Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

20 Sep 2002, 0:13 a.m.

Reviews! Retief: Emissary to the Stars: I read a set…

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2002 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.


Retief: Emissary to the Stars: I read a set of Retief short stories by Keith Laumer. I borrowed them from Leonard in a hasty "find something to read on the BART" snap. They're rather enjoyable in a P.G. Wodehouse-ish space-farce way or as Spaceman adventures, and the writing is cute, but the uneven collection contains some really annoying pieces. The clever space diplomat Retief always saves the day, but -- in the worst Connie Willis style -- stupid, annoying, hypocritical, selfish, narrowminded characters (practically everyone except Retief, including his superiors and opponents) and their stupid, dragged-on miscommunications take up too much space. Dramatic irony just isn't that funny for that long. If Laumer was trying to satirize US foreign policy, well, that makes me mad on its own, and I don't need sci-fi to propagandize me.

The Best of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine: I picked up a copy from a free box a few weeks ago because I wanted something to read at lunch. I read some good stories, notably the uplifting and "Aventura" by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and "Dragon Three Two Niner" by Peter L. Manly.

However, the introductions gave me pause. Of course, I mean no insult to the late Ms. Zimmer Bradley, but her introductions to individual stories made me wonder about her perspective and beliefs.

A few examples. From the introduction to Mary C. Aldridge's Nebula-nominated "The Adinkra Cloth":

In the final balloting, it did not win the Nebula. I have no idea what won it that year, but I'll bet a ripe peach -- or plum, or any other piece of fruit you prefer -- that it wasn't as good as this.

Basically, Ms. Zimmer Bradley is claiming that "The Adinkra Cloth" is better than any other arbitrary story published that year (five years before the publishing date of this volume). How hard would it have been to check what won that year? Did she simply feign ignorance so she wouldn't have to read the winner or make a judgment call on what was better?

And several other rambles, whines, and concealed insults await in other intros! In the spoiler-laden introduction to Dorothy J. Heydt's "Moonrise," a good story that I like partly because I'm a sucker for stories set in Berkeley, Ms. Zimmer Bradley uses extremely flawed anecdotal evidence to claim that "maybe" sci-fi fans are "intellectually superior" to nonfans. What the? And so on.

Two different sci-fi experts (i.e., "People who have been to at least one WorldCon") affirmed that sycophants surrounded Marion Zimmer Bradley in the last years of her life, possibly distorting her judgment. But still. One raises an eyebrow.

The Seven Samurai: Leonard and I really enjoyed Kurosawa's classic tale of fighters who protect a peasant village from bandits. It's about four hours long, yet it gripped us all the way through, even though it featured no musical numbers! Bollywood, take note.

As McWhorter mentioned to his Linguistics 5 lecture several months ago, we should revisit classics not just because they build virtue or intellect, but because they're fun. Indeed, The Seven Samurai has great characterization, dialogue, and choreography and pacing. Even though Leonard and I were watching through cultural and linguistic barriers, the film only mildly confused us. Recommended!

O Brother, Where Art Thou?: I'd like to see The Man Who Wasn't There again to be sure, but this may be my favorite Coen Brothers film. Leonard heartened me by laughing out loud (!) at the dialogue, especially the pretentious vocabulary that the main character (George Clooney) employs. The music made me say "wow" more the first time, in a theater, but I still like it a lot.

Nitpicker's Note: Just remember that this film has even less relation to The Odyssey than does the Demi Moore Scarlet Letter to the original Hawthorne, and enjoy the occasional references. Yes, they conflate Circe and the Lotus-Eaters and the Sirens into one bit. But it's a funny bit, as are all the bits. Recommended!

I wonder what Leonard and I will watch tomorrow! Only our future selves can tell.