Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

03/05/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 36, Whole Number 2161

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Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (pointer from Denise Moy)

The Better Films I Saw in 2020 (film comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

THE ELEVENTH GATE by Nancy Kress (audio book review

by Joe Karpierz)



(letter of comment by Guy Lillian III)



ILLUMINATION) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction (pointer from

Denise Moy)

Denise Moy points out the following of interest:



TOPIC: The Better Films I Saw in 2020 (film comments by Mark

R. Leeper)

(Almost) every year the film industry makes a load of high-profile

movies, many of them films of quality.  Some are not so hot.  I

will see many and write reviews of some.  I take the best films I

have seen and write short reviews and then write a list of mini-

reviews of those I consider are the ten best.  That is the usual

(unimaginative) routine.  This year the circumstances are quite

different, as I am sure the reader is aware.  I have seen far fewer

films and of those I have seen few belong on top ten lists.  Some

may have been really good, but not all were "top-ten-worthy."  Here

in my opinion are among the best I saw.

A CALL TO SPY: (no review written)  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

THE PAINTED BIRD:  Based on the Jerzy Kosinski novel, this film

shows a boy traveling across Eastern Europe in shortly before World

War II and seeing the cruelty of the peasants for one another.

Filmed in black and white in a naturalistic style, it has long,

slow, contemplative stretches.  The title comes from a form of

entertainment of the peasants: they paint a bird with bright colors

and release it back into its flock, where the other birds peck it

to death.  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN: In this thriller, a 20-something woman looks

to find revenge on acquaintances (and others) from her past for

incident years before.  At times the music overpowers the dialogue,

but the twists and turns will keep you involved.  Released

12/25/20.  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

RESISTANCE: This biopic about a little-known period in Marcel

Marceau's life concentrates on moral decisions such as weighing the

importance of saving Jews versus killing Nazis.  It has nice art

design for a low-budget film, as well as some striking camerawork.

Jesse Eisenberg (as Marceau) and Clemence Poesy (of IN BRUGES) give

outstanding performances.  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL:  This documentary takes a comprehensive and

convincing look at COVID-19 from its scientific underpinnings to

its political ramifications.  Controversies are covered in detail,

and there is a strong political dimension in the narrative.  I will

not say whether I agree or disagree (but somebody sure said

something right).  It did not waste time but came to the point and

explained it.  Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)

AN ACCIDENTAL STUDIO--HANDMADE FILMS (2019 film seen in 2020): (no

review written)  While George Harrison was performing for the

Beatles he was also managing a movie film studio, Handmade Films.

This is the story of Handmade Films.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY: This film is a documentary looking

at vote suppression in the last century.  Your attitude toward its

arguments may vary.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

APOCALYPSE '45:  This documentary looks like it uses colorized

newsreel footage, but it is actually restored color footage.

(There probably was some overlap between this film and the

television series "World War II in Color".)  It is a look from the

beginning of the Pacific War to the end.  Among other things, the

film examines the motives of the people dropping bombs on

civilians: are the victims evil because of what their government

was doing or had them do?  The largest segment of the film is saved

for Okinawa, although Hiroshima was also covered at length.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

DA 5 BLOODS: This Spike Lee action and adventure film of four

Vietnam vets returning to Vietnam in a sort of "Treasure Island"

story seems to drag on a long time for a two-and-a-half hour film.

It does have many clever film allusions.  Overall, a large-scale

production with gritty views of Vietnam people and countryside.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)


94 years old and has been traveling--and exploring--for 66 years.

This "witness statement" (his term) has a lot of beautiful and

familiar nature photography--familiar because it uses archival

footage from his films from those 66 years.  Attenborough fits his

whole career into this framework, tracing the disappearance of

wilderness (and species) over that time.  It has essentially a very

downbeat message; even his suggestions at the end fail to provide

much uplift.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

DESERT ONE: This tells of the major event of the Carter presidency,

the Iran hostage crisis.  The film uses comic-book style

illustrations to recount the events.  It has a fairly standard

documentary style, but at times the incidents are genuinely moving.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

FORD VS. FERRARI (2019--seen in 2020): This is a surprisingly

engaging story of the competition of a designer from each car

company.  American car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Ken

Miles  comete in a race that will be determined at Le Mans.

Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)


HILLBILLY ELEGY: Directed by Ron Howard, this is based on the best-

selling novel of the same name.  It keeps the viewer guessing about

where the story is going, in part because it is not told in

chronological order.  Glenn Close plays the matriarch of the family

and completely disappears in the role.  The theme is summed up by

one of her epigrams: "Family's the only thing that means a good

goddam."  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

NEWS OF THE WORLD: Tom Hanks is working his way through all the

filmgenres, and this is his first Western (playing a cowboy in the

"Toy Story" series doesn't count).  One thing noted immediately is

that the clothing wardrobe is very different from what one usually

sees in Westerns.  We see the chaos of a Southern (Texan) town

getting "civilized," but without the usual saloon fights.  Hanks as

a traveling news reader serving those who have no time to read the

news, or are illiterate, is an occupation rarely or never seen in

Western films.  (It is reminiscent of that of lector in Cuban cigar

factories.)  The stories are less the major world or national

events, but more human interest or entertainment stories of the

sort in David Mamet's "The Water Machine".  Hanks's character finds

ten-year-old Johanna (played by Helena Zengel), who had been

kidnapped by Kiowas six years earlier.  After the Kiowas were

killed, she is on her own and Hanks agrees to take her to her

German relatives several hundred miles away.  There are echoes of


this film, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  (Note: Texas was

re-admitted to the Union in March 1870, so this must take place in

January or February.)  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7: The title tells it all and it is in

narrative form.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4)



TOPIC: THE ELEVENTH GATE by Nancy Kress (copyright 2020, Blackstone

Publishing, 13 hours, ASIN: B082WLXVKV, narrated by Braden Wright)

(audio book review by Joe Karpierz)

Nancy Kress has been busy, with two books out in 2020, starting

with novella "Sea Change" from Tachyon Publications and then THE

ELEVENTH GATE from Baen Books and Blackstone Publishing.  THE

ELEVENTH GATE is a different book from "Sea Change", being a space

opera full of all the things one expects from a space opera, while

"Sea Change" was grounded on Earth.  Still, both books bear the

unmistakable mark of being books by Nancy Kress, as we'll see


Humanity has spread to the stars via ten gates that provide access

to eight habitable worlds.  Eager to leave the home planet behind,

as it has been destroyed by war and ecological disasters, the

colonists and their descendants form three distinct political and

economic factions: the Peregoy Corporation is as it sounds, run by

an autocratic CEO named Sloan; the Landry Libertarian Alliance, and

Polyglot, which most resembles earth with its individual nations

and economies and no one ruling body.

That's the background.  The story really begins when Tara Landry,

granddaughter of the head of the LLA (for short), discovers an

eleventh gate.  Tara hatches a plan to bring peace to the Eight

Worlds, but instead ends up starting a war between LLA and the

Peregoy Corporation.  Complicating matters is one Philip Anderson,

a physicist and philosopher--there's a combination I'm not sure we

see all that often any more--whom Tara is infatuated with and who

doesn't return the feelings.  He's interested in a higher level of

consciousness, one that no one has reached before.  Anderson's

disappearance after he passes through the Eleventh Gate and lands

on the planet behind it drives Tara to the brink.  What happens to

Anderson is the land of spoilers; suffice it to say that he plays a

large part of the story ahead.

Both Landry and Peregoy have family problems within the power

structures of their respective worlds.  Rachel Landry, leader of

the LLA, not only has to deal with Tara, but her granddaughter Jane

who is hell bent on bringing the war to an end with a biological

weapon that could wipe out most of civilization, while Sloan has to

deal with his own daughter who is taking the corporation right out

from underneath him with some policies that are very unlike the

ones Sloan believes in.

Maybe policies isn't the right word.  Maybe philosophies is a

better word.  All three factions believe in their own way of

thinking more than anything else, with no room for compromise.

The Landries and the Peregoys are constantly critical of the other,

wondering how "those people" could survive in the world they do.

And while Sloan does eventually try to change his way of thinking,

his daughter Sofia goes on with the way things have always been.

This novel has all the classic things you'd expect in a Kress

novel:  family politics, biological science--in this case the bio

warfare that is being waged by Jane Landry, and how it all affects

humanity.  There are space battles, peace conferences, and

politics, all the things you'd expect in a space opera.  Yes, there

are aliens, and they play a very subtle but powerful role in the

story, and they're not there for very long--blink and you miss

them.  All in all, THE ELEVENTH GATE is a very solid and enjoyable

effort from Kress, and one that I believe is worthy your time.

Braden Wright is like a good umpire in a major league baseball

game.  You don't notice that he's there until he does something

wrong.  And that's good enough.  Wright does nothing to make his

narration stand out, nor does he do anything jarring to take the

listener out of the story.  He does the job he was brought in to

do, and he does it well enough.  [-jak]




of comment by Guy Lillian III)

In response to the MT VOID in general and various specific reviews

in the 02/26/21 issue of the MT VOID and earlier in particular, Guy

Lillian writes in ZINE DUMP #51:

Every week MT VOID pops up in one's e-mail inbox, indefatigable,

with sharp essays on ... well, you name it.  This issue, films,

with a mention of an unfamiliar flick I now must see, THE VIGIL.

In an earlier number, a film about Escher; in yes another [sic].

Lest one think that reading is given short shrift here, another

previous issue praises THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE by Robert

Sawyer, which I bet ends up on the Hugo ballot.  Evelyn even

comments on THE GREAT GATSBY, whose presence on the Hugo lists is

questionable.  Good fun.  [-gl]


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


John Brockman (Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2) is

proceeding.  My latest comment is on "Manipulators and Manipulanda"

by Josh Bongard, who writes, "We counsel one another not to 'look

back' in anger because, based on our bias to walk in the direction

of our forward-facing eyes, past events tend to literally be behind

us."  Well, if by "we" he means English-speakers, then he is

correct, but if by "we" he means humans, he is wrong: many

languages posit that the future is in back of us, because it is

that which we cannot see, while the past lies in front of us,

because we can see it.

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (Vintage, ISBN 978-0-804-

17244-8) is about a plague, a very contagious and deadly form of

flu.  It's reminiscent of EARTH ABIDES and other plague novels in

that the main characters all seem to avoid dealing with the actual

mass dying and the millions of corpses that would be around.  The

TV series WORLD AFTER PEOPLE does this by just hand-waving the

disappearance of all the people, but generally books at least try

to justify it.  In some, the characters are hiking up in the back-

country, in others they fall ill and are unconscious for several

days, but don't die.  Here the main character manages to stockpile

food and water and just stays in his brother's apartment for enough

time for the dying to end--which is not very long, given how fast

the virus acts.  There is a traveling theatrical/musical company,

and the usual cliche of the town taken over by a cult, but

thankfully no zombies. :-)

This is either just what you want to read now, or just what you

want to avoid.  I've been reading true accounts of plagues;

fictional ones are actually a bit of a relief.  Ultimately you have

to decide.

It's evidence I am getting deep in Jorge Luis Borges criticism when

I am reading a book tracing the parallels between Borges's writings

and Sufi philosophy.  But that is what JORGE LUIS BORGES: SOURCES

AND ILLUMINATION by Professor Giovanna de Garayalde (Octogon Books,

ISBN 0-900-860-61-8) is.  One problem is that many of the

commonalities are common in other philosophies as well: time is

relative, multi-level narratives can be used to covey ideas, what

appears to be bad luck may turn out to be good luck (see my comment

about Sven and Olaf in TITANIC in the MT VOID a couple of weeks

ago), and so on.  Another problem is that unless you are already

familiar with Sufi literature, many of the references will be

obscure or unintelligible.  (The reverse is also true--

unfamiliarity with Borges's writings would be problematic--but I'm

assuming that most readers of this book would be familiar with

them.)  All things considered, this is a book with a limited target

audience.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A good place to meet a man is at the dry cleaner.

          These men usually have jobs and bathe.

                                          --Rita Rudner