MT VOID 03/06/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 36, Whole Number 1848

MT VOID 03/06/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 36, Whole Number 1848

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/06/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 36, Whole Number 1848

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

Names (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Humanity's capacity and tolerance for self-delusion can be easily judged by the fact that Flora is a relatively common name and Fauna is not. [-mrl]

Mini-Reviews (and One Midi-Review) of 2014 Films, Part 5 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):


[These are mostly mini-reviews, but I may say a little extra about BIRDMAN as it has won the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a decent film but would not have been my choice.] This is a film with somethings to like and a lot not to. My big complaint was that the writing often seemed obscure to me. A film in which I can get through a scene and not be sure what was said I will consider a flawed film.

Consider the title BIRDMAN: OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE). Even the punctuation makes no sense to me. If they removed the colon and moved "Or" into the parenthesis I might agree it was punctuated properly. A parenthesis indicates a side thought that can optionally be dispensed with. Here that would leave the title to be BIRDMAN: OR. And I saw no virtue of ignorance, expected or not.

[Postscript: The punctuation of the title seems different any place one looks. I am using the title chosen for the Internet Movie Data Base. It apparently is different in the film, in the press kit, and in the film poster.]

That said there was some unexpected virtue. It is a look behind the scenes of a Broadway play in preparation. Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is best known as having played the superhero Birdman. These days he is trying to escape the shadow of that role and prove he is a serious artist. He is trying to produce a new play based on a famous (now very famous) short story by Raymond Carver. Everywhere Thomson runs into conflicts of personality. One of Riggan's biggest problems is in dealing with an egotist actor played by Edward Norton.

The film is shot like Hitchcock's ROPE to look like it was filmed in one take. (Neither film really was shot in one take. And the looking for the hidden breaks is something of a distraction for the viewer.) Some of this film is fantasy, but most is all too real. Some of the big ideas about drama and about the viewing public hit home, and some get mired in soap opera. Still it is an audacious attempt to say a lot in a single film. But sill for much of this film I am going to say that the emperor *really* has no clothes. Rating: +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.


The titular bank robbers come upon a mad scientist who is resurrecting the titular vampire. For unexplained reasons the scientist wears a bag on his head like THE ELEPHANT MAN. When the comedy starts to run thin they bring in the scientist's crazy sister who seems to be from another film perhaps from another world. This is quite an audacious little horror film. It never really delivers horror, but there are some clever ideas in the screenplay. The title reminds us of BILLY THE KID VS. DRACULA, but this is a much more interesting film. It needed a satisfying end for the third act, disappointing the viewer. There is some very vulgar dialog and some nudity. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.


I am not usually a big fan of Wes Anderson who often has a sort of cuteness that I do not appreciate. This time around his style somehow works. We have something of a laugh about the Eastern European aristocracy in the years prior to WWII. It involves the Munchhausen-esque adventures of the most ever-perfect concierge from the most ever-perfect hotel in Europe. The visuals, the music, even the pacing is adjusted to perfection. The cast the cast includes about 20 major actors. The whole film is a treasure chest of stylistic touches. The score is great and the use of color is amazing. The whole film moves like a watchmaker's clockwork toy. Rating: +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10. The film won four Academy Awards.


This is a documentary that would have benefited greatly from a clear statement at the beginning of what it was trying to do. I believe the intent was to evaluate the claim that left wing filmmakers were putting liberal messages into films. It tells how during WWII filmmakers would include images of happy Soviets toiling in the field. Later the images changed, and there are a lot of working class people supporting each other or discussing wealth or class. There are 53 film clips in all. Throughout there are interviews with members of the Hollywood Ten talking about the films and the times. And some of the clips shown were anti-Communist. I am not sure that the film had a point of view itself. If it did, it was not clearly stated. RED HOLLYWOOD is actually an 18-year-old film re-edited and released. It makes an engaging study of liberal thought in movies over a period of about two decades. Rating: low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.


This is a film with a real surprise ending. The surprise is that what happens at the end of the story did not happen sixty or seventy minutes earlier in the film. Brazilian writer/director Daniel Ribeiro is in no hurry to bring his story to the obvious end. Leonardo is a blind high school student who talks about his life with his female platonic girlfriend Giovana. Leonardo is looking for a way to break from his parents' stiff controls and to run his own life. Then Gabriel, a new boy in school, sits behind Leonardo in class and Leonardo's life starts changing. Ribeiro is not trying for shock or surprise. He just gives us 90 minutes of slice of pleasant Brazilian high school life. Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.


Those Pesky Hugo Nominations Again!!! (a rant by Dale L. Skran):

It is that time of the year again when faithful fans everywhere put fingers to keyboard and attempt to create a list of Hugo nominees. They then rush out and try to persuade all their friends to vote the same way, and I am no different.

This year for Hugo for Best Novel I am nominating:

At this point I'm not sure which I like best, but they are all pretty good.

My nominations for Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) are:

In this case, my #1 vote is clear--INTERSTELLAR, then ASCENSION, EDGE, LUCY, and WINTER SOLDIER in that order. However, there were a lot of good SF/Fantasy movies in 2014, and I could prepare a list of another five, all decent Hugo contenders. Consider, for example, BIG HERO SIX, TRANSCENDENCE, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, and so on. I especially urge you to nominate ASCENSION (a SyFy channel mini-series), as I think it is a great effort that deserves more attention than it has received. EDGE OF TOMORROW (a.k.a. LIVE DIE REPEAT) also is a very worthy SF movie that deserves more attention. LUCY and WINTER SOLDIER are both good, but they have been huge box office successes, and both received a good bit of critical praise.

My nominations for Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) are:

The most important thing to remember about dramatic short form nominations is that you should under no circumstances vote for a "Dr. Who" episode until after 2030 or when the Singularity occurs--whichever takes longer! As I have said many times, I HATE this category, which ought to be for the best SF series of the year rather than the best "Dr. Who" episode. My approach to fighting Dr. Who is to surf the web, looking for whatever episodes of shows I like that other fans want to nominate. From these, and there aren't that many, I select five that I like best to nominate. There is no point in trying to be the Lone Ranger here; what is important is that everyone who hates "Dr. Who" stick together and nominate the same episodes so they get on the ballot.

As it happens, I have seen all of the episodes I am nominating, and they are all pretty good. "Twilight's Last Gleaming" is a dark tale of sacrifice that you don't often get on network television that takes a bit from THE COLD EQUATIONS. THE 100 is decent SF--and deserves a shot even if it is a CW show filled with beautiful young people. "What they become" features our intrepid Shield agents as they enter an underground alien city in an attempt to save the world, and emerge, shall we say, somewhat changed by the experience. This episode is a good example of SHIELD, and also an episode with a lot of strong traditional SF themes. THE FLASH is a lot of fun as a super-science comic book TV show, and ORPHAN BLACK has still not received the recognition it deserves as one of the best hard SF series of our time. [-dls]

Ceres (comments by Greg Frederick):

As the NASA Dawn spacecraft approaches Ceres, scientists are seeing a strange white blotch that appears to flicker on the surface of this minor planet in the asteroid belt. They are not certain what this is but as Dawn gets even closer to Ceres they will likely understand this better. It could be an ice volcano. Here are some more details about Ceres.

"Scientists with the Dawn mission suspect that Ceres has more in common with the outer most planets. 25 percent of Ceres' mass is thought to be composed of water, which would mean the space rock contains even more fresh water than Earth. Scientists have observed water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Ceres, which may erupt from volcano-like ice geysers." [-gf]

The Duality of Light (letter of comment by Greg Frederick):

Greg Frederick sends us this image:

with the following note:

I am attaching the first ever image which was created with electrons passing by a standing wave of light emitted by a nanowire that illustrates how light can be both a particle and a wave. This is phenomenon is known as the wave/particle duality of light. Light will act like a wave or a particle at different times as you well know.

The photo shows a wave feature, which is what Thomas Young discovered in the 1700's, that is that light acts like a wave. Light when it passes thru 2 narrow slits for example shows the cancelation and additive effect of wave crests and troughs on a screen beyond the 2 slits where the light is projected. But you will notice bumps in the wave which seem to be the quanta or packets of energy that Einstein predicted. These quanta can impact individual elections in an atom sending them to a higher energy level. This is the particle nature of light. Einstein was the first to realize this dual nature of light. [-gf]

Mark responds:

I am not expert enough to understand how this image illustrates the phenomenon, but what is impressive is that it is a visual illustration. [-mrl]

Singapore Mathematics (letter of comment by Keith F. Lynch):

In response to Philip Chee's comments on Singapore mathematics in the 02/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Keith F. Lynch writes:

[I'm not sure if just importing the textbooks works if you don't import the containing neo-Confucius culture as well. -pc]

"If you meet three Buddhas on the road, how many Buddhas do you have to kill?" Oops, sorry, wrong Eastern religion. [-kfl]

And in response to Scott Dorsey, Keith writes:

[What does "Singapore Mathematics" involve? If it's just beating [children who don't get the right answers, they tried that on me when I was a kid and I found the method wanting. -sd]

That's not what it is. So I'll have to beat you for getting it wrong.

Some sources say it consists of working from concrete to abstract. Isn't that how all education works? (Feynman wrote a diatribe against teaching electromagnetism by starting with Maxwell's equations rather than with static electricity, magnetism, current, induction, etc.)

Other sources say it consists of working visually. If so, that would have screwed over non-visual thinkers like me. [-kfl]

KINGSMAN and Accents (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):

In response to all the comments about the accents in KINGSMAN in the 02/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

What we need here is Henry Higgins. [-pr]

THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to Evelyn's comments about THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS in the 02/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes:

Hugo Gernsback's novel ULTIMATE WORLD has a similar premise to THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS. Here aliens induce the creation of children and then extract the embryos. The children are returned a few years later and are super intelligent. THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS was written first.

Then, there is THESE ARE THE DAMNED which involves children who are raised in isolation because they are radioactive. [-smm]

Mark replies:

Wow! This was a shocker for me. I think of Gernsback as being from the early roots of pulp science fiction. I never would have thought that his writing career overlapped with that of John Wyndham.

To clarify another item, in the first paragraph you are talking about novels. THESE ARE THE DAMNED is a film, itself based on the novel THE CHILDREN OF LIGHT by H. L. Lawrence. [-mrl]

Evelyn adds:

THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS was published in 1957; ULTIMATE WORLD was published posthumously in 1971 (but still only four years after Gernsback's death). Wyndham outlived Gernsback by only two years. [-ecl]

CARRY ON SCREAMING (letter of comment by Paul Dormer):

In response to Mark's comments about CARRY ON SCREAMING in the 02/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

Definitely a classic of the series, but I can't help wondering how many jokes are going to be missed by American audiences.

Charles Hawtrey plays a lavatory attendant called Dan Dann, which I thought was a British school playground song, but a Google search came up with a version from St. Louis. Is that well known in the US? [-pd]

Mark replies:

Not to me it isn't. [-mrl]

Turner Classic Movies and BBC America (letter of comment by John Purcell):

In response to Mark's comments on TCM's films in March in the 02/27/15 issue, John Purcell writes:

I am so bummed out that our cable provider no longer carries TCM, so we're missing out on some wonderful movies this month. Granted, I've seen them all before, but they are still enjoyable on re-viewings. There are definitely lots of good movies this month.

On the plus side, we now get BBC America, which means lots of "Doctor Who", "Torchwood", "Sherlock", and other fine fare. Still, I liked TCM. [-jp]

Mark replies:

I would very much like to get BBC AMERICA. I would value that just one peg below TCM. I have to confess that I am not a huge Bert I. Gordon fan but I know there are fans among my readers. You can tell what kind of a film fan I am if you ever see THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER. It is far better than the Carson McCullers novel. Personally I would rate it a +4, a rating I give to only a handful of films. I also gave a +4 to LORD OF THE RINGS considered as a single film. But HEART earns a +4 from me with a much shorter film and no CGI.

And Evelyn responds:

"Sherlock" was fine fare the first two seasons, but then completely fell apart (IMHO). [-ecl]

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

MALGUDI DAYS by N. K. Narayan (ISBN 978-81-85986-17-3) is a collection of stories set in Narayan's fictional Indian town of Malgudi. They are apparently extracted from earlier volumes (AN ASTROLOGER'S DAY and LAWLEY ROAD), as well as eight new stories.

The obvious comparison would be with Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series set in Gaborone, Botswana. There are, of course, differences: Gaborone is real, Malgudi is fictional. The "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" series has a set of continuing characters; the Malgudi stories have only their setting in common (with the exception of "The Talkative Man", a fertilizer salesman). And the continuing characters in Gaborone are, if not middle class, then at least somewhat established in the economic system--they are educated secretaries, mechanics, and so on. Some of the characters in MALGUDI DAYS are educated and middle class; others are itinerant astrologers, blind beggars, and so on. This may be because McCall Smith is writing somewhat from outside the culture of Gaborone, while Narayan is writing from within.

I have notes on all the stories, made for the book discussion group that picked this, but if you have not yet read the book, I would suggest reading no more than a half dozen of them before reading the book. For one thing, they may give away more than you want to know. For another, after a while my comments become repetitive ("this is another such-and-such type story"). I also recommend that you read these sparingly, rather than all in two or three chunks, since there are common themes that will seem more repetitive when read all at once. (Like buying a themed anthology--it is better read with "breathing room" between the stories.)

"An Astrologer's Day" may have a bit too much reliance on coincidence--but then so do most Agatha Christie stories. Narayan is obviously skeptical of astrologers (and by extension, psychics) since his astrologer uses all the tricks of the trade to make successful predictions.

"The Missing Mail" is an interesting slice of life with an underlying question about the use--or is it abuse--of power?

"The Doctor's Word" presents an ethical dilemma that is seems possible to doctors in all cultures. The patient insists on settling his estate before he dies. The doctor feels this is important, and that there is little hope that the patient can survive, but he also knows that to go along with the settling of the estate will remove any last hope the patient may have, and effectively kill the patient.

The main character in "Gateman's Gift" reminded me of Honore Daumier, a 19th century Paris sculptor who did dozens of caricatures of famous people. Singh's sculptures are not caricatures, but there is the same notion of faithfulness, in one to essence, in the other to appearance. Alas, the ending is a bit predictable.

The phrase that came to mind for "The Blind Dog" was "the humanity of dogs and the inhumanity of man."

"Fellow-Feeling" relies on a gullibility that seems very unlikely. One might accept it in the 18th or even 19th century India, but in a major city in late 20th century India it just seems hard to believe. I guess I am just not ready for a "willing suspension of disbelief"--to use Coleridge's phrase--for this story. I suppose the idea is that brains are more important than brawn, but it does not quite work for me. I do like the presumably authentic touch of the train compartment occupancy sign. I will also note that this story does not take place in Malgudi--maybe in Malgudi I could believe it.

"The Tiger's Claw" is one of that genre of stories where there is an amazing, exciting story, followed by a more mundane explanation, and then the reader is left to choose between the two. Saki's "The Open Window" is an example of a variation of this.)

With "Iswaran" it begins to look like Narayan likes "ironic" endings. Sometimes the protagonist goes through agonies expecting bad news, but gets good news. Sometimes the protagonist is so happy over good news that he does something to destroy it. Sometimes the ending contradicts the story entirely. They are not "gimmick" stories, but they do seem to have "a twist in the tale" (I would credit that term if I could find out who actually invented it).

"Such Perfection" embodies a superstition which, if not universal, is certainly very widespread: that perfection by a human offends the gods (or God) as presuming a human to be capable of their (His) perfection. It can manifest itself into the intentional imperfection found in both Navaho rugs and Persian carpets, and here in the insistence that a "perfect" statue have an imperfection.

"Father's Help" is yet another "twist ending" that is a bit predictable, though well-executed.

"The Snake-Song" verges on fantasy, though whether it is true fantasy or just the imaginings of the Talkative Man is unclear. In this regard it bears some connection to "The Tiger's Claw", though the two have very little in common.

"Engine Trouble" does not have a twist ending (well, maybe a bit), but it is a familiar plot (a la O Henry's "Ransom of Red Chief"). (At the risk of making a really bad pun, I'll note that it has both an elephant and a white elephant--and they are not the same thing.)

Venkat Rao's dilemma is "Forty-Five a Month" is one which transcends culture. The conflict between work and family, the feeling that any improvement is counter-balanced by a negative is as true in corporations here as in Venkat Rao's office. And here too, any raise seems to come with a demand for even more time from you. It is true that Venkat Rao is working for the basics of life and people here may be working for things that are less critical--a larger home, more toys for their children, etc. But the message is that at any level to get what you consider enough, you have to give up what you are getting it for. (I suppose this is an echo of another O Henry story, "The Gift of the Magi".)

"Out of Business" has another universal plot--the man out of work because a chain-reaction financial crash has destroyed the company he worked for. In "Out of Business" he turns to crossword puzzles paying prize money; in the United States, he would be buying lottery tickets. (Do they have lotteries in India? At least the crossword puzzles require some level of knowledge and skill.)

"Attila" is definitely a story for dog people. 'Nuff said.

"The Axe" is less a story and more a meditation on attachments we form in life.

"Lawley Road" is basically "Engine Trouble" with a sub-text of post-colonialism.

"Trail of the Green Blazer" has a bit of the touch of "The Man with the Twisted Lip", though Raju is a slightly less reputable character than a beggar. I'm not sure how believable his actions are, but of course the result is predictable.

Like so many other stories, "The Martyr's Corner" resonates with current problems--in this case, that of the small businessman, who finds his livelihood disrupted by forces beyond his control.

In some of these stories, the protagonist does something disreputable, but then gets rescued by fate. In some, he does something disreputable, but then is punished by fate. By the time you get to "Wife's Holiday", you find yourself playing the game of trying to guess which it will be. (The problem, of course, is that sometimes the punishment extends to the innocent.)

I read the "A Shadow" a couple of days after the Oscars, and while AMERICAN SNIPER is *about* a real person who is dead, rather than *starring* an actor who is dead, there is probably a similar dynamic with the families' reactions to movies about/with their deceased member between the two. Some people will want to see their father or sister or other relative on screen; others will find it too painful. Obviously, for career actors, this is an even bigger problem for the families--one wonders if they think about it beforehand.

The question in "A Willing Slave" is not whether Ayah is a willing slave, but whether the title refers to her life at the beginning of the story, or the end of the story, or both, is something to be considered. It is also a reminder of how domestic help is treated all over the world. As with many of these stories, the location may be Malgudi, India, but it could be anywhere. (In the film THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, we discover that the nanny has not been able to visit her family in the Philippines for nineteen years. Meanwhile, the family she has worked for all that time is building the most expensive private home in the United States.)

"Leela's Friend" is another story of an ayah (a nanny, male this time) who elicits different reactions from different members of the family. It is also a cautionary tale for our own times, but I will not say how.

In "Mother and Son" American readers may feel a bit of culture shock when it turns out that the prospective bride is fourteen years old )and some also that she is the prospective groom's cousin, though royalty and even ordinary people marry cousins--Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, and Albert Einstein, for example.)

The preceding stories all appeared elsewhere and were all very short, averaging five pages each. The remainder are new for this volume, and average twelve pages each.

In "Naga" we find what seems to be the devotion of a snake, but is more likely just its conditioning. The description of the monkey's training would seem to reinforce the notion that it is not a conscious emotional decision for either.

"Selvi" is almost the reverse, about how a singer conditioned to obey her manager in everything eventually diverges from this path.

"Second Opinion" leaves the reader wondering whether the mother knows what the doctor tells the son, or whether she has conspired in what the doctor tells the son, or whether the doctor is perhaps making it all up based on what he knows the mother wants. (There are probably other options I have missed.)

"Cat Within" is another tale of a less than completely genuine "psychic," similar to the astrologer in the first story.

"The Edge" is actually a bit of a horror story, which at first might seem merely urban legend--but I am sure is not.

"God and the Cobbler" is probably the most serious of the stories, with its examination of the notions of evil and penance and forgiveness and karma, and of real and representational and imagined gods. It reminded me, oddly, of some of the Hasidic tales from Europe, which again speaks of the universality of many of Narayan's ideas.

Mark asked about "Hungry Child" and whether it was really that easy for someone to claim a lost child in India (and also whether someone would take a child knowing the parents were around somewhere). I suspect that up until, say, seventy-five years ago, it might have been that easy here. Face it, most carnivals run in the 1930s were not overly concerned about the things that generate fear of lawsuits today--ride safety, food safety, child safety, honest games, etc. If there was a lost child cluttering up the manager's office and someone showed up saying he would take him, I doubt the manager would ask a lot of questions. (And what could he have asked? Most people in the 1930s did not carry a lot of identification with them.)

"Emden" is a fitting story to end with: a tale of ageing and memory, of loss and regret, and after everything else, the possibility of re-incarnation.

All in all, this is a highly recommended collection. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human 
          freedom.  It is the argument of tyrants; it is the 
          creed of slaves.
                                          --William Pitt (1759-1806)

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