MT VOID 07/22/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 4, Whole Number 1920

MT VOID 07/22/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 4, Whole Number 1920

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 07/22/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 4, Whole Number 1920

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 eBook Club--One Free Book a Month

The first book was THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu, though that may no longer be available, because books have a one-week (or so) download window.

Open Invitation (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The sign on the church said, "Everybody welcome. Seriously, Everybody." I wonder how many weeks it would take me to change that to a "by appointment only." [-mrl]

The Growing Threat (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Like many people I listened to the media coverage of the truck attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France. The media said this attack shows us just how vulnerable anybody anywhere is to fanatical attacks. But I was rather surprised nobody pointed out that this particular attack is a new and particularly disturbing development.

I believe that terrorism is a bigger threat than most people seem to recognize. Before September 11, Americans had been vaguely aware of the threat of terrorism. Since that time I have seen terrorism presenting a greater threat and coming closer. As much as I detested the truck incident, I have to say also that there is something to admire. If I were defending against radical attacks I would see this truck attack as a particularly dangerous turn of events.

Until September 11, terrorism was mostly something far away from our shores and was hurting people who we did not really know. There had been an attempt on the World Trade Center earlier, but it had gone badly awry and did not have nearly the impact it was intended to have. Mostly the terrorists were made to look like incompetents. This business of creating terror was apparently harder than they thought.

By September 11, 2001, the gestalt of terrorists had gotten a lot smarter seeing how different groups planned their attacks. They could now use missiles against their enemy. It was a fairly easy matter at the time to take over a passenger airliner and use that as a guided missile. At the time we had very little security from our airlines. One airline added a security charge to the price of a ticket and claimed that it was buying security, but in fact they were just pocketing the difference. September 11 was a wake-up call that we could not be kept safe simply by putting our faith in the Government and its security measures. The terrorists had gotten better. And they might be in very different causes, but that did not stop them from learning from each other.

We paid a price. One of the worst threats of terrorism is not what the terrorists will do directly but what the terrorism will frighten us into doing to ourselves. September 11 proved we would have to be much more stringent on security measures and you see what we are doing to ourselves every time we take a passenger flight. We pay a heavy price in inconvenience and paranoia every time we choose to fly.

Meanwhile terrorists used weapons like car bombs to attack crowds and buildings. A car bomb can be a powerful weapon. The problem with it is that the perpetrator has to hide what he is doing. If someone sees explosives they look a whole lot like what they are. If the authorities find a lot of explosives it is fairly obvious what they are. But the truck incident in Nice was cleverer. If you see someone with a large truck it does not look threatening. It just looks like a large truck that could be used for nearly anything.

The Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, was painfully clever. I believe the perpetrator(s) had weapons, but their primary weapon was the innocent-looking truck itself. Suppose a potential terrorist is caught with a truck. Lots of people have trucks. There are gas stations all over to power it. A truck that is simply going to plow into a crowd looks totally innocent right up to seconds before it is deployed as a killing machine.

Even worse, it is conceivable that the terrorist driving a truck may not even know he is about to commit a lethal perhaps until he gives in to an impulse. The terrorist may think he/she is working God's will. Perhaps there is a wish to be killed to claim what he/she has been told are rewards in an after-life. Or the attack could have been planned months in advance. The important point is that it could be prepared out in the open without arousing suspicion. Explosives and guns were not needed. Anybody who drives a truck has a potential deadly weapon and we cannot possibly trace all trucks that can be used for lethal purposes.

CNN reports that "the man who used a 20-ton truck to plow down hundreds of people in Nice [July 14], killing 84, somehow became radicalized very quickly and hadn't even yet shown up on any anti-terrorist intelligence radar." There was no way to guess that this particular truck was to be used for some deadly purpose. There are too many trucks in the country and there are too many people who could possibly plan a copycat attack. There could be more such attacks waiting to happen. The incident in Nice may have shown how easily the next act of terrorism could be done. [-mrl]

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M. R. Carey (book review by Dale L. Skran):

We all recall those classic SF "girl comes of age stories" like Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS or Palmer's EMERGENCE or Schmitz's "Telzey Amberdon" series. They all feature a young, bright, bubbly super-genius girl who heroically rises to overcome some difficult situation. From the jacket blurbs and the Joss Whedon quotes I thought GIFTS was about a young girl with super-powers being held at a government facility. And, oddly, it is about this. There is just one catch--the girl is not human, and the challenge she rises to overcome is the human species itself.

A deadly plague has covered the world, converting most humans into deadly flesh easting zombies. However, one scientist has discovered that sometimes these mindless zombies have children who are not mindless. A base is set up in England for the purpose of capturing and experimenting on these "mindful" zombies. In order to evaluate their intelligence, teachers are brought in to educate the zombie children. One of them, Melanie, turns out to have a genius-level IQ. They are provided a rather conventional education with a focus on the Greek myths. Periodically some are vivisected for experimental purposes.

One day the base is attacked by "survivalists"--humans who live outside government control, and most of the soldiers are killed. A rag-tag group including Melanie, her favorite teacher, the lead scientist, and two soldiers attempts to walk to another secure location. This is a hero's journey for Melanie, who knows nothing of the outside world.

As a flesh-eating zombie, Melanie does not get sick and needs only a meal of raw flesh or grubs once a week to survive. She has super-human strength and ferocity along with night vision and a substantial degree of resistance to injury, which, when coupled with a genius-level IQ and an education in the Greek virtues, combine to make her a formidable opponent. She is truly THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS and not the least of them is the wisdom of ancient Greece.

I'm not going to recap the plot here, but in the end, Melanie wins and humans lose. She eventually exterminates the remaining humans on a global scale and embarks on a plan to educate the child zombies and create a new, post-human world. On some level GIFTS is a metaphor for the race between education and barbarism. We only have twenty-five years to get the new generation ready to run things on its own, so education is the rope across that abyss.

Normally I don't like "British disaster" stories where everything bad happens and everybody dies. GIFTS transcends this model by being about more than just a disaster where everyone dies. And Melanie in many ways represents the best of Western Civilization, while the human characters (mostly) are a degradation of it. Melanie is also a reminder that the virtues of Western Civilization transcend race, religion, and even species. The torch is passed to her, and she will be a worthy claimant of that inheritance.

GIFTS has received a lot of praise, and rightly so. In spite of appearances, it is hard SF with some carefully thought-out science behind the flesh-eating zombies. Certainly too dark and violent for younger kids, but in many ways a young adult novel that transcends young adult novels. Melanie is wonderfully realized, and you will be rooting for her in the end. Also, I have rarely read anything that makes it so clear that TEACHER is the most important job of all. [-dls]

NUTS! (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: NUTS! is a whimsical documentary, mostly animated, telling the story of John R. Brinkley, who illegally claimed to be a medical doctor and who achieved a great following based on the false claim that he could cure male sexual impotency by an operation that grafted goat testicle matter onto the patient testicles. To help publicize his work he founded a radio station that became on of the most popular stations in the country. Penny Lane, director of OUR NIXON, directs a script by Thom Stylinski. The story is told with panache, often funny and more often is just strange. This is a true story too weird to make up. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

John Romulus Brinkley was a quack doctor (or self-proclaimed doctor) whose technique was to transplant goat testicles into men as a cure for male impotency. He first performed the operation at the request of a patient complaining of lack of function. When it appeared to be successful he adopted the procedure as his own and more and more men requested it. He started practicing the operation in 1917 in the nearly dead town of Milford, Kansas, but with the popularity of the operation he opened clinics and hospitals in multiple states. Famous celebrities are listed as having the goat gland operation. Buster Keaton, Huey Long, William Jennings Bryon, and Rudolph Valentino were rumored to be patients and advocates. As one satisfied customer testifies, "I used to have a floppy dong, but it ain't floppy no more."

To advertise his medical services--if that is the right word--he became pioneer of radio and the station he founded became a popular favorite across the US. Eventually he had the world's most powerful broadcasting station. Brinkley's story is incredible but true, a nearly forgotten chapter of United States history. The story drifts from the medical aspects to the radio entertainment Brinkley sponsored to legal challenges to the Brinkley empire, and Brinkley's run for governor of Kansas at a time when the system really seems to have been rigged against him.

Under the direction of Penny Lane, NUTS! drifts from color to monochrome. It largely uses animation with hand-drawn art. Interviews are done in color with testimony by experts like Pope Brock, author of CHARLATAN. Frequently the visuals are of contemporary news stories covering the career of Brinkley. Also there are Brinkley home movies and newsreel and other archive footage. The script is broken into chapters with exaggerated dramatic titles like "THE COBRA STRIKES" and "INTO THE FIELDS OF ELYSIUM." The narrator of the film seems as amused as the audience is.

Oddly, early in the film the narrative makes the operation seem to be apparently successful. Toward the end the tone has changed and it sounds instead that the success rate is what we would have suspected, very roughly nil. Any successes Brinkley appeared to have were probably due to a placebo effect. One of the failings of the film is to regard his medical procedures as neither very helpful nor very harmful. In fact, people were harmed by not getting the medical treatment they really needed.

One interviewee says, "I'd call him a psychopath, but I'm not medically qualified to do so." Somehow medical qualification seems to be an unimportant matter here. This high-spirited documentary is never less than fun to watch and frequently quite astonishing. This is one of the more entertaining documentaries of the year. I rate NUTS! a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:

Wikipedia on John R. Brinkley:>


"The Roads Must Roll" (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Evelyn's comments on "The Roads Must Roll" in the 07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Evelyn wrote, "But prescient or not, what it boils down to is a story about a strike in a critical sector of the economy. The rolling roads are just calling a six-gun a blaster and a rustler a space pirate. [The reference is to the back covers of Galaxy Magazine in 1950.] (And does it even make sense to put a restaurant on a moving belt? Trying to go to dinner there would involve some mighty tricky calculations, and a long trip at either the beginning, the end, or both."

The same objection could be raised to having dining cars on passenger trains. [-fl]

Evelyn responds:

I guess I wasn't clear. Apparently people go to eat in restaurants on the moving roads even when they are not traveling to somewhere else. That would be like deciding to have dinner in the restaurant car on a train going from Los Angeles to San Francisco when you had no need or plans to go to San Francisco. At least that's how I read it. [-ecl]

Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" Novels (letter of comment by Jim Susky):

In response to Dale Skran's comments on Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" novels in the 07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

I see that Dale Skran has once again addressed Lee Child's Reacher thrillers (and is having fun turning their pages). I'd like to offer a few additional details based on a blurred recollection of all 18-or-so novels:

On balance, since rural settings comprise a majority of venues, the villains are also rural "rednecks"--of which, I suppose, "hillbillies" are a subset. In more than one story, the villains maintain a reign-of-terror with locals. The leaders tend to be competent and shrewd but most of the "muscle" is not.

I have seen self-described conservatives object to Child's "liberal" leanings. This is manifested (as Dale noted) by Reacher's predilection for competent women in the military and law-enforcement. Other "objections" accrue to Child/Reacher's occasional comment on US foreign policy and perhaps to Child's general critique of the police and the military. I think his view, as expressed through his hero, is more subtle.

(so far I recall no involvement with any CIA persons male, female, or ambiguous)

Reacher disdains executives both civilian and military - unless they are also competent, with a "proper" disposition to break military law when such violates higher a higher moral authority--his best commanding officers and underlings honor the law "in the breach" when it would cause unjust results--or just render them ineffective.

He also has disdain for all law-enforcement personnel--not just officers--mostly because they are ruining his day. Exceptions are those he needs and teams with. The kidnapped lady FBI agent is one. Others include the various clerical experts who can tweak databases, call in favors, cajole other police/military clerks, and generally do what it takes to get Reacher his information.

99% of the time Reacher is indeed "the smartest guy in the room". The other 1% is when he's with those competent associates--then they communicate in a kind of shorthand that shows Reacher is with his kind of people.

Mark could comment on whether Hitchcock ever respected police enough to show them to be competent. Child shows that competence exists everywhere--even among the villains. [-js]

Michael Swanwick (letters of comment by David Goldfarb, Philip Chee, Keith F. Lynch, and Tim Bateman):

In response to Evelyn's comments on Michael Swanwick's talk in the 07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

[It's] Bechdel, with a D [not Bechtel].

[Swanwick said,] "It may seem as if the present should feel more immediate, but it does not--it is distancing. The past tense sounds more like a story."

Mostly I agree with Swanwick here. The big exception is Charlie Stross's "Laundry" series, in which Bob's narration just pulls you in and makes you feel like you're running for cover from extradimensional horrors along with him. [-dg]

Philip Chee notes:

q.v. Charlie Stross: Halting State uses the second person mostly. I didn't expect this to work but it does--at least for me. [-pc]

And Keith F. Lynch writes:

It's amusing how his Laundry novel THE RHESUS CHART passes the Bechdel Test. What do two women discuss, other than a man? They discuss the Bechdel Test! (To be fair, one of them isn't exactly a woman, but a female vampire. Close enough for government work. Especially since the vampire in question is indeed a government worker. As is the human woman.) [-kfl]

Tim Bateman adds:

'Woman' vs. 'female vampire' appears to me to be what our legal brethren would call a nice distinction.

And, yes, good bodyswerve by Stross in re the matter of the Bechdel Test. [-tb]

Evelyn responds:

Thanks for the spelling correction. That's what I get for not double-checking these things! [-ecl]

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

Last week I covered the Retro Hugo finalists for novella and novelette; this week I will finish up my coverage with the short stories and dramatic presentations.

Short Story:

"Martian Quest" by Leigh Brackett (Astounding Science-Fiction, Feb 1940): This is the sort of quintessential "we-have-a-problem-and-we-solve-it-with-science" story one expected of ASTOUNDING in the Golden Days. (These days, I guess we would call it a "science-the-sh*t-out-of-it" story.) Why Terra assumes that a chemist can solve any sort of science problem is not clear but even in Leigh Brackett stories, women were supposed to be more decorative and clinging than brilliant and clever. And of course it is dated in other ways, including the descriptions of Mars and of Venus.

"Requiem" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Jan 1940): This is the first published of the five "Future History" stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the third in internal chronology. It shows its age in small ways: a reference to Verne and Wells and Smith (E. E. Smith was big in 1940, but not now exactly the household name that Verne or Wells is), the use of the term "darktown", the idea of barnstorming rockets, and of course the whole concept of how we would get to the moon. And Heinlein's tendency to preach is already in full flower: "It's neither your business, nor the business of this damn paternalistic government, to tell a man not to risk his life doing what he really wants to do." Alas, there is not much story here; what there is will be familiar to those who have seen the film SPACE COWBOYS.

"Robbie" by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, Sept 1940): Last year Loncon 3 decided not to award Retro Hugos, which is a pity because it meant that Eando Binder's short story "I, Robot" could not be nominated. Had it been, people might realize how derivative "Robbie" was. And the imitation came full circle when the television show THE OUTER LIMITS did then episode "I, Robot" dramatizing the Binder story, but taking the gist of the Asimov ending. (And now the television show "Humans" has also dramatized Asimov's story--uncredited.) Still, the Asimov version is a classic in its own right, or rather, as the beginning of Asimov's Susan Calvin cycle.

"The Stellar Legion" by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Winter 1940): Just as "The Roads Must Roll" was a labor dispute dressed up in futuristic terms, this is a French Foreign Legion tale dressed up in planetary colonization terms.

"Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Jorge Luis Borges (Sur, 1940): This was actually the first work nominated in its original non-English form, because this category was announced before the novels. Readers who cannot read Spanish have a choice of at least three different translations. (For a comparison of the first paragraph see I have written at great length already about this story, so I will not repeat myself here; see and

[I will note that, much as I am delighted that Jorge Luis Borges has been nominated for a Hugo Award, I will be the first to agree that there is not a chance in Hades that he would have been nominated for a Hugo in 1940. "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was not translated into English for another twenty years, and none of the 128 members of Chicon I would have a clue that it existed.)

My ranking: "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", no award; "Martian Quest"; "The Stellar Legion"; "Robbie"; "Requiem"

And my comments and rankings on the Dramatic Presentations (with running times noted):

Dramatic Presentations:

What a motley assortment for Long Form: science fiction, fantasy, animation, a serial, past, present, and future.

I understand that there is a 20% margin on the 90-minute length (e.g., 18 minutes) that theoretically divides the Long and Short Forms, but having two Short Forms (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS at 81 minutes and PINOCCHIO at 88 minutes) longer than two of the Long Forms (DR. CYCLOPS at 75 minutes and ONE MILLION B.C. at 80 minutes) seems like an abuse of the system.

Of course, technically, if the finalists in these categories were the ten top vote-getters, the Administrator was possibly faced with having to drop two from the Short Form and run only three in the Long Form. (Not necessarily, but let's go with that.) Then he should have moved the two longest of the Short Form into Long Form. As it is, it appears as though PINOCCHIO was moved, whether intentionally or not, into a category where it has no real competition. That seems unfair to true short forms.

I also understand that FANTASIA (120 min) is generally considered a single feature-length work, but frankly, I would be happier if one could treat it as separate Short Forms. Then one could vote for "Night on Bald Mountain" or "Rite of Spring" without having also to vote for "Toccata and Fugue" or "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". (I like the latter two pieces of music, but not what Disney did with them. Then again, Stravinsky hated what Disney did to "Rite of Spring", both in his re-arrangement and in the visuals.) As for Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, SOYLENT GREEN did an infinitely better job. The lighting of the orchestra during the interlude is such that for most of the time they are on screen, they look African. Until I realized it was a trick of the lighting, I thought the orchestra quite advanced for its time.

It is hard to vote for ONE MILLION B.C. (80 min) when one realizes it achieved its dinosaurs by gluing fins onto lizards. The ASPCA would have something to say about that today, I am sure.

But it's a toss-up which is worse, ONE MILLION B.C. or FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE. Mark claims that the IMDB "Goofs" list for the latter would be longer than the script. FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (240 min) may be a "classic," but by Ghu, it's awful.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (106 min) has a lot of dark-skinned extras, but the leading man and (especially) the leading lady are light-skinned, even while the villain's skin has been somewhat darkened.

DR. CYCLOPS (75 min) is the first science fiction film done in color, and is based on a novel (novella?) by Henry Kuttner. If you're looking for real science fiction in this category, this is clearly the choice. THE THIEF OF BAGDAD does have better production values, but the special effects in DR. CYCLOPS are really quite impressive for the time.

My votes:

Long Form: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (106 min), DR. CYCLOPS (75 min), FANTASIA (120 min), no award, FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE (240 min), ONE MILLION B.C. (80 min)

Short Form:

The Adventures of Superman: "The Baby from Krypton" (12 min) is just a thinly veiled parable about climate change on earth and how the people in charge claim that the money that needs to be spent to avoid death is too much, and the whole thing is probably a hoax anyway. Oh, wait, this is from 1940. Well, it was a good theory. As far as Hugo voting goes, though, this episode does not stand on its own.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (81 min) is the second in the "Invisible Man" series, but is basically just a re-working of the first. The special effects are good for the time (though visible matte lines, and the inability to show the back collar of the shirts the Invisible Man wears tend to interfere with the willing suspension of disbelief).

Looney Tunes: "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (9 min) is a mixture of animation and live action. (I suspect lots of fans think WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first.)

Merrie Melodies: "A Wild Hare" (8 min) was the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon (a similar-looking rabbit did appear in four or five earlier cartoons). Even here, he looks a lot different from his current appearance.

I was never that taken by PINOCCHIO (88 min), and the fact that it is an order of magnitude longer than the shorts does not encourage me to vote for it.

My votes:

Short Form: THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (81 min), PINOCCHIO (88 min), Looney Tunes: "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (9 min), no award, Merrie Melodies: "A Wild Hare" (8 min), The Adventures of Superman: "The Baby from Krypton" (12 min)


                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          The day I made that statement, about the inventing the 
          Internet, I was tired because I'd been up all night 
          inventing the Camcorder. 
                                          --Al Gore 

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