Saturday, November 30, 2013

Europa Report: An SF film

Europa Report  (ER)    is one of the best SF films I've viewed in some time.  I actually hadn't heard much about it before I came across it somewhere.  It's too bad because it is far more interesting than many of the blockbuster SF films with a huge marketing budget.

It reminds me somewhat of another great SF film--2001: A Space Odyssey.  Both feature exploratory spaceships headed for Jupiter and much of the concluding action takes place there.  The difference is that ER focuses at the end on the events following the landing on Europa, a moon of Jupiter, while 2001 concludes in the vicinity of Jupiter.  Moreover, the ending of ER is much more in line with present day scientific findings. 

The design of the ships in both films is complex and not the typical cigar shapes found so often.  In addition, the photography has clearly been influenced by Kubrick's film, especially the frequent closeups of the cast in which bright lights are reflected off the space helmets or even on the bare skin of their faces.

The focus of the film is realism, an attempt to portray an actual exploratory journey to Europa to explore the possibility of life there.  The film incorporates the latest findings about Europa, especially the recent discovery that, although covered with ice, there is a strong possibility that there may be an ocean underneath the ice cover, much like the lake recently discovered under the ice in Antarctica.  NASA photographs have been seamlessly incorporated into the film which add to the realism of the film.  In addition, I don't recognize any of the cast members which eliminates the distractions caused by familiar faces.

If you are looking for a recent fact-based SF film about space exploration, take a good look at Europa Report--it won't disappoint you

Friday, November 29, 2013

More Autumn Haiku

The storm has moved on and the sun is now shining on Tucson. 

       Pebbles shining clear,
And clear six silent fish .  .  .
        Deep autumn water
                      --  Buson --

                                                  You turn and suddenly
                                        There in purpling autumn sky .  .  . 
                                                       White Fujiami!
                                                                 -- Onitsura --

     All the field hands
enjoy a noontime nap after
       the harvest moon
               -- Basho --

                                         The mountain grows darker,
                                      Taking the scarlet
                                            From the autumn leaves.
                                                              -- Buson --

  Entering autumn.
The painting of flowering plants
  A daily task.
                         -- Shiki --

Haiku 1 and 2
A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans. by Peter Beilenson

Haiku 3
The Sound of Water
trans. by Sam Hamill

Haiku 4
Silent Flowers
trans. by R. H. Blyth

Haiku 5
Haiku: a Hallmark Edition
trans. by R. H. Blyth

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Some autumn haiku

The first winter storm has settled down over Tucson for the past two days--temperatures in the low 50s--grey, gloomy overcast skies--rain, rain, rain.  .  .

Perhaps that explains the temper of these haiku.

         Deepen, drop, and die
Many-hued chrysanthemums .  .  .
         One black earth for all
                    -- Ryusui --

                                           Chilling autumn rain .  .  .
                                    The moon, too bright for showers,
                                              Slips from their fingers
                                                          -- Tokuku --

      Rainy-month, dripping
On and on as I lie abed .  .  .
          Ah, old man's memories!
                             -- Buson --

                                         Gray moor, unmarred
                                By any path .  .  . a single branch .  .  .
                                         A bird .  .  . November
                                                           -- Anon --

                On one riverbank
Sunbeams slanting down .  .  . but on
         The other .  .  . raindrops
                                  -- Buson --

When the sun comes out again, if ever, I'll post more cheerful haiku.

All haiku come from
A Little Treasury of Haiku
Avenel Books,  NY
translated by Peter Beilenson

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Quatrain LXXIV

This is the next-to-the-last quatrain in all three editions.  The poet/narrator waxes philosophical as he contemplates his own end as he nears the end of the Rubaiyat.

First Edition:  Quatrain LXXIV

Ah, Moon of my Delight, who know'st no wane,
The Moon of Heav'n is rising once again:
    How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same Garden after me--in vain!

Second Edition:  Quatrain CIX

But see!  The rising Moon of Heav'n again--
Looks for us, Sweet-heart, through the quivering Plane:
     How oft hereafter rising will she look
Among those leaves--for one of us in vain!

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain C

Yon rising Moon that looks for us again--
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane,
    How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden--and for one in vain! 

The most significant changes occur in the first two lines of the quatrain.  In the first edition, the poet/narrator compares his love to the "Moon of Heav'n" and suggests that the "Moon of my Delight" is superior in that the heavenly moon waxes and wanes while his love never wanes.  This comparison disappears in the second edition and simply states that the Moon of Heav'n is rising.  His substitution of "Sweet-heart" for "Moon of my Delight"  just doesn't work for me. It is a lapse from the poetic diction found throughout the Rubaiyat.  And, in the fifth edition, any sense of personal feeling for the other disappears completely when "Sweet-heart" is replaced with "us"  which could signify a friend, someone nearby, or a lover.  The focus of the first two lines is now completely restricted to the "rising Moon."

The third and fourth lines, regardless of some changes, still asks how long the rising moon will look for them--eternity perhaps, or will they be forgotten soon.  The most significant change in these two lines refers to the object of search.  In the first stanza, the poet/narrator asks how long the Moon will search for him while in the second and fifth stanzas, he asks how long the Moon will search for one of them, thus suggesting that it might be him or his lover who will have died.

I would have to go with the first edition and then the fifth version as my favorites.  "Sweet-heart" in the second edition is so obtrusive that I reject it immediately.  In addition, the sense of this taking place in a Garden also disappears from the second edition.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Han Shan or Cold Mountain: life is short

Two poems by Han Shan on the transience of youth for Spring and Summer swiftly lead to Fall and Winter:

A moth-browed girl in town
how her pendants chime
teasing a parrot before the flowers
playing a lute beneath the moon
her singing echoes for months
thousands watch her briefest dance
but surely this won't last
the hibiscus can't bear cold

A fine young man on horseback
waves his whip at the willows
he can't imagine death
he builds no boat or ladder
the seasonal flowers are lovely
until the day they wither and fade
rock sugar and clarified butter
mean nothing when you're dead

The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
Copper Canyon Press
trans. by Red Pine

The following notes are abstracted from the collection of poems
7.  -the young woman is probably a member of a traveling troupe of entertainers
     -the hibiscus is called "the cold-fearing flower" and dies at the first sign of fall
     -fall, of course, signifies the approach of winter, the season of death (my comment)

8.  -boat or ladder: Buddhists use the symbol of a boat for their spiritual discipline
     -ladder refers to the search of wandering Taoists to reach inaccessible places when looking for  plants to concoct their elixirs.
     -"Rock sugar and clarified butter (ghee) represent the taste of liberation, refined of all impurities."
     -In other words, after death it's too late to strive for enlightenment (my comment).

I think Shakespeare would agree:

"Golden lads and girls all must,
 As chimney-sweepers, all come to dust."

Cymbeline, Act IV,  Scene II

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Theodore Sturgeon: "The Other Celia"

This is one of those quiet little stories that Ted Sturgeon does so well.  The horror is understated and relates not to Celia, be she an alien or another sentient species in hiding on earth.  The only too human Slim is the source of the horror in this story.  Slim is the type of person who would tear off the wings of insects or birds. But, he wouldn't do it to cause pain or suffering; he would do it out of curiosity to see how a flying creature would react once it had lost its wings.  In fact, if someone told Slim he was hurting those creatures, he would be surprised.  That would never have occurred to him, and he would probably stop.

As you can see, Slim is not a very likable person.  He is a snoop and insensitive to the feelings of others.  At times his behavior crosses the line between normal and pathological curiosity.   When he was a child, his mother had to appear several times in Children's Court to explain that he wasn't dishonest, that he was just "curious."   While curiosity may be a good thing, it can be dangerous if not kept within reasonable limits. In this story we see a Slim whose curiosity leads him to meddle in another person's life and that meddling results in tragedy.

Slim lives in a boarding house.  At present he is on medical leave from his job.  He was attacked by a fellow employee who tried to bury a fourteen-inch crescent wrench in his skull.  Sturgeon does not tell us why the employee tried to do this, but I suspect he was upset by Slim's snooping.  Since most of the other tenants of the boarding house are at work, he finds this an excellent opportunity to engage in his favorite pastime--snooping.

"His current situation was therefore a near-paradise.  Flimsy doors stood in rows, barely sustaining vacuum upon aching vacuum of knowledge; and one by one they imploded at that nudge of the curiosity.  He touched nothing (or if he did, he replaced it carefully) and removed nothing, and within a week he knew Mrs. Koyper's roomers far better than she could, or cared to.  Each secret visit to the rooms gave him a starting point; subsequent ones taught him more.  He knew not only what these people had, but what they did, where, how much, for how much, and how often.  In almost every case, he knew why as well.

Almost every case.  Celia Sarton came."

He waited a few days to see what her schedule was.  Were there times he could enter her room and feel safe she would not return?   He found that she invariably would leave in the morning and return in the evening, just like the rest of the roomers.  Therefore he entered her room, but unexpectedly it was two days after he decided it was safe.  He kept forgetting about her.

He found nothing in the room to make her an individual--no photos of family or friends, no keepsakes, nothing that would make her stand out in his mind.  Several times he found himself leaving the room without looking around for anything: it was as if it was an empty room waiting for someone to enter it.

It was by accident that he discovered that there was something in the room that made her unique.  It appeared to be a second skin.  Slim had never seen anything like this before, and his curiosity was aroused as it had never been before.  So, he acted, not to harm her, but out of curiosity to see what she would do.  Thus the tragedy.

A great short story