MT VOID 08/31/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 9, Whole Number 1456

MT VOID 08/31/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 9, Whole Number 1456

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/31/07 -- Vol. 26, No. 9, Whole Number 1456

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

Playing Catch-Up (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

We think we have finally caught up with the backlog created during our five-week trip to the Canadian Rockies. Our apologies to those whose reviews, letters, etc., were delayed in being published. [-ecl]

Another Exchange (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week's story about the snow leopard (which by the way was my own joke and not on the Planet Earth DVD) reminded me of a very short story I heard many years ago and have not heard since so I suppose I can claim it.

"Oh Brad, let's not park here."
"Oh Brad, let's not park."
"Oh Brad, let's not."
"Oh Brad, let's."
"Oh Brad."


The Big Lie (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I am watching THE UNIVERSE on the History Channel. At first I thought it was a really good program. I am finding the program more and more frustrating. It is clear the scientists who do the talking know the truth and are just refusing to mention it. Everybody is hung up on our egocentric ways of thinking we have had from ancient times. And though astronomers and cosmologists know the truth they choose not to tell us. You have to figure the truth out for yourself. Then if you dare you can tell other people, but even then something inside them will tell them it is you who are wrong.

What do they tell you? They say the solar system is really big. You have to go a long way to get to the outer planets. Wrong. The nearest star is tremendously far away. Nope. We are on the outer part of a huge spiral arm. Twaddle! And the arm is just part of an unfathomably gigundo galaxy. And it is just one of many galaxies that are huge. They are not. And this cluster of galaxies is enormously tremendously big. No it's not. And light is just reaching the Earth from long, long, long ago. Again, no.

Big. Big! BIG! Long. Long! LONG! Huge. Huge! HUGE!

Well it is time you knew the truth as only I seem to be willing to tell it to you. The clusters and the galaxies are not huge. They are not even big. They are tiny. Even compared to things that are minute, it is tiny. It is nano-miniscule. There is a whole lot more out there than this cluster of galaxies. And it does not take a whole long time to get to the other stars. They are so close we are just about right there already. And you get there in a flash. The only problem is that we are so amazingly tiny and we live such a short, short, short time (in universe terms) that their nearness doesn't do us any good.

Our thinking has been presumptuous and wrong-headed for a long time. Protagoras (480 to 410 B.C.) said, "Man is the measure of all things." And what an egotistical, anthropocentric viewpoint that is. Well, I suppose that is how we measure things. Most of our units of measurement come from human body parts (the inch, the foot, the cubit) or water (centigrade) or the size of our planet (the meter) or a combination (the gram). The English system which measured distances by body parts (the foot) is slowly being replaced by the only slightly more rational metric system where length is compared to the size of our planet and centigrade temperatures compare temperatures to the freezing and boiling points of water. These are all very arbitrary and very anthropocentric.

We may think the natural way to measure speed is in kilometers (or worse miles) per hour. That is we divide a certain convenient fraction of the circumference of our planet (or multiple of our foot size) divided by a certain convenient fraction of the time it takes our planet to revolve once on its axis. Those units may be meaningful on Earth but they become pointless someplace not on our planet like the moon or Mars. Earth is just not important in the universe but that is the way we like to measure the universe. I you wanted to make your formulae to come out nicely you use the universe's choice of unit of speed, C, the speed of light. Look at the Lorentz Transform. You see a lot of (V/C)s. That says measure your speed *your* way, but then divide by the speed of light, also measured *your* way. If you just said that your velocity was some fraction of the speed of light you would just use V. Everything would be much nicer. But who wants to see signs on the highway that say "SPEED LIMIT (8.21E-8)*C"? We are just not ready to accept the natural units of the universe.

We think that C is a really big and inconvenient unit and hard to deal with. The same thing happens in mathematics. We measure angles in degrees. 360 is a nice easy number to deal with because it has a lot of divisors. But that is not the natural unit the universe chooses for angle measure. Once you get into calculus you realize that degree measure would make all the formulae impossibly complex. The natural unit of measure of an angle is the radian, comparing the radius of a circle to a fraction of the circumference.

If you let man be the measure of all things it really distorts your view of the universe. Our distances are way too small, and our lives are way too short. We have to get past the idea "man is the measure of all things." Any logical view of the universe says that something unimaginable happened just short time ago--a few billion years-- and out of it spewed a bit of matter. And when some of the matter cooled there were denser parts that we think of as mega-clusters of galaxies. And if you get of close and look really carefully you will see those mega-clusters are made of smaller clusters. Those clusters are made of little individual galaxies, maybe only 2,000,000 light years apart. They look almost solid but if you look really closely you can see the galaxies have an anatomy. Some a pill-shaped and some spin like pinwheels and have little tiny arms. They are almost too small to see and you have to really look. If you look agonizingly closely at one of those arms you might see tiny, itsy-bitsy individual stars. Now this is going to take some imagination but some, of these little tiny stars, each almost too small to consider, have bits of cold matter circling them. And some of these unimaginably small bits of matter actually have life on them. Well, it is a sort of life. It is not clear that a little spark that is just there for such an unimaginable short instant of time can be called life. If you would pick one of these tiny life forms up with little tiny tweezers and tried to look at it by the light of even a neighboring star, it would be dead well before you got it close enough to look at it in the light. They just don't live very long.

But these little points of life look at the universe in that fraction of an instant they are alive and, of course, to them it looks unimaginably big. But then they are really, really infinitesimal for the size of their egos and they don't have much imagination.

Want to feel good about yourself again? Just imagine that something so tiny, so short-lived, made up of such little pieces as us beat the odds and became intelligent enough to contemplate things like the integers and the size of the universe. What are the chances of *that* happening? [-mrl]

HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON by Naomi Novik (copyright 2006, Ballantine Books/Del Rey, $7.50, 356pp, ISBN 0-345-48128-3) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

So I finish my reviews of this year's Hugo-nominated novels with Naomi Novik's HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON, book one of the Temeraire series.

So, there's a quote attributed to Stephen King on the front cover that says "Terrifically entertaining." There's one on the back cover from Time magazine that says "Enthralling reading--like Jane Austen playing Dungeons & Dragons with Eragon's Christopher Paolini." Uh, where do I start?

Okay, up-front warning. I'm going to say what sound like some harsh things, but in reality I did find this book likeable, well written, and entertaining--but it doesn't belong here. Terrifically entertaining? Not so much. Playing D&D? Folks, I played D&D back in the '70s when there were all sorts of complaints by parents that kids that played (I was in college by the way) were losing all touch with reality. This doesn't feel like D&D to me--ask me offline about my involvement in the game. I won't talk about playing the game--I'll talk about other stuff.

This book isn't worthy of a Hugo nomination, in my estimation, but then again I don't think most of the rest of the nominees were all that good either. This book, however, falls far below the rest of the nominees. Not because it's a bad book--it isn't. It's just not *that* good.

Folks will say, "But he doesn't like to read fantasy novels", so he's biased. Well, not quite true. I've read both in my day, but there's just so much out there to read that I had to make a choice, and my extreme preference is science fiction. When I think of Hugo nominated fantasy novels, I think of books like those by George R.R. Martin or Lois McMaster Bujold. This book is, well, nice. It reads like a YA novel, which, given that I have one, almost two YAs in the house, makes it okay in my book. But not here.

Okay, enough of the harsh stuff. The time is the Napoleonic Wars. Our story centers around one Captain William Laurence of the British Naval forces. The book starts with Laurence and his crew capturing a French ship--and on board is a surprising prize: a dragon egg. In Novik's world, dragons are normal critters, and part of the armed forces. The way things work is that, as you might expect, after hatching, the dragon will bond with someone, and that someone is his rider/commander/flyer pretty much for life. Which, in this world, is not good for the "bondee's" social standing. Aviators are loners, cut off from society and marriage because they are always away from home, up in the air, flying one mission or another. Other than flying, how that is different from being in the Navy is a question to ponder, but in any case aviators are outcasts. Surprise, the dragon hatches while still on Laurence's ship and it bonds with Laurence.

The remainder of the story is one of discovery and, I suspect, set up for the remaining two books in the series. Laurence loses his girl, of course, and must go into aviator training along with the dragon, which he names Temeraire. Temeraire is a rare dragon, not often seen in Europe--a Chinese Imperial. Temeraire surprises Laurence with some of his abilities, and Laurence continually calls Temeraire "my dear". (That drove me completely nuts. Since when does anyone call a dragon "my dear"? By the end of the book I thought Laurence was going to propose marriage.). They of course form a strong bond, and by the end of the book we see them in their first real battle, we learn of one of Temeraire's powers, what kind of dragon he really is, and how the aforementioned French ship came by the egg in the first place.

Again, this is a nice, tidy, well written, entertaining book-- nothing more. It's lightweight; and while there's certainly nothing wrong with that, it felt out of place here.

So, my vote. Well, unfortunately, due to real life getting in the way, I didn't finish HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON before the voting deadline, so my ballot for the novel went as follows:


And, if I had read this book before the deadline, I would have finished this way:


So, what's next? After a short break to catch up on some periodicals that have been backing up, I'll read HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, followed by SANDWORMS OF DUNE. Then, depending on when I actually finish all those, I'll either read the next Thomas Covenant book, due out in October (yeah, I know, that means I'll be reading really slowly), or something else yet to be named on my to read stack.

Until next time. [-jak]

A NEW WAVE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Comedy heist film has some funny scenes. But it loses its way somewhere along the line and only finds it again in the last twenty minutes. Desmond, a discontented bank clerk, falls in with his cinema-loving housemate's plan to rob Desmond's bank. The story feels padded to feature length. First-time director Jason Carvey directs his own screenplay and shows promise if not accomplishment. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

It is a pity that theaters no longer run double features. There once was a market for a short film, maybe 65 minutes long, that could be shown with a longer and stronger film. In the 1940s and 1950s there were lots of decent little B movies made at shorter lengths. This is not to say A NEW WAVE is that short. This is a 94-minute film that could easily lose thirty minutes and be a tighter and better film. But what market is there for a 65- minute film today? A NEW WAVE is positioned as a comic crime film and the comedy runs out in the first third and there is only about fifteen minutes of the actual crime execution and its results.

Gideon (played by John Krasinski of TV's "The Office") is a super-fan of all the old heist films. He is planning his own bank robbery with a strategy pieced together from bits of his favorite crime films. He needs the help of his friend and housemate Desmond (Andrew Keegan), a disaffected young bank teller. Desmond hates work and is conflicted about his future. He cannot commit to his job, to his talent as an artist, or to his girlfriend Julie (Lacey Chabert). Gideon and his friend Rupert (Dean Edwards) have planned the crime, but they need some help from the inside and they decide Desmond in their man. We follow them as Gideon convinces Desmond, and then the three go to buy the guns they will need from a very off-the-wall gun dealer. Then with the crime effectively planned Gideon, Desmond, and Julie go off in the countryside to play around at an abandoned drive-in theater with a kid's game gunfight. This might work with another director in control, but the characters just are not fun enough for the viewer want to hang around with. There is a subplot of Desmond's show at an art gallery. Much of this seems to draw us away from the essential plot.

The film seems to promise a comic crime film, but Jason Carey is no Donald Westlake. Much of the film is just about Desmond and his Generation X angst. An hour into the film one has the feeling that not much is happening and it keeps not happening until way too near the end. The robbery itself is a bit straightforward and humdrum. That is not necessarily a fault, but it is not much of a virtue either. Still the robbery itself is probably Carvey's best-written sequence with a feel of realism if not a satisfying complexity.

Veteran actor William Sadler, who plays Julie's father, serves only a reminder he has been in much better thrillers. Cinematographer Kambui Olujimi seems to have problems framing scenes without cutting off the tops of actors' heads. Jason Carvey feels like he is working too hard to fill a standard size script. This script was probably not ready to shoot and Carvey did not have the experience to make the most of what he did have. He shows signs he might develop into a more accomplished filmmaker. I rate A NEW WAVE a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:


Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley, and the Classics (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel):

In response to Mark's article on Ray Bradbury in the 08/17/07 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes, "I'm writing not to complain, but just to put in my two cents. I haven't read Bradbury's classic SF in years and can't be sure how it holds up. Within the past few years, however, I did get the opportunity to immerse myself in the works of another author I idolized in my youth, the late, great Robert Sheckley. NESFA Press was putting together a volume of his best short fiction (eventually entitled THE MASQUE OF MANANA) and its editor, Sharon Sbarsky, asked me-- as well as others--for input on what was the essential Sheckley short fiction. I went through my extensive set of Sheckley short story collections. I found in each book there were many stories that had not held up, or that I could tell (or recall) where it was going from the start. But there was also one or two or three stories in each collection that remained as brilliant to me today as when I had first read them. Those were the ones I recommended. And while now I can't tell people to just read everything Sheckley ever wrote, I can tell them--with a clear conscience--to get this collection and enjoy these great stories." [-dk]

Mark notes, "My first science fiction book (other than juveniles) was a copy of the Sheckley collection NOTIONS UNLIMITED that someone abandoned on a plane. An eight or nine year old Mark Leeper was boggled to find out that stories like you see on 'Twilight Zone' can be found in a book. It was the highlight of my summer. If Robert Sheckley had not aged well, I don't think I would notice it and if I did you could never get me to admit it. I liked Bradbury but I think I probably much preferred Sheckley." [-mrl]

Dan goes on, "I suspect I would have the same reaction if I revisited Bradbury. FAHRENHEIT 451 and other novels aside (as well as his screenplays), I'm willing to bet that there are stories in 'S is for Space,' 'The Illustrated Man,' 'The Martian Chronicles' and 'R is for Rocket' that would chill me to the bone or move me to tears today much as they did back when I first read them. Stories like 'The Veldt' and 'There Will Come Soft Rains' and 'Mars is Heaven!' so impressed me that I can still remember the titles." [-dk]

Mark responds, "I remember the titles since they have been dramatized often. The latter two were in THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES and are the sort of thing I was referring to in my comments. None of those do that much for me any more. 'There Will Come Soft Rains' in particular cloys for me now." -mrl

Dan continues, "Others I recall only as plot outlines. However I have no doubt that a collection of 'The Best of Bradbury' would amply demonstrate why he is one of the great writers of SF, and not merely a footnote along the lines of, say, Murray Leinster or Eric Frank Russell, who did a few landmark stories but most of whose works are best left forgotten. (Anyone who has not read Leinster's 'First Contact' or Russell's 'Appaloosa' are missing two classic short stories of the genre.)" [-dk]

Later, in response to Mark's comments above on classics, Dan wrote, "No need to belabor this but this reminds me that there are some 'classic' films that I admire rather than enjoy. I'd much rather watch STRANGERS ON A TRAIN or NORTH BY NORTHWEST than VERTIGO, and I'm more moved by THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE than THE SEARCHERS. Sometimes it is just a matter of personal taste. And I don't disagree with you on Bradbury vs. Sheckley, either. :-)" [-dk]

And Mark replies, "Perhaps I agree. I have seen both NORTH BY NORTHWEST than VERTIGO so many times I am not that anxious to see either usually. You know I think there are script problems in VERTIGO. I am not sure I am moved by THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, but I like it better than THE SEARCHERS and have seen it more frequently. I also have found serious script problems in Valence. Let me give you something to look for the next time you see it. Three shots cannot be fired so precisely that you hear only two. Yet we can count three shots that the script says went off. Stoddard's (that is Stewart's) is one of the two shots, but whose is the other? It is different in the two shots of the scene. Once it is shot by Valance (Marvin) and once shot by Doniphon (Wayne)."

"In fact, the two scenes played back to back are noticeably very different. And the position of the bullet and the direction that Valance fell should have told where the bullet that got him came from. The only way that the film really works is if Tom Doniphon is lying about his shot, which it really would make sense for him to do in order to save Stoddard's career."

"My theory is that Ford went to shoot the film and discovered the script really did not work unless Doniphon is lying. Ford subtly shot the film as if Doniphon really is lying for the sake of his friend. Watch the film again and see if I am wrong. In addition to which, we are told at the beginning that Dutton Peabody fired Stoddard from a job reporting for the 'Shinbone Star'. I defy you to tell me when it was that Stoddard could have worked for the 'Shinbone Star'. [And on Bradbury vs. Sheckley], Bradbury is the only place we disagree." [-mrl]

REVISITING NARNIA (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Evelyn's comments on REVISITING NARNIA in the 08/17/07 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes observing that Evelyn speaks about C. S. Lewis having a Roman Catholic view, and says, "You do know that Lewis was an Anglican, not a Roman Catholic, don't you? (Humphrey Carpenter reports that Tolkien felt that Lewis's Ulster upbringing left him with a strong residue of anti-Catholic feeling.)"

Evelyn answers, "I think I remembered that in the back of my mind, but I probably assumed that the general beliefs were the same, and looking at (for example), this seems to be true for the specific beliefs I was referring to (redemption, and the role of priests). Still, I should have changed those references to Anglicanism." [-ecl]

Chili Peppers (letter of comment by Michael E. Lukacs):

In response to Mark's two-part article on chili peppers in the 07/06/07 and 07/13/07 issues of the MT VOID, Mike Lukacs sends the following:

From a recent issue of Popular Science Magazine:

Can I die from eating too many hot chili peppers?

There is no known case of a person dying from eating too many peppers, although several masochists have certainly tested the limits. The reigning king of jalapeño consumption is Nevadan Richard LeFevre, who last October set the International Federation of Competitive Eating record by downing 247 pickled jalapeños in an eight-minute time limit.

Looking to top LeFevre and win a place in the Guinness Book of World Records is Anandita Dutta Tamuly, a woman from India who devoured 60 Bhut Jolokia peppers-the hottest pepper in the world- in just two minutes on national television. But she might not have anything on Mexico's Manuel Quiroz, who also wants a shot at the eating record and can squeeze habanero juice into his eyes without blinking.

Freakish tolerance levels aside, scientists have found that eating peppers can have medical benefits. Last March, researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles found that the chemical that makes peppers hot, capsaicin, can kill human prostate-cancer cells grown in mice. The scientists estimated that the dosage was equal to a 200-pound man eating three to eight habanero peppers three times a week.

But is there a deadly dose of spicy peppers? Researchers at Niigata University School of Medicine in Japan ran tests on mice to find out. After several hefty doses of pure capsaicin, most of the mice died of lung failure. Don't worry, though--you'd have to eat hundreds of thousands of jalapeños in one sitting to get the equivalent dose, and, the LeFevres of the world notwithstanding, most people beg for mercy after a dozen.

-Brandon Miller

Language, Tools, Ray Bradbury and STARDUST (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to the 08/17/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Unfortunately, there really has been a rise in sexually charged language in family programming. My guess is that television script writers and producers believe that children nowadays are more sophisticated and mature, so they'll create material to reflect that belief. All I can say to this is "Ptooey!" My son is eleven years old, has no interest in girls, enjoys soccer and other sports, and his favorite TV shows are still cartoons. I know these things will eventually change, but maybe it's best if we just let kids be kids and not try making them into little adults.

As for British tools vs. American tools, both countries use different names for the same tool, which makes things even more confusing. What we all should do is follow that Red Green dictum, "any tool can be the right tool." The world could be such a simpler place...

You know, your little essay about Ray Bradbury being the new James Fenimore Cooper raised some very good points. I have always enjoyed Bradbury's writing because it was so poetic and evocative; he was probably the first real "literary" stylist that the 20th century science fiction and fantasy genre produced. I have to agree with you that Bradbury's science was at times suspect, but he wrote so danged well that the reader didn't care that much about the lackluster science. Personally, it was Bradbury's observations about the human condition that impressed me the most; that and his eloquent writing style.

FAHRENHEIT 451 remains my favorite Bradbury novel, and I think there is no doubt that it is about censorship. His recent comment that the book was about people's "disinclination to read" is probably colored by current reports about the rise in aliteracy in America: people who know how to read, but have no desire to read. In other words, many Americans possess a lack of reading motivation. Now, this is a real problem in higher education, and happens to be my dissertation's research focus. There has been a fair amount of press coverage about aliteracy since the new century began, and perhaps Bradbury simply picked up on this trend and added it to his personal interpretation of the novel. After all, we can never read the same book twice and come away with the exact same result; new information, new experiences, etc., affect what we bring to a text when we read and re-read it. I think this is what happened when Ray Bradbury made his comments; he added a newer interpretation based on newly acquired information. Overall though, I agree with you, Mark; FAHRENHEIT 451 is definitely about censorship with sub-themes running through it as well. It is still a wonderful book, and one that I would recommend to my students who might be interested in seeing how a science fiction writer tackles the topic of censorship.

When I read--hah! how's that for a touch of irony?--that Bradbury was awarded that special Pulitzer Prize for lifetime achievement, I was impressed. Not because this gives validity to the literary standing of science fiction and fantasy, which have now long enjoyed popularity and literary standing, but because of the literary value of his work. Will future generations of literary critics inside and outside the SF field continue to recognize Bradbury's worth, or will they delegate his work to that category of "it was a product of its time"? An interesting question to watch for in the coming years. Still, I think Bradbury was a very influential writer and helped to lift the SF genre out of its ghetto, and I am glad he received that Pulitzer Special Award. Congratulations to him!

You might not think so, but to me the ads for STARDUST look interesting, and I'd like to see the movie. I have not read anything by Neil Gaiman yet--can you believe that? I can, given how busy I have been with doctoral work and my teaching career-- so I have no idea how well the movie version will stack up against the original text. You certainly gave it a high mark, so that's a good reflection on the film. That right there makes this a worthy flick to take in. Do you think the movie has Hugo nomination written all over it? Or will that happen because so many people love Neil Gaiman's work and his name is so well- known, resulting in the film's nomination next year? (Now I've done it; brought the "popularity contest" of the Hugos to the pages (?) of MT Void. Please don't hate me, Mark.)

With that, I think I'll close up shop here on this loc and get onto other things. Thank you for the zine, and we'll have to do this again next week. Until then, all the best. [-jp]

Mark responds: "It is hard to judge if STARDUST has Hugo potential. The whole setting with stars coming to Earth in human form seems a little sugary. People are staying away from the film because they say it looks silly. However, fans may respect Gaiman's name to see it anyway and discover how entertaining the film is." [-mrl]

Snow Leopards, AWAY FROM HER, Ingmar Bergman, THE INVASION, THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, and the Chicago Cubs (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to the 08/24/07 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

"Good afternoon, Mark! A very nice touch to open your latest MT VOID with that snappy repartee from "Planet Earth." I love this kind of unintended silliness. Or was it unintended? Check the script." [-jp]

Mark responds, "Ulp! I was a little unclear. This was more my joke inspired by seeing them film a snow leopard." [-mrl]

John continues, "In your commentary about AWAY FROM HER, I have to agree with you that SPIDERMAN 3 doesn't strike me as successful "Sci-Fi"--if anything, the Spidey movies are better classified as adventure/action films--and that the premise of AWAY FROM HER sounds much more interesting to me. " [-jp]

Mark says, "For me it was one of the most interesting films of the year as well as being one of the most emotional. But I see things in science fiction terms. " [-mrl]

John goes on, "Popular culture has this narrow-minded opinion that SF movies are slam-bang action movies with snappy special effects that will knock people back into their movie seats. Sorry, but in my mind, a real science fiction movie will take an idea and explore its ramifications/implications as much as possible. The problem with that concept is that Hollywood cannot accept it since Big Bucks aren't involved. They figure "real science fiction" is supposed to have space ships with heroic characters engaged in shoot-'em-ups somewhere deep in the uncharted cosmos and are not thought-provoking 'idea movies'. There have been quite a few successful (in my mind) psychological/sociological science fiction movies: BICENTENNIAL MAN leaps to mind, FORBIDDEN PLANET and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL are idea movies, as are 2001:A SPACE ODYSSEY and SILENT RUNNING, even that Will Smith version of I, ROBOT raised some excellent ethical/moral questions and somewhat explored them. Unfortunately, in the latter case, the special effects still won out--as well as the box office draw of Smith. Yes, I agree that a good science fiction film can intelligently explore ideas without losing its audience. The problem right now is the common denominator: the movie ticket buying audience. As if they know anything... *sigh* In any case, I will have to rent AWAY FROM HER; it sounds very interesting to me, and is the kind of science fiction that I would probably enjoy." [-jp]

Mark notes, "Well, again don't assume it is science fiction. I just saw ideas in it that could well be science fictional. That is my lens. George Lucas has claimed that the time of the really big budget film is passing. He thinks they will go back to being in the $15M range. I think my choices for best science fiction film of the 1990s and the best of the 2000s have both been lower- budget idea films. They would be the GATTACA and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. (THE FINAL CUT is no slouch either and it probably did not cost a lot.) A big-budget film cannot afford to take chances on being too deep for the audience to understand." [-mrl]

John then writes, "Speaking of intelligent film-making, may Ingmar Bergman rest in peace, but I never have really enjoyed his movies; THE SEVENTH SEAL was okay, but other than that, I am not a fan of Bergman films." [-jp]

Mark comments, "I fully agree. " [-mrl]

John goes on, "The same thing goes for Hollywood's recent infatuation with re-makes. I have no desire to see THE INVASION. I enjoyed the first and second versions (1956 and 1978), and can't remember when the third version came out. (Please refresh my memory.)" [-jp]

Mark replies, "Abel Ferrara, who makes gritty crime films like THE BAD LIEUTENANT, made THE BODY SNATCHERS in 1993. There were some good character actors. Meg Tilley was the lead, and it was just okay. I seem to remember it mostly taking place on an army base. (" [-mrl]

John then says, "But I am really surprised that you gave THE INVASION a decent rating: 6/10. There must be something good in there, I guess. Does Nicole Kidman go topless? Other than that, nothing else would get me into the theater to watch this movie, let alone rent it when it goes to DVD in four months or so." [-jp]

Mark answers, "No nudity. But it came close to ambivalence on whether being taken over was such a bad thing. There were some very strong analogies to mood altering drugs." [-mrl]

John summarizes, "Retreads of classic films don't interest me very much." [-jp]

Mark comments, "For me it depends on what they do with it. Curiously, enough SF fans seem to like it more than the general run of critics. Gary Westfahl has some interesting things to say about it in LOCUS (available at" [-mrl]

John then writes, "More movie notes! I have never known that FLATLAND was made into movies! Years ago I had a copy of the book--a Dover facsimile edition, if I remember correctly--and enjoyed it despite being an English geek and not a math geek. It is an interesting concept and story, and these film versions sound like they are worth searching out. Thank you for the review. Interesting stuff. Okay--I have to ask this about a musical version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: are you serious?!? This, I simply cannot imagine. Val Kilmer as a song-and-dance Moses? No, please... say it ain't so... Lemme guess: the voice of the Burning Bush is provided by James Earl Jones, and the Pharaoh does this snappy number about dying first-born sons while locusts do this synchronized multi-legged kick-line behind him. Oh! And don't forget the frog chorus: "knee-deep in bree-deep / no longer any sleep-deep." With wireless mic-headsets, too. Too bad Dick Shawn's been dead for so long; he would have made a great Pharaoh... " [-jp]

Mark answers, "You aren't far wrong; see details at" [-mrl]

And Evelyn responds, "At least one blog says that Kilmer also provided the voice of God. Another one says that there was no voice of God. Frankly, I don't recall." [-ecl]

John closes, "Finally, I need to update my loc in #1455 [08/24/07]: the Chicago Cubs are currently in first place in the National League's Central Division. Has anybody else besides me noticed a drop in temperature? Thanks for the issue, Mark. See you next time. " [-jp]

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

I am not going to review THE SFWA EUROPEAN HALL OF FAME edited by James Morrow (ISBN-13 978-0-7653-1536-6, ISBN-10 0-7653-1536-X), but I will make a couple of comments on it. First, look for this in your library at Dewey Decimal 808.83(9762) if you cannot find it in fiction or science fiction, as the Dewey Decimal number is the cataloguing data Tor provided. It seems like a great way to hide from its main audience in libraries, though it should not affect bookstore placement.

As Morrow notes, all but one of the sixteen stories are from the Indo-European family of languages (that one being from Finnish). Of the fifteen, seven are from Romance languages, four from Slavic, two Germanic, one Nordic, and one Greek. (No Hungarian?) Clearly "European" here means continental Europe and does not include Britain. (One wonders if there will be future anthologies for Latin America, Asia, and Africa.)

Finally, let me talk about translations. This has a new translation of Richard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero's "The Day We Went Through the Transition". This translation is by Yolanda Molina-Gavilan and James Stevens-Arce. The story previously appeared in English in COSMOS LATINOS (edited by Andrea L. Bell and Molina-Gavilan) in a translation by Molina- Gavilan alone. (That earlier translation was a finalist for the Sidewise Award in 2004.) The most obvious change is that the new translation is in the present tense, while the older one is the past tense (as is the original). In addition, though, sentence structure is different, sentences and even paragraphs are in a different order, and so on. If you cannot decide which translation to read, the original Spanish is available on-line.

As an example of what I mean, here are the third and fourth paragraphs from each, which explain the Transition:

Spanish (without accents, etc.):

La transicion es un cl sico. Al menos una vez por semana hay que hacerla, y en ocasiones hasta dos o tres veces en un mismo dia. ¨Por que todos los terroristas, de uno u otro bando, tienen semejante fijacion con ese periodo? ¨Por que no intervienen mas a menudo en la guerra civil o en el asunto de la armada invencible? Supongo que, simplemente, la transicion esta tan llena de posibilidades, hay tantos caminos abiertos simultaneamente que todo bando pol¡tico o grupo economico se cree capaz de ajustar el proceso de forma que triunfe su particular posicion.

Parece tratarse tambien de una fijacion particularmente española. Otros paises sufren tambien ataques terroristas que pretenden cambiar la historia a su gusto, pero esos casos se producen una o dos veces al ano. Sin embargo nosotros tenemos que lidiar hasta con treinta casos a la semana y m s de la mitad pueden situarse en la transicion. Parece que los españoles estamos tan insatisfechos de nuestra historia y somos tan incapaces de aceptar que otros hayan triunfado en el pasado que realizamos grandes esfuerzos por cambiarla. En cualquier caso, no importa: el trabajo del Cuerpo de Intervencion Temporal de la GEI es evitar que esas situaciones se den, y en particular cuidamos mucho de la transicion.

Yolanda Molina-Gavilan (2003):

The Transition is a classic. Someone has to go through it at least once a week, and sometimes even two or three times on the same day. Why are all the terrorists, from both sides, fixated on that time period? Why don't they intervene more often in the Civil War, or in that Invincible Armada affair? I suppose that the Transition is just so full of possibilities, there are so many simultaneously open paths, that every political camp or economic group believes it self capable of adjusting the process so that its particular position triumphs.

It seems to be a particularly Spanish fixation as well. Other countries also suffer from attacks by terrorists who attempt to change history to their own liking, but those cases happen once or twice a year. We, however, have to manage up to thirty cases a week, and more than half of them may be placed at the Transition period. It seems that we Spaniards are as unsatisfied with our own history and are so incapable of accepting that others have triumphed in the past, that we make great efforts to change it. It doesn't matter, in any case: the work of the GEI Temporal Intervention Corps is to stop these situations from happening, and we pay particular attention to the Transition.

Yolanda Molina-Gavilan and James Stevens-Arce (2007):

The Transition is our hottest troublespot. We must restore it constantly, sometimes two or three times a day. Most countries endure timeshift attacks no more than twice a year, but El Gripo Espanol de Intelligencia registers as many as thirty a week--over half targeting the Transition.

Apparently, we are so unhappy with our own history and so resentful of other nations' triumphs that every disaffected group feels the past can be altered to its advantage. But our territories don't show much interest in reconfiguring the eras of the Civil War or the Invincible Armada. Perhaps because the Transition was our last major cultural paradigm shift prior to the discovery of Temporal Theory, it seems especially rich in potential futures, especially ripe with possibilities. ..."

I have no idea *where* that last sentence came from--the original has nothing like it. My impression is that Molina-Gavilan's translation is the more accurate one; the joint one by Molina- Gavilan and Stevens-Arce is more a retelling that a translation.

And the reason may be in the introduction, where James Morrow describes working on a translation of a French story, and says, "I found myself intuitively noodling with the sentences: striking out arguably superfluous words, hunting down needless repetitions, searching for le mot juste, all the usual things. By the midpoint of the trip I was in a bittersweet mood, lamenting the sorry circumstance that so few SF translations ever receive this sort of joyful tweaking." I have great respect for Morrow, but he and I have very different philosophies of translation: I want a translation to be as accurate (though not necessarily literal) to the original as possible, while he seems to think a translator should also function as an editor.

And while we are talking about translating between languages, let's talk about THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION by Michael Chabon (ISBN-13 978-0-007-14982-7, ISBN-10 0-007-14982-4), which had its origins in a phrase book. In an interview (, Chabon has described the origins of this book as being the phrasebook SAY IT IN YIDDISH, published by Dover as part of a series of "Say It in [language]". Wondering where one would use the Yiddish phrases for "Do you have a tourniquet? and "What is the flight number?" Chabon constructed just such a place, a Yiddhkeit Sitka, Alaska, which in Chabon's alternate history had been made a refuge for the Jews during World War II, and a homeland afterward. Chabon has combined the alternate history with the hard-boiled detective novel, and come up with something unique. (There have, of course, been other alternate history novels set around changes in the Holocaust: Philip Roth's THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, Philip K. Dick's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, and Martin Gidron's THE SEVERED WING. Chabon is aware of at least the first two of these.)

(Chabon's original article on SAY IT IN YIDDISH may be found at

Lisa Goldstein has said, "THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION might not be rigorous enough for purists" (, by which she means that not every difference is explained. But I think this is a virtue--too many people writing alternate history feel they have to explain everything. (E.g., "He opened a can of Blarg Cola, again reminded of the atomic bomb on Atlanta that destroyed the old Coca-Cola company and let Blarg grab the market." This *is* not an example from THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION!)

I might make a few minor quibbles. Chabon uses "papiroses" as the plural of "papiros"; it should be "papirosn". (This would be less important were there not a classic Yiddih song called "Papirosn".) And he has a cafeteria serving both corned beef and cheese blintzes, which is possible, but highly unlikely in a city as outwardly religious as Sitka.

But these are minor, and even for people not looking for a Yiddishkeit alternate history, the hard-boiled detective aspect gives it a much broader appeal than it might otherwise have. Highly recommended. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, 
           says more than the fool when he speaks. 
                                          -- Yiddish Proverb

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