MT VOID 06/23/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 52, Whole Number 1968

MT VOID 06/23/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 52, Whole Number 1968

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 06/23/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 52, Whole Number 1968

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

Marvel Movies (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I guess when all you are is a superhero, everything looks like a minion of evil. [-mrl]

What Is Science Fiction--Chopped Liver? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

Seen on (06/11/17, Essays and Opinions column):

"Quick: Think of a novel devoted to climate change. Tough, right? What explains this failure of imagination involving the fate of the world? ..."

This points to an article that discusses this and never uses the term "science fiction"--or even the word "science":


John W. Campbell Memorial Award Finalists 2017:

The John W. Campbell Memorial Award is a juried award presented during the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction's Campbell Conference Awards Banquet, and is considered one of the four major awards for book-length science fiction. (The other three are the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus Awards.)


2017 Campbell Award Finalists:

By the time we got this list into the MT VOID, the winner had already been announced:


Note: Of the thirteen finalists, five are alternate history.

Notes While Reading THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I mentioned in a previous column that I was reading the very long (for me anyway) novel THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND, Stephen Baxter's sequel to THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. There are just some more of my thoughts while reading it.

H. G. Wells wrote several science fiction novels, but the two that seem to lead the pack of most fondly remembered are THE TIME MACHINE and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. I have to say I was excited when Evelyn gave me a gift of the sequel THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND by English science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. The Wells is the classic alien invasion story that created a sub-genre of alien invasion stories just as THE TIME MACHINE is the father of time travel stories.

George Pal's film version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is the very first movie I can ever remember seeing, and at age three I hated it. I was also terrified of showerheads for some months afterward. (See if you can figure out why.) But by the time I was six I was desperate to see the film again. I would not be able to fulfill that wish until I was twelve or so. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS has always been a special story for me. THE TIME MACHINE I have loved just a step or two down from THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. (But I am digressing.)

In 1995 Baxter published THE TIME SHIPS, a fairly entertaining sequel to THE TIME MACHINE. I believe that THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND novel was expected to be fairly successful if for no other reason than symmetry (and there are plenty of other reasons). If THE TIME MACHINE gave way to a popular sequel, lightning might strike twice. Baxter was the right person to write a sequel to THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. The demand was there. Baxter had proven he had the credentials. And as he had done 22 years before, Baxter got the permission of the H. G. Wells Estate and wrote the novel.

So there it was, THE MASSACRE OF MANKIND, the authorized sequel to my beloved THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. But for me the new book just does not work nearly as well as the sequel to THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. In THE TIME SHIPS, the characters have time travel. That opens a whole universe up to them. There are a lot of places they can go to find adventure. This gave Baxter great possibilities for ideas and invention with his earlier book.

But THE WAR OF THE WORLDS really shuts down on the storyteller. The Wells invasion novel was a picture of people of Wells' day interfacing with aliens who are basically just ciphers with big guns. That can entertain the reader for a while as the reader sees the conflict two very different technology levels. Wells' description of the people of his day fleeing in panic is okay, but it is not what attracts people to read the book. But THE WAR OF THE WORLDS is a short book. If it had to be written for twice the length Wells would have had to go into the minds of the aliens more. There really are not many other places to go with the story. Baxter took up the task, and so he also has to describe people of the early 1900s in contact with inscrutable aliens. But the people are rather dull and the fighting is repetitive. And there is not much fighting in the first half of the novel. Most of that comes much later in the new book, and when it does much of it is largely informed by the history of the Great War. The book has far too many characters and far too many pages.

In addition the book needs a powerful visual component. People want to be excited by the visualization of the Martians and their war machines. Rare is the printed edition of the novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS that has no illustrations and no hint of what the Martian war machines must look like. Especially the Classics Illustrated visual images show tremendous imagination. The cover of the Jeff Wayne musical version has some really nice painting of the Martian weaponry:

For a selection of illustrations see:

Notice how much time and effort was spent describing the missing visual experience for the Mercury Theater broadcast:

The new book (at least the edition I received) has on its cover what looks like a just-okay illustration of the original THE WAR OF THE WORLDS:

It's nothing to get excited about. Neither were the descriptions in the book. The book is mostly about dull-ish people caught up in the war with the aliens. Wells had that covered pretty well. Much of the book seems padded and often not very engaging. Baxter's book takes place about fourteen years after the original and people just have not changed that much in the few intervening years. And this book tells the reader no more than the original as to how a Martian war machine can walk with three legs on a tripod.

At least some of the characters in the Wells are intended for humorous effect. Usually in the Wells I do not get his joke. The same may be true of the Baxter characters. Also, the Martians are just about like they were in the Wells book. We do not learn a whole lot more about them. Meanwhile, the plot of the Baxter is not very different from the plot of the Wells. The book takes the original plot and has only bits of excitement scattered throughout.

In any case, this book is a little bit of a slow and laborious slog. If the reader is expecting an experience anything like reading the Wells novel, or even like TIME SHIPS this book is not recommended.

Baxter is a good writer, but I cannot see that H. G. Wells' novel needed a sequel and this sequel seems over all a miscalculation. [-mrl]

NINEFOX GAMBIT by Yoon Ha Lee (copyright 2016, Solaris, $9.99, 317pp, ISBN 978-1-78108-449-6) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz):

There is nothing worse than discovering a new (to you) author and discovering you're head over heels in love with that author's work. I can hear you saying, "But wait, that's a good thing, right? More good new stories to read." Of course that's a good thing, but the more good fiction that's available to us from more sources, the more we're likely not to run into a clunker. There's nothing worse than picking something up and wanting to throw it against the wall. If we read material from authors that we like, we're likely to always have something we appreciate reading and spending precious time on. Now the other side of the room is stating, "But wait a minute, if you stay only in your comfort zone, how will you find new authors and new types of fiction to read?"

Hence, the annual Hugo finalist list. I'll be the first to admit that I don't read enough during the year to be able to nominate from a wide pool of stories. My life doesn't permit that. I do, however, plunge headfirst into the Hugo finalists list every year, and nearly every year recently someone has jumped up to blow me away, at least initially. In my personal experience, in recent years we have Ann Leckie (although the luster faded quickly for me), N.K. Jemisin, and Cixin Liu. Mind you, these are all from the Best Novel category. The issue could expand exponentially if I were able to read all the short fiction too.

And thus we come to this year's entry into the "I gotta start reading all of this guy's stuff too" fray: Yoon Ha Lee. I remember reading a short story of his, "The Battle of Candle Arc", in one of the David Hartwell collections a few years ago. The events of that story are referred to in Yoon Ha Lee's first novel, NINEFOX GAMBIT. I should point out that to me he's a new writer. Lo and behold I've just discovered that he's had over 40 short stories published, many of which have ended up in the collection Conservation of Shadows (and of course, the next thing I know, I buy the ebook of that collection). The sequel to NINEFOX GAMBIT, RAVEN STRATAGEM, has just been published as I write this, and it's already on my shelf waiting to be read.

Can you tell that I really liked NINEFOX GAMBIT?

NINEFOX GAMBIT is space opera military science fiction. I haven't read a lot of military sf recently, but I am fond of space opera. There is certainly a lot of military sf being published these days. The story here is simple--on the surface. Captain Kel Cheris is disgraced because of her use of an unorthodox and unconventional battle tactic. She will be allowed to redeem herself and her career by taking back the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the heretics. Simple, straightforward, and to the point.

That, however, is as simple as it gets. Yoon Ha Lee throws in so many new and interesting ideas that the reader needs to be alert and actually pay attention to the story. There is no skimming with NINEFOX GAMBIT. Yoon Ha Lee does not coddle his readers with this book. He assumes that the reader is intelligent and can pick up things along the way, but it can take a little bit of work. Not work like reading through a dense novel which contains dozens of characters to keep track of written in flowery language over several novels. No. This is a sort of puzzle kind of novel: the reader is constantly thinking "what do they mean by that?"; "how does that fit in with what happened over there?"; "what is really going on?"; and of course, the biggie, "what exactly is 'calendrical heresy' anyway?"

Going back to an earlier part of this review for a moment, I mentioned that Cheris was disgraced for the use of an unconventional battle tactic. The Kel have something instilled into them called "formation instinct". All battles are conducted using various and sundry known formations that are appropriate for what is trying to be accomplished. She steps outside of those formations, and this sends her down the path of the story the novel tells. She has to win the right to lead the expedition to take back the Fortress of Scattered Needles in a sort of contest against other military leaders by proposing a plan that is better than all the rest. She proposes using the undead warrior Shuos Jedeo as the weapon. Jedeo has never lost a battle, but the problem is that during one battle Jedeo slaughtered two armies, one of which was his own. Now he is kept in an undead state and revived when the hexarcate (the system of government) needs him. Jedeo is "attached" to Cheris; they communicate mentally most of the time, but no one else can see him. The army that Cheris commands knows of Jedeo's presence and involvement, which makes things much more interesting as unusual tactical and strategic decisions are made.

So, is the Fortess retaken? That would be telling, but it's really beside the point. What is appealing to me though is the abundance of new ideas that Yoon Ha Lee presents in the book. While the formation instinct is something new to me, and attaching an undead warrior to a live soldier to go into battle must have been done sometime in the long history of science fiction, my winner of "new, interesting, and complex idea of the year" is the calendrical heresy. The calendar is not just a way to tell the passing of time. It is a way of life, a belief system, a way to hold moral fabric together. And it can be a weapon. And no, I don't understand it all. At least not yet. But combine all those ideas with political intrigue and a well written, fast paced story, in my mind this is may be the best novel of the year, a year in which there have been so many terrific novels. I hope RAVEN STRATAGEM can continue the excellence that NINEFOX GAMBIT has displayed. That would be a terrific thing indeed. [-jak]

MARS: OUR FUTURE ON THE RED PLANET by Leonard David (book review by Gregory Frederick):

An award-winning space journalist Leonard David wrote this companion book for the National Geographic TV series. The TV series, was a mixture of documentary and fictional drama directed by Ron Howard. This large format picture book is overflowing with stimulating photographs and artists' drawings illustrating the planet Mars, the technologies used to survey the planet and future plans to land humans on Mars. Orbital views, made from thousands of images from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, reveal the complex Martian terrain of craters, canyons, dunes, and volcanoes, as well as the landing and crash sites of past Mars missions. The human requirements are examined, from the need for water, to the layer of the toxic chemical perchlorate on the surface, radiation, and the nearly total absence of gaseous oxygen. Many experts are interviewed in the book and they provide an incredible depth of insight on all the issues facing a human mission to Mars. The experts include people such as historian John Logsdon, policy experts like Marcia Smith, entrepreneurs and innovators like Elon Musk, Mars engineers like JPL's Rob Manning, planetary scientists such as NASA's Chris McKay and Planetary Protection Officer Catherine Conley, also astronauts like Stanley Love who has already been on a long duration spaceflight and veteran Buzz Aldrin whose lifetime of experiences provided a great perspective on human exploration. This book is a feast for the mind and the eyes. [-gf]

THE MIDNIGHTERS (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: THE MIDNIGHTERS is a short, sharp shock of a crime film, keenly directed. It is helmed by Julian Fort who also wrote the screenplay. Leon Russom plays Victor, a safecracker being paroled after 35 years. He has every intention of going straight with the rules of parole until his son shows up unexpectedly with a plan that is promised to be a sure-thing of a bank job. The dialog is excellent and the characters well-written, but especially good is the casting. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Safecracker Victor Lustig (played by Leon Russom) has been in prison for 35 years. You can see the years in prison on Victor's face. Now he is 72 and his new parole officer is laying out his new rules. They are almost as bad as the rules were in prison. Leon hopes he still has money stashed away going back to the time he was convicted. He has a right to hope, but this kind of hope doesn't do him much good. His old friends are just not big on business ethics. Victor has little money and has to face a world he no longer understands. And ... surprise ... his son Danny (Gregory Sims) shows up. The boy is as good with electronics as Victor is with locks, but he is still stealing. Victor's release makes him available to use his special talents on a bank job that Danny is planning. And it may well be that he can use his father, a prospect that does not exactly thrill Victor. He does not want to see the cocky youngster make the same mistakes he made.

It is a puzzle just what makes this a particularly magnetic crime film. It is clever but not flashy. It is less like THE INSIDE MAN and more like the classic RIFIFI. The dialog is crisp in the best tradition of a David Mamet film. It is delivered well from a well-chosen cast. The acting is usually very smooth and never worse than good. Victor does not look like an action star. He has a face like a basket of used laundry and ironically that give him a certain charisma. He has a perfect look for film noir.

The photography is sharp and does not leave it up to the viewer to figure out what happening. The one use of an overly familiar effect is the digital equivalent of an under-cranked camera so traffic, like Victor's life, goes by in a flash. The film goes to a tight 86 minutes. That time does not always have pitch perfect pacing, but the dialog and the acting always compensate where needed.

But for some familiar actors, e.g., John Wesley, this appears to be a low budget film but carried off smoothly. I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. Currently the film is playing the festival circuit, but it is probably going to get a better release.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


Mona Lisa (letter of comment by Kip Williams):

In response to Mark's comments on Mona Lisa in the 06/16/17 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

My favorite Mona Lisa factoid is that the painting was apparently, at one time, cut down to fit into a smaller frame. In a book about the painting, examples are shown of copies made throughout the centuries (as one does with unpopular paintings), and before a certain date, the copies are wider and show more of the pillars and background.

Leonardo's pigments (often concocted by himself in the teeth of tradition) have shifted toward the green in all the photos I see of the picture. I corrected them in Photoshop to more lifelike (i.e., red) hues, and I like it a lot better that way.

La Gioconda is the Marilyn Monroe of the art world, perhaps. More popular at some times than others, but there's always been someone who liked her a lot. [-kw]

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

Well, here we go again. With no Retro Hugo ballot this year, I am reduced to reading the current finalists. And with the new balloting rules, there are now six finalists in each category rather than five. Since I am not a member of the Helsinki Worldcon, I will not be getting "The Package" (of finalists), but luckily, almost all of the short fiction is available either free on-line, or from my public library. Given that some of the few that were not were only on the ballot because of the Rabid Puppies, I was not going to spend money to get them.

It used to be that ANALOG and ASIMOV'S dominated the short fiction. Now it is and UNCANNY. While the novellas are all print copies, only two of the dozen novelettes and short stories were published in a print venue, and each appeared in an e-publication very shortly thereafter.

Best Novella

All the novellas except for the Kij Johnson were available in my library system. All six were published as standalone volumes rather than in a magazine. This is a fairly recent trend in science fiction, possibly as a response to the tendency of novels to get longer and longer, and even turn into never-ending series.

THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM by Victor LaValle (ISBN 978-0-7653-8786-8); While this story stands on its own, if one realizes it is written as a response to H. P. Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook", one will appreciate it more. For starters, without this connection it looks as though LaValle had decided on his own to set this story of the Old Ones in 1920s New York with all its racism and inequality, rather than the "traditional" rural New England setting associated with Lovecraft. (At the very end LaValle adds another real-world connection, but I won't spoil it here.) But "The Horror at Red Hook" is set in 1920s New York, and indeed, THE BALLAD OF BLACK TOM is just a re-telling of the events of "The Horror at Red Hook" from a different point of view (though "just" is more dismissive of LaValle's work than it deserves). One wonders how Lovecraft would have reacted to this addition to the Cthulhu Mythos, written by an African-American, with an African-American hero and quite a few evil white guys--in fact, like the exact reversal of Lovecraft. The result is the best of the vision of Lovecraft, literary writing, and modern sensibilities.

THE DREAM-QUEST OF VELLITT BOE by Kij Johnson (ISBN 978-0-765- 39141-4): not readily available to me

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (ISBN 978-0-7653-8550-5): At last, a story that is straightforward and comprehensible! The concept (a boarding school for teenagers who had disappeared into "imaginary" worlds and then returned to our world) made me think it was similar to something Neil Gaiman would write. This is one of those books that makes the proposed YA Hugo so iffy--is it YA or not? (Well, since it is novella length, it wouldn't be eligible as a novel anyway.) If you are looking for a more traditional work, this fits the bill.

PENRIC AND THE SHAMAN by Lois McMaster Bujold (ISBN 978-1-596- 06815-5): This is part of a continuing series by Bujold, and while it is okay, I suspect if I were more familiar with the series, I might have appreciated it more. As it was, I often found myself thinking I was missing something in my understanding of what was going on.

A TASTE OF HONEY by Kai Ashante Wilson (ISBN 978-0-7653-9004-2): This started out as one of those fantasies patterned after our world but not in it--where the geography and ethnic groups seem to map somewhat onto those of our history, but not quite (sort of like George R. R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire"). Then it revealed itself to be more a far future version of our world (I think), but clearly with a lot of fantasy woven in, and finally one gets another jolt at the end. Oh, and it is told in non-chronological order. With all this, the actual plot seems rather thin and unoriginal. But if the setting keeps you engaged, it may be worth it for that. THIS CENSUS-TAKER by China Mieville (ISBN 978-1-101-96734-8): I have read this twice (once when it came out, and again for this ranking, and it just does not do anything for me. This is odd in that I really love some of Mieville's works (e.g., THE CITY & THE CITY), but I guess that is just because he has a wide range of styles.


Next week: the novelettes and short stories. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper
Quote of the Week:
          Getting older is no problem.  You just have to live long 
                                         --Groucho Marx

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