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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/17/05 -- Vol. 23, No. 51 (Whole Number 1287)
Table of Contents
Lose Weight While Sleeping (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Spam mail came with the title "Lose Weight While Sleeping." There probably are people to whom that title sounds like a good idea. I give it a little more thought. Not for me, thank you.
There are people I know who do lose weight while sleeping. I cannot say I really envy the talent. Most of them are quite young. When they get a little older their parents are very anxious to train them to lose weight only during their waking hours. It makes doing the laundry more pleasant. [-mrl]
From Merlot to Cockfosters (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
There is a law called "The Law of Unintended Consequences." According to this law almost all human actions have at least one unintended consequence. What ever you do, it will have additional side effects that you did not intend. Sociologist Robert K. Merton's name is associated with this rule, though I remember musing about it back when I was in high school and before it was ever spelled out for me.
I got e-mail from someone asking about why Miles Raymond, the Paul Giamatti character in SIDEWAYS, despised Merlot wine. The lines in the film are this:
Jack: "If they want to drink Merlot, we're drinking Merlot." Miles Raymond: "No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f***ing Merlot!"
This got us onto a discussion of unintended market consequences of lines in films and comments in the entertainment industry. Actually Merlot growers are having some real problems as a result of this film. Sales of Merlot are down while Pinot Noir sales are booming.
Something similar happened when Oprah Winfry said negative things about beef in her program. The cattle industry has their own beef with Oprah. That ended in a lawsuit that Oprah won, but of course it also reminds us that we are morally and sometimes legally responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions.
Rumor has it that the old song "Beans in My Ears" was banned from the radio because kids would hear it and put beans in their ears. I can find the lyrics, but not documentation of the problems the song caused.
This sort of thing is an old story. Columbia Pictures faced a similar charge over IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT.
There is a serious issue of whether writers for entertainment are responsible for the unintended consequences of dialog in their films. The sad fact is that innocently intended dialog and character actions can have serious social consequences and the question arises of who is responsible for them. It can be considered negligent harm to put dialog in a film and not worry about the effect it will have on viewers. This is a slippery slope on either side. Do writers have to self-censor everything they write? If so, what happened to the First Amendment? On the other hand, I would not be at all surprised to see little whimsical slams of one political party dropped into films that just happen to be in part funded by members of the other political party. A product placement does not have to be a product; it can be an idea. It is not clear what can be done about that. After all, some films are overtly political. It probably is perfectly legal to make them subtly political in return for pay. There are accusations that some political editorials are being paid for by a certain political party in power now who would like to see political thought spun in their direction. I don't want to be more specific than that, because I do not want action taken against me.
Speaking of which, I am bound by unintended consequences of what I put in writing. But it is not so much by the law. If the language I use in the MT VOID gets too explicit I cannot send out the VOID. Some ISPs have language protection for their customers and will not pass on mail in which I use the bad words. That is why up above I had to say "f***ing Merlot." If I used the real word there are some Internet Service Providers who would censor the VOID and not pass it on to the readers. We have had that experience in the past. So we end up with a sort of self- censorship. This is a self-censorship that is stronger than anything that the Government has ever imposed is. And if the Government had imposed it, the ACLU would be all over it as an infringement of First Amendment rights. But we have to live with it because the body that is imposing the restriction is really not as reasonable, friendly, and accommodating as the United States Government is. This restriction is being imposed by a piece of software written by an un-elected software engineer. Yet she or he is putting restrictions on me more restrictive than the government could and with very little legal recourse.
As an example of how extreme this power of software can be there is a well-known account, documented in a fanzine (as well as several other places, but I will give a little plug to the fine fanzine Plokta). They said:
"If you're a computer geek who happens to live in Scunthorpe, you should be careful about who you pick as your Internet Service Provider. America OnLine has expanded into the UK market whilst retaining its self-appointed position as the guardian of American public morals. Although they deny that they censor Internet articles, it is rumoured that AOL once closed down a support forum for women with breast cancer because of the wicked use of the word 'breast'. They have now turned their attention to the fair city of Scunthorpe. People living there who have attempted to register for AOL have discovered that the name of the town is rejected by the server because it's rude. Complaints were to no avail; AOL has decreed that Scunthorpe is rude and has renamed the town Sconthorpe. Anybody who uses the name Scunthorpe in an article will find that their writing is electronically vaporised. Plokta wonders why they didn't just go the whole hog and rename the town Lower Corte."
"All of this is reminiscent of a scene in Superman, in which Superman flies over London with Lois Lane. A Piccadilly Line train is visible in the foreground. Unfortunately, this meant that it was necessary to retouch every frame to blank out the destination board; you can't say Cockfosters in a PG-rated movie. And if you do happen to live in Cockfosters, I wouldn't bother ringing AOL."
Gee, now that I have talked about all this, I am wondering if I have now created an issue that AOL will refuse to send to its members. [-mrl]
Bookstores (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):
Evelyn wrote in the 06/10/05 issue of the MT VOID, "And now I hear that new books will be getting even more expensive. Penguin is going to be coming out with a "premium" paperback, selling for around $10. "
Dan Kimmel responsd, "Now I feel old. I remember when paperbacks topped $1.00 for the first time, and how shocking that was. However while I share your penchant for used bookstores and libraries (and the delightful "library sale"), there are times where price should not be the deciding factor. I have my order in for the new Harry Potter at our local children's bookstore, which is offering a 20% discount. I know I could get a better deal elsewhere, but this store is a treasure and I want to support it. There's something to be said about a specialty bookstore where you can come in with a vague description of the sort of book you're looking for (something with pigs for an 11 year old who is not an advanced reader) and they come up with several suggestions." [-dk]
Evelyn comments, "The phrase 'local children's bookstore' is meaningless here, unless one extends the notion of local thirty- five miles and across a state border to New York. :-)" [-ecl]
She also points people to the rec.arts.science.fiction.written FAQ, which says:
17A. Are chain bookstores (particularly superstores) evil?
Yes, if you live in an area which had several large, well- stocked independent bookstores that went out of business when a chain opened a megastore there.
No, if you live in an area that had no bookstores (or only a mall bookstore) before the chain opened a megastore there.
Which is a fancy way of saying your mileage may vary, and this topic is unlikely to be resolved by discussion here.
Hugo Nominees (part 2) (comments/reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This continues/concludes my discussion of the Hugo fiction nominees.
"The Best Christmas Ever" by James Patrick Kelly (scifi.com 5/26/04) is about a man surrounded entirely by robots ("biops") who take on the forms of family, friends, pets, and whatever else is needed to keep him happy. But he isn't. This is another story for which I can't understand its nomination. It's not that I don't like Christmas stories. I do like "A Christmas Carol" (the Alistair Sim version), "It Happened One Night" and "Miracle on 34th Street", and also Thomas Hardy's poem "The Oxen". But on the whole, the mere invocation of the holiday is not going to boost a story in my estimation.
"Decisions" by Michael A. Burstein ("Analog" 01-02/04) is yet another Burstein story with memory as an important, if not central, aspect. As with many of the stories nominated this year, there was a certain self-congratulatory note (for the human race, not for Burstein personally). It does seem as though there is a bit of a formula for getting nominated for a Hugo: say something positive about readers, or writers, or humanity, and you get an extra boost. I found the ending of this a bit hard to accept, in a couple of ways.
"A Princess of Earth" by Mike Resnick ("Asimov's" 12/04) is a tribute to reading, or at least to one of the classic characters of science fiction. This has an even thinner premise than the other stories about reading this year.
"Shed Skin" by Robert J. Sawyer ("Analog" 01-02/04) has a plot involving uploading a duplicate of oneself into a robot. This is very similar to several other notable stories over the past few years, and in particular this seems to be a response to David Brin's KILN PEOPLE (reviewed in the 04/25/03 issue of the MT VOID). I'm not sure how much new this adds to those stories, but at least it is centered on an idea.
"Travels with My Cats" by Mike Resnick ("Asimov's" 02/04) has its main character reading a travel book about exotic places as a young boy, falling in love with it, and being later visited by the author's ghost. Again, this is an okay story that was probably nominated more for its paean to the power of writing and the promise of the future than for being a really high-quality story. Is it just me, or are a lot of these starting to seem formulaic and predictable?
My voting order: No Award, Sawyer, Resnick ("Travels"), Burstein, Kelly, Resnick ("Princess")
Dramatic Presentation (Long Form):
In this category, I suspect most people are at least somewhat familiar with the nominees, so I don't have to describe them too much.
ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND: This is my clear choice-- intriguing ideas, tight script, good acting. Unfortunately, that meant it got nowhere near the press coverage of the other four, and nowhere near the audience. I suppose I should be happy it even made the ballot. ("It's an honor just to be nominated.") (The premise is that there is a procedure that can wipe away part of one's memories--for example, all recollections of a failed love affair. I mention this because there are probably still readers out there unfamiliar with this movie.)
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN: This is a reasonable adaptation of the book, but doesn't really add a lot to it.
THE INCREDIBLES: This seems to be everyone's favorite, and it is enjoyable with some interesting ideas.
SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW: It has a lot of interesting visuals, but the story is not well-formulated, and acting is weak. (Well, considering that everyone was acting to a blue screen, I am not too surprised.) If you're into art design, you must see this.
SPIDER-MAN 2: I have no idea what the appeal of this is. I know Roger Ebert thought it was the best film--not just the best SF film--of the year, but I can't see it.
My voting order: ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, THE INCREDIBLES, No Award, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN, SPIDER-MAN 2 [-ecl]
THE GREAT WATER (GOLEMATA VODA) (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: THE GREAT WATER tells a great deal about totalitarianism and human nature. It is a timeless story about power and is a fine piece of filmmaking. At times, however, this is a painful film to watch. But in the last fifteen minutes it turns out to be a complex, ironic, and ultimately very moving story. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10.
The story of THE GREAT WATER takes place in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In Yugoslavia in World War II, the Communist Marshall Tito led the primary resistance to the Nazis in Yugoslavia. When the war was over the Communists under Tito ruthlessly seized control of the country in the name of and with the methods of Stalinism. Eventually Tito would be a moderating force against the power of the Soviets, but those days were years after the main body of the story. THE GREAT WATER is mostly about how the force of Soviet tyranny was used to indoctrinate the orphaned children of parents considered enemies of the Soviets.
As the film opens an important politician, Lem Nikodinoski (played as an old man by Meto Jovanovski) has suffered a heart attack and may be dying. As he lies in his hospital bed he remembers in the summer of 1945 how as an orphan of parents who were enemies of Tito he was seized by the Soviet army and taken to a bleak institution in Macedonia. The building is an ugly deserted factory turned into an orphanage. We see a young Lem (now played by Saso Kekenovski) whose wide-eyed fear makes him look almost like a mouse. And he has reason to fear. The Stalinist system has no compassion for the child of what it considers traitors. Staff and older children alike bully Lem. Compassion seems to come only from one attractive girl Verna and perhaps the potential for compassion from the Comrade Olivera, a woman perhaps in her late teens who is a drill master for the orphans' military-like training. The camp is overseen by Komrade Ariton (Miko Apostolovski), an ambitious martinet who oversees the indoctrination of the orphans into their new religion of worshipping Comrade Stalin. While Lem is still new to the system an attractive boy even newer to the orphanage/camp, Isak Keyton (Maja Stankovska), is brought in. Lem decides to make Isak his friend, though Isak seems to want no part of Lem.
THE GREAT WATER looks at the evils of a totalitarian system. People must force themselves to be hypocrites and profess love for Stalin just to get along. Insincere self-denunciations are a matter of form. Also we see how vulgarians seem to be the ones who profit from system that looks for obedience and professed loyalty over character. The film effectively makes both points. We see the methods by which the young were weaned from their previous religion and forced to accept the Stalin as their god.
The strong point of the film is the acting. The production values are frequently excellent but there is perhaps a little too much use is made of color filters to create mood. The film is narrated in English with dialog in Macedonian. (The narration may possibly vary by country of release.) The film is directed and co-produced by Ivo Trajkov with a screenplay by Vladimir Blazevski based on the (reportedly young adult) novel by Zhivko Chingo.
THE GREAT WATER has its grim and painful and even disturbing moments. Stay with it. Even the harrowing moments have a strong reason for being in the film. I rate it a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. If this is not on my top ten of the year, 2005 will be a very good year indeed. I suggest the viewer stay through the end-credits, as the story really is not over until the final frame of the film. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Marvin Mondlin and Roy Meador's BOOK ROW (ISBN 0-7867-1305-4) is described as "an anecdotal and pictorial history of the antiquarian book trade." Anecdotal, yes, but not really pictorial--except for the end papers and eight center pages there are no pictures. And as the title suggests, this is more specifically about the bookstores and booksellers of Fourth Avenue in New York than the broader subject of antiquarian book selling in general.
Mondlin and Meador focus on the personalities (and practices) of the booksellers, with fewer stories about particular books or events than I would have liked. But there are a few. One bookseller had a woman come from a Rolls-Royce, looking for a copy of Jared Smith's ARITHMETIC. It was an old book, and she knew it was a "trillion-to-one chance", but it was a book her father had written. The dealer went back and pulled out a leather-bound copy from 1860. But even more astonishing, it was her original book, with an inscription from her father!
Not all the stories are as heart-warming, at least to the authors. One is of two partners who are called to a hotel by the manager who wants to sell them a room full of books left by a tenant. All he wants is $75 (just to get rid of the books), but the partners spend so long looking at the marvelous treasures there that when they went to leave the manager said that the hotel's attorney had told him to wait and contact the heirs of the tenant first. The deal fell through and a year later the heirs sold just forty of the books at auction for $60,000. One gets the feeling that the authors sympathize with the distress of the partners, but I would say that they should have known that the hotel owner should contact the heirs. (In THE NINTH GATE, we have less sympathy for the people who are cheated by Depp because they seem greedy. In this real case, the heirs were not even aware of the books.)
Of all the booksellers described, the ones of most interest to me were Haskell and Ann Gruberger. They ran the Social Science Book Store, which for many years was a mail-order business only. In 1967 they opened a retail shop on Fourth Avenue, only to be faced with rising rents. A pair of events in 1969 (an offer to take over their space from one person, and an offer from McGill University to buy their stock) led them to close that store. But that did not leave the book-selling business. They moved to Northampton, and opened The Old Book Store, which they described as a "Supermarket of Old and New Books with Something for Everyone". And The Old Book Store is where Mark and I spent may happy hours (and many dollars, though the prices were quite reasonable) while we were in college in Amherst. And we still do--The Old Book Store is still there, in the basement of the building where it opened almost forty years ago.
Ambrose Bierce's FANTASTIC FABLES (ISBN 0-486-22225-X) is full of cynical fables. A sample: "A Man Running for Office was overtaken by Lightning. "'You see,' said the Lightning, as it crept by him inch by inch, 'I can travel considerably faster than you.' 'Yes,' the Man Running for Office replied, 'but think how much longer I keep going.'"
There is also "Aesopus Emendatus", a collection of twists on Aesop's fables, such as: "A fox, seeing some sour grapes hanging within an inch of his nose, and being unwilling to admit that there was anything he would not eat, solemnly declared that they were out of his reach."
As noted, there is a very strong thread of cynicism in this collection. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Bierce ended up so disillusioned with humanity that he went off to Mexico with a death wish.
Elie Wiesel's WISE MEN AND THEIR TALES (ISBN 0-8052-4173-6) also has a thread of cynicism, or at least a way of looking at the "heroes" of the Bible and finding them less than perfect. For that matter, God does not get off scot-free either. For example, in the story of Sodom, Wiesel concludes that everyone--Abraham, Lot, Lot's wife, and even God--do wrong. Only Lot's two daughters appear to be blameless. And why do we revere Sarah when she treated Hagar and Ishmael so badly? Why does Aaron get a pass even though he built the Golden Calf when so many others were killed? Wiesel searches the Torah, the Talmud, and other midrashic sources in an attempt to explain these and many more cases. Or rather, he attempts to tell us how the rabbis and scholars explained them. He points out, though, that sometimes these explanations seem to be have made up just to justify what the Torah said, and there is no basis for them. And he doesn't always accept them as sufficient justification. You'll have to make your own decisions. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: You know children are growing up when they start asking questions that have answers. -- John J. Plomp
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