MT VOID 10/20/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 16, Whole Number 1357

MT VOID 10/20/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 16, Whole Number 1357

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/20/06 -- Vol. 25, No. 16, Whole Number 1357

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

More on THE DEPARTED (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I mentioned in my review of THE DEPARTED that the character of Frank Costello was not based on the real life Frank Costello who was the model for Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER. Dan Kimmel tells me that the character is actually based on another racketeer named "Whitey" Bulger. The name is pronounced like "one who bulges." Wikipedia informs me that this is the gangster James Joseph "Whitey" Bulger, who is in the #5 position on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. (Get this: #4 is Osama Bin Laden. I leave to your imagination how bad #s 1, 2, and 3 are. Or check .) Whitey Bulger is well-connected. He is the brother of William Michael "Billy" Bulger. In spite of having a middle name in quotes Billy Bulger has been in his time the President of the Massachusetts State Senate and the president of the University of Massachusetts, my alma mater. Massachusetts is one tight little place. Boston is actually sort of the South Florida of the North. [-mrl]

The Mystique of the Fifties Science Fiction Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This year at the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles I attended a panel on the 1950s science fiction film. On the panel was Bill Warren. Now Warren has to be one of the world's leading experts on the science fiction films of the 1950s. He is the author of KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES, a massive two-volume film-by-film study of science fiction films from 1950 to 1962. Bill asked the audience a question that was very apt. He wanted to know what was the special appeal of the science fiction films of that decade, the 1950s. Unquestionably the science fiction films of that time seem to have a special sort of attraction. Older fans remember those films with a real fondness. Certainly it is far more than the science fiction films of the 1970s or 1980s. What is it about these films that accounts for this mystique?

With the two or three minutes of thought I had under the circumstances I came up with what I think is part of the answer. From the time of ancient Egypt to 1945 two giant forces had ruled the world. One was politics and the other was military power. One made decisions and told people what they should do, and the other was the muscle to back up those orders. We had gotten into World War I through politics and military power. For that matter that was how we had gotten into all of our wars that way and that was how we had gotten out of them. But World War II was at that time unique in the way it ended. It was the same two forces that had gotten us into World War II, but that was not how we got out. A third force was coming to prominence. That was science. Science rather than politics or military power ended that war.

The truth was that much of the war was won because the Allies had better scientists. For example, Winston Churchill claimed that the only thing that really frightened him in the German power was the U-boat threat. Then some little mathematicians in a university in England in very large part neutralized that threat. The war in the Pacific was reversed at the Battle of Midway and luck played a role, but a major part was played by fore-knowledge of what the Japanese plan was. And that intelligence came from mathematicians. The British and the Americans had each broken their enemies' codes. Those facts came to be known in the 1950s. But everybody knew what ended the war was a sudden flash like a deus ex machina provided by physicists and mathematicians.

It was clear that science was now a large part of people's lives and would be for the rest of everybody's lives. Things were going to change. Science was the new force, a new power in the world. And it was more colorful. It excited people's imaginations. It was the shock of the change that was coming that fueled science. Science was on everybody's minds and that was exciting.

Bill said that change does not excite people. It frightens them. I let the matter drop, deciding that I wanted to write an editorial about the subject. And I guess this is it. Yes, certainly Bill is right that there are some people whom change frightens. Perhaps everybody is frightened by it to some extent, but many people, particularly the young are also excited by change. I remember my father telling me that when he as seven years old (that was 1927) everybody in his class was excited about the new film that had been released. The film was WINGS. My father wanted desperately to see the film with these wonderful airplanes. They had heard about the dogfights and wanted to see them. I am sure to adults the idea of this new weapon and the changes it would bring was a little frightening. But kids think they are immortal. Change brings with it excitement and adventure. Kids want to be a part of that thrill.

In the 1950s I doubt if many kids took seriously the threat that there might be a Rhedosaurus that comes strolling out of the Hudson River, but it was a fun idea. But they wanted to play in their minds with the ideas that perhaps there could be some really interesting side effects of a thermonuclear blast. The effects of nuclear power was for the young of that time the equivalent of what the bi-planes were in the 1920s. There were adults who were worried about what would happen if the Soviets got the same power. For kids and for adults who wanted to spend a few hours in child-like wonder and safe chills, the new science fiction films offered a lot of fun. There were a very few films in that decade that looked at the threat of the new science for real. Toward the end of the decade there was ON THE BEACH, for example. But that is really science fiction for a mainstream and mostly adult audience. But by far the greatest part of the 1950s wave of science fiction films played off of the excitement of this new force of science. It now was something that everybody was aware of. The kids who wanted to see WINGS in the 1920s were a lot like the kids who wanted to see THE WAR OF THE WORLDS in the 1950s. And they were both a lot like the kids who loved the science fiction pulp magazines which also dealt in safe but deliciously scary images from a new frontier.

There are really two phenomena that have to be accounted for. Why did science fiction films start having this mystique and why did later films stop having it?

What happened to the caché that 1950s films had? Why did the 1960s films not share it? Why did the later science fiction films not seem of the same interest? First, I do not entirely believe that just the 1950s films have this excitement. Certainly there were films of the later decades I still find exciting. The appeal did not come to an end at the end of that decade. Even Bill Warren's book continues though films of 1962. And there are some science fiction films of the 1960s, perhaps more sophisticated, but which excite me in much the same way the 1950s films did. Further, the next generation of filmmakers had been born knowing about the atomic bomb all their lives and no longer saw science as bringing a new and exciting age. A large number of science fiction films became dour and purportedly socially relevant exercises like FAHRENHEIT 451, ZPG, and THX-1138. It was a time of message films that talked down to the audience. It is hard to get excited about a future where people get formed into blocks of protein to feed other people.

I should add there are 1950s science fiction films that do not share the mystique. I do not think there was much viewer excitement for the likes of UNKNOWN TERROR, THE FLAME BARRIER, KING DINOSAUR, THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES, or THE MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL. These are films that played for a short time, mostly at drive-ins and matinees, and then were quickly and mercifully forgotten. This mystique may be correlated to the 1950s films, but it extends to films not from the 1950s and certainly not to all films of the 1950s. The good reputation of 1950s science fiction films is based on several films to varying degrees, but not on that high a percentage of the films made in those years. Still there were enough good films to make the 1950s science fiction films popular long after most films from that period have dropped off the radar. [-mrl]

Bob Tucker and Crickets (letter of comment by John Purcell):

John Purcell writes:

It's kind of weird writing a loc after the news fandom has been rocked with. I find myself alternating between sadness and smiles when I remember all the times that I have had the pleasure of being in Bob Tucker's company. I don't know about you, but even though I've been expecting this news, it still stunned me. At least we all can share in the same thought: we have been blessed with his presence. So are you writing any kind of a tribute in his memory? [-jp]

[Mark replies: I would be the wrong person to write one. I never actually met the man and never really read much of his writing. I guess he has been in my blind spot since I have only vaguely been aware of his presence. -mrl]

Hopefully, early next week the latest issue of my zine, "In A Prior Lifetime", will be posted; my personal tribute to Bob leads the issue off. Fanzines everywhere should be appearing in the next week with their thoughts and memorials. It is going to be very awesome and humbling. As for your latest issue, all I can think of is how Darwinism has reared its head yet again. Sure is a bummer to be a cricket in Kauai nowadays, isn't it? Can you imagine what Pinocchio would be like given this information? Picture Jiminy Cricket sitting on top of his little grass shack in Hawaii, breaks into his song: "When you wish upon a star...." And suddenly, this deep droning comes out of the darkness as swarms of these flies swoop down on Kauai in waves like Japanese Zeros, and larvae-bomb Jiminy Cricket into oblivion. Kind of like a cross between PINOCCHIO, TORA TORA TORA!, and the scene where the grasshoppers arrive on the island in ANTZ. Very surreal. [-jp]

[Mark says: I wish I had written that. -mrl]

Thanks for floating this issue my way. Take care, and I'll let you know when my zine is up on efanzines. [-jp]

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

CATHOLICS by Brian Moore (ISBN 0-829-42333-8) was made into a 1973 made-for-television movie. Back then, it was science fiction; now it is alternate history. The premise is that Vatican II was followed by Vatican III and Vatican IV (which changed the nature of the Mass and banned private confessions in favor of collective confession by the congregation). In particular, the rulings of Vatican II (the Mass in the vernacular, with priests facing the congregation, are being enforced. A monastery on an island off the coast of Ireland has persisted in saying the Mass in Latin and Rome has sent a representative (Martin Sheen in the movie) to deal with the problem. This is definitely a more philosophical (and theological) script than one usually finds in a made-for- television movie, and is recommended. (I found it on an EastWest double feature DVD for a dollar! I will note, however, that the music can at times be very obtrusive.) The movie does concentrate on the "Latin [Tridentine] mass" and only mentions the other aspects (confessions, ecumenicalism, etc.) in passing, while these figure more importantly in the book. Ironically, just a few days ago it was reported that the Pope is about to sign a document that would make it easier for priests to celebrate the Mass in Latin than it currently is.

INTRODUCING MATHEMATICS by Ziauddin Sardar, Jerry Ravetz and Borin Van Loon (ISBN 1-84046-11-3) has the same flaws that Sardar and Van Loon's INTRODUCING SCIENCE (reviewed in the 07/29/05 issue of the MT VOID) had: it spends more time criticizing Western colonialism and imperialism than introducing mathematics. I suppose that Eurocentrism and ethno-mathematics may be interesting topics, but they are not mathematics per se.

[There seems to be a strong movement in the name of mathematics to steer people away from the study of mathematics itself and into social issues. This is fine for people pushing a social agenda, but as far as mathematics goes it is a sort of unilateral intellectual disarmament. -mrl]

PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT by Agatha Christie (ISBN 0-312-98170-8) is subtitled "An Extravaganza by Agatha Christie". This is Christie foray out of the mystery genre into the international thriller genre, and fails (in my opinion) because she relies on too many of the "tricks" that work in her mysteries. I talked in the 07/14/06 issue of the MT VOID about some of these: the mis-identified corpse, the deceptive murder, and so on. One I did not mention at the time was the coincidence, both meaningless and meaningful. A meaningless coincidence would be that the mysterious new lodger is actually the long-lost son of the local squire, but his return turns out to have nothing to do with the murder of the squire. A meaningful coincidence would be that the aunt in England of the detective happens to know many of the people involved in a murder that took place in France. PASSENGER TO FRANKFURT seem to rely too much on the latter. In addition, I think Christie works well on a small palette: a murder in a resort, a theft in a manor, etc. When she tries to write global conspiracies, she ends up out of her depth.

THE FOUR JUST MEN by Edgar Wallace (ISBN 0-486-24642-6) is another attempt at a larger mystery, though in this case the focus is on a single crime planned by a group engaged in righting wrongs around the world: The Four Just Men. Far more interesting than what the murder plans are, though, is the whole issue of vigilante justice. (One could see "The Four Just Men" as a team of super-heroes whose powers are intelligence and guile.) Wallace does not spend much time on this, though. (This was his first novel and released without its final chapter, and the gimmick of a prize to the readers who could figure out the ending. The Dover edition includes the conclusion from a later edition.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
                                          -- Sir Edmund Hillary

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