MT VOID 02/12/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 33, Whole Number 1897

MT VOID 02/12/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 33, Whole Number 1897

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/12/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 33, Whole Number 1897

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 Horror Films:

Lee Beaumont writes:

Have you seen this:

It is an on-line collection of Sci-Fi / Horror Films that are freely available.

Can you spell B-I-N-G-E-?

Mark responds:

Yes, there is a lot that is of interest in On my Free Audio Drama page () I list access to their classic radio drama collection.

I use their movie page much less, simply because the vast majority of films are not very good. These are the films for which nobody is defending the copyright so they are not considered all that worthwhile. A few I would recommend include CARNIVAL OF SOULS, CITY OF THE DEAD, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, NIGHT TIDE, CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (the film that launched German Expressionism, FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, HORROR EXPRESS, NOSFERATU, THE HANDS OF ORLAC, THE GOLEM, THE LOST WORLD, THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, THE TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Most of these films are commonly found elsewhere. [-mrl]

Settling Space (link to article by Dale Skran):

Dale Skran has an article, "Settling space is the only sustainable reason for humans to be in space" in SPACE REVIEW. It can be found at

Best Return on Charitable Investment (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

We recently past the time of year most of us are besieged with organizations sending us messages on a common theme. These messages all say something to the effect that "We know you have money. We are a great organization. We do all kinds of good. You should take your money and send it to us."

Several years ago I wrote a column on what I decided was an optimal strategy of allocating contributions among charities and social organizations so that it would do the most good. Then recently I was listening to the Freakonomics Podcast and they made the same point I had in my column and suggested the same strategy. So let me mention it again. The point I made is that the most common strategy for giving to charities and public service institutions is a mistake. It does not do all the good that could be done. We all hear from many worthy charities. (And some that are not so worthy.) We say to ourselves, "I will give this much for this charity. And I like that one and I will give to that one." People take the set of causes and allocate so much to this one and so much to that one. I think this strategy is a bad idea. Here's why.

Well, suppose you are giving to many organizations. Each organization can do only so much good with an additional dollar contributed to them. It is unlikely that any two organizations can do exactly the same amount of good with that dollar. If you give that dollar to the organization that can best use it, you have done the greatest amount of good that can be done with that dollar. What we are talking about is what Freakonomics calls "return on investment (ROI)" or more informally "bang for the buck." If you could figure out what is the one organization that does the greatest amount of good with that dollar you should give the dollar to them. If you instead give it to an organization that does a little less good, then less good will be done with the money. That is bad. Now what about the next dollar? One dollar has not changed the situation enough that now another organization can do more good. Almost certainly the same organization can still do the most good. Unless you are a Bill Gates sort of big-volume philanthropist you will probably not contribute so much to the most efficient charity so that it will no longer be the best place to put your next dollar. Your best strategy is to find the one charity that has the highest return on investment and give them the whole wad. Then you have done the most good that you could have. So the best strategy is to collect all your charitable giving in one lump sum and give it all to the one optimum charity. Ah, but there is a rub. How do you choose the organization that has the greatest return of good done with your dollar? Well, there where you probably need help most I cannot help you. You have to make that decision, probably with your own judgment. You have to pick the best cause. The alternative is to spread your money among less efficient organizations because you have doubts that you can pick the best charity. Which sounds better to you?

At this point most people I tell this to have an objection. Suppose a fund for brain-damaged caboose dusters is not doing the most good with the money they get. Then my strategy would have nobody contributing to brain-damaged caboose dusters, and surely that is a great harm. Well, my answer is no it is not. If it is, then people are not putting their money where it will do the most good. Perhaps the following year the world would see that the greatest harm is being done to brain-damaged caboose dusters and they will get their turn. And let us face it. Everybody in the world is not going to agree that you have chosen the best best cause. By the law of large numbers charitable contributions will still be distributed much the same way they are now.

If you follow my strategy, you should be responsible in researching and choosing your charity. rates charities, if you trust them. That can be a big help. I will not tell you what charity I am going to pick next for fear that I will bias some poor, innocent reader. But when I give to it, I expect I am doing as much good as possible for me with each dollar I contribute. [-mrl]

FORSAKEN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In a Western set in 1872 Wyoming, and much in the style of SHANE, a famous gunfighter and his minister father have to repair their relationship and stand up together against a land grabber. For the first time father Donald and son Kiefer Sutherland play a father and son in the traditional Western directed by Jon Cassar. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The Western film is a genre that keeps threatening to die out, but it is still with us after many years. Every year there are at least two or three Westerns released and there are some fans who look forward to them every year. Watching a Western like FORSAKEN is a little like sitting down to a plate of macaroni and cheese. We know what we are going to get with very few surprises. This is a film made in the mold of SHANE and perhaps PALE RIDER. There are also touches such as the dour one-word title, not unlike UNFORGIVEN. So seen from a distance FORSAKEN is a familiar plot. We have our bad guy, James McCurdy (played by the great Brian Cox) who is trying to buy up all the local land and chase out the poor, weak homesteaders. Does he want to have a huge ranch? Is the railroad coming through paying a high price for land? Has some valuable mineral been found on the land? I do not believe we ever find out why he wants the land, but does it really matter? His motive is the first cousin to a MacGuffin.

The film takes place in 1872 Wyoming. Our main character is the now infamous gunfighter John Henry Clayton (Kiefer Sutherland). He fought in the Civil War, all the time dreaming of returning home marrying his sweetheart Mary-Alice Watson (Demi Moore). But seven years ago after he was discharged from the army he found himself in a fight and discovered he was really good at killing. After seven years he has a notorious reputation and is only now returning to his home. There he is met by his father, a minister played by Donald Sutherland. The father and son Sutherlands play the father and son Claytons. (This is the first time they have played together as father and son.) The Reverend Clayton cannot forgive his son for ignoring his religion and going into a life of killing. True to form our plot rises to the expected climax with a lot of shooting and killing. Acting honors, if there really are any, go to Michael Wincott as Dave Turner, a well-educated and intelligent gunfighter in the cast of Johnny Ringo in TOMBSTONE.

Standing in for Wyoming are the rocky hills of Alberta Canada. The film is directed by Jon Cassar from a screenplay by Brad Mirman. Cassar had directed Kiefer before on the TV series "24". The two Sutherlands obviously know each other well and do a fair job playing off each other.

FORSAKEN does not bring much that is new to the Western, but it is nice that it brings a Western at all. I rate FORSAKEN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


HAIL,CAESAR! (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: The Coen brothers write and direct (so what else is new?) their tribute to 1950s (or so) filmmaking at a major studio. The script juggles multiple plotlines. That is not unusual for the Coens. What is unusual is they do not seem to be invested in any of the plotlines. And I have to say, neither was I. What connects the stories is that they all involve a troubleshooter for the studio who can fix nearly any problem that comes up. But several humdrum stories do not make for a compelling overall plot. On the other hand they have plenty of room for lavish production numbers and for comic interludes. The lavish is very lavish and some of the comic is fairly comic. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The Coen Brothers--Joel and Ethan--love movies, and HAIL, CAESAR! is their paean to filmmaking in The 1950s. This is a film set in and around Capitol Pictures Studio at that time. That makes this a semi-sequel to BARTON FINK which also was set around Capitol. This gives them a chance to do pastiches on several genres of films, notably multiple types of musicals. We have a bathing beauty number, a sailors-on-leave dance number, and a singing cowboy. They also get to do a short copy of a high society film, a Western, and, most notably, a Biblical epic with allusions to BEN-HUR. We see this all from the point of view of studio troubleshooter Eddie Mannix (played by Josh Brolin). When things are going wrong, Eddie finds a way to rescue the situation. Rescue is his business.

It is the Biblical film, HAIL, CAESAR! A TALE OF THE CHRIST that causes one of the most notable problems for Eddie. Its Roman general (played by Baird Whitlock (played by George Clooney)) is central to the Roman epic. But shooting has to be halted when Baird Whitlock disappears. Eddie Mannix is responsible to get him back and ready for the cameras. Eddie's jobs could be the basis for several compelling stories happening in parallel. We have the stories, but they all come to rather bland conclusions. When a pregnant bathing beauty starts showing Eddie has to deal with sister dueling gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton and Tilda Swinton). (In real life it was advice columnists Dear Abby and Ann Landers who were really feuding sisters.) All the plots take place in a single day punctuated at each end by Eddie's visit to confess to his priest even though he has done nothing worse than smoked two or three cigarettes.

The film has some iconic bits of humor. In one of the better ones Eddie calls together a Catholic priest, a Greek Orthodox priest, a Protestant minister, and a rabbi for them to see the script of HAIL, CAESAR! A TALE OF THE CHRIST to make sure all agree that the script is non-offensive. But these representatives of different beliefs do not agree on anything. It is a moment that might have come from a Woody Allen film, but Allen would have had a more serious discussion.

The script has several plotlines winding their way to happy but uninteresting resolution by the end of the film. Much of the humor in the film is rumored to be in-jokes, but being as I am an out- person some may have gone over my head.

The Coens give us a film whose whole is just not up to the sum of its parts. I rate HAIL, CAESAR! a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. This film makes an interesting pairing with the recent film TRUMBO.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:!_2016/

The film impacts on two different eras of history. It is mostly about Hollywood in the 1950s. But HAIL, CAESAR: A TALE OF THE CHRIST also has details about the Roman Empire at the time of the emperor Tiberius. It should be noted that errors in the Roman Empire film being made may be intentional on the part of the Coen Brothers to show how sloppy the film-making *in* the film was.

My wife, Evelyn C. Leeper, has a very good eye for historical detail and assembled this list of historical anachronisms she noticed.


Some Annotations to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Greek Interpreter" (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Not all of these are original, although I have tried to add enough that I am not just repeating other people's previous observations. There are also comparisons with the Granada version of the story (with Jeremy Brett as Holmes).

[Spoilers ahead.]

1) The fact that Mycroft is as skilled in deduction as Sherlock does not prove that it is hereditary. The training or environment may have started when they were children with the same tutor (or whatever).

2) It has been noted by many that Mycroft and his "reasoning from an armchair" is clearly the inspiration for Nero Wolfe. The description of Mycroft as "absolutely corpulent" is the clincher. (That "Nero Wolfe" has almost all its letters in common with "Sherlock Holmes" is probably no accident either.)

3) Sherlock and Mycroft must have astonishingly good eyesight to be able--from a second-story window across the street--to see chalk marks on a jacket, to determine the type of footwear, to tell that the skin is lighter on one side of the forehead than the other, and to determine that he is carrying a rattle and a picture book (rather than some other book or magazine).

4) The reference to "wealthy Orientals" does not imply that Melas spoke any east Asian languages. In Doyle's time, "Oriental" referred to any place from the eastern Mediterranean to Pacific Ocean, Greece being on the western edge of that vast area. Greece's designation as "Oriental" is no doubt due to its previous condition as part of the Ottoman Empire, even though it had won its independence in 1830.

5) Even the fact that Melas says, "I interpret all languages--or nearly all..." does not indicate proficiency in what we would now consider "Oriental" languages. If he were proficient in (say) Japanese, he would be in demand for that as much as for Greek, if not more, due to the dearth of Japanese interpreters. In fact, it would be even more so, since ancient Greek was taught in the more highly regarded schools, and while ancient and modern Greek differ, they differ less than Old and Modern English (for example).

6) I'm not sure I would call an hour and forty minutes "almost two hours."

7) The combination of a slate and a pencil seems odd--the Granada version has chalk.

8) There is a question of whether in the following exchange it would be clear to someone unfamiliar with the language that the second part had been added. It is clear that Melas would have to speak his part as a single sentence, with no pause between what he was told to say and what he added. Kratides merely needs to leave out the punctuation. Also, Greek does not require separate words for subject pronouns, nor does it use the word "do" or other "helping verbs". If one examines the exchange it is clear that the additions are only one or two words. Whether Melas could think fast enough to pull off the "sentence combinations" is the real question.

  Q: You can do no good by this obstinacy. Who are you?
  A: I care not. I am a stranger in London.
  Q: Your fate will be on your own head. How long have you been 
  A: Let it be so. Three weeks.
  Q: The property can never be yours. What ails you?
  A: It shall not go to villains. They are starving me.
  Q: You shall go free if you sign. What house is this?
  A: I will never sign. I do not know.
  Q: You are not doing her any service. What is your name?
  A: Let me hear her say so. Kratides.
  Q: You shall see her if you sign. Where are you from?
  A: Then I shall never see her. Athens.

9) When Melas says, "My very next question might have cleared the matter up," one wonders what it could have been that would have cleared it up, especially given the constraints in length for questions and answers.

10) Mycroft places an ad in the newspapers, the sole effect of which is to alert the villains. They do get a positive response, which they then decide not to follow up on because "the brother's life is more valuable than the sister's story."

11) In this early Holmes story, Doyle is careful to have Holmes follow all legal procedures, e.g. obtain a warrant. In later stories, Holmes has no qualms about breaking into houses when he deems it necessary, nor does Watson do more than mildly remonstrate him. Even in this, and with a warrant, Holmes "bends" the law by forcing a window to gain entry.

12) How does Holmes know that the carriage left within the last hour?

13) The story has a charcoal lamp generating the poisonous fumes, but what are these fumes? Carbon monoxide is odorless. The Garanda version has it as sulfur fumes.

14) If one cannot strike a match in the atmosphere, then why would a candle remain burning? The implication is a lack of oxygen, rather than added poisonous fumes.

15)"Blue-lipped and insensible, with swollen, congested faces and protruding eyes" implies carbon monoxide poisoning.

16) In the story the delay in obtaining the warrant is what kills Kratides, who dies just after they arrive. In the Granada version, Watson says that Kratides has been dead at least four hours-- letting the police off the hook.

17) Brandy is frequently used as a restorative in Holmes stories, but in fact it is almost always a bad idea in such cases.

18) In the story Kratides never signs the papers. In the Granada version, he signs when the villains say that if he does not sign Sophy is of no use to them and they will kill her.

19) Why don't the villains kill Melas and Kratides outright instead of just leaving him in a room with a charcoal lamp? (In the Granada version, they may actually have killed Melas.)

20) The story ends with a report of the death of two men traveling with a woman, but it is several months later. Why would Sophy have waited so long? In the Granada version, Sophy has been told that Kratides will be joining them, but also seems to be under the spell of Latimer to the extent that she does not seek revenge when she learns Kratides is dead. (However, Latimer gets his punishment much sooner, and without anyone having to directly kill him.) [-ecl]

Mars Rover and THE BLACKLIST (letter of comment by Steve Milton):

In response to Mark's comments on the Mars rover in the 02/05/16 issue of the MT VOID, Steve Milton writes: The short expected life of the Mars rover was based upon a calculation of how long the solar panels could provide enough power to the rover as the build-up of dust degraded their performance. The engineers thought they could guarantee at least 90 days. It turned out the build up of dust on the solar panels was self- limiting. They degraded to a point and then stabilized at a level that provided adequate power. It's lucky the engineers didn't make the rest of the components so that they would only last 90 days.

In response to Dale Skran's review of THE BLACKLIST in the same issue, Steve writes:

The name of the Illuminati-like organization [in THE BLACKLIST] is the Cabal not the Alliance. [-smm]

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

THE DARK FOREST by Cixin Liu (translated by Joel Martinsen) (ISBN 978-0-765-37708-1) is the second book of the "Trisolaris" trilogy. The first, THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM, won the Hugo Award for 2014, the first translated fiction work to do so. (Well, maybe the second, because another translated work, "The Day the World Turned Upside Down" by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, won the same year for novelette, and that category is announced before the novel category.) Anyway, the first and third books in this trilogy are translated by Ken Liu (no relation), but this middle volume is translated by Joel Martinsen. There is no change of tone that I can detect, so at least Ken Liu and Joel Martinson managed to give a consistent feel to the trilogy. (I'm assuming that volume three will not demonstrate any major dissonances.)

It goes without saying that as the middle book of a trilogy, THE DARK FOREST cannot really stand on its own. Without having read the first book, a reader might be able to follow what is going on, but not with the same understanding. The odd thing, though, is that the third book does not entirely seem necessary. I mean, it is clear that the end of THE DARK FOREST is, if not a cliffhanger, then at least open to multiple interpretations of subsequent events. But it does not feel as if it must be resolved; not everything in life has a well-defined end, and we don't get to find out how everything turns out.

Or maybe I've just been reading too much Frank Stockton.

[There does seem to be a bit of an inconsistency. On one hand, someone objects that research is being spent only on low-end tech (chemical/fission rockets rather than rather than fusion). On the other, he also says that there is only limited research on closed ecosystems, which I would think of as low-tech, at least in some sense. Maybe I'm just missing the point here, though.] [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous 
          energy merely to be normal.
                                 --Albert Camus

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