MT VOID 08/08/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 6, Whole Number 1505

MT VOID 08/08/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 6, Whole Number 1505

@@@@@ @   @ @@@@@    @     @ @@@@@@@   @       @  @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@
  @   @   @ @        @ @ @ @    @       @     @   @   @   @   @  @
  @   @@@@@ @@@@     @  @  @    @        @   @    @   @   @   @   @
  @   @   @ @        @     @    @         @ @     @   @   @   @  @
  @   @   @ @@@@@    @     @    @          @      @@@@@ @@@@@ @@@

Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/08/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 6, Whole Number 1505

Table of Contents

      El Honcho Grande: Mark Leeper, La Honcha Bonita: 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

A Pearl Anniversary (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I won't make this a fancy announcement, but the MT VOID is passing another milestone event. Just a few weeks ago we hit our 1500th issue. John Purcell was perceptive enough to notice that that was 28.9 years of publishing a weekly zine. We started out when we founded a science fiction club at Bell Laboratories. We sent out an issue before meetings to remind people a meeting was coming up. And we sent out an issue after meetings to tell members what book we would discuss at the next meeting. Since at that time we met bi-weekly we sent did not send out one notice a week, we sent out two notices a day or so apart every two weeks. It averaged an issue a week, but it was not really weekly. After a while we switched to tri-weekly meetings so it was two issues every three weeks. So it was 2/3 of an issue a week, though occasionally there was an extra issue to announce something special. Almost immediately we started putting in comment and attempted humor stretching into articles. So we actually were publishing for a little longer than 28.9 years. In fact, our first issue went out on August 10, 1978. This means that the day after tomorrow will be our 30th anniversary.

That is our Pearl Anniversary. However please do not send us any pearls. A pearl is the result of some mollusk getting an irritant in its mouth and exuding some body fluid to at least smooth out the edges so it is less of a bother. That makes this gem not so much like a ruby, which is really a stone, but the result of a living process. Wearing a string of pearls is a lot like wearing a necklace of scabs or of kidney stones. It can be very nice until you think about what it is. I guess pearl is like honey in that regard. [-mrl]

And I will add that of the eleven original charter members of the Bell Labs science fiction club, only three are left on the mailing list: the two of us and George MacLachlan. So a big congrats to George for his staying power! [-ecl]

The Internet and Fandom (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Back in the 1950s and 1960s science fiction fans had to work much harder to get their ideas heard. That is why they went to science fiction conventions and published fanzines. Now it is a lot easier since we have the Internet. But the Internet also seduces many of the same sort of fan away being active in science fiction, but giving him so many alternatives at his fingertips. The Internet pervades everything. It is not just a mixed blessing, it is homogenized. [-mrl]

The Comic Book Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This year we are getting one film after another based on comic books. Years ago film adaptations used to be from novels or short stories. A film based on a comic book would have been a real rarity. 1943 had actually two Batman serials, but they were half-hearted efforts that were low-budget and lower quality affairs. Batman in an ill-fitting costume and a cowl with floppy bat ears looked more like a court jester than like the Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT. Certainly he would have elicited peals of laughter from the Joker and perhaps from modern day audiences. The plots did not fit the character even as well as the costume did.

The 1943 Batman:

Batman films have come a long way. THE DARK KNIGHT is an edgy and intelligent film that involves the comic book characters. But these days filmmakers are finding that comic book stories adapt well to film. There is enough written in the comic book medium that one can find films as different in story type (and as similar) as IRON MAN and THE ROAD TO PERDITION. There must be as many graphic novels as prose novels published each year and the graphic novels are more likely to be a subject matter adaptable to cinema.

Perhaps the comic book is particularly appropriate as a basis for film. In some ways no other major medium is so similar to cinema as the comic book form. One similarity is the length and complexity of story. Most novel-length prose stories are too long and complex to translate well to film. One could better adapt a novelette to film, but these days not much fiction is published in the novelette length. How many popular authors write in the novel length and how many in the novelette length? Comic books may be a more fertile source for filmmakers. And comic books probably beat out novels in their appeal to the younger audience that has the dollars to spend on films these days.

Another major similarity is that film and comic books tell stories but are still in a visual medium. A novel is made of words, but a comic book like a film is made of both words and visual images. Indeed, if one were to storyboard an entire film, as Alfred Hitchcock usually did, would be essentially telling the story first in what is effectively comic book form. The film is shot from the comic book form. Steven Spielberg storyboarded RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and then published the storyboards as very much a comic book version of his film.

The success of IRON MAN earlier this year and the later success for THE DARK KNIGHT will likely lead to us seeing many more comic book films, at least in the summertime. For me this is a bit lamentable since comic book films are generally not my favorite type of cinema, but I can always enjoy a good film in any genre. What is needed, of course, is good writing and good direction. THE ROAD TO PERDITION, based on a comic, was just a good dark crime film. At the time I was surprised that so good a film could be based on a comic book. And I admit that again I was surprised when film as good as THE DARK KNIGHT was based on a superhero comic book. There are, of course, no cinematic rules as to what makes a good film.

I suspect that there will be no film based on a graphic novel this year that is better then THE DARK KNIGHT. With perhaps a few outlying exceptions like THE ROAD TO PERDITION, THE DARK KNIGHT may be the best film ever based on comic book material. The secret, though it seems to be one hard to communicate to film industry executives, is that good writing is all-important for a good film. And no writer brings more intelligence to a screenplay than DARK KNIGHT director Christopher Nolan.

There may be no cinematic rules as to what makes a good film. But there are rules from the comic book as to what makes an acceptable comic book adaptation. The problem with a superhero comic book film is not that there is room for depth, but if it is there it has to nestle side-by-side with the shallow. You might have an interesting and deep superhero and an interesting and deep super-villain, but you know that the film is not going to end with them getting a deep philosophical understanding of each other and the nature of conflict, much less the nature of mankind. It has to all lead to a big fight with one guy in a costume trying to marshal more force than the other guy in a costume. Probably there will be big explosions or something visually spectacular put together on a computer.

THE DARK KNIGHT has some interesting characters, a few ideas on the philosophy of superheroes, and maybe even a message or two relevant to current events. But I went into the film knowing (or strongly suspecting) that it would not have the interesting science fiction puzzle of director Christopher Nolan's previous film THE PRESTIGE. It would not even have the creativity of Nolan's earlier MEMENTO. It is just going to be two people who get together for a climactic fight. To paraphrase a favorite quote from Samuel Johnson, it is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It is not that THE DARK KNIGHT is great cinema, it is just amazing that with all the constraints of a superhero film that it is as good as it is. [-mrl]

The Cost of Travel (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

When people talk about how expensive travel is today, I am reminded of the following quote from 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD: "Sheila was home for a month's break and we have been gadding about a bit to the seaside for day trips and sightseeing and must now pull in our horns a bit, as the cost of transport here is terrific." [May 4, 1952, from Nora Doel to Helene Hanff] This is public transportation; the Doels were still trying to get a car. They finally did, a few months later, and were thrilled with it, even though it was a 1939 model. Think about it--for us now, that would mean being thrilled to get a 1995 car. [-ecl]

HIDDEN EMPIRE: THE SAGA OF SEVEN SUNS BOOK 1 by Kevin J. Anderson (copyright 2002, Aspect Science Fiction, $6.99, 654pp, ISBN 0-446-61057-7) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

So, for my Alaskan vacation I decided that I wanted to take one or two fat doorstops to read. After perusing my to-read stack, I decided that one of them should be HIDDEN EMPIRE: THE SAGA OF SEVEN SUNS BOOK 1 by Kevin J. Anderson. Readers of these humble little book reviews will recognize Kevin J. Anderson as one of the co-authors of the recent spate of "Dune" novels, most significantly the conclusion to the original "Dune" saga as written by Frank Herbert before he passed away. My main interest in reading THE SAGA OF SEVEN SUNS was to see if Anderson was capable of writing on his own in his own universe. He's well known for playing in other authors' sandboxes, but I wanted to see what he could do if he played in his own.

The setting is the future, of course. Humanity has spread to the stars with the aid of the race known as the Ildirans. The Ildirans are an ancient humaniod race with many different breeds, called kiths. Think of the kiths as castes, and I think it works. Humanity had sent out a number of generation starships to seed the galaxy with our kind, and one was intercepted by the Ildirans. The Ildirans eventually gave us star drive capability-- we really don't know what motivated them to do that--and we expanded into space.

There is another, albeit extinct, race out there, the insect-like Klikiss. We know virtually nothing about them other than what we have learned through their robot servants that have been discovered all over the galaxy. The robotic servants remember nothing about the Klikiss race--they spend most of the novel making an effort to remember what happened to them and their masters.

Humanity is divided into three branches: the Terran Hanseatic League, based on Earth; the "green priests" of Theroc, which use trees of the "worldforest" to communicate instantly across the galaxy, wherever the trees are located; and the Roamers, an independent lot which is a lot like the Fremen of Dune in that the folks of the Hanseatic League don't really know how many of them there are and who are in control of ekti, which is the fuel for the space drive that the Ildirans gave humanity. Ekti is an "allotrope" of hydrogen, and gas giant planets are mined for the hydrogen needed to make the ekti.

The novel begins with a couple of xeno-archaeologists, Louis and Margaret Colicos, using an ancient Klikiss device called the "Klikiss Torch" to turn a gas giant into a star--it's a sort of ignition device, I'd guess you'd say. The ignition is a smashing success, except for one little detail that goes almost completely unnoticed except by Margaret--some spherical objects are seen flying out of the gas giant as it is ignited. These spherical objects turn out to be ships belonging to the hydrogue race, and guess what? They're ticked.

HIDDEN EMPIRE is the first book of a seven-book series, and given the way it's written, the reader can easily see why it's going to take seven books to finish. Those who have read the "Dune" novels have seen this already; Anderson pads the living daylights out of the story, or so it seems. Maybe there really is a lot to tell that requires this kind of structure; I don't know. Furthermore, I became increasingly aware while reading it that the style is that of short paragraphs and sentences--I almost felt as if I was being written "down to", if you will, almost like this is a YA novel rather than a book for adults.

Having said all that, it's not bad. I was interested in turning the pages and seeing what was going to happen next, so I guess that's a good thing. It's written like the space operas of old, I think, and whether THAT'S good is a matter of taste. I'll have to see what the next book brings. [-jak]

Indian Film Recommendations (film comment by Lax Madapaty):

[Longtime readers of the MT VOID will know that I have some interest in Indian popular films. My expert is Lax Madapaty who is also a general a film fan in general and an enthusiastic fan of films from his native country of India in specific. Many of these films are available from NetFlix, some from Indian video stores and some even from Indian grocers. This is his latest list of films to look for. I should point out that when he refers to a "masala" film he means a film that is a mix of drama, comedy, musical, and romance. First-timers should realize that Indian films may take some getting used to. The opinions he expresses are his own (but the same applied to my opinions). -mrl]

If you are in the mood for some quality Indian films that are not afraid to entertain, here are some recommendations. These films are available on Netflix and at your local Indian grocery/DVD store. All of them should have English subtitles. They are in Hindi except where noted. Not included in the list are Indian films that got a theatrical release in the U.S. such as THE NAMESAKE and WATER (2005), which are also recommended.

MANGAL PANDEY: The spark of the revolt against the British was ignited in 1857, but it was a failure due to lack of a nation- wide coordination, a swift and savage British reprisal, and weak leadership from the ruling class Indians. Toby Stephens (DIE ANOTHER DAY) has a great role. Songs are jarringly edited into the film and the voiceovers disrupt the pacing and dramatic impact, though inserted for the benefit of non-English speaking Indians. There is not much recorded evidence of Pandey's life but the dramatization works and I didn't think it was historically inaccurate in a blatant way. 8/10

MAIN HOON NA (Count on Me): Indian "masala" fun-busters are seldom more fun than this one. An army officer goes undercover in a college to protect his colleague's daughter and finds a lot more than he expects. Terrific music and song/dance sequences. If you are in the mood for that kind of stuff, this is a real treat. The five-minute song "Chale Jaise Parinde" is a treat, with just one edit and complex dance choreography. With Shah Rukh Khan and former Miss World Sushmita Sen. 8/10. If you like this, watch the director's follow-up with mostly the same cast and crew, OM SHANTI OM, a reincarnation drama with more great music. 8/10

TAARE ZAMEEN PAR (Stars on Earth): In general, any Aamir Khan film from this century is worth a watch. This one is on a topic fairly new to India, special ed children and how over-ambitious parents in India need to understand and care for their children more. 9/10 If you like this, you might like THE MIRACLE WORKER inspired BLACK (2005), that goes one step ahead of the original. Gorgeous camera work and production values and a rarity for Indian films in that there are no songs. 9/10

RANG DE BASANTI (Paint it Yellow): Original and inspiring film about a British lady who comes to India to make a documentary on India's freedom fighters and a group of college grads who discover a purpose for their lives after meeting her. Brilliant narrative seamlessly blends the present with the past in a series of converging flashbacks. This is a step ahead for Indian film making. 9/10

HAZAARON KHWAISHEN AISI (Thousands of Desires): Under-rated and ignored gem, this works on two levels, one as a strong political statement against the backdrop of 1960's and 70's India and Emergency rule, with a high price paid for attempting grassroots reforms in rural India, and two as a touching love story between four people spanning a decade. The director Sudhir Mishra is very well respected and most of his films are worth a see. This is generally considered to be his best. 9/10

GANGSTER (2006): Terrific twister of a movie about a criminal and the price he pays for his crimes. Shot in some wonderful locations in of all places, Korea! My vote for one of the top 10 film soundtracks in the history of Indian cinema. Every song is a gem, ranging in style from techno to Sufi music, though some of them are loose adaptations of world music. 9/10

RAINCOAT (2004): A truly stunning film that should be experienced without knowing anything about it ahead of time. IMDB says it is adapted from an O. Henry story but that is not true. Buy, don't rent this film. 10/10, one of the greatest films ever made. If you really have to know the premise, it is conversations between two ex-lovers on a rainy afternoon, exposing the vicious battle they've fought with life and its vagaries, much like the gradual peeling of an onion to reveal what is at the core.

GANDHI: MY FATHER (2007): A story that had to be told and it was fair to both Gandhi and his first son, who led a tragic life the details of which are so arcane, even I didn't know most of what happened between father and son. wonderful acting. this is what Attenborough shied away from dealing with in his film and this is what could have made that one even better. 9/10

BEING CYRUS (2005): Very interesting original film set in a Parsi family, entirely in English and not surprising given the setting. 8/10 [-lm]

Hiroshima (letter of comment by Tom Russell):

In response to Mark's article on robots and slaves in the 08/01/08 issue of the MT VOID, Tom Russell writes about "an analysis on Hiroshima not being why the Japanese surrendered, if you haven't seen: This comes from article I read on Freeman Dyson in 'Discover' magazine:" [-tr]

Mark replies: I take it you are referring to my statement "[Jack Williamson] was probably thinking of the creation of the nuclear bomb which arguably saved hundreds of thousands lives on each side of the Pacific War."

You are probably aware this is a point that has been debated. Questions of why anybody did anything in history are always controversial. The Soviets always claimed that it was their actions that brought an end to the Pacific war and not the American actions. I do know that among both the Americans and the Japanese it is generally accepted that the nuclear bomb was the foremost concern of the decision-makers.

Japan was very much steeped in the Bushido tradition. I was amazed when I was in Japan to see how it still colors daily life. That tradition says, if I understand, you focus on one goal, that of serving your master, and ignore all other concerns. This was why, I believe, the prisoner camps in the Pacific were so cruel. Any sympathy for the enemy was disloyal. You achieve your master's goal or you die trying--a most honorable death. When the Japanese determined to surrender there definitely was concern that the people would not accept a surrender that was primarily intended to save their lives. With that in mind I find unlikely the claim that it was the USSR invading Manchuria so many miles from the Japanese homeland that suddenly made the Japanese surrender. It would have to have been something that was a very immediate threat and one that was extraordinary. The addition of nuclear bombs to the American arsenal after Japan had decided that they themselves simply did not have the resources to develop their own nuclear bomb made this an un-winnable war. It would very nearly if not completely obliterate their country. That seems to me very much the most likely reason for surrender. [-mrl]

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

Herein follows my annual Borges column.

BORGES: A LIFE by Edwin Williamson (ISBN-13 978-0-143-03556-5, ISBN-10 0-143-03556-8) is a very thorough biography of the life of Jorge Luis Borges--so thorough down to precise addresses that one could easily create a tour of Buenos Aires (and Geneva and Madrid), visiting all the houses where he lived, cafes where he ate, and so on. Beyond providing the minutiae of daily life, it also covers Borges's literary influences, contacts, and so on.

It also refreshed my memory on the word "tertulia", which I had first encountered in the film BUNUEL AND KING SOLOMON'S TABLE, but could not bring to mind. A "tertulia" is a group of friends who meet regularly at a cafe for discussions, and it struck me as an excellent term for the group that my father is in that meets twice a week at McDonald's. They have been meeting there for over twenty years. It used to be every day, but they cut back over the last few years. Borges's tertulia in Madrid did not last anywhere near that long, but almost definitely had a greater literary effect.

Borges wrote of learning Anglo-Saxon that it afforded him. "The pure contemplation of a language at its dawn" ["Al iniciar el estudio de la gramatica anglosajona"]. It's an understandable reaction, but there is something wrong with it. Assume that he was studying Anglo-Saxon from the ninth century. The problem is that in the ninth century they were not sitting around saying, "We're starting a new language here." Whatever state the language was in, it was in a continuum from what people were speaking in the eighth century and what people were speaking in the tenth century. Saying that this was a "language at its dawn" is really putting the perception of people a millennium later on the situation.

I was sure that I had remembered that Borges's first appearance in English was in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION, but it was actually in FANTASTIC UNIVERSE--"The Rejected Sorcerer" appeared in the March 1960 issue of that magazine. This was not mentioned at all by Williamson.

And at times I think Williamson may be reading too much into Borges:

"Borges drew attention to the name of the protagonist: 'Emma with two m's and Zunz with two z's, I was trying to get an ugly and at the same time a colorless name... [T]he name seems so meaningless, so insignificant.' And yet, as he would have known, the name is so heavily charge with meaning that it reverberates like a magic charm. Emma is an abbreviated form of he father's name, Emmanuel, which in Hebrew signifies the 'savior.' Beginning and ending in vowels, Emma has an open, expansive quality, but Zumz is a thoroughly inverted word--the internal u and n are inverted mirror images of each other, and they are further boxed in by the two z's, which themselves are shaped like capital N's turned on their side. It is as if the fullness of Emmanuelle had been truncated to Emma by its juxtaposition with Zunz, and in that conjunction of a and z we again come across introversion--the a, which is the last letter of Emma, is also the first letter of the alphabet, but it is blocked by the letter z, which is the initial letter of Zunz, while being, of course, the final letter of the alphabet. The overall effect is of a confusion of beginnings and endings, of openings and closures, from which there is no issue other than in the blank space in the middle that divides one name from the other. In purely graphic terms, the name Emma Zunz functions as an ideogram of the kind of solipsistic labyrinth in which Borges imagined himself to be trapped, for all the ements end up turning in on themselves, pointing to nothing but reflections or distortions of each other, so that if there is a promise of salvation in the first name emma, the second, Zunz, stops it dead."

Interestingly, I ran across Borges's own comments on "Emma Zunz" in JORGE LUIS BORGES: CONVERSATIONS (ISBN-13 978-1-578-06076-4, ISBN-10 1-578-06076-1) in a conversation with Richard Burgin in 1967. What Borges says is, "[Even] the name Emma was chosen because I thought it particularly ugly, but not strikingly ugly, no? And the name Zunz is a very poor name, no? I remember I had a great friend named Emma and she said to me, 'But why did you give that awful girl my name?' And then, of course, I couldn't say the truth, but the truth was that when I wrote down the name Emma with the two m's and Zunz with the two z's, I was trying to get an ugly and at the same time a colorless name, and I had quite forgotten that one of my best friends was called Emma. The name seems so meaningless, so insignificant, doesn't it sound that way to you?" Nothing about the letters being mirror images, or rotations, or whatever.

On why he wrote only short works, Borges says, "I think what I want to write, but, of course, they have to be short pieces because otherwise, if I want to see them all at once--that can't be done with long texts. ... I want to see at [one] glance what I've done ... that is why I don't believe in the novel because I believe that a novel is as hazy to the writer as to the reader." This "holistic" view of a short story reminded me of the written language in Ted Chiang's "The Stories of Your Life". In that language, a sentence was not a series of consecutive words, but rather a single complex ideogram, written as a whole. (What is it about Borges, languages, and science fiction? A language he described in "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was very similar to that in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Darmok".)

Borges also talked about an earlier Argentinian science fiction writer, Leopoldo Lugones, and Lugones's 1907 book LAS FUERZAS EXTRANAS (STRANGE FORCES), influenced by Wells and Poe. This is available in book form in English, or (if you read Spanish) free on the Internet at .

My one complaint about Williamson's book is that the proof-reading has some slips, including consistently giving Poe's name as "Edgar Allen Poe".

(Williamson's BORGES: A LIFE should not be confused with James Woodall's BORGES: A LIFE. Whatever possessed Williamson, whose last name also starts with a 'W', to choose the precise same title as Woodall, it must have been some Borgesian paradox.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Giving every man a vote has no more made 
           men wise and free than Christianity has 
           made them good.
                                          -- H.L. Mencken

Go to my home page