• MT VOID, 04/21/23 -- Vol. 41, No. 43, Whole Number 2272

    From evelynchimelisleeper@gmail.com@21:1/5 to All on Sun Apr 23 07:45:58 2023
    04/21/23 -- Vol. 41, No. 43, Whole Number 2272

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    Correction to ORLANDO (comments by Charles S. Harris)
    Mini Reviews, Part 20 (JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE,
    by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper)
    Pronoun Festival (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
    AI Companionship Bots
    NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (audio book review
    by Joe Karpierz)
    (book review by Greg Frederick)
    Bechdel Test (letters of comment by Gary McGath
    and Peter Trei)
    This Week's Reading (HEDDA GABLER) (book comments
    by Evelyn C. Leeper)


    TOPIC: Correction to ORLANDO (comments by Charles S. Harris)

    In response to Evelyn's review of ORLANDO in the 04/21/23 issue of
    the MT VOID, Charles S. Harris writes:

    In decades of reading the MT VOID, this is the first time I have
    spotted a palpable error in your writing.

    You wrote: "Our book and film group read ORLANDO by Virginia Woolf
    (Mariner, ISBN 978-0-156-70160-0) and watched the film by Sarah
    Polley this month. Interestingly, we had just re-watched Polley's
    WOMEN TALKING about a week earlier, and Polley's attention to the
    look of her films comes through."

    Actually, though, ORLANDO was directed by Sally Potter. In the
    book and film group's announcement of ORLANDO, Potter was described
    as a multitalented director who "co-wrote both the screenplay and
    the musical soundtrack, and has performed elsewhere as a dancer
    (THE TANGO LESSON, 1996), singer and choreographer."

    Sarah Polley has also taken on several such roles, but not as
    director of ORLANDO. [-csh]

    Evelyn replies:

    ARRGGH! My only excuse is that there are a lot of letters in
    common between the two names. :-(

    And I'm sure I have made more than just this error over the
    decades. [-ecl]


    TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 20 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and
    Evelyn C. Leeper)

    This is the twentieth batch of mini-reviews, more comedies:

    film that makes mathematics look like fun with a seemingly
    super-powered handling of multiplication. The premise--based on
    actual events--is that Jerry understands math, especially
    probabilities, better than the people running various state
    lotteries, and has detected a way to play the lottery with the odds
    in his favor. He also understands the law of large numbers, and
    this is what makes the story--and the film--visually as well as
    intellectually interesting.

    And there is also an unusual attempt to make believable characters;
    for example, one easily tells the other that he "has to go." James
    Bond never tells a Bond girl he has to go to the toidy.

    In many ways, this is a small film, even though it was produced by
    a subsidiary of Paramount. One way the film saves money is by not
    having any really expensive actors, though a lot of the actors you
    see are familiar from television.

    The film is reasonably accurate, although the ending is perhaps
    more sentimental than real life. A delightful movie for an adult

    Released on Paramount+ streaming 17 June 2022. Rating: low +3 (-4
    to +4) or 8/10

    Film Credits:

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

    (BRIDGE OF SPIES and WOLF HALL) as Maurice Flitcroft, a middle-aged working-class Briton who has never played golf, but who decides in
    1975 (for reasons never explained) to enter the British Open. (The
    reasons are never explained because perhaps Flitcroft did not know
    them himself.) Sally Hawkins as his wife is much more restrained
    than usual.

    In some ways it is similar to BELFAST in showing working class
    people, though BELFAST concentrates on The Troubles, and THE
    PHANTOM OF THE OPEN takes a more comedic look at life.

    Once again filmmakers have sports fascination examined in a popular
    musical form. Perhaps this is a reference to THE BIG LEBOWSKI,
    since both films show scenes from the ball's point of view.

    The Brits seem to love these comedies about working-class people
    who have an impossible dream and see it through with pluck and
    grit--even if they don't always succeed. CALENDAR GIRLS, EDDIE THE

    (And, yes, Maurice's twin sons really were world champion disco

    Released theatrically 3 June 2022. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or

    Film Credits:

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

    is set several hundred years in the past, but uses modern language
    and modern sensibilities. But while CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY is a
    new story, ROSALINE is based on a throwaway bit from ROMEO AND
    JULIET--she was Romeo's "true love" before he saw Juliet. So
    Rosaline is a character from Shakespeare but unlike Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern (who appeared in Stoppard's play), she does not
    actually appear in the original play itself. (In this she
    resembles Rebecca in the Daphne du Maurier eponymous novel.)

    The problem with ROSALINE is that the language is disconcertingly anachronistic at times. Characters talk about going on a "date"
    (the word was first used in that sense in 1896), and having a
    "boyfriend". Also, Rosaline asks for a match (matches were not
    invented until 1826) and "wants a career" (also a modern phrase).
    (For that matter, Rosaline's nurse (played by Minnie Driver) makes
    a joke about having seven years of nursing school, and later about
    being a medical professional. But of course "nurse" did not have
    that meaning--or even exist as a profession--for centuries.) I
    suppose at least some of this is supposed to be funny, but it can
    also jerk one out of the milieu as much as if Rosaline had whipped
    out a cigarette.

    When avoiding anachronisms, screenwriters Scott Neustadter and
    Michael H. Weber do add a crisp wit for their audience. The music
    is also modern, and it copies a Woody Allen joke about diagetic

    Overall, this is amusing enough--not Shakespeare, but what is other
    than Shakespeare himself--and of interest to those of us who like
    the "side roads" of Shakespearean drama. If you like ROSENCRANTZ
    AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD, or the modern re-stagings of RICHARD III
    or ROMEO & JULIET, you would probably like this. (Yes, I realize
    that the modern re-stagings are also full of anachronisms. But
    they are integral to the film, not surprise stumbling blocks.)

    Released on Hulu streaming 14 October 2022. Rating: low +2 (-4 to
    +4) or 7/10

    Film Credits:

    What others are saying:



    TOPIC: Pronoun Festival (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

    Now that pronouns are a big thing, I think TCM should have a day of
    pronoun films as a theme. They could run SHE; HER; IT; IT!; THEM!;
    AND I. [-ecl]


    TOPIC: AI Companionship Bots

    And speaking of the film HER:

    <https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/03/30/replika-ai- chatbot-update/>

    They fell in love with AI bots. A software update broke their

    Companionship bots ... are designed to foster humanlike
    connections, using artificial intelligence software to make people
    feel seen and needed. A host of users report developing intimate relationships with chatbots--connections verging on human love--and
    turning to the bots for emotional support, companionship and even
    sexual gratification. As the pandemic isolated Americans, interest
    in [chatbots] surged. Amid spiking rates of loneliness that some
    public health officials call an epidemic, many say their bonds with
    the bots ushered profound changes into their lives, helping them to
    overcome alcoholism, depression and anxiety.

    But tethering your heart to software comes with severe risks,
    computer science and public health experts said. There are few
    ethical protocols for tools that are sold on the free market but
    affect users’ emotional well-being. Some users ... say changes in
    the products have been heartbreaking. Others say bots can be
    aggressive, triggering traumas experienced in previous

    [See article cited for full text.]


    TOPIC: NEUROMANCER by William Gibson (copyright 1984, Grafton
    Books, 2011, Penguin Audio, 10 hours and 31 minutes, ASIN:
    B0058R83CW, narrated by Robertson Dean) (audio book review by Joe

    As a rule, I don't re-read books. There are two reasons for that.
    One is that there is so much good new stuff being published that I
    want to read that I don't have time to re-read books, and the
    second is that if I'm not reading something new, I do like to
    occasionally read something from my to-be-read pile (Oh, who am I
    kidding? It's not a TBR pile, stack, table, or bookcase. My
    backlog is such that I can measure it by the number of bookcases
    that contains it, and that doesn't count my Kindle.). That's that
    to say that I don't. Some readers will remember that I re-read
    DUNE for the 50th anniversary of its publishing, and I re-read each
    of the "Lord of the Rings" novels as the movies came out roughly a
    couple of decades or so ago.

    Given all that, there will be some of you out there going, "Wait,
    you've never read NEUROMANCER?" (I have one friend who, when I
    told him I'd never read it, was pleased that he'd read a Hugo
    winning novel that I hadn't. He knows who he is, and I'm sure I'll
    get a text from him when he reads this review.) No, up until now,
    I've never read NEUROMANCER. If I try to recall why, nearly forty
    years ago, I didn't read NEUROMANCER because I was stubborn and
    unwilling to try something new. I was unhappy with the New Wave,
    and I wasn't any happier with this thing called Cyberpunk. I was
    25 years old when NEUROMANCER was first published, but I was still
    a kid when it came to my taste in science fiction. Having said
    that, I did read the two follow-up novels in the "Sprawl" trilogy,
    COUNT ZERO and MONA LISA OVERDRIVE, as part of my Hugo reading
    those years, most likely because just like with the New Wave, I
    figured I had to give in and move with the field, although I
    remember not liking them at the time. No, I will not be re-reading

    But while I'm looking at a 1986 paperback edition to the left of my
    computer, I decided that since I was able to pick up the audio book
    for cheap, I'd go with that. So I dug in.

    Those of you who have read NEUROMANCER know the story. Case is a
    famous hacker and console cowboy who was caught stealing from his
    employer and as a result had his nervous system modified such that
    he was unable to access the virtual reality known as "the Matrix"
    (Long before the movies were released, science fiction readers
    already had the Matrix). He had no money, no ability to do the
    thing that he loved and made him famous. Until he was approached
    by a mercenary in the employ of Armitage. Armitage offered to
    repair his nervous system in exchange for doing a job. The catch
    was that sacs of poison were placed in Case's blood vessels, which
    Armitage would remove if and when the job was completed. Otherwise
    the sacs would burst and once again he would be unable to access

    The story involves a super-powerful family and a pair of
    super-powerful AIs, Wintermute and Neuromancer, although even the
    existence of Neuromancer isn't revealed until the latter stages of
    the book. The Tessier-Ashpool family is looking to merge
    Wintermute and Neuromancer to form a super AI, and Case and Molly
    are in the middle of it. Well, honestly, there's a lot more to it
    than that, and it's fairly complex.

    I guess I want to come at this book from the point of view of
    someone who is reading it for the first--and likely only--time,
    almost forty years after it was originally published. Looking back
    at it from the vantage point of nearly forty years in the future, I
    can see why this was as ground-breaking a novel as it was made out
    to be. It was completely and totally different than anything that
    had appeared before it. It is said to have changed the face of
    science fiction, and was one of those novels that was so important
    to and in the field that it stood out from the pack back in 1984.
    Cyberspace and cyberpunk were relatively new concepts back then.
    Gibson's novel used those concepts to turn the field on its ear,
    but that was probably never his intention. It was his first
    novel, and it just so happened that it reshaped the field.

    And so the problem with reading it in 2023 rather than in 1984 is
    that it didn't have that much of an effect on me. Even the famous
    opening line, "The sky above the port was the color of television,
    tuned to a dead channel," didn't really do too much for me. And
    one of the things pointed out in hindsight, that Gibson didn't see
    the rise of cell phones, was nothing that bothered me whatsoever.
    Looking at it from an historical perspective with high
    expectations, it fell flat for me. Frankly, I feel that Gibson's
    last two novels, THE PERIPHERAL and AGENCY, are much better books.
    Maybe it's because I could follow the stories in those two novels
    better. Maybe because the writing is better, nearly forty years
    later. But, honestly, after I finished the last line of
    NEUROMANCER I shrugged, went, "Huh", and moved on to the next book.

    I really didn't care for Robertson Dean as narrator. His narration
    was bland and dull, and he didn't make much of an effort to
    distinguish between one character and the next. I wouldn't call it
    a monotone narration, but it was close enough. I feel as if it
    wasn't a very good narration at all. [-jak]


    TOPIC: THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE MAMMALS by Steve Brusatte (book
    review by Greg Frederick)

    THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE MAMMALS by Steve Brusatte is an engaging
    and informative book that provides a comprehensive overview of the
    evolution of mammals. The author, a renowned paleontologist, takes
    readers on a journey that spans over 300 million years, from the
    origins of mammalian life to the present day.

    The book is organized chronologically, beginning with the early
    mammal-like reptiles of the late Paleozoic era and ending with the
    rise of humans in the Quaternary period. Brusatte covers the major
    events in mammalian evolution, including the development of unique
    features such as hair, milk production, and the ability to regulate
    body temperature. He also highlights the importance of mass
    extinctions in shaping the course of mammalian evolution, such as
    the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs and allowed
    mammals to flourish.

    Throughout the book, Brusatte emphasizes the scientific evidence
    behind his claims, citing numerous studies and research findings.
    He also incorporates interesting anecdotes and personal
    experiences, such as his own excavations in the field, which make
    the book more engaging and relatable.

    Some very detailed descriptions of mammal evolution include the
    following ones. For example: this book has an interesting sequence
    of fossils illustrating the evolution of whales going from a
    raccoon sized Indohyus which lived on land and had four legs to a
    large whale-like Basilosaurus creature which lived in the sea and
    had flippers instead of front legs and had useless, and very small
    rear legs. Homo erectus was the first hominin (human-like being)
    (*) to leave Africa where hominins first developed and they then
    expanded around the world. A second wave of human emigration out
    of Africa by Homo sapiens occurred later. Around 300,000 years ago
    the first fossil evidence of Homo sapiens is found in Morocco and
    if you dressed up this being with a modern day set of cloths he
    would pass as one of us. But these early Homo sapiens had a
    flatter brain region on its skull which limited brain size. Around
    100,000 to 40,000 years ago our classic modern body plan became
    fixed with the larger globular brain region of the skull. We as
    Homo sapiens could have a much larger and more complex brain with
    the added space.

    One of the strengths of the book is its accessibility. Brusatte
    avoids using technical jargon and explains complex concepts in a
    way that is easy for laypeople to understand. The book is also
    beautifully illustrated, with photographs, drawings, and diagrams
    that help readers visualize the creatures being discussed.

    Overall, THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE MAMMALS is a must-read for
    anyone interested in the natural history of our planet. Brusatte's
    expertise, combined with his engaging writing style, makes this
    book both informative and enjoyable. [-gf]

    (*) "Hominid" refers to "the group consisting of all modern and
    extinct Great Apes (that is, modern humans, chimpanzees, gorillas
    and orang-utans plus all their immediate ancestors)," while
    "hominin" refers to "the group consisting of modern humans, extinct
    human species and all our immediate ancestors (including members of
    the genera Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Ardipithecus)."
    H. floresiensis (nicknamed "Hobbits") are hominins, but not

    <https://australian.museum/learn/science/human-evolution/hominid-and -hominin-whats-the-difference/> for details. [-ecl]


    TOPIC: Bechdel Test (letters of comment by Gary McGath and Peter

    In response to Boyd Nation's comments on the Bechdel Test in the
    04/14/23 issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath writes:

    I don't think much of the Bechdel Test except as a loose heuristic.
    On the other hand, I watched George Pal's WAR OF THE WORLDS this
    past week, which has just one woman character, whose main purpose
    seems to be to panic periodically. I said at one point, "You're
    the only female character in this movie. Set a better example!"

    Evelyn adds:

    You forgot to mention that she also serves coffee, and cooks
    breakfast for the hero. [-ecl]

    Peter Trei writes:

    I note that MAD MAX: FURY ROAD both passes the test, and has female
    characters who are more competent than the ostensible male
    protagonist. [-pt]


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

    We just watched the BBC's 1962 adaptation of HEDDA GABLER by Henrik
    Ibsen and I have to say that just as Ibsen's ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE is
    a very contemporary story (as it was when Peter Benchley re-wrote
    it as JAWS), so HEDDA GABLER is a very topical take on the gun
    culture. Hedda Gabler is clearly unbalanced, and she has two
    pistols she got from her father, hence no background checks, etc.
    She "playfully" points the guns at the judge and fires towards him,
    trusting her aim not to hit him. She gives a gun to a despondent
    author and encourages him to commit suicide (definitely a step
    beyond just leaving a loaded gun lying around unlocked). When he
    does, and someone tells her that he knows she provided the gun, she
    takes the other gun and kills herself rather than face public
    disgrace. [-ecl]


    Mark Leeper

    My favorite poem is 'Thirty days hath September'
    because it actually tells you something.
    --Groucho Marx (attrib.)

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