MT VOID 11/07/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 19, Whole Number 1518

MT VOID 11/07/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 19, Whole Number 1518

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/07/08 -- Vol. 27, No. 19, Whole Number 1518

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

Accomplishment (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Only Nixon could go to China.

Only George W. Bush could get America to elect a black President. [-mrl]

This Probably Wasn't What She Meant (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Sarah Palin had announced that whatever happens on November 4 is because "God will do the right thing" [-ecl]

Middletown (NJ) Library Science Fiction Book & Film Group (announcement by Charles S. Harris):

The inaugural meeting of the Middletown Library Science-Fiction Book & Film Group will take place on Thursday, November 13. The film will be MINORITY REPORT (2002), starring Tom Cruise and Max von Sydow (and also Haley Joel Osment's father). It will be projected from a DVD onto a large screen. Further information:

The movie is loosely based on "The Minority Report", a short story by Philip K. Dick. The story can be read in its entirety on Google Books:

Science-fiction enthusiasts of all ages are welcome to attend the movie, the book discussion, or both. Future films and literature will be chosen by the group members.

Film: 5:30, Thursday, November 13
Discussion: 8:00, Thursday, November 13

Middletown Township Public Library 55 New Monmouth Road Middletown, NJ Telephone: 732 671-3700

Map & driving directions:

For information about the group, or if you'd like to receive notices about future meetings, contact Charles Harris, . [-csh]

The Case for Caution (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was discussing the stock market with a friend a week or so ago. He mentioned that he thought that that was a very good time to buy stocks and that many stocks were undervalued at that point. Not as advice but to tell him my viewpoint I suggested that one particular stock he was considering might not be the best of ideas. I gave him my reasons for thinking that way.

I cannot say that I know a lot about the stock market. In fact, I do not think I know very much at all. But I have noticed that advice I have gotten from others, whether I have followed it or not, had proven to be a bad idea about three-quarters of the time has proven to be on the short term or the long term bad. I joke about how bad my judgment is on stocks. I say I buy stocks the way I buy fruit. I generally buy it at a good time and then hold onto it so long that it turns out to have been a bad decision to buy it in the first place. The truth is that I have done fairly well by my investments and have been very conservative. In disastrous times like the tech bubble bursting or what is currently happening- -whatever that really is--I have been hurt a little, but not very much. All I will say about my strategy is that I go for security rather than aggressive growth.

My friend just sent me an article from the New York Times by Alex Berenson ( that starts out "The four most dangerous words for investors are: 'This time is different.'" My friend is probably right and will probably do well. But I have read a lot of science fiction and one message that it has is that things really can change. The future can be more different from the past than we might expect. Every once in a while which people say, "This time is different," it really is.

I remember back with the Y2K situation I urged people to be prepared for serious problems. I prepared that way myself. When it turned out to be a relatively minor incident people came back to me to point out how wrong I had been. It would have been harder to explain to them about mathematical expectation. Nobody came back to me and chided me that I had bought fire insurance on my house for that same period of time and that was also a waste. I have never had a house fire. A house fire for me would be an unprecedented event. Yet I still pay premiums in case the unprecedented does happen. Disastrous low-probability events do happen.

There are those who believe that nature and some man-made systems tend to correct themselves and those who believe that the unprecedented can happen. I consider nature to be in very much a stable equilibrium. One year there may be more of a certain kind of insect around, say ladybugs. That makes things good for birds that feed on ladybugs. The next year there are more of these birds around and the ladybug population goes back down. Then the birds that feed on the ladybugs also diminish. Certainly nature has found a stable equilibrium over millions of years and it takes a lot to topple it. This may have lulled us into a false sense of stability. Lots and lots of people driving cars with gasoline engines very possibly can put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than nature can counter and things really can change. We have had the amount of CO2 in the air increase in the past and it has not done too much to the environment. But with India and China getting heavily into the act, this time may be different.

There are certainly people who think that global warming is just a temporary fluctuation, and things are going to be like they were again. After all there have been warmer and colder winters all our lives. There are others who think that things really can change given enough impetus. We still do not know what is happening in financial credit. The fixes are not automatic and the more people know about the financial crisis, the more frightened they seem to be. Right now I do not have a whole lot of faith in this country's leadership. A lot of unprecedented things have happened particularly over the past four years.

I am not giving investment advice here, and Berenson is right that it is very dangerous to immediately jump to the conclusion that disaster is coming. But the simple fact is that with respect to the economy and with respect to global warming this time really is different. Yes, I will give investment advice. One has to look at the current situation and decide what is the best investment course. Do not assume that everything always blows over and that things always return to normal. George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But I say that those who trust history are condemned to be misled by it. Nothing happens the same way twice. [-mrl]

HOW ABOUT YOU (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: There is room for a simple, feel-good story in the holiday season and HOW ABOUT YOU fills the bill nicely. This Irish film has a ne'er-do-well misfit left in charge of a residence home over Christmas with four cantankerous oldsters. A good ensemble cast brings this adaptation of a Maeve Binchy short story to its amiable if predictable end. Anthony Byrne directs a delightful Irish comedy-drama that takes a bittersweet look at aging and dying. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Ellie (played by Hayley Atwell) has made a bit of a mess-up of her personal and professional life. She is now trying to lend a reluctant helping hand to her equally reluctant sister Kate (Orla Brady). Kate runs The Woodlands, a residence home for the elderly. It is going about as well as anything ever goes for Ellie. A collection of difficult residents seems to dislike Ellie just about as much as she hates them. This hostile, belligerent, group, dubbed "the Hardcore", includes once-popular actress (Vanessa Redgrave), a retired High Court judge (Joss Ackland), and two sisters (Imelda Staunton and Brenda Fricker). Ellie forms one friendship, not with one of the hardcore but with cancer-plagued Alice (Joan O'Hara), who is the one positive resident. Each has been something of a free spirit and Ellie would like to give Alice some hashish to ease her pain.

When Kate must go away on family business she is forced to leave Ellie illegally running The Woodlands with its four hardcore cases over the December holidays. After a shaky start the five people who cannot get along with each other prove they might have an unexpected chemistry.

In other hands this story could have been cloying, but the veteran cast gives a strong performance. Director Anthony Byrne has a really good cast to work with and they give him really engaging performances. One probably could not find a better set of actors for this story than Redgrave, Ackland, Staunton, and Fricker. Perhaps they change a little too quickly in Jean Pasley's script (which rather than a hundred minutes could have been two hours without overstaying its welcome), but they bring real humanity to their characters. And they are characters rather than caricatures. They seem childlike in both the better and worse senses of that word. Joss Ackland is particularly enjoyable in the one major male role in the film. Ackland is one of the great solid British actors, rarely a lead, but a very strong supporting actor.

A little gimmicky in the writing are the repeated placements of either the song or its title in the script. Since thematically the song seems to have little to do with the storyline, its use is a bit excessive.

The story is reminiscent of other films including a good dose of Henry Cass's THE LAST HOLIDAY (1950) and more recent films on the subject of eldercare like THE SAVAGES and AWAY FROM HER.

The films stands as a reminder for the holiday season that good acting can transform a simple story into a moving experience with a broad range of emotions. I would rate HOW ABOUT YOU a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. After you see the film, just try to get the song "How About You" out of your head. The film is dedicated to Joan O'Hara who played the likable dying Alice and who herself died not long after the film completed.

Film Credits:


APPALOOSA (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Two hired mercenaries are made deputies in a small New Mexico town to round up a rancher who murdered a deputy. A fine cast produces a surprisingly low-key outing. It sports a plot like a Western from 45 years ago, but pacing familiar from LONESOME DOVE. APPALOOSA is an unexceptional Western but one with a good eye for detail. It was produced by, directed by, and stars Ed Harris, who also sings a little. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

As the film begins Everett Hitch (played by Viggo Mortensen) philosophizes in voice-over that the foreseeable never really happens and the unforeseeable is what your life becomes. That is apparently what happens to him and his partner Virgil Cole (Ed Harris), two lawmen and hired killers, when they are engaged by the town of Appaloosa, New Mexico to bring in a local rancher who murdered a deputy. The rancher is Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) who, with a small army of ranch hands, is a law unto himself. The two are good killers and do not expect it to be a big job. Ah, but the unforeseen is what their life becomes as they begin a long battle of wits against Bragg. Meanwhile, Cole falls in love for the first time with Allison French (Renee Zellweger), a widow lady who comes to town and immediately is attracted to Cole.

The plot of the two lawmen trying to capture and bring to trial a powerful rancher is the sort you might find in a Western that would have been made in the 1960s. This plot has a little more depth in that Virgil Cole is sort of a dubious hero. First he insists on becoming the town dictator, with his own set of laws to make easier his task of bringing law and order. He is a killer with a badge. And the badge is the only thing that makes him better than Bragg, who is also undeniably a killer. If any character is sympathetic it is not Cole but Hitch who is in the partnership a definite second among equals. While the plotting is 1960s, the low-key style and pacing are post-LONESOME DOVE. This gives us more time to get to know the characters, and the film covers a long time both on the watches of the audience and in the lives of the characters.

There is no brash Western score of the sort that Elmer Bernstein would have given APPALOOSA. Instead we hear only three or fewer instruments at any one time. The photography is often dark figures on a bright background to give the feel of the hot New Mexico climate. This would all be bleak if it were not for some light dialog, especially between Hitch and Cole. With one running gag Cole has a propensity for using impressive words that are just on the tip of his mind but no nearer. He is anxious to use big three- dollar words in an era when three dollars would have bought a lot more than it does today.

The film is based on the novel by Robert B. Parker (who generally writes about detectives Spenser and Jesse Stone). In addition to the other hats Harris wears in this production (and it usually is a broad-brimmed black hat on screen) Harris also sings a song over the end credits and proves to have nearly as good a singing voice as that other actor-director Clint Eastwood. The film has some good actors in smaller roles like Timothy Spall and Lance Henriksen. I am just not sure that Zellweger really feels like a woman of the period. Mortensen and Harris play well together like two men who fit each other like comfortable old shoes. Hitch might like Cole's woman, but he usually knows not to push the issue. Hitch is the better educated, but Cole is reading Emerson to try to catch up. Hitch knows that he has just book learning, but Cole knows the job of handling ruffians and gunfighters. Their byplay and the little details of life in the 1880s are arguably more important to the film than the inevitable big gunfight.

Most attempts to bring back the Western try to imitate the big brash westerns. This one is more like the minor B westerns of the 60's. I rate APPALOOSA a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. For those who stick through the credits, the film's dedication is to Ed "Big Red" Pennybacker. He had a small role as the train conductor but also was a popular newsman on KQUE in the Albuquerque area. He died in July.

Film Credits:


Correction (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Two readers caught an error I made in the last issue. The massive mother ship in INDEPENDENCE DAY did not hover over cities. It was the ship in geosynchronous orbit. Being in orbit, it did not need an anti-gravity device. However, if one were offered I am sure it would not turn it down. In any case I was wrong about that part of the editorial. Okay, so I owe you another editorial. [-mrl]

INDEPENDENCE DAY (letters of comments by Dan Cox and Wendy Sheridan):

In response to Mark's comments on INDEPENDENCE DAY in the 10/31/08 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Cox writes: "For the tidal force equation, see Now the real problem with INDEPENDENCE DAY is this: After destroying the mother ship by sneaking on board with a computer virus plus (IIRC) a large bomb, the force fields were down on the large ships. Even with the force field down, it took an atomic bomb flown into the ship's weapon system to destroy it. The US Air Force had enough trouble doing this (due to the invader's fighter ships), but after heroics suitable for a Hollywood movie they manage to destroy one of the large invader ships. Shortly after that you see people around the world celebrating, with large invader ships destroyed in the background." [-dtc]

Wendy Sheridan notes, "...the problems I had with the city destroyer ships were that if you shot them down when they were hovering over a city, they'd fall on the city, not next to the city--or the airfield). " [-ws]

Science Fiction and Magic, and RELIGULOUS (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Mark's comments on bad science in science fiction films in the 10/31/08 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

Like Mark I've run into (or been guilty of) statements sneering at bad science or anachronism in old SF stories. Like the scene in A.E. Van Vogt's SLAN (1940) where Jommy Cross jumps on the running board of a ground vehicle. "Running board"--snort, snort! But then again, why shouldn't cars in the far future have running boards?

I remember some reviewer looking askance at the ceiling fans in BLADE RUNNER (1982): obviously an intentional anachronism. Meanwhile I'm watching the movie in a modern theater with ceiling fans.

Typically, old SF is castigated for the less-than-liberated status of women in the future. Because, of course, social trends never change direction. (Heavy sarcasm.) By the way, here's a real life example of such a reversal: from Wikipedia I learn that Woodrow Wilson segregated the Federal civil service in 1913.

One oddity I've noticed at more than a few conventions: a panel of English majors who write SF will confidently assert FTL travel is fantasy ("because Isaac Asimov said so"); a panel of physicists who write SF will give you a dozen possible ways to do it. [-tw]

Mark responds, "I don't remember sneering at anachronism in old stories. Bad science I usually give some latitude. I like the films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE FLY (1958), both of which have bad science." [-mrl]

And in response to Mark's review of RELIGULOUS in the same issue, Taras writes:

Bill Maher's RELIGULOUS (2008) sounds too much like shooting fish in a barrel. He seems to be looking for religious simpletons to pick on, rather than a fair fight. Also, when people attack Christianity, it seems cowardly to me: what about that other religion, that is a far greater threat. Instead, they attack Christianity precisely because it's *not* dangerous to do so.

"So many films present a religious point of view, from Pat O'Brien playing the wonderful all-knowing priest to James Cagney [in 1938!], to Ben-Hur finding peace in a world of sin [in 1959!]". However, we get a very different picture when we look at contemporary films, like SIN CITY or V FOR VENDETTA (both 2005) or THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007), with their evil and perverted religious leaders. The Wikipedia article on "Anti-Catholicism in film" lists seventeen more recent films.

Maher is probably right, that "there is a neurological basis for religious belief". The bad news (at least for him) is that the trait appears to be adaptive in the Darwinian sense: religious people have more kids than atheists do. We secularists are too selfish, it seems! [-tw]

Mark responds, "Maher does not pick on just Christianity, but he does hit it the most. I think the reason is that it is the religion with the largest membership (certainly if you consider it all one religion). It does get in some licks at Mormons." [-mrl]

Evelyn adds, "For a story about a physical basis for religion, read Greg Egan's 'Oceanic', available for free on his web page: ." [-ecl]

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

We have been watching TITANIC and the various extras on the DVD, and this led me to read more about some of the controversies, and about some of the real people. There are two things I want to comment on.

One was the claim in one of the DVD extras that while in first class, women and children were more likely to get on the lifeboats without their husbands or fathers, in second- and third-class people were traveling as families moving to a new home and were more likely to insist on staying together. And in fact, the statistics seem to bear this out. According to Wyn Craig Wade's THE TITANIC; END OF A DREAM (ISBN-13 978-0-140-16691-X, ISBN-10 0-140-16691-2), the casualty percentages are as follows:

            Women/Children  Men    Total
First            6%         69%     40%
Second          19%         90%     56%
Third           53%         86%     75%
Crew            13%         78%     76%

While the first class passengers clearly had the best of the deal (a man in first class had a better chance of surviving that a woman in third class, "women and children first" notwithstanding), the difference in survival percentages for men in second and third class was not statistically significant, while that of the women and children was.

The other thing is what happened to Second Officer Charles Lightoller. During Dunkirk, when he was 66 years old, the Royal Navy requested the use of his yacht for the evacuation. He insisted on sailing it there himself (with the assistance of one of his sons and two crew members). In spite of the fact that the yacht had never held more than twenty-one people before, Lightoller loaded 130 soldiers on it and managed to dodge German shelling and get them safely back to England. I cannot prove it, of course, but I am sure in my own mind that when he was loading the yacht at Dunkirk, he remembered all the half-filled lifeboats of Titanic, and how many people died because of that, and loaded as many men as he possibly could.

[Okay, with an opening like that I have to ask. For each of First Class, Second Class, Third Class, and Crew, what proportion, to the nearest percent, were men? For each of First Class, Second Class, Third Class, and Crew, what proportion, to the nearest percent, were men who were also casualties? Answers next week. ?mrl]

And speaking of the sea, MONSTERS OF THE SEA by Richard Ellis (ISBN-13 978-1-59228-967-7, ISBN-10 1-59228-967-3) is a study of "sea monsters"--the various historical sightings and an analysis of what they were (or might be)--as well as long sections on the biology and behavior of the actual creatures of the sea. This is basically a book of cryptozoology ("the science of 'hidden' animals"), an area which has become more popular of late, as technological developments have allowed scientists to probe deeper into the oceans, either with diving machines or with cameras.

Returning to movies, in 1931 Edward G. Robinson gave an unforgettable performance in LITTLE CAESAR and Jimmy Cagney likewise in THE PUBLIC ENEMY. Neither was even nominated for an Academy Award. Indeed, unless you are a real film buff, when you look at the list of nominees for 1931, you won't recognize any of them. Even film fans are probably familiar only with Adolphe Menjou in THE FRONT PAGE and Richard Dix in CIMARRON. Frederic March was nominated for the forgettable ROYAL FAMILY OF BOADWAY, and Jackie Cooper for SKIPPY. The winner was Lionel Barrymore for A FREE SOUL. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Bigotry murders religion to frighten fools 
           with her ghost.
                                          -- Charles Caleb Colton

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