MT VOID 08/24/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 8, Whole Number 1716

MT VOID 08/24/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 8, Whole Number 1716

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/24/12 -- Vol. 31, No. 8, Whole Number 1716

Table of Contents

      James Bond: Mark Leeper, Goldfinger: 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

R.U.R. Dramatization (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We got the word "robot" from the Czech word for "worker." It became known to the world from a play written by Karel Capek in 1920. The play was entitled R.U.R., which an abbreviation for the name of a corporation in the play, Rossum's Universal Robots. The corporation built mindless robots that looked like humans, but felt no pain, had no desires and were prefect slaves. Then people started fooling around with their formula...

The Columbia Workshop dramatized R.U.R. on the radio in 1937. The Relic Radio website has made a recording of this play available at

This is an interesting piece of science fiction history.

Read about the history of the play here:


Two Times Three Skeleton Key (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We do not hear much about George G. Toudouze's horror story "Three Skeleton Key" today, but it was quite popular in the 1940s and 1950s. It was produced as a radio play three times on Escape and twice on Suspense. People could not get enough of it. Three of the five productions starred Vincent Price as the main character.

Wikipedia has a page for the story, and it has links to recordings of all five radio productions:

The August 10, 2012, podcast from the Tales to Terrify web site offers the story in two different forms. First there is a dramatic reading of Toudouze's original story--read very nicely I think. Then it continues with a link to the second broadcast of the story. This was the first time it was produced with Vincent Price.

The story involves three men in a lighthouse who encounter a ghost ship containing something deadly. [-mrl]

A Thought on Turkeys, Science, and Religion (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In a documentary about Benjamin Franklin they say that he investigated whether he could kill an animal with an electric shock. I notice that the science of his day was more ready to tell him that he could than the religion of his day was to tell him that he shouldn't. Today I think that science would be quicker to tell him that the shock really could kill the animal and so the experiment need not be performed. And religion would still dither about whether or not to tell him he shouldn't. To science capacity to change is a strength. To religion change is generally considered a failing. [-mrl]

Not a Mash-Up (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I recently mentioned the book JANE'S WEAPON SYSTEM in a mailing list I'm on and someone asked, "Is this a science fiction book or some kind of military catalog?"

My response:

I know it sounds like one of those new mash-ups, a sequel to SENSE & SENSIBILITY & SEA MONSTERS, a "Jane Austen at Entebbe" sort of thing, but, no, it's a military catalog. Jane's Information Group (often referred to as Jane's) is a British publishing company specializing in transportation and military topics. I assume it was named for someone whose last name was Jane.

[Can anyone here further enlighten me?]


Mark replies:

As is so often the case, I can. It says in Wikipedia under "Jane's Information Group" that "Jane's was founded by Fred T. Jane in 1898 who had begun by sketching ships as an enthusiast, and this gradually developed into an encyclopaedic knowledge, culminating in the publishing of All the World's Fighting Ships (1898)." [-mrl]

Evelyn adds:

I looked in Wikipedia, but must have missed that paragraph. [-ecl]

My Fifteen Best Hammer SF/Horror/Fantasy Films, Part 3 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

And here we are at the last of my listings of the best of Hammer Films. Hammer was, of course known for a certain style of gothic horror. It may be my personal taste, but there is only one of the their gothic horror films here. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT is one of their best horror films, of course, but it is not in the style of most of the rest of their films.

The name Quatermass shows up in the titles of three of the films. For people who know my taste for the Quatermass series this will come as no surprise. This science fiction series is about a British rocket scientist who discovers three attempts to invade the planet Earth by three different alien species. The series represents for me some of the best of Hammer films. The one question I have is if there were three attempt to invade the Earth on Quatermass's watch (actually there were four since there was a later Quatermass thriller) what did we ever do before Quatermass came along?

But let us start with the film that really made Hammer famous worldwide.

Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee.

This was Hammer's first really well-constructed gothic horror film. And they never matched it again. A lot of the point of this film was to show blood in color. No vampire film had ever done that and of course blood is central to the concept of vampirism. The story was a really cut down and rearranged version of the Bram Stoker novel. But one way that this film was different from the previous Hammer gothic, THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, is that Christopher Lee's naked face was allowed to hang out. The man clearly had some sex appeal. The film is arguably better paced than the book. The makers wanted to show off the blood--and for a nobleman Dracula is a surprisingly messy eater. The climax, with parts improvised on set, while not really horrific is one of the most exciting action sequences in any horror film.

Directed by Val Guest. Starring Brian Donlevy, Jack Warner.

Quatermass has sent three men into space in a rocket, and in a way only one comes back. In a way all three come back. But in either case an alien intelligence comes with them. American actor Brian Donlevy plays Bernard Quatermass who imbues his role with what one might call controlled hysteria as he realizes the degree of the threat he has brought to Earth. This is based on the first of four Quatermass TV plays written by Nigel Kneale, three of which were adapted from BBC television plays into Hammer Films. Kneale was very unhappy about the choice of Donlevy to play Quatermass and about changes to the story. Especially bothersome is the change of the means of defeating the invader from finesse to brute force. Indeed the play is better than the film, but the film is still very good with a nice tense atmosphere and much of the intelligence of the TV play is intact.

Directed by Val Guest. Starring Brian Donlevy, John Longden, Sid James.

Quatermass is planning a colony that will support humans on the moon. Then he is diverted into investigating a hyper-secret government project out in a nowhere place called Winnerden Flats on the English countryside. What bothers him most is that the installation looks a lot like his space colony. What bothers him more is that the project seems to be the target of nightly meteor falls and that people who get too close to the meteors seem to be somehow enslaved. Quatermass thinks that Winnerden Flats needs a government investigation, but much of the government seems to be allied in efforts to keep things running as they have been at the project. Quatermass decides he has to get inside the installation to see what is happening there. Again Hammer cast Brian Donlevy as Quatermass and again they changed the ending. But the gritty realism of THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT returns.

Directed by Terence Fisher. Starring Christopher Lee, Charles Gray.

This is a period piece, set in the 1920s, but somehow it is not really gothic horror. Hammer adapted two of Dennis Wheatley's "Black Magic" novels, and made fairly good thrillers out of each of them. This was the first. For once Christopher Lee plays the hero of the film. Lee is the worldly Duc de Richleau who discovers with horror that one of his friends is playing around with black magic under the leadership of Mocata (Charles Gray), an adept in Black Magic. The friend is also interested in Tanith, an inductee into the rites of black magic. Trying to rescue them both brings the Duc in close contact to the actual Devil in the form of the Goat of Mendes. To cut corners they have no special effect auras or blurring around the image. (Compare it to how the Devil is portrayed in ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968).) It should not work, but it is a startling image. Once can almost smell the sweat. The ending is tricky.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker. Starring Andrew Keir and James Donald.

This is the third and generally considered to be the best of the Quatermass films. I freely admit this is not just my favorite Hammer film; it is my favorite film of all time. Nigel Kneale hit on a terrific idea that in one fell swoop explains paranormal phenomena, different cultures having similar myths, race prejudice, and a great deal more in one compact science fiction thriller, very well paced and with very good dialog. The "pit" is really being dug for a new underground stop. While they are digging they find bones. These turn out to be fossils of man from five million years ago. They also find a mysterious cylinder, possibly a German V- weapon, but fossil evidence indicates that it might also be five million years old. If this were not odd enough, the area has long been known as the location of haunted houses and paranormal phenomena. They all must tie together, but how? And what are the implications? This film was at one time very little known in the United States. It now is known and well respected in the United States and Britain.


TRUEBLOOD (Seasons 1-4) (DVD review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

For a very long time Kate Pott, an old friend, has been recommending HBO's TRUEBLOOD. Recently I saw the first season on a DVD for sale cheap, so I jumped at the opportunity. Of course, once I watched the first season, I had to watch the rest, and so ended up watching all four seasons. As a non-HBO subscriber, I know that a fifth season is underway that I have not seen yet.

Based on "The Southern Vampire Mysteries" by Charlaine Harris, TRUEBLOOD has become popular enough for repeated renewal--it has been renewed for a 6th season, and according to the wiki article is the most watched HBO show since THE SOPRANOS. I've never read any of the many books, and so will not comment on the book/film relationship. To a large degree TRUEBLOOD is an Anna Paquin vehicle, as she has the starring role as Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress who is telepathic. Paquin started her career with a bang, winning the Academy Award in 1994 at the age of eleven for best supporting actress in THE PIANO. Later she became known to SF fans as Rogue in the "X-Men" trilogy, and more recently (2008) she has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Sookie.

TRUEBLOOD has a complex plot, with an over-arching villain for each season. The first season deals with a human serial killer. The second season features two villainous forces, a human vampire hunter leading a religious army called "The Fellowship of the Sun", and Maryann, a maenad. The third season opposition is provided by Russell Edgington, an ancient and powerful vampire king with a werewolf army fueled by vampire blood. In season four, the ghost of a long-ago witch-necromancer named Antonia killed by vampires possesses the body of a local Wiccan practitioner who has turned to necromancy and provides a power boost that allows the Wiccan to wage a war on the vampires.

TRUEBLOOD is sufficiently complex that the above summary of plot arcs is as far as I am going to go in describing what happens from a storyline perspective. The show follows several major threads as it winds through all the action. Firstly, there is the Sookie Stackhouse/Bill Compton (vampire)/Eric Northman (vampire) love triangle with Alcide Herveaux (werewolf) making it a bit more complicated in season four. Another thread is the relationships between Sookie and her best friend Tara Thornton, Tara's cousin Lafayette (gay/medium), her boss Sam Merlotte (shapeshifter), fellow waitress Arlene Fowler, and Sookie's brother, Jason Stackhouse (football player turned vampire hunter turned vampire blood addict turned ...). Vampire family life is a theme, focusing on the Godric/Northman, the Northman/Pam Beaufort, and the Bill Compton/Jessica Hambly siring relationships.

As it completely obvious from the first episode, vampirism is an analogue to the gay/lesbian lifestyle. TRUEBLOOD makes this clear by using phrases like "coming out of the coffin" and placing the action in the context of a vampire rights movement. Previously I've said that THE VAMPIRE DIARIES (on CW) offers a lot of the fun of comics like the Justice League or the Avengers as we follow a motley crew of intrepid heroes as they struggle to defeat the current "big bad". There is certainly an element of this in TRUEBLOOD, with Sookie, Alcide, and Sam sometimes aiding frenemies Bill/Eric and their spawn as they battle various menaces. However, TRUEBLOOD is more fluid and family focused, often with two, three, or even four rings in the circus.

For some reason, it has been decided that Canadian Anna is good at playing a southern belle, which is why she has appeared as Rogue in X-Men, and as Sookie in TRUEBLOOD. I was not a fan of Paquin's Rogue, partially because I never found her that convincing as a southerner, and partially because I don't like the story where Rogue gives up her powers. In the comic books Rogue takes on the Avengers all by herself, and fights them to a standstill--a far cry from the timid girl that appeared in the X-Men trilogy. I like Paquin better as Sookie than as Rogue, probably because I have no preconceived idea of what Sookie is supposed to be like. I've been a bit vague her about Sookie's role other than to say that she is telepathic. It should not come as a complete surprise that Sookie turns out to be more than a little supernatural herself, which drives a lot of the story lines. Sookie, who has struggled all her life to conceal her telepathy and avoid dealing with her powers, reluctantly finds herself involved in repeated supernatural battles, culminating in a season four blow-out between the vampires and their allies, including Sookie, and the Wiccans, led by re- embodied necromancer Antonia, in which Sookie is shot and seriously wounded.

TRUEBLOOD is a hard R-rated cable show, with lots of frontal nudity, sex, blood, drugs, rape, torture, violence, etc., etc. The Emmy-nominated title sequence is disturbing all by itself. Having said that, I'm not sure that any of the above is gratuitous in the sense that sex scenes in THE GAME OF THRONES sometimes appear to be pasted in only to titillate. There is an underlying message that waking up after the orgy/drugs/violence etc. can be an education. Characters' actions have plausible consequences, which is what I'm looking for in a watchable show. I also suspect that real Southerners might find TRUEBLOOD's portrayal of the South offensive, what with the inbred tribes of were-panthers dealing drugs, the bigoted rednecks, and so on. TRUEBLOOD often appears unkind to anti-gay rights activists, but the portrayal of vampirism is sufficiently balanced and realistic that TRUEBLOOD transcends the gay/vampire analogy. To put a finer point on it, any rational person who actually understood the vampires in TRUEBLOOD would think twice before endorsing vampire rights.

TRUEBLOOD is, rather like KILL BILL, of considerable interest to those who like this sort of thing, but not for everyone. Strictly for an adult audience. [-dls]

TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (copyright 2012, Ace, $25.95, 342pp, ISBN 978-1-937007-16-4) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

Oddly enough, the first thought that came to my mind as I sat down to write this piece is that "Rob Sawyer is done committing trilogy". What should have come to my mind was that "he's done it again, and really, no, I didn't see that ending coming".

Okay, that's getting way ahead of myself, but it's true. Oh, all right, I'll start again.

In a departure from many of Sawyer's previous novels, TRIGGERS takes place in the United States. The country has been attacked multiple times by terrorists--Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia have all been hit by bombs detonated by an Al-Qaeda splinter group. President Seth Jerrison is making a speech from the Lincoln Memorial in an effort to bolster the country's confidence. Precautions have been taken, and security is tight. However, a shot rings out, and the president goes down. He is rushed to Luther Terry hospital in Washington, DC, where a team of doctors and nurses attempt to save his life.

Elsewhere in the hospital, professor Ranjip Singh is attempting to erase terrible memories from the mind of Kadeem Adams, who is suffering from PTSD from the Iraqi war. Singh is working in Luther Terry hospital using a radical treatment that involves an experimental device. At the time of the president's surgery, Singh is operating the device in what he believes will be the climactic event of the experiment, finally erasing all of Adams' traumatic memories.

And then a bomb goes off at the White House, sending an EMP out into the area. At the same time that the pulse happens, Jerrison is undergoing a near death experience where his life flashes in front of his eyes, only he realizes that the memories he's experiencing *are not his*.

It turns out that the EMP has affected Singh's experimental device in such a way that people who are within a certain distance of the device have their memories linked. Not everyone is linked with everyone else; it's a one-to-one, one-way relationship. Person A's memories are seen by person B, B is seen by C, and so on.

Did I mention that there's an upcoming retaliatory military operation that will be taking place mere days after the assassination attempt, and that there is *someone* out there that now knows about it but shouldn't?

So, we the readers comfortably set in to follow along with the story of discovering who that person is and what is to be done about it, what happens to terrorism in the world, and how the connected memories play into the events.

Nope. Sorry. Not gonna happen that way, well, not completely, anyway.

And that's where I stop telling you about what specifically goes on in the story, because it takes a turn out of nowhere that I wasn't expecting but thoroughly enjoyed. Those of you who read enough of my little articles know that I just love novels with Big Ideas and Cosmic Events. Well then.

Sawyer does his usual excellent job of showing how technologies and their consequences affect the lives of specific human beings and humanity in general. He does it again here, and thus does not disappoint. And these characters are engaging, making you want to know their stories and how they progress, how their lives end up because of those stories.

But what Sawyer does here is turn the story on its ear, as it were, taking it in a direction that at the very least I wasn't expecting, but still left me wanting to know what happened to all the characters after the end of the book. His idea here may not necessarily be original, but he certainly gets here in an original way, one that I didn't see coming. While I want to know what happened to the characters after the end of the novel, I don't *need* to. I think the point that Sawyer is trying to make here stands on its own and transcends the need for the *little things*.

The novel starts out as a techno-thriller, but ends up as something else again entirely. It may not satisfy every one, but it sure did satisfy me. A great book, and one that I recommend you all go out and read. [-jak]

THE BOURNE LEGACY (letter of comment by Mark Brader):

In response to Mark's review of THE BOURNE LEGACY in the 08/17/12 issue of the MT VOID, Mark Brader writes:

[Of the attempt to turn into a selling point the taking of a completed story and turning it into an unlimited franchise] Well, that is also what the second and third movies did. They were basically just remakes of the first one, disguised as sequels by having different openings. [-mb]

And in response to Mark's comment, "Meanwhile the government people who created the two out-of-control super-killers, Cross and Bourne, cannot say they have closed down the program yet. Eliminating these two is their last cross to be borne,"

Mark Brader writes:

Groan! [-mb]

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

In CASTRO'S BOMB by Robert Conroy (Kindle only, ASIN B005ORV3IM), the politics and military aspects are done reasonably well (at least as far as I can tell), but Conroy really needs to have only male characters. Regarding female characters, one of two things seem to be the case: 1) Conroy has no idea how to write female characters, or 2) Conroy knows how to write female characters, but figures his audience is all male and consists of people who do not want well-written female characters.

So far as I can tell, the female characters are entirely defined by sex (including rape), fear of pregnancy, menstruation, emotions, what they are wearing, and how they look. They plead for their husbands, or spend time searching their bombed-out apartments for jewelry. The only real exception to this seems to be the Cuban women who stop the tank column, and even they are more into passive resistance. (One might speculate on the differing portrayals of Anglo and Russian women versus those of Hispanic women, but I am not going to go there.)

(This problem, by the way, also appears in his earlier books, HIMMLER'S WAR and 1942, and possibly others that I do not recall.)

Conroy also depends a *lot* on infodumps, even to the extent of explaining the origin of the military response "Nuts!" But in non- military matters, he makes mistakes (which should have been caught by his editor, assuming Kindle books have editors). For example, there is his use of the term "Hobson's choice" in the sense of Scylla and Charybdis, when it really means no choice at all. ("Any color as long as it's black" would be a classic example.) And it is not a case of the error being the character's rather than the author's--the speaker (Kennedy) was classically educated and would know what "Hobson's choice" means.

WAKE UP AND DREAM by Ian R. MacLeod (ISBN 978-1-848-63194-6) is set in an alternate Los Angeles where the talkies were quickly supplanted by the feelies, and so people who would have become great actors ended up in other professions. For example, Clark Gable is a private detective in the Philip Marlowe mold. In addition to the feelies, though, there is at least one other major change: it is 1942 and the United States has not entered the war. This seems to be attributed to a much stronger isolationist--and racist--party in the United States, but I am not sure that explains why Japan would not have attacked us, especially since the racist attitudes make it unlikely that we would be any friendlier towards them.

I have a few nits (other than questioning the premise). In 1942, phone calls were still a nickel, not a dime. Hertz car rental had been around since 1918, but Avis had not been founded yet. And one stylistic (though not factual) mistake: the Clark Gable POV narrator refers to someone wearing a ragged "jumper". The American word is "sweater", and to keep from breaking character, MacLeod should have used that term.

Sophia McDougall has finished her "Romanitas" trilogy. As a Sidewise Award judge, I was sent copies of all three books when they came out, but either the publisher did not want to provide a nicely matched set, or the books were published without concern for having a nicely matched set. ROMANITAS (ISBN 978-0-75286-894-3) is in the British "C format" (the size of a hardback but with a soft cover, 6"x9.25"), ROME BURNING (ISBN 978-0-7528-7930-7) is in the "A format" (US mass market size, 4.5"x7"), and SAVAGE CITY (ISBN 978-0-575-09638-7) is in the "B format" (somewhere between the two, 5"x7.75"). This is not the most mis-matched set I own, though-- that "honor" goes to the Jasper Fforde "Thursday Next" series, with volumes in Viking hardcover, Viking UK C format, NEL B format, and two Penguin US trade paperbacks. But the fact that the heights of the "Romanitas" books vary so much makes them very difficult to shelve (or box) together. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          If you don't know, ask. You will be a fool for the 
          moment, but a wise man for the rest of your life.

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