Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/25/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 8, Whole Number 1349

El Presidente: Mark Leeper,
The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Library Fire Police (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Notes From the (Video) Revolution (comments by
                Mark R. Leeper)
        SURVIVING EDEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading (THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Library Fire Police (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

We were driving through Pelham, Massachusetts, and we passed by a
municipal building with a sign out front that said "Library Fire
Police."  For a moment I thought I had fallen into the world of
FAHRENHEIT 451.  Closer to home we have signs that say "Plant
Crossing."  I always expect to see triffids lining up to cross.


TOPIC: Notes From the (Video) Revolution (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

Excuse me if I get a little nostalgic for the coming of this
piece of technology and how it really changed the world of the
technically-inclined cinema fan.  Or one like me.  VCRs did not
come into common use until the mid-1980s and in fact I did not
really rush to get one.  I remember there were Sony ads on
television with a taxi driver saying at the end of a nightshift
as the sun was rising that he was going home to watch "The
Tonight Show".  The idea caught on.

When a film like CASABLANCA came out, most people had one chance
to see it.  It played at a theater and then it just went away,
seemingly forever.  And it remained that way with films for many
years.  If you wanted to see the film again you could buy another
ticket, but only for a limited time.  You had to do it while the
film was still playing.  Or perhaps the film might get a second
run.  Things got a little better with the advent of cheap
theaters where films might play on a second run and of drive-in
movie theaters.  But within a month or so the film was gone like
smoke in the wind.'  That made films very transitory.

Castle Films were my first experience with owning a bit of my own
cinema.  I was a little bit of a hobbyist when I was young.
Castle Film sold for the princely sum of $5 little five minute
silent abridgements of popular films on 8-millimeter (like home
movie)film.  That was five 1960 dollars.  And of course they were
silent.  You can buy some entire films for less than that these
days.  I bought three, insisting on getting films I had never
seen, just to be able to see a bit of them.  The three were IT
MANTIS.  Those short excerpts I watched over and over.

When television started showing movies, there was a little hope
that maybe some time you could see your favorite movies again.
Some films I had wanted to see I saw for the first time that way.
But more frequently they were films I had less interest in.  But
I do remember when "Saturday Night at the Movies" ran THE DAY THE
EARTH STOOD STILL.   I remember maybe around 1963, watching the
"ABC Sunday Night Movie".  The movie they were showing was a
favorite of mine.  It was JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH with
James Mason and Pat Boone.  I think that at that point we had a
black and white television.  The network had abridged the film so
they could fit in a lot of commercials.  The film was frequently
interrupted.  And I felt a bit saddened.  It was not that the
film was being so mishandled.  I felt bad because this was ABC's
second showing of the film.  That meant they probably would not
show it again on the "ABC Sunday Night Movie".  That meant it
would be years before I got another opportunity to see the film.

Those were different days in many ways, but certainly as far as
appreciation of films was concerned.  Seeing a movie was a
fleeting experience.  You could tell a friend about a film, but
you could not share it.  With a book it was different.  If you
read a scene in a book that was enthralling you could go back and
immediately reread it.  You could analyze the scene and see why
it affected you the way it did.  But movies were a different
matter.  If you wanted re-view scene from a film, you were
generally out of luck.  Perhaps if you were seeing it in a
continuous performance theater you could wait until the film was
on again and watch the scene again.  That might be possible, but
it was a high price to pay.  If you were seeing the film on
television you were out of luck altogether.  There was no control
at all.  You had one chance to see a scene and that was it until
the next time the film was shown someplace.  VCRs changed all

Around 1972 I had access to a tape recorder and discovered I
could record the sound of a film off of television and play it on
a tape recorder whenever I wanted.  I recorded two films on
audiotape and listened to them dozens of times each.  The films
would find cheap audiotape and eventually collect the soundtrack
(the whole sound track, not just the music as the term
"soundtrack" has come to mean)of hundreds of films.  The cheap
audio tape fell apart in a few years and was unplayable.

In 1974 I met someone who actually collected films--picture and
sound.  For a hundred dollars or so you could buy a copy of some
films.  Then, I was told, any time you wanted you could set up
the projector and see the film.  This changed the entire cinema
experience.  Some films got better on multiple viewings.  Some
were not as good.  But this was a hobby for the very rich or the
very dedicated.  Not many people could own a dozen films of their
own.  I looked at the guy who collected ten or twelve films like
some people look at Porsche owners.  The film my friend was so
proud of having was BOBBIKINS, which was hardly a classic.  It is
a B-picture comedy about a talking baby.  But who am I to judge?
If he really liked the films that was good for him.  It was just
as well that he got the film.  It seems never to have come out on

I think it was at MidAmericon in 1976 (but at any rate at some
science fiction convention) where someone had brought a videotape
machine.  In those days they used special inch-wide tapes.  I
don't know how he got it, but he had a videotape of the original
KING KONG.  An opportunity to see KING KONG was always a special
occasion for me.  This was no BOBBIKINS.  This guy could see the
film KING KONG whenever he wanted!  It was the first time I saw
someone without really expensive equipment owning his own film.
It might be worth it to get one of these video tape machines if I
could own my own copy of KING KONG.

VCRs were for me the real beginning of my personal video
revolution.  Then the revolution began to pick up steam.  Within
about six or seven years I was able to record films that showed
up occasionally on television and watch those, cut as they were
and frequently with poor reception.  But I could see them pretty
much the way they were when television broadcast them.  I had a
copy of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH that I had gotten off
of some ABC afternoon movie.  It was badly cut and had a lot of
commercials which I had imperfectly edited out.  And in the
picture the reds ran like Seabiscuit.  It was a pain to watch it,
but at least I had it.  Few films were available for purchase.

Films started coming out on videotape not log after that.  There
were some priced down where I could afford them in the $20 range,
but many were a lot more expensive and were priced so that only
video stores would buy them.  Eventually they came down in price,
particularly when the new medium of DVD came along.

More effective was waiting for cable stations to run films and
record them off the air.  This was particularly good with the
American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies, two cable
stations that ran classic movies twenty-four hours a day.
Finally you could take a wide range of classic movies and watch
them over and over, stopping and repeating whenever the viewer

DVDs were an even more flexible medium even if they were read-
only, and they also offered a much clearer picture.  These days
for a usually reasonable price you can own copies of many of your
favorite films and watch them in high-quality reproductions.
Just like with audiotape soundtracks and videotapes I have
hundreds of DVDs.  Access to films has gotten better, even if the
content may not have.  I now can see JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE
EARTH whenever I have the whim.  That may mean that I am seeing
it less often than when it showed up by chance on TV.  Then I
always watched it, because who knew when it would be on again.


TOPIC: SURVIVING EDEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is a film that begins in the style of a Christopher
Guest satire but along the way turns into a somewhat more serious
story of the roller coaster effects of temporary fame.  The humor
is uneven but somewhere inside this film is a good story.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

"Fame is fleeting but obscurity is forever."--Napoleon Bonaparte

This quote opens SURVIVING EDEN, written and directed by Greg
Pritkin.  (Actually, Napoleon said glory is fleeting.)  The
format of his film is at first a mockumentary about the
stars/contestants of a reality television show.  The fictional
program is itself called "Surviving Eden."  The producers of the
show are coke-sniffing Maude Silver and Gary Gold (Jane Lynch and
Sam Robards).  The film shows us three contestants preparing for
the program.  Players are put on an island paradise in the nude
to see if they can survive.  One of them wins, and then later the
film becomes more serious as we track what the fame of winning on
the show does to a somewhat typical person.  The winner is Dennis
Flotchky (played by Michael Panes), an obese convenience store
clerk who has never been out of Pomona, California.  Suddenly
this nebbish finds he is a national figure.  Dennis wins over his
two major opponents: a liberated nun who is a heavy metal fan and
an excessively aggressive and assertive canine "euthanasia
technician."  Dennis wins and then has to pay the heavy emotional
price of his newfound fame.

Pritkin, who previously wrote and directed the off-center comedy
DUMMY, gives us some amusing moments, but in general the humor is
hit or miss with some sequences simply being odd.  As the tone
changes the film loses much of its impetus.  The some of the
points, notably that Dennis has become a different person, go
from apparent to belabored.

Michael Panes debuted in feature films with THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY
and has done several pieces of television work.  With the long
hair and hippie outfits he wears in this film seem to be borrowed
from Peter Sellers in I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS.  The supporting
cast includes Peter Dinklage, a little more laid-back than his
plays Dennis's stoner best friend.  THE STATION AGENT showed that
Dinklage could be a good actor, but his character here is lacking
in color and is not well developed.  In small roles we also have
Conchita Ferrel and a rare acting turn for John Landis.  The film
could have used two or three more minor characters to play show
contestants.  We see a lot of these three people and nothing but
over the shoulder shots of anyone else.  It also would have been
an opportunity to introduce some more quirky personalities and
broadened the film.

Certainly the style of writing is inspired by Christopher Guest
films.  And the inclusion of Jane Lynch, formerly of BEST IN
SHOW, only reinforces the connection.  Michael Panes is a little
too over-the-top to be believed as Mr. Typical American.  The
point of the film is to say that this is what temporary fame does
to ordinary people.  But neither Pritkin nor Panes seems to have
much of a feel for what an ordinary person from the real world
would be like.  There seem to be only a limited number of
professions that show up in films and, unfortunately, convenience
store clerk is one of them.  Pritkin shows us what effect the
winning experience has on not an ordinary person but an
exaggerated buffoon.  That does not kill the film, but it
severely wounds it.

This comedy could use some polishing.  With a little more style
it could have been better, but there is a decent film inside this
one somewhere.  I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or
6/10.  [-mrl]


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

A new edition of THE BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS by Jorge Luis
Borges has just been published by Viking (ISBN 0-670-89180-0).
The translation is by Andrew Hurley, but the new translation is
not the only difference.  This book has almost as bizarre a
history as some of those in Borges's own fictions.  (Then again,
the history of the various collections of Borges's short fictions
was quite convoluted as well.  Perhaps it is just another self-
referential aspect of Borgesian fiction.)

Let me start by noting that this work is a compendium of beings
"created" by other people or traditions--Borges (and Guerrero--
see below) merely collected the ones they considered the most
interesting.  So unlike Borges's fictions (such as "Tlon, Uqbar,
Orbis Tertius", which I commented on last year), one cannot
analyze it as being strictly the creation of Borges's mind.  One
can, I suppose, ask why certain beasts are included, but given a
co-compiler, even that is not as useful.

There was a 1957 book, MANUAL DE ZOOLOGIA FANTASTICA, with the
authorship given as Jorge Luis Borges and Margarita Guerrero,
containing eighty-two entries.  A 1967 version, titled EL LIBRO
DE LOS SERES IMAGINARIOS, had some revisions and a hundred and
sixteen entries, with the order re-arranged as well.  The text
for this is the text of all subsequent Spanish-language editions.

In 1969, a version in English was published by E. P. Dutton,
followed by one by Jonathan Cape in the United Kingdom, and then
an Avon edition, with Guerrero still listed, though in a lesser
credit and misspelled as "Margaritta Guerro".  (This was
correctly spelled in my 1974 Penguin edition [ISBN 0-1400-3709-
8].)  The English-language version had four new entries: "The
Carbuncle", "An Experimental Account of What Was Known, Seen, and
Met by Mrs. Jane Lead in London in 1694", "Fauna of Chile", and
"Laudatores Temporis Acti".  There are also many changes other
than mere translation from the previous Spanish edition.  (I will
mention some of these below).

A new Spanish-language edition was published in 1978.  The order
was changed for copyright reasons, but the four new pieces were
not included.  A 1981 Spanish-language edition came out in strict
alphabetical order, again with the four pieces missing, and these
have been omitted from all subsequent Spanish-language editions
as well.  Hurley has chosen to keep the revisions from earlier
English-language editions only when these have shown up in
subsequent Spanish-language editions.

Borges biographers Emir Rodriguez Monegal and James Woodall both
claim that Borges worked with di Giovanni on the translation and
contributed the new pieces as well.  Monegal even says, "Its
final version appeared in the 1969 English translation done by
the author in collaboration with Norman Thomas di Giovanni."
(Note that Rodriguez Monegal explicitly, and Woodall implicitly,
consider Borges as the sole author, ignoring any contribution by
Guerrero.)  Hurley seems to feel there is no substance to these
claims because the changes were not included in future Spanish
editions.  However, one needs to consider that Hurley is doing a
translation, and could hardly claim to be translating passages
that have not appeared in Spanish, but only in English and
credited to other translators.  The inclusion of these passages
is therefore almost impossible in a new translation, so Hurley
may have been swayed by practical considerations.

(The Spanish version I have is an on-line version in which the
1967 preface refers to "*Robert* Burton" as one of the sources,
when it should be "*Richard* Burton".  Whether this is a typo in
an actual edition, a transcription error to the web, or Borges
having a little joke is, of course, unclear.)

So this edition is a more accurate rendition of the various
Spanish-language versions (order excluded).  But I wonder if
perhaps Borges did not intend (as Rodriguez Monegal and Woodall
suggest) for the English-language editions to have some
differences.  For example, the last paragraph of the "A Bao A Qu"
in the Hurley translation says, "Sir Richard Francis Burton
records the legend of the A Bao A Qu in one of the notes to his
version of THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS."  The di Giovanni
translation says, "This legend is recorded by C. C. Iturvuru in
an appendix to his now classic treatise ON MALAY WITCHCRAFT
(1937)."  John Dyson of Indiana University thinks this change
(from the Spanish text) was made to make it even more exotic, and
is in fact a literary hoax, because various people who have
attempted to track down the Iturvuru book have found nothing
(except that Borges had a friend named C. C. *Iturburu*).  It is
a pity that this additional fillip has been discarded in the new
edition.  Hurley cites sources for most references in his
edition, which is a great boon, but says nothing about this
particular one.  He does say in his end note that "some of
[Borges's] 'quotations' are almost certainly apocryphal, put-
ons."  Interestingly, though Hurley claims to hew close to the
Spanish, he translates "el capitan Burton" as "Sir Richard
Francis Burton".

Because Hurley adds notes at the end of the book giving
attributions, he does not insert them in the text unless they
were in the Spanish-language version(s), whereas di Giovanni
sometimes did.  For example, in "The Catoblepas" Borges quotes
"The Temptation of Saint Anthony", but does not name Flaubert
explicitly.  di Giovanni says, "At the close of 'The Temptation
of Saint Anthony', Flaubert describes it . . .", while Hurley
just says, "Toward the of 'The Temptation of Saint Anthony' we
read . . .", and puts the attribution to Flaubert in his notes.
Conversely, di Giovanni includes the appropriate excerpt about to
night as "a monster made of eyes" from Chesterton's poem "A
Second Childhood", while Hurley just copies Borges's original
Spanish in referring to Chesterton without actually quoting him.

di Giovanni has other additions missing from Hurley.  In "The
Double", di Giovanni adds an entire paragraph on the Egyptian ka.
In "Hochigan", he adds a reference to a story by Lugones about a
talking chimpanzee.  In "The Jinn", he adds references to Victor
Hugo, Richard Francis Burton, and Noah Webster.  In "The
Simurgh", he notes Edward FitzGerald's translation of the part of
Firdausi's "The Book of Kings" regarding that creature.  And in
"The Sow in Chains" (which he calls "The Sow Harnessed with
Chains and other Argentine Fauna"), di Giovanni adds a long
paragraph about werewolves and other shape-shifters in Argentina.

For the other differences that I checked with the Spanish-
language version, Hurley is almost always closer.  In
"Swedenborg's Angels", for example, di Giovanni refers to the
selling of "trinkets", while Hurley more accurately calls them
"jewel[s]".  But where di Giovanni says that "Moslems venerate
Mohammed", Hurley translates it as "Muslims are in the habit of
worshipping Mohammed".  The phrase in Spanish is "Como los
musulmanes estan acostumbrados a la veneracion de Mahoma"--Hurley
matches the structure but gets the key word wrong (in my

For "The Behemoth", the original Spanish quotes a Spanish
translation from the Book of Job by Fray Luis de Leon, while di
Giovanni quotes Father Knox's English translation from the
Vulgate, and Hurley quotes both the King James *and* Douay
versions.  It certainly makes sense to substitute a traditional
English translation rather than for di Giovanni or Hurley to re-
translate de Leon into English, but Hurley's giving two versions
seems a bit of overkill.  Hurley does say in his end note that
when Borges appeared to have used a translation of the original--
for example an English translation of a Greek source--he tries to
use the "canonical translation" into English, rather than add
another level of translation.  However, this devotion to original
sources results in the Zachary Grey quotation in "Cerberus" using
the elongated 's' (that looks like an 'f') where it was used in
the original.  This is not a genuine spelling difference, but a
mere calligraphic change (in my opinion), and just makes reading
the text more difficult.  (Hurley also uses the "ae" ligature in
"Chimaera", even though this is rarely seen these days, and is
probably not in the Spanish--though the Spanish edition I am
reading is mysteriously lacking that entire entry!)

In the entry for "The Centaur", Hurley restores the original
English of William H. Prescott's account of an incident in
Pizarro's conquest of Peru (Book 2, Chapter 3) rather than di
Giovanni's translation of Borges's (?) translation of Prescott
(which di Giovanni then describes as "a text quoted by

What Borges (and Hurley) call the "Borametz", di Giovanni
rendered as "Barometz", with the Latin name being "Lycopodium
barometz" rather than "Polypodium borametz".  According to
Hurley's note, both spellings and designations are known, though
now most botanists say that it is really "Cibotium borametz".  I
have no idea why di Giovanni chose the alternate designation.
(Google turns up only non-Borgesian four entries for each of the
first two names, with none in common, and only two for the last.)

The article on "The Golem" is particularly complicated.  di
Giovanni incorporates Borges's note on Schopenhauer (which
appears as a footnote in the Spanish-language editions).  Hurley
leaves it as a footnote, but then writes an end note longer than
the entire article questioning the accuracy of Borges's
translation and other textual issues relating to Borges's
references in Spanish from a German text which quotes an English
text.  di Giovanni also pins down "third-grown" as meaning
"three-year-old calf", while Hurley notes that scholars disagree
on whether it means that, or a calf one-third its full growth, or
even "third-born" (fat).

For "The Perytion"/"The Peryton" ("El Peritio"), Borges (and
hence Hurley) gives the location of the treatise of the rabbi
from Fez as the University of Munich; di Giovanni gives it as the
University of Dresden.  I suspect the latter was because the
bombing of Dresden is better known than that of Munich, and the
bombing is given as a possible reason for the treatise's

In "The Zaratan", both di Giovanni and Hurley provide a
translation from the Latin of the excerpt from "The Navigation of
St. Brendan", but Hurley provides one in contemporary English,
while di Giovanni gives a Middle English one which many would
claim needs another level of translation.

This new edition is in alphabetical order, but omits an important
feature of the Penguin edition--an index.  While one can argue
that re-arranging the articles into strict alphabetical order
cuts back on the need for this, one still has the problem of
where to look for complex names.  "An Animal Dreamed by Kafka" is
under 'A', "A Crossbreed by Kafka" is under 'C', and "The Odradek
by Kafka" is under 'O', with no cross-references.  "The Offspring
of Leviathan" is under 'L'.  "Six-Legged Antelopes" are under
'A', but "The Hairy Beast of La Ferte-Bernard" is under 'H'.
Also, "Swedenborg's Angels" are under 'A' and "Swedenborg's
Devils" are under 'D', rather than being together under 'S'.  And
without an index, one cannot easily check all the references to,
for example, mirrors--in the articles on the basilisk, the
carbuncle, the double, the salamander, and (of course) the fauna
of mirrors.  I suppose it comes down to whether one wants to
treat the book as literature or as a reference.  Of course, the
ability to find words and phrases even in fiction is worthwhile,
and  an index will not find all the indirect allusions in any
case.  For example, in the introduction, Borges says, "A book of
this nature is necessarily incomplete; each new edition is the
nucleus of future editions, that can be multiplied to infinity"
[my translation].  The whole notion of multiplication brings to
mind Borges's line from "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" ("One of the
heresiarchs of Uqbar had stated that mirrors and copulation are
abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of man.")

The new edition also has illustrations by Peter Sis, who does
some wonderful stippling work.  I notice that he illustrates the
beings whose appearance is most agreed on, or least familiar to
readers, while avoiding the pitfalls of such beings as sphinxes
and unicorns (though he does give two possibilities for the

A further note on editions: The collection THE ALEPH is primarily
worth having in addition to the Hurley COLLECTED FICTIONS because
of the long autobiographical essay written by Borges especially
for this volume, and not appearing elsewhere (that I know of).
However, Hurley does omit one story from THE ALEPH, "The
Immortals", undoubtedly because it was co-authored with Adolfo
Bioy-Casares.  (One of the reviews I read somewhere noted that
the COLLECTED FICTIONS were not really complete, because nothing
co-authored with anyone was included.)

This is made more complicated by the fact that the contents of
English-language THE ALEPH (more accurately, THE ALEPH AND OTHER
STORIES 1933-1969, Dutton/Bantam) have very little overlap with
the contents of the Spanish-language Alianza/Emece edition titled
simply EL ALEPH.  For example, the latter does not include "The
Immortals" ("Los Inmortals"), but does contain a story titled "El
inmortal"--which bears no resemblance to "The Immortals", and in
turn does not appear in the English-language book!  However, "The
Immortals" does appear in another English-language collection, as

[I am beginning to wonder if this Borgesian analysis will become
a regular feature every August.  Are people finding these
interesting?  -ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

            The feeling that great novels like DON QUIXOTE
            and HUCKLEBERRY FINN are virtually shapeless
            served to reinforce my taste for the short-story
            form, whose indispensable elements are economy
            and a clearly stated beginning, middle, and end.
                                           -- Jorge Luis Borges