Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

10/02/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 14, Whole Number 2139

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The Speckled Clue (comments by Mark R. Leeper)


of comment by Guy Lillian)

Translation (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz)


(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: The Speckled Clue (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Mark Leeper's Journal. November 19, 1999

Frequently the sacred cows of our society do not bear close

scrutiny, particularly in works of art.  In art the same criteria

we apply to newer works of art if applied to the classics would

show them to be flawed in the same way.  There are two film

versions of NOSFERATU.  One is a classic of German cinema directed

by F. W. Murnau in 1922, one is a nearly identical remake made

almost as a silent film in 1979.  The former is one of the most

chilling films ever made.  The latter is and intentionally close

recreation using almost all of the same techniques and style is

ponderous and dull.  The only major difference is that the remake

is in color.  But watching it one knows it could have been made

with modern techniques so you are less likely to be impressed.

When you see a silent film you make allowances for its age.  The

difference is not that the first is done so much better but that

one knows it is not a classic so one can be critical in the way one

would not be with the original.  (Or one should.  I do not know

what a young audience would make of the original NOSFERATU.)

I am listening to a radio adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's

story "The Speckled Band."  By the way, SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU


AND DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE END, GO AWAY.  I would be spoiling it

for you.  Anyway this was what Doyle himself considered to be one

of his very best Sherlock Holmes stories.  One of his best, mind

you.  And most of his fans agree.  If you remember Holmes's client

tells him about a woman who had spent a night alone in a particular

room.  In the middle of the night the woman had screamed, staggered

from her room, gasped cryptically "the speckled band," and died.

The whole story is about Holmes trying to figure out the meaning of

these last words.  These days most of us know that the murder

weapon is and title refers to a deadly swamp adder.

Now this is a classic, but it occurs to me that this story is

really a prime example of what is frequently called "the idiot

plot."  That is a story where if one person did the logical thing,

the whole plot would fall apart.  The plot works only because the

people are behaving like idiots.  They are unrealistically doing it

as well.  Now I am not going to try to second-guess the great

Sherlock Holmes.  I will assume it was a brilliant piece of

deduction to figure out that the clues pointed to the murder weapon

being a deadly reptile.  Even the clue that there was an indiscrete

saucer of milk left hanging around.  How that points to swamp adder

I have no idea, because adders, being reptiles, are not partial to

dairy products.  There are few swamps where any self-respecting

adder would get a taste for milk.  But what is really foolish in

the plotting is the behavior of the victim.  What kind of person

would feel herself dying, find a sympathetic sister, and say

something stupid like "the speckled band."  And people in the story

think the words mean a speckled band of gypsies.  Her last words

are poetic.  They are picturesque language.  But under the

circumstances it really is not the way the woman would express

herself.  Does it not only seem more natural and at the same time

more intelligent for her to yell in the loudest voice she can

muster, "SNAKE!!"?  [-mrl]



comment by Guy Lillian)

In response to the MT VOID in general and Mark's comments on

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in the 09/18/20 issue of the MT VOID

in particular, Guy Lillian writes in ZINE DUMP #50:

Every week a new edition of MT Void appears in subscribers'

inboxes, and I strongly, strongly recommend readers join their

number.  The Leepers are excellent writers with broad interests

within the field, and fill their zine with entertaining and

readable--and varied--content.  In this particular issue from late

September, for instance, Mark mulls THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK

LAGOON and Evelyn visits Jean Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  Both

films strike vivid memories for me.  I was terrified of the Black

Lagoon trailer as a whelp, awed by its 3-D effects when I finally

viewed it in its intended form, amused when it inspired THE SHAPE

OF WATER, an Oscar-winning film.  I first saw BELLE ET BETE at the

1976 Rivercon/DeepSouthCon, one of fandom's great events for me (I

mean, Muhammed Ali was at the hotel).  The lettercol looks back at

a previous topic, Infomercials, which issue also covered this

year's NASFiC and THE AFRICAN QUEEN (the actual boat is on view in

the Florida Keys, and can be rented out).  A contributor's long

review of the TV series DARK graces an issue from August; Mark

talked about kosher food earlier that month.  What's next?

Subscribe and we'll both know!  [-gl]


TOPIC: Translation (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz)

In response to various comments on translation in the 09/25/20

issue of the MT VOID, Gary Labowitz writes:

When I worked the IBM exhibit at the 1964 World's Fair in New York

we had a display on "Mechanical Translation" which was a big deal

back then.  It was computerized to do word (and I think some

phrases) lookup in dictionaries and produce a "translation."  The

reports we got was that a sample translation, from Russian, no

less, was an input of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is

weak" came out as "The vodka is good, but the meat is spoiled."  I

doubt this was true, but we handed it out anyway.

One of my favorite jokes (which my wife will confirm that I have

told ad nauseam) goes as follows:

A British man is touring the USA by car.  He is going through

Nebraska when he sees a local at a fence around a huge farm of corn

plants as far as he could see.  He pulls over and asks the farmer

there, "What on earth do you do with all this corn?" The farmer

answers, "Well, we eat what we can, and what we can't, we can."

The Brit laughs, with a comment of "very good!" and gets back into

his car and drives off.  When he returns to England he is telling a

group of his friends about his trip.  He explains, "At one point I

stopped and asked a farmer there, "What do you do with these vast

quantities of corn?  He gave me a most humourous reply."  The

groups presses him with, "Oh, do tell us Clarence ...  and "Yes,

do." and so forth.  "Ah," Clarence says, "he replied to my question

by saying, "We eat what we're able, and what we're not, we put up

in tins."  They all chuckle at this.

It's a clear case of mistranslation which in this case is a valid

translation but misses the "flavor" of the reply.

I could never figure out why they found any of this exchange

amusing.  [-gl]


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


765-38756-1) is invisible because Addie has sold her soul for

freedom.  But she discovers to her dismay that this freedom seems

to be more "freedom from" than "freedom to"--she leaves no trace

behind, not even memory.

The basic idea seems to be the same as a novel (novella? I seem to

think it was half of an Ace Double) in which the main character is

so non-descript that people simply don't see him.  If he grabs

someone by the arm, they will see his hand and follow his arm up to

where they do see him, but as soon as he lets go, he fades from

their sight (and memory).  (I don't think it is A GIFT FROM EARTH

by Larry Niven, which has a very similar idea.)  Addie has to learn

to negotiate her way through life with this handicap, so though the

book is fantasy, it also has some of the feel of science fiction,

taking one premise and then examining all the ramifications of it.

As such, it has appeal for both fantasy and science fiction fans.



                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A saleslady holds up an ugly dress and says,

          'This looks much better on.'  On what?  On fire?

                                          --Rita Rudner