MT VOID 04/16/04 (Vol. 22, Number 42)

MT VOID 04/16/04 (Vol. 22, Number 42)

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/16/04 -- Vol. 22, No. 42

Table of Contents

El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

English, She Is a Funny Language, No? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I heard someone talking about a "glass-is-half-empty" sort of person. Is it just me? I have never understood the metaphor people use when they say somebody is a "glass is half-empty" or "glass is half-full" kind of person. Maybe it is the mathematician in me but to me they mean exactly the same thing. I think people are supposed to be optimistic if they say the glass is "half-full." But then it is HALF-full. That is just as downbeat as saying it is half-EMPTY. I don't know why people have these emotional attachments to one expression over the other. Actually it also assumes you want what is in the glass. I remember from my days as a child that getting my milk glass half-empty was something of a small milestone to be proud of. (This is in much the same way small children are made proud of any very minor accomplishment. For example "What a good boy. He ate all his potatoes." Wow!). For that matter, when someone calls someone else half-assed, is that better or worse than being fully-assed? Are there people who are completely non-assed? I can see that anatomically it might be impossible, but might it not still in some senses be a superior state? [-mrl]

The Struggle upon Us (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the debates prior to the American Civil War, Senator James Chesnut expected the coming conflict to be a quick and bloodless war. He promised that if his state seceded and it came to a war, he would soak up all the blood that would be spilt with his handkerchief. Both in the South and in the North great numbers of people expected just a short and mild conflict and a quick victory. Each side dismissed the other as not much of a match for their own boys. It was sort of "home team pride."

In fact, neither side had a really decisive advantage. Both were determined. Both were smart. Both wanted to use modern state-of-the-art weaponry. Each was too proud to find defeat acceptable. William Tecumseh Sherman looked at this situation and very outspokenly declared that a civil war, if it came, would be a long and very bloody conflict. He thought that neither side had any idea the price such a war would exact.

Sherman heavily damaged his own career with his gloomy and dire predictions. He was thought to be unbalanced on the subject. By the time the Civil War was over his predictions were seen to be very much on the mark. I wonder what Sherman would make of the current international clash of cultures his country now faces. I think our situation is every bit as bad.

My personal assessment is that what Samuel P. Huntington (Eton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard University) has correctly identified as a coming war of civilizations between the West and Islamic culture will be long, dirty, and bloody in ways that few of us expect or understand currently. (See Huntington's article at .) We have two capable enemies with different strengths. Both sides are committed. We have the better weapons, but the other culture has something we are going to have a hard time matching, something that limits the effectiveness of our powerful weapons. It is, incidentally, the same thing that makes the Internet so hard to disrupt. The enemy, thickly distributed in fundamentalist Islam, is decentralized and distributed. We are not in conflict with an autonomous leader; we are in conflict with individuals distributed over a whole culture. I think we are kidding ourselves when we do not acknowledge the worldwide popularity of the Osama Bin Ladens. I think that the Islamic culture believes in the Arabic maxim "I and my brother against my cousin, but I and my cousin against the stranger." Hussein is cast as the cousin and the United States as the stranger. Factions that did not like Saddam Hussein are treating his removal as an affront to Islam. They will band together. Our enemies are all over the Islamic world and as we fight back and a lot of potential enemies will become real ones.

The problem is we are not fighting a Hitler. There is no one leader, no head to remove. We are fighting a lot of people who genuinely believe they are following God's will. I have heard a statistic that 90% of the mosques even in the United States and Canada are Wahabis--very militant and very fundamentalist, sympathetic to spreading Islam by force.

Even if we were willing to use nuclear weapons (and I hope we are not), they have no vital targets. We have Washington DC as a target, but what is the equivalent center of Islamic militancy? There is none. Knocking out Washington would pretty much disable our forces. That makes that city a very tempting target. What do they have? Fundamentalist Islam has no similar center. Big weapons in this conflict expose our vulnerabilities and not theirs. This is the formula for what is at least and the very least a long conflict and very likely one we cannot win.

Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have been criticized for not responding quickly and decisively to pre-2001 terrorist attacks. I am less willing to criticize either President, at least on that score. It is not clear to me what an intelligent response to a terrorist attack is. When a wasp stings you, is the proper response to sock the wasp nest? You can, but you probably will not get the result you want.

Killing Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden does not mean victory. It is not a matter of getting them and we will be mostly done the way it was with Hitler. Getting them will only make more people angry with us. And if we fight them even more will join the fray. We are putting our faith in a military system that is very centralized and hierarchical fighting a system that is not. That is a very bad faith.

I recently read Stephen Ambrose's D-DAY. Dwight D. Eisenhower, our supreme commander in the invasion, gave not one order on D-Day. All the decisions were made fairly locally that day and the days that followed based on local conditions. Through much of the invasion of Europe that command was very decentralized. That was not the approach of the Germans. Their command was centered on Hitler and specifically on Hitler's orders. The Germans thought that the more organized and coordinated they were the better. But centralized command was just not responsive enough to fight an enemy with distributed intelligence. Now it is our side that is hierarchical, organized, and coordinated. The other side is just a loose association of militants. They need little coordination and that little bit is all that Al Quaeda does. The name "Al Quaeda" means "the center" and that is its function. Just to be the center is not command. What we are facing is already turning out to be a worldwide guerilla war. That is a very frightening concept.

So what am I suggesting? Certainly I have no long-term strategy. In the short term I suggest we just wake up and realize that the situation is very, very serious in ways that will affect each and every one of us. We are in a conflict in which we are very likely the underdog. I suggest in the coming election you should know each candidate's foreign policy. Perhaps that should be the most important issue. I think our next President may well be the most important in American history and it is almost certain he will not be the best. [-mrl]

HELLBOY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Mike Mignola's comic book character Hellboy comes to the screen in high visual style but none too coherently. Guillermo del Toro does a better job directing than adapting the story from the comic book to the screen. This is a film that is sullen and dark, and those are its good points. The grim humor is ironically enjoyable and makes this film worth seeing. But neither del Toro nor Mignola knows who Hellboy should be. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The biggest problem with HELLBOY is that Guillermo del Toro's direction is wasted on Guillermo del Toro's (and Peter Briggs's) script. The adaptation is visually very nice. Its images very well match the story's very dark tone and the artwork in the comic book. The problem is that while we know Hellboy is in a mammoth fight, we never have much of an idea of what Hellboy's powers are. I don't think we really know what Hellboy's goals are either. And we certainly do not know what constitutes "winning" in his fight. In THE GUNS OF NAVARONE the goal is to destroy the guns. In GOLDFINGER it is to kill Goldfinger. Hellboy is called into a conflict and I didn't know what would end it. If he kills the monster, is that enough? If he kills the villain, is that sufficient? If a good guy is killed does he stay dead? It is like an American watching a curling match. You can get a rough idea of whether it is going well, but that is about all. In the end Hellboy wins because the evil side stops spawning new threats. Come to think of it, perhaps an ill-defined struggle is really a lot like what happens in the real world.

It seems that in 1944 the Nazis were once again fooling around trying to turn the mythic supernatural into a weapon. This time there is no Indiana Jones to stop them. They open a large portal to a big, evil space-going whatsis. Think of it as an interstellar version of H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu. But the portal is also open to hell and through it comes something not expected by anyone. It is a little baby demon from hell, still young and innocent and very impressionable. The American military (did I mention that they were on hand to blow up the Nazis and their portal?) capture the baby and raise him as their own weapon.

Flash-forward to the present and Hellboy (now played by Ron Perlman, veteran of del Toro's CRONOS) is big and red and smokes cigars. He has sliced off the two huge ram's horns growing out of his forehead so from a distance he just looks like he is wearing goggles. (That was my impression when I first saw the comic book and Guillermo del Toro had the same reaction.) Hellboy is needed to stop an invasion of a very Lovecraftian tentacled monster. This is the kind of thing that when it dies, two take its place. Hellboy has a sidekick, Abe (Doug Jones) who is sort of a fish-man. (I kept asking myself why the fish-man looked so familiar. I had seen a very similar race depicted in the 1973 French animated film FANTASTIC PLANET.) The other major figure in Hellboy's life is Professor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm (John Hurt, as always a joy to see on the screen). Broom has raised Hellboy and is the father figure in his life.

The problem with this script is that while it has some nice ideas, borrowed from the comic book, and a nice visual style, the writing is really not very good. The story adds just about nothing to the standard good-guy-going-after-bad-guy plot. The writers have not thought out the implications of scenes. Like Bigfoot, Hellboy is supposed to be just a legend, the subject of a few fuzzy photographs. Yet hundreds of people see him in big spectacular, destructive (not to say ultimately boring) fights like one shown in the subway.

Hellboy should be an interesting character torn between positive and demonic impulses. Instead he is basically just one more wise-cracking superhero. Fighting a monster he will make a comment like "no tongues on the second date." That is a joke from popular culture, not from the mind of a demon from hell. I don't think that del Toro had a clue who Hellboy is or should be. I will take that a step further. After reading two "Hellboy" comic books I don't think that Mignola has a clue who Hellboy is or should be. Both Mignola and del Toro have a good feel for the visual atmosphere, but neither shows much interest in looking inside the mind of a Hellboy. Such a character would be tormented and revolted by unspeakable memories of what it was like in Hell in half of his personality. The other half of his personality would be telling him that what he remembers of Hell is really the way things ought to be. What he has seen of Earth would be pitted against his demonic instincts. These stories would have resonance and they would have allegorical meaning. Instead we have just another sardonic superhero. It is such a waste.

As it happens I would call Guillermo del Toro one of the two greatest horror film directors alive. (Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the other.) His last two films have been disappointing mixtures of the horror and super-hero genres. (BLADE II is the other.) But for these two films the horror has been compromised and is much less effective. And there is not much new to do in the superhero genre. My advice to del Toro would be to go back to making those wonderfully inventive horror films and leave superheroes alone for a while until he gets some fresh new ideas. I rate HELLBOY a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. [-mrl]

Hugo and Retro-Hugo Nominations (announcement):

The nominations for the 2004 Hugo Awards (for works from 2003) were recently announced, as well as for the 1954 Retro-Hugos (for works from 1953). Most of the short fiction for the current Hugos will probably be available on the Internet; for now, the best place to check for details would be . For the Retro works, I've listed one or two anthologies or collections where you can find each one--assuming you can find the books. I'd like to think that they'd be available in your library, but I'm realistic enough to know that may not be true. Still, they'll be easier to find than the magazines.

  BLIND LAKE, Robert Charles Wilson
  HUMANS, Robert J. Sawyer
  ILIUM, Dan Simmons
  PALADIN OF SOULS, Lois McMaster Bujold
  SINGULARITY SKY, Charles Stross

  "The Cookie Monster", Vernor Vinge (Analog Oct 2003)
  "The Empress of Mars", Kage Baker (Asimov's Jul 2003)
  "The Green Leopard Plague", Walter Jon Williams 
       (Asimov's Oct/Nov 2003)
  "Just Like the Ones We Used to Know", Connie Willis 
       (Asimov's Dec 2003)
  "Walk in Silence", Catherine Asaro (Analog Apr 2003)

  "Bernardo's House", James Patrick Kelly (Asimov's Jun 2003)
  "The Empire of Ice Cream", Jeffrey Ford (Sci Fiction 02.26.03)
  "Hexagons", Robert Reed (Asimov's Jul 2003)
  "Into the Gardens of Sweet Night", Jay Lake 
  "Legions in Time", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Apr 2003)
  "Nightfall", Charles Stross (Asimov's Apr 2003)

  "Four Short Novels", Joe Haldeman (F&SF Oct/Nov 2003)
  "Paying it Forward", Michael A. Burstein (Analog Sep 2003)
  "Robots Don't Cry", Mike Resnick (Asimov's Jul 2003)
  "A Study in Emerald", Neil Gaiman (Shadows Over Baker Street)
  "The Tale of the Golden Eagle", David D. Levine (F&SF Jun 2003)

       A RETROSPECTIVE, John Grant & Elizabeth L. Humphrey 
       with Pamela D. Scoville
       L. RON HUBBARD, William J. Widder
  SCORES: REVIEWS 19932003, John Clute
       Cathy Fenner & Arnie Fenner, eds.
       DISCREDITED DISEASES, Jeff VanderMeer & Mark Roberts, eds.


  Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Chosen"
  Firefly: "Message"
  Firefly: "Heart of Gold"
  Gollum's Acceptance Speech at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards
  Smallville: "Rosetta"

  Ellen Datlow
  Gardner Dozois
  David G. Hartwell
  Stanley Schmidt
  Gordon Van Gelder

  Jim Burns
  Bob Eggleton
  Frank Frazetta
  Frank Kelly Freas
  Donato Giancola

  Ansible, David Langford, ed.
  Interzone, David Pringle, ed.
  Locus, Charles N. Brown, Jennifer A. Hall & Kirsten Gong-Wong, 
  The New York Review of Science Fiction, Kathryn Cramer, 
       David G. Hartwell & Kevin Maroney, eds.
  The Third Alternative, Andy Cox, ed.

  Challenger, Guy H. Lillian III, ed.
  Emerald City, Cheryl Morgan, ed.
  File 770, Mike Glyer, ed.
  Mimosa, Rich & Nicki Lynch, ed.
  Plokta, Alison Scott, Steve Davies & Mike Scott, eds.

  Jeff Berkwits
  Bob Devney
  John L. Flynn
  Dave Langford
  Cheryl Morgan

  Brad Foster
  Teddy Harvia
  Sue Mason
  Steve Stiles
  Frank Wu

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer [Not a Hugo]
  Jay Lake (second year of eligibility) 
  David D. Levine (second year of eligibility) 
  Karin Lowachee (second year of eligibility) 
  Chris Moriarity (first year of eligibility) 
  Tim Pratt (second year of eligibility)

Retro Hugo Awards Nominations

  THE CAVES OF STEEL, Isaac Asimov
  CHILDHOOD'S END, Arthur C. Clarke
  FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury
  MORE THAN HUMAN, Theodore Sturgeon

  "...And My Fear Is Great", Theodore Sturgeon 
       (Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jul 1953) (A WAY HOME [first 
       edition only]
  "A Case of Conscience", James Blish (If Sep 1953) (first 
       section of the novel A CASE OF CONSCIENCE)
  "The Rose", Charles L. Harness (Authentic Science Fiction 
       Monthly Mar 1953) (published as a stand-alone book)
  "Three Hearts and Three Lions", Poul Anderson 
       (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Sep-Oct 1953) (probably also the 
       first section of the book--I haven't checked)
  "Un-Man", Poul Anderson (Astounding Jan 1953) (UN-MAN, F-139)

  "The Adventure of the Misplaced Hound", Poul Anderson 
       & Gordon R. Dickson (Universe Dec 1953) (EARTHMAN'S BURDEN)
  "Earthman, Come Home", James Blish (Astounding Nov 1953) 
       (SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B; last two chapters of 
       the novel EARTHMAN, COME HOME)
  "Sam Hall", Poul Anderson (Astounding Aug 1953) (THE BEST OF 
  "Second Variety", Philip K. Dick (Space Science Fiction 
  "The Wall Around the World", Theodore Cogwell 
       (Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep 1953) (ISAAC ASIMOV PRESENTS 
       THE GREAT SF STORIES: 15 (1953))

  "It's a Good Life", Jerome Bixby (STAR SCIENCE FICTION STORIES 
  "The Nine Billion Names of God", Arthur C. Clarke 
       THE GREAT SF STORIES: 15 (1953))
  "A Saucer of Loneliness", Theodore Sturgeon (Galaxy Feb 1953) 
  "Seventh Victim", Robert Sheckley (Galaxy Apr 1953) (UNTOUCHED 
  "Star Light, Star Bright", Alfred Bester (F&SF Jul 1953) 

  CONQUEST OF THE MOON, Wernher von Braun, Fred L. Whipple 
       & Willy Ley (Viking Press)
       Reginald Bretnor (Coward-McCann)
  SCIENCE-FICTION HANDBOOK, L. Sprague de Camp (Hermitage)

  "Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 the Century"

  Anthony Boucher
  John W. Campbell Jr
  H. L. Gold
  Frederik Pohl
  Donald A. Wollheim

  Chesley Bonestell
  Ed Emshwiller
  Virgil Finlay
  Frank Kelly Freas
  Richard Powers

  Hyphen, Chuck Harris & Walter Willis, eds.
  Quandry, Lee Hoffman, ed.
  Science Fiction Newsletter, Bob Tucker, ed.
  Skyhook, Redd Boggs, ed.
  Slant, ed. Walter Willis, art editor James White

  Redd Boggs
  Lee Hoffman
  Bob Tucker
  James White
  Walter A. Willis

Three categories were dropped [from the Retro Hugos] for insufficient nominees: Best Dramatic Presentation -- Long Form, Best Semi-Prozine, and Best Fan Artist. Rules for awarding Retro Hugos require categories to correspond to those currently defined for Hugo Awards, which is why 1953 film nominees appear in the "DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM" category -- since they are shorter than the 90 minute divide that separates the current "short form" and "long form" dramatic presentation categories.

[Early lists had Judith Merril's "Daughters of Earth" in the novella category for the Retro Hugos, but it was pointed out that it actually had a 1952 copyright date, so it was replaced by the next-highest vote-getter. -ecl]

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

I'm starting to fall behind on books I've read, partly because a few long airplane flights have boosted my reading. So a few of these comments will be briefer than usual.

Alan Wolfe's THE TRANSFORMATION OF AMERICAN RELIGION looks primarily at Christianity and Judaism, and even in Christianity skimps on the various Orthodox churches and the Mormons. Wolfe's contention is that far from leaning toward the "old-time religion" of the song, Americans have transformed religion into a self-help program, a social club, a community service organization, or just about anything except a theology that gives its members rules to live by and a belief in a strong theological underpinning based on divine revelation. People are looking to stay within a "comfort zone" (e.g., evangelicals often end up "witnessing" only within church groups and other areas where they will be met with acceptance, rather than by going out into the larger community and risking rejection or hostility). And people "shop around" much more for churches these days--a hundred years ago, almost everyone stayed within the religion they belonged to as children, while now large numbers change religion. I recommend this book.

Frances Sherwood's VINDICATION is a novelization of Mary Wollstonecraft's life. This is Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley's mother, not Mary Shelley (as I think I claimed in an earlier column). While Wollstonecraft was an early campaigner for women's rights, there was still a bit too much of it in the novel for my tastes. I suppose I have become so tired of seeing it in completely fictional novels, that when it actually makes sense-- particularly if the situations described by Sherwood are accurate --I still find it annoying.

I had heard that Richard Condon's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE was different from the film primarily in that the sexual undertones of the film were made explicit in the book. This is true, and while the book is well-written, I'm not sure it adds that much if you've seen the movie. (By the way, director John Frankenheimer gives a great commentary track on the DVD. There is a new release of the film on DVD scheduled for July 13 with some additional features, but the older release also has the commentary.)

Tennessee Williams's CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF is another work where the sexual content is more explicit on the printed page. Though for this work, stage performances would also maintain this. It's only the classic film with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, and Burl Ives that turns the explicit discussion of homosexuality into veiled references. Such was Hollywood in 1958. On the other hand, plays are meant to be seen rather than read, so read the play but see the movie. (I haven't seen the newer version with Jessica Lange and Treat Williams.)

And while we're talking about bowdlerizing, Agatha Christie's TEN LITTLE INDIANS has certainly been cleaned up. For starters, when it was first published in 1939 it was TEN LITTLE NIGGERS. The island in the novel was "Nigger Island", the figurines were "niggers", and the poem was "Ten Little Niggers". I'm not sure when the book was re-titled, and whether or not it was re-titled on both sides of the Atlantic; my British copy from 1969 still has the original title and text. But a recent United States edition titled TEN LITTLE INDIANS has the events taking place on "Indian Island", with Indian figurines, and the poem "Ten Little Indians". (This is *not* "One little, two little, three little Indians, ..." but rather "Ten little Indian boys went out to dine....") However, the expression "a nigger in the woodpile" was retained, probably because there was no easy way to change it.

There was another change made as well, though. The original text had several derogatory references to Jews in the first chapter, and these were taken out or modified to refer only to the specific character. So "That little Jew had been damned mysterious" became "Morris had been damned mysterious." And "that was the damnable part about the Jews, you couldn't deceive them about money" became "that was the damnable part about Morris, you couldn't deceive him about money".

I suppose this is all rather mild--after all, the Nancy Drew novels are apparently re-written entirely from scratch and the only thing retained between editions is sometimes the title. Still, it does tend to deceive readers as to attitudes in the early part of the 20th century. I commented a while ago on the anti-Jewish attitude in George Orwell's DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON, and one finds similar slurs in G. K. Chesterton's FOUR FAULTLESS FELONS and some of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Those have not been sanitized for modern audiences. Is it because Christie herself was still alive and wanted the changes made, while the other authors were no longer around to approve changes? Perhaps. But it is telling that the anti-Jewish remarks in TEN LITTLE INDIANS were apparently removed only when the derogatory references to blacks were removed. Clearly the latter was a publishing necessity, at least in terms of the title, and so it was easier to make the former changes at the same time as well. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           A lifetime of happiness!  No man alive 
           could bear it: it would be hell on earth.
                                          -- George Bernard Shaw

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