• MT VOID, 03/24/23 -- Vol. 41, No. 39, Whole Number 2268

    From evelynchimelisleeper@gmail.com@21:1/5 to All on Sun Mar 26 02:09:31 2023
    03/24/23 -- Vol. 41, No. 39, Whole Number 2268

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    Mini Reviews, Part 17 (THREE MINUTES--A LENGTHENING,
    BLOODSHED) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper
    and Evelyn C. Leeper)
    THE WILL TO BATTLE ("Terra Ignota" Book III) by Ada Palmer
    (book review by Joe Karpierz)
    This Week's Reading (UNDER THE HARROW, THE VILLAGE,
    "Thessaly" series) (book and film comments
    by Evelyn C. Leeper)


    TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 17 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and
    Evelyn C. Leeper)

    This is the seventeenth batch of mini-reviews, all documentaries
    (note that one--HIDDEN LETTERS--is running on PBS in three days):

    feature-length documentary based on three minutes of genuine "found
    footage" taken in a Jewish town in Poland in 1938 by a man who has
    emigrated to America many years earlier. And that is (almost) all
    it shows, with narration and comments by the grandson of the man, a
    couple of survivors of the Holocaust from that town, and Helena

    One of the most interesting aspects of tracing the background of
    people rom the town is the detective work trying to decode the
    people's names from from the blurred images of the names on stores
    and elsewhere in the photographs. This is a notable detective
    story, as in finding who killed someone in a traditional mystery,
    but instead it is bringing people back to life. It is not just a
    documentary of old footage, but also a consideration of what the
    footage represents, and the varied reactions we have to it.

    Released to various festivals 2022. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

    Film Credits:

    What others are saying: <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/three_minutes_a_lengthening>

    SIDNEY: SIDNEY is a fairly straightforward biography of Sidney
    Poitier; its interest lies in the story of Poitier's experiences
    and how they shaped his life and his work. His effect was felt not
    just within the Hollywood community, but throughout the wider
    society, particularly during the civil rights years.

    Released on AppleTV+ streaming 23 September 2022. Rating: low +3
    (-4 to +4) or 8/10

    Film Credits:

    What others are saying:

    HIDDEN LETTERS: HIDDEN LETTERS is almost definitely going to be
    confused with HIDDEN FIGURES, and it is true that both focus on
    women of color who are marginalized by men. But HIDDEN FIGURES is
    a narrative film about the American space program, and HIDDEN
    LETTERS is a documentary about Nushu, a secret script developed by
    women in China several hundred years ago. Few original Nushu
    writings survive, and the documentary shows how attempts to
    preserve it fall prey to attempts to make it of interest to
    tourists, or to commercialize it as a brand name. Currently very
    few people can read or write Nushu, and they all learned it as a
    scholarly exercise rather than organically. And the both the Nushu
    Museum and the Center for Nushu Cultural and Research
    Administration seem to be controlled primarily by men.

    The result is that we see men treating women writing Nushu as
    decorative objects (explicitly commenting on their looks), and men
    unveiling the sign for the Nushu Cultural Exchange Center (and
    knocking it over in the process), and men pushing the idea of
    having Nushu brand potatoes.

    There is also a contrast between a "Princess Camp" which somehow is
    supposed to be celebrating Nushu and scenes of women washing
    clothes in the river, drawing water, carrying loads, etc. Whether
    these are supposed to represent the only positions open to women or
    not is not clear.

    HIDDEN LETTERS will run on PBS on March 27, 2023.

    (If you think pronouns should be straightforward, try reading a
    review with the main character being a woman named "He Yanxin", He
    being the family name, and hence how she is referred to. In other
    words, "He is a "she/her.")

    Released theatrically 09 December 2022. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4)
    or 7/10

    Film Credits:

    What others are saying:

    is a documentary in which the style definitely gets in the way of
    the content. At first it claims to be about the Sackler brouhaha the
    Sacklers are mentioned for a little bit in the first five minutes
    of the film from then Nan Goldin seems to be interested only in her autobiographical accounts which are of a much lower interest value.

    Released theatrically 2 December 2022. Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4)
    or 5/10

    Film Credits: <https://www.imdb.com/title/tt16977750/reference>

    What others are saying: <https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/all_the_beauty_and_the_bloodshed>



    TOPIC: THE WILL TO BATTLE ("Terra Ignota" Book III) by Ada Palmer
    (copyright 2017, Tor, 352pp, trade paperback, ISBN 978-0-7653-7805)
    (book review by Joe Karpierz)

    Ada Palmer's "Terra Ignota" quartet hast to be one of the most
    fascinating, yet frustrating, series I have ever read. It is a
    rich and complex tale with interesting and well thought out
    characters--just about all of whom seem to me to be unreliable in
    one way or another--and the more we learn about the central
    character and narrator of the tale, Mycroft Canner, the more we
    know and understand that they are the most unreliable of the
    bunch. Canner has more layers than an onion, and just when you
    think you get to know them you find out you're wrong. The entire
    story is that way as well, and that is what makes the series as a
    whole, and THE WILL TO BATTLE in particular, one of the most
    frustrating reads I've ever experienced.

    Palmer's world building for the Earth of 2454 is magnificent.
    Palmer doesn't describe the world the story takes place in.
    Rather, she lets the reader learn and understand the world as the
    story progresses, which lets the story move along without being
    bogged down by world building details. On the flip side, the novel
    is extremely dense and intricate; at least for me, THE WILL TO
    BATTLE was not an easy read by any means. While I like my reading
    to be challenging, THE WILL TO BATTLE pushed me to extremes that
    I'm not sure I was ready for or happy with. It took me a *very*
    long time to read this novel. But I was fascinated by it, and
    interested in what it was saying, so much so that I was unwilling
    to give up on it even though there were times I looked at it and
    said "nope, I'm going to turn on the TV instead". Yes, it was a
    very tough read, but it was a *good* read, and a good story.

    As alluded to earlier, the story takes place in the year 2454. It
    takes place over the months April through September of that year,
    and is narrated--and documented--by Mycroft Canner. The world is
    preparing for a war that now seems to be inevitable. Tensions are
    escalating, and war could break out at any minute. The story
    begins not long after the end of the previous novel, SEVEN
    SURRENDERS, wherein we learned that the delicate balance of peace
    was maintained by a series of strategic assassinations, called O.S.
    Once the world learned that this was the case, war was
    inevitable. Ockham Prospero Saneer is in prison for the
    assassinations, and it is here that we learn what "terra ignota"
    means. Saneer is to plead "terra ignota", the uncertainty over
    whether or not the O.S. assassinations were a crime. While murders
    in particular, and violence in general, is against the law, are
    the assassinations that kept world peace actually a crime? That's
    a good question, of course, and the outcome of that trial is just
    one thing that contributes to the tensions in society and the
    alliances various factions will take when the war does start.

    Palmer is an historian, and teaches at the University of Chicago.
    Her knowledge of history is evident throughout THE WILL TO BATTLE
    and the "Terra Ignota" series as a whole. One of the most
    fascinating characters is Achilles--yes, *that* Achilles--brought
    to life from a small toy soldier after Bridger's suicide. Achilles
    plays a central part in war preparations, helping gather resources
    for both sides so they can survive the upcoming war, while at the
    same time paying close attention to events to determine a) who the
    sides are, and b) which side he will aid in the conflict. It is
    fascinating to watch Palmer weave her knowledge of history into the
    character of Achilles as well as into the preparations for war and
    the use of language and style in telling the story.

    Where does "Terra Ignota" go from here? War, of course. THE WILL
    TO BATTLE ended with the world at war. There are many interesting
    twists that happened in the final sections of the book, but I don't
    want to give anything away. I've read a lot of science fiction in
    my life, but once again Palmer has surprised me. As I think about
    it, this book may really not be science fiction. It think it is
    more political science fiction, however even that term is
    ambiguous, as it could mean either a) science fiction that it is
    political (and THE WILL TO BATTLE is definitely that), or fiction
    that is about political science (and it's that too).

    The most obvious place to go from here is the fourth and final book
    in the series, PERHAPS THE STARS. While I have admittedly
    struggled to read every book in the series (and even spoke with
    Palmer about it at a local convention), I've also liked the story
    and the world it is set in. I do like to be challenged by my
    reading, and I expect that challenge to continue in the final book
    in the series. I'm sure that I will not be disappointed. [-jak]


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


    In 2010 Mark Dunn wrote a book, UNDER THE HARROW, which had the
    same basic premise as the 2004 film THE VILLAGE by M. Night
    Shyamalan, and indeed was accused of plagiarism. But RUNNING OUT
    OF TIME by Margaret Peterson Haddix (Simon & Schuster, ISBN
    978-0-689-81236-1) got these before either one, since it was
    published in 1995. The film is clearly the best known of the
    three, and I suspect just comparing the other two to it reveals the
    premise, but here goes anyway: we see a bunch of people living in a
    19th century village. But there seem to be inconsistencies: the
    doctor dispenses pills in addition to herbal remedies, strange
    artifacts turn up, and so on. And then (fairly early on) we
    discover, surprise! this is really an enclave in the 20th (or 21st)
    century world, set up as an experiment of some sort.

    Actually, L. Sprague de Camp got there *seventy* years ago, with
    the 1952 publication of THE GLORY THAT WAS. But no one is
    mentioning him. In any case, one problem is they are much of a
    muchness, and become all too predictable after a while. (Jo
    Walton's "Thessaly" series ([THE JUST CITY, THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS,
    and NECESSITY) is somewhat different, involving time-traveling gods
    and dealing more with philosophy and less with interactions with
    the outside world.)

    [I reviewed UNDER THE HARROW in the 10/12/2012 issue of the MT
    VOID, and THE JUST CITY in the 09/18/15 issue. Both reviews can be
    found in my review archive at
    <http://leepers.us/evelyn/reviews/reviews.htm>.] [-ecl]


    Mark Leeper

    A good novel tells us the truth about its hero;
    but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
    --Gilbert Chesterton

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