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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society 03/01/19 -- Vol. 37, No. 35, Whole Number 2056
Table of Contents
R.I.P. Betty Ballantine (1919-2019):
"Betty Ballantine, who with her husband helped transform reading habits in the pre-internet age by introducing inexpensive paperback books to Americans, died on Feb. 12 in Bearsville, N.Y. She was 99."
"[They] charged just 25 cents per book, making them easily affordable for people unable or unwilling to pay for hardcover books, which cost $2 to $3 each (about $45 in today's money). And they overcame the distribution problem by making books available almost everywhere, including in department stores and gas stations and at newsstands and train stations."
Betty Ballantine ... helped promote certain genres--westerns, mysteries, romance novels and, perhaps most significant, science fiction and fantasy. Her love for that genre, and her knowledge of it, helped put it on the map. 'She birthed the science fiction novel,' said Tad Wise, a nephew of Ms. Ballantine's by marriage. With the help of Frederik Pohl, a science fiction writer, editor and agent, Mr. Wise said, 'She sought out the pulp writers of science fiction who were writing for magazines and said she wanted them to write novels, and she would publish them.'"
Middle Earth Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was watching THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. But they never tell you how Smaug got solated in the first place. [-mrl]
Retrospective: THE BLACK SCORPION (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
1958 was the year THE FLY was released to theaters, and my father took my brother and me to see it. This is one of my fond memories of my first decade on Earth. THE FLY was on a drive-in double bill with the (incompetently made) SPACE MASTER X7. I was happy to see anything that was science fiction. But I suspect the owner of the drive-in could see SPACE MASTER X7 would eat into the profits THE FLY would bring. He or the distributor rushed to get a better film than SPACE MASTER X7 to pair the second week with the well-reviewed THE FLY. In any case SPACE MASTER X7 was dropped from the drive-in double bill and replaced by THE BLACK SCORPION. It was too late to do me much good. SPACE MASTER X7 at least had sounded like it involved rockets and spaceships, but I wondered if THE BLACK SCORPION was a better film. I think it was a decade or two before THE BLACK SCORPION finally showed up someplace that I could see it. It was not all that good either. But it surely beat SPACE MASTER X7. Perhaps today SPACE MASTER X7 remembered because it had Stooge Moe Howard in a bit part.
Today I can recognize that THE BLACK SCORPION was at least an interesting monster movie. It was made very much on the cheap, and it borrowed heavily on ideas from other 50s monster movies, especially from THEM! I think that the filmmakers could borrow what they wanted from THEM! legally since both films were made for, and I suppose owned by, Warner Brothers. That may have simplified copyright issues and it almost made them in some way paired productions.
THE BLACK SCORPION and THEM! have much the same plot. An erupting volcano instead of from a nuclear blast causes nature to free giant scorpions, all of which have been trapped and preserved alive inside volcanic rock. The volcano cracks open the volcanic rock and frees the (very old) scorpions. Without being seen they hunt nocturnally and tear up the Mexican landscape. At first only the destruction the monsters leave behind can be found, and there is speculation as to what kind of creature makes a noise like it does. (More on the sound will come later.) In one or two places there are footprints of the creature left behind, but that only increases the mystery as it is from an unrecognized creature. THE BLACK SCORPION even repeats an error THEM! made. In each film only one footprint is found. What kind of creature leaves only one footprint? Is it hopping on the one foot?
The two geologists--Richard Denning as Dr. Hank Scott and Carlos Rivas as Dr. Arturo Ramos--go searching for the source of the killings and the very strange destruction that is left behind. They are later joined by Mara Corday as Teresa Alvarez. Actress Corday was previously menaced by a giant spider in TARANTULA (1955). She was probably used to large arthropods. The main characters of the film are two geologists who have come to the backlands of Mexico to study the erupting volcanoes.
The scientists had found giant scorpions sealed in rocks until the rocks are broken by the shock of the volcanoes releasing the still living monsters. The scorpions have been underground for eons of time and the volcano now frees them. The local people who have disappeared in the volcano's eruption have fallen prey to the appetites of giant scorpions. One obvious borrowing from THEM! is the cricket-like chattering squeal sound effect of the ants from THEM! It is recycled as the sound made by the scorpions in THE BLACK SCORPION. The only thing that the attacks had in common is that just before the creatures' attacks we in the audience hear them make the insect-like trill.
Paul Sawtell's title music was used for other science fiction films and may sound familiar to viewers.
Both films advance slowly before they show the audience anything requiring the filmmakers to use special effects. That saves on the film budget. So does using copious stock footage of volcanic destruction. A missing police car is found with a giant bite taken out of it as if it were a sandwich. As in THEM! the humans find the nest of the invaders and risk themselves invading it, barely escaping with their lives. Then the creatures attack a more urban environment, Mexico City. And the camera shows us the all-out climactic battle on the streets of the capitol city. [-mrl]
Nebula Award Finalists:
Novel THE CALCULATING STARS, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor) THE POPPY WAR, R. F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK) BLACKFISH CITY, Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK) SPINNING SILVER, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan) WITCHMARK, C. L. Polk (Tor.com Publishing) TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga) Novella FIRE ANT, Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi) THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS, P. Djeli Clark (Tor.com Publishing) THE TEA MASTER AND THE DETECTIVE, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean) ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES, Kate Heartfield (Tor.com Publishing) GODS, MONSTERS, AND THE LUCKY PEACH, Kelly Robson (Tor.com Publishing) ARTIFICIAL CONDITION, Martha Wells (Tor.com Publishing) Novelette "The Only Harmless Great Thing", Brooke Bolander (Tor.com Publishing) "The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections", Tina Connolly (Tor.com 7/11/18) "An Agent of Utopia", Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia) "The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births", Jose Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed 1/18) "The Rule of Three", Lawrence M. Schoen (Future Science Fiction Digest 12/18) "Messenger", Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R. R. Virdi (Expanding Universe, Volume 4) Short Story "Interview for the End of the World", Rhett C. Bruno (Bridge Across the Stars) "The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington", Phenderson Djeli Clark (Fireside 2/18) "Going Dark", Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear) "And Yet", A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3-4/18) "A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies", Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18) "The Court Magician", Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18) Game Writing Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow & Netflix) The Road to Canterbury, Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games) God of War, Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog, Orion Walker, and Adam Dolin (Santa Monica Studio/Sony/ Interactive Entertainment) Rent-A-Vice, Natalia Theodoridou (Choice of Games) The Martian Job, M. Darusha Wehm (Choice of Games) The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation THE GOOD PLACE: "Jeremy Bearimy", Screenplay by: Megan Amram BLACK PANTHER, Screenplay by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole A QUIET PLACE, Screenplay by: John Krasinski and Bryan Woods & Scott Beck SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE, Screenplay by: Phil Lord and Rodney RothmanDIRTY COMPUTER, Written by: Janelle Monae and Chuck Lightning SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, Written by: Boots Riley The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan) ARU SHAH AND THE END OF TIME, Roshani Chokshi (Rick Riordan Presents) A LIGHT IN THE DARK, A. K. DuBoff (BDL) TESS OF THE ROAD, Rachel Hartman (Random House) DREAD NATION, Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray) PEASPROUT CHEN: FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD, Henry Lien (Henry Holt)
TANGENT ROOM (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Four strangers in arcane branches of science find themselves imprisoned in a locked room and working on a problem that has strange metaphysical implications and whose solution might have serious and far-reaching implications. And I mean "really far-reaching." Directed by: Bjorn Engstrom; written by: Bjorn Engstrom. Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
I have heard that when an author writes a Star Trek script they are told that for the good of the story they do not have to put in sophisticated-sounding supposedly scientific explanations. Instead they put in the string "tech...tech...tech...tech...tech...tech..." Someone else who knows a little about science or how scientific language feels and sounds will remove the tech line and replace it with something that sounds good, but that does not really mean anything. A new film TANGENT ROOM examines the question of what would happen if you got together a solid chunk of rhetorical "tech..." and collided it with an identical mass of home-grown balderdash.
Four scientists--three women and a man--who worked in very different fields of science find themselves in an isolated room. They have no idea how they got there. There does not seem to be any logical connection to their fields of research. We soon learn that what they have in common is that they all work with very strange and generally large numbers. (I suppose what I was curious about is what is a "strange number"?) I found out surprisingly that "the right numbers can solve any problem." Soon we discover that the supposedly mind-bending cosmic effects are intended not to be taken seriously (I hope).
It is hard to rate TANGENT ROOM entirely fairly. The idea is intriguing, yes, but the plot is too similar to that of Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena's Spanish thriller FERMAT'S ROOM (2007). The actual mathematics and physics is wrong and atrocious, but how many viewers are going to know or care about the difference? Then again how often does one find a film built around a mathematical concept. Parts of TANGENT ROOM film are whimsically satirical of time paradox films like a "Back to the Future" film.
I rate TANGENT ROOM a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4230078/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/tangent_room
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (television review by Dale Skran):
Netflix has adapted the Dark Horse comic THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY into a ten-episode series including events from both comic series, APOCALYPSE SUITE, and DALLAS. You may be unfamiliar with THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, only the most recent in a long series of efforts to copy or better the X-Men. In spite of the Netflix series borrowing the fundamental idea of the plot from the X-Men "Dark Phoenix" storyline, there is enough new stuff here to keep most comic fans watching.
UA is stronger on character and psychological motivation than many superhero team stories, and via the device of an impersonal and cruel "Professor X" sets up a variety of character challenges. UA also follows the non-Marvel/non-DC line of showing more "real violence" to the tune of various rock songs. In fact, music, both classical and rock, is very important to both the plot and atmosphere of UA, although I leave analysis of this aspect of the series to those who know more about it than I do.
Another difference is that UA deals a bit more with truly god-like powers than Marvel does. "Rumor" has the ability to change reality by telling a lie. In many ways, there are not limits to this power, but UA does a good job of exploring the temptation of using it too much, and for the wrong things. "Number Five" can travel in both space and time, as well as between the ticks of the clock. Combined with decades of surviving on his own in a post-apocalypse world, and still more years of experience as an assassin working for a temporal control agency called the "Commission", these powers make him the world's deadliest killer. The "White Violin" can transform sounds into telekinetic blasts that range in power from breaking a single glass to shattering the Moon. Klaus ("Seance") can talk to the dead, and also is developing telekinesis that he expresses using ghosts. These are the powers of gods, not superheroes. Two more traditional characters, Luthor ("Spaceboy") and Diego ("Kraken") are basically your super strong guy and your Batman guy. They fade into the background compared to the rest of the team, although they constantly squabble about who is in charge.
I'm rating UMBRELLA ACADEMY a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. It is for teens and up only, due to sex, lots of drug use, and violence. Klaus uses drugs and drink to avoid seeing the dead. There is a lot of pretty hard-core violence, and adult themes. Because the characters sometimes age greatly due to time travel, some are much older than others. All the characters have significant psychological damage from their harsh upbringing at the academy. But having said all that, a must see for comic fans, and especially for those who like "retro" super-science pulp stories, that feature intelligent apes and robot nannies.
It should also be noted that with the cancelation of all the Netflix Marvel shows, we can expect to see a lot more non-Marvel superhero stuff on Netflix, including, one expects, more seasons of THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, and, hopefully, more of THE CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, which is worth checking out. [-dls]
SPACE OPERA by Catherynne M. Valente (copyright 2018, Saga Press, $19.99, hardcover, 294pp, ISBN 978-1-4814-9749-7) (book review by Joe Karpierz):
We've read it before. The human race is minding its own business, people going about their lives as they do every day, blissfully unaware that there's a galactic population out there, myriads of different races, civilizations, and aliens. It is a peaceful galactic life, but it wasn't always that way. There was a war- the Sentience War--a big bad nasty war involving just about all the civilizations in the galaxy. It was a war over something stupid, of course, or some misunderstanding; it really doesn't matter, as with most of these things. It was big, it was nasty, and it was devastating. Peace eventually happened, but those that were left decided to have a celebration, a contest, that would bring joy and happiness to every one, and in the process, maintain their exclusive club.
Thus, the Metagalactic Grand Prix was born. Once a cycle--let's call it once a year--the Grand Prix is held. It's a competition for bragging rights. Think of a multimedia concert, complete with song, dance, visual displays, and anything else participants think they can do to bring honor and glory to their race. And every once in a while, a new race wants to join galactic civilization. When that happens, the new race must participate in the Grand Prix. If the new race finishes in dead last, their civilization is wiped out and their planet sterilized to give it a chance to bring forth a new civilization that might be worthy of joining the galaxy.
Remember when I said that the human race was minding its own business? Yeah, well, no more. Humanity has been noticed, and is going to participate in the Grand Prix whether they want to or not. Eventually, a British pop band named Decibel Jones and the Absolute Zeros, is chosen to represent humanity. And things aren't looking good. The band has fallen on hard times, one member has died, and in general they appear to be the worst choice to represent humanity in a battle for survival. As the dust jacket says, "And the fate of Earth lies in their ability to rock." Will the human race survive? I don't think that's really a good question, since this is supposed to be a happy and fun book and really, would any writer kill off her own entire civilization?
This book is pretty much unlike anything Valente has written before. I mean yes, the whole idea of the human race having to prove itself to the rest of the galaxy in order to survive is nothing new, but the idea of entering a music contest and not finishing dead last in order to save the planet is something I don't think has been done before.
The Metagalactic Grand Prix has as its inspiration the Eurovision Song Contest, which was born in the mid-1950s as Europe was still rebuilding from World War II. Eurovision was a way for the countries of Europe to come together and celebrate life with song. The contest is still happening, and it's broadcast all over the world, and is one of the most watched television programs on the planet. Just like Eurovision, the Grand Prix is watched all over the galaxy, even on dear old planet earth. And just like Eurovision, it exists to bring galactic civilizations together, but it has something of a side purpose of keeping new civilizations out of the club.
When I said that SPACE OPERA is unlike anything Valente has written before, I'm not only talking about subject, I'm talking about style. I've typically found Valente a difficult read; her prose is very stylistic and literary. I've made the comment in the past that it is more style than substance. That is probably a bit harsh. This book? It's not that. Valente writes at a breakneck, frenetic pace. There are very long sentences that you feel you must read fast to get the feeling that Valente is trying to give the reader. Some sentences are one paragraph long, and the paragraph is longer than a page. In most cases, those would be called run-on sentences and would be frowned upon. But those sentences work because of the story itself. Everything is fast, everything is showy, and everything happens all at once.
And it works. Mostly. I was less than five pages into the book when I decided it was probably the best thing I'd read that was published in 2018. I loved the style not only because of the frenetic (there's that word again) pace but because it was actually funny. No, I wasn't laughing out loud the entire time I read the book, but I will say that I barked out a laugh at a local Starbucks and *everybody* in there looked my way. The downside is that at times I was actually *tired* after reading a chapter, and the style did get a bit tedious now and again.
The resolution to the story is a bit, uh, weird. But then again, this whole book is just a bit on the weird side. I don't know that I really know what to make of it as a whole other than to say I liked it. Heck, even the title is a pun while at the same time misleading. How can you not like a book that does that with its title?
If you're looking for something different, this book is it. If you're looking for a science fiction book that sets out, in part, to be funny, this book is it because it works. If you're looking for a book by an author who obviously had a fun time writing it, this book is it. And if you're looking for a fun book, this is it.
And if you're looking for a book to shake your head at after you're done reading it, well, this book is it too. [-jak]
Science Fiction, the Future, and Art (letters of comment by Kip Williams and Daniel Cox):
In response to John Hertz's comments on science fiction, the future, and art in the 02/22/19 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
[John Hertz writes,] "Changing the metaphor, how does an artwork look when it shows the artist had an axe to grind?"
It looks like the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, or Goya's horrific war pictures, or "Saturn Devouring His Children," or Guernica, or it reads like Dante's INFERNO.
But of course, these obscure examples will mean nothing to the alert reader, because they were just someone pushing a petty grievance, and of no interest outside of psychological analysis. [-kw]
You have two overlapping sets. Some propaganda is art and some art is propaganda. [-mrl]
Daniel Cox writes:
Re John Hertz's comments on the phrase "to vent concerns"--I think Mark probably just meant "to air concerns".
My view, and certainly not applicable to all of Science Fiction: Science Fiction is not so much to examine future science (or engineering) as to assume some science (or engineering) and see what it might lead to, including how individuals or society react to the changes. An example would be some of the Niven stories based on the assumption of cheap teleportation. He does not intend to state that this is a likely future, or give actual science behind it. He examines some of the effects it may have, such as flash mobs and a trend to live in the country. I suspect he was using it as an exaggeration of the effects that (historically) cheap transportation already had at the time he was writing (an "if this goes on" approach).
Which leads to a new topic:
There used to be a comment comparing the lack of progress in automobiles compared to the progress in computers. It is true by many metrics, but I think people might not have been not making the correct comparison.
When computers were new, they consisted of multiple large pieces connected together. They required controlled environments in which to run (lots of cooling, electricity cleaned up to remove spikes and surges). They were too expensive for one person to own and use, so they were owned by large organizations and shared by several users. Now, owning and using a personal computer is normal.
When motorized land transportation was new, it consisted of multiple large pieces connected together. It required controlled environments in which to run (carefully spaced rails, limited grades, gradual curves, careful scheduling to avoid accidents). It was too expensive for one person to own and use (perhaps with a few exceptions), so it was owned by large organizations and shared by several users. Now, owning and using a personal locomotive is considered normal. It's just that they are not called personal locomotives. [-dtc]
I thought in this context to air and to vent had much the same meaning. Google defines "vent" as "give free expression to". [-mrl]
Buffalo Soldiers (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):
In response to Evelyn's comments on BUFFALO SOLDIER in the 02/22/19 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:
Buffalo soldiers were African American troops stationed on the western frontier after the Civil War. The nickname allegedly comes from a perceived resemblance of their kinky hair to that of the bison. Fort Davis National Historic Site in Texas preserves a Buffalo Soldier post and tells the story of those who served there. [-fl]
I knew that. My observation that the book never explained or used the name, so far as I noticed, was because I suspected a lot of readers would be unfamiliar with the term. [-ecl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
JUNGLE OF STONE: THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF JOHN L. STEPHENS AND FREDERICK CATHERWOOD AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE LOST CIVILIZATION OF THE MAYA by William Carlson (ISBN 978-0-06-240740-5) is the story of two of the early archaeologists, who were best known for their explorations of the Mayan ruins of Central America and Mexico, though they began in Egypt and the Middle East. Catherwood is the lesser-known of the two, though his precise drawings were crucial to the understanding of these sites. Stephens did the writing, and he also was quite thorough. There had been earlier explorers, but they often spent more of their time writing about the people or the terrain, and only a paragraph or two about the actual ruins. And the explorers who did write about the ruins often let their prejudices get in the way; they would claim, for example, that the ruins looked Mediterranean and hence were built by the Phoenicians. Jean-Frederic Waldeck, for example, drew the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal to look very Egyptian, and put (non-existent) elephants into the glyphs at Palenque. Waldeck also drew very Egyptian-looking statues that simply did not exist, and in fact Waldeck had never visited the sites where he claimed to have seen them.
(Ironically, there are glyphs at Copan that actually do bear a strong resemblance to elephants. These have generated much discussion, with one theory being that a small number of mammoths might have survived in the Americas until relatively recent (paleontologically speaking) times.)
The main problem with many of the other illustrators is that the structures and carvings don't look at all Mediterranean, but until people accepted that the earth (and its people) were older than 6000 years, they could not envision how a totally unknown race could even exist. Even after this, they resisted the notion that the indigenous population could have constructed such elaborate cities. Stephens and Catherwood went a long way towards showing that the ancient Mayan civilization covered a broad area and was totally unrelated to any "Old World" civilizations.
Carlson covers a lot of historical detail that Stephens's writing ignores, such as the odd circumstances that led Stephens to end up in Panama to start with. (He was sent as a diplomat after several previous appointees had died, either in Panama, or before even leaving the United States.) Carlson also describes the great difficulties Stephens and Catherwood faced, and in general provides the background, but clearly the key works to read are Stephens and Catherwood's four volumes on the Maya (INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA, CIAPAS, AND YUCATAN in two volumes and INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN YUCATAN in two volumes), as well as their INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN EGYPT, ARABIA PETRAEA, AND THE HOLY LAND and INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN GREECE, TURKEY, RUSSIA AND POLAND. BREAKING THE MAYA CODE by Michael D. Coe is also well worth reading. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: My goal in life is to become as wonderful as my dog thinks I am. --Toby & Eileen GreenTweet
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