MT VOID 01/14/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 29, Whole Number 1632

MT VOID 01/14/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 29, Whole Number 1632

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/14/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 29, Whole Number 1632

Table of Contents

      Frick: Mark Leeper, Frack: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

Questions about Myth II (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I have more questions on the subject of myth.

Chiron collects coins from the people he ferries them to Hades. There are probably enough people dying for him to have a sizable income, but then where can he spend them. Is there any place decent within walking distance when he goes on lunch break? Is the pay sufficient to compensate him for the lousy neighborhood he has to work in? And isn't the job awfully depressing? [-mrl]

Yes, That Was Me (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

As I said last week:

Several people (well, some people anyway) have asked me was that my name that they heard on National Public Radio on Sunday morning, January 2. In fact it was my name. Every Sunday morning NPR has the Sunday Puzzle hosted by Puzzlemaster Will Shortz. They have a participant from the radio audience try to answer Will's questions. At the end of each puzzle Shortz gives the listeners a puzzle of their own to work on and next week and they can submit their answers. The next week's participant is chosen at random from among the people who submitted the correct answer to the current week's question. That question that goes out to all the listeners is a puzzle that has been submitted by a listener to Shortz off- air. The first audience puzzle of 2011 was submitted to Shortz from Mark Leeper of Matawan, New Jersey: "Take a plural noun that ends with the letter 'S'. Insert a space somewhere in this word, retaining the order of the letters. The result will be a two-word phrase that has the same meaning as the original word, except in the singular. What word is this?"

The word is "ayes". Put a space into it and it can become "a yes".

The answer to the other question is "Truffaut" whose name sounds like "true"+"faux".


[The puzzle about "ayes" was apparently a very difficult one; they had fewer than 200 entries. They normally get about a thousand or more. -ecl]

More Year-End Mini-Reviews (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Three weeks ago I started writing short reviews of 2010 films that I did not have time to review in more length. Here are a few more.

Two films superficially similar in style but plot-wise quite different show the difference of the American and European approaches to making visually inventive--if that is the word-- films. The American film is SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. This is the story of a young rock musician who faces epic battles in his effort to get a girlfriend and to form a successful garage band. The other film is MICMACS, a French fantasy about a common man who is waging a war against two big arms manufacturers. The plots are very different. Both films are marvelously inventive visually. Nearly anything can happen in a scene from either film. Edgar Wright co-wrote and directed SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, and previously directed SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ. He uses a gamut of digital computer effects. On the other hand Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who previously directed DELICATESSEN, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, and AMELIE) uses more organically created images. As far as I could tell there is not one computer effect MICMACS. The film was or at least could have been made using only pre-CGI image- creation. Somehow knowing that he had to create his effects, and that a lot of the humor works without visual effects, make MICMACS the better of the two films.

SCOTT PILGRIM: Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10

MICMACS: Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY: Contrary to the title it is not really much of a funny story. A suicidal teenager Craig goes to a hospital hoping just to get drugs that will make him feel better. Instead he is sent to a mental hospital for a minimum of five days. Luckily he finds he is not seriously suicidal, he is just sort of suicidal. But over his five days he makes friends and helps the other internees as well as being helped by them. I think the idea was that they could get a ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST dynamic without vilifying any nasty doctors or any really disturbed patients. The film is pat and bland. In trying to be inoffensive it takes the easy route and becomes a film with no edge at all and above all it is dishonest. There is no recognition in the film that mental illness does anything to people but make them a little quirky and at worst stand-offish. And Craig meets some really nice mental patients, including the leader of the mental patient community, the affable and friendly Bobby and the cute Noele. In the end everybody gets something valuable from everybody else. The once suicidal Craig had made some lifetime buddies and now feels really good about himself. For a film set in a mental institution, this is just a light piece of froth. The same pair of people (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) write and direct who previously wrote and directed the serious and very hard edge film HALF NELSON about a crack-addicted teacher and the destruction he causes. One feels if they were writing that film today the teacher would turn to his loving class and discover that hugs are better than drugs. The film is good hearted, but that is not enough to make it worth the prices of a movie ticket. Rating: 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10

WHITE MATERIAL [Spoiler warning]: This is a French film directed by Claire Denis. In an unnamed country in Africa things are falling apart as rebel forces fight with thug-like government troops. Caught in the middle of this on a coffee plantation is Maria Vial. Her husband's family have run this plantation for years. Now she has to run the place on her own. She has to cope with a rebellious son and a father-in-law who is deteriorating. Most of the help have fled for fear of being caught between the government troops and the rebels. What is worse a major revolutionary figure who goes by the nickname "the boxer" is hiding in the plantation. But with indomitable spirit and against terrible odds she determines that she will not just keep the plantation but she will also get the current crop in. What she discovers at a painful and expensive price is that when the odds become too great, an indomitable spirit is more a liability to her family than an asset. She realizes too late that it may be better to run than to face certain--or even likely--death. It might be disingenuous of me to say this, but the theme seems very French. Rating: +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10 [-mrl]


CAPSULE: This is a pseudo-documentary about the minuscule rise and subsequent fall of a Scots-English man who was raised Mexican and who despite his non-Mexican look and lack of talent is determined to be a Ranchera singer. The film is trying to say something about assimilation and cultural identity, but there are better and clearer films on the subject out there. Some of the humor is amusing and some just falls flat. The highpoint of the film is the performance of the two familiar actors, Lupe Ontiveros and Danny Trejo. Amy French and Spencer John French act and star in the film with Amy also directing. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10

The success of THIS IS SPINAL TAP paved the way for a whole genre of satirical pseudo-documentaries. By now a market has been saturated. A new mockumentary has to offer a fairly sharp wit or it could go ignored. Christopher Guest seems to have the knack; the Frenches need practice. Ranchera is a style of music from Mexico that is generally done with one singer and one guitar. And the singer generally looks Mexican. As the film opens we see Juan Frances has arrived for a gig, but people do not believe he is a ranchera singer because he looks even more gringo than most gringos. He is pudgy, rose-complected, and balding. This is Juan Frances, born Jonathan French (played by Spencer John French). He is of English-Scots heritage, but his parents died when he was three months old and he was adopted by his Chicano nanny, Nena (Lupe Ontiveros from EL NORTE and REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES) and E. J. (Danny Trejo of MACHETE). Both of these performances are real assets to the film, by the way. Trejo is one of these actors like The Rock who comes from a very different background but who looks really good on camera from the very first frame. Trejo and Ontiveros go together on the screen like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. But I digress.

As a boy Juan Frances saw a vision of the Virgin of Guadaloupe and came away convinced that he had to be a singer. He writes and sings his own songs and nobody seems to notice he is terrible at both. Now he is 33, the same age that Jesus was when he was crucified. In what he calls his "Jesus Year" Juan is going to try to become a great ranchera star. Though he looks and dresses like a gas station attendant, he intends to become a glamorous attraction. Ready to use him are a manager and a sexy stage partner (David Franco and Maria Esquivel). Juan has surprises ahead, but none that are worth the wait.

EL SUPERSTAR has not much of interest happening in the minimal plot. It is more a character piece and seems to be groping toward some message having to do with people pretending to be what they are not. Along the way it pokes what is intended to be fun at both the Chicano culture and the white culture. Having funny enough gags would make or break this film and sadly they do more of the latter. Only about one gag in ten is really amusing. When they start naming the organizations that arise in the plot with acronyms like P.U.P.U., P.U.B.E.S., and C.A.C.A., it signals a sort of desperation in the writing. Remarkably, one of the film's executive producers is Norman Lear who should know how to make ethnicity and culture based humor work.

While there are sequences that are amusing, the script does not seem to have been ready for the camera. Norman Lear should have been able to introduce the Frenches to someone who could have gotten more humor out of the premise. I rate this film a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10. It will be released direct to DVD on January 18, 2011.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Muscle Man Films (letters of comment by Kip Williams, Keith F. Lynch, David Goldfarb, and Tim Bateman):

In response to in the 12/31/10 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Chances are, he might not have been Goliath in the original. Going back to silent days, there was a tradition of Italian movies about a muscle-bound fellow named Maciste. In bringing these into English, they decided nobody outside of Italy cared about Maciste, so they gave him another monicker. I don't know if all Hercules movies were about Maciste (or even any), but at least some of the Italian strongmen were rebranded Macistes.

The old public TV series, "The Amazing Years of Cinema", narrated by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., told me a bit about this character. I could stand to watch my third-hand VHS dub of the whole series (which stands up pretty well, considering I've had it since about 1985). [-kw]

Keith F. Lynch responds:

The following movies are on a DVD collection I bought. (I haven't yet watched any of them).

Does anyone know if these are part of the same series as Mark is referring to? [-kfl]

Evelyn answers:

There is an entire genre in Italy called "Peplum" (a.k.a. "Sword and Sandal"), which includes Hercules, Maciste, Samson, Goliath, and others. See for series lists. The ones you list are in the Hercules series; the Maciste and Goliath series are separate.

And he was Goliath in the original of the movie Mark was describing--the Italian title was "Golia e il cavaliere mascherato". [-ecl]

David Goldfarb says:

"Ercole" seems to me obviously cognate with "Hercules", so at the very least there hasn't been any rebranding going on there. [-dg]

Tim Bateman notes:

I found it interesting that the titles were changed when translated, however minimally in one instance. [-tb]

Mark replies:

The titles were sometimes drastically changed.

There was a film set in 15th Century Spain entitled "Zorro contro Maciste" or Zorro Against Maciste. It really did have Zorro but no Maciste. Any character who was strong was could be called something that was either "Maciste" or some famous strongman from folklore like Hercules, Atlas, Ursus, Goliath, a Son of Hercules, ad nauseum.

Oh, and when "Zorro contro Maciste" was brought to the United States it was retitled "Samson and the Slave Queen." Honest. [-mrl]

Keith F. Lynch then responded:

Zorro sure got around. I wonder what character, other than a time traveler or someone explicitly said to be very long-lived, has been set over the greatest span of time? [For a continuation of this sub-thread, see the next topic. -ecl]

Apparently the ancients were especially guilty of this [renaming of characters], with many of them writing under the name of someone else renowned in their field, causing no end to confusion.

Did Zorro become Samson, and Maciste the Slave Queen, or vice versa? [-kfl]

Time-Spanning Characters (letters of comment by Keith F. Lynch, Kip Williams, Philip Chee, and David Goldfarb):

In the topic above, Keith F. Lynch asked, "I wonder what character, other than a time traveler or someone explicitly said to be very long-lived, has been set over the greatest span of time?"

Kip Williams guesses:

Nancy Drew? [-kw]

Philip Chee responds:

The Phantom?

Brenda Starr?

Nick Fury? (Originally "Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos" eventually promoted to Colonel Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D.) One issue explained his longevity by his having to take an annual dose of something called the "Infinity Formula" but this was never alluded to again and in some continuities this story is non-canonical.

Any number of Marvel/DC superheroes and the timeslip effect.

Captain America (suspended animation)

The characters in THE FOREVER WAR (relativistic time dilation).

MAROONED IN REALTIME by someone or other I forget. Vinge? [-pc]

Keith responds:

Wasn't [The Phantom] different people at different times, each one the son of the previous? [-kfl]

Philip replies:

"Yes but it was the *same* character, just hereditary. You did specify "character" rather than person." [-pc]

Keith also says:

When's the earliest and latest [Nancy Drew, Brenda Starr, and Nick Fury] were set? Remember, we started with Zorro, traditionally a 19th-century characters, in the 15th century.

If [Sgt. Fury is] WWII, he still has a couple centuries to go to catch up to Zorro.

[Re Marvel/DC, Captain America, THE FOREVER WAR:] I was asking about *unexplained* longevity.

Yes, [MAROONED IN REALTIME was] Vinge. That was a fun 50 million year romp, including building a castle then jumping ahead a few centuries so that it would be picturesque ruins. And jumping ahead to an ice age just to have a brief snowball fight.

If you count *explained* longevity, I think Poul Anderson probably holds the record. Sure, in Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR, people went to the end of time, but in Anderson's TAU ZERO and again in his "Flight to Forever" they went *beyond* it, into the next cycle. ("Futurama" recently did the exact same thing as "Flight to Forever." I hope they paid royalties to Karen [Anderson].) [-kfl]

David Goldfarb replies:

No, [in THE FOREVER WAR] they didn't [go to the end of time]. They only went a couple thousand years ahead. [-dg]

And Keith replies:

Looks like you're right. I know I read a novel in which mankind was at war with another species right up to the Big Crunch at the end of time. I wonder what novel that was, since it obviously wasn't THE FOREVER WAR. [-kfl]

THE UNINVITED, THE BAD SEED, and HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to Mark's comments on Turner Classic Movies in January in the 01/07/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I know I saw a little bit of THE UNINVITED on channel 7 (Denver) back in the 1960s, when I had no clue about what I was seeing. Every time I see the title now, I start out thinking it's the one Raymond Chandler wrote a screenplay for, but that was THE UNSEEN, which I think was a follow-up in some sense. (Looking up Chandler in the IMDB shows his name on a whole bunch of scripts, but it turns out they're nearly all variants of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, and his screenplay for that was trashed by Mr. Hitchcock, and nobody seems to have saved a copy. Unfortunately.)

I wanted to see THE BAD SEED so much for so long. I read the script several times. When the chance finally came along, I set the VCR with high hopes, and erased it immediately. Patty McCormack seemed completely artificial and unbelievable. Perhaps I should try it again, now that my expectations aren't so high. There was a TV movie with David Carradine as the handyman. I didn't care much for that one either, as a whole, but there was one brilliant scene with Carradine's childish character taunting the kid about how the police had a special bloodhound who was trained to find sticks that had been used as murder weapons--a stick bloodhound. I wish the whole movie had been that good.

I already missed HIGHWAY IN THE SKY. I saw a bit of it. Looked interesting. [-kw]

Bacchantes (letter of comment by Sam Long):

In response to Mark's comments on the Bacchantes in the 01/07/11 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

See Wikipedia s.v. Maenad (

I've always been of the understanding that the bacchantes and maenads were the women of the community, particularly the young women of the community, who on the special feast days were "released", if that's the word, from their familial responsibilities and allowed, even encouraged, to get drunk and run about in worship of the god--Dionysus or Bacchus--of the city or region. These celebrations were religious and patriotic ceremonies, rather far removed from what we consider religious and patriotic ceremonies these days, but religious and patriotic ceremonies nonetheless, that it was a citizen's--or citizeness's-- duty to take part in. At least this would've been so during the mythological period during the late 2nd millenium B.C.E., if not during the Classical period of the time of Pericles and Socrates. The fall of Troy, late in the mythological period, is supposed to have taken place in about 1200 B.C.E., not far in time from the biblical Exodus. We come from legend or myth into "history" both in Greece and in the Levant, about 1000 B.C.E. or so.

The word for the Dionysiac celebrations was "orgy"; and this word did not originally have a meaning of sexual or alcoholic immorality. Plain, ordinary, sober, restrained temple services for virgin goddesses like Athena or Artemis were also called "orgies".

So, to answer your questions about Bacchantes, no, they apparently were not a class of women in ancient Greece (unlike the heterae, or courtesans, who were the "geishas" of the Classical period).

P.S.: Mary Renault and Robert Graves have both written novels in which maenads and bacchantes play parts. Graves's The Greek Myths" would have more information too. [-sl]

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN (letter of comment by David G. Leeper):

In response to Mark's "Top Ten Films of 2010" comments in the 01/07/11 issue of the MT VOID, David G. Leeper writes:

Good list of 2010 movies, bro ...

I just put 4 of them on my Netflix "save" list.

I'm especially interested in WAITING FOR SUPERMAN because I've taught twice now in a charter school that appears to be doing a great job in a poor district with very limited cash but some dedicated teachers & students. They have an extended school day, doubling up on the math and English classes. 7th graders are doing plane geometry with proofs ... I don't think [our high school in] Longmeadow taught that until the 10th grade. There is no bus service, so parents have to carpool or make other arrangements ... I think that automatically gets kids from families where the parents really care ... so it's no random sample. It's first-come first-serve so anyone can attend, but there's a waiting list. The rules are very strict, and anyone who doesn't like it is free to go to some other school. Tuition is free, paid by the state. One day, someone may do a documentary about this school. [-dgl]

Mark responds: "Starting geometry with proofs sounds like a good idea, but I am not so sure it is. Some schools seem to be following an approach that they teach a little bit of algebra, a little geometry, a little statistics, and a little probability each year. In the right hands that would not be a bad idea, but I don't think the results are as good as you get with one year of Algebra I, a year of geometry, and a year of Algebra II. With that approach you can go into the year's subject intensively. With the goulash approach they are teaching the same material over and over. And I think that the students are learning less." [-mrl]

Radio Adaptations (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Mark's comments on radio adaptations of THE TIME MACHINE in the 01/07/11 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes, "Interestingly, I recently discovered Stapledon's 'Far Future Calling'" the script of a radio play, in a collection by the same name. It's yet another retelling of LAST AND FIRST MEN, though it suffers considerably from trying to compress two billion years of future history into a short radio program. The premise is that the Neptunians break into a contemporary radio broadcast to tell their story." [-kfl]

Evelyn adds, "I reviewed the collection FAR FUTURE CALLING in when it came out in 1979, and said, 'The play is based on (a very small segment of) LAST AND FIRST MEN, and unfortunately fails to communicate the scope of that work.' (I thought that review was for 'Delap's F&SF Review', but that does not seem to have been published in that year.) For the full review, see" [-ecl]

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

SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY by Gary Shteyngart (ISBN 978-1-4000-6640-7) is one of those "stealth science fiction" novels, written by a mainstream/literary author and marketed as a mainstream/literary novel. But it is definitely science fiction, and if Charles Stross or some other science fiction author had written it, it would be marketed as such.

I choose Stross because this is a novel of future economics. The United States is falling apart, because people are so busy following media people who are streaming shows about fashion, entertainment, and each other that they have no time to follow anything having to do with the real world: economics, science, politics, or even reading and writing. Books are dead (even e-books) and everything is video. (Shades of FAHRENHEIT 451!) China, Canada, and Norway (if I recall correctly) are the new world powers, and the United States is basically a police state trying to hold up a failing system. In the midst of all this Lenny Abramov is working for a life extension company (where everyone is obsessed with extending their lives and youthfulness) when he meets Eunice Park, a young Korean woman who has a very different attitude about, well, everything, than Lenny.

It is a sign of my age, I suppose, that I found the sections consisting of Eunice's (and others') text messages very hard to read. I must be the only person on the planet who texts in full sentences with whole words, punctuation and everything. (On the other hand, I have probably sent fewer than two dozen text messages in my life.)

The resolution of SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY seems a bit weak, but the picture of what America could become is worth the read.

Another example of stealth science fiction is THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY by Zachary Mason (ISBN 978-0-374-19215-0). It is subtitled on the cover "A NOVEL", but it is not. It consists of 44 vignettes of alternative events in the life of Odysseus, events which are often mutually exclusive. For example, in "Penelope's Elegy" Odysseus returns home to find Penelope dead, while in "A Sad Revelation" she has remarried, and in "A Night in the Woods" a third scenario unfolds. The stories, or vignettes (the longest is still under 3000 words), do form a unified whole--not a novel, but a series of meditations on the subject of Odysseus. Mason goes back to the original meaning of "Odyssey" as being the story of Odysseus, and some vignettes occur outside the ten-year period covered in Homer's "Odyssey".

This raises an interesting question in terms of Hugo nominations. The definition for Best Novel calls for "a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more." It makes little sense to nominate the individual pieces as short stories, but the book as a whole seems ineligible.

My one complaint about THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY is that Mason (or his editors) felt it necessary to footnote several of the references to the original ODYSSEY. For example, a comment Odysseus makes about not killing the Cyclops because he and his men would then be trapped is footnoted with an explanation of how the Cyclops had them in his cave with a massive boulder that only the Cyclops could move blocking the door. I find it hard to believe that the people reading this book would be unfamiliar with the ODYSSEY.

ECOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM: THE BIOLOGICAL EXPANSION OF EUROPE, 900- 1900 by Alfred W. Crosby (ISBN 978-0-521-33613-0) was one of the textbooks for Geography 10 at the University of California at Berkeley. This was a course available through podcasts, or at least mostly available--the course included several films, and audio podcasts are not the best medium for a course which features a lot of maps. However, I was able to gather some useful information, and decided that reading this textbook would be worthwhile.

Crosby wrote this in 1986, well before Jared Diamond's GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, and Diamond seems to have gotten a lot of his ideas either from Crosby, or from Crosby's sources. There's nothing wrong with this, of course, but I suspect most people think Diamond originated it all. Crosby covers just about everything Diamond does, and more besides, such as how the existence of Pangaea meant that evolution had a very different effect before its break-up 200 million years ago (or so) than after.

One of the films for the course, by the way, was GRASS (1925). This silent documentary of nomadic herders in Iraq and Iran was sufficiently popular that its filmmakers were able to get funding for their next film: KING KONG. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, 
          somewhere, may be happy.
                                          --H. L. Mencken

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