THE MT VOID
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/09/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 37, Whole Number 1692


 Ollie: Mark Leeper, mleeper@optonline.net
 Stan: Evelyn Leeper, eleeper@optonline.net
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Topics:
        Correction
        Identification 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Test Tube Meat (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        New Info on Old Relatives (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Three Retro Films to Look For (H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF THE
                WORLDS, THE CALL OF CTHULHU, and THE WHISPERER IN
                DARKNESS) (film reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        Yet Another Batch of Movie Reviews (THE X FILES: I WANT TO
                BELIEVE, THE BOOK OF ELI, RED RIDING HOOD)
                (film reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.)
        YOUR FLYING CAR AWAITS by Paul Milo (2009) (book review
                by Dale L. Skran, Jr.)
        SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        LONDON RIVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Many Names (letter of comment by Bill Higgins)
        HUGO and the Academy Awards (letter of comment
                by Jerry Ryan)
        BEING HUMAN and LOST GIRL (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)
        This Week's Reading (A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S
                COURT and THE END OF ETERNITY) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)

==================================================================


TOPIC: Correction

Last week's MT VOID was labeled:
      03/02/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 35, Whole Number 1690

It should have been:
      03/02/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 36, Whole Number 1691

==================================================================


TOPIC: Identification 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

A "manga" is a female mango.  [-mrl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: Test Tube Meat (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

http://tinyurl.com/void-test-tube-meat

A project is underway at Maastricht University in the Netherlands
to grow meat in a vat from a cow's stem cells.

Chicken Little, anyone?  (It's a Frederik Pohl reference.)  [-ecl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: New Info on Old Relatives (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I read something in SCIENCE NEWS's December 31, 2011, issue that
piqued my curiosity.  It said, "Humans may have acquired important
immune system genes via liaisons with extinct hominid cousins, the
Neandertals and Denisovans."  Reading that one sentence brings
three questions to mind.  Let me start with the banal question
first.  Is it Neanderthal or Neandertal?  When I grew up it was
always spelled with an 'h'.  Well, the first of these hominids were
found in the Neander valley.  "Thal" is the German word for
"valley".  So they were dubbed "Neanderthal" in 1856.  But German
pronunciation of "Thal" is like it was "tal".  So depending whether
it was heard or written it would come out either "tal" or "thal".
But meanwhile the German government decided that in order for the
German language to be regular, the spelling of the word for
"valley" would be "tal".  But by now most non-German" people
pronounced it with a "th" sound and were not going to change that
to be in line with the Germans.  So both are acceptable and you can
pronounce it the way they do in your country, provided your papers
are in order.

Bob Sawyer summarizes this nicely at
http://www.sfwriter.com/hotal.htm.

Also, it was not long ago when I thought I was being told that
there was no inter-breeding between our line of descent and that of
the Neandertals.  (I think most book illustrators helped to foster
this impression by drawing Neanderthals as being ugly and hence
unlikely to attract the more handsomely depicted Cro-Magnons.
However, friends reliably inform me that my looks would be more
appropriate on a Neanderthal than on a Cro-Magnon.  This is doubly
true when I am scratching my armpits or using my tongue to clean
food from between my teeth.  Triply so when I am doing both at
once.)  However, less than two years ago the question has been
resolved by examination of the Neanderthal and human genome.  And,
yes, there was interbreeding going on.  But this understanding is
very new.  In 2009 when the Neanderthal genome was first decoded,
it was thought that there was no evidence of interbreeding.  It
must have taken about a year to reverse that conclusion.  Probably
much of the readership knew that before I did.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/07/science/07neanderthal.html.

But the big question I had was, who were the Denisovans?  That is a
new name for me.  There has been a lot discussion of Neanderthals
in the news.  Denisovans must be of similar importance.   How could
another human race come along and I not know about it?  Well this
news is also just twenty-four months old.  One reason we are not
hearing a lot about them is that there is not a lot to hear.  There
has been found in Siberia a finger bone and a tooth.  A DNA
analysis was done and it is apparently similar enough to us and the
Neanderthals to be of genus homo--more closely related to us than
chimpanzees--but it is not us.  And it is not Neanderthal.  There
was a lost race of humans.

So that answers that question, but raises a whole bunch more.  Why
is there so little evidence of another race of humans?
Neanderthals were discovered in 1829 and defined as a separate type
of genus homo in 1856.  The tools the paleontologists had were
crude at that time and are much better now.  How was it that there
has been so much evidence for the existence of Neanderthals in the
interim and now we have just three small fossils of the Denisovans?
(Subsequent to the original discovery and the identification of the
Denisovans as human a third fossil has been found and shown to be
Denisovan, a toe bone.)  Was it that there were just a lot more
Neanderthals than there were Denisovans?

DNA also seems to indicate that the Denisovans left Africa before
the modern humans and Neanderthals did.  If they left Africa before
Neanderthals and modern humans, would they not be better adapted to
the turf outside of Africa than their later-arriving cousins?  It
is suggested in the original quote that started this article that,
though Denisovans are a different branch of descent, they possibly
bred with modern humans.

Now let us see how long it takes this new understanding to filter
into science fiction.  [-mrl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: Three Retro Films to Look For (film reviews by Evelyn C.
Leeper)

With steampunk and all things "retro" being so popular, there are
three films available that should be more well-known than they are.
The first (and longest) is H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF WORLDS, made in
2005.  This is *not* the Steven Spielberg version, nor is it the
version done by The Asylum.  The version I am talking about was
done by Pendragon Pictures, was directed by Timothy Hines, and is
three hours long.  The second (and shortest) of my three films is
THE CALL OF CTHULHU, also made in 2005.  This was made by the H. P.
Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) and is only 47 minutes long.
And the last is THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, made in 2011, also by
the HPLHS, but feature-length at 104 minutes long.

And what do these three films have in common?

First, they are all based on written fiction pieces from about a
century ago.  THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was published in 1898, "The
Call of Cthulhu" in 1926, and "The Whisperer in Darkness" in 1930.

Second, they are all set in the period of the original work.  There
have been several versions of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, but all the
others have updated it to the year of the specific film.  (The Jeff
Wayne musical version is set in Victorian/Edwardian times, but has
not been filmed.)  Those of Lovecraft's works that have been filmed
are often transposed in time and space.

They are accurate to the original works.  Not only do the other
adaptations change the time and place, they also change the plot,
dropping subplots, re-arranging events, or keeping only the basic
idea.  It is, of course, not surprising that the HPLHS would be
accurate to the written word, but to find a work faithful to the
Wells is less expected.  (THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is reasonably
faithful to the story, but then adds more after the ending of what
Lovecraft wrote.)

The budgets are low (minuscule might be more accurate).  This is
accomplished in several ways.  First, the casts are mostly first-
timers.  (THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS does have some experienced
actors, but also many first-timers.)  They act in the style of the
period, by which I do not mean silent movie style over-acting, but
in general in a more theatrical and less realistic style.  (Compare
Olivier's and McKellan's Richard III, or Olivier's and Branagh's
Henry V to see what I mean.)

One problem that does exist with the actors is that the nature of
these projects is that they attract mostly younger people, so there
are no old actors, even for parts that would call for them.

The special effects, while not absolutely strictly of the period,
are much more basic than the usual effects one finds these days.
Georges Melies could have designed most of them.

The Lovecraft adaptations are done in black and white, another
retro touch.  (I have heard that black and white is actually more
expensive than color, so if this is true, this is not a budgetary
decision.)  They also have intertitles (title cards) or subtitles
in dozens of languages.  THE CALL OF CTHULHU (a silent film) has
intertitles in Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English,
Euskera (Basque), Finnish, French, Galician, German, Hungarian,
Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Polish,
Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Welsh.  THE
WHISPERER IN DARKNESS has subtitles rather than intertitles, and
appears to have taken advantage of computer fonts to add three
languages that do not use the Roman alphabet (Greek, Japanese, and
Russian).  (To compensate, it has dropped Galician, Irish/Gaelic,
Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, and Welsh.)

This multi-lingual approach may seem very modern, but in fact one
of the big advantages of silent films was that there was no real
language barrier.  There were few intertitles, and so it was easy
to splice in intertitles in a new language if a new market opened
up.  The subtitling is probably less true to the period, but having
started the tradition, the HPLHS probably felt it should continue
with it.

And a final similarity: all of these are available only on DVD.
None has had any sort of theatrical release.  The details are as
follows:

- H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF WORLDS, Pendragon Pictures, UPC 0-84296-
40760-6, list price $14.95,
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN°009PW4D2

- THE CALL OF CTHULHU, The HPLHS, UPC 8-37101-09566-2, list price
$20, http://www.cthulhulives.org/store/store.lasso

- THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, The HPLHS, UPC 8-95741-00112-2, list
price $24.50, http://www.cthulhulives.org/store/store.lasso

The extras on THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, particularly the "making
of" documentary, are highly recommended.  If you're interested in
seeing some of the actual miniatures and models used, they were
donated to the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont,
to help get it going again after Hurricane Irene.

(Oh, and one more thing these have in common: I nominated all of
them for the Hugo Award, and none made the final ballot.)  [-ecl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: Yet Another Batch of Movie Reviews (film reviews by Dale
L. Skran, Jr.)

Like a lot of Americans, I'm not getting out to the theater as much
as I used to.  However, thanks to the wonder that is the DVD and
the big screen LCD TV, I can catch on movies when the DVDs show up
in the $5/rack at Best Buy.   I'm sure some of you have seen these
movies long ago, but in case you missed them here are the reviews.

THE X FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE

I've never been a big fan of this long-running show, although I
admit that the sense of mystery it created has greatly influenced
many subsequent fantasy and SF efforts.  I have watched dozens of
X-FILES episodes, but long ago concluded that unlike, say, ALIAS or
BABYLON 5 or FRINGE or SUPERNATURAL or BUFFY, the plot was never
going to be resolved, ala David Brin's UPLIFT WAR.  Episode by
episode it might be interesting or entertaining, but in truth is
was just meandering along going nowhere.

Having passed this final judgment on the TV show itself, I found
the final movie a decent capstone to Chris Carter's vision.  Here
are the things like liked about it:

- The usage of the (real) Russian dog-head transplant experiment as
the basis for the horrific activities of the villains was a nice
touch that made the story a bit more plausible than much of the TV
series.
- The plot, which juxtaposes, as always, Mulder's desire to believe
in the fantastic with Scully's skepticism, seems an apt summary of
the entire series, posing questions without finally answering them,
let leaving the audience (somewhat!) satisfied.
- Mulder and Scully remain as watchable as ever.

I found the plot a bit heavy on the uber-CSI style grotesque crime
horror, with a few two many heads in boxes and so on for my taste.
The movie felt like a good TWILIGHT ZONE episode, not a real movie.
I am rating this a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale, with a warning that due
to an excess of the horrific, this is not for kids, even though the
PG-13 rating might suggest that it is.  In the days when the PG-13
rating was first created, I WANT TO BELIEVE would have been rated
R.

THE BOOK OF ELI

The first half of ELI seems like a combination of every post-
apocalypse western you have ever seen or heard of. There is a tall,
dark stranger, Eli, played by Denzel Washington.  Eli has
preternatural fighting skills with a long knife or a gun.  He
carries a mysterious book in a rucksack that he reads at night,
while walking west for reasons unknown.  After a series of fights
and adventures he meets the warlord Carnegie (played by Gary
Oldman), who is looking for a book, which it gradually evolves is
the Bible. If I was not a post-apocalypse completist there is a
good chance I would have quite watching at some point since
everything seemed highly derivative.

About half way through the movie things start to get a bit more
interesting, and the script diverges quite a bit from what you may
have been expecting.  There are a few startling revelations that
you may or may not have seen coming, and which I won't reveal here.
This is not a realistic movie, but it manages to seem mythic for
the most part. Oldman, Washington, Jennifer Beals (as Carnegie's
concubine) and Mila Kunis (as the concubine's daughter) do a good
job acting even if the post-bomb world never really makes that much
sense (we are asked to believe that every Bible except the one Eli
carries has been destroyed!!!).  The disaster is presumably an
atomic war, but could also have been an EMP attack or a solar
flare--this is nicely left vague.

This is a movie with strongly religious themes, somewhat along the
lines of THE ROAD, but with less realism and more fantasy.  Oldman
and Washington are quite watchable.  There is a final revelation
that puts the movie firmly into the realm of fantasy, and which is
not actually all that clear in the film itself--I had to read
background on the web to make sure I understood what happened.

Again, I'd rank this one a solid 0 on the -4 to +4 scale--a decent,
entertaining film. R rated for rape, violence, and a generally grim
tone, but more like ROAD WARRIOR than the really grim THE ROAD.

RED RIDING HOOD

In this stylized fantasy, the director of TWILIGHT spins out a
sexed-up Little Red Riding Hood for the werewolf and vampire
generation.  Generally watchable, RED stars Amanda Seyfreid as Red
and Gary Oldman (is he the villain in every movie?) as an
inquisition style werewolf hunter.  There is a good bit of plot
with plenty of twists as all the traditional storybook figures--
grandma, the huntsman, Peter, etc. are trotted out and re-
envisioned.  I actually thought the balls were all held up in the
air pretty well until the very end, which I found somewhat
unsatisfying.

This is not a movie I'm going to watch again, but it did hook me in
pretty quickly and pull me along to the end.  I'd rate it a +1 on
the -4 to +4 scale.  The PG-13 rating is appropriate, i.e. it is
not really an R-rated movie, so RED is fine for the 13 and up
crowd.  It is probably too scary for younger kids, but that would
depend on the kid.  [-dls]

==================================================================


TOPIC: YOUR FLYING CAR AWAITS by Paul Milo (2009) (book review by
Dale L. Skran, Jr.)

I am an avid collector of books on the future and futurism.  I find
it quite interesting to review predictions of the future and, now
that I've reached the 21st century, compare them to what really
happened.  Apparently, I am not the only one with this hobby, as
Paul Milo has turned out an entire book on the topic.

Milo's book is somewhat marred by the mixed origins of the
predictions he reviews.  For example, Chapter 9--"The World Will
End ... Pretty Soon" covers a wide range of end-time forecasts, all
of which have turned out to be wrong, but most of which are not
from what I would call serious futurists or thinkers.  Instead, an
array of mainly religious writers are examined, including Hal
Lindsey and Nostradamus.  Although fun to read, this is a bit of a
fish in the barrel exercise.  Still, I must grant Milo the
fundamental point, oft-repeated by my own parents, that so far
every single prediction of the end times has been wrong.

Milo's book also suffers a bit from being too short. The final
Afterword--"Right on the Money" covers Verne's FROM EARTH TO MOON
but fails to mention 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA although it is
surely just as accurate and perhaps even more important.  I also
think that Arthur C. Clarke is not given nearly the space he
deserves for his accurate predictions, including communications
satellites.

Milo should be awarded considerable credit for Chapter 3--"Scarcity
and Other Disasters" which takes on THE POPULATION BOMB and other
books of this ilk, examining how they could be so far off in terms
of actual events.  It is worth mentioning that generally, so far,
the most pessimistic predictions have tended to be wrong, as have
the most optimistic predictions.   On the balance, I'd generalize
and say that almost all the really downbeat predictions have turned
out to be completely wrong, while a significant number of the
optimistic predictions have turned out to be right--although not
all of them.

What Milo does not offer is any kind of analysis as to why some
futurists seemed so accurate while other went far afield.  Clarke's
book PROFILES OF THE FUTURE is, in my view, the best futurist book
ever written since it provides a useful framework for the analysis
of possible futures.  Basically Clarke calls on us to first
discover what is actually impossible, and then work backwards from
that, on the theory that if it is possible, eventually it will be
done.  One thing Clarke does not give enough emphasis to is
economics, and especially the role of concentrated cheap energy in
making certain technologies possible.  Still, Clarke is surely
right that in the long run there is no lack of energy or materials,
only imagination.

The yardstick I like to bring to the discussion is the idea that
some problems are harder than others to solve.  I analogize science
to a miner following a vein of ore. The vein may be rich, and
progress easy, or it may peter out and progress may grind to a halt
until a new vein is found.  Right now information technology is a
very rich vein that we have followed a lot faster and deeper than
anyone in the 1950s ever thought might be possible. The vein of
technology surrounding the rocket engine has proved less rich than
was expected in the 1950s, with resultant slow progress.  Cancer
and aging are clearly hard problems to solve, and may even be
impossible problems--it is just too soon to tell.  However, given
the large array of "thinking" animals on the Earth, I submit that
eventually, one way or another, we will create useful artificial
intelligences, as there is no obvious reason that this is
impossible.  Fusion works in the sun, so one suspects that
eventually we will tame it.

Milo makes the excellent point that just because we would like to
do something, i.e., cure cancer, live longer, or have cheap fusion
energy, does not mean that it is actually easy to do this.  On the
other hand, sometimes things turn out to be possible that once
seemed absurd, for example invisibility shields, which have moved
from the realm of fantasy to small experimental models.  Clarke has
a whole list of things that, prior to their invention, seemed
equally absurd, including Xerox machines, the laser, and
spectroscopy.  It is just hot off the presses ("Nature" magazine)
that someone has invented a time shield, i.e., a shield that takes
something outside of time for brief interval.  Once outside of
time, the object is completely undetectable to any technology, not
just to light.  The apparatus to do this seems vaguely similar to
the time mirror in PAYCHECK, and no less fantastic.

A detailed review of the book would take a long time, so let's
focus on Chapter 4--"Space: Still the Final Frontier."  The first
prediction is "We don't have liftoff" which refers to all those
old-time forecasters who thought rockets would not work in space
for some reason like "there is nothing to push against."  This set
of predictions was clearly 100% dead wrong.  The second prediction
is "We have a base in space."  I don't like section this since it
conflates a lunar base, a Mars trip, and a space station, and finds
the promises all unfulfilled.  Well, we do have an actual space
station, in orbit and populated, as I write this.  Yes, the Mars
trip is way off in the distance, and a lunar base well behind
schedule, although still making headlines in this election year.
It is also true that the actual space station is quite different
from Von Braun's ring, but it is pretty amazing all the same.

The third prediction is "The Orbiting Time-Share" which conflates
O'Neill space colonies with orbiting hotels.  Milo gives this a
mixed result, as we area behind where a lot of prognosticators
expected us to be, but at the same time, God willing, we may see
the first sub-orbital tourist flight of Space Ship Two this year,
which may lead to wild new age of private space tourism.  The
fourth prediction is "Star Wars--For Real" which reviews all the
early predictions of space warfare, and finds that although we have
yet to see the first space war, we have seen tests of Chinese anti-
satellite weapons and other signs that since at least NEO space is
vital to military operations that there may yet be a real space
war.


As a non-scientist, Milo is excellent at evaluating the status of
predictions, but not so good at looking ahead to see what might
eventually happen, or not happen, as the case may be.  In any
eventuality, this is a short, fun book if you like this kind of
thing.  [-dls]

==================================================================


TOPIC: LONDON RIVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: In London two people from very different backgrounds forge
an alliance when each looks for his/her child in the aftermath the
July 2005 terrorist attacks.  Though the arc of the story is fairly
predictable, Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate bring humanity to
their roles.  The points that LONDON RIVER loses from its
predictability it gains back for two terrific performances.
Franco-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb gives us a moving story
of two cultures in conflict and of the human understanding that can
rise above that conflict.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Elizabeth (played by Brenda Blethyn) is from a small community on
Guernsey in the Channel Islands and is used to being around people
like herself.  Though well-meaning, she is provincial and
suspicious of people she is unused to, especially people like the
large population of Muslim immigrants moving into London.  Her
daughter Jane lives apart from her in London, but Elizabeth has not
even visited her daughter's current apartment.  Then come the July
7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London transit.  Elizabeth wants to
be sure that Jane was not caught up in the terror.  Calling Jane
repeatedly, Elizabeth hopes to hear that her daughter is safe, but
gets no response.  She determines she must go to London and find
Jane.

What Elizabeth discovers in London only adds to her fears.  She
finds Jane's apartment is in a mostly Muslim neighborhood.  To her
shock she finds out that her daughter not only has been living with
a Muslim man, Ali, but she was herself studying to become a Muslim.
Elizabeth makes up a missing-person poster to try to locate Jane.
She discovers that after the bombing there are many missing people
and many such posters are going up on kiosks around the city.  But
through the poster she meets Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) who turns
out to be the father of Ali.

Ousmane is a West African searching for his son just as Elizabeth
is searching for Jane, but Ousmane does not know even what his son
looks like.  Ousmane has worked in France the previous fifteen
years and has not seen his son since Ali was age six.  Now the boy
is really a stranger to him, but he has to find him.  She
repeatedly runs into Ousmane, her daughter's boy friend.  Elizabeth
is highly suspicious of this man of a different race and religion
who wears dreadlocks and dresses so shabbily and differently from
what she is used to.  She blames Ousmane's son and Muslims in
general for enticing Jane to change religions.  Even more
complicating (or perhaps un-complicating) her distrust is the
knowledge that the transit attacks were done in the name of Ali's
religion.

The arc of the story by director Rachid Bouchareb is simple and
generally predictable from the beginning.  It is almost cliche.
But the story rises above cliche by centering on and making very
human the relationship of these two so-very-different people on so
similar a mission.

Sotigui Kouyate has played the West African stranger in a strange
land before.  In 2001's LITTLE SENEGAL he played a man sent to the
United States by a vision in his dreams.  That film, also directed
by Rachid Bouchareb, has Kouyate bewildered by the strange life of
New York City.  His performance is usually an expressionless face
and a stoic demeanor that speaks volumes by letting the viewer
decide what he is feeling.  He has a very deep sorrow that in
addition to not knowing where his son is, he does not really know
even who his son is.  His quiet desperation and introspection
contrasts with Blethyn's more than out-in-the-open manner.  Her
obsession with her own problems borders on rudeness particularly to
the father of her son's lover.  Yet each provides their
relationship something the other person needs.

There is never much doubt where the story is going.  But the
contrast of personalities, of cultures, and of needs gives this
drama its humanity.  I rate London River a high +2 on the -4 to +4
scale or 8/10.  LONDON RIVER is available on DVD and for digital
download as of March 6, 2012.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1227787/

What others are saying:
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/london_river/

[-mrl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This compelling documentary covers the conflicts in
Afghanistan over the two decades from 1986 to 2006.  It is the
merging of two documentaries after the makers of one of the movies
were killed while producing their film.  SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN is
at its best when it is showing the destruction the wars did to the
Afghan people themselves.  When the concentration moves to the
politics and the leaders, the discourse becomes a little muddled
and hard to follow.  At times the testimony of their experts seems
rather arguable.  Still, this film concentrates on a world with
which United States policy is intimately connected, but a world
that remains largely unknown and misunderstood by the American
public.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In 1987 two film crews independently came to Afghanistan to film
the turmoil going on in the country.  One crew intended to focus on
the how the war with the Soviet Union was affecting lives of the
people.  The other crew wanted to document the refugees from the
war.  With a great deal of common interest the two documentaries
would overlap and later would be joined into a single documentary.
The resulting film tells the history of the fighting with first one
super power, the Soviet Union, and then, with very different goals,
the United States would send their military to Afghanistan and a
different war would begin.  The war against the invading Soviets
would lead to civil war and to the rise of both Al Qaeda and the
Taliban.  From there the history goes to the 9/11 attacks and the
United States' subsequent invasion.  The period covered goes up to
shortly before the completion of the film in 2006.

THE SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN became a history of not one or two but
several conflicts in Afghanistan.  Before their death Lee Shapiro
and James Lindelof had examined the political turmoil with their
focus in large part on Wakil Akbarzai of the National Islamic Front
of Afghanistan who guides the crew, advises them on how to be
relatively, and much of the conflict is apparently seen through his
eyes.  That same year under circumstances that are still not clear
Shapiro and Lindelof were caught in ambush and killed.

The footage they took documenting the lives of Afghans, some of it
very personal, came into the possession of the other film crew led
by Suzanne Bauman and Jim Burroughs.  They incorporated that
footage into their own documentary and expanded it to give a quick
history going back to President Eisenhower's 1959 visit but really
concentrating on the previous twenty years of conflict in
Afghanistan, 1986 to 2006.

At times some of the expert testimony presented seems questionable.
Frequently the filmmakers will present the comments of Fatima
Gailani, the charismatic director of the Afghan Red Crescent.  It
is her point of view that the threat posed by the Taliban is mostly
the result of the widespread illiteracy of the Afghan people.  She
says that people accept the Taliban's interpretation of the Koran
because they are not literate and so cannot read the Koran for
their own interpretation.  However, religious extremists exercise
great power in many places that have far more literate populaces.
It seems naive to assume that the power of the Taliban comes just
from the inability of the people to argue Koran with them.

The creation of this documentary was quite a feat and two
filmmakers died in the process of creating it.  That dedication is
admirable.  But the political case is muddled and could be put more
clearly and more cogently.  So the film is far from ideal, but it
does present a lot of information that will be new to most of its
audience.  I would rate SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN a low +2 on the -4 to
+4 scale or 7/10.  This film was completed in 2006 and became
available from Cinema Libre video on February 28, 2012.

Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1521052/

[-mrl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: Many Names (letter of comment by Bill Higgins)

In response to Evelyn's comments on naming towns in New Jersey
["Half Price Books in Montgomery/Rocky Hill/Belle
Mead/Delray/Skillman, New Jersey. ...  The confusion over the
town's name is just how New Jersey works.)"], Bill Higgins writes:

Could the town have been named for Lester Ramon Felipe San Juan
Mario Silvo Enrico Alvarez-del Rey, who also had many names?  [-wh]

And Mark adds:

I wonder how old he was when he was first able to say his whole
name.  [-mrl]

And Evelyn explains:

Montgomery is a township.  Rocky Hill is a borough incorporated
from parts of Montgomery.  Belle Mead is a "census-designated
place" (defined by the Census Bureau, and which usually includes
unincorporated areas) which straddles Montgomery Township and
Hillsborough Township.  Skillman is an unincorporated area within
Montgomery Township, and also the US Post Office serving that
general area (hence may include addresses not strictly in the
Skillman area).  Belle Mead, Rocky Hill, and Skillman are also
hamlets within Montgomery Township.

I cannot figure out what "Delray" is/was, but it definitely wasn't
"Delrey".  I remember seeing it somewhere in an address for the
store.  [-ecl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: HUGO and the Academy Awards (letter of comment by Jerry
Ryan)

Jerry Ryan writes:

In the dream sequence in HUGO, there's a scene where the train goes
through the end bumper on the tracks, crashes through the station,
and end up crashing through the front of the station, with the
locomotive and some cars coming out a story above the street and
hanging over onto the street.  I am almost positive that this
particular scene (train hanging out of the front of the station) is
from a classic silent film, but I cannot find a way to know for
sure. So ... Mark ... am I right?  And if I am, what's the film??
[-gwr]

Mark replies:

No, it is not from a film; it is from reality.  On October 22,
1895, a train traveling too fast pushed its way through the bumpers
at the end of the track.  I guess the train station must be on a
hillside since the tracks are on the second floor of the building.
See the following link complete with photograph.

http://danger-ahead.railfan.net/accidents/paris_1895.html

[-mrl]

Jerry continues:

Oh, and I think Hugo was robbed at the Oscars.  THE ARTIST was a
fun film, but it had this feeling of Hollywood types standing
around muttering to each other about how clever they were.

I went to the AMC Best Picture marathon ... nine films one right
after the other in Midtown, on the day before the Oscars, which was
much fun.  The AMC folks asked you to text your ratings of the
movies to them, then they accumulated the ratings and sent them
back. THE TREE OF LIFE, which was lustily booed, got the lowest
overall review by far, THE ARTIST was in the middle of the pack,
and the top films in that poll (with an admittedly younger skewed
electorate) were THE HELP and HUGO.  For my money the top films
were HUGO, THE HELP and EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE.
[-gwr]

Mark responds:

If you mean Hollywood executives, they might have been asking why
they didn't think of it.  THE ARTIST is a French-Belgian film with
French stars and a few American supporting actors.  They shot some
in Hollywood, but it is a foreign film. HUGO was my best picture,
but THE ARTIST was #6 of my top ten.  I like them both.

I have seen as many as six films in one day.  Nine would be pushing
it for me.  What did they charge to see nine films?"  Regarding THE
TREE OF LIFE, I identified with the story.  My father and I often
did not get along, and some of my earliest memories were stepping
on the heads of dinosaurs.  I didn't see THE HELP or EXTREMELY LOUD
AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, but HUGO was my best film of the year.
[-mrl]

==================================================================


TOPIC: BEING HUMAN and LOST GIRL (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)

In response to Dale Skran's reviews of BEING HUMAN and LOST GIRL in
the 03/02/12 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

I presume this is the US version of BEING HUMAN being discussed.
The original UK series is up to series 4 now.  Curiously last
night's episode introduced a succubus, and a character less like Bo
in LOST GIRL you couldn't imagine, but there were enough
similarities in the plot line that I did wonder if the writers of
BEING HUMAN had come across LOST GIRL and were riffing off it.

When LOST GIRL started on Syfy in the UK, it was described in a TV
listings magazine as "yet another Canadian show about a bisexual
succubus who solves crimes."  I think they were being ironic.
[-pd]

==================================================================


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

A recent podcast about time travel novels led me to re-read A
CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and THE END OF ETERNITY.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain (ISBN
978-0-812-50436-1) was Twain's last major work, and reflects a lot
of his bitterness about the human race.  (Indeed, at one point C.Y.
says, "Well, there are times when one would like to hang the whole
human race and finish the farce.")  [His name is Hank Morgan, but I
like "C.Y." better.]  I will start by saying that its plot is
seriously flawed at the beginning with the whole "solar eclipse"
gimmick.  As C.Y. relates, "But all of a sudden I stumbled on the
very thing, just by luck.  I knew that the only total eclipse of
the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the
twenty-first of June, A.D. 528 O.S., and began at three minutes
after twelve noon."  Just exactly why and how would C.Y. know this,
particularly since we are talking about an eclipse visible in
England, not Connecticut.  And just why would the uneducated
Clarence give the date as June 20, 528, rather than St. Someone's
Day in the tenth year of King Arthur's reign (or whenever)?  I will
not even discuss the unlikely circumstance of Clarence getting the
day wrong in such a convenient manner.

But once that is left behind, what we have is Twain showing us the
reality represented by the Arthurian legends.  While reading
Twain's descriptions of the  land and the people, one is inevitably
reminded of the Monty Python line that you can tell which one the
king is--he is the one who is not all covered in shit.  The people
are dirty and ill-clothed, the streets are filthy, and even the
tapestries are worn and mended.

C.Y.'s introduction of American-style coinage also has some basic
problems--without a government backing them up, the coins are
worthless (unless he is minting them from gold and silver--but then
why introduce new coins at all?).

C.Y. does not like an established church (in specific, the Roman
Catholic Church), so he somehow enforces a type of religious
freedom: "Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted to."
I suppose it is a slight improvement.

One sees in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT the
inspiration for LEST DARKNESS FALL and countless other novels in
which an extremely competent engineer finds himself in the past/the
wilderness/an alien planet, and can use all that knowledge to take
control of the situation.  Twain has written the quintessential
"Analog" story.

Oh, and if your acquaintance with the story is through the movies,
you are not really acquainted with the story.  In the 1931 version
(titled only A CONNECTICUT YANKEE), Will Rogers stars as Hank
Martin (rather than Hank Morgan).  Martin is a radio personality
and repairman rather than an engineer, though he manages to invent
telephones, roller skates, factory, eyeglasses, photography,
newspapers, advertising, radios, automobiles, tanks, airplanes,
handguns, and machine guns, all in about six months.  He goes back
when he is hit by a suit of armor (not a crowbar), Alisande is King
Arthur's daughter, the knights arrive in automobiles rather than on
bicycles (where do they get the petrol?), and the villainous
Merlin's features have a definite Semitic cast to them.  Martin
does use a lasso in a joust against Sir Sagramore, as in the book,
but given Will Rogers's skill with a lasso, they could hardly have
dropped this part!  And there are several "unnecessary" deaths,
just as in the book--the fact that Twain has C.Y. kill several
people is usually glossed over.  (In the film, it is not Martin who
does the killing, though.)

Oh, and given Will Rogers's appearance and persona, the romantic
subplot is shifted to be between Clarence and Alisande, rather than
C.Y. and Alisande.

In this version, Martin does not have all the eclipses memorized,
but instead has a memo book that lists them:
     June 6, 201 Noon to 22:45
     February 7, 368 2:33 to 3:07
     May 6, 410 11:59 to 12:56
     June 21, 528 Noon to 12:42
     August 7, 957 11:16 to 12:23

Why there are so few, and why they would be ones visible in
Britain, and why the first one lasts twelve hours, are not clear.

In keeping with the "it-was-all-a-dream" resolution, the main
actors play double roles (one in the present, one in the past, like
in THE WIZARD OF OZ), but Martin does not see the "present" Merlin
until *after* he returns, so he would have no reason to visualize
him as he does.

The 1978 television version (made for "Once upon a Classic" and
only an hour long) keeps a lot more of the flavor of Twain--for
starters, the full title, but also some of Twain's wordplay
("you're no page--you're no more than a paragraph").  Merlin is
once again portrayed as someone exotic, in this case an African (?)
played by Roscoe Lee Browne.  While Brandon Hurst in A CONNECTICUT
YANKEE was a two-dimensional villain, here Browne plays Merlin as
at first mysterious, and later philosophical ("Who shall prevail:
the Royal Magician or the Royal Technician?").  He is not the fool
that Hurst was; he does not oppose C.Y. for selfish reasons, but
out of a sincere attempt to protect Britain from what he sees as an
evil influence.

Morgan (he retains the name Twain gave him) is an engineer and was
knocked out in a factory floor fight by, if not a crowbar, then at
least a wrench.  The cessation of the Holy Fountain--one of the
main episodes in the book--is here as well, as are the traveling of
Arthur and C.Y. in disguise among the common people, the episode
with the smallpox hut, the capture into slavery, and many of the
political comments.  In fact, it is quite surprising how much
scriptwriter Stephen Dick was able to put in only an hour, when the
longer versions leave most of it out.  (It even keeps the
bicycles!)

By the way, the date here is changed from June 20, 528, to October
20, 528.  I am not sure why, because on *neither* date was there a
total solar eclipse in Britain.  The whole confusion with Clarence
giving C.Y. the wrong date is dropped (a good thing, in my
opinion).

While the time travel in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S
COURT is classic "time machine" stuff (minus the actual machine)--
go to a different time and deal with it--THE END OF ETERNITY by
Isaac Asimov (ISBN 978-0-765-31919-7) uses the "time police"
structure.  That is, there is an organization whose job it is to
make sure that things proceed according to a plan, that no rogue
time travelers, or even just random chance, messes it up.  THE END
OF ETERNITY precedes Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, but
comes after H. Beam Piper started writing his "Paratime Police"
series, so Asimov did not invent the concept.

But if Asimov did not invent the concept, it was one that fit in
very well with themes that he did invent.  Psychohistory, for
example, is all about being able to project long-term effects from
a given set of circumstances, and also about how to change those
effects.  Hari Seldon calculates how to cut the coming "Dark Ages"
from 100,000 years to just 1,000 years by making certain changes;
the Eternals in THE END OF ETERNITY calculate the Minimum Necessary
Change to bring about Maximum Desired Response.  The difference, of
course, is that if the Eternals make a mistake, they get to do it
over, but Hari Seldon gets only one chance.

There is a lot of talk about the fact that changes will eliminate
some people, or result in some work of literature not being
written, or other negative effects, but there is not much talk
about how the changes will add some people, or create new works of
art.  Asimov does explain why this is so--the Eternals are always
making changes toward safety and stability, and this is not
conducive to art.  ("In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias
they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced
Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance.  In
Switzerland they had brotherly love--they had five hundred years of
democracy and peace, and what did that produce?  The cuckoo
clock.")

It is not conducive to progress either.  By postponing space travel
for 125,000 centuries (never let it be said that Asimov does not
think big--that's over twelve million years!), the Eternals set up
a situation where by the time humanity got to the stars, there was
no place that had not already been claimed but other races.  So a
group of humans decide to block the Eternals' plan and put humanity
back into its "Basic State" so that it can colonize and control the
galaxy.  But as Joseph Patrouch notes in THE SCIENCE FICTION OF
ISAAC ASIMOV, Asimov's characters (and presumably Asimov) have a
very jingoistic attitude.  They may worry that a change in the
625th century will eliminate a great symphony, but they do not seem
to care that they are basically condemning all the other races in
the galaxy to die out the way humanity did in the Eternals'
timeline.

Note that there seem to be only two alternatives: Earth gets there
first and "establishes itself throughout the Galaxy", or all the
other races get there before us and so there is no place for us.
But the latter implies that there is room for multiple races.  So
when they talk about changing time so that humanity gets there
first, they are condemning not just one other race to extinction,
but all of them.  [-ecl]

==================================================================

                                           Mark Leeper
 mleeper@optonline.net


           Then assuredly the world was made, not in time,
           but simultaneously with time.
                                           --St. Augustine