MT VOID 07/05/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 1, Whole Number 1761

MT VOID 07/05/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 1, Whole Number 1761

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/05/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 1, Whole Number 1761

Table of Contents

      Heathcliff: Mark Leeper, Catherine: 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

Why Does the Volume Number of the MT VOID Change on July 1 Instead of January 1? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

You may wonder why the volume number of the MT VOID changes on July 1 instead of the more obvious January 1. It all has to do with the history of AT&T.

Way back in 1978, when Mark and I started working at Bell Laboratories, there were a lot of clubs there, but no science fiction club. (I know--sounds impossible for Bell Labs, but there you have it.) So we started one, and the MT VOID began back then as a one-sheet announcing the next meeting. From that it expanded to include reviews, articles, and all the other stuff you see.

As part of what is referred to as "divestiture", AT&T Information Systems (a.k.a. American Bell) was spun off on July 1, 1982. Mark and I went with American Bell, and started a science fiction club there, restarting the numbering of the weekly newsletter at Volume 1, Number 1. In 1986, it was decided that American Bell did not have to be a separate company and it was merged back into AT&T. The two clubs merged as well, but for some reason we kept the American Bell numbering.

So the volume number above is not entirely accurate. We started thirty-five years ago, not thirty-two. (I suppose we could say that we are numbering from 4 B.A.B., or 3 B.A.B., if we want to avoid the "missing-Year-0" problem.) The whole number count is accurate, however. [-ecl]

Math Riddle (by Tyler Clark):

Question: What does the B stand for in Benoit B. Mandelbrot?

Answer: Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

How Big Are the Planets?:

Ron Miller has created images of what each of the planets in our solar system would look like if they were placed at the same distance from Earth as the moon:

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for July (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

July is nearly on us and it is the time of the month for me to make my recommendations for the upcoming month on TCM. All times are EDT.

3:10 TO YUMA (1957) is not generally included among the very most highly-regarded classic Westerns, but it is just a step or two below them. 96% of critics gave the film a positive review on Rotten Tomatoes. Glenn Ford plays a different sort of villain. He is a killer with the seductive charm of a snake. Van Heflin is a rancher whose ranch is failing in a drought. Desperate to support his family he accepts a commission to accompany Ford to prison in Yuma. The problem for Heflin is that "dying ain't much of a living." Ford's gang does not want to see Ford put on the train. The song is unintentionally ridiculous, but the film, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard is good. It was re-made in 2007 into a respectable Western starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, but not as good as the original, in large part because they scaled the film up and modified the nearly perfect ending. Actually the story and the two films all have different endings, but it was the ending of the 1957 version that made the film memorable. [Saturday, July 13, 1:15 PM]

In real life legendary is the wacky team of writers for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows" in the 1950s. The writers included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, and Carl Reiner--practically the whole future of American comedy. (Woody Allen joined the team later for TV specials.) MY FAVORITE YEAR is a fictionalized account of a real incident. A guest star on the program was to be the very alcoholic and unmanageable Errol Flynn (here named Alan Swann and played by Peter O'Toole. Responsibility to keep him out of trouble and sober was given to two young writers, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks (here amalgamated into Benjy Stone and played by Mark-Linn Baker). MY FAVORITE YEAR is based on the resulting chaos. The film combines verbal and physical comedy but also there is more than a little depth to the characters. Alan Swann is frequently considered Peter O'Toole's second best role after LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. [P.S. I try not to recommend that same films repeatedly. I slipped up here since I had recommended this film last December. As long as I have already written the description I will use it.] [Saturday July 17, 10 PM]

I know a lot of people who were inspired by Peter Weir's DEAD POETS SOCIETY [not being shown]. I would love to show it on a double feature with THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (1969). Both are about teachers who go outside the rules in order to enrich their students. But THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE is like the dark side of DEAD POETS SOCIETY. Maggie Smith is terrific in the title role, a teacher who wants to influence every student to achieve dreams

that she herself chooses for them. She is half concerned teacher and half demagogue. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE is a dark shadow of DEAD POETS SOCIETY though it came first by several years. The film also stars horror actress Pamela Franklin (THE INNOCENTS, AND SOON THE DARKNESS, THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE). [Thursday, July 21, 8 PM]

I cannot claim that OPERATION CROSSBOW (1965) is actually a good action film, but it is a fun one. It is an exaggerated account of the actual WWII operation to try to destroy the Nazi rocket base at Peenemunde, the source of the V-1 and the V-2 missiles that the Germans used against England. There are a lot of special effects showing the V-1 and eventually the V-2 in action. George Peppard plays the lieutenant who leads the operation. But the top-billed star is Sophia Loren. You actually do not see much of her in the film. She is in a sequence that does not affect anything else in the plot. Why is she there? My guess is that her husband, Carlo Ponte, was the producer of the film and probably just decided there would be a place for his wife somewhere in the film and that she would get top billing. But this is a film with a lot of V-1s and V-2s and a bunch of explosions. [Wednesday, July 31, 2 AM]

There also is a fascinating documentary made for TCM entitled I'M KING KONG: THE EXPLOITS OF MERIAN C. COOPER (2005). These days Cooper is best remembered for co-writing and co-directing KING KONG (1933), but his entire life was just a string of incredible adventures. The documentary is well worth catching. [Friday, July 12, 5 AM]

But none of these are the best film of the month. That would have to go to Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY starring Kirk Douglas. It is hard to beat. [Saturday, July 27, 1:30 PM]


WORLD WAR Z (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: An intelligent Zombie Apocalypse film, starring Brad Pitt no less. Boy, I sure did not see that one coming. This is a film that asks some absorbing questions and its answers are more intriguing than the questions. A big expensive film, costing $200M, it also is the best zombie film I have ever seen--not a huge distinction. WORLD WAR Z steps back and looks at a "Night-of-the-Living-Dead"-style event and its global implications. It takes a while to see that this film has much new to say about its well-worn premise, but the answer is, yes, there was a lot here that really has not been done before. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Newcomers to filmmaking very often start with a horror film. The effect of Bela Lugosi's hand extending from a coffin cost almost nothing in DRACULA, yet it gave people the shudders. Horror films rely on tension and atmosphere, very low-tech aspects of a cinema. The entire film CARNIVAL OF SOULS is said to have come in for $30K to produce. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD cost $114K. Horror does not need a mega-budget if the cast and crew are intelligent and understand horror. WORLD WAR Z cost Paramount a reported $200M. Tension and atmosphere are there, but so is an action plot. The film has a lot of spectacle and action presented at a slam-bang pace, but they may be even inimical to the quiet chills a good horror film gives. And WORLD WAR Z is not a particularly gory film. It has a PG-13 rating and has to stick with that if it is going to attract a young-teen audience. The film is not so much a spawn of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as its own ADVENTURES IN ZOMBIE LAND. The leap to mega-budgets for horror is lamentable, though the step back from gore is at least a silvery lining. WORLD WAR Z has a horror premise, but it is more a science fiction film that looks at a zombie apocalypse from a science fiction viewpoint.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD took place in a tiny town outside Pittsburgh. The coming of zombies was a worldwide phenomenon, but the film itself is restricted by budget and imagination to one small town. I am unaware of any zombie film until now that looked in detail at the international implications of a zombie apocalypse, but WORLD WAR Z looks at a revenant uprising as it impacts a worldwide stage.

Gerry Lane (played by Brad Pitt) is a retired United Nations official who has left the service to devote his life to his family. And he is with his family in a Philadelphia traffic jam when a motorcycle knocks the side mirror off his car and just keeps going. Then there are other crashes in the traffic and explosions in the distance. Clearly something strange is happening. His family has to flee on foot, steal an RV, and just in general run without knowing who or what they are running from. We know from so many films what is going on, but in such an emergency information is hard to get.

A former United Nations colleague arranges for Lane and his family to be taken to a Navy ship where some of Lane's questions are answered. Lane reluctantly agrees to leave his family in the protection of the Navy and to go on a multi-nation trip to try to trace down the origin of the disease--if that is what it is--and to try to find a way to fight it. On the agenda is South Korea and Israel. The disease was first reported in South Korea and Israel is the only nation that has had much luck fighting off the zombie epidemic. Mysteriously, they seem to have been preparing a few days in advance of the attack.

It is an interesting question why would Israel be on top of this particular problem. It is a good sign that the script by Matthew Michael Carnahan asks engaging questions. But what is really impressive is that the film's answer to that question is more interesting than the question itself, and that is a sign of a very well written script. The story is in part by J. Michael Straczynski of BABYLON 5 fame and he well knows the value of having good questions and answers in screenplay to hold the viewer's attention. In the last part of the film the uprising is treated much as a scientific puzzle. That is always an interesting approach to a story.

Much of the film is shot with hand-held camera. The color palette is subdued throughout giving the film much of the emotional impact that monochrome would have given it. The film combines scenes shot with handheld camera, inexpensive since they only contain what is right in front of the camera, with judicious use of spectacle created with digital. Seeing huge mobs of zombies swarming in unison, the effect is much like watching "Leiningen vs. the Ants."

WORLD WAR Z breathes new life into the zombie genre of horror film. It is a better film than I was expecting. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


SUPERMAN, MAN OF STEEL (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

DC is suffering a major case of Marvel-movie-envy, and has recruited director Zack Snyder (WATCHMEN, 300) to helm yet another Superman reboot. I have variously read that the film was "dark" and "noisy" but it seems to be doing very strongly at the box office. I found a lot to like, but one big thing to dislike, which isn't Snyder's fault. DC has noted the elements of the Marvel formula for superhero movie success--big budget, top quality writers, great effects, professional script, and top-drawer actors--and put it to work here.

Henry Cavill puts in a convincing turn as the Man of Steel, with Amy Adams as the preternaturally brave Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as a menacing but sincere General Zod, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El, science-hero of Krypton. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner re-create Martha and Jonathan Kent, who adopt Superman as a baby. Overall, this is a strong, convincing cast, with a reasonable script.

The effects are stunning, and there are no Kryptonian crystals anywhere to be seen. The use of "crystals" in Kryptonian technology has been a running theme in many previous Superman movies, although it is non-canonical with the comic, and tends to look silly. Snyder has re-envisioned Krypton in a 1950s super-science mode that is quite fun to look at. The latter part of the film is indeed noisy, as it features full-up supermen battling in a major city.

This is a dark film, darkly filmed, and with a continuing thread of self-sacrifice taken to some extent from 300. There is a lot of death here, mostly of brave humans and aliens dying for causes they deeply believe in--mainly mere survival. Unlike many Superman stories, where he saves the day with nary a hair untouched, this is a rugged war where Superman has to work with humans to save the world in a battle that, frankly, not very many walk away from.

The writers have added a new theme to the comic--that Kal-El is the first naturally born son of Krypton in eons, but the writers supply a convincing reason that he is able to rise to defeat a professional warrior engineered to the task. The weakness of the movie lies in Superman's powers--they are simply unbelievable, an odd collection of unrelated abilities and weaknesses which are utterly unconvincing. The scenes where Superman can't breath the Kryptonian atmosphere because he has "adjusted to Earth conditions" are ludicrous for a character that can fly through the Sun unharmed!!!

Strangely, for a film that, if anything, portrays Superman's powers even more inconsistently than previous movies, the overall effect is powerful. The great effects, wonderful visuals, a tale of authentic sacrifice, and good acting overcome silliness that would sink another movie. There is a better way to re-envision Superman's powers, which has been used by Marvel in the character Gladiator (a nod to the original "Superman"--Phillip Wylie's GLADIATOR). Marvel's Gladiator is a powerful psychic who can do just about anything as long as he thinks he can. Add in the idea that the light of a yellow sun activates Superman's psychic abilities, and suddenly all those odd powers can be consistently presented. Self-doubt is much more interesting weakness than Kryptonite, another silly idea that is blessedly missing from this film.

I'm rating MAN OF STEEL at +2 on the -4 to +4 scale, with the note that it is probably too violent and loud for small children. I think it is the best of all the Superman movies to date. [-dls]

AMERICAN COURTESANS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Former prostitute Kristen DiAngelo produces and conducts interviews with ten other current or former sex workers as well as herself to show the insides of an occupation that the public rarely sees. The film is illustrated with shots of the street, pictures of the participants' youth and some soft-core photographic poses of the ladies being interviewed. The result is a well-rounded view of the upper-end of prostitution, overall as positive on the business as any film since PRETTY WOMAN. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

AMERICAN COURTESANS is a documentary about highly polished and high-priced prostitutes. It answers the questions the viewers might have about this mode of living: How did they get into the profession? What is it like to be a courtesan? In what ways is the occupation rewarding? What are the risks? Toward the end of the film the focus comes to what are the women's alternate plan for when they leave the profession. What will they do then?

For Kristen DiAngelo the answer to the last question was to go into film production. Her first film, AMERICAN COURTESANS, documents the career she had just left. She assembled eleven current or former prostitutes, including herself, to tell of their experience. She interviewed them and had them interview each other to get a global view of the business of sex. While the film is directed by first-timer James Johnson, it is obviously DiAngelo who manages the film. Her purpose seems to be to sink many of the myths about prostitution that everybody knows but are not necessarily true. For example everybody knows pimps are violent selfish psychopaths who abuse their subservient prostitutes. One of the women--with eleven prostitutes interviewed it is hard to remember who said what--had nothing but affection for her former pimp who was as concerned for her welfare as his own.

The lives of the escorts fall very much into a pattern. They have impoverished and unhappy early lives. One says that though her mother got monthly checks, there was more month than money. They find their way into the business where there is money to be made. There also are arrests, rape, and beatings from customers, and there is little or no help from the police. The police reports of crimes against prostitutes at times would be stamped with "NHI." That is short for "No Humans Involved." Still, overall the women discussing their situation are not filled with self-pity. Some entered the profession saying, "Well, this is what you got to do." Some decided they would be earning good money. Most of the women in this film are now living with decent incomes. So generally they are positive on their profession and what it has done for them. They have a sense of self and of empowerment. These days they walk

with confidence. However, one should remember when watching the film that these women represent only a tiny fraction of American sex workers. These are the luckiest and the most successful.

The stories the women tell of their pasts are illustrated with their own photographs and perhaps home movies showing parts of their stories. Little is at all salacious.

Overall, the film presents an inside look at high-priced escorts. It argues for understanding and just treatment for prostitutes from the public and especially from the police. The film acknowledges that it would be too simple to say that the profession has been good for the prostitutes or that it has been terrible. Prostitution is a human profession with its good and bad aspects. I rate AMERICAN COURTESANS +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. AMERICAN COURTESANS will be premiering on VOD and on DVD on July 12.

Film Credits:


Driving the Future (letter of comment by David G. Leeper):

In response to Dale Skran's article on the Chevy Volt in the 06/28/13 issue of the MT VOID, David Leeper writes:

I enjoyed reading Dale Skran's article on the Chevy Volt. I borrowed one last year and did a write-up on it () that came to pretty much the same conclusions Dale did, especially about the "range anxiety" (of which the Volt has none) and the same quibble about the electronics layout & operation. So Dale must be a sensible guy(!). [-dgl]

Passing of Three Science Fiction and Fantasy Greats (comments by Greg Frederick):

Yes, the recent passing of Jack Vance, Richard Matheson and earlier this year, Ray Harryhausen, all in this year have hit me pretty hard. I read many Matheson science fiction books and some of his other books thru the years. I also made of point of seeing many of the TV shows or films which were based on his stories. Vance and Matheson were 2 of the very first science fiction authors who I read regularly back in the early 1970s. That is the decade when I first started to read paperback books that I wanted to read (not required by some teacher). But I was an avid comic book reader as a child before starting into science fiction and some fantasy books in the 1970's. I encountered Matheson's works as a very young child when I watched "Twilight Zone" episodes but at that time I did not realized it. I was also impacted in my early years by Harryhausen films which I watched throughout the years. I made a point of seeing all of the Harryhausen films that were made available. Sad to see them go but they did have long and productive lives; Vance was 94, and Harryhausen and Matheson both reached their upper 80's (I, believe). And their works have influenced writers, and film makers of today and for years to come. When I read a Steven King book it certainly reminds me of Matheson, and the recent Greek fantasy films are trying to emulate some of Harryhausen's cinematic atmosphere. I also read about current authors who were motivated by Vance's style to become writers themselves. [-gf]

COLD CITY (letter of comment by an off-line friend):

In response to Dale Skran's comments on COLD CITY in the 05/10/13 issue of the MT VOID in response to an off-line friend, the friend replies:

I'm glad he agrees Repairman Jack is a much more fully realized character than the Batman. In turn, Dale is correct that F. Paul Wilson has written a large number of "Jack" novels, allowing him the opportunity to develop the character, providing many details about his life, the people he interacts with, and the environment he lives in. As a counterpoint, I will remark that Batman debuted in the comics in the late 1930s. I would hazard a guess that over the succeeding 70+ years, considering the tremendous number of comic books published featuring Batman, plus the many graphic novels, etc., that more words have been written about him than Wilson has published about Repairman Jack, so I'm somewhat mystified why Batman hasn't managed to become as fully realized and human as Jack, even given some of the restraints inherent in the comic's world.

In his review [in the 02/22/13 issue of the MT VOID], Dale states, and I quote, "Jack fans will realize that the woman is surely Gaia, the Earth Goddess and the dog her eternal companion..." That seems quite specific, to me, although I'm willing to accept that dale didn't intend to suggest that the Lady ism in fact, Gaea, even though he pretty much explicitly stated she was. However, I fully agree that [it] is highly probable that Wilson drew his inspiration for the character of the Lady from the mythical Gaia/Gaea, as well as the Gaia Hypothesis originated by Lovelock and Margulis.

As a fan, I'm curious about which version of NIGHTWORLD Dale prefers: the original or Wilson's recent re-write. [-OLF]

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

A PEOPLE'S CONTEST: THE UNION AND CIVIL WAR 1861-1865 (ISBN 978-0-700-60812-6) by Philip Shaw Paludan was a book I happened to purchase just before reading THE CIVIL WAR BOOKSHELF(*), which chose it as one of its fifty "basic books." Reading it, I was struck by how similar the times were then and now:

At some point, all the important votes in Congress start diving strictly along party lines.

One political party wants a return to traditional ways and principles; the other is pushing for change.

One political party wants to maintain a very small Federal government; the other wants an expanded role for the Federal government.

One political party is concerned about immigration (both internal and external) displacing current low-wage earners; the other wants more immigration.

One political party wants to maintain the military as it always has been; the other wants to integrate a group which has always been barred from service.

The only dissonant chord in all this is that the traditionalist, small government, anti-immigration, anti-integrated military is the Democrats; the activist, big-government, pro-immigration, pro-integration party is the Republicans.

There is also a discussion of McClellan and Grant.

McClellan was everything Grant was not: "[a] young professional, successful in civilian life, a leader in his West Point class, author, linguist, adored by his men." But Grant was one thing McClellan was not: a winning general. And no incident summarizes it as well as the troop movements after the Wilderness. Grant's troops reached a junction. To the left were the fords of the Rapidan and the Rappahonnack: a withdrawal. To the right was Richmond. Grant pointed right, and the soldiers cheered.

But Grant was not boastful. Joe Hooker said, "My plans are perfect, and when I start to carry them out, may God have mercy on Bobby Lee, for I shall have none." Then his first encounter with Lee was the Battle of Chancellorsville, where Hooker went down to stunning defeat.

On the other hand, when after the first day of Shiloh (a disaster for the Union), Sherman said to Grant, "Well, Grant, we've had the devil's own day, haven't we?" all Grant responded was, "Yes. Lick 'em tomorrow, though." And he did.

(*) In my review of THE CIVIL WAR BOOKSHELF, I mentioned Shelby Foote's three-volume history of the Civil War. Robert Brent Toplin, in his introduction to KEN BURNS'S CIVIL WAR: THE HISTORIANS RESPOND (ISBN 978-0-19-509330-5), reports that Foote's work had sold 30,000 copies in its first fifteen years; after Ken Burns's series, it sold 100,000 copies in the next six *months*.

And speaking of KEN BURNS'S CIVIL WAR: THE HISTORIANS RESPOND by Robert Brent Toplin (ISBN 978-0-19-509330-5): This was published in 1996, after Toplin had heard various historians arguing about Ken Burns's series "The Civil War". In this book, various historians voice their complaints: not enough time spent on women and the home front (and correspondingly, too much time spent on military matters), not enough representation of African-Americans voice, too much emphasis on the Eastern over the Western theaters of war, too much concentration on a few generals to the exclusion of others, not enough time spent on Reconstruction, and various errors or inaccuracies. (The latter category includes such inexplicable errors as getting the date of Lincoln's assassination wrong, but also using a photograph of wagons from one battle while describing another.) Some errors cited are relatively minor. No, William Tecumseh Sherman was not orphaned as a young boy, but when his father died when he was nine his mother sent him away permanently to live with other relatives, which is fairly close to the same thing.

At the end, Geoffrey C. Ward and Burns himself address these complaints. The over-arching excuse/reason for most of these was time. They had only eleven hours (they actually started with a plan for only five hours); to add more on one topic would mean to cut out others. But more specifically, the format of the series dictated what could be covered. A very high proportion of the visuals were photographs of the time, but the photographers were overwhelmingly of the Eastern theater, meaning there was not much visual material for the Western theater. The emphasis on some generals over others was a question of time. The reason for the lack of coverage of Reconstruction other than fleetingly was, as Ward explained, that they were making a documentary about the Civil War and not one about Reconstruction, which would require a separate series to cover it well. (One, alas, does not expect one any time soon.)

Ward disputed the claim that they did not represent African-Americans, citing both Frederick Douglass from the Civil War era and Professor Barbara J. Fields from the present, as well as many individual quotations from various African-Americans of the period. The problem here, as with covering the home front, or various other aspects of the war, is a lack of documentation. Thousands of white soldiers and civilians wrote letters, diaries, new reports, etc. The number of narratives from African-Americans is much smaller. (Even so, I suspect the most memorable image from the series for many is that of Daisy Turner, daughter of a former slave, reciting "The Soldier's Story".)

But reading the historians' essays in this book, I was given a vivid illustration of what the problem was. While what they were saying was worth thinking about, the historians were dry, at times dull, and with a tendency to assume a knowledge on the part of the reader that is not there. (One cites misquotations of generals in the series, but does not give what the original quotation was.) They also have a slew of footnotes, which is acceptable for a book, I suppose, but not exactly available to Burns as a device for the series.

This is in some ways a variation on those "History vs. Hollywood" books that one sees, although for this one Burns does not have the excuse that so many filmmakers use: "It's only a movie." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          [When asked which genre he enjoys the most, and 
          which genre comes easiest:] Are you happier eating 
          a potato than a bowl of rice I don't know.  It's 
          all the same.  Writing is writing. Writing is order 
          in sentences and order in sentences is always the 
          same in that it is always different, which is why it 
          is so interesting to do it. I never get bored with 
          writing sentences, and you never master it and it is 
          always a surprise; you never know what's going to 
          come next.

                                          --Gore Vidal

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