Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

04/09/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 41, Whole Number 2166

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(film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper

and Evelyn C. Leeper)


(audio book review by Joe Karpierz)


and book sales) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 12 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

Here is the twelfth batch of mini-reviews, three show-business


ZAPPA: This documentary covers the entire span of Frank Zappa's

life, with friends and relatives explaining their views of him.  It

looks at some of his strange stage inventions, and has interesting

visuals, as well as using extensive archival footage.  But it also

holds on to some sequences too long, and it seems at times like the

filmmakers were dragging their feet.  Released 11/27/20.  Rating:

high +1 (-4 to +4)

OLYMPIA: This film is not so much about Olympia Dukakis's life but

about her craft of acting.  Somehow it just fails to be engaging.

One hears from other actors what they admire in her performances

but non-actors may not find as much to reward them.  There is also

travel photography of Greece, and extended scenes of Dukakasis's

home life which may tax the viewer's patience.  If you're not on

its wavelength already, it will not be on yours.  Released

07/09/20.  Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4)

[One segment is about Dukakis playing a transgender character in

TALES OF THE CITY.  She was an LGBTQ idol then; now she would be

heavily criticized for taking a role that should have been played

by a transgender person.  -ecl]

MY DARLING VIVIAN: This documentary about Johnny Cash's first wife

was carved out of home movies, television clips, newspaper stories,

etc.  Often the film is more about Johnny's career than about

Vivian Liberto's life, but it is also a warts-and-all account of

the Cash family, bring Vivian out of the shadows and showing some

of the negative aspects of Cash's second marriage.  Released

12/08/20; available on Amazon Prime.  Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)



TOPIC: THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) (film retrospective by Mark

R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper)

THE CONSPIRATORS (1944) was Warner Brothers' attempt to cash in on

the surprise success of CASABLANCA the previous year.  They could

not get Humphrey Bogart or Ingrid Bergman, but they stocked THE

CONSPIRATORS with Paul Heinreid, Peter Lorre, and Sidney

Greenstreet, as well has having Max Steiner do the score and Arthur

Edeson serve as cinematographer.

The parallels extend to the plot as well.  Heinreid is a Resistance

fighter who escapes to Lisbon.  In CASABLANCA, Lisbon is just a

destination, but in THE CONSPIRATORS it is front and center.

(Heinreid enters from Spain, rather than from Casablanca, probably

because between the time CASABLANCA was made and the filming of THE

CONSPIRATORS, the Germans occupied the gateway to Casablanca,

Marseille.)  But there is a cafe, a casino, and a man stopped by

the police and asked for papers who first lies, then attempts to

flee.  There is a love triangle with a "secret" marriage, and the

hero convinces the "neutral" policeman to help him against Nazis

after all.

Alas, although it starts out trying to be CASABLANCA, it turns into

a film six feet wide and a quarter of an inch deep, and seems as

episodic as an "Indiana Jones" film.  It is good to see familiar

actors, but there are problems with the acting.  (In particular,

Hedy Lamarr proves herself a better inventor than an actress.)

There are also a bushel basket full of character names of several

nationalities you are asked to remember.

And a comment not on the film itself, but on TCM's subtitling:

When in a World War II, "Quisling" is subtitled "Quisny" and "Field

Marshall Goering" is subtitled "Field Marshall Gurin", you realize

the company was hiring people who had no knowledge of the period

whatsoever.  (This extends to general vocabulary as well: a

reference to a plan for someone to "avenge your family" is

subtitled "revenge your family.")  That TCM accepts such sloppy

work is a real black eye for them.  [-mrl/ecl]



(copyright 2020, Orbit, $28.00, hardcover, 563pp, ISBN 978-0-316-

30013-1, $26.94. audio book, 20 hours and 41 minutes, ASIN

B08K1YZBYN, narrated by Jennifer Fitzgerald, Fajer Al-Kaisi, Ramon

de Ocampo, Gary Bennett, Raphael Corkhill, Barrie Kreinik, Natasha

Soudek, Nikki Massoud, Joniece Abbott Pratt, Ines del Castillo,

Vikas Adam) (audio book review by Joe Karpierz)

Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel, THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE,

joins many of his other works in the climate fiction genre, most

recently NEW YORK 2140.  As usual, Robinson comes at the topic from

a different angle than one would expect.  The focus of NEW YORK

2140 is not the catastrophe that got the world to where it was at

(although some of that topic is explored) but how civilization in

2140, particularly in New York, is dealing with the aftermath--how

we would live, work, travel, and get along (or not) with each

other.  THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE realizes that climate change is

here and affecting us right now, and tries to bridge the gap

between the mess we're in and, hopefully, a good place that we'll

be in somewhere down the line.

The title of the book comes from the name of a fictionally

subsidiary body of the Paris Climate Agreement.  The organization's

goal, in a very broad sense, is to define and develop ways that

humanity can correct the wrongs it has done to the environment,

with a focus on reducing carbon admissions.  It certainly deals

with a lot more than that, of course, as the main characters, Mary

Murphy--head of the Ministry--and Frank May--a survivor of a brutal

and devastating Indian heat wave that is described in gruesome

detail in the first chapter of the book--and the rest of humanity

come to realize that the problem of climate change and how to

reverse it is not just a scientific problem, but a societal


While the plot--and to be honest, what there is of a plot--centers

around Murphy, Mays, and the ways the Ministry tries to influence

world behavior to positively change the way we live our lives so

that the earth can sustain humanity for the years to come, the

novel really is an exploration of the things that can be done to

make those changes.  From the introduction of carbon coins, to

pumping water from underneath the glaciers in Antarctica, ways of

preserving wildlife, to influencing the world population to no

longer use airplanes, and so many others, Robinson gives us his

thoughts on how we can do better now so that the world can be

better in the future.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of things about the

structure of the book.  Robinson does not tell a straightforward

narrative.  Rather, he uses a myriad of methods to present his

story to us:  eyewitness accounts, essays from non-living entities,

encyclopedia entries, interviews, and poetry, just to name a few,

are all used in individual chapters.  The other, of course, is the

famous Robinson infodumps.  Many do not like infodumps.  Robinson

has gone on record as supporting and actually reveling in infodumps

in his stories.  He feels they are necessary to tell the story, and

he's not shy about it.  And to be clear, he is in fine form when it

comes to infodumps in THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE.  But I tend to

agree with him in this case.  The amount of information the reader

needs to understand in order to comprehend the mess we are in and

try to get out of the mess is necessary for the book to work.  I

was fascinated by the way the infodumps were handled in this book.

The point here is not to discuss the overall merits of infodumps

and how various authors present them.  The point is that they can

be useful, and I believe they are in this case.

The book is narrated by what seems to be a cast of thousands,

although it's really only eleven.  I've listened to a few of

Robinson's novels that use an ensemble cast to do the narration,

and I enjoy that kind of presentation.  It keeps me interested and

focused on the story.  The use of narrators for particular types of

chapters was a good choice, and as soon as I heard a particular

voice I knew what we were going to be talking about.

One of the themes that emerges is that the fight against climate

change is ongoing.  The last sentence of the book says it in a

nutshell: "Because we never really come to the end."  It took a

long time to get in the mess we are in, and it's going to take a

long time and a lot of work to get out of it, if we ever really

can.  Maybe a Ministry for the Future is one place to start.



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

Normally at this point in the year, I would have been able to write

at least one column about spring book sales, but as with last year,

that is a no-go.  Bryn Mawr says they may have a sale in the fall,

and plan to return to their normal schedule ("we hope," as they

say) in 2022.

In the interim, I will comment on their current donation

guidelines.  Well, they're not actually *taking* donations now, but

if you want to hold your items for them, they are saying what they

will *not* accept.

Among these are encyclopedias--with one exception: the Britannica

11th edition.  We have the 14th edition, which we got for $35 many

years ago at the old Cranbury Bookworm.  It's still pretty good for

history--it was after WWII that the Britannica decided to cut out

tons of history and replace it with science and technology.

However, the 11th is considered the particular classic.

They don't want business, science, and technical books that are 10-

50 years old.  Apparently anything older than 50 years may have

historical interest (though they do say to enquire first.)  Also

they don't take travel books older than a couple of years.

And of course the usual cruft: textbooks, self-help books,

magazines and journals (except art magazines), Reader's Digest

Condensed Books (check with your local nursing home as a possible

destination), Life and Time Life sets, Harlequin and Silhouette

romances, damaged and heavily underlined books (duh!), and VHS and

audiocassette tapes.

Oh, and they add: "Books that haven't sold at other sales.  If they

couldn't sell them, we can't either."

As you can tell, I am suffering book sale withdrawal.  I think one

of my "bucket list after vaccination" will be a trip to Second Time

Books.  In the mean time, I have been ordering a few books online,

but it's not the same.


by John Brockman (ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2), a collection of almost

200 short essays on the title topic.  Towards the end it was a bit

of a slog--a writer is limited in what they can say in a short

essay (two to four pages), so there is more repetition and less

depth than one might want.

One final comment on an essay, though: Thomas G. Dietterich writes,

"... it's essential that we humans understand this knowledge and

these capabilities [that we give AIs] before we devote large

amounts of resources to their use.  We mustn't grant autonomy to

systems we don't understand and cannot control."  For some

definitions of "understand" and "control", isn't this just what we

do with other people?  We grant autonomy at age eighteen (or

twenty-one, depending), but we don't really understand other

people, and we can't really control them.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          Men like to barbecue.  Men will cook if danger

          is involved.

                                          --Rita Rudner