MT VOID 04/11/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 41, Whole Number 1801

MT VOID 04/11/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 41, Whole Number 1801

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/11/14 -- Vol. 32, No. 41, Whole Number 1801

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 or posted will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to

Folk Song (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

While we were visiting Vietnam we heard a concert of traditional Vietnamese village songs. One of them is a popular song. The origin of the song is forgotten. The story is a Vietnamese boy has loved a Vietnamese girl from afar. She never seems to know he even exists. Then one night the Vietnamese girl is preparing dinner. The Vietnamese boy is watching from the shadows believing he is not being seen. The Vietnamese girl knows he is there and requests help in preparing the dinner. The boy is overjoyed to know the girl has noticed him. The song lyric goes, "Come on, baby, Light my fire." [-mrl]

Science in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Last week I was discussing 1964's ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS. There is enough to say about the science of this science fiction film to get its own column.

When ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS was released it was purported to be the first of a new wave of science fiction films that would be made with impeccable science. In fact the film breaks neatly into two halves. The first half is science fiction to the extent that what happens does have hand-waving explanations for what the plot requires. The second half is more fantasy with no good explanations offered or even possible. For example in the first half our castaway, Draper, needs to find oxygen and just in a nick of time he discovers rocks that if he cooks under pressure they give off oxygen in quantities plentiful enough to keep him alive. That is highly unlikely, but it at least gives us an excuse to suspend disbelief. In the second half Draper meets a human--one who looks just like us--from a very distant planet and he has pills that work both for him and for an Earth human as an oxygen surrogate. What do they have, condensed oxygen?

It does seem unlikely that Draper could overcome so many problems with extending his existence on Mars. He must find ways to support himself with oxygen, water, food, heat, shelter, and even companionship. All these needs seem to fall a little too neatly into place.

The film had more than its share of scientific blunders. We have the usual problem of objects flying around in space making sounds in what should have been a vacuum. When we see meteors they look like they are spheres with rough surfaces that glow bright red. I am not sure of the latter because they are careening through the Martian atmosphere, but they would not be spherical.

The Martian rocks are the yellow color of rocks in Death Valley. That makes them just not red enough. Rocks on Mars have much more iron oxide than rocks on Earth. That is why true-color pictures from the Martian surface show the rocks as a red-orange. There is so much iron oxide on Mars that we can see it even from Earth. Mars is a very red planet and we just do not see that in the film. The redness of the ground was common knowledge in 1964, when the film was released. Also by the time the film was made it had been known for decades that the supposed "canals" on Mars were an optical illusion. Yet in the film the castaway and his Friday explore these supposed canals. While Draper moves around there is no sign that Martian gravity is 38% of Earth's. Draper is obviously subject to much more gravity than Mars would provide.

Draper needs to find a way to start a fire. He does it by using a crystal he finds to focus the light of the sun. The sort of lens needed is curved and convex on the side toward the sun and the side away from the sun. It seems very possible that Draper would have such a lens among those he brought from the ship. However, they show his using a natural crystal. That would be useless for his purposes.

When the Soviets first put up Sputnik, people needed exact instructions to see when the first artificial satellite flew overhead. You could not expect to see Sputnik by just looking up. It seems in the film that when any objects are orbiting Mars, they will manage to fly directly over where Draper is. And they will make loud sounds to announce their presence. He would have to go looking for them, but it appears in the film that they come looking for him.

Just as the human astronauts have pressure suits to protect them, Mona the wooly monkey, an unrepentant scene-stealer, has her own cute little pressure suit to protect her. It is not clear under what circumstances these suits are to be used, but there is one problem with Mona's suit. The suit cannot be sealed airtight since it would have to accommodate Mona's tail. Somehow it is hard to imagine a tubular tail for the small suit and we never see anything covering Mona's tail. Incidentally, when we first see the tail on Mars it is supposed to look like a tentacle gesticulating menacingly squid-like. It is a puppet. Once we see all of Mona she never moves her tail like that again. Speaking of Mona, she is just listed in the credits as "The Woolly Monkey." Mona was actually played by a male monkey named Barney. If you look you can see that Mona is wearing furry shorts to hide the fact that "she" is actually a male.

Other features like lighting in caves and sausage plants make for a more enjoyable story, but seem rather unlikely. Of course, pills that supplant our need for oxygen seems more absurd than unlikely. The whole slaving plot seems unlikely. The idea of transporting slaves from who knows what planet to Mars just for the questionable utility of slave labor strains credulity. It might be possible in the original Robinson Crusoe's time, but it hardly works on Mars. What resource could possibly be so valuable that it would be worthwhile to have interplanetary or interstellar slave ships to mine it? And how likely is it that Friday's race also has so similar a religion to Earth's religions? The film seems to take great pains to make clear that all races believe in much the same God. Also when Draper puts up an American flag outside the cave he is using as a home, he feels obliged to salute it.

Is the science better in some other science fiction film of the 1960s? Probably not. ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is probably no worse than any other science fiction film of its time for science fiction accuracy. But at least in the film there were people who knew the science was bad. [-mrl]

Miscellaneous Comments and Annotations on "The Five Orange Pips" (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

1) Doyle/Watson describes the weather in violent terms: "the wind had screamed and the rain had beaten against the windows", "the storm grew higher and louder, and the wind cried and sobbed like a child in the chimney", and "the howl of the gale from without seemed to blend with the text [of one of Clark Russell's sea-stories]". Yet John Openshaw comes in holding a "streaming umbrella"--that must be one heck of a strong umbrella.

2) Holmes says if the bell indicated a client, "[it] is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady's." Is it likely that a friend of Mrs. Hudson would decide to visit during a storm so violent it would keep a client away?

3) Watson says his wife was on a visit to her mother's, yet in THE SIGN OF FOUR, Mary Morstan is an orphan.

4) Holmes deduces that Openshaw has "come up from the south-west." To which Openshaw replies, "Yes, from Horsham," and Holmes explains, "That clay and chalk mixture which I see upon your toe caps is quite distinctive." It is hard to believe that with a storm as bad as it is, and Openshaw walked some distance and did not just take a cab from the station (because his coat and umbrella were streaming with water).

5) Holmes says, "I have been beaten four times--three times by men, and once by a woman." One could spend a lot of time trying to pin down which cases these are, but it is also possible that they include cases never written up. Still, one might presume the woman was Irene Adler, in "A Scandal in Bohemia", except that that takes place in 1888 and "The Five Orange Pips" take place in 1887.

6) Elias was found "face downward in a little green-scummed pool, ... and the water was but two feet deep..." The jury called it suicide, but it seems difficult, if not impossible to commit suicide that way in a two-foot-deep pool.

7) "The letter arrived on March 10, 1883. His death was seven weeks later, upon the night of May 2d." The next letter arrives on "the fourth day after the new year" (January 5) of 1885. Openshaw's father died January 10. Openshaw says that "two years and eight months have elapsed since then." That is consistent (if not precise) with the "late September" time Watson mentions at the beginning.

8) When Openshaw prepares to leave, Holmes is concerned, but says, "It is not yet nine. The streets will be crowded, so l trust that you may be in safety." Again, given the storm described earlier, would the streets really be so crowded?

9) "As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone" seems like exaggeration.

10) Because there are multiple people involved, Holmes concludes that "you see K. K. K. ceases to be the initials of an individual and becomes the badge of a society." Maybe, but it could be the leader of the group, or a town, or some other abbreviation.

11) Holmes claims that the KKK "rather suddenly collapsed" in 1869, which is not true. Nathan Bedford Forest did call for its disbanding in that year, but it slowly withered away between then and the mid-1870s.

12) Holmes seems to think "A and B cleared" means that they left the country, but I always read it as that they were cleared of suspicion, i.e., found innocent of the charges.

13) It is certainly possible that a ship named the Lone Star could be based in Savannah, Georgia, but it seems fairly unlikely.


HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: During a long, slow, summer three boys drift around nature. They talk; they ride bicycles; they wrestle. One of the boys is found dead from a fall from a bridge. Is it an accident or was it intended? We may not even find out. The viewer should not look for this film to move like a film with plot. It is more dreamlike in its approach. Writer, director, and editor Daniel Patrick Carbone eases us through this re-creation of the summers of his youth. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

This is a story of long summer days and boys, brothers, growing up. The boys are Eric (Nathan Varnson), age 14 and Tommy (Ryan Jones), age 9. It is set in some recent past when the boys have no electronics more sophisticated than a CD player. The background the viewer hears is not the humming of computers but the buzzing of locusts. The slow pace of the movie follows the slow pace of young teen boys talking and smelling the air.

The setting is a rural part of New Jersey. The boys pass the time wrestling with each other or examining an abandoned house or talking thoughtfully about what they think death is like. There are Tommy and Eric and Ian. We find out Tommy and Eric are brothers and Ian just a friend. Ian brings the gun to show his friends. They examine the gun with a real sense of awe. Ian's father catches them and takes the gun back. But the gun does not stay put away for long. Later Ian is found dead. Had he jumped from a bridge? Did someone push him? Did he just fall? Was it an accident or was it intentional?

There is not a whole lot of plot to HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES. There could be, but that is not the point of the film. This is not a film of action and plot but one of languorous texture. The background is always more important than the foreground. Do not expect all questions to be answered. Telling the plot of the boy killed is not really much of a priority for the director. It is just about the two boys, the summer, and the little moments in life as they bit by bit cross over to manhood. Seen through the brothers' eyes this is a world of boys. Tommy and Eric's mother is the only female in the film and she is not there for long.

Carbone just recreates the moments that the boys will remember in the years to come. In one sequence Eric wants Tommy to learn to swim. He picks up Tommy, drops him in a shallow part of the nearby pond. He knows his brother will figure out quickly enough how to swim if he has to.

Daniel Patrick Carbone puts in so much of his resource into the texture and background of his setting that he neglects the plot. He out-Malicks Terrence Malick in creating the background noise. The viewer will have no idea where the film is going but will have a real feel for where he has been.

Keeping dialog and even plot at the barest minimum Carbone is asking us to be young boys in New Jersey and to just see what it is like. The viewer is caught up in the atmosphere or finds his patience tested. I rate HIDE YOUR SMILING FACES a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. In late March it had a limited release and became available on VOD and iTunes.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


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

LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: WAR, DECEIT, IMPERIAL FOLLY AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST by Scott Anderson (ISBN 978-0-385-53292-1)--the title says it all. This biography of T. E. Lawrence, not just in Arabia, but from birth to death, pretty much explains the mess the Middle East is in as the result of World War I, the deceit of all the statesmen and most of everyone else (including Lawrence), and the imperial urge that was the cause of all that deceit. The basic deceits were the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration. The former was a secret Anglo-French agreement to divide up the Middle East between them after the war; the deceit was that Britain and France kept promising the Arabs their freedom and self-determination if they rose up against the Ottoman Empire which ruled them, while never intending any such thing. The latter was the British statement that "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people"; the deceit was that they gave a different interpretation of "national home" to everyone involved. If the listener wanted to hear that it would be an independent Jewish state, that is what the statesmen said. If that it would be a British protectorate allowing Jews to come and live there, that is what they said. And so on. It is no surprise that the result was a disaster.

It also seems to be the case that many of the stories told by Lawrence turn out to be exaggerations or outright falsehoods. (The fact that Lawrence often tells differing stories certainly supports this.) Lawrence's account(s) of what happened in Deraa, in particular, range from "merely" implausible to physically impossible.

Whether this is the book coming out in commemoration of the centenary of World War I that you should read, rather than the dozens of others, I cannot say. (One reason is that all of them seem to be between 500 and 1000 pages long, so it is impossible to read all of them unless one is doing it professionally.) Frankly, if I were to recommend only one book on World War I, it would be Barbara Tuchman's THE GUNS OF AUGUST, but that covers just the beginning and not the progress, or the end. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Make the people sovereign and the poor will 
          use the machinery of government to dispossess 
          the rich.
                                          --C. Northcote Parkinson

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