Eddie Murphy is probably not allowed to suddenly ad-lib something like a sudden fixation on parfaits. This film does, however, introduce us to Puss-in-Boots, and Puss is a good character but not as funny as Donkey was when we met him. In the first film the story was set in a fairy tale world that is far, far away and an ogre is rescuing a princess. That works for me. SHREK 2 is set mostly in what Fiona calls the Land of Far, Far Away, but it is basically in a place a lot like Hollywood. In this land Shrek has problems with his in-laws. So who needs to enter the world of fairy tales to have a comedy about someone having in-law problems in Hollywood? Somehow we invested more interest in wondering if the lead couple would get together than we ever could in whether they will stay together. If they break up it will be largely their own fault for not valuing each other's love enough.

So in the transition to the second film a little of the magic leaked out just in having the ogres start out already married. A little more leaked out when the jokes were toned down just a bit. Or perhaps the writers were just not as creative this time around. Also, this film just seems a little darker in tone. As the film opens Shrek (voiced by Michael Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) have accepted themselves as ogres. Then they get a command to visit Fiona's parents, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews). King Harold never expected to have an ogre for a son-in-law or for a daughter either, for that matter. He begins to plot against the marriage with the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and her son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Along the way we get a new character, a charming swashbuckling rogue, Puss-in-Boots (Antonio Banderas) who mixes in a little of his former role as El Zorro.

The little digs at Walt Disney's animated fairy tales and the popular media in general somehow seemed a lot funnier in the original. Perhaps part is that they are expected now so the element of surprise is lost. I do not know what they were looking for in the source music songs in this film, but they did not find it. The songs in the first film were somehow instantly likable. The choice of songs this time around seems pallid and drab. If I hear the same songs again on the radio I will probably not even remember that I have heard them before.

At the end of SHREK 2 we are just about where we were at the beginning of SHREK 2, but an hour and a half have been spent at least pleasantly. I might well have enjoyed myself watching SHREK for the nth time as much as watching SHREK 2 for the first time. Perhaps what we need next is a film about Donkey. Eddie, if they offer you I SPY II, go for DONKEY: THE MOVIE instead. I would rate SHREK 2 a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

TROY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a frequently flawed film, but for fans of classical adventures it is worth seeing anyway. This is probably the version of the "Iliad" story that will stick with you. TROY breathes life into Homer's story and makes the characters seem like real humans. Brad Pitt stars as the noble Achilles and does a reasonable job. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

You probably have heard some negative things about the film TROY. They are mostly true. The characters are not well developed. You have probably heard that the filmmakers took this giant work of ancient literature and turned it into an action film with lots of CGI special effects. Why would you want to see that? Well, because they took this giant work of ancient literature and turned it into an action film with lots of CGI special effects. I read THE ILIAD more or less under protest. It was in verse yet. Characters like Achilles were like chess pieces. Now Achilles was in tent sulking. Now Achilles was angry on the battlefield. In verse you gave very little thought to Achilles as a human rather than this character who might as well be made of marble. He was one-dimensional. One could say that in TROY, Brad Pitt plays Achilles perhaps a little flat. But flat is two-dimensional and two dimensions is a whole lot more than one.

When I read about the formidable walls of Troy, I will now have a picture in my mind of what those steep and impregnable walls looked like. I will tell you very frankly that beforehand I did not want to see noble Achilles played by pretty Brad Pitt. Pitt did not seem formidable. Now I have seen Achilles as played by Brad Pitt and I wouldn't want to fight him. I had previously seen two different films called HELEN OF TROY. Yes, the story of Troy was all there in each case. But the images of those films have faded from my memory very quickly. They were just not very engaging films. TROY is going to be the version of the story of the siege of that city that I will probably remember. This is the version with the really impressive images. Sure, many of those images were create in a computer. But that is not how I am going to remember them. If this was not a story from classical literature I might not remember it. But this is the film that got to Homer's ILIAD first with really impressive images and with reasonably human characters who are not made out of marble. I can almost guarantee you that whenever you run into the story of the siege of Troy or the Trojan Horse, this film is what will come to your mind.

The film opens with Agamemnon (Brian Cox, as always delightfully slimy) conquering Thessaly, the last kingdom of Greece he does not rule. To make the conquest he must call upon his greatest hero (also something of a prima donna) Achilles. What follows bodes not well for the rest of the film. Once Achilles is found, lazily sleeping late in his tent while the battle was forming, he is given the job of defeating a giant brute of a man who is the champion of the Thessalians. Guess who wins. Soon the story is back on track as the Trojan Paris (Orlando Bloom) steals Helen (Diane Kruger) from her Greek king husband Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson). He takes Helen to Troy. This gives Agamemnon the excuse to bring an army of thousands of men to try to take the walled city. We are very quickly into the material of Homer's ILIAD. Much too quickly actually, since that should take place in the tenth year of the war, not the first. However, since there are no accounts of the first ten years of the war as far as I know, that material is easily dispensed with. The film fairly accurately follows the story of THE ILIAD but without the presence of corporeal gods. When THE ILIAD runs out, it continues with the story of the fall of Troy. (Incidentally, it is a common error to believe that the story of the Trojan Horse and the fall of Troy is told in THE ILIAD. Actually there may be a reference or two, but THE ILIAD ends before that incident. That story and the subsequent fall of Troy is told elsewhere, most notably THE AENEID.) The film does not noticeably take sides in the war, but King Priam of Troy (Peter O'Toole at age 72) comes off considerably better than does Greek King Agamemnon. However, most of the film is about Achilles who ironically seems to combine in a single personality childishness, manhood, and high nobility. The Trojans have their own noble hero in Hector (Eric Bana), the loyal brother of Paris. The wily Odysseus is played by Sean Bean well enough to make the viewer wish that director Wolfgang Petersen would now feature Bean in an adaptation of THE ODYSSEY.

Complaints? I do not think that the walled city of Troy could have been as big as it is portrayed. I visited the assumed site near Canakkale, Turkey, and it just did not seem that big. One sees a fair amount of nudity in the film, though always with the "naughty bits" hidden. Still, it seemed more than the film needed. Petersen borrows a touch from Akira Kurosawa's RAN by having some of the battle scenes be nearly silent with overlaid music. The score is by James Horner. There are a lot of people in this film who just did not look Greek or Trojan, but that seems to be the approach. These people are supposed to look and act a lot like the viewer or people the viewer knows. Petersen fleshes out Homer's characters, giving them recognizable personalities and makes them understandable and believable to a modern audience. I rate TROY a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]

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

Carolyn Keene's THE SECRET OF THE OLD CLOCK was a nostalgia read for the mystery book group, but one of the oddities about it is that people had at least two different versions to choose from. Originally written in 1930, it was re-written in 1959 to remove racial sterotypes (sounds a bit like Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS/AND THEN THERE WERE NONE!), as well as to raise Nancy's age to 18, change her roadster to a convertible, and other "modernizations." One of these modernizations, according to one person who read both editions, was the dumbing-down of the language. This may be why I didn't enjoy the new version as much, and I also missed Beth and George. (We weren't sure if they were written out, or whether they didn't appear until later volumes. And we also didn't think today's teenagers would find much to like in them--there isn't much for them to identify with, but there is no "period feel" left to enjoy either. (This is why the updating of Sherlock Holmes done for the later Universal films doesn't work very well.) And our opinion is supported somewhat by one person, who said her niece had read it and thought that Nancy was just "too good" to be believable.

(Ironically, given the removal of the racial stereotypes, Nancy Drew is now published under Pocket Books's Minstrel imprint.)

There are also new series of Nancy Drew: Nancy Drew on Campus, Nancy Drew Notebooks, Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys Super Mysteries. Frankly, my recommendation both for those looking for nostalgia and for those reading them for the first time would be to read the 1930 editions if you can find them, and skip the newer ones.

Details about many of the differences and change can be found at (probably expired, but there seems to be a copy at There was also an essay on, but it seems to be gone.

Isaac Asimov's I, ROBOT, on the other hand, has not been revised since the original 1940s and 1950s publication of the stories, and remains extremely readable even now. And while many of the stories are "mere" puzzle pieces, several had deeper philosophical issues that remain pertinent even today. (And I may have more to say after our science fiction discussion group discusses it.)

On the other hand, I tried to read Joseph Conrad's LORD JIM, this month's selection for the general book discussion group at the library. But it was just too tough going. I know people talk about how Joseph Conrad mastered English so well as a second language, but if one looks at just this novel, one gets the impression that he didn't really have the hang of it. His phrasing, combined with the non-linear telling of the story, made this the sort of book that I decided life was too short to read. (Many people felt this way, though a couple of people did finish it, and one really liked it. That gives it a slight edge over THE SUN ALSO RISES, which no one liked.)

And one non-book: I watched THE STONE READER, a documentary about the filmmaker's search for Dow Mossman, the author of THE STONES OF SUMMER. Mark Moskowitz had tried to read the book in the 1970s and hated it, but when he came across his copy recently he found that to the contrary he now thought it was superb. He realized that Mossman hadn't ever written anything else and had disappeared from view. So he embarked on a quest to find Mossman and discover why this is so. The first part of the film is not specifically about THE STONES OF SUMMER, and books that matter to their readers in general--books like CATCH-22 and HAROLD AND THE PURPLE CRAYON and CALL IT SLEEP and many others. Moskowitz travels around, talking to people involved in publishing, teaching, or just plain reading, all the time looking for hints to what happened to Mossman. And this is the only movie I can remember that has, following the song credits, book credits--and more books were listed than I ever saw songs listed. Highly recommended for all lovers of books. (No, I won't tell you what happens.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The gods do not protect fools.  Fools are 
           protected by more capable fools.
                                          -- Larry Niven

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