MT VOID 02/04/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 32, Whole Number 1635

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/04/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 32, Whole Number 1635

Table of Contents

      Frick: Mark Leeper, Frack: 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

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):

February 10 (Thu): FORBIDDEN PLANET by W. J. Stuart, Middletown 
	(NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and 
	book after film
February 24 (Thu): WANDERING LANDS AND ANIMALS by Edwin A. Colbert, 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
March 10 (Thu): "Paycheck" by Philip K. Dick, Middletown (NJ) 
	Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion of film and story 
	after film
April 21 (Thu): STIFF by Mary Roach, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM

Incident at Outback (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

My breath was freezing as I stepped over a snow bank on the way in to an Outback Steakhouse. I told Evelyn it feels like July out here. It's cold she said. I guess she just had not gotten into the metaphor of the restaurant. [-mrl]

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for February (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

February on Turner Classic Movies seems to have pretty much a familiar set of classic films. There are two films that qualify as hidden gems that I would like to point out.


TCM is again running THE STUNT MAN. This film really does qualify as a cult classic. A young Vietnam veteran (literally) on the run from the law happens in the way of a film company shooting a WWI epic. He is offered a job as a stunt man on the film and decides to stay until it becomes clear that the director (a tremendous acting job on the part of Peter O'Toole) is quite ready to let the stunt man be killed to get a better shot for the film. (Thursday, February 17, 2:00 AM)

CHANG (1927)

The other real hidden gem is for fans of the original KING KONG and of film history. The film is CHANG, and what follows is an article about the film, published previously. CHANG was restored and re-released to art theaters in 1991.

Think back to the early scenes of the 1933 KING KONG. Do you remember Carl Denham is talking to the theatrical. The scene introduces us to the fearless filmmaker? If he wanted a picture of a lion he just set up his camera and told it to look pleasant. He was the guy who made those pictures "with those darling little monkeys." Denham had to crank the camera himself because the wild animals terrified any real camera man he could get. He had bad memories of running afoul of the monsoons and all the money it cost with nothing to show for it. Then he shot a "swell" picture and the critics said it would gross twice as much if it had love interest. All that actually is true except it is true of two men in partnership. Carl Denham was based on two real men, each reputedly crazier than the other, but as the film says they always did bring in a picture. The men were Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack who would later, with considerably less danger, produce and direct KING KONG. Prior to KING KONG they had in partnership made three high adventure films, setting up their cameras in some of the remotest corners of the world under what today seems like incredibly dangerous conditions. The adventure films they made were GRASS, CHANG, and RANGO. CHANG was the one that the critics claimed would have grossed twice as much with love interest. After being very hard to find for years, the film CHANG was resurrected in the early 90s and will play on TCM in February. Watching it casts light on how KING KONG came to be made.

It was in 1926 and 1927 that CHANG was made in the jungles of Northern Thailand. It was there that Cooper and Schoedsack ran afoul of the Thai monsoon and found themselves with "months gone, money lost and nothing to show for it" before getting started on CHANG. When the film was made it was a fairly simple story. Lao tribespeople Kru and Chantui, their children Nah and Ladah, and an unnamed infant live in the jungle where all there is are, as one of the titles tell us, "men have never seen a film, animals have never known the fear of a modern rifle, and the jungle." Along with the family and providing the comic relief is Bimbo, the pet gibbon. Bimbo has arms longer than his body from head to foot. While the narrative titles tell us in the third person about the other members of the family, Bimbo is given lines of dialog (or is it monolog?). Bimbo's commentaries tell us what is going on. But, even apart from the odd pet, this is not quite a typical Lao family. Most of the Lao live together in a sort of rough village. Kru has built his family home deeper in the jungle. This takes courage since it means Kru must always live in fear of and fight the animals of the jungle.

The first real enemy we see is the leopard who preys on Kru's goats. In one night a whole family of goats is reduced to one surviving kid. Kru makes the walls of the goat pen high enough to stop a leopard. Not to keep a leopard out, but to keep one in. Kru makes a trap with the last kid as bait, hopefully safe in a wooden cage inside the pen. The leopard comes at night for the goat and finds the door open. He enters looking for the goat and releases a catch. Suddenly the feline hunter finds himself the prey.

Next Kru faces a tiger and needs to call on the men of the village to help him. This filming of this sequence is particularly exciting and making the film must have been more exciting still. The tiger can be seen charging directly at the camera at least once. This is not a tame tiger either. This is a man-killer running directly at the man turning the crank on the camera. Even today the scenes of the tigers filmed at close range are startling. In the story Kru's answer to the tiger is traps--more clever traps this time, however. There are snares, pitfalls, and a deadfall. This time the threat is much more of a challenge and evades several of the traps before being caught.

When the tigers are finally killed, even then there is no peace. The precious rice crop is destroyed and huge footprints are left indicating that the damage was done by the most dangerous animal of the jungle. Have you ever heard of "Chang"? It is a chang that has destroyed the rice crop. A pitfall is dug and sure enough it catches the terror of the jungle, or at least a small version. After some struggle, out of the pitfall is pulled a baby elephant. The chang is taken and tied to one of the legs of Kru's stilted house. (This in spite of Bimbo's presentiment that it is a bad move. Bimbo does not like the chang's nose.) In a sequence perhaps reminiscent of GORGO, Mama Elephant comes and frees the baby. And for good measure she knocks over Kru's house. As Cooper later said "I knew she would get the baby loose, but I didn't know she was going to tear down the house." So then that was how the plot of the film was amended. Kru's house is destroyed by the mother elephant in the story because Kru's house was destroyed by the mother elephant in real life. In Carl Denham fashion Cooper and Schoedsack got the camera running whenever they could and then decided how the footage would be used, rewriting the plot to fit the footage.

Kru returns to the village to tell them that after 50 years the Great Herd of elephants has returned to this part of the forest. It is difficult to face hard reality and the villagers prefer to laugh at Kru. The laugh is short-lived, however. Out of the jungle come literally hundreds of elephants--a wall of crushing meat. ("Hundreds" is no hyperbole, by the way. CHANG cost $60,000 and fully half of that went to lease a 300-elephant herd from Prince Yugula, brother to Rama VII, the King of Siam.) Not surprisingly all the villagers run. But wait. Right in the path of the elephants is a crying baby sitting on the ground. With the child not more than a few feet from being crushed, the child is swept up by a running parent. But as we watch the entire village is flattened. Can anything stop the herd? That would be telling. And it really would be telling because the nature dramas of this time were not constrained to have happy "Hollywood" endings.

Another aspect of the filming of CHANG may have affected the plotting of KING KONG. In the classic fantasy film the natives of the island lived in fear of the great jungle animal. Then the American adventurers/filmmakers came along and rid them of the terrible animal just as a by-product of a film they were making. That actually happened in the making of CHANG. The Lao villagers lived in terror of the great tiger they called "Mr. Crooked." As Goldner and Turner report in The Making of King Kong, the tiger's tracks "had been found at many a scene of tragedy." Well, the two filmmakers needed tigers to film. They rounded up and trapped the tigers they needed. Among the ones that were trapped was the fearful Mr. Crooked. Before the making of CHANG, the tigers took a serious toll of the population of Nan province. After rounding up the tigers for no other reason than to film, the death toll from tigers was cut to one-third of the previous total. The terror of the jungle (or say, two-thirds of it) was taken in chains to provide entertainment for American audiences.

It is not difficult to find touches in CHANG that were reused in KING KONG. Some should be obvious from the above description. There are more scenes that appeared almost the same in KING KONG. When some of the animals are caught behind a trap we see a gate close on them and a massive tree trunk used as a sliding wooden bolt to lock it. And there are scenes of battles with lizards and snakes much as similar scenes would be used in KING KONG. It is not hard to visualize the early concepts of KING KONG as being a film almost too similar to CHANG. The original plan, it should be remembered, was to use a live gorilla and only when that became obviously infeasible did Cooper and Schoedsack start looking at other ways to show a gorilla on the screen. It is easy to see them planning an almost-remake with the lizards and snakes of the jungles ruled over by the king gorilla, Kong. (Note that like "Chang" really is the Lao's word for elephant, "Kong" really is the word for "gorilla" in some language that Cooper and Schoedsack found.) When using a live gorilla became impossible and the filmmakers saw what Willis O'Brien's stop motion photography could do, they immediately they started thinking of bigger snakes, bigger lizards, and a much, much bigger gorilla.

And the rest, as they say, is history. CHANG was unavailable for years prior to the restoration in the late 1980s.

(Facts in this article were taken from multiple sources, in particular the above-mentioned THE MAKING OF KING KONG. Additional information came from the article "Wild Thing" by Georgia Brown from the "Village Voice," April 9, 1991, and "Trouble in Paradise" by J. Hoberman, "Premiere," May 1991.) [-mrl]

HULL ZERO THREE by Greg Bear (copyright 2010, Orbit, $19.99, 307pp, ISBN 978-0-316-07281-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

There were a few reasons why I picked up Greg Bear's HULL ZERO THREE to read next: the first was that I enjoy Bear's work and I especially enjoyed his last outing, CITY AT THE END OF TIME; the second was that I need something seriously lighter to read after plowing through AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING; and the last was that I will be on a panel on potential Hugo nominees for this year at Capricon in a few weeks, and I was hoping that the Bear book would be one so that I would have at least one more novel to talk about than I had when I started reading it.

Is HULL ZERO THREE a potential Hugo nominee this year? As usual, it depends. I think it could be, but we all know by now that my tastes don't run to those of the rest of the nominating group. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The story opens on a colony planet; in particular, a colony is landing on a planet after a long journey (we presume) from Earth through space. The point of view character is male, looking for his female partner, his love. He finds her. All is well.

The story then cuts back to before the landing. A man awakes and is pulled out of a cocoon-like container by a little girl. He is cold, lonely, hungry, and he doesn't know who he is or who the little girl is, for that matter. The little girl leads him away from his cocoon through a cold, dark place. The place is a mess. It looks like there's been some sort of war. There are creatures he doesn't recognize that perform various functions: cleaning, killing, etc. And slowly but surely, as he travels through the corridors of what he now remembers to be Ship, he remembers his name: Teacher.

Eventually the girl leads him to a place where he meets other, well, people, although they're not all human. They've seen him many times before--many, many times, at which point he begins to learn more and more that something is seriously wrong out here. He learns that he awoke in Hull Zero One, and that he must make his way to Hull Zero Three, which still appears to be functioning normally. Hulls Zero One and Zero Two appear to have been severely damaged in some sort of war. He learns that Ship is a colony ship, and that something has gone seriously wrong, and it seems to have something to do with a conflict between entities called Mother and Destination Guidance. Teacher and his companions must survive, find out what has happened, and maybe make it right.

The subject of Hull Zero Three is a classic one--a colony ship lost in space on which something has gone terribly wrong, and the characters of the story must figure out what has happened in order to survive. It's an old trope, one dating back decades in the field. Bear does, I think, a pretty good job of handling it and making it, in my mind, fresh. I liked it. It's a good book.

Okay, back to that pesky Hugo nomination subject. Could this be a Hugo nominee this year? I don't see why not, but then again it's not as good as CITY AT THE END OF TIME, which wasn't a nominee either. This is a different book than that one, less complex, less Big Idea, less cosmic in its ideas. It's traditional sf handled in a teriffic manor. Those folks looking for character development won't really find much, if any. After all, the characters we spend time with were created on the ship, not even born. What about their memories, you ask? I'm not giving that one away. The literary sf crowd won't like this book because of the lack of characterization and probably because its subject matter is old and time tested. It breaks no new ground.

You know what? I don't care. It's a Hugo nominee in my book. [-jak]

THE GRAND DESIGN by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (book review by Gregory Frederick):

I just finished the 2010 book from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, titled THE GRAND DESIGN. This is a very concise and condensed account of the latest theories explaining the current state of the Universe and how it came to be. It also covers the latest understanding of the fundamental forces of our Universe. The early history of human endeavors and attempts to explain the Universe are discussed at the beginning of this book as is typically done in books covering these subjects for the general reader. The Ionian Greeks, Egyptians, Mayans, Aristotle, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Einstein, and Feynman are all mentioned on this journey to reach the present day understanding of physics concerning the Universe. The authors go on to suggest that our Universe is basically one of many Universes that came to exist independent of any creator. It is the multiverse theory which was also proposed by Sean Carroll in his book FROM ETERNITY TO HERE. Quantum fluctuations lead to the creation of many tiny Universes some of which reach a critical size and then form stars and galaxies as in the case for our own Universe. Hawking and Mlodinow believe M-theory is the best way to explain the Universe's fundamental forces including the quantum mechanical world of the very small and the relativistic effects seen in the Universe at large. In the attempt to combine gravity with the other three fundamental forces (electromagnetic, strong nuclear, and weak nuclear), string theory and then the more encompassing M-theory came about. M-theory contains the vibrating and incredibly small strings of string theory but also contains point particles, 2-dimensional membranes, 3-dimensional blobs and p-branes. P-branes can occupy up to 9 dimensions of space. M-theory is actually a network of theories. Each theory can describe a phenomena within a certain range. That is why it seems to be at this time the best attempt to explain the fundamental forces of the Universe. It can cover all of the bases. This is a well-written book with even occasional twists of humor in it. [-gf]

Mark responds:

This all goes way past my understanding of physics.

M-theory has a network of theories, each to explain different phenomena? This sounds like saying that you cannot unify physics, but you declare victory anyway. I can use a similar approach by saying when you are talking about slow phenomena you use Newtonian physics, with matter at relativistic speeds you use relativity, and all other times it is the work of pixies. I think that approach would be extremely dissatisfying. I guess the feeling is that you would like to think there is some simple explanation under it all-- perhaps no more complex than relativity, but we just have not discovered what that simple explanation is. (Not to mention that it is inconvenient to use the terminology "P-brane." It will get a certain amount of derision whether it deserves it or not.) [-mrl]

And Greg replies:

The authors did suggest that some would not be satisfied with M-theory since it does not have a more basic and simplified all encompassing set of equations underlining the physics of the Universe. Einstein was searching for something like this in his attempt to unify the forces of nature. To paraphrase the authors, "It is the best theory available in science at this time." In my opinion, science though does not stop in its efforts to understand, so things will change as they always seem to do. I have read that the LHC could indirectly test Superstring Theory which is part of M-Theory. This could have interesting ramifications in the development of M-theory. It's in the hands of the P-brains or P-branes. ;-)

We are getting hit by a major snow storm (10-14 inches) today, so I skipped work. It's the first really big one of the winter for Michigan. The East Coast has been getting hit like this a number of times this winter. So, I guess we are lucky missing those other storms. Stay warm. [-gf]

COLD WEATHER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: There is a decent story at the center of COLD WEATHER. Unfortunately, it is only about a half-hour long. It is just long enough to make the center of a feature film if elsewhere the film is padded using the conventions of the mumblecore film style. Not every film has to have the pacing of THE MATRIX, but this is a film that conspicuously spends time and celluloid in some of the wrong places. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Aaron Katz's film COLD WEATHER is made in the "mumblecore" style of filmmaking, a style with its own set of conventions in some ways similar to those of the Dogma 95 movement. These can be a little off-putting for the uninitiated. To give a realistic feel to a mumblecore film generally non-professional actors are used and the plot and pacing can best be called "unrushed." This can frustrate the viewer while watching with the film's lack of progress, but also it badly limits the complexity possible in the plot. Texture is more the goal than is storytelling. Long sequences do not advance the plot and merely create a background atmosphere, perhaps expanding on the characters. The characters in mumblecore films tend to be in their 20s. The films are frequently on video and budgets are generally miniscule. In this spirit COLD WEATHER ambles aimlessly toward its plot. When it finally arrives there is no longer time to give the story the complexity it deserves.

In school Doug (played by Cris Lankenau) studied forensic science, but never graduated. He has in the back of his mind that he eventually wants to be a detective, but for the time being he is just drifting. In his most optimistic and fanciful moments he wants to emulate Sherlock Holmes. Meanwhile he is stuck in ice cold Portland, Oregon where he works at an ice factory hauling heavy bags of yet more ice. His career and life are frozen. And there the film sits, itself seemingly frozen for nearly half of its 96-minute length. Too far into the film he introduces his co- worker Carlos to his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Robyn Rikoon). Carlos invites her on a date. The two become friends but then Rachel mysteriously disappears from her motel room. Doug thinks that there must be a simple explanation for Rachel's disappearance, but that does not seem to be the case. Doug and Carlos pair up to find her and they themselves find themselves in a mystery that goes beyond Rachel's strange behavior. There appears to be for-real foul play involved in Rachel's disappearance. Doug, who is reluctant at first to get involved, soon finds his forensic skills and his fund of knowledge from Sherlock Holmes books may be useful in the real world. Doug involves his sister (Trieste Kelly Dunn) in the mystery and the danger.

COLD WEATHER is written and directed by Aaron Katz who previously directed QUIET CITY, also featuring Cris Lankenau. Considering the terseness with which he handles the mystery part of the story, far to many scenes end with the viewer wondering what that scene added to the film. Then there are complete loose ends left at the end of the film. By then end of the film the viewer has some clues to what the mystery is about, but not at all a complete picture. And similarly we never seem to come to much understanding of Doug. But if all the mumblecore footage of the characters talking and interacting leaves us without much interest in the film's main character, one wonders why so much time is wasted in the film.

Perhaps writer-director Aaron Katz needed to try a more traditional style of filmmaking. Perhaps he just needed to deliver more substance sooner. As hard as I tried to like the film I still rate it a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10. COLD WEATHER has been playing at film festivals. It will be released theatrically via IFC Films on February 4, 2011 in New York and on February 11, 2011 in Los Angeles.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Journals (comments by Charles S. Harris):

If you've made any new mathematical discoveries, here's a journal (published from the Pacific University Math Department) to which you can send your manuscript "without suffering waves of anxiety regarding the eventual fate of your submission.":

Here is a paper that would have been quite in line with the typical contents of the above journal, though it was actually published in the "Journal of Applied Behavioral Analysis" some years ago: . [-csh]

Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln, and Ice Ages (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's comment on Ford ("Ford had brought in laborers from all over the world and then gave them miserably poor salaries.") in the 01/21/11 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

I thought this story was famous:

"Ford shocked the world in 1914 when he unilaterally introduced his own minimum wage for his employees, more than doubling the average wage in the auto industry by raising it from $2.34 per day to $5 per day." [Huffington Post, ]

For comparison, in 1914, a quart of milk cost 9 cents and a pound of sirloin steak, 26 cents. According to another source, Ford also shortened the day from the customary nine hours to eight. Reducing turnover and improving quality may have been an important motive. [-tw]

Mark replies:

The Ford I was referring to was a "they" rather than a "he." But still you got me. I don't know who paid well and who did not in 1914. I just know there were workers--mostly in the auto industry- -in the 1970s who thought they were not being paid very well, and as a result the restaurants had low prices. I do remember being told that Henry Ford himself was devious. He supposedly once offered stock to his workers at a special rate. When they bought the stock he lowered their wages by they amount they had shown they could spare. But I can't document that. [-mrl]

In response to Evelyn's comments on Abraham Lincoln in the same issue, Taras writes:

The Abraham Lincoln "mini-biography" was, of course, intended as a joke. In between these setbacks, Lincoln raised himself from extreme poverty to one of the top corporation lawyers in the country, as well as a leader of first the Whigs and then the Republicans. [-tw]

And in response to Dale Skran's reviews of post-apocalyptic fiction, Taras writes:

The worldwide crustal disruption of the movie, 2012, somehow spared Africa and its people, we learn at the end of the film; so something less than 6 billion dead.

By the way, the idea that "95% of the current human population will be dead" in a new Ice Age seems very much exaggerated, if by that you mean that the carrying capacity of the Earth will be reduced to only 300 million people. There's a whole lot of green on a map of the last glacial maximum at . Of course, in a literal sense, 100% of the current human population will be dead (of old age) before the Earth reaches another glacial maximum... [-tw]

Top SF Films of the '00s (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Mark's comments on the top science fiction and fantasy films of the '00s in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

Never was it brought home to me how different our tastes were then when I looked at your five favorites of the past decade. THE LORD OF THE RINGS are, for me, a crashing bore. I don't know how I slogged through them and when people tell me how much they enjoy marathon showings of the *extended* editions my stomach turns over. This would be high on my list of "overrated films of all time." As for ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, it's a movie I ought to like, but don't. I watched it twice, wanting it to work, but I found it arty, pretentious and ultimately empty. As for THE PRESTIGE, I'm a big Christopher Nolan fan, but this one disappointed me. Perhaps I'll watch it again sometime, but it's the one film I've seen of his that seemed more sizzle than steak. MAN FROM EARTH I have yet to see, and I hope to eventually have that opportunity. And I did like SLEEP DEALER although I would not rate it as highly as you.

So what would I rate the top five genre offerings?

28 DAYS LATER: a solid and truly scary zombie film. I've enjoyed the spoofs SHAUN OF THE DEAD and "ZOMBIELAND, but where George Romero seems to be rehashing past glories and "The Walking Dead" on TV is rehashing Romero, Danny Boyle gave us a truly startling movie.

HAPPY ACCIDENTS: a wonderful time travel/romantic comedy that succeeds on both levels. I love the notion of someone travelling back to the past "for tax reasons."

S1M0NE: Andrew Niccol had two of the best SF films of the '90s with his script for THE TRUMAN SHOW and writing and directing GATTACA. This comedy about a movie director played by Al Pacino who uses a CGI star for his movies only to see her becoming bigger than he was a delicious Hollywood satire and deserved a wider audience than it got.

CHILDREN OF MEN: Brilliant post-apocalyptic film that wasn't at all predictable. The big set piece at the end (not to be spoiled here) was breathtaking.

DISTRICT 9: A totally unexpected science fiction triumph out of South Africa. It holds up to repeated viewings. With all due respect to MOON, which I liked, I thought DISTRICT 9 deserved the Hugo.

So, two very different lists. I hope you at least liked most of my choices. [-dk]

Mark responds:

Our tastes are quite different. I am glad you give the readers a different viewpoint. Thanks for writing.

I know you saw what I actually wrote about LORD OF THE RINGS; I am not keen on the story myself. I am impressed by the accomplishment of the adaptation. I disagree that ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND is pretentious, but I admit I have no idea how to make a case that a film is not pretentious. I will let it go.

What is good in 28 DAYS LATER is better in the first BBC version (and of course the book) of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. I don't remember HAPPY ACCIDENTS very well. S1M0NE is decent but it is the weakest of the three Andrew Niccol films. GATTACA is by far the best. I know you like it also. It is interesting that you find ETERNAL SUNSHINE pretentious but not CHILDREN OF MEN. In CHILDREN OF MEN the breathtaking set piece is most remarkable because people react in ways that human beings would not. It is a spoiler to say what I mean, so I will encode in rot13:

Ng bar cbvag Gurb sbyybjf gur fbhaq bs n pelvat onol. Abobql ryfr frrzf gb abgvpr gur fbhaq be or phevbhf nobhg vg. Unir gurl nyy sbetbggra gur fbhaq fb dhvpxyl? Yngre va gur frdhrapr crbcyr qb erireragvnyyl fgbc svtugvat gb yrg Xrr jvgu gur onol cnff. Nsgre gurl cnff abobql sbyybjf gur jbzna naq abobql rire nfxf Xrr nobhg gur onol. Rirelobql tbrf evtug onpx gb svtugvat jvgubhg nalbar ernyvmvat gung gur rkvfgrapr bs n onol zvtug punatr rirelguvat. Qbrf gung znxr nal frafr?

Gunaxf ntnva sbe jevgvat--I mean thanks again for writing. [-mrl]

[ decodes rot13 easily. -ecl]

Book to Film (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):

In response to Mark's comments on the top science fiction and fantasy films of the '00s in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Jerry Ryan writes:

Your article on best SF/fantasy films of the last decade got me to thinking about a discussion I'm in on another blog about adaptations of SF to film. There's a long list of films that are great books but a disappointment as films: STARSHIP TROOPERS comes to mind. There's also a list of authors that have not come to the big screen that much even though their books are quite popular. There seems to be precious little Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov on the big screen. Some of Jack McDevitt's work seems like it would make decent films.

I've also got a personal list of great unmade SF films: things that I would love to see on the big screen. I know there's a lot of back-and-forth about an Ender's Game film, which I would pay to see. And wouldn't RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA be lovely? My personal favorite unmade film--that nobody seems to be working on at all anywhere--is Vernor Vinge's PEACE WAR.

I'd be interested in your take on this. [-gwr]

Mark responds:

What great science fiction novels would I like to see adapted to the screen? The stock answer to that question is "none at all". THE PRESTIGE is one of the few examples of a great book being adapted to a great film. But great films based on previously published stories are generally based on fairly mediocre stories. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL is based on the pulpish story "Farewell to the Master" by Harry Bates. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is based on an unpromising Clarke story, "The Sentinel". Movies do not adapt novels very well in large part because there is too much in a novel. Films do better with novelettes and short stories. And good science fiction films are rarely based on good stories. RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA might indeed make a good visual science fiction film, but I am not sure the ideas would translate well. Perhaps you can think of more examples than I can of good science fiction films being based on good pre-existing stories. [-mrl]

Jerry replies:

Hmm ... interesting point about it not being done that often, or done well that often. I guess it *is* easier to find a bad adaptation of a good story (JOHNNY MNEMONIC, anyone?).

I guess you could argue that the "Star Trek" films that were good films (about half of them :-)) are based on a body of work that is essentially a series of short stories. On a list of good SF films based on good stories ... you'd have to include things like BLADE RUNNER and MINORITY REPORT, I'd say. DUNE (not the original version, but the remake that was on, I think, the Sci-Fi channel?) would count as well.

I still think that THE PEACE WAR would make a great visual SF film, and the story would translate very well. [-gwr]

CAMELOT (letter of comment by Susan de Guardiola):

In response to Evelyn's comments on CAMELOT in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Susan de Guardiola writes:

Re. your criticisms of CAMELOT: I can't tell whether this is meant to be completely tongue in cheek, but just in case it's not: are you aware that CAMELOT is not based directly on Arthurian legend but on T. H. White's ONCE AND FUTURE KING, which is deliberately anachronistic fantasy that pokes fun at the romanticized and dubiously accurate medievalism of the Victorian era and early 20th century? Criticizing it for not being historically accurate is missing the point rather spectacularly. One clue that should be unmissable is when a young Thomas Malory (15th-century author of LE MORTE D'ARTHUR) makes a cameo at the end. I'm pretty sure that's in the filmed version. Seeing a modern staging might let you do better justice to the musical; the 1960s styling of the film is pretty painful to modern eyes. I do hope that you were joking, and I'm just missing the humor. [-sdg]

Evelyn responds:

Well, no, I wasn't joking. It's been ages since I read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING (I'm assuming I must have at some point), and at any rate, I doubt the audience for CAMELOT (the movie) would be aware that it is based on a tongue-in-cheek novel. By the end of the film, I admit to letting my attention drift such that I did not catch that young Tom was Thomas Malory. (Or was that even made explicit in the film?) Clearly some of the film is intended humorously--Guenevere's wishing for knights to die in all sorts of painful ways for her, etc.--but there are other parts that seem intended seriously. [-ecl]

Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth (letter of comment by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

In response to Keith Lynch's comments on the ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID (in response to Dale Skran's comments on them in an article in the 01/21/11 issue of the MT VOID), Dale writes:

I stand corrected--the ship in the book is the Queen Mary AND the ship I visited in Los Angeles was also the Queen Mary! It is well worth checking out if you get to Los Angeles--a masterpiece of art deco. Also, it is right next to a Russian Scorpion class attack submarine, which is also very interesting. [-dls]

Free Movies and Genius (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Keith F. Lynch):

In response to the pointer to a site listing 340 movies available free online in the 01/28/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes, "This movie site you point to actually has a number of movies I would sit and watch. DR. STRANGELOVE! TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD! RASHOMON! And a whole bunch of lesser ones that should be entertaining. Do they have ads in them? Well, I'll find out soon enough. Thanks for the tip." [-kw]

Evelyn responds, "The page given lists films available on dozens of sites. Some may have ads, but I'm guessing most do not. I know the copy of "Downhill" (a WWII propaganda film by Alfred Hitchcock) did not." [-ecl]

Kip continues, "Your closing quote ['The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.'] reminds me of an aphorism I made up (and Tweeted): 'The opposite of genius is genius.'" [-kw]

To which Keith F. Lynch replies, "Intelligence and stupidity are often described as opposites. But they aren't. Intelligence is no bar to stupidity. They can exist in the same person at the same time." [-kfl]

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

Does no one write straight alternate history any more? And by straight, I do not mean as opposed to gay alternate history, but just plain old "this one event happened in a different--yet plausible--way and here is how society was affected." Instead, all I seem to see are alternate histories with vampires, alternate histories with steampunk, alternate histories with the Great Old Ones, and so on. While these may be fine for what they are, they seem to be crowding out the more historically based alternate histories. The latest I've seen is THE BOOKMAN by Lavie Tidhar (ISBN 978-0-00-734658-5), which seems to want to be Kim Newman meets Jasper Fforde, with touches of Neil Gaiman and Harry Turtledove thrown in.

It's possible that some of what I say might be considered spoilers, so you have been warned.

The Kim Newman part is the premise that Amerigo Vespucci discovered Caliban's island and Les Lézards, a reptilian race who became the ruling family of England (with all the same names as the monarchs in our time line, and how likely is that?). The Jasper Fforde part is all the literary allusions, such as an inspector named Irene Adler, a knight named Harry Flashman, and a literary terrorist group known as the Persons from Porlock, who knock on the doors of famous authors and recite nonsense to them until the authors forget what the they were working on. The Neil Gaiman is the overall mysterious alien Victorian atmosphere reminiscent of "A Study in Emerald"; the Harry Turtledove part is the intelligent reptile part. But any actual consideration of how the society would be different if ruled by reptiles seems to be minimal: not only did Turtledove spend more time on it in his "World War" tetralogy than this whole novel does. James Patrick Kelly spent more time on it in his novelette "Think Like a Dinosuar".

For what it is, THE BOOKMAN is good. But just as a fan of Westerns would be upset if their favorite TV Westerns were cancelled and replaced by sit-coms, no matter how excellent the sit-coms were, so do I see this sort of novel as filling publishers' alternate history slots to the exclusion of more "historical" alternate history.

I picked up PANDORA'S PLANET by Christopher Anvil (no ISBN, DAW No. 66) because I heard a friend discussing it with the owner of a local used bookstore and it sounded like fun. Although it is constructed as a "surprise" in Chapter VIII, it is obvious from the first page that the point-of-view characters are aliens and the "aliens" are humans. And even though the aliens have spaceflight and the humans do not, it turns out that the humans are smarter than the aliens. (Given that it was published in John W. Campbell's "Astounding", that is not very surprising.) Reading it, I was strongly reminded of the alien point-of-view sections of Harry Turtledove's "Worldwar" series. In both, the aliens seem to have the technological advantage, but the humans are smarter, shrewder, more adaptable, etc.

Oh, and while the Centrans on the Kelly Freas cover may fit the description in the book, the woman is more a typical Freas female than anyone in the novel.

THIEVES IN THE TEMPLE: THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH AND THE SELLING OF THE AMERICAN SOUL by G. Jeffrey MacDonald (ISBN 978-0-465-00932-9) could just as easily have been subtitled "The Rise of American Churches and the Decline of American Religion", because that is MacDonald's basic message. While church attendance is up and mega-churches with thousands of members are becoming more common, MacDonald sees more and more people who profess to be Christians moving away from the central tenets and beliefs of Christianity.

MacDonald sees the primary problem as consumerism: people are reacting to churches as products, and churches are selling themselves to people as products. Pastors don't give sermons that make their parishioners uncomfortable, because people will leave that church and go to a more comfortable one. Churches now spend millions on state-of-the-art sound systems instead of soup kitchens, and people think charity means a celebrity golf tournament instead of visiting the elderly.

But MacDonald is not negative on Christianity, far from it--he is an ordained minister. What he wants a return to traditional Christian values. These may include traditional marriage, no abortion, etc., but he is more specific that they include honesty, self-discipline, charity, and other values apparently not as emphasized in many congregations. As he says, "Congregants grew more concerned about other people's abortions and euthanasia than about the morality of their own tax-paying and other financial habits." And also, "among those willing to support the use of torture, Christians were at the head of the pack ... the more one goes to church, the more likely one is to support torture."

One can argue, of course, that MacDonald is mistaken in his interpretation of Christianity. But unless you want to argue that Christianity is about finding the church with the best singles group and the least demands on its members, what he says does make sense. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Some people talk in their sleep.  Lecturers 
          talk while other people sleep.
                                          --Albert Camus

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