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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 05/01/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 44, Whole Number 2117
Table of Contents
Sign of Our Times:
Sign seen on a bookstore window:
"Please note: The post-apocalyptical fiction section has been moved to Current Affairs."
Thoughts on the Horror Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I think most people think horror fiction, prose, cinema, etc., is supposed to be frightening. I am afraid that if fear is the appropriate reaction I am a near complete loss. A television show or a movie has not frightened me since I was about age ten. The last thing that I saw on TV that was actually frightening was "The Hungry Glass," a story on "Thriller" that was based on a Robert Bloch story. A vain old woman living in an old cliff-side mansion took to haunting the glass in the mansion. This glass had reflected her one-time beauty. Now like a siren she tempts new owners (including one played by William Shatner) to pass through the glass to their death. This was pretty scary stuff for a ten- year-old, and it was the last time that I remember actually being frightened by a television show.
There is an old saying in science fiction circles that the Age of Wonder is twelve. For me the age of horror was about eight to ten. After age ten I was never really frightened by anything on the theater screen or the television screen. I can pretty much list everything that frightened me up to that age:
I will make one exception and say that I was frightened by the Peter Watkins pseudo-documentary made for the BBC called THE WAR GAME. With what was known about the effects of nuclear war in the late 1960s Watkins tried to show what would happen if nuclear war came to Britain. It heavily influenced a later British TV movie, THREADS, though THREADS lacked the dispassionate BBC narrator explaining exactly what was going on. "This is a firestorm. At its center temperatures reach 1000 degrees centigrade. These people are asphyxiating because the fire is pulling all oxygen to the center of the storm," the narrator helpfully explains. But this is a different type of frightening from the type one sees in "The Hungry Glass." This is frightening because it is presenting a truth that is frightening. It is not the images themselves that are frightening. There probably is some scary stuff right now about the COVID-19 virus, but I do not listen to the same channels.
I guess part of the problem is that television is not inherently the most effective medium for horror. Why not? First of all, there is too much distraction in the home. It is really difficult to avoid the urge to pick up a magazine or straighten the coffee table while watching. Even in a movie theater there are audience distractions. Someone is opening a snack cocooned in crackly cellophane or someone else has his phone going off. In addition, horror depends on imagination to work. In a visual medium you borrow someone else's visual images. So one would feel that the written word is a better medium for horror than are purely visual media.
There is one important drawback of written horror. The person reading the story is really too much in control of the material being transferred. The reader is required to turn pages. The reader really controls the speed of the storytelling and has the option to just stop reading.
So what are good media for horror? The best electronic medium is radio or maybe the audiobook. Of course even then there are the home distractions and the fact that the listener is in a familiar environment. It is no coincidence that one of the most popular radio horror programs was called "Lights Out." Actually there is another medium that is even better for horror. It is the probably the very first medium of the horror story. The best medium for horror is the campfire tale. The story told in near darkness around a fire both gives the listener the full ability to use his imagination and at the same time the listener gives up almost all control of the pacing of the tale. [-mrl]
Recent Reviews (letter of comment by John Hertz):
In response to Evelyn's comments in various recent issues of the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:
Recently it seems E only writes about what she thinks is wrong.
I think that's wrong. [-jh]
I *think* John means that he thinks I am writing only about what I think is wrong, not that I am only writing about it (or that only I am writing about it). What can I say? I write about what I've been reading/listening to, and I've hit a stretch of stuff I haven't been thrilled with. It is not as though there is a stack of books I loved but decided not to write about. Maybe you'll like my comments on THE DECAMERON better (even though I do complain about some of the translation choices). Alas, many of the Retro Hugo finalists do not seem to have aged well (or maybe 1944 was a weak year). [-ecl]
As Long As the Hot Pockets Don't Run Out (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky):
Taras Wolansky writes:
"How Engineers Are Operating Deep-Space Probes, Martian Rovers, and Satellites from Their Homes"
Driving the Curiosity rover from a living room
By Loren Grush@lorengrush Apr 20, 2020, 12:06pm EDT
P.S.: As "social isolation" continues, am I the only one reminded of Isaac Asimov's THE NAKED SUN? [-tw]
At least the spacecraft are setting a good example of Spacial Distancing. (Been too long since I read THE NAKED SUN.) [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
I was able to find all the 2020 Short Story finalists for the Hugo Award, so I will comment on them while I'm working my way through the Retro Hugo finalists (and of course, THE DECAMERON).
"Do Not Look Back, My Lion", Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 1/31/19): This does a lot of hard-to-follow things with gender. The warriors are women, as are their husbands, husbands being the ones who are "mannish" and stay at home. (There are apparently also men, who are also husbands. This would seem to result in a large imbalance.) There are "daughters" and "near- daughters" that I couldn't sort out, and eventually I gave up on the whole thing as a warrior fantasy story that was not only not to my tastes, but also impossible for me to follow.
"As the Last I May Know", S. L. Huang (Tor.com 10/23/19): The introduction claims this is an alternate history--it isn't. The premise is that there is a super-weapon (basically an atomic bomb by a different name) that can only be used if the President (Prime Minister?) kills a child who has been chosen for that purpose. It is basically an elaboration on the argument that the enemy is not a faceless abstraction, but made up of men and women and children. Oddly, I could see this becoming a movie, but it doesn't quite work on paper.
"And Now His Lordship Is Laughing", Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19): This is a fantasy/horror story centered around the "denial of rice" policy of the British in Bengal during World War II. As frequently happens, the reality is far more horrific than anything a writer could dream up, but in this case the fantasy is the aftermath to the horror and the whole story is very effective.
"Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island", Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19): The title says it all. There is a lot going on here, addressing aspects of colonialism, cultural relativism, the politics of oppression, and so on. This is the sort of meta-fiction that I like, so it is not surprising that I rate this highly.
"Blood Is Another Word for Hunger", Rivers Solomon (Tor.com 7/24/19): We have recently seen several stories centering around African-American experiences under slavery and Jim Crow segregation, including the award-winning "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" (by P. Djeli Clark) and Victor Lavalle's "The Ballad of Black Tom". This is of a different style, with more religious overtones, but oddly uninvolving. Still, this is a worthwhile finalist.
"A Catalog of Storms", Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19): Again, this is not the sort of story that generally appeals to me, so while it may have its virtues, I cannot rate it highly.
Ranking: "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island", "And Now His Lordship Is Laughing", "Blood Is Another Word for Hunger", "As the Last I May Know", no award, "Do Not Look Back, My Lion", "A Catalog of Storms"
Next week, probably Day 2 of THE DECAMERON, and then after that I will start on the Retro Hugo finalists. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A barking dog is more useful than a sleeping lion. --Washington IrvingTweet
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