MT VOID 01/03/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 27, Whole Number 2100

MT VOID 01/03/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 27, Whole Number 2100

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 01/03/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 27, Whole Number 2100

Table of Contents

      Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, Sending Address: 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 or unsubscribe, send mail to The latest issue is at An index with links to the issues of the MT VOID since 1986 is at

MT VOID Emails: The Saga Continues (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

A couple of people have sent comments.

Gary Labowitz said regarding multiple emails, "Gee ... I just used my magic "Delete" key and those extra emails were GHONE. (That's fannish for ... well, you know.)" [-gl]

John Purcell wrote, "Many thanks for explaining what happened with the multiple copies of MT VOID appearing in my mailbox last Friday. The second two came with a spam warning, in case you're interested, but Evelyn's explanation clarified reasons for the mess. I am in another listserv that was through Yahoo Groups, and the administrators of that listserv gave members a few weeks notice to back things up just in case folks wanted to save information or prior messages. In any case, glad to have VOID still coming on its weekly schedule." [-jp]

Evelyn notes:

Since this group had no postings or files except the MT VOIDs, which are archived both at and

Art Stadlin first asked, "Did you change something? The font is not so easy to read like it was previously. Just wondering, and then wrote:

"OK, I just read your intro. This issue did not process via Yahoo. I guess GMAIL sends it out as fixed-width font in HTML mode... I suppose of GMAIL will send in HTML, you might as well select an easier font to read. :-)

Or maybe there is a setting in GMAIL to convert your issue to plain text before sending?

The joys of list ownership. :-) [-as]

Evelyn responds:

I send it plain-text (it's a '.txt' file, so it can't really be anything else). When I receive it, both on Gmail and in Thunderbird, I see it as plain text. When Mark reads it in Opera, he sees it as plain text. Is anyone else seeing unreadable formatting, and if so, how are you reading it? [-ecl]

Mini Reviews, Part 3 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper):

More mini-reviews, this time two documentaries and one narrative film:

BUDDY is a feature-length documentary study of working dogs and their relation ship with humans. Having a special love of dogs I would have expected this to be one of the best films of the batch, but the chapters are long and slow. One comes away at once feeling affection for the dogs but finding the text of little interest value. In Dutch with English subtitles. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4).

THE SERENGETI RULES looks at a new paradigm for seeing the interactions of species in nature. Previously it was thought that human influence had overpowers nature and too often was killing the order of nature. It is now thought that in some ways nature wins out. An action in the eco-system damage may damage the entire system and that change may stimulate a new predator may come to power. The eco-system may then reach a new stable environment. A simple collection of rules may govern population sizes. Some animals are very important to govern the eco-system while others may not be. The species on which the population sizes most depend are called keystone species. Importance to the ecosystem is not the same thing as physical strength. A simple herbivore may be controlling the system. The documentary is based on the work of Sean B Carroll. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4).

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON: This story is a little overly familiar. They say that it is based on a true story, and I don't doubt it. The basic story is simple enough that it had to happen before just by the Law of Averages. Brittany at age 27 wakes up to the fact she is not taking care of her body nor her mind. She is not strong enough to fully run a Marathon, but just shaping up the effort is enough to put her life in order. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4).


SEA CHANGE by Nancy Kress (copyright 2020, Tachyon Publications, print ISBN: 978-1-61696-331-6, digital ISBN: 978-1-61696-332-3) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

SEA CHANGE is something a little different, yet much the same and familiar, from Nancy Kress. The new novella, in addition to being smart science fiction is also something of a thriller. It also heavily relates to our times and our society, and gives the reader a scary look into what could be in store for not only our nation but the world in the very near future.

The subject is GMO crops. Carol Denton is an agent in the Org, a group of clandestine scientists organized into cells - you know the drill: cells are small, and no one knows where any other cell is, and who are the members of those cells, so that if one member is caught the entire organization doesn't fall--that is trying to convince the world that GMO crops are not only okay, but are necessary and essential if the world's population is to be sufficiently fed.

The issue is something called the Catastrophe, an event brought on by a genetically engineered drug caused the deaths of hundreds of children, which caused an economic collapse and all the rest of the things you might expect. The end result was that GMO crops were banned, and that trying to produce genetically engineered food was considered a crime. Carol has a personal interest in the situation in that Renata Black--Carol's real name--had her son die in the Catastrophe.

The story starts with Carol encounters a self-driving house (heck, we're still only working on self-driving cars) that is out of control and causing traffic problems. Carol recognizes a particular colored marker on the house that indicates that it belongs to the Org. She goes in to take a look, finds something unusual (come on, it's not every day your normal self driving house is out and about causing issues), and the story begins. From there we move on to political intrigue, romance, deception, and betrayal.

But the story is not just all about that stuff. In typical Nancy Kress style, we learn about GMOs because of her expertise in biological sciences. The infodumps, such as they are, really aren't. They're snuck into the narrative in such a way that the reader may not realize they are being educated about a subject that is import now, not just in the time of the story. Kress also weaves family concerns into the story as she normally does (see her recent Yesterday's Kin novels). So even though the trappings are not of a typical Nancy Kress story, it really is a typical Nancy Kress story. As usual, it's also well and smartly written in a style that makes it easy for the reader to get involved without that sense of being talked down to.

If I had to pick a nit about something, I would say that at novella length, the story is too short. It seems to me that there is a whole lot more there that can be expounded upon. The story is good. I expect that it could be a whole lot better if it was novel length. It would not surprise me if Kress was planning on expanding the novella into at least a novel, if not a trilogy, much like the "Yesterday's Kin" trilogy. The subject of GMO crops needs more room to breathe, and the public needs to know more about them. SEA CHANGE is a really good start. [-jak]

Christmas Movies and Other Entertainments (letter of comment by Gary Labowitz):

In response to Mark's comments on Christmas movies in the 11/30/19 issue of the MT VOID, Gary Labowitz writes:

Thanks, Mark, for keeping me on your list. I enjoy the reviews, but wonder how you guys read and see so many things! I hardly have time to see a short new TV series now and then. I want to do more, but there just isn't that much time to sit down and read anymore.

I usually like the first version of a film that I saw. I still prefer the Sims version of Christmas Carol, and the earlier Jekyll and Hydes. I can't stand most of them, not even liking the Spencer Tracy (1941), preferring the Fredric March (1931). I saw them both as a youngster, and they both stuck in my head, but I think I saw the March version first. So.

The books I tend to like the most are ones with well-done illustrations, and that's what mostly stays with me. Unfortunately most of my books are gone by the way now and I miss them, but never get around to rereading the longer ones, like Moby Dick and most of the Dickens work. One summer when I was still in college, at the suggestion of a teacher, I started through all the Dickens novels, and got fairly into the pile, but never made it through. I think I've started Middlemarch about three times, and never finished it! Perhaps you could recommend a movie version for me. I see it is all over TV, but remember ... the first one I see is what I usually like the best. So make it good.

Other than this miserable ending of my reading/acting/watching life my wife and I do go to a lot of theater here in Philadelphia, but I grow tired of their trying to "pep them up" with current settings and agenda filled preachy stuff. We have dropped most of our subscriptions and try to select our outings to specific shows we expect to "follow the script." It's starting to get hopeless, with several shows we have walked out of in mid-play. We went to see "Chicago" a favorite musical of mine, and left during the first intermission when the cast came through the audience preaching about their political preferences (anti-Trump, of course; they are SO daring), and plopping down on audience members laps to get up close and personal. Such crap from a major venue (The Arden) and a waste of our time. I was afraid of what we might hear when we went to a concert last month, which had a "sub title" of "New Beethoven," I was afraid they would be adding banging on trash can lids, and the like, for a new sound for an old favorite (the violin concerto) but it turned out okay. They just played Beethoven and it was swell.

My history with the concerto goes back to when I was on the radio in Kansas City, running the weekend Evening Classics program. I had a horrible headache and fell asleep during the first side of the transcription (we did disks in those days) and broadcast seven minutes of "dead air" with the inner lead out grooves playing! A phone call to the studio woke me up, and I hit the start of the second disk immediately, shut off the studio speaker, and answered the ;phone. There was no one there. I found out years later that it was my wife calling to ask what was going on, and when she heard the music resuming, she hung up. That was when I was at KCUR-FM when we first revived it. We were the second NPR station in Missouri (St. Louis being first), and I was a young announcer, technician, station electrician, librarian, etc. at the "new station." All alone on a Friday evening, running the station, and sleeping. Bad scene.

Anyway, it's been a long trip getting to 81 and sitting around wishing I had read more books through the years and had left all that science fiction stuff alone. It ate up a lot of time over the years. I hardly touch it any more in any form.

Thanks again, and I hope to read some of the books you have recommended ... but I'm not sure I will get around to them. I'm busy mostly trying to get an Etsy site up to speed selling some of my calligraphy. I may not succeed at this attempt, however. Same issue: not enough time. [-gl]

Mark responds:

I am glad you are finding the MT VOID useful. I have to credit Evelyn with doing the vast majority of the reading. She is a powerhouse reader and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Of course that is my biased opinion.

I have to tell you that the Fredric March Jekyll and Hyde and the Sim Christmas Carol are very widely considered to be the best versions. Tracy had to be forced to do Jekyll and Hyde and hated the film. -mrl]

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

Final comments on THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE by Edward Gibbon (Penguin, ISBN 978-0-307-70076-6), from Book III (I read only through the fall of the Western Empire this time):

"A people, who still remembered that their ancestors had been the masters of the world, would have applauded, with conscious pride, the representation of ancient freedom; if they had not since been accustomed to prefer the solid assurance of bread to the unsubstantial visions of liberty and greatness."

E: Some things have not changed all that much, although they may not be assured of bread, but of security, or (presumed) greatness.

"The incapacity of a weak and distracted government may often assume the appearance, and produce the effects, of a treasonable correspondence with the public enemy."

E: In other words, never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity.

"But when the prodigal commons had not only imprudently alienated the use, but the inheritance of power, they sunk, under the reign of the Caesars, into a vile and wretched populace, which must, in a few generations, have been totally extinguished, if it had not been continually recruited by the manumission of slaves, and the influx of strangers."

E: I am not sure I agree with the argument that a population will just disappear with slaves and voluntary immigrants, which seems to be what Gibbon is saying.

"... at length consented to raise the siege, on the immediate payment of five thousand pounds of gold, of thirty thousand pounds of silver, of four thousand robes of silk, of three thousand pieces of fine scarlet cloth, and of three thousand pounds weight of pepper."

E: Apparently pepper was in some sense almost as valuable as gold back then. (This is, of course, black pepper, since chile peppers were unknown in the Old World at that time.)

"Such extravagant promises inspired every reasonable citizen with a just contempt for the character of an unwarlike usurper, whose elevation was the deepest and most ignominious wound which the republic had yet sustained from the insolence of the Barbarians."

E: Of course, in our time extravagant campaign promises would never get an "unwarlike" candidate elected...

"But the desire of obtaining the advantages, and of escaping the burdens, of political society, is a perpetual and inexhaustible source of discord; nor can it reasonably be presumed, that the restoration of British freedom was exempt from tumult and faction. The preeminence of birth and fortune must have been frequently violated by bold and popular citizens; and the haughty nobles, who complained that they were become the subjects of their own servants, would sometimes regret the reign of an arbitrary monarch."

E: In other words, the nobility did not like being controlled by those "above" them, but felt they had the right o control those "below" them.

"Eutropius was the first of his artificial sex, who dared to assume the character of a Roman magistrate and general. ... The subjects of Arcadius were exasperated by the recollection, that this deformed and decrepit eunuch, who so perversely mimicked the actions of a man, was born in the most abject condition of servitude; that before he entered the Imperial palace, he had been successively sold and purchased by a hundred masters, who had exhausted his youthful strength in every mean and infamous office, and at length dismissed him, in his old age, to freedom and poverty. ... This strange and inexpiable prodigy awakened ... the prejudices of the Romans. The effeminate consul was rejected by the West, as an indelible stain to the annals of the republic; and without invoking the shades of Brutus and Camillus, the colleague of Eutropius, a learned and respectable magistrate, sufficiently represented the different maxims of the two administrations."

E: Apparently Gibbon shared the Roman attitudes towards eunuchs.

"But the whole body of Imperial dependants claimed a privilege, or rather impunity, which screened them, in the loosest moments of their lives, from the hasty, perhaps the justifiable, resentment of their fellow-citizens; and, by a strange perversion of the laws, the same degree of guilt and punishment was applied to a private quarrel, and to a deliberate conspiracy against the emperor and the empire."

E: In other words, the people in power started claiming that personal insults wre not just insults, but treason.

"But if the interval between two memorable aeras could be instantly annihilated; if it were possible, after a momentary slumber of two hundred years, to display the new world to the eyes of a spectator, who still retained a lively and recent impression of the old, his surprise and his reflections would furnish the pleasing subject of a philosophical romance."

E: And so time travel was invented.

"... it may be observed that the monarchies, both of the Huns and of the Moguls, were erected by their founders on the basis of popular superstition. The miraculous conception, which fraud and credulity ascribed to the virgin-mother of Zingis, raised him above the level of human nature; and the naked prophet, who in the name of the Deity invested him with the empire of the earth, pointed the valor of the Moguls with irresistible enthusiasm."

E: It is interesting that to Gibbon a virgin mother among the Mongols is a popular superstition, while he presumbly would never call the belief in the Virgin Mary "a popular superstition." After all, he accepts the darkness across the earth during the Crucifixion as fact even though historians never mention it.

"This reflection naturally produced a dispute on the advantages and defects of the Roman government, which was severely arraigned by the apostate, and defended by Priscus in a prolix and feeble declamation. The freedman of Onegesius exposed, in true and lively colors, the vices of a declining empire, of which he had so long been the victim; the cruel absurdity of the Roman princes, unable to protect their subjects against the public enemy, unwilling to trust them with arms for their own defence; the intolerable weight of taxes, rendered still more oppressive by the intricate or arbitrary modes of collection; the obscurity of numerous and contradictory laws; the tedious and expensive forms of judicial proceedings; the partial administration of justice; and the universal corruption, which increased the influence of the rich, and aggravated the misfortunes of the poor. A sentiment of patriotic sympathy was at length revived in the breast of the fortunate exile; and he lamented, with a flood of tears, the guilt or weakness of those magistrates who had perverted the wisest and most salutary institutions."

E: And this sums up Gibbon's view of the causes of the fall of the Western empire.


                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should 
          be thrown with great force.
                                          --Dorothy Parker

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