MT VOID 06/16/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 51, Whole Number 1339

MT VOID 06/16/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 51, Whole Number 1339

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/16/06 -- Vol. 24, No. 51, Whole Number 1339

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

The American Film Institute's Top 10 Inspirational Films(film comments by Mark R. Leeper):

According to Wikipedia, "The American Film Institute (AFI) is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act. . . . The American Film Institute focuses on training through hands-on experience with established figures in the AFI Conservatory, as well as on preserving old film, which is subject to degradation of its film stock." I am sure it does all sorts of good things behind the scenes, but the AFI gets the most attention as the creators and publishers of film lists. They make lists of the greatest movies, the greatest film quotes, etc. Every year or so they come up with a list that gets a double-page spread in “USA Today”. To find a large set of top 100 and top 10 lists go to . (And don't miss the top of the column on the left for a bunch more lists.)

This week the AFI has announced their list of the ten most inspirational films. Being both a cynic and a film fan, it has inspired me to comment on each member of this list starting with number 10. Many of these films are inspiring to the general public, but not particularly to me since, as I say, I am a cynic. I notice however that none of these is an overtly religious film. They all fall into general secular inspiration.

Also I note that as much as it seems to be the general opinion of the public that Steven Spielberg makes manipulative films, he still has directed three of the ten films found by the AFI members to be the most inspirational. I should say that I think this list should not be the ten best films that happen to have an inspirational message. It should be the ten films that have greatest inspiration. And they have to be inspirational in a way the viewer can use. It is hard to be very inspired by anything that Superman does, because we all know that Superman rarely risks anything. He has superpowers and it is nice that he uses them for good, but he is not my idea of a hero, in spite of him being called a super-hero.


I think this film really was inspiring, but not for the scenes most people think. It was not the talk after the slam-bang opening of the film that impressed me with our veterans. It is the slam-bang opening. All those John Wayne World War II movies portrayed war to be a noble life with some occasional danger. Nobody I knew had ever showed the horrifying, chaotic confusion that war can be. Steven Spielberg shows us what something like the D-Day landing could have been like. Not many people knew what war could really be like until they saw this film. The only other film with a sequence of comparable impact was with the airdrop in the second episode of "Band of Brothers." The people who went through that breed of hell certainly have my respect.


I have to say that before I could even consider this film as being inspirational I would have to know what it is inspiring. Is it suggesting that we all believe in Santa Claus and everything will work out. This is a nice enjoyable post-War Christmas film but it does not do a lot more for me than that. People who fought in World War II were looking for something light, not something inspirational. It is, by the way, based on a book by Valentine Davies, who also wrote the book IT HAPPENS EVERY SPRING. That latter book was faithfully adapted into one of the very few sports films I like.


And this is not one of the sports films I like. I cannot claim I remember it really well. I seem to remember there was some good comic writing, but the bicycle racing did not do a lot for me. It seems to be it is another sports film that builds up to the big game, or in this case a race.


John Steinbeck was a great American writer. I would put him up in the range of Twain. THE GRAPES OF WRATH is a great document of the pain that some of our fellow country-people experienced. I am not sure I see a lot of inspiration in the film other than to have compassion for others in need. It is more a document of pain. This is not to say anything against the film, which is a great one, but I am not sure I know what it is inspiring. What does the main character determine to do at the end? Apparently to be one of "the people." He actually already was one. I would say it is a good film, but I do not get much inspiration from it.


I find even less to be inspired about in E.T. THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL. It seems to have a lesson to be compassionate to cute aliens in need. Perhaps the message here is to do what you think is right and not what people in authority tell you to do. I am not sure that parents would be all that happy that their kids are getting that message. Overall, I would say it is hard to be inspirational in a world where wishing makes things so.


This is not an inspirational film. There is nothing very inspirational about seeing that your government is thoroughly corrupt and you have to nearly kill yourself to do some good. At the same time is seems unlikely that this weirdo--and the film does make him a weirdo--could change the tide of the United States government. I guess that it shows what one man can do if he starts by being a political appointee who is expected not to use his power. I guess that is inspirational in a way, but he is one more hero exerting a power the viewers do not have. He does have character, I suppose.

4. ROCKY, 1976

I was ahead of my time in not thinking much of the “Rocky” series. I did not think much of the first film even back when the Academy was giving it the Best Picture. Here is the message: you can redeem your life if you have will and determination and someone picks your name out of a hat and then likes your name. Remember, Rocky got his shot at the title only by a very unlikely piece of luck. I suppose you can say that he had the character to redeem himself and so could take advantage of a highly unlikely opportunity.


Oskar Shindler was through much of the film more of an anti-hero than a hero. He was acting in self-interest in what turned out to be a win-win situation. He was in an unlikely position to do the good that he did, but historically he was in that position. He slowly matures into a person of great character. Yes, I have to agree with a few reservations that this is for me an inspirational film.


No doubt about it, this film has earned its right to be on this list. Atticus Finch was the top of the AFI list of film heroes and he certainly is that. This is probably Gregory Peck's best role as a man both of justice and of humanity. Everybody has two or three scenes in this film that make them go misty. For me one is when the two children after having said that their father was not much good at anything important see that all the blacks in town stand up to show their respect when their father walks by. This is probably the most inspirational film on this list.


Here is where I lose myself some fans. This film is okay, but it is highly contrived. George Bailey, on the verge of suicide, gets a chance to see how the world would have been different had he not been alive. And--guess what--every single difference is for the worse. You don't see the kid who was so disappointed because George Bailey beat him at a spelling bee. Or perhaps the kid who wanted the job delivering for the drugstore and could not because George got the job. Sam Wainright does not seem very hurt that George got his girl. Everybody in town seems to owe George for something. George really has a lot of friends.

Now that I have criticized so many of these films, I hope I still have friends.

Oh, if there are films I would take off the list, there would have to be films I think deserve to be on the list. Who are the most inspirational figures for me? I would say Atticus Finch should stay on the list. So should Oskar Schindler. And the soldiers who go through hell doing their duty. I would add Sir Thomas More from A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS as a man of great integrity who thinks preternaturally clearly even under the worst circumstances. And I would add a dark horse: the character Mr. Singer from THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER.

[Thanks go to Nick Sauer for pointing out this list and asking my opinion.] [-mrl]

Various Topics (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

Taras Wolansky writes on various topics in the 06/09/06 issue of the MT VOID:

A stimulating issue. (I don't think I read the previous one yet; but I may yet LoC it, too.)

When I looked into the "water engine", the trick appeared to be using the battery to get hydrogen and oxygen, and burning it to give the engine a boost. It improved efficiency--if you didn't count the charging of the battery!

On the subject of rats, I think of Bertram Chandler's magnificent, Retro-Hugo nominated novella, "Giant Killer", and Tiptree's "The Psychologist Who Wouldn't Do Awful Things to Rats".

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING was one of the funniest books I ever read but (as many reviewers pointed out) by the time the movie came out twelve years later it was hardly cutting edge. N.B.: Nick Naylor gives up shilling for tobacco at the end of the movie.

The fact the movie never actually shows anybody smoking lost it one of the book's funniest scenes, when Nick tries to go back to chain-smoking, after surviving nicotine terrorism. In the movie he's simply told he can't smoke any more. Which, since you've never seen him smoke in the first place, has no impact at all.

The central theme of ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL is the lack of any real standards of excellence in modern art. Thus, the professor and the class idolize the primitive daubs of an undercover policeman pretending to be an art student. (Funny scene where the art school weirdos call this whitebread character a weirdo.) Representational art, like that of our hero, is devalued.

"More from wishful thinking than from the real world" (50 WAYS OF SAYING FABULOUS): I call it the Hollywood Rule of Inversion.

David Duchovny complained that, on "The X-Files", he would often lose his fights and get knocked out--while his diminutive female partner (not much more than half his weight) would always win. The Rule of Inversion. In heist movies, the electronics expert is Black; on "Mythbusters" it's an Asian guy--because it's real.

Police movies: in the training scene, the woman beats up the guys. Real life: a policewoman gets involved in a fight with a robber, because the policeman who would normally escort her to her car (!) was unavailable that evening, and, unable to take down the robber, she has to shoot him. (I read about this in "New York Magazine" a few years ago.) At least he didn't overpower her and take her gun, as in the Atlanta case last year.

Of course, I didn't like MOBY DICK when I read an abridged version in high school. More recently, I listened to it on tape, unabridged, and liked it very well. The sheer hardihood of the whalers is jaw-dropping. It's full of scenes that cry out for the camera, though some may be too politically incorrect or, in details of whaling techniques, too horrifying for a modern audience. (Yes, horror movies depict horrifying things being done--but only to people!) [-tw]

The Water-Fueled Car (letter of comment by George MacLachlan):

In response to Mark's comments on the water engine in the 06/09/06 issue of the MT VOID, George MacLachlan writes:

"I believe I saw the CNN report you are referring to as someone emailed the thing to me. After reading your article on this subject, it wasn't clear that you had a chance to see the news reel being referred to (I've attached a copy to this email, for your reference). [Temporarily at -mrl] Mr. Klein's use of water to help fuel his car is apparently only possible because he is using it as a supplement to his gasoline engine. The gas engine provides the electricity necessary to support his electrolysis process and the resulting "Brown's Gas" is then used by his engine in a manner not explained by the news clip. The news clip also does not go into any details as to whether the process results in any net savings of gasoline consumption. My guess would be that the additional energy needed to produce electricity to generate Brown's Gas is not to far from the additional burden placed on an engine to run an air conditioner--both resulting in a decrease in net MPG. An interesting news clip though." [-gfm]

Big Explosions in Chemistry (letter of comment by David Goldfarb):

In response to Mark's comments on the water engine in the 06/09/06 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes, "If you haven't seen, then I highly recommend that you do so. It's essentially the old 'alkali metals in water' bit from high school, but . . . scaled up a little. Lots of fun. (And relevant to your "water engine" article because the explosive agent involved is in fact hydrogen gas.)" [-dg]

Mark answers, "Well, it is no wonder we are falling behind other countries in science. Britain shows their people why they should be interested in science." [-mrl]

(Related site: there is a Flash Version of the Periodic Table, with illustrations, no less, at .

ACCELERANDO by Charles Stross (copyright 2005, Ace, $24.95, 390pp, ISBN 0-441-01284-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

We come to the conclusion of my reviews of this year's Hugo- nominated novels with a very different, very strange novel called ACCELERANDO. (Before you say, "Wait a minute, he didn't review the Martin,” let me say that I didn't read the first two or three doorstops in the series and I'm not about to read them, and then the new one, now.) ACCELERANDO is a lot like CUSP by Robert Metzger in that this is either one of the most brilliant novels I've ever read, or one of the biggest messes I've ever read. In this case, it's one of the most brilliant, and it's certainly much better than CUSP is.

ACCELERANDO is a tied-together set of stories that Stross had published in ASIMOV’S over the last several years, some of which were Hugo-nominated as standalones when they first appeared. It tells the story of three generations of the Macx family as they live through the Singularity--Manfred, his daughter Amber, and her son Sirhan. I read somewhere that most writers avoid the issue of the Singularity itself, and tell stories that happen *after* it. Stross took it head on, going right through it to get to his end. And yet, we're not sure if it ever happened, but it does seem like it.

Manfred is an entrepreneur who comes up with what seems like a million ideas a minute, and gives them away so that others can profit from them. He has a great "good will" rating, if you will. He doesn't have any money, and doesn't need any--he gets everything given to him by folks who have benefited from his ideas. He has an on-again, off-again relationship which eventually ends up in marriage and divorce with Pamela, with whom he has a daughter named Amber. Pamela works for the IRS and is trying to get Manfred to pay back taxes, and turns into quite the domineering mother after the divorce, trying to keep her from her father. He works a complicated (heck, *everything* in this book is way too complicated to explain--just go with it) to keep her out of Pamela's clutches. Amber ends up in orbit around Saturn (I think), becoming the queen of her domain.

Things get complicated after that.

You see, the Solar System is being dismantled by the Vile Offspring in order to turn dumb matter into computronium (yeah, I had a little trouble believing that word) to turn the Solar System into one vast computer and move the human race into its next stage of development. Or something like that.

Are you with me so far?

So, Amber and her crew, by now uploaded into some sort of cyberpunkian virtual environment, spawn backups of themselves before going off in search of a router orbiting a brown dwarf that supposedly will connect mankind into the galactic network. Or something like that.

With me?

Amber and the crew come back, and, well, the backups had lives of their own. Amber now has a son named Sirhan. Oh yeah, the Amber who went to the router is called Sirhan's "eigenmother". Anyway, Pamela and Manfred are still around, and there is some effort to get what's left of humankind out of the Solar System before the Vile Offspring dismantle it altogether.

Did I tell you about the mechanical cat name Aineko?

In the end, this isn't a light read. You have to concentrate on it. But there are so many outstanding ideas and things that make you want to go "hmmm" that when all was said and done, I decided I loved the book. This isn't a book heavy on characterization, but it doesn't need to be. It just works.


Okay, as I said, I'm done reading and reviewing the Hugo nominated novels. In the true spirit of free information, here's how I'm voting for the Hugo:

  2. SPIN

    In reality, I'd be happy if *any* of them won. But, since I have to rank them, there you are.

    In the next installment I'll talk about my choices in the short categories as well as the Dramatic Presentation categories. [-jak]

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

    I was recently in a superstore book chain that shall remain nameless (but it is not Barnes & Noble), and noticed that they had a section labeled "Untranslated Section". This seems like a very odd example of political correctness, because this would certainly have been called the "Foreign Language" section a few years ago. (Assuming that it even existed, which it probably would not have.)

    The title "Untranslated Section" would not be so objectionable were it not also just plain wrong--and for two reasons. First, it implies that the rest of the store is translated, but of course it is not. Yes, in the literature section you will find Borges and Flaubert and Tolstoy in translations, and in the philosophy section Plato and Aristotle, and in the religion section Thomas Acquinas and the Bible, but the vast majority of the books in the store were written in the same English they appear in. Okay, but you may say that the "Untranslated Section" means "Untranslated *Non-English* Books". Then what are Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, and Tom Clancy doing there translated into Spanish (or whatever--I happened to be looking at only the Spanish section)?

    I should not complain too much, I suppose. Back even twenty years ago, one would not have found any books in Spanish in a general bookstore. (I suspect even the Barnes & Noble headquarters store in New York would have directed you to Macondo or Lectorum bookstores for that.) Now, yes, a lot of what is in the suburban superstore is popular fiction translated *into* Spanish from English, German, or whatever. But the store I was in also had what appeared to be all the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and Isabel Allende. They even had "El club dumas" by Arturo Perez-Reverte. (But no Jorge Luis Borges, a real disappointment since I am looking for him in Spanish. For that matter, even the Borges in translation was limited to his four best-known works.)

    I just wish they would label it the "Foreign Language Section". Or, if they prefer, the "Non-English Section".

    Our local library had its annual book sale this week, but we found only five books to get. Actually, we found four at the sale and one in the room where they have the on-going sale. This room is probably the main reason why the annual sale was so disappointing--rather than saving up all the books for a year and then having a humungous sale, the Friends of the Library sell them year 'round. And certainly if I add up what I have bought there over the past year, it probably comes to a couple of dozen books. But the thrill of a major book binge has vanished. But this book sale also demonstrated the same trend we saw at the Bryn Mawr book sale--higher prices. The general paperback and hardbacks at the library sale are about the same price as before (fifty cents for most paperbacks, etc.), but a lot more books are labeled as "coffee-table" or "collector's" books and priced higher than they used to be. (I have to admit that three to five dollars is not an unreasonable price for a three-inch-thick Norton anthology in good condition, but I've been spoiled by finding them at the thrift shop for ten cents.)

    (By the way, does anyone know of a site that has the tables of contents for the various Norton anthologies in electronic form? I would love to be able to search them when looking for a particular poem or essay.)

    SUPERHEROES AND PHILOSOPHY edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris (ISBN 0-8126-9573-9) is a collection of essays that is volume thirteen in a series called "Popular Culture and Philosophy", whose earlier volumes cover Seinfeld, the Simpsons, the Matrix, Buffy. "Lord of the Rings", baseball, the Sopranos, Woody Allen, Harry Potter, Mel Gibson's "The Passion", and more. This volume deals with superheroes, primarily comic book superheroes. (That is, there is not much talk about Hercules or Mercury except in conjunction with such comic-book parallels as Superman or The Flash.) The most interesting essay (to me, anyway) was Christopher Robichaud's "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On the Moral Duties of the Super-Powerful and Super-Heroic", which analyzes the superhero's responsibilities in terms of Jeremy Bentham's and John Stuart Mills's utilitarianism and Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative". Another essay worth pointing out is Michael Thau's "Comic-Book Wisdom", which analyzes the disappearance of wisdom in comic books, due (Thau says) to our skepticism and cynicism about wisdom. For example, the original Captain Marvel takes on both the strength of Hercules and the wisdom of Solomon, while the more recent version acquires the strength of Hercules but *not* the wisdom of Solomon—his wisdom becomes merely an external voice giving advice. For fans of comic books, this book is certainly highly recommended, but I am not a fan and even I enjoyed this enough to recommend it.

    LINT by Steve Aylett (ISBN 1-56025-684-2) is a novel, a purported biography of the (fictional) author Jeff Lint. I emphasize the fictional aspect, because this book comes with all the paraphrenalia that would make you think that Lint was real and that this is a real biography--footnotes, bibliography, index, .... But certainly an early hint is that Lint's mother has him reading Pierre Menard (a fictional author created by Jorge Luis Borges). Another is that he sells a couple of stories under the pseudonym "Isaac Asimov". And while Lint sells some stories to real editors such as John W. Campbell and real magazines such as "Astounding" and "Startling", he also sells to magazines such as "Baffling", "Useless", "Terrible", "Bewildering", "Confusing", "Frazzling", "Scalding", "Mental", "Marginal", "Fatal", "Made- Up", "Meandering", "Appalling", "Tales to Appall", "Daring Adventure Stories", "Troubling Developments", "Maggoty", "Maximum Tentacles", and my favorite, "Way Beyond Your Puny Mind". A little of this goes a long way, though, and this book is best taken in small doses. While I managed to get half-way through (with the promise of a Lintian "Star Trek" script mentioned in one review luring me on), I only skimmed the rest. As one reviewer noted, a problem is that it is not just Lint who is bizarre, but everyone (including the narrator), so there is no respite from the surrealism. Aylett may have intended this, but to me it is overkill.

    One more thing: If you are a film fan, run, do not walk, to read Tim Pratt's "Impossible Dreams" in the July 2006 issue of ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE. [-ecl]

                                              Mark Leeper
    Quote of the Week:
               A prudent question is one-half of wisdom.
                                              -- Francis Bacon

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