MT VOID 06/26/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 52, Whole Number 1551

MT VOID 06/26/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 52, Whole Number 1551

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/26/09 -- Vol. 27, No. 52, Whole Number 1551

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

Acknowledgement (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

This week's MT VOID is brought to you by the Pre-Owned-Humvee Owners Exchange. Buy a used Humvee today. It's the tank of the American Road. [-mrl]

Powder River (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In Wyoming they have the Powder River. That name always seemed like a joke to me. What is a Powder River? If you want to reconstitute it you just add water, lots and lots of water. [-mrl]

Good Radio Drama Site (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

You may remember I track sites that have free radio drama. I maintain the site:

19 Nocturne Boulevard is another find. Julie Hoverson is twice a month releasing great new half-hour plays in the old-time-radio tradition. The stories are fully dramatized with a touch of fun in the acting and are science fiction, horror, and suspense. There is even a Western with the continuing character The Deadeye Kid. The genres are a mixed bag, but the quality is quite high. There is also an archive of the older programs:


How Does 3-D Work in Films? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

It looks like the mainstream filmmakers are going in for three- dimensional films in a big way. What is pushing the trend is the improvement in home video. People are getting big TVs with high- definition clarity. They are getting a theater quality picture without going to the theater. In the 1950s home video went from no picture at all--they called it "radio"--to a note card sized black and white picture of Milton Berle dressing like a woman. Theaters had to give the public something they could not get a home. That was a three-dimensional image.

3-D works by showing two different images on the screen, one intended for the right eye and one for the left. 3-D films work not just by how they let the right eye see the right eye image and the left eye see the left eye image. They work by how they hide the left eye image from the right eye and vice versa.

Red-Blue Separation

With the Red-Blue system a single strip of film had both images on the film side by side. They were split with an optical system and both images projected on the screen separately. One image was blue and one was red. The projectionist had to be sure the two beams met just right on the screen. The audience wore glasses with red cellophane over one eye and blue over the other. Looking through blue cellophane blue looks white and red looks black. Looking through red cellophane red light looks white and blue looks black. Essentially the system discriminated by color or wavelength of light.

The Red-Blue 3-D had several drawbacks. It did not work with a color film. If the two projection beams were not perfectly synchronized it could lead to eyestrain. If the viewer tipped his head sideways the images would not have the proper separation. Since each eye was throwing away half of the picture definition from the film frame the picture has only half the definition of a normal film frame. This caused eyestrain and headaches.

Horizontal/Vertical Polarization

A much better scheme was to use light polarization. Light can be made to travel in parallel sheets (like pages of a book). Plastic can be polarized to let through only light that comes in horizontal sheets. It is much like you can pass a horizontal pencil through an open Venetian blind, but not a vertical one. Glare reflected off a wet road is polarized horizontally. This is why sunglasses polarized vertically cut down on road glare, but if you tip your head sideways you see the glare. With standard polarized 3-D projection one eye sees through a lens polarized vertically and one horizontally. This process allows for 3-D film to have color since color is independent of polarization. But it still has the problem of tipping the head. If the viewer tips his head 90 degrees his eyes will each be seeing the image intended for the other eye.

Circular Polarization

A far superior way of projecting 3-D is used today. It is called "Real D Cinema." First everything is digital projection now and there is just one beam of light going to the screen. That beam actually contains both the left-eye image and the right-eye image. But the two images are projected with different kinds of light. The process uses what is called "circular polarization." Like light can be made to travel in sheets, it can be made to travel in a spiral (or a helix, like a bed spring). To get technical for a moment, light travels like an oscillating wave, or as a sum of waves. If it is travelling horizontally it can be made to simultaneously oscillate left-right and up-down, just 90 degrees out of phase. The sum is a circle, but it is moving forward so it is more like a corkscrew. And it can corkscrew clockwise or counter-clockwise (or "widdershins" as a European would say).

Polarized lenses can be made that allow one kind of spiral light to pass through but not the other. A lens can be made that lets through only light with a left-hand spiral or only light one with a right-hand spiral. This is much more sophisticated than the old 3- D projection systems. The viewer can tip his head to the side and each eye is still seeing the intended image. Instead of the standard 24 frames per second, 72 frames per second per eye are projected and brighter light is used, but even frames projected are for one eye and odd frames are for the other. Now 3-D projection is no more difficult than to project a non-3-D movie and the two images are perfectly placed.

3-D Without Lenses

A question that is frequently asked is when we will have a 3-D process that does not require the viewer to wear glasses. The answer is that it must use an entirely different approach. Without use of lenses to select images the problem is entirely different. The left-eye image coming from the screen would have to seek out the viewers' left eyes and the right-eye image would have to seek out the viewers' right eyes. The right eye image has to be blocked from the naked left eye in some way and vice versa. While I hesitate to say that is impossible, it does seem to be very unlikely that such a technology exists. Picture two people sitting in two adjacent seats. Both people's left eyes have to be seeing the left-eye image while the right eye sitting between them would see the right-eye image without a trace of the left-eye image between them. The process would have to know where every left-eye is in the house and also where every right eye is. It seems like only immobilizing the head of each member of the audience could do that. If you think that using the glasses is inconvenient immobilizing heads would be much worse.

The current approaches to 3-D could possibly be improved marginally by increasing the number of frames per second projected, but the improvements would be only minimal if noticeable at all. Beyond that the current process, Real-D, appears to be about as far as the technology can be pushed.


You might want to listen to:


THE RISING: BALLAD OF MANGAL PANDEY (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This 2005 film tells the story of the roots of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in India done as history writ large. This colorful epic tells the story of the friendship of an East India Company soldier and his commanding officer who reluctantly find themselves on opposite sides of India's nascent conflict to throw off British rule. Mangal Pandey becomes the father of his country's independence movement ninety years before India finally became independent. This is a serious film based on true events but with just a little more singing and dancing. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

[The mutiny is also known as India's First War of Independence, the Great Rebellion, the Indian Mutiny, the Revolt of 1857, the Uprising of 1857, and the Indian Rebellion of 1857.]

While staying within the conventions of Bollywood films, THE RISING: BALLAD OF MANGAL PANDEY proves to be as colorful a historical epic film as KHARTOUM and some of the adaptations of Kipling, but here the British are the villains and the Indians are the heroes. The story is told in flashback from the day that Mangal Pandey (played by Aamir Khan) is to be executed by the British army for instigating mutiny among the Indian troops.

While the British East India Company fights in Afghanistan, Sepoy (or Indian soldier) Mangal Pandey saves the life of Captain William Gordon (Toby Stephens). The two become close friends. Gordon seals the friendship by giving Pandey his pistol. Ironically it is a gun that will separate them. The British are importing and arming themselves with the new Pattern 1853 Enfield rifles. Loading the rifles requires adding the gunpowder, which was provided in greased cartridges that had to be bitten to open. In a controversy that still has not been settled today the belief spreads among the Sepoys that the cartridges were greased with beef and pork fat. The Hindus lose their caste position if they taste beef, and the Muslims may not taste pork. The East India Company takes the high-handed position that soldiers must do what they are ordered to do even if using the cartridges goes against their religion. Gordon is told simply to deny the rumor and Pandey, trusting his friend, makes an example of himself by demonstrating in front of a company of Sepoys his faith in his friend. When evidence is found that the rumors about the grease prove to be true Pandey feels betrayed by the man he treated as a brother. This new outrage added to pre-existing discontent among the Sepoys fans the fires of rebellion.

The production is colorful, but perhaps the color shown most often is the bright red of the British uniform. To get in some different bright color and more song opportunities we have a long sequence of a Holi spring festival. This is the festival of color highlighted by the custom of people throwing handfuls of brightly colored power at each other. (One wonders if it is historically accurate that the brightly colored powder was so available in 1857.) I suppose the sequence is a sort of semi-comical relief from the otherwise serious and straightforward plotline.

Occasionally one is not really sure of director Ketan Mehta's intentions. The British policy seems absolutely negative except in one sequence in which Gordon breaks up a Suttee ceremony of widow burning, saving the life of the widow. Presumably that that action is intended to be shown in a light favorable to the British but as the one positive aspect of British rule shown, it is not clear. Because elsewhere the film is anti-British, to the point of being a polemic, this one breach is puzzling. The British East India Company is excoriated for dealing in human slavery. But later one of the slaves is in a Bollywood production number of dubious taste in which she sings "I am a slave of your charms."

A utilitarian touch is notable. This film is in English and Hindi. But when there is a scene in English that is important to the plot the distinctive voice of the distinguished Indian actor Om Puri narrates explaining in Hindi what is happening. This is occasionally almost word-for-word what the dialog tells us, but it is a reminder that this film is made for a Hindi-speaking audience who may not be fluent in English. (Also, subtitles on the DVD are available in seven different languages of India as well as in English.)

This is a big, spectacular film that may even be an education for American audiences. We see little historical spectacle from Hollywood these days and hopefully Bollywood will help fill the gap. I rate THE RISING: BALLAD OF MANDAL PANDEY a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


THE BEGINNINGS OF WESTERN SCIENCE by David C. Lindberg (book review by Greg Frederick):

This is considered to be by many a very comprehensive coverage of the beginnings of science until 1450 A.D. Knowledge transfer occurred many times in this period of history. An example of knowledge transfer involving mathematics and astronomy occurred when the Mesopotamia civilization in the 2nd and 3rd century B.C. transferred this knowledge to ancient Greece. This transfer provided the Greeks with information of an exact mathematical astronomical model with numeric predictive capability. From that time until today astronomy has been simultaneously geometric and numeric.

The early Middle Ages in Europe were influenced strongly by ancient philosophy firstly from Plato. And then after the reconquest of Spain by Christian Europe more of the lost ancient science philosophy including Aristotle's philosophy was recovered in the former Islamic libraries of Spain. Then by 1200, it was translated into Latin. It was interesting to see that even though Christian Europe found pagan ancient philosophy distasteful it adopted this knowledge since it provided them with knowledge, which was increasing important to them. This knowledge included logic, astronomy, medical techniques, and mathematics.

Aristotle's philosophy once introduced to Christian Europe surpassed and replaced Plato's influence. The dominance of Aristotle over European philosophy during the Middle Ages caused a backlash by the Catholic Church authority. This occurred because some of Aristotle's philosophy did not fit into church dogma as well as Plato's philosophy had. This challenge to Church dogma caused the Church to issue various condemnations of Aristotle's philosophy. These events occurred in 1270 and 1277. The eventual outcome of these condemnations allowed others to challenge the dominance of Aristotle. Many of Aristotle's ideas in the fields of physics and cosmology were not correct and had lead European science in the wrong direction for years but because of the Church's condemnations other philosopher's could start to explore new ideas in these areas. For example, Aristotle did not believe in the atomic nature of matter or that the universe had a beginning and an end and that a void or vacuum could exist. The Church challenge allowed alternate ideas to gain some study and acceptance. This seemingly ironic event actually helped the development of modern science.

I truly enjoyed learning more about the evolution and development of science as portrayed in this book. [-gf]

Sports Films (letter of comment by Dan Kimmel):

In response to Mark's answer about sports films in the 06/16/09 issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

Sorry, Mark, BEN-HUR isn't a "sports film" by any stretch of the imagination. It has the famous chariot race, but the movie isn't ABOUT chariot racing or the lives of charioteers AS competitive racers. It would be like saying "Bringing Up Baby" is a sports film because a sequence takes place on a golf course. Yes, the chariot race is the film's big set piece, but that doesn't make STRANGERS ON A TRAIN a "merry-go-round film" or NORTH BY NORTHWEST a "national monuments" film because of their most memorable sequences. (Indeed, by your definition STRANGERS would be a sports film because of the few scenes at a tennis match.)

Were you to say that BEN-HUR belongs on a list of films famous for a racing sequence you'd get no argument from me. But *defining* it by the one sequence seriously distorts the movie. [-dk]

Mark responds:

Have you seen the film recently? This question was inspired by my recent viewing of the film and by being surprised by how much of BEN-HUR does revolve around the race, the centerpiece of the film. Were there just the race, I might almost agree with you. MY FAIR LADY is not a sports film. But take a look at the poster (or the cover of the DVD) and what do you see? No crosses. No ships of the Roman navy. You see the giant words BEN-HUR as part of the racetrack with a chariot and four racing horses in the foreground. Turn the DVD over and you see four stills from the film, two of which come from the race in action.

Pretty much from the time Judah is adopted until the race is over the film revolves around both him trying to get back to his family *and* his racing. He talks about how to rearrange Sheik Ilderim's horses. This makes him a friend of the Sheik. He meets each of the horses. He goes to see Messala and Messala is practicing his whip for his horses in the race. Then there is more of the non- sports story and then there is the sequence of the placing of the bets for the race. From the start of the scene of the placing the bets until the end of the race (about 34 minutes) the film is about nothing but the race. That is a heck of a lot more than one sequence. I haven't tallied all the pieces, but I suspect more than an hour of the film is devoted to the race.

The whole point of the question was that while it is a Biblical epic, it is also a sports film and just about all the advertising about the film sells it that way. Watch it again, Dan. [-mrl]

And Evelyn adds:

Since at least one other person mentioned it, at least *some* stretch of the imagination results in it's being a sports film. [-ecl]

Lost in Translation (letters of comment by Steven H Silver, Dan Kimmel, John Jetzt, Janice Gelb, Charles Harris, and Dave Anolick):

Mark's question in the 06/16/09 issue of the MT VOID about translating "you say goodbye; I say hello" into Hebrew generated these responses:

Steven Silver said, "Same way you translate it into Hawaiian?" [-shs]

Dan Kimmel said: "I don't have the fluency to answer but I remember the old joke (I know it from a David Frye album) where Nixon is learning some Hebrew in advance of meeting Golda Emir and learns that "shalom" means both "hello" and "goodbye." Nixon asks, "Well how well I know which it is?" And he's told, "If she leaves after you've said it, you've said, 'Goodbye.'" [-dk]

John Jetzt suggests, "When translated as song lyrics, it probably works well with two shaloms. The different intonations would convey the meanings." [-jj]

Janice Gelb (who has actually lived in Israel) said, "I'd probably go with 'L'hitraot' and 'Shalom'." [-jg]

And Charlie Harris also said, "I can't supply a complete translation, but an online Hebrew-English dictionary says that an alternative translation of goodbye is 'l'hitraot', which I recognize from the familiar folksong/round 'Shalom Chaverim'. It's literally equivalent to 'au revoir'. And one of the Hebrew synonyms for hello is ... 'helo'." [-csh]

Dave Anolick writes, "That was clearly the best laugh of the day. Of course, 'Shalom', while often used as a greeting 'Hello' or parting 'Goodbye', really means peace. As I remember it there really isn't a Hebrew word equivalent for 'hello' or 'goodbye'. A real Hebrew song would probably use 'l'hitraot' (see you soon) for 'goodbye'. 'Hello' is harder to guess what might be used, since there are many different types of greetings available. None of that matters, you clearly didn't want an answer to how it would be translated. I loved what you said enough that I'm sure I'll still be grinning and singing "I don't know why you say shalom. I say shalom" all weekend." [-da]

IFC in Theaters (letter of comment by Fred Lerner):

In response to Mark's review of DEAD SNOW in the 06/16/09 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes, "What is 'IFC in Theaters'?" [-fl]

Mark replies, "I had never heard of it before it was mentioned in the materials with the screener, but it is apparently a way to stream films currently playing in theaters to your home and probably watch them on your television: and ." [-mrl]

In response to those articles (which indicate that the price per movie is $7.99), Fred writes, "Thanks. But they haven't made a movie yet that I'd pay eight dollars to see." [-fl]

Mark asks, "'They' meaning IFC or the film industry as a whole? In any case there are films I might be willing to pay that much to see. I have certainly paid that for a DVD. Actually this works like the drive-in movies. It is one admission price for as many people as you can pack in your living room." [-mrl]

Fred replies, "'They' meaning the film industry as a whole. I find Netflix a cost-effective way of seeing films, as I'm not interested enough in cinema as an art form to care whether I have to wait six months or a year to see a movie. I prefer watching films at home (even on a small TV screen) for several reasons: I can pause the film when I want to get a snack or go to the bathroom, I can review a scene that particularly interests me--and there's a better class of people in the audience! But these are my personal crotchets, and I'm well aware that they are as defensible (or indefensible) as someone else's disdain for science fiction or a refusal to take it seriously would be. I certainly enjoy reading your film reviews and commentary--give me a very good sense of whether I would want to see a film, and of what I should look for when I do see it." [-fl]

ROCKY (letter of comment by Dave Anolick):

In response to John Purcell's comments on ROCKY in the 06/16/09 issue of the MT VOID ("My favorite spoof of the 'Rocky' movies was a movie poster for ROCKY XXVIII (or something like that) in the background on the second AIRPLANE! movie (I think). Or was that in SPACEBALLS? Geez, I forget which. Either way, it was a great sight gag." [-jp]), Dave Anolick replies: "That was pretty good from memory. I had to look it up. It was indeed AIRPLANE II, and John was very close on the roman numerals. It was XXXVIII. See" [-da]

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

In Praise of Shorter Novels

Recently someone in Usenet's rec.arts.sf.written asked whether novels were getting longer or it just seemed that way. This led to a discussion of long versus short novels, and got me to thinking about how a lot of the shorter novels I have read are much better than the doorstops.

Now admittedly a lot of novels may appear to be longer or shorter depending more on font and margin size than on word count. Almost all the Agatha Christie novels I have are under 200 pages, but they are also older editions. That said, however, I decided to look through my (obsessive-compulsive) list of books read over the last ten years (complete with page counts--I did say obsessive- compulsive, didn't I?) and see what novels of note were under 200 pages. I also took a lower bound of 86 pages (to eliminate novelettes, etc.). Why 86 pages? Well, that just happened to be the length of the edition of Wells's TIME MACHINE that I read. And I stuck to novels--no non-fiction, drama, poetry, or short fiction collections.

So what did I find?

Well, as I said, pretty much all of Agatha Christie is under 200 pages. In fact, a lot of mystery authors write or wrote novels of under 200 pages; M. C. Beaton, John Dickson Carr, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John P. Marquand, Alexander McCall Smith, Dorothy Sayers, Robert Van Gulik, and Israel Zangwill wrote good--and in some cases, great-novels in under 200 pages. Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade, and Philip Marlowe all came alive without hundreds of pages of development. Michael Chabon's THE FINAL SOLUTION is 131 pages. There's something about a mystery that is almost impossible to sustain for 900 pages, let alone a trilogy.

A lot of canonical authors had no problem expressing themselves at shorter length. Jane Austen's PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and NORTHANGER ABBEY were all under 200 pages (at least in my editions). (I'm not giving specific page counts for all books, because many have varying editions.) Charles Dickens managed to write the canonical Christmas story, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, in 136 pages. Henry James managed to write a classic ghost story, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, in 100 pages and THE ASPERN PAPERS in 88. John Steinbeck need only 117 pages for the memorable CANNERY ROW. Grahame Greene did THE THIRD MAN in 120.

Science fiction, too, has its share of short quality fiction. Even eliminating novellas published only in magazines or anthologies, and looking only at individually published volumes, we have all of Barry Malzberg's novels, and Stanislaw Lem's, and C. S. Lewis's. Add to these William Golding's THE LORD OF THE FLIES, Pierre Boulle's PLANET OF THE APES, Fritz Leiber's THE BIG TIME, James Morrow's CITY OF TRUTH, and Connie Willis's INSIDE JOB and REMAKE. Olaf Stapledon is thought of as writing at length (in LAST AND FIRST MEN, for example), but SIRIUS is only 151 pages, ODD JOHN 158, and STAR MAKER 188. And Stephen King's RITA HAYWORTH AND THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (at 102 pages) is far better than a lot of his longer works.

Is there anyone who thinks that Thorton Wilder's THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY would be improved by turning it into a 500-page novel? Should Charlotte Perkins Gilman's HERLAND become a trilogy? Should Oscar Wilde have spent lots of time describing Dorian Gray's meals so that THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY met what seem to be today's standards for page counts? Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING, James Joyce's PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE GREAT GATSBY are all classics as they are.

Admittedly, many of these are older works. But even among novels of the last ten or fifteen years we have Paul Auster's MAN IN THE DARK, Alan Bennett's THE UNCOMMON READER, Peter Carey's THE FAT MAN IN HISTORY, Guillermo Martinez's THE OXFORD MURDERS, Cees Nooteboom's THE FOLLOWING STORY, C. S. Richardson's THE END OF THE ALPHABET, Philibert Schogt's THE WILD NUMBERS, Will Self's COCK AND BULL, and Luis Fernando Verissimo's BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANG- UTANS and THE CLUB OF ANGELS.

Admittedly, sometimes the short novels are part of a bigger structure. For example, Philip Pullman's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE NORTH works only because Pullman had his trilogy to base it on. But I think it's clear that one does not need a doorstop to have a good book. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

           Vaccination is the medical sacrament corresponding 
           to baptism.
                                          -- Samuel Butler

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