MT VOID 02/21/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 34, Whole Number 1794

MT VOID 02/21/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 34, Whole Number 1794

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/21/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 34, Whole Number 1794

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

*Not* the Lord's Prayer Arabic Men's Ring:

As noted in File 770 (, this product was originally billed as a "Lord's Prayer Arabic Men's Ring". Alas, the title has been corrected, but the comments are still priceless:

He Said/He Said: The Singularity:

The Singularity Is Further Than It Appears - Charlie's Diary:

The Singularity is Still Closer than it Appears - William Hertling's Thoughtstream:

Snow (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Someone recently asked me about the film THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS. If I want snow I can look in my front yard (or my back yard) (or my side yards). Or I can go out and look for my neighbor who disappeared last week leaving only the trace of his footprints in the snow and those of something large and shaggy that left man-like footprints over a foot long. Apparently this was a heavy beast because the footprints in the snow were at least an inch deeper than my neighbor's. There are only two possibilities. It could have been the Abominable Snowman who got lost in all the snow, or it could have been New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I am hoping it was the yeti, since Christie can be a mean and dangerous beast when cornered. [-mrl]

You Can Never See the Same Film Twice (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

One of the films sort of sacred to me is George Pal's 1953 adaptation of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. It is the first film I ever remember seeing. I was two or three years old, and I just hated it. My memory was that most of the film bored me but other people in my family say I was terrified. I think maybe they are right. I do remember coming away from the movie with the certain belief that there were two kinds of showerheads and some were really scary and deadly.

By age six it was a very different situation. I had discovered science fiction, which I dearly loved, and I was desperate to see this particular science fiction film again, THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, because it started to sound really, really good. I was 12 or 13 when I finally did get to see the film and was enchanted, seeing it on the wide screen. And the visual effects seemed flawless. I must have seen the film three or four times on television until the age of video came along. I never had a problem with the visuals. The effects seemed at the time to be flawless.

When the film came out on DVD I got it so I could watch the film whenever I wanted. But I had a shock when I watched it. When the flying war machine pulled itself out of the pit its cylinder had fallen on and created, the effect seemed flawed. Some very obvious wires were lifting it. Seeing the film in the theater or on TV I had never been aware of the wires? How could I have missed them?

I was puzzled and for years assumed the wires were just imperfect special effects. Pal's techniques were just flawed. There were still a whole lot better than the visuals of, say, a Bert I. Gordon film. That did not really bother me. Nobody expected CGI quality effects from George Pal in the early Fifties.

I think there really are (at least) two theories about special effects. One is that they should be perfect. You should not see any errors that tell you that you were not seeing reality. Or you could say that the visual effects in a film need only be good enough to convey what is happening in the plot. After all you do not come away from a marionette show complaining that it was terrible because you could tell the marionettes were not real people. In fact if the puppet show images looked like real people the show would have lost some of its charm.

So for a while I assumed that the flawed effects were just a fact of life. That was just what Pal could do at the time. Then I learned a little (very little) about digital image processing. One can actually improve the visuals of an old movie in the same way you can a newer movie. One way that this can be done is by automatically sharpening the image. If there is a foggy image on the screen it can be given a sharper edge. Images look distinct. That sounds good, but for this case I do not want the wires to look sharper and more distinct. That would make the wires visible.

About the time that Steven Spielberg made his version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS a newer visually better DVD of the George Pal version was released. Did they do something to make the wires less visible? Well, apparently not. One still sees the wires on the new DVD. Arguably what they did in sharpening the picture was an improvement or arguably it was not an improvement. Digitally the wire could be removed for a future release, but do we want to hide the special effects wires? If they were visible in the original film, it is possibly better just to leave them in to make film authentic.

And if that were not bad enough as a moot point, I really do not know if the wires were there on the original print or not. The only way to be sure would be to see a theatrical print of the film. But the original theatrical prints are probably all gone. I am sure there are newer celluloid prints that have the film printed on them, but is that a reliable way to judge? The new prints were probably transferred with some technical jiggery-pokery that might have changed the visibility of the wires one way or the other. But I can never be sure I am seeing the original with all its flaws and virtues.

So how do I know if the wires were visible on the original release of the film? I probably can never know. That film I saw as a kid and really wanted to see again--I still probably have not seen. And I probably never can. The original theatrical printing of George Pal's THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is probably lost forever. The best I can do is watch my DVD of the film and squint my eyes a little. That way it looks pretty darn good. [-mrl]

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, Rance Stoddard may have gone to law school, but his grasp of law and procedure is weak at best.

In the school Stoddard asks what the basic law of the land is, and adds it has been modified and added to. And then he says the answer is the Declaration of Independence!

But it goes deeper, in the sense that we are supposed to see Stoddard as defending the rights of the average person, the powerless against the powerful. Yet time and again we see African-American Pompey treated as ... well, not even as a second-class citizen, but not as a citizen at all. At the town's one restaurant he has to eat in the kitchen, and Tom Doniphon calls him "boy", and the bartender refuses to serve him a drink, but more seriously from a Constitutional standpoint, he is apparently barred from participating in the town meeting to elect representatives. Yet Stoddard says nothing about this. (Not surprisingly, none of the women get to participate either. This may all be historically accurate, but one would have liked to see Pompey get treated a little better.)

(Doniphon argues with the bartender, but because he has ordered Pompey drink with him and is insisting on this *against* Pompey's wishes, rather than because he feels Pompey is being mistreated. If anything, he is treating Pompey more as a slave than the bartender is.)

Stoddard's grasp of parliamentary procedure is equally flimsy. He allows Doniphon to decline the nomination, but refuses Peabody the same right. When Valance has been nominated and his men move and second that the nominations be closed, Stoddard ignores them, but after Peabody's name has been added to the ballot, then he accepts such a move and second.

(And how come Pompey has hair when he is old, but is totally bald when he is young?) [-ecl]

[See also my comments on problems with this film at:


THE LEGO MOVIE (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller directing an animated cartoon based on Lego blocks does not seem like a really promising concept. There is no plot associated with the plastic blocks. That left writers Dan and Kevin Hagemand a lot of freedom to create a story that might go on in the mind of a youngster playing with the blocks. The film it turns into is creative, but your mileage may vary on whether it is really funny and/or really entertaining. This is a film more to be admired more for what it was trying to do than for what it actually accomplished. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

When I was young we had as toys Lincoln Logs and later plastic bricks, and still later we had Erector Sets. I never had Legos, but the idea was the same. You were given the tools to build something, but you had to think of the something. And that was good. It stretched my imagination. Lincoln Logs never made much but little log cabins. But with the bricks I used to make missile launchers in a way that the toymaker probably never thought of. Erector sets were the best because there were so many different things to be made with them. That was what set these kits apart from toy cars that would do one thing only--run across the floor and stop when they hit a wall. Constructor sets were a challenge to the imagination and that was the spirit behind Legos also. That spirit has kept Legos on the market for several decades. And that was the spirit that is celebrated in THE LEGO MOVIE.

The basic plot of the story is not really important. The plot changes every minute or so as it is told to mimic the creative but wandering mind of a child playing with Lego figures. Suffice it to say that in a fantasy Lego kingdom there is an all-powerful weapon called the "Kragle." And power-hungry Lord Business wants to own this weapon. He cannot be stopped, but there is a prophecy that there will be a "special" warrior who will stop him. Flash forward a few years and we focus on Emmet Brickowoski, a faceless construction worker who is anything but "special." His favorite song is "Everything is Awesome," though Emmet is kept ignorant as to what is and is not "awesome." Emmet is pulled into a great Tolkien-like conflict trying to use something called a "Piece of Resistance" to stop Business from using the Kragle.

Using Lego figures for animation has its up side and its down side. The figures are rigid except for a small number of joints. I would imagine it requires much less computer manipulation to create Lego figures on the screen because the motion and shaping is so limited. When you have dozens or hundreds of figures in a single scene, which probably saves a great deal of computing. On the other hand, the rigidity allows little subtle expression in the faces of the characters. It takes a lot of computing to create a believable little girl in a film like FROZEN. The characters in THE LEGO MOVIE move like robots. The sets and scenes of the film look like they are assembled from a huge Lego set, and they were. It was just a digital virtual Lego set. That opens the way for many creative ideas. Who would have thought that the smoke and fire from and explosion could be implemented with Lego blocks?

The screenplay by Dan and Kevin Hagemand as directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller keeps up a steady stream of jokes. I found myself laughing twice or maybe three times. However, it may not have been just my breed of humor and my audience seemed to be enjoying the quips. The pacing and style was like tracking the stream of thought of a ten-year-old playing with action figures, many made from Lego blocks. That keeps the film both fast-paced and superficial.

THE LEGO MOVIE may be right in its theme song lyric (which it hits you over the head) that "everything is awesome." (Richard Feynman would have agreed.) I am afraid that for me this film was not quite awesome. But even if the humor did not strike me, for creativity the film earns a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


YEAR'S BEST SF 18 edited by David G. Hartwell (copyright 2013, Tor, e-book ISBN 978-1-4668-3818-5) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

This is the second of Hartwell's "Year's Best SF" that I've read. The last one, the 15th, was somewhat disappointing to me. This collection was significantly better than that one, which I'm pretty sure proves that a year's "best of" collection can only be as good as the fiction that was released in the year that it covers.

This 18th edition covers the year of 2012, which, if this collection is representative, was a terrific year for short fiction. As I'm sure most of you have gathered, I don't read a lot of short fiction. I have my hands full reading the novels that are on my to read stack, although there are a bunch of short story collections on my to read stack as well. Wait a minute--can I really only refer to a "stack", since now I have a virtual ton of short story collections in my e-book library as well? But I digress.

When I reviewed the 15th edition, I stated, rather pompously I suppose, that the quality of the collection of short stories in existence falls into a bell-shaped curve, with a majority of stories being lumped in the middle, being of just "okay" quality, and the remaining fall on either end of the bell curve. I pronounced that to be true after reading that 15th edition. Well, this 18th edition has proved me wrong on that count, with a majority of the stories here being of good and higher quality. Indeed, many of them are outstanding.

Outstanding were Gregory Benford's "The Sigma Structure Symphony", an interesting take on first contact via decoding messages via SETI; Megan Lindholm's "Old Paint", a touching story about the effect an intelligent car has on the family that owns it; Yoon Ha Lee's "The Battle of Candle Arc", a terrific piece of military SF; Gwyneth Jones' "Bricks, Sticks, and Straw", a terrific story about virtual personas coming to life and developing independence while out of touch with their real operators back on Earth; Andy Duncan's "Close Encounters", about an old recluse who once had contact with alien visitors; Ken Liu's "Waves", about a generational starship and the price of immortality; and Catherine H. Shaffer's "The North Revena Ladies Literary Society", a wonderful tale about espionage and small town ladies' book clubs.

Other enjoyable stories were Aliette de Bodard's "Two Sisters in Exile", about the death of a living ship and the consequences that follow; Lewis Shiner's "Application", a short, quick and biting story that warns us about our treatment of our computing devices; and Bruce Sterling's "The Peak of Eternal Light", which gives us a glimpse of a very strange human colony on Mercury.

All the remaining stories, save one, are enjoyable as well, although those that I've listed here are the ones that stood out for me. The only one that I thought was a clunker was Joe Pitkin's "Houseflies". Let me rephrase that; in my opinion, it was a clunker. Hartwell and the original publisher, Cosmos, obviously saw something in this story that I didn't.

Still, a terrific collection. It just might drive me into reading more short story collections in the future. Goodness knows I have a large, uh, collection of them. [-jak]

HAIRBRAINED (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Billy Kent directs a script he co-wrote with Sarah Bird. A wild-haired child genius at age thirteen is admitted to party school Whittman College and declares war on the school that rejected him, Harvard. The film builds to the big game, but for once it is not sports, but academic competition. HAIRBRAINED feels like a throwback to college comedies of 1980s cable TV. It is from much the same team who made the lukewarm sex comedy THE OH IN OHIO. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

Genius thirteen-year old Eli Pettifog (played by Alex Wolff) must be one of the world's youngest college freshmen. Sadly, he is a freshman at Whittman College instead of his first choice school Harvard. On his first day he meets and involuntarily becomes friends with one of the world's oldest college freshmen Leo Searly (Brendan Fraser). Whittman is a party school, and while Eli is there for the school, Leo is there for the party. Eli will probably not do too much partying while his hairdo looks like a cross-mating between Albert Einstein's hair and Angela Davis's. Eli hatches a plan to get revenge on Harvard for rejecting him. He will captain Whittman's academic competition team and lead them to trounce Harvard's team.

The characters of the film seem a bit much like cliches from ANIMAL HOUSE and made-for-cable college films. There are the students who live for drinking, rocking, drugs, and sex. There are the high-born patricians who look uneasy in the filthy presence of the real people. Of course the film needs a bully or two. And what would it be without coeds who are willing and eager. In the middle of this is Eli Pettifog, the whiz kid freshman who makes himself the hero of his college by leading the Collegiate Mastermind Team to victory. (Think G.E. College Bowl.)

Writers Kent, Bird, and Adam Wierzbianski seem to confuse having knowledge of academic subjects with being good at trivia games. In the competition they seem more likely to be asked what high school the Iron Chef went to than about the purpose of the Diet of Worms.

In the film Fraser seems to have more personality than everyone else combined. Though the character he plays seems almost a necessity for a college party film--the party animal who never studies--he has enough personality to go beyond the script and save some of the slower moments of the film. A little too much time is spent watching the Whittman students have a good time that do not translate to good times for the audience. There are several familiar character actors dropped into sadly inconsequential roles. Actors like Parker Posey, Fred Melamed, and Austin Pendleton are present but are never used to their full potential.

This is a more modest film than those that usually get full theatrical releases. It will get some release February 28, 2014. It has its moments, but lacks any real punch overall. I rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

I can attest that the two mathematics questions asked were correctly answered.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Golden Age of SF/F TV (letters of comment by Kevin R., Philip Chee, Jette Goldie, Tim Bateman, Keith F. Lynch, and Paul Dormer):

In response to John Purcell's comments on SF on television in the 01/24/14 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R. writes:

More "Golden Age" of SF/F TV entries, that John Purcell didn't get to:

BBC America shows "Orphan Black" and "Dr Who."

I like "Almost Human." Besides Asimov's novel, it has television predecessors: "Holmes & Yoyo," "Future Cop" (this is the one Ellison & Bova sued as copying "Brillo") and "Mann & Machine." AH has other stfnal subplots going on.

It's good enough to make me ignore Cobie Smulders on Monday nights, and that's saying something. [-kr]

Philip Chee replies:

That's "Doctor Who" to you.

Who's Cobly Smulders? [-pc]

Kevin responds:

That's Cobie.

She's a hot tomato, not a cheese.

Robin Scherbatsky on "How I Met Your Mother," a.k.a. "Robin Sparkles"

ObTVSF, 'cause, "don't forget the robot."

Also on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." as "Maria Hill."

And, the voice of Wonder Woman in the new LEGO movie. [-kr]

Jette Goldie adds:

And it's BBC Wales who make [Doctor Who], not BBC America :-) [-jg]

Philip counters:

[[BBC America shows]] [-pc]

Tim Bateman predicts:

Once Wales leaves the U. K., Doctor Who will come back to us.

Well, when I say 'us'... [-tb]

Kevin then writes:

Wales will just be one more wild and dangerous place the Doctor has visited, then? :-)

I have noticed ITV's "Primeval" being shown on a local PBS station in Connecticut, and it was on SyFy (pfeh! My fingers itch when typing that horrible name!) and also BBC America, previously. BBCA also had "Torchwood", but I never caught that.

I has a dilemma last night: watch "Intelligence" on CBS or "Castle" on ABC. Castle & Beckett were investigating a "real life `Carrie,' as in Stephen King. Castle's a big geek and conspiracy nut, so while the stfnal incidents in the stories are ultimately debunked, he's still very much The Ascended Fanboy.

Looks good in a brown coat, too.

And Stana Katic is an even hotter Canadian import than Cobie Smulders.

Just checking some message boards, I've found [the spelling of "Doctor"] is a sore point among Whovians. Some do point out that the BBC did credit some of the actors as "Dr Who" or "Doctor Who," not always as "the Doctor."


I also found these officially licensed images:

I enjoy watching "Doctor Who," but I missed out on it during the 1970s US syndication. I've seen some of those episodes, and read some of the comics, but it was never my thing. I did attend the 1982 Chicago Comicon, which was held coterminously with Panopticon West, leading to a complete and total fubar. The old building's AC just couldn't handle that many fen in one place during a midwestern July heat wave. It earned the nickname Sweatcon II. (Sweatcon I was 1978.)

SF fans are often depicted as a bit odd by mundane media, and comics fans the same or more so, but the Whovians walking around the sweltering hotel (external high temps that week of 95F) in their long coats and scarves were stark raving bonkers! [-kr]

Keith Lynch adds a few thoughts:

[Re "Once Wales leaves the U. K., Doctor Who will come back to us."]

I thought Wikipedia's founder lived in the US. :-)

[Re "SyFy"]

The previous name was no better.

[And re which show to watch]

Don't you have a way to record one while watching the other? [-kfl]

To the last, Paul Dormer writes:

Well, even if he does, he still has to decide which one to watch "live".

Even worse for me, there are three different programmes I watch which get their first showing on UK TV all at 21:00 on Wednesdays. Then I not only have to decide which one to watch, which one to record, and which one to watch or record when the episode is shown later in the week. Or now, I can possibly even download it as my satellite box has an internet connection. [-pd]

Luddites (letter of comment by Paul Dormer):

In response to Evelyn's comments on being a Luddite in the 01/31/14 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

The British comedian Mark Steel does a series on BBC Radio 4 (which you can probably listen to online for a few more days) called "Mark Steel Goes to Town", where he visits a town in the UK and does a routine about the local people and history.

This week he visited Huddersfield, a place I know moderately well. One of the things he discovered about the place is that the original Luddites were active there. (When he tweeted this, he got the response, "Tweet about the Luddites all you want. They're not going to read it.")

The Luddites, he said, protested against local mill owners about being put out of their jobs by the new machinery and decided to murder a mill owner. They decided which one by the toss of a coin.

So, he reckoned, if you still buy CDs instead of downloads, you're not a Luddite. But if you ride a horse into the offices of iTunes, toss a coin, and then shoot the CEO, then you're a Luddite. [-pd]

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

FOURTEEN BYZANTINE RULERS by Michael Psellus (translated by E. R. A. Sewter) (ISBN 0-14-004-169-7) covers the period 976-1078 and indeed covers fourteen Byzantine rulers, though it seems like a lot more because Psellus has a habit of referring to a single emperor by a variety of names, or if not that, by a different name that the editors of the book. So Romanus IV, for example, is called Diogenes by Psellus but Romanus IV in the page headings, footnotes, and index!

This book seems to offer some excellent examples of historical bias, or at least disagreement. Psellus writes:

"As I write these words, I feel myself overcome by the same emotions as I often feel when I am in his presence: the same wonder thrills me. Indeed, it is impossible for me not to admire him. And I would ask my readers not to distrust my account, nor to regard with suspicion the words that I shall presently write here, because they are penned during the emperor's lifetime. The very reason why I undertook to write this history was, in fact, none other than this, that men might know there exists a human nature of such divinity, one that far surpasses all others that we have ever known before."

Then Sewter's footnote says:

"The truth is that Michael Parapinaces was a despicable person and some of the blame for his inefficiency must fall on Psellus."

Again, Psellus writes what a great writer Michael was, in all forms, and then the footnote Scylitzes is quoted as saying, "While [the emperor] spent his time in the useless pursuit of eloquence and wasted his energy on the composition of iambic and anapaestic verse (and they were poor efforts indeed) he brought his Empire to ruin, led astray by his mentor, the philosopher Psellus."


                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily.  
          That is what fiction means.
                                          --Oscar Wilde

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