MT VOID 12/25/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 26, Whole Number 1890

MT VOID 12/25/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 26, Whole Number 1890

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 12/25/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 26, Whole Number 1890

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

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ):

January 14: THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (film), "Pigeons from Hell" and 
	"Red Nails" by Robert E. Howard, Middletown (NJ) Public 
	Library, 5:30PM
January 28: "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster and "The Martian 
	Way" by Isaac Asimov (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 
	2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
February 25: OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene, Old Bridge (NJ) 
	Public Library, 7PM
March 24: HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
April 28: LOST HORIZON by James Hilton, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
May 26: "E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred and "Earthman, Come Home" 
	by James Blish (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME 2B), 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures (at the Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
Library, sponsored by the Garden State Speculative Fiction 
Writers) (subject to change):

January: TBA

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

Hope (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

They say we should all be interested in the future because that is where we will be living the rest of our lives. I would be satisfied if I just knew at least a little of that life will be lived in the far future.

Also, since this is Christmas Day, I hope all who celebrate that holiday to have a very Merry Christmas. Or what seems more likely, I hope you *had* a Merry Christmas the day you received this issue.

And for the rest of you, have a Joy-filled Isaac Newton's birthday. [-mrl]

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies for January (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Another new month is coming up as well as a new year and it is time for me to ferret through the listings and see if I can find some films to recommend. I remind people that opinions here are strictly my own and I have not much to do with TCM that isn't on this side of a large flat screen. I just recommend films to alert people and to promote discussion.

Apparently TCM wants to start the new year with a bang. After having finished the old year with seven "Marx Brothers" films, followed by six "Thin Man" films, the last finishing at 6:45 in the morning, they go into a full day of science fiction films. This is their lineup:

 6:45 AM THINGS TO COME (1936)
 8:30 AM SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
10:15 AM FLY, THE (1958)
12:00 PM THEM! (1954)
 1:45 PM TIME AFTER TIME (1979)
10:15 PM M (1951)

Okay, I admit it. The last two are not part of the science fiction run. But they are films of interest. M is a film I have not seen, but it is a rarity, and one I have been looking for. This is Joseph Losey's American version of Fritz Lang's 1931 thriller, M. I think it is a premiere for TCM in which David Wayne takes the Peter Lorre role. Anyway, while you are waiting for it you can catch one of the great westerns. And you could do a lot worse than THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN for New Years Day.

Okay. On to my recommendation for this month.

Here is a little film that may have slipped under your radar. Lots of science fiction films show alien races fighting ach other. There was plenty of that sort of thing in the long history of Star Trek. Just put a plastic mask on an actor and you have a new alien race. And you can tell a story of him opposing humans or another alien race. It sure does not take a lot of imagination. But do you want to see two *really* alien races at war? Your film is PHASE IV (1974). The aliens are not even from outer space. They are ants. Just Earth-ant sized ants. They are ants who have stopped making war on each other and which stand together against ant enemies. Not all questions in the plot are answered, but apparently the ants do not want to kill off humans. They want to put the world in order. The first question that this film raises is would that be such a bad thing? In any case, the ants do not do a lot of attacking. Mostly they try to collect intelligence (in the spying sense of that word) about humans. And the humans try to collect intelligence by mathematically studying the ants. If there were such a war, that is probably how it would be fought. This is intelligent science fiction.

Unusually, this is a British film set in the United States. An entomologist in the Arizona desert field lab notices new ant behavior, more aggressive against ant predators, less against other colonies of ants. He calls in a mathematician and both start to realize they are in a battle for supremacy of the planet.

But there is more to the film than that. This film was designed and directed by Saul Bass. Bass was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Think of a film with a really striking title sequence and Bass did the titles.--films like WALK ON THE WILD SIDE; PSYCHO; VERTIGO; IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD; SPARTACUS; EXODUS; WEST SIDE STORY; SECONDS; ALIEN; and CASINO. He created advertising logos for MGM, QUAKER OATS, and AT&T. I could go on and on. With all that output he actually directed only on film, PHASE IV. Anyway this is a visually fascinating film that still manages to tell a good story about how humans and ants make war with each other. The insect photography is fascinating all by itself. It is provided by Ken Middleham who had done similar detailed close-up work on THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE (1971).

After I have said so much positive about Saul Bass, let me add a negative note. There was more shot for the ending. Had it been used, in my opinion it would have severely damaged the film. Bass continued the ending of the film going off into Ken-Russell-style surrealism. For those interested the longer ending is available on YouTube. [Sunday, January 10, 2:15 AM]

[If that is not enough ants for you, TCM follows it at 4:00 AM with THEM!]

I won't list a best film of the month. The best film would probably be THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES [Wednesday, January 20, 1:15 PM]. But I am biased and I am afraid I would pick PHASE IV. [-mrl]

Choices (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

In the film MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, Robin Williams is a Russian musician visiting New York who goes into a supermarket and asks where the line (queue) for coffee is. The clerk directs him to the coffee aisle, where the sheer number of choices causes Williams's character to have a nervous breakdown.

Well, that was when your choices were regular or decaf, grind or instant, and which brand. Now we have become more "coffee-savvy" with the result that we also have to consider all sorts of varieties. There is the "basic" Arabica versus Robusta, but there is also the question of whether you prefer Indonesian, Hawaiian, Costa Rican, etc. And which certifications do you want: organic? fair trade? Rain Forest Alliance Certified? Smithsonian Bird Friendly? Coffee and Farmer Equity Practices? UTZ Certified? And are these certifications entirely good? It turns out that for the small farmers, the fees required to get some of these put them out of their reach, and even larger farmers probably could not get all of them. So you end up weighing which is more important, fair trade or bird friendly? Somewhere along the line, of course, how the coffee actually tastes becomes a secondary consideration--or not even that, because after you have decided what certifications you want, there may not be more than one or two choices left.

[And this is not even counting whether you want "civet coffee" (or its cheaper cousin, "weasel coffee").]

Produce has similar problems. Yes, there's the question of organic versus ... inorganic? Well, whatever. It turns out that again, the small farmer is often locked out of certification by the cost. And should you buy from the local non-certified farmer, or the certified one from thousands of miles away?

What about eggs (and chickens)? Natural? Organic? Cage-free? Free-range? Free-roaming? Pasture-raised? Kosher? Certified Humane? Animal Welfare Approved? American Humane Certified? Food Alliance Certified? United Egg Producers Certified?

Fish is even worse. Yes, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has guidelines, but they vary by location and time of year. In addition, what they suggest buying usually is not in the store under that name, or it is there but the details are not, or there is fish in the store that isn't even listed as either Best, Good, or Avoid. My store does list the country of origin, for example, but not the fishing method, so is the Atlantic cod I see "imported hook and line"; "Georges Bank trawl, handline or imported"; or just plain Atlantic cod? And do they look at aspects other than sustainability, such as labor practices? (I won't even add that if one is restricting oneself to kosher species, a lot of what is recommended is eliminated. By the time one is done, one ends up with fish priced at $15 a pound, which just seems too much to pay for fish. [-ecl]

Mark replies:

Barry Schwartz wrote about this problem back in 2004 in his book THE PARADOX OF CHOICE. See:

The more choices you have the more you worry your choices have not been the right ones. [-mrl]

DUNE (letter of comment by Don Blosser):

In response to Joe Karpierz's comments on DUNE in the 12/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Don Blosser writes:

I remember reading DUNE when it was "serialized(?)" in ANALOG magazine.

I think the first copies were in the large magazine format, then ANALOG switched to the near "paperback" size.

I could even afford the magazine on my high school allowance (around $2.50/week) or it was possibly supplemented by the local weekly newsletter/advertisements I was delivering.

I was already reading "science fiction" when I could find it in the school or public libraries, or in drug store paperback racks. DUNE though made me start looking for ANALOG and other F&SF periodicals. [-db]

Mark replies:

You are right about the early installments of DUNE in ANALOG. That magazine was in the large magazine size and then dropped down to the size ANALOG is today, just while they were publishing DUNE. Then the big book came out and it seemed to me that was a huge size for a science fiction novel. [-mrl]

Anti-Mormon Sentiment in Classic Novels (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein):

In response to Evelyn's comments on A STUDY IN SCARLET in the 12/11/15 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

Anti-Mormon sentiment can be found even later. In the early 1900's, Zane Grey's classic RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE cast Mormons as the villains by virtue of their religious beliefs. [-pr]

MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):

In response to Evelyn's comments on MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! in the 12/11/15 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

At an East Coast con several years ago, I had the chance to ask Harry Harrison how he got 1999 New York so wrong in MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! (adapted as SOYLENT GREEN in the movies). I expected him to say he had put too much faith in doomsayers like Paul Ehrlich; but instead he just laughed and said the book was "pure propaganda" (his exact words).

This led me to some ruminations about honesty and dishonesty in the writing of fiction, and what we should think of an SF writer who engages in extrapolations he knows to be false and/or impossible. Is propaganda (for population control, presumably) better or worse than simple hackwork? In a way, Harrison was living down to my (not high) expectations of him.

Given Paul Ehrlich's record, the credence his predictions continue to receive, against all evidence (as Evelyn points out), brings the Millerites and similar religious movements to mind. This is environmental faith rather than environmental science. [-tw]

Aurora Borealis (letter of comment by Kevin R):

In response to Evelyn's comments on the pluralization of "aurora borealis" in the 12/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

[Evelyn wrote,] "The translation seems to have a couple of hiccups. I think the plural of 'aurora borealis' should be 'auroras borealis', ..." [-ecl]

If you are going to keep "northern lights" or "northern dawn" in Latin, make it "aurorae borealis." I'm not sure you need to make it plural, as "dawn" is collective, no? [-kr]

Evelyn responds:

Yes, I should have used the Latin plural. As for whether to change it at all, the original was referring to the phenomenon over several days, meaning there were distinct multiple dawns. [-ecl]

OFCS Winners (letter of comment by Philip Chee):

In response to the OFCS award winners list in the 12/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

"Best Supporting Actress: Rooney Mara (CAROL)"

What? No love for Alicia Vikander?

"Best Adapted Screenplay: CAROL (Phyllis Nagy)"

I thought Drew Goddard had a chance.


Innocent Until Proven Guilty (letters of comment by Philip Chee and Steve Coltrin):

In response to Evelyn's comments on "innocent until proven guilty" in the 12/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Philip Chee writes:

And then there's "not proven". And over here there is "discharge not amounting to an acquittal". [-pc]

Steve Coltrin elaborates:

["Not proven" is] Scots for "we know you did it, you son of a bitch, but we can't prove it".

Does jeopardy attach to "discharge not amounting to an acquittal"? [-sc]

BEN-HUR (letter of comment by Katherine B. Pott):

In response to Mark's comments on BEN-HUR in the 11/27/15 issue of the MT VOID, Kate Pott writes:

Just a quick question for you. Several issues back in The Void. You commented on TCM running the 1925 BEN HUR. The gist was, I think, that the older original chariot race was more exciting. I agree, but I never watch it without thinking of the incredible number of horses killed in the filming, dozens by the way. Elsewhere in the article, you mention that the iconic chariot race poster for the remake has the horses running in the wrong direction. One confused horse seems to be looking backwards in the direction he should be running. This puzzles me greatly. How do you know whether the horses were run clockwise or counterclockwise in a traditional Roman race? Since the track was oval, starting either way should not make a difference. Of course, the charioteers would have to know in advance so they could align the horses to best advantage, probably with the slowest on the inside to keep the others steady on the turns. Let me know what I'm missing. Thanks! [-kbp]

Mark responds:

Somehow I had never heard of the horses killed until just recently. And you are right, I will not forgive the film for that. I hear all kinds of different estimations of how many were killed. We will probably never know how many horses involuntarily paid the price of death to be immortalized.

I was writing about the film BEN-HUR, not the historic chariot races. The poster was a representation of the film, not of history. In the film there is no doubt that the horses go counter- clockwise. We have overhead shots. In the poster the horses at least at first seem to be going clockwise toward a bunch of distant people. But other chariots are following the main chariot and may be also going clockwise. Actually the poster seems to just take iconic images from the film and arrange them pleasingly in the picture. says "The races were always run counter-clockwise." [-mrl]

Evelyn adds:

A quick search turns up the fact that pretty much all races run on an oval track in the United States are run counterclockwise (or anticlockwise, or widdershins, for you Brits out there). Lots of supposed reasons are given, none of which seems to be accepted as the definitive one. [-ecl]

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

WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven (ISBN 978-0-345-24591-5) was this month's choice for our science fiction discussion group. If you want short stand-alone science fiction novels, sometimes you have to go back fifty years. And when you do, you see trends that were big then, but not so much now.

Now, for example, the "unpronounceable alien words" trend has faded. (Even in fantasy, one usually sees an excess of apostrophes rather than unpronounceable words. This may actually have a practical motivation behind it--with so many novels now being issued as audiobooks, that the narrator be able to pronounce all the words is fairly important. (Lord only knows what text-to- speech would do with some of them|) So while one might get away with "ptavv" being pronounced, one presumes, as "tav" since other initial "pt" sounds are pronounced as just "t" (e.g., ptarmigan, Ptolemy). But "Kzanol" and "gnal" are less clear (I would guess "ka-zan-ol" and "ga-nal", and "tnuctip" is hopeless (I suppose it could be "te-nuc-tip"). (I am convinced that Niven concocted "tnuctip" as a way to sneak an obscenity past the censors, because the tendency when one sees a word with bizarre consonant combinations is to read it backwards.) By the time Niven has gotten to the end of the book, he is flinging around "prtuuvl" and "kpitlithtulm" with wild abandon, if little likelihood of correct pronunciation.

The book's age is also showing when Niven writes, "That was why Luke always carried paperbacks in the glove compartment of his chair. His career involved a lot of waiting." Oddly, it is not "glove compartment" that seems anachronistic, though it has probably been decades since anyone used a glove compartment primarily for gloves, but "paperbacks", which have been largely supplanted by electronic readers, especially for people who travel a lot.

It is not age, but (one assumes) incomplete knowledge that has Niven writing, "An intelligent food animal! Hitler would have fled, retching." First of all, Hitler was a vegetarian, so the intelligence would not have made as much difference as Niven seems to think. And second, we have a lot of people on this planet who do eat intelligent animals. Where on the intelligence scale the various animals are (even assuming it is a one-dimensional scale) may be debated, but people do eat whale meat and gorilla meat.

"The Jayhawk Building was the third tallest building in Topeka and the rooftop bar had a magnificent view," reminded me of a line from the film THE BIG KAHUNA. On being told by Phil that he got a high floor for the hospitality suite, Larry says, "Phil ... man, we're in Wichita, Kansas. What does it matter whether we're on the 1st floor or the 500th floor? It all looks the same|" (Currently the only building in Topeka taller than 65 meters is the 17-story Bank of America Building (72 meters, built in 1970).)

"His parents were Orthodox, but they weren't millionaires, they couldn't afford a fully kosher diet." I find it extremely unlikely that his parents would identify as Orthodox and yet not keep kosher. Most of the Orthodox in the United States today keep kosher without being millionaires. In fact, the percentage of American Orthodox Jews living below the poverty level is surprising, and the city with the highest percentage of people living below the poverty level (more than two-thirds of the population) is Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic enclave outside New York City.

"Already Luke had the air translucent with cigarette smoke." People say that cigarette smoking is ubiquitous in 1950s science fiction, but it is still hanging on here, in the late 1960s.

I do not know if a statement such as "A mile-high skyscraper would have saved millions in land, even surrounded by the vitally necessary landscaping; but many woman patients would have run screaming from the sexual problems represented by such a single, reaching tower" was intended to show solidarity with some of the more extreme feminist claims or what, but now it just reads as bizarre. Similarly, writing that a character who should have been a pawnbroker because he had three ... [the sentence broke off in the original) seems a crude locker room joke which would have been better had they left it as merely suggested, without explicitly explaining it later. (Such a medical condition is possible, but extremely rare.) A space ship named the "Heinlein" is another joke.

But the real question about aging I found myself asking about WORLD OF PTAVVS was whether the fact that I enjoyed it back then and not now due to the book not aging well, or my aging in general. Was there still an audience for a book like this, and I just wasn't it, or would this book fail to appeal to readers of any age in 2015?

CLASSICS AND COMMERCIALS: A LITERARY CHRONICLE OF THE FORTIES by Edmund Wilson (ISBN 978-0-374-52667-2) is a collection of the critic's essays from that decade. Some are about people who were notable then but have since fallen from public notice, some are about people still known, and some are on specific topics which may be of interest to people here.

In "A Treatise on Tales of Horror" (1944) Wilson first reviewed the various horror anthologies that had recently appeared: THE POCKET MYSTERY READER, THE POCKET BOOK OF MYSTERY STORIES, TALES OF TERROR, CREEPS BY NIGHT, BEST GHOST STORIES OF M. R. JAMES, and GREAT TALES OF TERROR AND THE SUPERNATURAL. Then he constructed his own ideal horror anthology:

Most of these are unsurprising, but I find the Melville stories an odd choice--I do not think most modern readers would classify them as horror.

Then, in response to the letters he got about his choices, and in particular his omission of one particular author, Wilson wrote an entire column about H. P. Lovecraft: "Tales of the Marvellous and the Ridiculous". It was not a column of praise; indeed, Wilson said of Lovecraft's writing, "The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art." But he also wrote, "Lovecraft himself, however, is a little more interesting than his stories," and acknowledges, "Lovecraft's stories do show at times some traces of his more serious emotions and interests." However, his final word on Lovecraft was, "But the Lovecraft cult, I fear, is on even a more infantile level than the Baker Street Irregulars and the cult of Sherlock Holmes." Ouch. (And shouldn't that be "an even more infantile level"?)

Wilson wrote three essays on the detective story: "Why Do People Read Detective Stories", "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?", and "'Mr. Holmes, They Were the Footprints of a Gigantic Hound!'" In the first, he mentioned he had not read mystery novels since he was in his teens. He then reviewed a book from each of three well- regarded mystery writers: Rex Stout's collection of Nero Wolfe stories, NOT QUITE DEAD ENOUGH; Agatha Christie's DEATH COMES AS THE END; and Dashiell Hammett's THE MALTESE FALCON. And he does not like them. That is okay, but I would argue that DEATH COMES AS THE END is so atypical an Agatha Christie that it is unfair to rate her based on this one novel in particular.

The second essay was in reaction to letters after the first essay. Wilson tried Dorothy Sayers's THE NINE TAILORS--he did not like it. He read Ngaio Marsh's OVERTURE TO DEATH--he liked that even less. He read Margery Alligham's FLOWERS FOR THE JUDGE--he said he found this "completely unreadable."

He did like John Dickson Carr's THE BURNING COURT.

And in the last essay Wilson finally has found a mystery author he likes: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even though Wilson finds flaws in the Sherlock Holmes stories, he feels they rise above them. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse 
          proportion to the sum involved.
                                          --C. Northcote Parkinson

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