MT VOID 01/24/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 30, Whole Number 1790

MT VOID 01/24/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 30, Whole Number 1790

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/24/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 30, Whole Number 1790

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: 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


In response to Evelyn's comment on Poe's age in the 01/17/14 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Whoops! Wrong math for Poe's age. He would be 205 Sunday. [-jp]

Evelyn [who had said 105] responds:

Whoops, indeed. At this point I don't know if I did the math wrong, or just made a typo. Probably the former. [-ecl]

Mark Leeper Interview:

Mark was recently interviewed by KiDz Hub; the interview can be heard at from 18:30 to 30:07. Photos from the interview are on Facebook at

Separated at Birth (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Name a well-known science fiction film in which an outlaw captain who opposes the government of the Empire brings aboard new passengers including an old mystic and a boy who is trying to save his sister.

That's right. You got it. The film is SERENITY. You must have heard this one before.

(Thanks to Shanna Swendon for pointing out the similarities between SERENITY and STAR WARS.)


United States Southeast: Round Trip New Jersey to Texas (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last summer Evelyn and I took a sightseeing road trip from home to the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas. My log is now ready to be published and can be found at . (You will notice there is a gap in the middle. It is the good-looking Leeper who will write about the convention in her con report. Watch this space.) You can look below to see some of the major sites we saw.


My Rules as a Film Reviewer (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I last week wrote about the process I use to write a film review. That essay was self-contained, but I think I should add something about what I consider are the ethical responsibilities of a film reviewer. I am sure there will be other film reviewers who will disagree, but this is my list.

(By the way I use the general term, film "reviewer" not "critic." All film critics are film reviewers but not all film reviewers are film critics. I never call myself a film critic. I guess that is my first rule.)

There are common sense rules that I think a reviewer should respect and follow, but since I have not gotten buy-in from anybody these are my rules for myself. I want to state the ground rules I follow. Second and foremost is the Hippocratic rule of film reviewing: DO NO HARM. (Incidentally, the oath to do no harm does come from Hippocrates, but it is not in the Hippocratic Oath itself as any doctor can tell you.)

DO NO HARM should be the first rule for any film reviewer. Do not harm the viewing experience for your reader. Your reader may be going to give some precious time and perhaps some hard-earned money to see the film. Do not harm this person's experience. I take this so far that I have on occasion lied to the reader to not spoil plot twists. Honesty is less important than preserving the viewing experience.

The question of what is or is not a plot spoiler could be a separate topic all by itself. For me a "spoiler" is a revelation of a plot twist where that twist occurs more than ten minutes into a film. Ten minutes is just my rule of thumb. There are films that do not get to their premise until well past the ten-minute mark. I either have a spoiler with a warning or I have to be tricky.

I often try hard to not reveal a twist even by only implication. For example if John believes X and the viewer eventually finds out X is false I will probably not say "John believes X" but "John knows X." That is a fib in good cause.

Good reviewers will at least give a spoiler warning if a spoiler is coming up. Not all reviewers are "good" in this regard. I have pointed out spoilers that should have warnings and have been accused of being of the "spoiler police" for saying that spoiler rules should be adhered to. So be it. I have heard another reviewer say that he can freely spoil surprises in the film he is reviewing because it came "pre-spoiled" by being a bad film. That reviewer went on to tell the twist ending of the film. Such reviewers are stealing from their readers regardless of his attitude toward this film.

I have seen film reviewers go all "creative" with their writing style. Some will in doing it give away the surprise ending of a film because it makes their writing sound better or make it funny or make it stylistically interesting. A film reviewer or critic has to remember that she or he is writing egoless text that should improve or at least not damage the experience of the reader. Do that reader no harm. That is the primary rule.

That is my major rule. I have a few more minor rules.

-- See a lot of films. If that sounds like just a responsibility and not a pleasure you should not be a film reviewer. Little kids come out of movies saying "Wow, that was the best film ever made." What they mean is that is it the best they have seen. If they have seen only a handful of films that means little. To appreciate a film you have to have seen similar films so you can compare. If the reader knows the film you are praising does not nearly come up to most films the reader has seen you have blown your credibility. Speaking of credibility...

-- Review a lot of films. If your reader has read a lot of your reviews he/she will know, say, to trust you on comedies but not on science fiction films that is much better than not knowing you at all. Remember...

-- Your goal is to help your reader to make intelligent film selection decisions. That is a very different goal from getting the reader to agree with your assessment of the film. But the reviewer should get a feel for why some people disagree with you. So...

-- Read some film reviews of that disagree with your point of view. You have little to learn from someone who agrees with you about a film. You have much more to learn from reviews you disagree with.

-- Know your reading audience. If someone has been watching film for only five years they won't care that an idea was used before in a 1950s film. A knowledgeable reader might find of more interest in where the idea was used before.

-- Express your true opinion, not what you think you should think about a film. I find a lot of Michelangelo Antonioni films boring. I can accept that some people think that Antonioni was a very good director. I will acknowledge that in my review, but I will not pretend I like Antonioni films. I cannot review the film as an Antonioni fan if I am not really one. To thine own self be true. An extension of this idea is...

-- Don't have guilty pleasures. You find reviewers who say something like "I know the old Flash Gordon serials are bad, but I still really enjoy them." If you enjoy a film it did what it was supposed to do. It is hypocritical to say you enjoy a film and still call it a bad film.

Those are my rules for myself when I write film reviews. I probably have more, but none currently come to mind. [-mrl]

The Golden Age (television reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

For a while I've been saying that we live in a golden age of TV SF and fantasy. At one time there were perhaps two or three SF shows running--STAR TREK and TWILIGHT ZONE, for example. In those days it was pretty easy to keep up with every SF/fantasy show running on TV. Now we have, incredibly, seven different shows running ON A SINGLE EVENING! Yes, not in total, but on a single day. Today, Monday, January 13, 2014, there are seven SF/fantasy shows running!!!

CBS runs the new show INTELLIGENCE at 10PM on Monday. I've watched about half of the first episode, and I plan to watch some more, although I wasn't instantly drawn into the story. INTELLIGENCE deals with an operative who has been enhanced by the insertion of various computer parts, presumably in his brain, that allow him to access the global information net and to assess data with machine- like speed. This is clearly SF in the pure sense, although things are far enough along that maybe it's just a "techno-thriller." I fully expect that we, or certainly our children, will live to see the day in which the capabilities demonstrated in INTELLIGENCE will be the heritage of every child, but that will be a different tale.

Fox starts at 8PM with ALMOST HUMAN, which I have not yet watched, but I'm informed is pretty good. Another SF show, it is a cop buddy tale with one of the cops a robot, reminiscent of Asimov's CAVES OF STEEL but, one assumes, with car chases! Fox follows with SLEEPY HOLLOW at 9PM, an idiosyncratic fantasy that starts with the assumption that there really was an Ichabod Crane who slept through time to the modern age. Frozen in stasis by his witch wife for protection, Crane has been followed into the future by the Headless Horseman and other enemies. In the modern day he makes alliance with the descendants of slaves in his time who are today in the police force. Together, they wage a secret war against assorted demons, witches, and other menaces. I've watched a couple of episodes, and SLEEPY HOLLOW is not a bad show. Too creepy for some, it has its following.

The CW punches back with BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at 9PM. I've never found this tale of the beauty (a policewoman) and the beast (a genetically altered super-solider) all that compelling, but it got renewed, so someone is watching it.

I'm over on the SyFy channel, which tries to lock in the coach potatoes with LOST GIRL, ALMOST HUMAN, and BITTEN. I've reviewed the first two in the MTVOID before, so I won't say much about them except that they are starting a new season and I'll be watching. BITTEN is a new SyFy show, apparently having to do with werewolves. The first episode was watchable and I'll be back for more. So that's seven SF/fantasy shows JUST ON MONDAY! Tuesday brings us AGENTS OF SHIELD, THE ORIGINALS, and SUPERNATURAL, all of which I've previously reviewed for the MTVOID. Wednesday pits REVOLUTION from NBC against the CW's one-two punch of ARROW and THE TOMMOROW PEOPLE, all of which I've previously reviewed for the VOID. FX also offers AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN AT 10PM. In case you're counting, we're only on day three and we have fourteen total SF/fantasy shows running.

There isn't a new episode this week, but shortly the VAMPIRE DIARIES will pick up again on Thursday. Friday pits NBC's GRIMM and DRACULA against SyFy's new HELIX. GRIMM is a fantasy detective series that, again, has its fans, but which I don't find that watchable. I've seen an episode of DRACULA, which is a re- envisioning of the classic tale, with a secret order of vampire hunters and DRACULA's pet scientist added in. I plan to watch at least a few more to see how it goes. HELIX is an SF/horror series that focuses on an isolated Arctic research station where things have gone horribly wrong, requiring the CDC to send in an investigative team. Things get a lot worse. There are echoes of RESIDENT EVIL here, but some possibilities as well. The pilot seemed a bit drawn out, as well as overly claustrophobic.

The week ends on Sunday with the rebooted post Red John MENTALIST, still a Skran family favorite. By my count, this totals nineteen SF/fantasy shows all running at the same time, or close to three hours per day. I think I've made my point. Plus, I'm reasonably confident that I'm missing at least a few cable and on-line shows worthy of mention, including TRU BLOOD and THE WALKING DEAD. A golden age indeed! [-dls]

THE LAST DARK by Stephen R. Donaldson (copyright 2013, Putnam, 557pp, $35.00, ISBN 978-0-399-15920-6) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

I finished THE LAST DARK during lunch the day before I sat down to write this review. I read the last line, closed the book, took something of a deep breath, and reflected on what had just happened. What had just happened was an end to not only "The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant", but an end to the entire Thomas Covenant saga--period. And I was completely satisfied--well sort of, you know how these things go.

Stephen R. Donaldson published the first book in the first "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever", back in 1977. And in something like six years, six books across two Chronicles were unleashed upon the world. Back in the day, they were a favorite of many. Oh sure, Covenant was a whiny SOB--I think I may have said that in another review in this series--but the story was compelling enough for me to keep reading. Oh sure, sometimes the writing was over the top, but that didn't stop me from reading it. And really, none of the characters were very likeable, but that didn't stop me either. So, really, you ask, "why did you read it?" Because I liked it. That's all I can say.

Along the way, Covenant changed. He stopped being whiny. It ceased to be all about him and all about he and his companions saving the Land. In fact, as dense as I am, I just noticed that this last chronicles was not entitled "The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever". For, in truth, he had stopped disbelieving in the Land and all the things that were happening there, and he started believing in himself and the power of love and companionship. Which, when you think about it, can really throw you for a loop if you're used to one thing happening but you end up getting the other.

Covenant actually developed something of a wry, dry sense of humor as this final booked unfolded. At one point, early on in the book, when Covenant is negotiating with the Feroce, servants of the Lurker of the Sarangrave who Covenant is trying to get to help slow down the Worm of the World's End--you remember that little tidbit, don't you? The Worm was awakened when Linden Avery brought Covenant back to life, and now the Worm is going to well, bring about the end of the world--and the Feroce are being a bit apologetic for their lack of ability to something or another. Covenant says "Is everybody in this bloody mess trying to make amends for sins they haven't committed?" Yeah, for ten books now, Tommy boy.

Later in the novel, as we are coming to the big climactic battle, Covenant is leaving Jeremiah--Linden's adopted son, for those of you who lost track years ago now--behind, and Jeremiah asks why. Covenant's response? "It's fun, isn't it. You're like all the rest of us. Nobody ever hands you an answer. The only thing you can do is guess. Then you have to take your chances." And isn't that how it's been for the reader over the 36 years and 10 books? It's almost as if Donaldson is talking to the reader, giving a bit of a nudge and a wink, telling us he knows what he's been doing all this time, and isn't THAT too bad for us?

THE LAST DARK is both similar and completely different to the other books in the series. Similar in that the writing and language is still way over the top, but at least we've toned down the 37 syllable words. We still have lots of talking and discussing and whining and arguing, but this time it's not Covenant, and to an extent, it's not even Linden. It's Jeremiah, and I guess that's okay because he's a teenager after all. But what this book really is about is action. For the last three books, there's not been a lot of it. Oh, there's been some, as the plot has had to move along. Now, really, it's time for all the stuff that's been going on for the first three books to come to a head. The time for moral conflict, indecision, and time wasting is over. It's time to get it on.

And this book does just that. There are enough majestic battle scenes to make any special effects company drool with the thought of rendering them. The descriptions of the devastated and desolate areas are magnificent as well. Battles involving the aforementioned Lurker, She Who Must Not Be Named, various Ravers, rock monsters, Cavewights, Roger Covenant, and of course Lord Foul himself, take up a good portion of the book. And we should not forget the involvement of the Giants, the Haruchai, the ur-viles, the Waynhim, and just about every other critter from the last 36 years that make an appearance. It is a grand spectacle; of this there is no doubt.

Before I started writing this review, I read my reviews of the prior books in the series. Now, as you might guess, this whole thing really does have to end with a battle to end all battles between Covenant and Lord Foul. So, I found this in my review of AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING:

"All our favorite enemies are still out there, and I suspect this thing will end up with one big mother of a battle to complete the saga."

It did indeed.

So, you ask, is it really over? Well, it's hard to call something the last of something if it is not the last of something. I believe that it is. He did wrap up *most* everything with a nice little bow in the Epilogue. Donaldson took twelve years to write these 4 books. My kids went from being in elementary school to being in college during that time. That's a long time, and I suspect Donaldson is fairly well drained at the moment. He is also 66 years old right now. If he takes a year or two break, and then starts on *anything* else, he'll be in his 70s before the first book of whatever it is he writes next comes out. That's not too old to write, of course, but I suspect he doesn't want to go through more Covenant, and he did say that when he wrote the original 6 books the ending we got for THE LAST DARK is where he envisioned this thing ending up, so he's happy with it, and it's over.

Then why did he leave three things hanging that cry out for more Covenant books? (I did use the word most in the previous paragraph for a reason.)

I, for one, think we are and should be done. Let folks wonder about those three things that I just mentioned. That's okay. Not all our questions should be answered. After all, as Covenant said to Jeremiah, "Nobody ever hands you an answer. The only thing you can do is guess."

Keep them guessing, Mr. Donaldson. We're good right where we're at. [-jak]

Race and DNA (letter of comment by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

In response to Evelyn's comments on race and DNA in the 01/17/14 issue of the MT VOID, Dale Skran writes:

[Evelyn wrote,] "Regarding race, DNA studies show that race as a DNA concept is not well-correlated with race as a social construct. According to one study, for example, a Swede and a Maori are closer in their DNA than a Masai and a Khoisan (both Africans)."

There are some confusing aspects to the above statement.

First, it is not at all surprising that a Swede and a Maori would be genetically closer than two African groups. Keeping in mind that humans started out from Africa 50,000 years ago, isolated African groups have had the most time to differentiate. A combination of geography and social barriers coupled with time has created substantial genetic differences between various African sub-groups. The Swedes and Maori's both descended from Africans, but with a later branching point between them. It is not at all surprising to find Swedes are more genetically similar to Maori's than certain African groups are similar to each other.

Second, the groups chosen don't illustrate the social nature of race. If we wished to suggest that race was a social construct, we would attempt to show that Swedes (for example) are more genetically similar to African's than one African group is to another African group. It is my understanding, at least from DAWN, that this is not the case, i.e. that genetic differences correspond to geographic groupings in pretty much the way you would expect based on superficial racial appearance.

Thirdly, there exists confusion between what might be called the "layperson's definition of race," which is based on a few superficial characteristics like skin color, eye color, and so on, and "genetic definition of race" which is based on much more than a small number of superficial characteristics. It should be noted that there can be substantial skin tone variation within a "genetic race." "People with dark skin" are not a "race" by any definition.

Finally, some argue that because most human genetic variation is within "racial" groups rather than between "racial" groups that there is no significance to "race" however defined. The base fact here is certainly true. For example, height varies much more within each "racial" group than between "races." However, this is not the same as saying that clustering of genetic differences don't exist that for the most part correspond to the "layperson's definition of race" modulated by large amounts of racial mixing, especially in border areas.

The important news about our new knowledge of DNA is that it turns out the significance of "racial" markers like skin tone and eye color is non-existent. In other words, if I tell you someone's skin color, this does not allow for any scientifically based generalizations. However, the same cannot be said for various genes that are not uniformly distributed. If I tell you someone lacks the gene to digest lactose, there is something approaching a 100% chance that they will not be able to handle milk and cheese. If I tell you exactly which type of gene for lactose digesting a person has, the geographic origin of their ancestors can be deduced, since this trait has evolved multiple times in different areas in different ways. As we learn more about our genetic heritage, in time this knowledge has the potential to transform our self-understanding beyond recognition. [-dls]

The Center (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek):

In response to the article on "the center" in the 01/17/14 issue of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes:

An interesting book on that very point:


It was a breezy read... [-ak]

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

In the book-and-film group, we read ROGUE MOON by Algis Budrys (ISBN 978-0-575-10800-4) as the book to go with the film MOON. The book was written around 1960, so it seems very dated in spots.

For example, these days there is something called the Bechdel Test: are there two women in the novel (or film, or whatever) who talk to each other about something other than a man? (Other variants require the characters be named characters, or that the conversation last at least 60 seconds, presumably to avoid counting something like a checkout clerk asking, "Do you really want these onions?") But ROGUE MOON does not even get up to the level of applying the Bechdel Test. There are only two women, who never meet each other. (In fairness, there are very few male characters as well.)

What I found more striking was how the characters were referred to. For example, in the first section of chapter 4, there are three pages in which we have only two characters. The man (Edward Hawks) is referred to by last name in every paragraph in which he moves, speaks, etc., totaling twelve references by name and four by pronoun. The woman is called by her full name (Claire Pack) in the first paragraph in which she is mentioned and by pronoun every time after that (thirty references in twelve paragraphs). I am not sure which is more annoying: the referencing of Claire almost universally as just "she", or the need to use her full name. (I was reminded of THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, when Sandy is talking to Miss Brodie about another student, Mary MacGregor, "I used to wonder why you always called Mary by her full name. I think it was because you had such a hard time remembering who she was."

And it is not just the name references that seems (to me, anyway) to treat women as stereotypical characters, but the constant descriptions of their clothing, and the adjectives and adverbs chosen to describe their clothing, their actions, and everything about them. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Nothing induces me to read a novel except 
          when I have to make money by writing about it.  
          I detest them.
                                          --Virginia Woolf

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