MT VOID 01/12/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 28, Whole Number 1423

MT VOID 01/12/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 28, Whole Number 1423

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/12/07 -- Vol. 25, No. 28, Whole Number 1423

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


I just discovered that when I calculated the whole number for the MT VOID, I forgot to include the 1985 issues. So the whole number has been corrected, starting with this issue. [-ecl]

The Absolute Final Version of This Comment (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Dan Kimmel sent me an article that Ridley Scott is working on re-editing BLADE RUNNER for a new release. It will be called BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT and will be released by Warner Brothers. On DVD there will be a choice of four cuts of the film; there are also the original, the director's cut, and the expanded international cut.


It shows you that Warner Brothers is better than Disney. When Disney wants to re-release SLEEPING BEAUTY, all you get is the version you have seen before. (Okay, FANTASIA they revise, but most re-releases they don't re-edit.) Apparently Warners is able to get Scott to actually participate in each release and to say that this is finally the definitive version. I think that BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT is supposed to be followed by BLADE RUNNER: THE ULTIMATE FINAL CUT in November, 2013, and BLADE RUNNER: THE CONNOISSEUR RECUT is planned for Spring, 2019. Of course, Scott will be 82 by then. But having seen the recut TOUCH OF EVIL edited from Orson Welles's notes he is apparently leaving his son as part of his family legacy a detailed description on how he really wanted BLADE RUNNER to be seen. [-mrl]

My Top Ten Films of 2006 (film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

2005 was a banner year for cinema and I looked forward to what we would see in 2006. Sadly, 2006 just did not have the impressive quality films of 2005. While there were several films that were very engaging, nothing really stood out as being particularly powerful. There is a major film missing from this list. I almost certainly would have Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH on the list if I had a chance to see it. This is what I get for living in the wilds of New Jersey. I will treat it as a 2007 film (just as 2005 films I did not see until 2006 are included here).

In India in 1938 a seven-year-old girl who does not even remember her arranged marriage and who never knew her husband is suddenly told that she is a widow and has to go live with other widows the rest of her life. Widows in India could die with their husbands or lead a penitent life in seclusion the rest of their lives. Here a very young girl through no fault of her own falls into this fate. The story is tragic, but it makes a strong statement for Gandhi's reforms. The photography of Varanasi is just beautiful. WATER is a real work of art.

Toward the end of the 19th century two rival stage magicians compete and battle for dominance. This is a thriller, an education in stage magic, a mystery, and even a bit of a science fiction film. Christopher Priest's novel is brought to the screen by co-writer and director Christopher Nolan in a wonderful adaptation. This is a film that may be more enjoyable on the second viewing once you know its intricate secrets.

The German-language film SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE LAST DAYS tells the powerful and moving true story of the arrest, interrogation, and trial of an anti-government student and activist, one of the founders of the White Rose resistance movement, in Nazi Germany. It takes the story from her last day of freedom to her execution. Sophie Scholl's courage and personal morality in standing up to the evil and the force of the Third Reich make this film a moving experience.

In this the strong and disturbing story of two school teachers Barbara (Judi Dench) befriends and subtly controls her Sheba (Cate Blanchett). When Barbara discovers Sheba's indiscretion with one of her students she is able to make Sheba a puppet without Sheba ever realizing it. This is a real departure for both actresses.

In Japan 1861 a minor samurai is torn between his responsibility, his desires, and his morality. With this film Yôji Yamada follows up his TWILIGHT SAMURAI, also set in the mid-19th Century against the backdrop of the dying order of shoguns and samurai. It is a story of a man who must choose between his duty and what he thinks is right. The film is less one of bloody martial arts and more a study of a personal conflict in a society at once overly ordered and rapidly changing. Yamada's film is strong and poignant, though perhaps it will be more so with Japanese audiences who better understand societal pressure. The film is powerful, though it fails a little in the final few scenes.

Daniel Craig is probably the best James Bond on film and this is probably the best James Bond film. Craig's James Bond is gritty and mean and a lot more real, albeit still too much a superhero. He has human fallibility and he gets hurt. The story, closer than usual to the novel for a Bond film, has the feel of a serious spy novel and is less like a children's television show than previous films in the series. Now what I would like to see is all the Fleming books redone in order with Craig as James Bond as he was written in the books. I wonder if we will see that. In any case, this film gives us a chance to rediscover James Bond on the screen for the first time.

Following the terrorist murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, an Israeli Mossad officer is asked to lead a five-member counter-assassination squad to track down the Munich terrorists and eliminate them. Eric Bana leads a cast of major actors in a tense but realistic looks at the dirty business of undercover work. This film takes place in a world devoid of warmth. The story has the feel of authenticity, though the events of the book it was based on have not been and cannot be confirmed. Still, the story is as intriguing and tense as anything written by John le Carre is.

Martin Scorsese surprises us with a film that is more of a thriller than his previous efforts. THE DEPARTED is a close remake of a very good Hong Kong crime film, INFERNAL AFFAIRS. The police Special Investigations Unit, unable to bring down gangster Frank Costello, places a mole into his organization. But Costello (Jack Nicholson) has his own mole in the police SIU. Each mole tries to determine who the other is. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon play the two spies. The film takes a while to get going, but when it does it really holds the viewer. While this is one of Scorsese's most entertaining films, I have to say much of the credit goes to INFERNAL AFFAIRS. THE DEPARTED is the bigger film in many respects, but INFERNAL AFFAIRS is the better film. Scorsese added only modest value in return for taking someone else's plot.

When a Mexican illegal alien is killed, his employer and friend Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones, who also directs) is unsatisfied that the authorities are going to do anything. Perkins finds the killer is a trigger-happy new border patrolman and decides that some justice will be done. Perkins forces the patrolman to execute the dead man's final wish. This is a modest, low-budget, and low-key film but Jones shows a sure hand and real directing power with handling his actors. THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA is a simple, likable portrait of the personalities one find near the border. There is some anger at the American law enforcement officers but the film's main thrust is not anger for the Americans but respect for the aliens who come over the border looking to improve the lives of their families.

Terrence Malick writes and directs the classic story of John Smith and Mataoaka (nicknamed Pocahontas) and later John Rolfe. Malick's script reinforces some of the unlikely myths like Mataoaka's romance with John Smith and Mataoaka dramatically risking her life to save Smith's life. But like most Malick films it is also a finely painted portrait showing the smallness of man in nature. This is a strong, mesmerizing, and authentic-feeling view of a time and place lost to history. Malick's pacing is a taste I have not quite acquired and his history has some faults. But the film is a memorable experience for anyone with a healthy curiosity about the feeling of history. [-mrl]

FROM OTHER WORLDS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This light, amiable science fiction film has a woman encounter two kinds of aliens: one from the Ivory Coast and one really from "out there." A Brooklyn housewife and mother is sort of permanently zoned out until she is focused by being abducted by aliens, having a romantic fling, and going on a quick mission to save the Milky Way Galaxy. This is all very lightweight and low-budget stuff, but this pleasant comedy sort of grows on the viewer. There is nothing earth-shaking here, but the film is likeable in a gentle way. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Cara Buono plays Joanne Schwartzbaum, who walks through life dazed like a stunned duck. Her torpor is a reaction to the dull routine of being a housewife and mother in Brooklyn. Her life bores her. Hubby Brian does not understand her and probably never really tried, but then she does not understand herself. Joanne needs something extraordinary to happen to shake things up. But help is on the way. Things change for Joanne when aliens abduct her. They kidnap her for an evening, remove her memory of the event, and leave her unconscious on her patio. Suddenly the world starts looking different to Joanne. Small things, like fish in a market, fascinate her. Perhaps even more amazing to her is her discovery that there are actually support groups for people who have been abducted by aliens and who are trying to adjust again to life. She decides to attend.

Joanne is taking the strange experience better than some in her encounter group are, perhaps because she had never adjusted to life in the first place. Another abductee she meets is Abraham (Isaach De Bankolé), an Ivory Coast immigrant. Abraham had an almost identical alien encounter and was left with the same strange mark to prove it. Together they find a small romance and a big problem that could destroy the entire galaxy. That part of the story plays out a little bit like "Dr Who Lite".

FROM OTHER WORLDS was written and directed by Barry Strugatz. Mr. Strugatz is the veteran of several low-profile project as well as co-writer (with Mark R. Burns) of two higher-profile films, MARRIED TO THE MOB and SHE DEVIL, the latter starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep. He takes humorous jabs at "Star Trek", CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, "The X-Files", and 1950s science fiction films. Strugatz creates some pleasantly bizarre characters in a science fiction film that has no real need for special effects. Perhaps a little more polishing was needed on the script. Some of the subplots do not go very far. A subplot with a possible government agent chasing the main characters fills time with very little payoff.

The cast is mostly unknowns. Cara Buono is attractive, but not a very good actress. She slips in and out of her Brooklyn accent. Several people from the UFO encounter group are nicely bizarre- looking and are a decent backup to the main characters. The film is lightweight all the way, but is diverting. I give FROM OTHER WORLDS a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

CHILDREN OF MEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: How would universal infertility affect the human race? How would people react to a death sentence in sixty years or so? How exactly is society different without children? These and many other fascinating ideas are foregone in CHILDREN OF MEN in order to give us a very prosaic action film. The film is diverting, but empty. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

[A spoiler section with some questions about the plot follows the main body of the review.]

This film has been very well received and, as with several other films this year that have been popular with the critics, I am just not sure what the fuss is about. CHIKDREN OF MEN seems to possess an intriguing idea from the trailer, but what you see in the trailer is really about as far as the film ever gets as science fiction. There are no ideas or interesting images in the film that go beyond what you get from the trailer. You see some people running around and shooting at each other and betraying each other, but nothing more is done with the ideas. How are people different in a world without children? Well, they are a lot meaner and they get into a lot more violent fights. We could have seen a little about how young couples react to the inability to have children. Does marriage seem pointless, for example? Are pets suddenly more popular? We never know and that is not what this film is about. The film is about fighting and betrayal in a society grinding to a halt.

You do get extended violent gun battles and scenes of a devastated England--supposedly the last country still standing. You get a picture of grunge London dropping back into barbarity. But it is a barbarity that is nearly indistinguishable from one that resulted from dozens of other science-fictional causes. How is a universal infertility fin du monde different from the one in NO BLADE OF GRASS or one from a terrorist attack on the government? The answer to Alfonso Cuarón (of Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN) is that it is not much different at all.

In the year 2027 the youngest person on Earth dies. He was eighteen years old. When he was born, birth rates were dropping off disastrously. He was the last child ever born. Apparently England is the only country in the world where the government is still in control, and there it is a fascist state that is most concerned with rounding up illegal aliens and deporting them. Clive Owen plays Theo Faron, a former radical who now has a boring government job. He takes time off to visit an old friend, Jasper Palmer (Michael Caine), who is himself the crumbling remains of a formidable political activist. On returning to London, Theo is kidnapped by so-called "terrorists" only to find that one is his former lover, Julian (Julianne Moore). With Julian he had a child, but sadly the child died and the relationship soured. Now Julian wants Theo to be a bodyguard to take a woman to the Azores and to The Human Project. That project, if it is more than a myth, is working on correcting the infertility problem. The woman is to be taken is Kee (Claire- Hope Ashitey), who miraculously appears to be pregnant.

The film clearly is intended to make some political statement with its emphasis on calling a not very terrifying group of people terrorists. Also the film shows a sort of fascist treatment of illegal aliens. I have not read the book by mystery writer P. D. James, but this may be something that Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón chose to highlight. Of course, it could have come in with one of the five people credited with working on the script: Alfonso Cuarón, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby. Having five writers credited for a film is generally not a good sign. Muting the colors to give the film a downbeat feel, as CHILDREN OF MEN does, is becoming a fairly common practice, going back as least as far as the film 1984 (1984) and has been seen as recently as THE GOOD SHEPHERD. Much of the film takes place in an England reduced to near-rubble, further adding to the dismal tone.

This is a film that had a great deal potential, but got too involved in its action scenes. I rate it a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.

SPOILER QUESTIONS: At one point Theo follows the sound of a crying baby. Nobody else seems to notice the sound or be curious about it. Have they all forgotten the sound so quickly? Later in the sequence people do reverentially stop fighting to let Kee with the baby pass. After they pass nobody follows the woman and nobody ever asks Kee about the baby. Everybody goes right back to fighting without anyone realizing that the existence of a baby might change everything. Does that make any sense? [-mrl]

TRANSCENDENT by Stephen Baxter (copyright 2005, Ballantine Books/Del Rey, $7.99, 505pp, ISBN 0-345-456792-7) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Stephen Baxter concludes his "Destiny's Children" series of novels with TRANSCENDENT. It is an interesting, ambitious conclusion to the series, with all the grandiose trappings of a Grand Cosmic Story. And I think it succeeds reasonably well, although the end was somewhat flat. But I get ahead of myself.

Michael Poole, revered character in the previous book EXULTANT, is front and center in this story. He is a nuclear engineer whose personal life has fallen apart around him. His wife died in childbirth, and his surviving son and he do not get along. To top it off, he is being haunted by an apparition of his dead wife Morag. Morag appears to him at the oddest times and places-- indeed, she appears to him even in his childhood, long before Michael knows who she is and what she will become in his life. The world really is falling apart ecologically, as global warming, among other things, has caused a transformation in the world's economy. Gasoline powered vehicles are practically outlawed, and air travel has become prohibitively expensive. There are toxic gases ready to blow underneath the poles, threatening to cause a planetary extinction event.

Alia is a human descendent, born on the starship Nord 500,000 years in the future. Children of her time are charged with "Witnessing" one life from the past as part of a grand scheme concocted by the Transcendents (more about that in a bit). Her subject is, you guessed it, Michael Poole. The Transcendents are a group mind, if you will, best described as trans-human or super-human, and they are guiding the path of humanity toward a destiny that will fulfill their own purposes. Alia is a Transcendent-elect; it is not a destiny that she has chosen for herself. She spends a good portion of the novel going through what amounts to training for the job. The training include learning what the Transcendence (as the group mind is called) is planning, and it disturbs her greatly.

So. Michael is in the middle of a project to save the earth from the extinction event, but Morag continues to appear to him. He is disturbed by the whole thing, and so is most of the rest of his family, which also includes his brother John, who has some shocking revelations for him during the project concerning Morag. Michael eventually goes to Spain, to visit his aunt Rosa--yeah, *that* Rosa from COALESCENT. It seems that Rosa was kicked out of the Order, and is now a Catholic priest (given that this story takes place in 2047, it's probably one of the more outlandish predictions in the book, and that's saying a lot, given what else Baxter posits. To think that the Catholic Church will become that enlightened in the next forty years is fairly ridiculous. Oh yes, I'm a Catholic, in case you're wondering). Rosa is interested in the Morag sightings, and once she sees Morag for herself, well, she jumps in with both feet to find out what's going on.

Back a half a million years in the future, Alia is finding out that the Transcendence is approaching their own kind of Singularity which, after they cross it, will make them into a godlike creature. But before they can become a god, they must atone for all the suffering of the past, otherwise how can they live with themselves? They path they are headed down results in a confrontation between Alia and the Transcendence that will involve Michael Poole, whose apparent destiny is to be a central figure in the future of mankind.

This book is extremely vast in scope and story. Not too put too much exaggeration into it, but it really is difficult to summarize everything that's going on here. It deals with ecological issues in the near future, and huge philosophical and theological issues in both the near and far future. It handles all of those issues extremely well. It's apparent that Baxter loves the grand scope and cosmic stuff of the far future, and is able to relate it back to our present time when it's relevant.

If the book has a flaw for me, it's the ending. I expected much more of a grand climax than what Baxter presented, and the final scene, while touching, left me wanting a bit more.

Still, all in all, TRANSCENDENT is a fine novel, and a reasonable conclusion to the series. [-jak]

THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This is a film not so much about death as about the experience of dying in modern society. It is a realistic look at the last hours of a dying man as he goes through the wheels of the medical bureaucracy of Romania--probably not too different from our own. The film feels very real and not a little scary since the viewer knows that he is very likely to eventually likely to share Lazarescu's fate. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

With the steady diet of violent films we see in our theaters we see death all the time. But we rarely see dying the way it happens to most people. The plot of THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU is really very simple. While I hate to spoil the ending, it is a chronicle of just what it says it is: the death of a man. The film is set in Romania and in what is for long stretches real time, it shows what is perhaps the typical death of a typical Romanian.

Mr. Lazarescu has a headache and has felt bad all day. He lives by himself with only the three pet cats upon whom he dotes. His apartment is cluttered and he sports a two-day growth of beard. When his symptoms become severe enough, he gets help first from neighbors and then from the Romanian health care system. That system is very much like ours and what Lazarescu goes through in the next few hours is much like an American would. (Perhaps in Romania there is less emphasis on his healthcare coverage and how he is going to pay for the medical care that he gets.) The Romanian medical facilities are much like ours in technological advancement, but the buildings and facilities seem of a little lower budget. A continuing theme is that everybody who sees Lazarescu first suggests that he has just been drinking too much, though it turns out that has nothing to do with his medical problems.

We see varying degrees of emotional involvement and proficiency by the various people who Lazarescu sees. Many of the professionals are less than professional and are thinking more of their personal lives. A few take a real interest in Lazarescu. The ambulance assistant who is one of the first to see Lazarescu takes the greatest personal interest and follows Lazarescu through the system. The fact that the patient has a stranger who takes such an interest in him probably makes this case atypical and means that he is much better off than a person in his position would be likely to be. Certainly Romania seems to have its own medical bureaucracy. Lazarescu is shunted from one hospital to another. He is in four hospitals before anybody gives him any real treatment beyond a few diagnostics. As his evening wears on, more and more dignity is stripped from Lazarescu who slips first into incoherence and then unconsciousness. Perhaps the rapidity of his decline is another way in which Lazarescu is lucky. If these events went on for months rather than just an evening it would have been a much less comfortable death.

The film was directed by Cristi Puiu, who also co-authored the screenplay with Razvan Radulescu. They chose a style that is realistic and almost like a documentary. The film is shot with a handheld camera. The version I saw on DVD had good readable subtitles, though with my knowledge of medicine much was still incomprehensible. Because so much of the film is in real-time and the wheels of the medical machine run slowly, the film is slow-paced and drags a little during its 150-minute length. Nor does the title leave much room for suspense. We feel a little sympathetic for the main character, though less so when he lies about his condition to people who are trying to help him. But the real sympathy for him is that what he is going through is at once terrifying and common to just about everybody.

This film has already won several international film awards and is likely to be an Academy Award contender. I rate THE DEATH OF MR LAZARESCU +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. [-mrl]

PAPER CHASE (letters of comment by Taras Wolansky and Carbone17):

In Mark's comments on THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA in the 12/29/06 issue of the MT VOID, he wrote, "In THE PAPER CHASE the tyrant is Kingsford (played by John Houseman)."

Taras Wolansky writes, "On THE PAPER CHASE, it's not Prof. Kingford, but 'Kingsfi-i-i-e-e-eld!!!', as Timothy Bottoms yells, finally driven to rebellion."

And "Carbone17" writes, "Kingsfield, not Kingsford. Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr." and adds, "I've been hoping for years that the show would show up on DVD, or in reruns. I created a TiVo wishlist for it, but all captured were the movie itself, and various TV show episodes of that title."

Mark replies, "Kingsfield???? My gosh. I was thinking of the charcoal briquette."

The Bay of Pigs (letters of comment by Steve Spinosa and Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's comments on the Bay of Pigs in his review of THE GOOD SHEPHERD in the 12/29/06 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Spinosa wrote:

I would like to discuss Mark Leeper's review of THE GOOD SHEPHERD, starring MATT Damon as ex-Yalie/CIA Agent Edward Wilson, which was directed by Robert DeNiro. Mark, you've done an excellent job of describing the four main threads of the movie. My brother Jim and I saw and we thought that, in addition to it not working well as fiction, as a history it's a melange of disinformation. Consider the following:

1) In the first thread, DeNiro attempts to establish that another CIA agent(which was Wilson's son)supposedly compromised the "Bay of Pigs" invasion by having sex with a Hispanic African- American woman in the Congo (?) who theoretically tips off Castro. NONE of the books that I've ever read about the CIA & the "Bay of Pigs" ever hints of that as a plausible reason for the Invasion's failure. What's more likely is that one of the Cuban exiles trained by the CIA got cold feet and tipped off Castro. In truth there were members of both the Eisenhower & Kennedy administrations, as well as the Army's Joint Chiefs of Staff & the CIA's Division of Plans/Operations who had doubts about the mission.

2) It's true that the OSS/CIA recruited many of it's key figures from Yale during the early years (Allen Dulles, Tracy Barnes, Desmond Fitzgerald, Richard Bissell & Richard Helms come to mind). As to whether or not it's actually James Angelton that the story is based on, I'm not convinced of that. Jim will have more to say on this later. [-ss]

And Taras Wolansky suggests, "On BoP, I would suspect the root cause was the drug-induced mood swings of somebody who was far too ill to be President. Up: "Invade Cuba? Yeah!" Down: "Uh, air support?" The Cubans could scarcely believe their tiny air force had air supremacy! (And the Soviets became convinced JFK was a pushover, thus the Cuban Missile Crisis a few years later.) One of the CIA guys in charge, who had swallowed the blame for years, finally came out and told the story a few years ago. I also recently learned Ike chewed JFK a new one but, following the rule that former Presidents don't publicly attack their successors, he did it privately." [-tw]

Stephen Hawking and THE SONG OF ROLAND (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's comments on Stephen Hawking in his article on Alfred Hitchcock in the 12/29/06 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes, "Reading Hawking's book, I assumed that if time was running backward during the (hypothetical) contraction of the universe, it would look exactly the same--to creatures embedded in its 4D globe like insects in amber--as it did during the expansion. Well, it made sense to me at the time...." [-tw]

Mark responds, "I am not sure I follow your reasoning on Hawkings model." [-mrl]

And in response to Evelyn's review of THE SONG OF ROLAND in the same issue, Taras writes, "Years ago, I read W. S. Merwin's translation of The Song of Roland. As I recall from his introduction, Merwin believes that the heavy death toll among the Frankish leadership, plus other hints in ancient chronicles, indicates that it was not a rear-guard action at all (an early example of 'spin'). Rather, the Frankish forces, strung out among mountain passes, had to fight their way through, unit by unit. Think Teutoberg Forest but not as disastrous." [-tw]

THE SATAN BUG (letter of comment by Carbone17):

In response to Mark's reference to John Sturges's THE SATAN BUG (1965) in his article on Alfred Hitchcock in the 12/29/06 issue of the MT VOID, Carbone 17 says, "My first thought was "But THE SATAN BUG was written by Alistair MacLean!" Then I realized you meant the movie, not the book. The book is much better, for what it's worth."

Mark responds, "I read THE SATAN BUG by Ian Stuart when the film came out. It was later that the book came out under the more familiar Alistair MacLean. The book was better, but there were a few touches I did not care for. However the "saltspoon" speech was very impressive. Very scary stuff. (I also had a book by MacLean called THE BLACK SHRIKE which had been published under the name Ian Stuart.)"

Mark adds this passage from THE SATAN BUG:

"Let me put it this way. In its present form the Satan Bug is an extremely refined powder. I take a saltspoon of this powder, go outside into the grounds of Mordon and turn the saltspoon upside down. What happens? Every person in Mordon would be dead within the hour, the whole of Wiltshire would be an open tomb by dawn. In a week, ten days, all life would have ceased to exist in Britain. I mean all life. The Plague, the Black Death--as nothing compared with this. Long before the last man died in agony, ships or planes or birds or just the waters of the North Sea would have carried the Satan Bug to Europe. We can conceive of no obstacle that can stop its eventual world-wide spread. Two months, I would say two months at the very most.... The Lapp in the far north of Sweden. The Chinese peasant tilling his rice fields in the Yangtze valley. The cattle rancher on his station in the Australian outback, the shopper on Fifth Avenue, the primitive in Tierra del Fuego. All dead. Because I turned a saltspoon upside down.... Who would be the last to go? I cannot say. Perhaps the great albatross forever winging its way round the bottom of the world. Perhaps a handful of Eskimos deep in the Arctic basin. But the seas travel the world over, and so also do the winds; one day, one day soon, they too would die."

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

I would like to share James Nichols's recent comment on THE UNSLEEPING EYE by D. G. Compton (ISBN 0-671-83077-5): "I believe this is the one where an evil bastard reporter follows a terminally ill woman around to gather material for the entertainment of TV viewers everywhere. I cannot fathom why this idea has not yet become a reality show."

HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik (ISBN 0-345-48128-3) has been described as "Hornblower with dragons", and that is reasonably accurate. The only difference is that Novik seems to be aiming at a slightly younger audience--there is more emphasis on the younger characters (though not making them the main characters). The main character starts out as a naval captain and becomes an aviator. However, the training and battle scenes (of which there are several) seem like a cross between nautical and aerial battles, so in some sense he is still a Hornblower stand-in. What there is not is any substantive change for our world's history. The American colonies apparently got tired of taxation without representation, threw tea in the harbor, and gained independence; Napoleon did pretty much what he did in our world, and so on. Somehow you expect more change to the world than that. This book and its sequels (THRONE OF JADE and BLACK POWDER WAR) are recommended if you are looking for "Hornblower with dragons", but not as an alternate history.

Everyone knows the 1939 version of THE WIZARD OF OZ, but there were several others before that. (Yes, I realize these aren't books, but there is at least a literary connection.) I just watched a 1925 version, excerpts from a 1910 version, and a 1933 cartoon version. The 1925 version, co-authored by L. Frank Baum's eldest son, had Oliver Hardy before he teamed up with Stan Laurel. It also had some extremely racist views of blacks. (The mildest shows a black character eating watermelon in a field.) It also has an odd view of Kansas, with the Kansas fields surrounded by cactus! The 1925 version has very interesting set design, obviously influenced by expressionism, and heavy use of colored filters. Neither is particularly true to the story--for example, the 1910 version has Dorothy discovering on her 18th birthday that she is actually a princess from Oz left with Auntie Em and Uncle Henry as a foundling to protect her from evil-doers in Oz. The 1933 cartoon version is probably the most accurate of the lot. (The less said about THE WIZ, the better.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           By the time a man realizes that maybe 
           his father was right, he usually has 
           a son who thinks he's wrong.
                                          -- Charles Wadsworth

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