MT VOID 12/16/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 25, Whole Number 1680

MT VOID 12/16/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 25, Whole Number 1680

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/16/11 -- Vol. 30, No. 25, Whole Number 1680

Table of Contents

      Ollie: Mark Leeper, Stan: 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

No Longer Science Fiction:

Tom Russell sends the following URL to a video from Aircraft Owners and Pilots Organization:

Trailer Breaks (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Robert Downey is back as the comical Sherlock Holmes directed by Guy Ritchie turning him into a physical action hero as well as a genius. I believe Holmes was supposed to be an adept boxer, but if he had the agility that the Downey films gave him he would presumably have used it more often in the stories. In the new film they seem to not play up his athletics as much, but they make him as much a buffoon and I cannot see Holmes as a buffoon. Overall for revisions of Holmes, the new BBC SHERLOCK series is far preferable.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (December 23, 2011)
Steven Spielberg's next film, due two days before Christmas, is an animated version of the Tintin stories. Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Nick Frost, Jamie Bell, Cary Elwes, and Toby Jones will provide major voices. That is a polite way of saying if Steven Spielberg beckons, you come. The animation is very lifelike, much more so than Pixar's humans. The story seems unexciting: Tintin is looking for the treasure of a sunken ship. The animation is great but nobody will come because they are intrigued by the story. Initial reports say this one is supposed to be quite good.

RED TAILS (January 20, 2012)
Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox bring you ... no, not a "Star Wars" film. It does have war but no really big stars. It is a heavily special-effects-laden retelling of the story of the Tuskeegee Airmen. Basically the Army discovers to its surprise that blacks can be very good fighter pilots. Anthony Hemingway directs. The special effects remind me a lot of FLYBOYS. That is they are as good as is needed, but you get an itch that what you are seeing is all special effects. Featured are Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Terrence Howard, but since they are billed as "with", I do not feel we will be seeing much of them. Unfamiliar actors Nate Parker and David Oyelowo have top billing. If they are the main characters, at least they did not give the familiar actors top billing.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (February 3, 2012)
I saw the play by Jane Goldman in London. I believe it is one of those plays that have run nearly forever. It was not a greatly original or creative ghost story. It had a somewhat tense story punctuated with the sound of unexpected door slams. When the stage is dark and there is a sudden door slam you jump. It is an effective strategy but should not be confused with good writing. I am not certain this sort of scare will translate well to film. Daniel Radcliff stars and among the producers is the revived Hammer Films. The trailer is certainly atmospheric and that may compensate for the sudden loud noises.

JOHN CARTER (March 9, 2012)
Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs have hoped for years that someone would do justice to his Mars series. It would require advanced special effects and a lot of visual imagination. That can be done now and Disney is adapting the Martian series starting with JOHN CARTER. The trailer is a real disappointment. I could be wrong but I think we have seen so much visual imagination on the screen by now that an accurate version of the Burroughs novel will be under-whelming. The trailer is just not exciting. Sure, there are some odd-looking flying machines and we get a look at a green, tusked Martian, but it is no big deal. I hope I am wrong. Andrew Stanton of FINDING NEMO and WALL-E directs.

BRAVE (June 22, 2012)
The trailer for BRAVE does not tell a whole lot. This is a Disney- Pixar adventure set in a mythical Scotland. For once Pixar is doing humans as the main characters. They are still not making humans look human. In this case the main character looks like a doll. She is Merida (voiced by Kelly MacDonald) apparently a teenager with flaming red hair and a nasty bow and arrow. Not much else can be seen from the trailer, but there does seem to be a Tinkerbell-like character who glows blue and floats through the wood.

I had not realized that Christopher Nolan was making his Batman films a trilogy. The trailer is a teaser so there is not much to be gleaned from it. The film seems cut from the same piece as THE DARK KNIGHT. Christian Bale is Batman and Anne Hathaway is Catwoman. Catwoman is one of the sillier villains and she may be a mismatch with Nolan's dark tone for the series. Nonetheless Nolan has worked miracles already with the series.


HUGO (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

[Spoiler Warning: This is a film with a major complication about half-way into the story. I admit it will do the film a major disservice for me to not discuss the film in its entirety, but I will not spoil the film. However, I have included a spoiler section after the end of the review proper, and even there I have tried to be discrete.]

CAPSULE: There is a phantom haunting the Paris Train Station. Twelve-year-old Hugo lives in the walls of the station and maintains all the mechanical clocks. This film is about him, but also about a lot more. This is much more than a children's film about a little boy. Beautifully filmed in 3D it, turns into an education for the viewer on a subject near and dear to director Martin Scorsese's heart. This may be more Scorsese's film than GOODFELLAS or CASINO was. He has made a beautiful tribute to his favorite art form. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

HUGO is a film about a resourceful twelve-year-old boy and his relationship with an adult. It is sweet and sentimental but still uses a lot of special effects. HUGO is educational, and above all it is a film with heart. All this goes to say that the sort of film that Steven Spielberg is criticized for making, Scorsese is being praised for.

The setting is Paris in the 1930s. A boy mechanical genius, Hugo Cabret (played by Asa Butterfield), lives in the walls of the Paris Train Station. His self-selected avocation without pay is to keep all the clocks working. He survives by stealing food from the food venders and also stealing mechanical parts for the clocks and for his goal in life. His goal is to fix an automaton his father found discarded in a museum. Hugo has no idea what the humanoid machine does. The secret is in the automaton's clockworks, which Hugo struggles to understand.

Hugo's source for machine parts is the grumpy old toymaker Georges (Ben Kingsley). Georges at once despises the boy who steals from him, but also has to admire Hugo's mechanical aptitude. Georges has a ward, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a beautiful goddaughter about Hugo's age. She and Hugo have adventures together like sneaking into movie theaters where they both admire silent film. Together they try to solve the secret that seems to link Georges to the automaton.

That is a fair description of the first half of HUGO but the film transforms into a lot more than that. It is a piece of a project very near and dear to Martin Scorsese's heart. To reach his goal he has given us a superbly visual film. Using digitally created crane shots he sweeps us through the Montparnasse train station, into the walls, right into the mechanical workings of the clocks. The clockworks in 3D would make even clockwork enthusiast Guillermo del Toro's mouth water. Scorsese seems to know all the pitfalls to avoid as well as the capabilities of the 3D process to keep the viewer hypnotized. He orchestrated the depth in his 3D images so objects have a continuum of depth. As tribute to other film effects he has a clockwork mouse animated in what is almost certainly stop-motion.

Scorsese complemented his direction with some very nice casting. Chloe Grace Moretz is appealing as the young Isabelle, and Sacha Baron Cohen's station inspector is a good villain, well matched to his Doberman companion. (There are also dachshunds, which for me are always a plus.) Christopher Lee is present more for his connection to cinema than because he could bring a lot to this particular role. Emily Mortimer (CITY ISLAND) is fetching as a Montparnasse flower seller. Jude Law is always likeable though a little too English for this role.

Scorsese has made one of the most remarkable films of the year by surprising us and at the same time telling his story with a perfect poetry. I rate HUGO +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. Now will HUGO win a Hugo?

Spoiler ... Spoiler ... Spoiler ... Spoiler ...

-- The reference to the heels of ladies' shoes is said to be false. It was actually the heels of army boots--a little more forgivable considering the circumstances.

-- In the 1930s few people were thinking in terms of rockets as we do today. What Hugo's father saw he would probably call a bullet or a projectile, not a rocket.

-- To the best of my (admittedly incomplete) knowledge Georges was never surprised by a large audience's tribute as shown in the film. I have previously heard that that was actually an incident in Buster Keaton's life. Keaton assumed that with the coming of the sound era his films had been forgotten. When asked to appear before an audience he was certain he would be talking to a handful of polite but unenthusiastic film fans. That was not the reaction. Great film is timeless, which is part of Scorsese's point. Similarly Jack Arnold only discovered toward the end of his life that he had a large admiring fandom.

-- The trailer spoiled the surprise for me. It showed papers blowing around a room and we see the sketch of the man with the plumes of steam coming out of his head. I had seen that sketch before and recognized it immediately.

-- There really was an automaton like the one shown that could do some rudimentary drawing. It drew nothing so complex as we see. And it is stretching credulity a bit far to claim this could be the work of the same man. It is like claiming Albert Einstein was coincidentally also the world's greatest impressionist painter.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


"Falling Skies" (Season 1) (television review by Nick Sauer):

"Falling Skies" is a new genre series put out by TNT. The story begins six months after an alien race known as the Skitters have successfully invaded our planet and, follows a group of survivors who have formed a militia known as the 2nd Massachusetts. The series stars Noah Wyle as Tom Mason and Will Patton as Captain Weaver.

This show had three strikes against it out the gate with me. First, Steven Spielberg was involved with it and, I'm not as enamored with his work as everyone else seems to be. Second, it is an alien invasion story. Saying these have been overdone is a bit of an understatement. Finally, the promotional material for the series really made it look like an attempt by TNT to cash in on the success of AMC's "Walking Dead". Surprisingly, the show managed to overcome enough of these obstacles to create an above average genre series.

The show takes place in Boston and opens six months after the Earth has been invaded by a race of aliens known only as the Skitters, which is the slang name we have given them. We learn in the pilot, which is actually just the first two episodes played back to back, that the world's governments agreed not to fire upon the incoming alien ships once they were detected. Given that we have at least nine countries capable of launching nuclear weapons into space and how "well" they seem to get along with one another, I found this a touch implausible at first myself. However, it becomes obvious fairly quickly that part of the Skitters arsenal that they used to wipe out the planet's militaries includes an EMP type weapon so, even if a country did launch something at the aliens without telling, it wouldn't have worked anyway. This attention to detail, along with solid writing, is really what makes this show work so well. In fact, it would not surprise me one bit if the scenario I described above would ultimately be revealed in a later season given the thought the writers clearly seem to be putting into the show.

These two factors also contribute greatly to the characters in the series. The 2nd Mass has a military commander named Weaver and a recently promoted second in command (Tom Mason) who was promoted from the civilian population being guarded by the militia. As a result, Tom is in the interesting and often taxing position of balancing the needs of the civilians versus the needs of the military personnel to protect them. There are not a lot of easy answers here and the show does a great job of presenting this conflict. Another factor in this sort of environment is that you see people forced to work together who would otherwise never do so. This is another topic that "Falling Skies" handles remarkably well in my opinion. The characters are all very real human beings with their own unique sets of idiosyncrasies learning to live with each in a manner that keeps the society, such as it is, cohesive and functional.

The series is not entirely character-driven; there is a good deal of story, as well. The story does have the standard survival plots one would expect. This includes some dealing with other groups of survivors that don't go that well. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by one of the directions these story lines took as it is not something I would have expected given Spielberg's involvement. The other part of the story is the people trying to learn about the Skitters and what they are up to. One of the first things the invaders did was to capture children and enslave them with devices called harnesses. The harnesses seem to give the Skitters complete control over the children who they use for manual labor. Over the course of the series, the nature of this enslavement takes on some interesting and complex turns that makes it clear it's not as simple as it first appears. A physician character is also introduced who not only studies the Skitters but is also experimenting with techniques to de-harness children. There are some surprising turns that are taken with this character, also. Given what I have seen so far, it looks to me like "Falling Skies" is heading in a very different direction than "Walking Dead" so, perhaps the early advertising was showing excerpts from the series to specifically target "Walking Dead"'s audience.

The writing in "Falling Skies" is one of its key strengths. The huge problem I have with alien invasion scenarios is the logic of the overall situation. If you have developed the technology and power sources necessary to push tons of material through interstellar space, it seems to me that any problems your society could be subject to would be solved by far more efficient application of that science than interstellar invasion. Given what I have seen so far, I am cautiously optimistic that the writers will already have answers to address this in future episodes. I hadn't really appreciated how much I had bought into the whole story line until the final episode. A situation arose where the two main characters had an opportunity to lash out at the aliens and I found myself verbally encouraging them to do so. Mason and Weaver didn't follow my advice, which is a good thing as it probably would have ended badly for them. In any case, the point was made to me that I was obviously more engaged with the series than I had previously appreciated.

While "Falling Skies" is good, it is not perfect. There are occasional things that happened that pegged my bullshit meter. In particular there was an insanely lucky shot made by Tom during the final episode. I was able to write it off in that he could have easily achieved the same effect by just firing at the rigid structure as opposed to the moving target but the fact the show forced me to go through that thought process annoyed me. I realize they were clearly shooting for coolness factor here but I felt it had the opposite effect. The series also started a little slower than most people would like. Once the story got rolling the pace definitely picked up but I'm wondering how many viewers stayed with the show long enough to get to that point. Once the story engaged, I was as eager for the next episode of this series as I was for the other shows I was watching at the time.

"Falling Skies" was one of three new (sort of) genre shows introduced this summer. While Alphas was the clear winner, I would say that "Falling Skies" was definitely worth looking into and would be at about the same level as Torchwood: Miracle Day for me. The season conclusion was good and, given the overall quality of the first season, I will definitely be checking out the second. [-ns]

Armed Services Editions (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to Evelyn's comments about Armed Services Editions in the 11/25/11 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Those wartime paperbacks for soldiers are indeed delightful. They fit into pants pockets (I was surprised to find that regular pocket books did the same, way back when) and are in two columns for quicker eye scanning. My copy of TIMBER LINE by Gene Fowler is, sadly, lacking half of one page. I need to find the missing text and set it on a piece of paper to stick in the book [note to self] sometime.

Even more interesting is an original volume called SOLDIER ART, apparently a catalog for an art exhibition. Much of it was mundane, but it included a rather compelling piece by Pfc Arthur M. Kraft out of Santa Ana AAB in California, entitled "The Dust is Whirling in the Dust." I've searched online for a photo of it. Finding none, I scanned the one in the book: [-kw]

Mark responds:

It reminds me of the style of Boris Artzybasheff:

You might want to look through this web site for more of Kraft's artwork:>. [-mrl]

Gannibal and Hannibal (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Pushkin in the 12/09/11 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes, "Is Gannibal the Russian version of Hannibal?" [-smm]

Evelyn responds, "Apparently, since 'Hannibal' is given as a variant name for him." [-ecl]

Young People and Books (letter of comment by Daniel M. Kimmel):

In response to Mark's comments on Ray Bradbury in the 12/09/11 issue of the MT VOID, Daniel M. Kimmel writes:

I don't claim my daughter is a representative sample, but I think you ought to speak to some tweens and teens before deciding they're not reading anymore. In fact, YA fiction is one of the hottest commodities out there right now. My fifteen-year-old, who has to work through some issues with a mild dyslexia, is now devouring books. She told me she's read fifteen books outside of class just since the start of the current school year and at one point complained, "I'm running out of books to read," because she had read every thing she had on hand. In fact she's got plans this weekend to go to the local children's bookstore (with a big YA section) with a friend to buy some new stuff to read.

Books aren't dead yet. Ask any teens you cross path with if they've read the Harry Potter books, or the "Twilight" series, or "Hunger Games" and its two sequels. You may be pleasantly surprised. [-dmk]

Mark responds:

I think Bradbury was confusing the concepts of books and reading. With the current e-readers reading is not disappearing but books are. Bradbury was sorry to see the reading experience change, but it has changed before. In his own time reading went from hardbacks to mass-market paperbacks. They change the reading experience also. E-readers are a threat to the reading experience as Bradbury has known it, but if anything they increase the amount of reading. E-readers are a mixed blessing for fans of reading. They change the experience from that of book reading, but they still make the writing available. They facilitate reading. Bradbury was mostly wrong about us moving toward more government censorship.

On the other hand, reading does seem to be of less importance it once was among younger people. And we fogies do not really get much of a vote in whether younger people are going to read or not. Some young people are just not valuing the reading experience and are only participating when forced. The trend seems to be that there will be fewer people who want to read, but e-readers will make writing more available to people. But there may be just fewer people taking the time to read in the future. Right now a big piece of younger people's reading are a few blockbuster series, and I would be curious how many of your daughter's friends have read much that has not been in a series. You daughter and her close circle of reading friends are, I suspect, probably atypical. [-mrl]

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

This is my week to be picky. (I know, many of you think I'm picky every week.)

First up on the firing line is "All about Emily" by Connie Willis (in ASIMOV's December 2011 issue). My complaint may give away too much of the plot, so if you don't want spoilers, skip to the next paragraph. I like all the classic film references and the basic premise/conflict. I just think the resolution is completely unrealistic, and as evidence I will point out that you don't see American farm workers picketing and signing petitions to *allow* illegal immigrants to take jobs here--and the illegal immigrants are actually human. The idea that we would see such support for non-humans strikes me as being impossibly Pollyana-ish. In other words, this is your typical Connie Willis Christmas story.

And my other nitpick is with THE CLOCKWORK ROCKET by Greg Egan (ISBN 978-1-59780-227-7). Egan is so rigorous in his science that it is hard to believe I could nitpick this book, but in part that is my complaint. It takes place on another world--indeed, in a different universe--and so Egan creates no units of measure derived from a base-12 system, and then gives you a table of these in an appendix. For time, we have flickers, pauses, lapse, chimes, bells, days, and stints, each twelve times as long as the previous. For length, there are scants, spans, strides, stretches, saunters, strolls, slogs, separations, and severances. All this emphasizes the difference, the alien-ness of the world. However, this is completely undercut on page one by references to gamboge, saffron, goldenrod, and wheat. (I give him a pass on jade and viridian, because conceivably those chemical compounds could exist even in this alien universe. Or maybe not, but I do not understand the science of the universe enough to know.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          To emphasize only the beautiful seems to me to be 
          like a mathematical system that only concerns 
          itself with positive numbers. 
                                          --Paul Klee 

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