MT VOID 04/10/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 41, Whole Number 1540

MT VOID 04/10/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 41, Whole Number 1540

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/10/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 41, Whole Number 1540

Table of Contents

      El Presidente: Mark Leeper, The Power Behind El Pres: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted. All comments sent will be assumed authorized for inclusion unless otherwise noted. To subscribe, send mail to To unsubscribe, send mail to


David Leeper should be added to the list of people who got the correct solution to the puzzle.

That Ring in My Ears (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

Ever find that you hear a name or a title and odd images come to your mind? Somebody mentioned the film AUTUMN IN NEW YORK and if I just heard the title without seeing it, it sounded like alternate history in which Turkey had conquered the world. On the other hand, hearing the name of horror writer Oliver Onions it sounds to me like something a bartender would ask after mixing a martini. [-mrl]

The Price of Film-Reviewing (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I got a piece of mail from someone who wanted to know more about my reviewing. Do I pay for all the movies that I see? He had this image of me downloading films to a laptop and sitting in Starbuck's watching them. He wanted to know if that was an accurate picture. It probably is a good opportunity to answer his question and at the same time give readers a better idea of whom it is that they are dealing with. I may digress a little.

I'll take the easy question first. I never acquired a taste for coffee. Or tea or alcohol or tobacco for that matter. I was just never fond of the flavor. And I am too cheap to go to a Starbucks in any case. For recreation that leaves only drugs. My recreational drug of preference (and that only one that I have ever used) is dietary capsaicin. It is legal and actually healthy. And piquant food gives the same sort of high that runners get from endorphins. There I go digressing.

Oh, and I don't own a laptop. I have an old HP 200LX palmtop that I have used so long that I can touch-type on it in a dark theater. Yeah, a lot of my notes come out garbled that way, but enough are not that they are usually useful. I have written some spreadsheets for it to help me organize my notes. But it is no better than I am at guessing what a garbled note means. So walking out of the theater I can already be working on my review if I want to. Usually I will be looking at my notes and trying to figure out what "buce nysucak" meant, looking to see what keys are near the keys I typed. (That was a mistyping of "nice musical", if you are curious.)

Okay, what do I pay for movies? I never go to an evening show. (Did I mention I was cheap?) I can go to a matinee for $6 to $7.75 in my area. That is if I want to see a current film. I know people who go to the movies once a week. I don't see that much in theaters, maybe averaging one every two weeks. Actually I probably do not even go to that many.

Older films I get through Netflix. I watch and return them soon after receiving them, so I average less than $1.50 per Netflix film. I am on the three-disk plan. In addition Netflix gives you free movies to download to your PC/Mac. I think that brings the average price down to about a dollar a film. But Netflix is not the bargain that it once was. Films that are relatively major they seem to only buy a small number of copies for and then customers wait in queue for them for a long time. VICKY CHRISTINA BARCELONA I have been waiting for since it was released to disk. It has been at the top of my Netflix queue and yet it never seems to be sent. Some films just are very hard to get through Netflix, so I just joined Blockbuster's single film mail plan. They have a smaller selection, but they frequently have the films I cannot convince Netflix to send me.

My other source is my town's public library. Some towns lend DVDs for free. Mine charges a dollar for a three-day loan on entertainment films. And if they do not have a film to some extent they are willing to get it from another library in the county library system. Books that cost considerably more than DVDs and have less general appeal still go out free, of course. Staff people I know at the library would like all films to go out without charge, but the library's board does not want to encourage the library to get too much into the DVD business. Documentaries and most non- fiction films are free to borrow and circulate for 14 days. Most of the documentaries that can be considered politically left or right wing turn out to be liberal in their selection, but I think that may be true of documentaries in general. But they would be more likely to have a documentary about the Trail of Tears than about the Hanoi Hilton.

Some current films I get to see free. These tend to be more obscure films. For example FORBIDDEN LIE$ is just being released this week. (Kind of an interesting film, by the way.) The film distributor offered me a DVD if I was willing to review it and thereby help to publicize it. Most reviewers get invited to special screenings for reviewers. I have seen maybe four films this way over my whole reviewing tenure. I would have to drive into New York City and I would end up spending a lot more than if I were to just wait and see the film in the theater. (I think I mentioned that I was cheap.) Parking in New York has gotten ridiculous. And there is one more source of DVDs that I get because I am a film reviewer. I am part of the Online Film Critic Society (though I call myself a "reviewer" and not a "critic"). The OFCS votes in January for their annual awards. I get some disks of major films, but not generally the big studio films, for my award consideration. Last year I got films like MILK, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, DOUBT, and HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. I had a DVD of SLUMDOG MILLIONARE before most people I knew had even heard of the title, and it went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

I never get paid in money for my reviews, so it is always an expense and not a source of income. (Not quite true. Someone actually did pay me for three of my reviews at one point, but that was long ago and we are talking about under $10.) But I am interested in film and can get four hours of entertainment out of one paid admission. As a rule of thumb I spend about the same length of time to see a film and to review it.

I was also asked why I did not review the science fiction film PUSH. I am afraid you cannot expect me to cover all or even most of the major pictures that come out even in the science fiction genre. I don't write for a newspaper that tries to cover what their readers might see. I foot the bill myself and pick what I see by what looks intriguing; probably a lot like you pick a movie. If I feel like I have something to say about a movie after seeing it, I write a review. Pretty much every review of a film you see from me is something that I went to with positive expectations. That is why while I say that a +1 is an average film, the great majority of my film ratings are higher. I try to avoid films that I do not think will be good just like anyone else does. The reviews did not make me interested enough to see PUSH. That was sort of how I felt about KNOWING, but a friend told me it was good. I did like it and felt I had something to say.

My hobby is only a pain when I am at a loss for what to say about a film, particularly if I have promised someone I would review a film. I have currently 1380 film reviews in the Rotten Tomatoes database and have written a weekly editorial for decades, so you would think that writers' block would be nothing but a long-ago memory. Sadly no. Writing is for me a slow and frequently difficult process. But it is also good mental exercise.

Overall for me, writing about film is really just an inexpensive hobby. I can do it for a year for a lot less than the cost of a ski trip. [-mrl]

STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert A. Heinlein (copyright 1959, Ace Science Fiction, $6.99, 263pp, ISBN 978-0-441-78358-8) (book review by Joe Karpierz):

So, quite a while back I was given a homework assignment by various folks here: read some Heinlein and report back. The assignment covered three novels: METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, and STARSHIP TROOPERS. This review concludes my homework assignment.

A little while back there was some discussion here in the VOID about STARSHIP TROOPERS. I purposely did not read that discussion, knowing that I was about to read the book, and I didn't want to color my view of the novel. The only thing that could have possibly affected my opinion, other than the cover blurb which shouted out at me "The Controversial Classic of Military Adventure", was the original theatrical movie that came out years ago. That was so long ago that I didn't remember much of it anyway, and I what I did remember of it wasn't anything like the novel itself.

It's pretty obvious by the reaction of many readers to my statement that I never had read much of earlier period Heinlein that I don't need to go into too much detail about the novel itself here. Quickly, the novel follows Juan "Johnnie" Rico as he makes the choice to go into the military, goes through boot camp, and participates in the Bug Wars. However, this is less of a story about a kid going into the military than it is a vehicle for Heinlein to (apparently) give us many of his political viewpoints and thoughts, provide some social commentary, and just plain old tell us how he thinks things ought to be.

Most intriguing to me is the concept of franchising; that is, unless you go into service and complete a term of duty, you're not allowed to vote--you're not a complete citizen. The theory, I guess, is that unless you go out and fight for your country/planet and experience what it takes to make decisions under pressure and things like that, you're not qualified to be able to pick your leaders. Another topic that Heinlein takes on is corporal punishment. His advocacy of the act would not be popular today by any means.

Heinlein does spend a bit of time discussing other things as well: The armored suit that the M.I. (Mobile Infantry) wears and the dissertation on military tactics and chain of command come to mind. Heinlein does have a military background, of course, so it shouldn't be much surprise that he spends a lot of time on this.

My beef with the novel is that nothing much really happens. Heinlein uses scenes from Rico's development to bridge from one topic to the next. Quite frankly, I guess I was expecting more than what I got. No, I didn't expect to get what was in that, what I now know to be, bad movie. However, less lecturing and more story would have been nice. I'm surprised that it won the Hugo for Best Novel in 1960.

Which is a very nice segue. Next time I begin my annual reviews of the Hugo nominated novels. In particular, I'll be starting off with Gaiman's GRAVEYARD BOOK. Until then... [-jak]

[And at some point, you may want to read Joe Haldeman's FOREVER WAR, and then John Scalzi's OLD MAN'S WAR. (Although you probably already read the latter.) -ecl]

FOREVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann does a photo-essay of the people who come to Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery to visit dead relatives and/or some of the world's greatest artists who are buried there. Much of the film turns into a study of how the dead live on and inspire the living. Sometimes this film is on target and sometimes it is just a little over the top. It is an ambitious effort that does not always work. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Heddy Honigmann takes an extended look at Life, Death, Art, and Beauty as viewed from and in relation to the Père Lachaise Cemetery. This burial ground, also known as the East Cemetery, is the largest in the city of Paris. Being the cemetery of Paris, it is the resting place of many of the great artistic people of this city of art. Some of the luminaries whose graves are found in this beautiful, ornate burial ground include Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Maria Callas, Pierre Abélard and Héloïse, Max Ernst, Amedeo Modigliani, and (in a less classical vein) George Méliès, Yves Montand, Simone Signoret, and Jim Morrison. The cemetery is now a park for quiet contemplation, and it draws people from all over the city.

Honigmann interviews visitors many of whom have some special artist whose resting place they go to. One man initially detested the writing of Marcel Proust but converted by his wife now presents the writing of Proust to others in the form of comic books. Others take inspiration from the tombs of their heroes who are dead. One man interviewed has a love of Amedeo Modigliani, whose elongated images of women seem to have an ethereal light about them. Honigmann finds one after another. In between she shows us nearly endless images of people caring for graves by pouring water on flowers from plastic drinking bottles or dusting tombs. Or she will show one visitor standing in silence for minutes while behind we hear only the sound of traffic. Someone complains that a grave of a loved one is too close to that of Jim Morrison and therefore gets a little too much traffic and noise. Elsewhere we see a memorial to Paris citizens who were "deported" to Nazi death camps.

The whole feeling is one of admiration of the exquisite beauty of the cemetery and long interludes of luxuriating in the magnificence. This is great at first, but presently it becomes a little oppressive. We go from delicate statuary to stunning displays of flowers. A little of that goes a long way. Some who come to this same destination each day seem to "live, like a hair- dresser, in the continual contemplation of beauty," as George Bernard Shaw put it describing his vision of Hell.

But the visitors do come to sit in the park, to meditate on the loveliness, and to visit their dead loved ones. Some talk to the dead. There are certainly macabre aspects to this film. One Honigmann talked to was a mortician who daily decorates the dead, making them up for their last exposure to their family and friends. He takes his day off among the dead. Elsewhere the camera focuses in on a spider larger than one would expect in the City of Paris.

The film really starts and ends with Yoshino Kimura, a pristine young pianist who plays Chopin flawlessly. She visits the tomb of Chopin and finds motivation from him. He seems to live on through her and she seems a perfect model of being dedicated to her art. A little surprisingly, the IMDB lists 41 acting credits for her so music is at best a part-time pursuit.

At times the film seems a little pretentious, but FOREVER is a reasonable, not perfect, meditation on art and beauty and the relation of the living artist with the dead who have contributed to his art. I would rate FOREVER a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



In response to Mark's reviews in the 04/03/09 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

I liked MONSTERS VS. ALIENS (the lawyer in me keeps wanting to write MONSTERS V. ALIENS) more than Mark, but I think his other two reviews are on the mark. I also liked KNOWING, a film that was largely trashed in the reviews. I give the filmmakers credit for taking their premise to its logical conclusion, instead of contriving a Hollywood ending. And I had THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS on my ten best list, but I think Mark has it right: it's a parable, and best understood as such. In spite of pulling its punches and not attempting the depiction of the true horrors of the Shoah, it nonetheless conveys a powerful message. It's a film well worth seeing. [-dk]

Mark responds:

I might have preferred MONSTERS V. ALIENS. In fact, that might have been their best suit. I tend not to think much of parodies of 1950s SF films. Maybe I don't like to see 1950s SF ridiculed, though I think I have a sense of humor about them. But for example, THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA I thought was really lame. What is the word on the street about ALIEN TRESPASS?

I guess after reading the ratings [of KNOWING] on RottenTomatoes, I was considering skipping it. I did like it. It really has some haunting images though. For me seeing the little blackboard was one of the great screen shocks. I guess I did not see it coming. How they got to that scene was a little contrived, with the mirror image, but the scene itself gave me a genuine chill. People were comparing it to Cage's NEXT and this is a far better film.


Dan replies:

I've seen ALIEN TRESPASS. It's an affectionate spoof. Nothing you haven't seen before, but done with a true fondness for the films it's parodying, so perhaps you'll enjoy it.

Don't know if you regularly read the Internet Review of Science Fiction, but I have an essay this month on "It Came From Outer Space" you might like: . [-dk]

And Mark says:

They claim ALIEN TRESPASS is not a parody but a pastiche. I much prefer that latter. I was hoping they knew the difference. [-mrl]

Hiding in Plain Sight (letter of comment by John L. Sloan):

In response to Mark's comments on numbers stations in the 04/03/09 issue of the MT VOID, John Sloan writes:

Along the same lines, I've always thought steganography, which more or less means "hiding stuff in plain sight", was pretty interesting. An example of this would be encoding a low resolution image (or any other kind of digital information) in a high resolution image by altering every 100th pixel. It would be invisible and almost undetectable in the high resolution image, at least by visible inspection, but almost trivially extractable.

With all the videos and photographs on the web, it's pretty clear that one could encode a huge amount of information this way, just for example in youtube videos.


Mark replies, "There was a rumor that some expert had said that ebay photos in specific had steganographic messages. Later it turned out the expert was just saying that could be a place for such images." [-mrl]

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

In January I take advantage of Shop-Rite's "Can-Can" sale to buy most of my canned goods for the year. In March, I do the same for books. The three major spring book sales that I go to were compacted back together in time, with the East Brunswick Public Library having theirs March 23 to 28, Bryn Mawr March 24 to 29. and JR Trading April 4 and 5.

We decided not to try to be the first ones in at East Brunswick, and we still found reasonable stuff. We did not have to fight with dealers, though it is possible that with higher sale prices and depressed on-line sales, the dealers have cut back as well. The prices seem the same as last year, though still at times inconsistent (at East Brunswick, an ex-library copy of THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION was priced higher than a clean, unmarked copy). Preview sales are a thing of the past, although Bryn Mawr has done the "shrinking package" trick. You wouldn't think you could do that at a book sale, but they did: last year you could fill a 17"x17"x13" box for $10, while this year it is a 17"x13"x13" box.

"And the last shall be first"--last year East Brunswick was last, this year it was first. The bad news: there was still the reduced floor space allocated for the sale. The good news: the science fiction section was *much* better. (Last year it was 90% "Star Trek" novels--really!)

We found twelve books and one-and-a-seventh Teaching Company courses for $30. The one-seventh Teaching Company course was Part IV of a seven-part course ("Classics of American Literature"). Believe me, I looked for the other parts (after all, I knew there had to be at least three more), but for whatever reason, they were not there. At least in this course the lectures are relatively self-contained.

The full course we got was "Medieval Heroines in History and Legend" (24 lectures; Heloise, Hildegard of Bingham, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Joan of Arc), with course books, for $4 total! It is not necessarily my first choice for a course, but at that price, how can I go wrong?

We got a couple of old Canada guidebooks for our upcoming trip to the Maritime Provinces--even if the prices and hours are old, the history, directions, etc., are useful. There was a book on hot peppers (mistakenly filed in the fiction section), a really thick Norton anthology of English literature for $3, and a few science fiction books. There was a great reference book, Howard Schwartz's TREE OF SOULS: THE MYTHOLOGY OF JUDAISM, and a Lonely Planet guide to Puerto Rico. I also picked up a copy in Spanish of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book that I may try re-selling after I read it, since I paid $1 and it sells for something like $20.

At Bryn Mawr we spent our usual two hours there and got 25 books (four as gifts) for $49. But I did not get to all the categories I usually do (the main one I missed was history). This may have been due to the much larger quantity of science fiction, mysteries, and mathematics than last year; I probably spent a lot more time in these categories than I did in previous years.

When I go to these sales I take a backpack and a shopping bag. I saw someone there trying to juggle a huge stack of books of different sizes. He had just heard about the sale and had not realized how big it was. I saw him later checking out with three two-foot stacks of books!

(I use my bags this way: I pick books and put them in the shopping bag until it is full. Then I sort through it, checking for what we already have and deciding what else I do not really want. Those I put back, the rest go in the backpack. Then I repeat. This time the backpack got so heavy that after I squatted down near the end to check some boxes on the floor, I could not get up without removing it first!)

So what did we find? A couple of large-print books for my father, a couple of Dover mysteries, some mathematics books, some science fiction, some history, ... The most interesting book was a 24-page pamphlet, "Kinship Terminology in Jane Austen's Novels". (I want to know if there is a term for the relationship between my father's brother's wife's brother's husband, and my brother's step-son's son. Mark's answer is "acquaintance", but I am looking for something a tad more specific.) Other books of note were the omnibus "1066 and All That/And Now All This" (comedic history) and another omnibus of three mysteries by Kate Wilhelm.

And then afterwards we went to the used bookstore in Rocky Hill where I found three books, including one I was actually looking for--the English translation of Jorge Luis Borges's "Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi". I have the Spanish version, but I wanted one that I could read more easily as well.

JR Trading Company is a remainder wholesaler that has sales to the general public a couple of weekends a year, one in the spring and one before the winter holidays.

Prices held steady: trade paperbacks $4 each (3 for $10) and hardbacks $5 each (5 for $20). (Children's books are cheaper; hardbacks originally priced over $30 are higher.) But we bought only 9 books, about half what we did last year.

There was still a lot of "The Year's Best X Writing", where X was "Science and Nature", "Sports", "Spiritual", "Travel", "Non- Required" (whatever that means), and so on, for the past several years. There was also still a lot of Tolkien, with several editions of THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT. And there was still a huge stack of Paul Di Filippo's CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON: TIME'S BLACK LAGOON, a book I bought last year. Offhand, I'd say that a lot of their stock is just not moving.

In addition, Mark commented on the huge number of books about writing, saying that here we were in a warehouse full of books that didn't sell, and people were buying books telling them how to write more books.

Last year we got a book on iPods; this year we got one on Mac applications in general. I found UMBERTO ECO ON LITERATURE (last year's flat of Eco's HYPERREALITY does seem to have sold). My attention was caught by the title of Joseph Epsyein's book, IN A CARDBOARD BELT!, and the essays in it looked interesting, even if the title was a misquotation.

There were quite a few very narrow-focus academic books from university presses--too narrow a focus for me--but I did get James H. Fetzer's PRINCIPLES OF PHILOSOPHICAL REASONING.

I passed up a book titled something like "The Silly Side of Sherlock Holmes", but did but H. Paul Jeffers's THE FORGOTTEN ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, based on a selection of the original radio scripts from the 1930s and 1940s. And having liked the two "Booknotes" books I had read, I also picked up Brian Lamb's BOOKNOTES ON AMERICAN CHARACTER.

I now always look at the large-print books, since that is what my father can read most easily. Unfortunately, the demographics of the elderly (the primary market, I suspect) are such that most of them (or at least most of the ones at book sales) are women's books, and the rest horror novels. My father is just not that interested in Danielle Steel. So when I do find a book there he might like, it is a real joy. (I wish that would allow one to search specifically for large-print books, but they do not.) JR Trading does not seem to get any of these, which is not too surprising--they are not published in large numbers, and so probably do not get remaindered.

In addition to the book sales, this is also the season for the Sidewise jury voting and for the announcement of the Hugo nominees, so with all of those, my reading list has really grown by leaps and bounds. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           To himself everyone is immortal; he may know 
           that he is going to die, but he can never 
           know that he is dead.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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