MT VOID 02/14/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 33, Whole Number 2106

MT VOID 02/14/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 33, Whole Number 2106

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 02/14/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 33, Whole Number 2106

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

Comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Short Form, Part 1) (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

The Short Form is for works of 90 minutes or less. However, works of 72 minutes or more could be relocated into the Long Form Category. These will be individually noted. Several of the films below are available on YouTube.

Short Form (Part 1):

THE GIRL WHO DARED, MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM, and ONE BODY TOO MANY: Three of the nominees are comedy horror films. A group of possible heirs are met in a creepy old mansion for the reading of a will. One guest is willing to murder to inherit the estate. He may or may not wear a horrific costume to enhance the horror. Perhaps best remembered was 1927's THE CAT AND THE CANARY or its 1939 sound remake, also named THE CAT AND THE CANARY. The 1944 examples of haunted house horror films include THE GIRL WHO DARED, MURDER IN THE BLUE ROOM, and ONE BODY TOO MANY. [ONE BODY TOO MANY could be Long Form.]

"Sherlock Holmes" Films: Prior to 1944 20th Century made two Sherlock Holmes films, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, both made in 1939. Basil Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce played Watson. Rathbone and Bruce had a screen chemistry that worked and audiences responded to. Universal decided to try using the same two actors in the same two roles, but they would update the setting to wartime. Three of these films took place in wartime England pitting Holmes and Watson against Nazis. In 1944 they made SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE PEARL OF DEATH, SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SCARLET CLAW, and SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SPIDER WOMAN. Universal would lend Holmes's authority to patriotic speeches for which Rathbone would lapse into rhetoric. Still the films were generally entertaining. [SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SCARLET CLAW could be Long Form.]

BLUEBEARD: This actually was one of PRC's most respected productions. Director Edgar Ulmer gives his settings the feel of a Paris set avoided long shots, setting a film in Paris drives up production costs even if the audience sees only little snatches of what is supposed to be Paris but is really just a few obvious stage props. John Carradine plays the title killer. BLUEBEARD does not really work as an account of a serial killing murderer, but director Ulmer was a talented artist and his work is worth seeing even if it was created for pittance. [Could be Long Form.]

THE CLIMAX: The previous year, 1943, Universal had cashed in with their Technicolor production of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA with Claude Rains. It offered beautiful music and bright, vibrant color. In 1944 Universal tried that same formula again: strong, saturated colors, semi-classical music, and tissue-light horror plotting. It made an escape for soldiers at war. Universal wanted to see if that same formula would work again. The plot was a combination of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and SVENGALI. Sadly, this was not much of a success for Universal this time. Probably it was because the film starred Boris Karloff as the villainous hypnotist--an adequate but an uninspired choice. [Could be Long Form.]

CRAZY KNIGHTS: Five or six incompetent comedians play themselves in a comedy devoid of any humor attempts that work. It is just one more comedy of imbeciles in a haunted house.

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF: When Universal was making its horror films, Columbia was borrowing heavily from the Universal style and giving Universal a run for its money. One good touch in this, for example, is that it used real wolves in scenes with werewolves and not people in yak-hair wigs. The story is not great, but it does have its moments. At a slight 63 minutes it was a decent use of its time. Notice the cast included popular gangster actor Barton MacLane and Nina Foch.

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE: Even though RKO had the extreme but unappreciated luck of having director Val Lewton working for them, they always insisted they would pick the title of the next Lewton film. Lewton was never consulted on the choice. CAT PEOPLE had been such an assignment. Then Lewton was told he would make a sequel. In spite of a short reference in the script of THE CURSE OF CAT PEOPLE, Lewton wrote a strange little story about the good and bad that children can create for themselves and others who are under the influence of fantasy, but THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE had nothing much to do with CAT PEOPLE.

DEAD MAN'S EYES: This was an "Inner Sanctum" murder mystery. Universal, running out of material, turned to "Inner Sanctum", a mystery book-of-the-month book club. The mysteries all starred a perpetually miscast Lon Chaney, Jr. DEAD MAN'S EYES was an "Inner Sanctum" mystery.

DESTINY: This story from Universal was originally planned to be a segment of the anthology film FLESH AND FANTASY. It was a little overly sentimental for that film, combining elements of LES MISERABLES and GREEN MANSIONS. Cliff is running from the police as the film opens. His life keeps falling into chapters with him running from the police, and he repeatedly betrays people or is betrayed by others but he refuses to abandon his wicked ways. Then he finds a valley that is somehow attuned to a blind girl who lives peacefully with nature. The director, Reginald Le Borg, who also directed several of Universal's lesser horror films of the caliber of JUNGLE WOMAN, directs the film.

I will conclude next week. [-mrl]

BECOMING SUPERMAN: MY JOURNEY FROM POVERTY TO HOLLYWOOD by J. Michael Straczynski (copyright 2019, Harper Voyager, 462pp, ASIN: B07F13YLYH, ISBN-10: 006285786X, ISBN-13: 978-0062857866) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

There's a subtitle to this book, which really kind of says it all about the life of J. Michael Straczynski, probably most well known as the creator of BABYLON 5, and it goes like this: "With Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War Crimes". Sadly, none of this is exaggeration or anything of the sort. If you want a summary of all that, JMS, as he is known, has a nice summary of the book on his Twitter feed from back when it was just about to be released. The subtitle is a succinct overview of that summary and of the book. It's likely that some of what I say will be a rehash of that summary (no, I don't have it open as I write this), but it==and the book - does shed a light on what made JMS the writer that he became.

My first encounter with JMS was, as maybe for a lot of people, with BABYLON 5, his seminal work and which I'm positive will be what he is known for long after everything else he's done has been forgotten. I really didn't know much about his work prior to BABYLON 5, although I did my best to keep up with what he did after the show ended its run back in the late 1990s. BECOMING SUPERMAN does its due diligence in recounting all the things that he has worked on in television, movies, and comic books. As examples, in comics he did a seven-year run on "The Amazing Spiderman" (which to this day I still have all the issues of), a run on "Superman" itself, as well as other books, including his own line of comics. Television? Too many to count, I think. Most people know about the BABYLON 5 follow-up, CRUSADE, as well as JEREMIAH and SENSE8 (which I have, sadly, yet to see any of). I'm sure there are some folks out there know that he worked on JAKE AND THE FATMAN, MURDER SHE WROTE, and a revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for which he wrote a script from a Rod Serling outline. He worked on many cartoons, including SHE-RA and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE. In movies, he's worked on several genre movies, and wrote the screenplay for CHANGELING, a movie directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie, a result of years of research from back in the day when he was a journalist.

But BECOMING SUPERMAN is more than just list all the above accomplishments, the kind of list most autobiographies contain. It is a story of a family that is about as dysfunctional and violent as I have ever heard of, and how that family life shaped JMS into the writer he has become. His father was a violent drunk, who beat his mother and him on a regular basis, and who has a deep, dark secret from his past that is just barely hinted at in the subtitle to the book. Aside from the war crimes, Charles Straczynski was a criminal who evaded the law by moving all over the country for years. JMS never really had a solid home because of this. He eventually tried to escape by various means (insert the "cults" here), and eventually did get away.

But it's not all bad and sad stuff. His youth, while stunting his social growth, also by necessity turned him into a persistent and stubborn individual who never gave up, and who never compromised his principles. Those uncompromising principles are on full display as he gained a reputation in Hollywood for being difficult to work with. He left JEREMIAH, CRUSADE, and other shows due to what he saw as interference in telling the story he wanted to tell (there is advice from a revered writer to this effect, advice which he took to heart but at the same time led to him being difficult while simultaneously helped him become a successful writer), but when left alone to tell the story he wanted to tell, a classic was born in BABYLON 5.

Clearly there's a lot more to the story than I've talked about here. I didn't know much about the life of JMS before I read BECOMING SUPERMAN, but as it turns out, there's a good reason for that. The family didn't want to talk about its secrets because of just how heinous they were. Once JMS decided to break the family silence, it all came pouring out in this book. Quite frankly, what he went through would have demoralized most people to the point of giving up. BECOMING SUPERMAN is the tale of a man who did not give up, and the science fiction world is better for it. It's riveting reading. At times it's not very pleasant. At times it's uplifting. But it lets the world know that a person can overcome terrible hardships and become whatever they want to be. I think we all need that kind of story now and again. [-jak]

Isaac Asimov (comments by Taras Wolansky):

Taras Wolansky writes:

The January, 2020 issue of the Mensa Bulletin includes several letters recalling encounters with Isaac Asimov, who had been Mensa International's Honorary Vice President for many years.

The longest letter, by a long-time member named Betty Claire, describes her encounter with Asimov, in New York in the early 1980's, following a presentation he gave on the then-novel theory that an asteroid impact had caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"I ... handed him the little 3x5 spiral-bound notebook I carried with me. He took it and in 10 seconds had written a quite dirty limerick based on my name. As he handed the notebook back to me, I felt a sharp tweak of my left nipple. The notebook had covered his hand, and I could not at the moment fathom what it happened to my nipple. ... There was no expression on his face; his wife was right there by his side. How could he do what I thought if he were also holding the notebook? I couldn't believe what he had done. It was against all common sense that this famous man should tweak my nipple. I was in shock.

"The audacity of his act should have been met with a swift smack across his face. What if I was wrong, I thought, and my nipple pinched itself? I did nothing.

"Evidently Asimov had developed admirable sleight-of-hand skills in pursuit of his avocation! Comparing notes with other women who were there, Claire discovered she was only the first among many victims: 'Surreptitious pats on the behind, with no expression on his face ...'" [-bc]

In light of the defenestration of H. P. Lovecraft and John W. Campbell, merely for voicing unpalatable opinions, should Asimov's name still reside on the leading SF magazine's cover, in spite of his habit of molesting women?

Because, like Harvey Weinstein, Asimov would often make the appropriate feminist noises, are we to ignore his actual behavior? What do you think? [-tw]

Temperature Puzzle (sent by Tom Russell):

There is a certain weather-reporting system which includes temperature-sensing devices and temperature-displaying devices. The display devices show the temperature as an integer number of degrees Fahrenheit. The sensors are much more precise; the display devices round off the input from the sensors.

When I checked the temperature yesterday for a place we had visited this past September, I thought, "Aha, interesting: the actual temperature must be just slightly below what is displayed." What was displayed? [-tr]

[The answer will appear next week.]

The 1944 Retro Hugo Nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Long Form) (letter of comment by Kevin R):

In response to Mark's comments on the 1944 Retro Hugo nominations in the Dramatic Presentation Category (Long Form) in the 02/07/20 issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

[Re Captain America:]

It's fitting that a character published by Martin Goodman, who never saw a trend he wouldn't copy. nor a best-seller he wouldn't knock off, would use a "borrowed" threat in Chapter 1.

"Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe" 1940, Chapter 1:

"The Purple Death!"

"The Scarab" was after both the "'Dynamic Vibrator' and 'Electronic Firebolt', devices that could be used as super-weapons."

So, those are sfnal.

Fans of Golden Age comics may know that Captain America was not the first patriotic hero in four colors. Quality Comics had brought a James Montgomery Flagg-ish UNCLE SAM to life in 1940, but not before MLJ (Archie comics that would be) brought out THE SHIELD!

PEP COMICS #1 had the G-Man Extraordinary, while Unc debuted in NATIONAL COMICS.

Timely (Marvel as would be) changed the shape of Cap's shield from the heater on the cover of CA #1 ...

... to the more famous rotella/targe one he could improbably hurl, under legal threat by the MLJ partners.

Both the design of the Shield's costume, and of Cap's first shield were meant to put one in mind of the USA's coat of arms.

"Grant Gardner" wasn't issued a shield, other than on his belt buckle. The stunt crew probably couldn't make it work for what Republic was willing to spend. At least "Gardner" was able to ride a motorcycle, even if he didn't have a sidekick on the back or in a sidecar mowing down Ratzis with a Thompson.

No super-soldier serum is used to explain the Star-Spangled Avenger's fighting prowess, and Purcell is closer to Adam West then Chris Reeve when in the long-john bunting. [-kr]

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

WHAT TO THINK ABOUT MACHINES THAT THINK edited by John Brockman (Harper Perennial, ISBN 978-0-06-242565-2) is a collection of about two hundred short essays on machine intelligence. It is definitely the sort of book one reads only a bit of at a time, but I have some comments even after reading just a half dozen essays. (Quelle surprise!)

For example, Murray Shanahan says, "Surely nothing would count as having human-level intelligence unless it has language, and the chief use of human language is to talk about the world." There are at least three assumptions here, all (to my mind) questionable. First, there is nothing "sure" about saying that human-level intelligence requires language, especially since Shanahan has not defined "intelligence", let alone "human-level" intelligence. Apparently he does not think that infants have human-level intelligence, so he must think intelligence is not innate, but acquired, but this is not a universal belief. Secondly, he assumes we can define language, which is notoriously hard to do, particularly when some of the people defining it seem to be trying a priori to limit language to humans. As an example, the first widely accepted definition did not consider American sign language to be language. And thirdly, he seems to feel that since "the chief use of human language is to talk about the world," we must measure all languages against that metric. Needless to say, by this point I was unlikely to find conclusions based on these assumptions convincing.

Steve Omohundro writes, "There have been at least twenty-seven species of hominids, of which we are the only survivors. We survived because we found ways to limit our individual drives and work together cooperatively." He seems to think that if we can build machine intelligences with this ability, we will not have to worry some sort of "machine apocalypse". What he doesn't add is that after we learned to work together cooperatively, we used this ability to wipe out other hominid species, which is why we are the only survivors. The idea that merely instilling cooperation among *machines* is going to help *humans* seems unlikely.

More comments may follow. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          A bone to the dog is not charity.  Charity is the bone 
          shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the 
                                          --Jack London

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