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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 11/22/19 -- Vol. 38, No. 21, Whole Number 2094
Table of Contents
Tana Leaves (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching a mummy movie the other night. You know, one of those old Universal films where a mummy comes to life and kills people. These things were always a lot of fun in spite of some of the obvious absurdities. First of all, Egyptians were very short by today's standards. How scary is a monster about 55 inches high? If you have seen real mummies, that is about the average height. What is he going to do--grab you around your waist? Then there is the fact that ancient Egyptians almost never wrapped the legs separately. There is one mummy I have seen with the legs wrapped separately and some Hammer Films makeup artist really did model one of their mummies on the real thing, but the mummies in Universal's movies in the 1930s and 1940s were wrapped like no real mummies ever were. Uh, one exception there. Boris Karloff loses his bandages almost immediately in the original 1933 film THE MUMMY, but he was the mummy Im-ho-tep. All the other films were about a mummy named Kharis. Incidentally, just for your edification, like Dracula there really was an Im-ho-tep. He has been nearly forgotten but he was one of history's geniuses. He was a great physician for the time. He also was a great architect who invented the idea of placing tapering mastaba (burial vaults) one on top of another. In doing so, he invented the pyramid and the step pyramid at Saqarra--the first of all pyramids--was built by him. He later became deified like the Pharaoh he built for and was worshipped far longer. I have heard there were still cults who worshipped him in the Middle Ages.
However, most of the old Universal mummy movies are about Kharis, who is a never-was character. Im-ho-tep was brought back to life with a magical scroll. Kharis never died due to the use of a sort of soup made from secret tana leaves. Tana is also a literary invention and, I can tell you, there were not a whole lot of leaves that were secret in Egypt. Everything green lives in a narrow strip on either side of the Nile. You could look across the Nile and see what your brother-in-law was doing while your sister was supposedly visiting her mother.
The idea is that the mummy gets three of these leaves during the cycle of the full moon to keep him alive. Nine leaves and he can actually walk. More than nine leaves and he will do the funky chicken all over the head and body of anybody who gets in his way. (Incidentally, while he walks at about one mile an hour and drags a foot, somehow he manages to catch the fleeing heroine.)
Anyway, it occurred to me to wonder how many of these leaves were needed. There are about 13 cycles of the full moon per year and they seem to give the leaves to the mummy about 4 nights each cycle. That is, each cycle of the moon is about 4 weeks, but each cycle of the *full* moon, whatever that is, seems to last about 4 nights. So the mummy will usually get 12 leaves per cycle of the moon. There are 13 cycles per year, so just maintenance to keep a mummy alive will cost you 156 leaves per annum per mummum. Now say once a decade you have to raise Kharis to polish off the odd tomb desecrator or misguided Egyptologist. Maybe you have to raise your mummy 2 nights in that decade. That is 18 tana leaves per annum, if we spread the cost out. Just as a round figure, let's say you will disperse 160 tana leaves per year. Now Egypt fell as a major power about 2000 years ago after having been among the top three world powers for 3500 years. It would be safe to estimate Kharis was first placed in his case about 1500 B.C.E., or 3500 years ago. That would imply he has consumed something like 550,000 tana leaves so far. Figuring 10 leaves to the ounce, 16 ounces to the pound, Kharis has already consumed 3400 pounds of leaves (or 1545 kilograms, if you prefer). They show these leaves being kept in a little box. It is possible that 1-3/4 tons of leaves are hidden in other boxes in the tomb, but it seems like a task that would be difficult to keep a secret. [-mrl]
Thoughts on the Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
Wikipedia says, "The award is sponsored by Dell Magazines, which publishes ANALOG [formerly ASTOUNDING]. ... Prior to August 2019, the award was named after ASTOUNDING's long-time editor John W. Campbell, one of the most influential figures in the early history of science fiction. In the aftermath of 2019 winner Jeannette Ng's acceptance speech, in which she referred to Campbell as a fascist, the science fiction fandom community discussed whether it was appropriate to continue honoring Campbell in this way; the editor of ANALOG [whose publisher is its sponsor] subsequently announced that the award had been renamed."
[Actually, Ng referred to Campbell as a "f*****g fascist."]
Marc Antony may have said, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones," but with many historical figures it seems the other way around. The John W. Campbell Award honors Campbell for the good he did, while ignoring the evil. How many good authors were rejected by him because of race, or sex, or politics?
If there were a (hypothetical) Henry Ford Award for Innovation, and a Jewish engineer won it, would they feel it was a great irony and be happy that Ford was spinning in his grave, or would they feel this was putting forth only the positive aspects of Ford, and that people would remember Ford only as an innovator and not as a raging anti-Semite? Does a statue of Robert E. Lee mean that people in the future will remember him only as a great general, and not as a slave-holder and defender of slavery? Does a statue of Stalin commemorating the victory in World War II make him a heroic leader and ignore his genocides?
The discussion actually started before Ng won the award, and the sponsors of the award said they had been waiting for the right time to rename the award. My observation was that the right time was probably *before* a winner of the award, and one whom Campbell probably would have looked down on, referred to Campbell as a "f*****g fascist." [-ecl]
[If Campbell hated Jews that might be why there were so few science fiction writers during his time in office. -mrl]
[There were many Jewish science fiction writers, but many (most?) of them were published in magazines other than ASTOUNDING. -ecl]
Hair (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Mark's comments on hair in the 11/15/19 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
I always keep a yarmulke in my car's glove compartment, so that I can protect my scalp from sunburn. [-fl]
I wonder if that is how the custom of wearing a yarmulke started. [-mrl]
MOBY DICK (1930), OPERATION CROSSBOW, A RUSSIAN JOURNAL (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
In response to Mark's review of MOBY DICK (1930) in the 11/15/19 issue of the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:
Boy, that Melville! He sure can write!
I loved Mark's account of the 1930 MOBY DICK. Had he encountered this adaptation, even the great Nahum Tate, corrector of Shakespeare, would have had to confess himself surpassed.
In response to Mark's comments on OPERATION CROSSBOW in the 10/25/19 and 11/01/19 issues, Taras writes:
The review of OPERATION CROSSBOW made me chuckle, too. That's got to be one of the odder World War II movies.
Even setting aside the part where the good guys murder Sophia Loren to keep her from innocently betraying their op, there's the prologue in which a German woman pilot successfully flies an experimental rocket plane after the male test pilot fails.
I remember thinking, "Wow, who is that--I want to see more about her!" But the joke is on the audience: she never shows up again. Instead, the remainder of the film is pretty standard World War II derring-do (aside from the murdering Sophia Loren part).
I had the feeling at the time that a movie about that woman pilot would have been a lot more interesting than what we actually get. And from what I've learned about the astonishing Hannah Reitsch since then, I find I didn't know the half of it.
And in response to Evelyn's comments on A RUSSIAN JOURNAL in the 11/01/19 issue, Taras writes:
Evelyn's thumbnail review of Steinbeck's RUSSIAN JOURNAL: Visiting the birthplace of the Potemkin village, you'd think Steinbeck wouldn't take things at face value, but no such luck.
The Soviet people don't fear Stalin, but worry about another war, Steinbeck writes. In reality, people were too afraid of Stalin-- likely every family Steinbeck visited had lost somebody to the terror or the purges or the artificial famine--to express the slightest negative emotion; and fear of another war was the sentiment they had been instructed to express.
As a general rule, I have found, people without a personal connection to the Communist world simply could not or would not comprehend what it was like to live in a totalitarian state. Westerners who believed the propaganda and moved to the Soviet Union in the Twenties and Thirties quickly got in terrible trouble. They could not grasp that pointing out corruption and incompetence would earn, not a pat on the head, but a sentence in Siberia for "anti-Soviet propaganda". [-tw]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
THE PIONEERS by David McCullough (ISBN 978-1-5011-6868-0) is not the sort of book I usually read, but the local public library had a raffle as part of their summer reading program: one ticket for each book read. There were half a dozen different prizes one could use the tickets for, but the only one of any interest was the set of history books, this and a book about Navy SEALS. Given that I read a lot more than most patrons and put all my tickets in this one jar that was probably less popular than ones like current fiction, I was not surprised that I won.
THE PIONEERS is the story of the first American settlements in the Northwest Territory, in particular Marietta, Ohio. McCullough has an easy style and is quite readable, and covers the Americans well. It does, however, give somewhat short shrift to the Native Americans who were there already. There was one page that discussed some negative reactions of English visitors (such as Charles Dickens and Francis Trollope) to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, but in general the Native Americans are considered only as a threat to the colonists (or "illegal immigrants" as they are now often called by Native Americans).
On the plus side, Ohio came into the Union with slavery outlawed, the first state other than Vermont to do so.
With that one caveat, I found the book engrossing. The fact that is was under 300 pages (not counting the notes) helped. So many of McCullough's works are quite intimidating in their length. (His book on John Adams is twice as long.] [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: They usually have two tellers in my local bank, except when it's very busy, when they have one. --Rita RudnerTweet
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