MT VOID 07/16/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 3, Whole Number 1606

MT VOID 07/16/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 3, Whole Number 1606

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/16/10 -- Vol. 29, No. 3, Whole Number 1606

Table of Contents

      C3PO: Mark Leeper, R2D2: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

And Thereby Hangs a Tail (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The FDA has gotten really tough on food products for consumers. You have to declare everything. I was reading a sorbet carton and it said, "This product was made on machinery that has also processed milk, soy, wheat, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and one runaway squirrel." [-mrl]

James P. Hogan, RIP (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Prolific science fiction author James P. Hogan died at his home in Ireland on Monday, July 12. He turned 69 last month. Hogan was known for writing hard science fiction and had a strong following in Japan, three times winning Seiun Awards as will as twice winning libertarian Prometheus Awards. For more information on his achievements see [-mrl]

A WEDNESDAY (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I would like to comment on the politics of the (Asian) Indian film A WEDNESDAY. I have to begin with two caveats. I am going to discuss a film that most readers will probably never see. Non- Indians in the United States see very few Indian films, even though this film had, apparently, a significant impact in its native country. Additionally, this article has a massive spoiler. Some films like this one are very hard to discuss without spoilers because the central idea is not revealed until late in the film. So some readers may not want to read the article even though they may never see the film. The two caveats tend to cancel each other out, I guess. I cannot spoil a film the reader will not see. And if the reader is Indian, well the film is already two years old. If he were going to see it, he probably already would have. In any case you have been warned.

A friend who showed me this film said that it was a lower-budget film that had nonetheless been very popular in India for the issues and questions it raised. The film is not what it at first appears. It goes from being a standard suspense thriller to being a political argument. I will comment on the argument, but you have to know a little about the film first.

The story is told by Prakash Rathod (played by Anupam Kher), a retired Commissioner of Police in Mumbai who cannot shake himself of thinking about this one case from toward the end of his career. We see that case in flashback.

A terrorist (Naseeruddin Shah) telephones Rathod and says that he has placed five bombs around the city that will be detonated if four militants, members of Al Qaeda, are not released from prison and put on a plane. The caller tracks the police action and gives them orders via cell phone while the police try to track him down. The film so far seems like a relatively standard police thriller. Can the caller be stopped before the militants are released and before the bombs are detonated? That is a fairly common sort of thriller plot and the viewer takes on the film on those terms. Then some unexpected things start to happen.

[One last spoiler warning. Okay, you have been warned.]

The caller intentionally kills three of the four militants and orders the police to murder the fourth one. Then the caller explains what he was doing. He refuses to say whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim, and that it does not matter which he is. He did not kill these men because they were Muslims but because they were terrorists. His motive was not religious. It was that he was tired of seeing his society torn apart by hatred between Hindu extremists and Muslim extremists. He wanted only peace. He represented the frustration that the vast majority of the Indian (and American) people feel over the hatreds that dominate too much of his country's attention. The caller simply intended to strike a blow against extremism. It is a frustration that many people from the United States are also feeling.

The character in the film actually is the latest in the long line of militant peace activists--vigilantes, really--many of whom in fact and fiction came from our own country. Actually our fiction is full of vigilantes: Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Batman, Zorro, or any number of masked heroes. There are many such films. The DEATH WISH films come to mind.

I guess I like A WEDNESDAY as a film, but I think people are allowing themselves to agree with the caller. He is doing something about his frustration and the frustration that many of his compatriots feel. The caller's actions have to be judged with two different criteria. Is what he did effective? Is what he did moral?

I think the easier question to answer is whether it would have been effective. Even feeling his frustration I can say that he was playing right into the hands of Al Qaeda. He had taken four militants and made them martyrs. They would probably be made role models. They would be easy for Al Qaeda to replace. There is a sea of militants out there and replacing fallen comrades is one of the things Al Qaeda does best. If these four were made martyrs the net effect would have been that eight more would replace them.

But there are the moral issues the film raises. Even had the plan worked, is it correct to resort to violence to end violence? The philosophy is "If I can get in one punch I could end the violence." History says that is not a good policy. The caller's taking justice into his own hands does not sound like the way to end the hostilities. "Good" violence is rarely the tool to end violence. The caller is really only taking out his frustration by "whacking the beehive." That is not a good idea. Unilaterally refusing to counter violence is probably not the solution either, but provocative actions will make matters worse. So I do not know what a solution is, but I frequently can tell what it is not. [-mrl]

DESPICABLE ME (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Gru, a super-villain of the James Bond film type, goes into competition with another super-villain, Vector. Gru needs three little girls from a local foundling home to penetrate Vector's stronghold. But Gru does not count on the power of three cute little girls to transform his life. Pixar raised the bar even higher for digital animation films with TOY STORY 3 and it is well out of reach for Illumination Entertainment, the producers of DESPICABLE ME. This film is mildly amusing, but by next week I probably will not remember anything about it. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

If DESPICABLE ME had been made ten years ago, it probably would have been much more enjoyable. Coming less than a month after TOY STORY 3 with its themes of loyalty, obsolescence, and abandonment, DESPICABLE ME seems like awfully thin entertainment. If I were to give a one-sentence theme to DESPICABLE ME it would be the power of affection and cuteness to overcome evil. Hoping not to prejudice my case, I do not believe in the theme and it was even less credible in the film. In spite of a few obscure jokes, DESPICABLE ME is predominantly a children's film with sufficient vulgarity to keep the kids entertained.

The story begins with the discovery that a pyramid in Egypt has been stolen and replaced with an inflatable imitation. Everybody is unhappy, but not the least is the super-villain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell). This nasty louse fancies himself the world's greatest villain, but here some other villain has outclassed him. Gru has to do some quick planning for an even bigger heist. He decides he is going to steal the Moon. He has met another super- villain named "Vector" with whom he vies for a shrinking ray. The ray is just what Gru needs to pocket and transport the moon. But Gru needs to get into Vector's fortress stronghold. Vector has bought cookies from three cute foundlings: Margo, Edith, and Agnes. Gru can use their cookie delivery as a cover to break into Vector's stronghold, but he has to temporarily adopt Margo, Edith, and Agnes so they will be available for his plan. But that means setting up house for them. He takes them in, but finds that caring for three young girls is more effort than he bargained for. He has to be a father for them. Little does he know the changes three cute little girls can bring. Of course, everybody in the audience knows what changes are in store.

DESPICABLE ME comes from Illumination Entertainment, a new group trying to compete with Pixar Animation. At least these days, what makes a Pixar film work is character. The Pixar writers give considerable thought to who Woody and Buzz are in the TOY STORY films. They know who Carl Fredricksen in UP is. And the viewer knows what these characters want and what their worries are on a human level. Illumination has not given similar thought to DESPICABLE ME. Why is Gru the way he is in this film? His mother did not understand him as a child. What he wants now is to steal the moon so that he can keep up with another super-villain. These are flat ideas. There is no reason to care about Gru. For the writers to so ignore the audience's commitment to the character just is not good enough any more. Gru has created a race of helpers he calls "minions", but they are designed with the same lack of commitment put into the human characters. They are yellow and shaped like a Tylenol capsule. Beyond that they have mouths and each has one or two eyes behind goggles. There is not much to tell one from another. Compare that to all the minor character toys in TOY STORY. One can easily tell them apart and each has a distinguishable personality. Far too little care was given to Gru's minions to make the audience really care about them. Instead of different personalities, it is just one personality over and over. That becomes almost a joke in the film as they all respond to Gru's speeches in exactly the same way.

It might have been better if I did not know who was voicing the main characters. When Gru speaks it is all too easy to picture Steve Carell flexing his voice into a vaguely Russian accent in a way that I do not picture Mike Myers in SHREK. I thought evil Russian accents went out with Boris Badenov and the Cold War. On the other hand I did not recognize Julie Andrews at all as the voice of Gru's mother and it hardly seems to me that such a name actor was needed for the voice.

Some moments of humor and allusions to James Bond films help to lighten the experience of seeing DESPICABLE ME. But digital 3D animation is too expensive a process to waste on such poorly defined and delineated, one-dimensional characters. I rate DESPICABLE ME a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


3D (letters of comment by Dan Kimmel and Andre Kuznariak):

In response to Mark's comments on 3D in the 07/09/10 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

I'm in agreement with Mark. I've taken to advising readers not to pay extra for 3D and enjoy the brighter colors of 2D instead. There has only been one film in the recent spate of 3D where I thought it made a difference and that was "Avatar." Of course James Cameron conceived the film as an immersive 3D experience and shot it that way. Otherwise 3D is just lipstick on a pig (e.g., "The Last Airbender") or an unnecessary window dressing for an otherwise worthwhile film (e.g., "Up," "Toy Story 3," "Despicable Me").

I've heard Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks Animation) talk about how this is the future of cinema. I remained unconvinced. It would be like someone making the case for sound films solely on the basis of Chaplin's nonsense song in "Modern Times." [-dk]

Mark replies:

I think we are in near complete agreement. I should however add that it is probably not wiser, older heads such as ours that will decide. It is probably the teen and 20s audiences that do the most movie going probably will be given what they want. [-mrl]

And Andre Kuznariak writes:

This, from Ebert's article, says it all:

"Having shot DIAL M FOR MURDER in 3D, Alfred Hitchcock was so displeased by the result that he released it in 2D at its New York opening."

I've been shopping for a new flat screen TV. Being a movie buff, I'm going for a plasma screen, and might have been interested in the latest Panasonic model that supports 24p well (despite potential black level loss over time). But they insist on it being 3D capable, increasing the price beyond what I care to pay, for a feature I don't want. There might be 3 movies I would care to watch in 3D at home, but I'm not going to by glasses for all my family just for those 3 movies. Maybe 3D will be more relevant for immersive video games, but that is a ways off yet, and I don't play those anyway, can leave that up to the kids to invest in. So I wonder if Panasonic might actually lose sales for lack of choice with this year's models? [-ak]

Mark responds:

I had not realized they were already selling 3D ready TVs. There still are only relatively few 3D movies. Right now the 3D capable feature is worth relatively little to me. That may change in the future, but I right now suspect that it will not change. That was really what the article was about. My suspicion and fear is that the TV's 2D presentation will be compromised in accommodating 3D. [-mrl]

THE CITY & THE CITY (letter of comment by Joe Karpierz):

In response to Fred Lerner's comments on THE CITY & THE CITY in the 07/09/10 issue of the MT VOID (in response to Joe Karpierz's review in the 07/02/10 issue), Joe writes:

I guess maybe it depends on your definition of "fantastic". In the context of the genres we all love, this novel does not, in my opinion, contain elements of the fantastic. I don't see any fantasy elements--nothing is explained or caused by magic. There are no science fictional elements as we know them. The way these two cities are kept physically separate is explained, in my mind, in real terms, and how Breach manages to appear out of nowhere is actually referred to, although not explicitly (not so you'd notice, as it were :-)), later in the novel.

It is, however, fantastic in the sense meant by the following entry from

3 fantastic : excellent, superlative

I agree with Evelyn that you should read this book--it *is* pretty good, especially if you like crime stories. I don't share Evelyn's excitement about the book, however. Whether it excites you is up to you alone. [-jak]

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

THE RADIOACTIVE BOY SCOUT: THE TRUE STORY OF A BOY AND HIS BACKYARD NUCLEAR REACTOR by Ken Silverstein (ISBN 978-0-375-50351-1) is about David Hahn's attempt as a teenager to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard shed. He was not wholly successful--the shed and its contents became so radioactive that the EPA had to dismantle it and bury it in a radioactive waste site in Utah. (Well, except for the parts that his parents, panicked by the first visit from the government threw out in the trash and ended up in a standard trash landfill in Michigan!!)

Many of David's chemistry experiments, apparently, started with THE GOLDEN BOOK OF CHEMISTRY EXPERIMENTS by Robert Brent. Published in 1960 ("written in an era well before lawyers began earning such good livings off the proponents of bad advice"), THE GOLDEN BOOK is "amazingly oblivious to the volatility of the experiments it described." After describing the negative effects of chlorine gas (which included use on tens of thousands of World War I soldiers), it then goes on to tell its readers how to make it at home. It did give a few warnings about not letting the gas out of the jars into the room, working outdoors or opening the window, and above all "Be careful not to breathe the fumes!" (Remember the song lyric "My mother says not to put beans in my ears"?)

Anyway, Hahn started with this and gradually progressed to working with radioactive elements and then trying to build a breeder reactor. This story, it seems, did not have quite enough material to fill a book, so it is embellished with entire chapters about the history of atomic energy (a.k.a. nuclear energy). It turns out that Hahn was not the only person to contaminate areas accidentally with radiation (though he was the youngest). Part of the problem was Hahn's (admitted) refusal to read anything negative or warning about atomic energy. Though the Curies were his idols, he apparently never considered that Marie Curie died of radiation poisoning, or that Pierre undoubtedly would have had he not been killed in a traffic accident, or that their notebooks are still radioactive enough that people who want to examine them must sign a detailed release form. (Recent pictures of Hahn seem to indicate that he will suffer the same fate as Marie Curie did.)

Amazingly, Hahn did all this in conjunction with working towards badges to become an Eagle Scout--a goal he did achieve. The main problems seem to be total cluelessness on the part of his parents (and step-parents, teachers, and Scout leaders. The only people who seemed to give him any cautionary advice were his friends.

For the science fiction book-and-movie discussion group, this month's selection was "The Tragedy of Richard the Third" by William Shakespeare, along with Sir Ian McKellen's 1995 film which set the action in 1930s England.

The first thing to note is that Shakespeare calls it a "Tragedy", not a "History". This is often pointed out as an excuse for Shakespeare's presenting such a slanted picture of Richard III, but it probably was supposed to indicate just that it was not quite as accurate as those histories titled "The Life of" (e.g., the plays of the Henriad or "King John").

Reading the original play, I saw a couple of instances where Shakespeare decided he liked his words or structure and so re-used them in "Julius Caesar". For example, in "Richard III" someone refers to the crowd as being "like dumb statues or breathing stones" (Act III, Scene vii, Line 25) and says, "What tongueless blocks were they! would they not speak ...?" (Line 42). In "Julius Caesar", someone addresses the crowd as "You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!" (Act I, Scene i, Line 36).

Also, Richard refuses the crown two times (Act III, Scene vii, Lines 156 and 209), then calls back those offering it (Line 225) so that he can accept it. Caesar refuses the crown three times (Act I, Scene ii, Lines 229, 262, and 234). Interestingly, McKellen splits one speech of Richard's to make three refusals, making the parallel even stronger.

McKellen also simplified a lot, dropping several characters who would be as easily identifiable to Elizabethan audiences as Jefferson Davies or George Armstrong Custer are to us, but with whom modern audiences would have problems. He also got rid of the concept of sanctuary, which was important in Richard's time, but has no meaning in modern secular states.

And he changes the method used to "infer [imply] the bastardy of Edward's children" from a complicated situation involving a possible prior marriage to "Lady Lucy" (making his marriage to Queen Anne invalid), to the simpler idea that Edward and Anne did not marry until after the birth of the Princes. While that may actually make sense for the older of the two Princes, it seems beyond belief that the King of England would wait *another ten years* and until after the birth of a second son to think, "Gee, maybe I should marry Anne so that my sons might have some claim to being legitimate heirs." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           The world bruises us all, but some heal faster 
           than others--and some bleed to death.
                                          -- D.H. Mondfleur

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