MT VOID 07/19/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 3, Whole Number 1763

MT VOID 07/19/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 3, Whole Number 1763

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/19/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 3, Whole Number 1763

Table of Contents

King Kong: Mark Leeper, Fay Wray: 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

Unification of Physical Experiences (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Physicists like to ask themselves theoretical questions such as what would it be like to be at ground zero when a hydrogen bomb is detonated. Or they will ask what would it be like to be as far from the super-massive black hole at the center of our galaxy as we currently are from the sun.

We now know that after the first tiny micro-fraction of a second, both experiences would be absolutely identical. [-mrl]

Today Golems Have Become Like Bagels and Like Sushi (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

When I was growing up I collected the monster trading cards that came with stale bubble gum. One monster puzzled me. It was sort of a big doughy creature that was called "the golem." He looks like he was made out of rock harder than the bubble gum. That was my introduction and I was soon looking for whatever I could find about this monster, a living statue created by a very pious rabbi. A golem is lifeless dust fashioned into the shape of a human or an animal and then brought to life. It is said in the Talmud that to make man, God brought the dust of the Earth together and breathed life into it. That is very much like Frankenstein bringing dead pieces together and usurping God to create a man. A golem is sort of the prototype of the Frankenstein Monster and of the superhero. How could it be both? Well, he was created as a guardian with incredible strength with a mission to defend the Jews against anti-Jewish libels. Later versions of the story mixed in a "Sorcerer's Apprentice" theme in which once created it became an uncontrollable monster.

When I was a kid there were a lot of different horror movies around, but they were mostly about "traditional" monsters. You know, there were vampires, werewolves, monsters that were in Universal horror films, but I was fascinated by golems. There were no films about them that I could find. Well, there was admittedly a German silent film DER GOLEM and a French film THE GOLEM, but the American Studios, mostly founded by and many still run then by Jews never went into adaptations of the legend itself, though they did do stories that were influenced by golem stories. And this was long before home video so you saw what the programmers chose. If you really wanted to see even a film as popular as CASABLANCA, you could spend years waiting for an opportunity. I could not see a golem movie until I was at least eighteen.

Television in those days never had golems since who had ever even heard of a special Jewish monster? I had to get to college before I could see the old German film DER GOLEM. Carl Kolchak never faced a golem as far as I remember. He faced some ethnic monsters like a Hindu Rakshasa. But there were no golems.

This is now two generations later. We have strip-mined our sources for good film monsters. Now a generation of adults has grown up thinking that a vampire can be disabled by one of Buffy's karate kicks. And their children grew up thinking that a vampire is some sort of romantic sparkly thing. They are hard to be afraid of these days. I am not expecting a major film based on DRACULA in the near future. Much the same goes for the Frankenstein monster or the Mummy or any of the rest. But horror is probably more popular than ever. What has happened is there is a real demand for new and exotic monsters just like there is a demand among some people for new and exotic cuisines. Golems are like sushi--for a while they were exotic, but now people are getting used to them. There is some demand for golems even if they are Jewish monsters.

These days you see a lot of golems showing up in stories. There was a golem on the X FILES in the episode "Kaddish". I see that there is a horror show on TV for teenagers based on the book series GOOSEBUMPS. They did a show about a golem. Novels involving golems include Michael Chabon's Pulitzer Prize winning THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY, Marge Piercy's HE SHE AND IT, and just this year Helene Wecker's novel THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI. A golem is just one more standard monster in role-playing games like DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS and POKEMON. What I think is happening is that there are so many films and stories and role playing games that golems have been pressed into service. The demand for monsters has exceeded the supply.

One can put the words "Amazon" and "golem" into s search engine and find dozens or perhaps hundreds of books and films. When I was a teen I am not sure I could even have put together a single sentence using the words "Amazon" and "golem".

Like bagels, golems are being co-opted by the mainstream. Frequently there is not even a mention, of a golem's Jewish origins. One can eat a bagel while watching a golem on TV and never think the word "Jewish." [-mrl]

Google Translate (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

I have been using Google Translate over the last few years and have been reasonably pleased with it, but my latest experience makes me wonder what exactly is going on inside it.

In order to get a brief practice text for Spanish each day, I follow the Pope's Spanish Twitter feed. (Hey, it's predictable: one Tweet a day.) The Tweet for July 9 read:

Si queremos seguir a Jesús de cerca, no podemos buscar una vida cómoda y tranquila. Será una vida comprometida, pero llena de alegría.

Google Translate rendered this as:

If we want to follow Jesus closely, we can find a comfortable and quiet life. It will be a committed life, but full of joy.

There are a couple of problems here. "No podemos buscar" is clearly a negative, and "buscar" is to look for or search; "encontrar" is to find. So "no podemos buscar una vida c¢moda y tranquila" really should be translated "we cannot look for a comfortable and tranquil life", which is of course the exact opposite of what GT gives us ("we can find a comfortable and quiet life"). In fact, it is even more than the direct opposite (if that is possible), because not only can we not *find* a comfortable and quiet life, we cannot even look for (or hope for) it.

What I do not understand is how GT could have turned "we cannot look" into "we can find". [-ecl]

[Perhaps it is saying "we can stop looking." -mrl]

PACIFIC RIM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Giant monsters are attacking the world and Earth defense forces send giant robots to fight them off. Guillermo del Toro co-writes and directs his improved approach to monster movies of Toho Pictures of Japan. He tries a much more complex view of the conflict with more detailed images and bigger explosions. It all could have been good but complex science fiction ideas are placed into a banal overall plot. The visual images are more compelling than the characters are. The new ideas fail to raise this above pedestrian fare. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

In PACIFIC RIM a huge cap on the ocean floor covers a gateway to another world. Now it opens up, releasing monsters from the lid.

After Toho Studios had Japan's first international hit movie with their GOJIRA (a.k.a. GODZILLA), they decided to try a sequel. They had a second beast of the Gojira breed--having destroyed the first one. To give the story a little extra excitement they had a second giant beast to fight Gojira.

This became a formula for Toho, having multiple huge fighting beasts in a sci-fi film. These films would build up to monster wrestling matches. Soon a parallel genre of giant robots was spawned and Toho would frequently have giant monsters fighting robots.

Right now Japanese giant monster films are in hiatus, but Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro is trying his hand at making a kaiju film. Incidentally the Japanese word "kaiju" really means "mysterious beast" but is used for large-scale monsters such as Godzilla. With very few exceptions Toho monsters (and robots) were played by men in monster suits. Del Toro uses no men in monster suits, as digital technology has made that unnecessary. Del Toro has made his kaiju less man-shaped, but his giant robots are still in the form of giant armored humans. In del Toro's film, giant robots need two people simultaneously in mind-meld with the robot and each other. The two people and the robot all move in unison. This method of controlling the robots is arcane and would quickly wipe the pilots out with exhaustion. If we use drones today for warfare, it is not clear why the pilot controllers would have to risk their lives actually being inside the hulking machines.

The special effects are far superior to Toho's monster suits. But Del Toro has improved only very minimally on what is the big problem with Toho's kaiju films. GOJIRA is the only Toho kaiju film with anything even approaching an engaging plot. There was a lot of room for improvement on Toho's stories, but for del Toro this was a wasted opportunity. There is really almost no characterization in PACIFIC RIM's script. With only one cadet do we find out why she want to kill the kaiju. The rest are characterized little more than "good soldier wanting to do his duty."

Much of this plot could have been taken from a 1990s "Godzilla" film with callow young fighters going into battle against kaiju. In fact, with the exception of the origin of the menace there is not a lot in PACIFIC RIM that does not seem borrowed from previous films, some from kaiju films, and a lot of INDEPENDENCE DAY recycled here. There is a pep talk to the troops that seems a lot like an impotent version of the speech in INDEPENDENCE DAY. Even the motive for the alien invasion is almost identical to what it was in INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Perhaps in an attempt to make the film atmospheric del Toro has much of the action happening in the night and in rain or in grungy or wet buildings--sort of grime tech. Perhaps the special effects artists use dark and rain intentionally to hide mistakes. But it does make the film harder to watch. Shaky scenes flash by too fast to really take them in. One can see everything on the screen and still not follow what is happening. The 3D version may even make this problem worse. In many of the fight sequences it is very hard to tell what just happened much less even who is winning. The use of CGI technology gives us more interesting kaiju than previous films had. For them the actor playing Godzilla was put into a suit and the images of him were no more complex than was the suit. This version could show organs and mouthparts that Toho could never show. Someone had to work on every square inch of the bodies of the kaiju and robots' bodies. The backgrounds could be more complex also. But they did not make the scenes that much more compelling, just more realistic.

Del Toro correctly realizes this is not a film that requires star power. Ron Perlman has a relatively small role as a dealer in stolen kaiju body parts. The only other actor whose face rang a bell for me was Bern Gorman of "Torchwood". The film is dedicated to the great effects animator Ray Harryhausen and to Ishiro Honda, director of several Godzilla films. This is ironic. Rumor has it Harryhausen was negative on Honda and his man-in-suit monster films. And this film dedicated to the two of them uses neither technique.

In many ways this is the best giant monster film ever made. And in many ways it should have been better. I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


ELEMENTARY (letter of comment by Tom Russell): In response to the colophon in the 07/12/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tom Russell writes:

I've been meaning to ask ... today's MT VOID reminded me.

Sherlock Holmes: Mark Leeper,
Dr. Watson: Evelyn Leeper,

... Have you watched the TV show "ELEMENTARY?"

What did you think of the two-hour episode? I thought it was neat that Watson, not Holmes, devised the plan. [-tr]

Mark responds:

I think Evelyn is not interested in it because of the degree of revisionism. Though she does like SHERLOCK. I watched one episode of ELEMENTARY and have to say what I saw was more like a typical current crime show than like Sherlock Holmes. I know of other people who really like the show, but the Sherlock-ness of the show is questionable. If they wanted to do a modern-day series on crime detection, they didn't need to bring it into Sherlock Holmes. If it is not based on a Holmes story, Watson is solving the crime, and it is set in the present, why and how is it to a Sherlock Holmes story at all?

I will, however, take your comment as a recommendation. [-mrl]

A PEOPLE'S CONTEST and Slavery (letter of comment by Mark Tzak):

In response to Gregory Benford's letter of comment on slavery in the 07/12/13 issue of the MT VOID, Mark Tzak writes:

Hi--First I want to say how much I enjoy your website in general and the MT VOID in particular. It is one of the few things on the Web I go to regularly. I still prefer books to most of the web.

In the present issue a member says buying all the slaves would have cost 1/2 of one percent of what the war cost. It is estimated that the total worth of the slaves in the United States in 1860 was $2 billion. That doesn't seem much until you realize that most men made less than a dollar a day as a living wage, in many cases much less. There were millions of slaves and a healthy man in his early twenties was worth more than a thousand dollars, a woman a little less than a thousand, children hundreds of dollars.

The war cost the Confederacy less than a billion dollars, again that doesn't seem like much but uniforms cost 20-30 dollars, guns about the same, food pennies per day.

I don't know what the war cost the North but it can't be much more than $2 billion for the same reasons, the North had more soldiers but the cost per soldier was about the same. For the comment to be correct the war would have had to have cost the North $400 billion. This can't be correct. The only thing I can think is that he compared the cost of the war in PRESENT dollars to the cost of the slaves in 1860 dollars. Admittedly the above war costs don't include the cost of the dead but that didn't cost the government anything except the cost of burial and cemeteries.

Please keep up the good work. [-mt]

Mark Leeper writes:

But for it to work there would have to be no right of refusal to sell. Would there have been something like an eminent domain restriction so that slaveholders could not refuse sale? I would assume some slaveholders were still highly dependent on their slaves."

Benford replies:

Yes, but from the historians I know (mostly at UC Riverside) Congress would've allowed bargaining, too, so you could raise your offer. Or just wait a few decades until the unsold slaves came back on the market. It took a century to recover from the War after all. My main point is, the purist Republicans killed this idea; the price of purity. [-gb]

Evelyn responds to all the above:

The one-half of one percent" claim (actually it was a "one percent" claim" was made by Ron Paul in an interview on 03/31/10 on ( says, "A final official estimate in 1879 totaled $6,190,000,000. The Confederacy spent perhaps $2,099,808,707. By 1906 another $3.3 billion already had been spent by the U.S. government on Northerners' pensions and other veterans' benefits for former Federal soldiers. Southern states and private philanthropy provided benefits to the Confederate veterans. The amount spent on benefits eventually well exceeded the war's original cost."

So this would total between $11 and $12 billion for both sides. says, "Nearly 4 million slaves with a market value of close to $4 billion lived in the U.S. just before the Civil War."

I should add that these figures vary from site to site, but clearly they don't sync up with a one-percent claim. (However, I will also note that none of this factors in the human cost.)

Further discussions of problems other than the economic with "just buying all the slaves" can be found at:


Classics Illustrated (letters of comment by Gregory Benford and Sam Long):

In response to Mark's comments on "Classics Illustrated" comic books in the 07/12/13 issue of the MT VOID, Gregory Benford writes:

Good VOID. I too read the Classics comics & then the books & saw the movies.

Recall being shocked when Blish told me he wrote some of the "Captain Video"s ... seemed beneath him.

Sam Long writes:

I remember the old "Classics Illustrated" comics too, especially THE TIME MACHINE and THE THREE MUSKETEERS and 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, to name a few. I think there was also an IVANHOE and a THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

The submarine in the "20,000 Leagues" comic book was smooth and cigar-shaped and had a pointed end, whereas I had recently seen the Disney movie in which the sub was rough-skinned and more fish -shaped, with a thick ram, not a needle point, at the bow; and I had a difficult time reconciling the two designs in my mind. When I later read the book, I found that the design envisioned by Verne was more like Classic Illustrated's than Disney's.

I remember the "Classics Illustrated" comics as being well drawn, and pretty faithful to (though much abridged from) the originals, which in several cases the comics inspired me to read. [-sl]

Mark responds:

I seem to remember that Nautilus was a very simple in the book and also in the 1916 silent version. It was the Disney version that started deviating from the book in the design. No film version has been very faithful to the plot of the book, in large part because after the men are aboard the Nautilus, there is not a whole lot of story there besides what the filmmaker invents. The plot invention for the 1916 film version is particularly weird. [-mrl]

ROBINSON CRUSOE (letter of comment by Sam Long):

In response to Evelyn's comments on ROBINSON CRUSOE in the 07/12/13 issue of the MT VOID, Sam Long writes:

Good ol' Robinson Crusoe. I seem to remember that, at the end of the book, Crusoe maroons the pirates there, better set that he was when he arrived, and sailed back to England; but he later returned to his island for a short visit. I can imagine Schwarzenegger as Crusoe, saying, as he is rowed out to the ship that takes him home the first time, "Isle be ..."--no, I won't finish it; it's too groan-worthy. [-sl]

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

ALIF THE UNSEEN by G. Willow Wilson (ISBN 978-0-8021-2020-5) is part of what seems to be a new trend of Islamic-based science fiction and fantasy. We saw THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON by Saladin Ahmed nominated for a Hugo for 2012, and Matt Ruff's THE MIRAGE is arguably of this sort, and we also have this, a combination of science fiction and fantasy set in a fictional Arabian country bordering Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There are traditional fantasy elements--jinns, effrits, and so on--but also a science-fictional computer element, with quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

ALIF THE UNSEEN is compared on the back cover to "Harry Potter" and "The Golden Compass", but what it reminded me of was the "Narnia" series. One reason is the recurring use of the term "beni adam" (plural "banu adam") to refer to a human. I do not believe it is ever translated, but it is an obvious cognate with Hebrew, and means "son [or daughter] of Adam".

But another reason it reminds me of Narnia is that some speeches by the various characters seem like they could have come from those books (or be dropped into them). For example, one jinn tells Alif, "Superstition is thriving. Pedantry is thriving. Sectarianism is thriving. Belief is dying out. To most of your people the jinn are paranoid fantasies who run around causing epilepsy and mental illness. Find me someone to whom the hidden folk are simply real, as described in the Books. You'll be searching a long time. Wonder and awe have gone out of your religions. You are prepared to accept the irrational, but not the transcendental." I am not sure how C. S. Lewis would feel about the idea that a jinn expresses ideas that seem like they could be direct from Aslan, but there you have it.

My complaint is the convenient way Alif's problems get resolved. When he is in trouble, he gets help from what might be figuratively called a "deus ex machina", though I hesitate to use that term in a fantasy full of actual supernatural beings. (In a review, I once said the story had a "literal deus ex machina", and someone called me to task over my use of the word "literal". I explained that no, there really *was* a scene in which a being perceived as a god by the hero's captors came down in a spaceship and saved him.)

SOME REMARKS by Neal Stephenson (ISBN 978-0-06-202443-5) is a mixed bag of essays: some good, some incomprehensible. A must-read for Stephenson fans, though perhaps not a must-buy. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:
          [When asked how he would like to be remembered:]
          I suppose as the person who wrote the best 
          sentences in his time.
                                          --Gore Vidal

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