So here we are: the excitement of the holidays, the so-called hustle and bustle of the season is winding down. All of us not suffering from the post-holiday blues, blahs or colds are marshaling our resources to take another stab at trying to have a good year.
Maybe it's just my head cold talking, but I expect a lot of people are going to be surprised at the tone of this column. I don't feel clever; I don't feel particularly humorous. No great philosophies to impart and not much in the way of "things I think" kind of musings.
The weather is cold and the world always seems -- at least to me -- to be dark and gray. I realize there are still going to be crisp sunny days through the winter. You know, those special days rife with invigorating freshness that fill you with a zest for living. I'll tell you the truth though, in general, I really dislike winter.
Twenty-plus years ago, I said the only things good about winter were skating and skiing. I've repeated it from time to time over the years and I still feel pretty much the same way, even though I haven't skied in at least twenty years. At the PARSEC holiday party, a group of us exchanged personal skiing stories. Some were humorous remniscinces; some were horrifying in that "cartwheeling-down-the-hill-through-the-snow-survival-didn't-seem-like-a-very-good-bet-at-the-time" kind of way.
Not everybody in that group had a skiing story though. But it surprised me how many did. One just has to remember, not everybody does the things we, as individuals do. Not everybody has gone skiing -- or has had the desire to. Not everyone likes the movies we watch. Not everyone enjoys the songs we enjoy (imagine someone who has never enjoyed a filk!). Not everyone reads the things we read. Stopping to think about it frightens me -- not every one reads, for pleasure, or fun, or just to keep from being bored -- like in the dark and gray winter... We are an unusual few. That is the way things work.
Only a certain number of individuals involve themselves in any given activity. Only a certain percentage of things are important in any given situation. A while back, I looked at the possibility of starting a business so I went to SCORE -- the Service Corp Of Retired Executives and spoke with a man about some of my ideas. He asked a question I had never considered. He asked "What's your 20%?" I was confused, I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on to explain that in almost any retail situation, in stores, in restaurants, a majority of the revenue is generated by about 20% of the offerings of the store. The other 80% balances the inventory, or the menu, but it really doesn't count for much.
The same holds true for most organizations. Between 10 and 20% account for the majority of the activity of the organization. Some people do things and jump in with both feet; others tend to be less actively involved. Ask anyone who has served in any capacity on a committee. Trying to get people to commit to do something is a daunting challenge. Not because they don't want to do anything, but because they just aren't built that way somewhere deep in their brain. They work okay in a group, but don't motivate themselves well on their own.
This is equally applicable in other situations. When I was clueless about what Timons Esaias planned to speak about at our January meeting, I spoke to Ann about it. "On Killing" is such a broad and general -- if disturbing sounding -- subject. She assured me it isn't so much a how-to as a statistical analysis. She explained that, by her understanding, certain people have no problems using weapons effectively in the "two armies facing each other" kinds of situations. And most of the training people receive in the armed forces is directed at getting people to do just that. I'm sure there is a lot more to it than that. There always is. After all, I probably only know about 20% of the story. One thing I do know is that on a cold, gray winter's day, suffering from a head cold and nursing a case of post-holiday blahs, nothing could be more delightful than Timons Esaias' sardonic humor as he speaks "On Killing."
See you Saturday
THE YEAR (NOT THE MOVIE) 2001 IN REVIEW
TOP TEN MOVIES
Reviews by Bill Hall
1. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. (See full length review later on.)
2. MEMENTO. It has a downer ending (beginning?), and it's not even SF -- but it closely approaches SF in its power to play with our concept of time, let alone linear narrative. By comparison, PULP FICTION was downright relaxed, picking and choosing at whim from readily recognizable crime cliches; here, we have a fresh new story told backwards. Guy Pearce -- in a just universe we'd have seen him star in THE TIME MACHINE, but that's been bumped into 2002 -- is Leonard Shelby, a man who as a result of trauma is unable to form new memories, yet is intent upon avenging the murder of his wife. MEMENTO makes for a fascinating deconstruction of heroic claims to a pure absence of bias. We can become our own worst enemies, and often are.
3. THE DISH. More science fact than SF, this could be PROJECT APOLLO: THE PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION PERSPECTIVE. Out in a sheep paddock in Australia is a lonely giant dish antenna, and it falls to this titular dish to keep in contact with Apollo 11 whenever the astronauts are facing our Southern Hemisphere. Australia's pride is on the line -- and, of course, the most laughable things keep going wrong. At one point the operators fake the astronauts' voices for a visiting ambassador, and the crucial transmission of Armstrong setting foot at Tranquility Base nearly wrecks everything. It's a charmer, and even has Sam Neill earning an honest buck for once. Seek it out.
4. HEARTS IN ATLANTIS. This has nowhere near the kick of earlier knockout Stephen King adaptations, like STAND BY ME or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, but it'll do. It's a little too skewed to set up a final scene in which a boy gets to tell off his mom, but luckily we also have the fate of Anthony Hopkins to worry about. It's the days of McCarthyism, and mere suspicion has grown into a force of evil which Hopkins, as psychic Ted Brautigan, is on the run from. This is worth seeing if only to encourage Hopkins to likewise make an honest buck.
5. FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN. True, it's a bunch of current F&SF cliches, but at least they're compiled in one handy movie for your staying-cool convenience. Of course, this movie is more notable as a near-breakthrough in computer animation; with any luck, believable facial expressions, or extras who move and emote while main characters command center stage, may not be far behind. Earth is being invaded by alien spirits, and only smart sensitive Dr. Aki Ross seems able to figure out why, and how to stop them.
6. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK. Yes, here's the part of the list where the Stupid Tasteless Comedy That Made Bill Hall Laugh Hardest gets its due. I confess it: I'm a sick puppy. Jay and Silent Bob, regularly characters from Kevin Smith's independent films, engage in a fantastical quest to stop a movie, which could make them rich, so as to make critics on the Internet stop badmouthing them. (Please, do not even attempt to analyze this plot logically.) Some parts don't really work -- Mark Hamill's whole cameo is just depressing -- but many others sort of sneak up on you. Not for everyone.
7. MONSTERS, INC. It was a coldly calculated laugh machine from beginning to end -- and what can I say, it worked. While we humans are beyond our Steam Age, the monsters of Monstropolis still rely upon Scream Age energy, gathering the terrified screams of children so as to provide Monstropolis with power. This has traditionally been done by spacewarping through closet doors -- but someone is trying to push that tradition one step too far. Like GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK, this is one of those surefire Formalization of Whimsy comedies.
8. SHREK. As much a send-up as a love letter, SHREK is to fairy tales what UNFORGIVEN is to Westerns, ripping apart comfortable old cliches only to reaffirm their essential spirit all over again. Shrek is an ogre voiced by Mike Myers who becomes a reluctant champion against a thinly disguised demonization of the Disney empire, as a pompous prince -- plus the irreverence of this very movie -- threatens to rub out all fairy tale fauna and flora. For me, the final hour hinges too much on one of those silly misunderstandings which generate entire THREE'S COMPANY episodes, but this is a nice gift from Myers as we await his next shag-adelic spy caper.
9. VANILLA SKY. (See full length review later on.)
10. THE OTHERS. Yes, it's true: in the wake of THE SIXTH SENSE, it's getting harder not to yell at the screen "Hey, schmuck -- you're already dead!" However, if you can control that impulse, THE OTHERS delivers some nice old-fashioned chills. A mother and her two children sense that their house is being invaded by a mysterious presence -- and no, it's not assessors from the city government, either.
THE ALMOST-MADE-ITS: HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (it won't kill you to sit through it once), THE MUMMY RETURNS (a solid thrill ride, even if it does have The Rock).
THE AT-YOUR-OWN-RISKS: A.I. (the two-hour-plus epic saga of a robot boy who wants his mommy to love him), CATS AND DOGS (a potentially cool superspy struggle for world supremacy somehow falls flat), JEEEPERS CREEPERS (an old-fashioned boogeyman yarn), JOHN CARPENTER'S GHOSTS OF MARS (a potentially fun yet rather dreary drive-in variant of the classic FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH), K-PAX (Kevin Spacey is either crazy or a genuine alien -- a little annoying to me, right on the heels of seeing Spacey in PAY IT FORWARD), MOULIN ROUGE (a shameless yet effective overblown valentine), OSMOSIS JONES (no doubt competing with SHREK'S gross-out humor), PLANET OF THE APES (another Ultimate Inside Joke from Tim "Mars Attacks!" Burton), SERIES 7 (people hunt and kill each other to win on a TV show; the betting pool on when the Fox network will actually try this starts now).
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER. What a zesty lark this could have been. Is it really so difficult to come up with a decent script for a female cross between James Bond and Indiana Jones? Was the director truly Simon West, who at least gave CON AIR a certain enjoyable goofiness? This was as leaden as a DUNE movie.
SPECIAL "MUNDANE" CITATION: GHOST WORLD. Cartoonist Daniel Clowes does offbeat F&SF, but his debut screeplay gives us no more fantasy than the unaccountable appearance of a bus. So I say: encourage him.WORLD is an excellent and insightful snapshot of pre-college limbo; with luck, Clowes may use F&SF next time. I also cite FROM HELL, a definitive Jack the Ripper thriller.
2. ANDROMEDA. By some miracle, the opening credits are now even worse than they were last year -- thankfully, the show itself is evolving. It may already be fair to say that this Galacto-Imperial brainchild of Majel Barrett's is the true heir to the spirit of Roddenberry, while That New Trek Franchise Show is swiftly losing its grip (see below). The characters are sounding more than one note, and are interplaying on deeper levels; plus it helps that the Magog have given the mission to restore the Commonwealth a fresh urgency. This may be the closest thing kids today have to the original Trek experience.
3. EXPOSURE. A showcase of short films that turns up at midnight on Sundays on the Sci-Fi Channel. It's been taken over by the campiness of new host Lisa Marie, and not everything is a grabber, but there is a lot of raw and diverting talent here.
I find it tough to conscientiously stretch out this list. I can't get "into" the spirit of BUFFY or FARSCAPE, let alone the new teen-target ROSWELL-SMALLVILLE-DARK ANGEL stuff. Maybe someone could patiently explain those to me. THE X-FILES is looking as undead as many of its early monsters. I might support FUTURAMA if I ever got to see more of it. And why a live action TICK? Finally, I nominate THE WEST WING as an Alternative History show a la SLIDERS.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: ENTERPRISE. Unfortunately in our human society, the portrayer of an important Vulcan (as compared to, say, Tuvok) must exert a lot of extra effort. Leonard Nimoy succeeded, but while it's sweet'n'all that that so many of us human males are so sexstruck by Jolene Blalock, that will not be enough. However unfairly large the responsibility is, she's failing at it. That's a shame, not only for Vulcans, but because it would be very easy for the audience to root for her against the aimless clueless intrusiveness of this human crew. The irony here is that Roddenberry first brought in Rick Berman and Brannon Braga as fresh blood; now, they themselves desperately need some, but refuse it. Ahh, see ... if only they had started reading my columns eight years ago ... ahh, well ...
WORST F&SF SHOW: SPECIAL UNIT 2. Say what you will about syndication limbo -- SHEENA, RELIC HUNTER, BEASTMASTER, STARGATE SG-1, THE LOST WORLD -- but at least those are merely semi-agreeable time-killers, and not outright contemptible. To grasp SPECIAL UNIT 2, imagine THE X-FILES dumbed way, way down. For that matter, imagine MEN IN BLACK dumbed way, way down. What can you say about a show whose ads brag "Bigger guns! Bigger explosions!"? Is this a tax shelter or what? Is anyone actually a FAN of this thing? The only thing now that can save UNIT from being Worst Show is TRACKER, which has Instant Loser scrawled all over it. Paging Dr. Kevorkian, stat.
SPECIAL "MUNDANE" CITATION: 24. A thriller in "real time," following a multilayered 24-hour story in 24 one-hour episodes. As this is a reflection on the hectic pace of modern life -- and hence by extension FUTURE life -- I'd not be surprised to see an SF dram copy this. Kiefer Sutherland is federal agent Jack Bauer, fighting a conspiracy to assassinate a presidential candidate. 24 juggles many intriguing plotlines simultaneously, making some of the best use of split-screen editing I've seen since the early Brian De Palma thriller SISTERS. There is both a story and an art form here worth watching. A close second to 24 is ALIAS, with Jennifer Garner (which planet did she come from, and can we import more?) as a young superachieving secret agent (with some plots bordering gently on F&SF). The station break credits do get on my nerves, the photos suggesting "She's under fire! She's vulnerable! She's alone! She's scared!" To which I say "Hey, double agent Sydney Bristow, wake up -- you're also LETHAL, with people dying for your sake and/or benefit all around you." That Poor Besieged Me act only works for so long. I anticipate a day when she decides to finally just plain KILL Ron Rifkin's Arvin Sloane. Yeah, I know, Sloane is just one cog in the endlessly sprawling machine that is SD-6
-- but hey, a fan can dream.
Rolling Stone insists that no reviewer should give away the Big Secrets of VANILLA SKY -- but since SKY is SF, and this is an SF newsletter for just a hundred or so close friends, I say: screw 'em. The lowdown is that Tom Cruise is a member of the frozen semidead, having plunged out of 2001 150 years into the future (just in time to meet T'Pol!). With the same weird Your Brain Is At Two Hundred Degrees Below Zero And Yet Can Still Think pseudoscience that partially excused the Sylvester Stallone vehicle DEMOLITION MAN, the Life Extension folk who are keeping Cruise under allow him the Lucid Dream option while he waits in cryolimbo -- and SKY is that Dream.
There are reasons why I tell you this upfront. One: as SF fans, you may want to remember this, lest you think you're watching some variant of the supernatural schmaltz of WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. Two: when a star vehicle for Cruise seems to toy with solipsism, with The World Can Be Anything You Wish It To Be!, it is fair to worry about whether or not it is Scientological. Thankfully, this is not.
Cruise plays David Aames, Jr., handsome young heir to a magazine which he takes in a MAXIM-STUFF-FHM-RAZOR direction. The name Aames, with its double A, cries out Superficiality; the only Aames I know is Willie Aames, a teen comedy star of old whose career managed to amount to even less than Scott Baio's. I'm not sure what hurts more: seeing Aames steal Penelope Cruz away from nice likable Jason Lee, or seeing Cruise steal Cruz in real life from all malekind. Anyway, his shallowness requires a comeuppance (at least SKY is a less awkward date movie than SHALLOW HAL), and it comes as he begins to realize he's in a dream that's becoming a nightmare, as it "splices" between the memory of tragedy (represented by Cameron Diaz) and the unresolved ache for true love (which Cruz represents, as she did in the original Spanish version of this movie).
The drama is worthy; you get to see Cruise's face all banged up (yay!); the title even makes sense; and the supporting cast is great.You get Kurt Russell in a good movie for once, as well as the quirky-smart face of Australian star Noah Taylor, and quite a few others. Of course, the movie wimps out and ends just as the stakes become REALLY interesting -- as they do in, say, CONTACT or THE ABYSS -- but I'm coming to expect that now.
The trailers don't lie. This is the real deal. Go catch it.
Where to begin? I've been hearing a lot of "New Zealand IS Middle Earth," and I'm beginning to believe it. We see much fannish reverence for fine detail which is not just well-advised (as in that POTTER movie) but downright loving. The movie is thick with special effects, but the one I like best comes when you're watching Gandalf and Bilbo for a few minutes, and it finally occurs to the logic centers of your brain "Hey! No way is Ian McKellen three times taller than Ian Holm!" SUPERMAN dared you to believe a man could fly. This time, you will believe in hobbits.
Some of the sets and features are, at their very worst, adequate -- but since this is an entire continent extremely familiar to millions of fantasy buffs, "adequate" here is high praise indeed. Everybody gives it their all: Elijah Wood as Frodo, Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, Christopher Lee (yes, the Hammer Studios Dracula himself) as Saruman, McKellen as Gandalf (already he looks forward to playtime battles between his heroic Gandalf action figures and his villainous Magneto action figures from X-MEN), Holm (solid gold, worth a column all by his lonesome) as Bilbo, Viggo Mortensen (a true dues payer, from the tough Colonel in G.I. JANE to a minimalist Lucifer in THE PROPHECY) as Aragorn, and even Hugo Weaving, the evil Agent Smith from THE MATRIX, is sympathetic as the elven leader Elrond, while Sean Bean and Cate Blanchett master the iffier roles of Boromir and Galadriel respectively. It is one amazing cast.
I despaired that I would have to take a pass on reviewing this, never having gone back to the books for entire decades, but that didn't matter. This is reasonably stranger-friendly, and it carries the integrity of its own world very persuasively.
I am also thankful to Liv Tyler's Arwen, who is not only handy in a crisis but provides the movie's sole hint of romance, let alone sex, when she's with Aragorn. I ordinarily wouldn't care, but after a while this gets to be a bit much, with its annoyingly shrieking Nazguls and rather literal cliffhangers. It has some humor ("Nobody tosses a dwarf!") but could use more, and by the end it's feeling like a little too much run-run fight-fight weep-weep. Still, as this is a grand magical equivalent of World War Two, with its fulcrum bearing down on this lone fellowship, the intensity is understandable.
Ebert's new Siskel, Roeper, got it wrong when he called the POTTER movie the new WIZARD OF OZ. Here is the new OZ. It's not very kid-friendly -- FELLOWSHIP is as dark as OZ is bright -- but it earns the same stature. OZ was a tale of a magical kingdom reformed into an emerald Washington, D.C. (as I wrote in these pages when OZ was re-released), and FELLOWSHIP too is solid democratic propaganda, retaining Merlin as Gandalf, yet concentrating more on Frodo, the Everyman, than on any would-be Arthur. The hobits are small, yet crucially reliable precisely because power is meaningless to them.
I decided it was time I caught up with what has been happening with the gang from Callahan's Place. It had been a while since I had read the last two published novelettes that have been woven into The Callahan Touch, and two more novels had been published since then.
Those novelettes had told of the opening of Mary's Place, a bar started by Jake Stonebender some time after a controlled nuclear explosion had destroyed Callahan's Place. The stories showed the gang still needed to gather somewhere to share good times, meet new and unique people, and help them solve some incredible problems. The novel continues this as more characters that play key (sorry) roles are introduced in what soon turns into a crazy week-long celebration of the new place.
The last day of Mary's Place turns out to be just as hectic and is chronicled in Callahan's Legacy. Cataclysmic danger threatens again. What else can the game do but try to once again form a group mind to cope with the problem? Strong drink and shared emotions are the order of the day.
Jake finally comes to terms with the fact that two of the finest gathering spots in the universe no longer exist in Long Island. He and the gang collectively decide to find greener pastures elsewhere and head for the Florida Keys. Callahan's Key is half travelogue in detailing the journey. But all is not fun and games as when the trip is done, the business of saving the universe yet again must be taken up.
I tried to be vague in describing these books because if you are a fan of the series you would not want all the surprises spoiled for you. And if you are not familiar with Callahan's -- well, it would just take too long to explain properly.
I will tell you that Spider Robinson writes in a way that makes you feel like you are more of an old friend enjoying a recounting of great parties you had to miss. I will also warn you that Spider's libertarian views will not go down well with everybody. I definitely can tell you these books are filled with more punny groaners and wicked wordplay just like the earlier books in the series.
But in my opinion this series has definitely jumped the shark before these books. These books had their enjoyable moments but it's the early ones I will remember the fondest.
This SF Book Club edition contains the first five John Grimes novels. They are rather short novels, none being over 130 pages. One novel is actually several shorter stories strung together. They fit all the requirements for light summer reading.
The Road to the Rim has Ensign John Grimes shipping out on a commercial spaceship to his first assignment. He has no inlking yet of his destiny among the Rim worlds as his dream is of a hallowed career with the Federation Survey Service. When a distress call is received from another ship attacked by pirates, Grimes finds how different things are in the real world from the classroom. Caught up in the tide of events, he must now help defend his new friends from the Waldengrenese marauders who technically are the allies of his Federation.
In many ways this is the most enjoyable of the novels in this omnibus. Grimes has a more active role in what happens than in the later stories. The nature of the story is more pivotal to his eventual growth as a character.
Another request for help is the start of things in To Prime the Pump. El Dorado is a planet that has been colonized by the richest of the rich. Given all their resources is seems a little suspicious when they ask for the help of the Survey Service medical personnel to find the cause of what prevents any babies being conceived on the planet. Grimes is in charge of the first landing party, but he will soon find out things are not waht they seem.
This is one of those novels where not much important seems to be happening and later on you find out that was the whole point. It's all there in the title.
The Hard Way Up is the short story collection of Grimes' command of a courier ship. He seems to have the knack of getting assignments that lead to big trouble. At times Grimes is no more than an innocent bystander at the scene of an odds-defying accident. Although disaster is avoided, Grimes ends up receiving the opprobrium of his superiors.
Grimes is just as inactive during the next novel, Spartan Planet. We, being astute readers, are well aware that the setting is a long lost colony world that has somehow had ancient Greek culture grafted onto its society. And, oh yeah, there are no women. Revolution is already in ferment when a Survery Service ship commanded by John Grimes arrives. But John's duty is to remain on board while ethologist Margaret Lazenby gets to witness the key occurrences. It is only when the history of the lost colony is understood that a fair resolution can be had.
Another variation on the lost colony now found is The Inheritors John Grimes' duty is to protect the locals of a newly rediscovered world from the prey of Drongo Kane, a slaver who works just enough within the law so that nothing can be proved against him. It is only when the history of the lost colony is understood that justice can prevail.
Donovan Robert Chambers was born Saturday December 15, at 10:24 PM. He was 7 pounds, 10 ounces, and 20 inches long. Baby and Mommy were both fine when Glenn Chambers left the hospital at 1 AM that night.
Anyone up for a little shapechanger poetry? Now available from Lone Wolf Publications (http://lonewolfpubs.com): The Rough Beasts video and audio anthology featuring fifteen poets from around the world. Each CD is hand-signed by all artists. Hear Diane reading her poem entitled "Alien Pygmalion." Paypal $17.95 (shipping ncluded in the US) or send check or MO to:
Lone Wolf Publications
13500 SE 79th St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73150
Mary Soon Lee's story "Crew-Dog" appeared in Spectrum SF #7; "The Stranger" appeared in Future Orbits #2, and she sold her second book (an as-yet-untitled SF collection) to Dark Regions Press. Her first book, the fantasy collection Winter Shadows and Other Tales is finally available on Amazon.com.
In an SF/F related publication, Ken Chiacchia has an article connected to the Lord of the Rings movie in the December 20-26 issue of City Paper.
TOPIC: Tim Esaias speaks "On Killing."
Time & Date : 9 March 2002
Discussion Topic : annual 'Confluence Topics' meeting led by Ann Cecil
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
Time & Date : 13 April 2002
Discussion Topic : Astronaut Jay Apt
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
Time & Date : 11 May 2002
Discussion Topic : Art Show and Tell
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Kevin Hayes
Vice President: Heidi Pilewski
Treasurer: Greg Armstrong
Editor: Don Cox
Secretary: Joan Fisher
Commentator: Ann Cecil
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.