MT VOID 06/24/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 52, Whole Number 1655

MT VOID 06/24/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 52, Whole Number 1655

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/24/11 -- Vol. 29, No. 52, Whole Number 1655

Table of Contents

      Frick: Mark Leeper, Frack: Evelyn Leeper, Back issues at All material is copyrighted 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

Spring Cleaning Malady (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I think my house suffers from a chronic case of detritus. [-mrl]

Remembering Robur the Conqueror (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I saw a copy of the Jules Verne book ROBUR THE CONQUEROR and it brought back a bunch of memories.

I remember back in 1961 I was a fan of Classics Illustrated comic books, particularly the ones that were adaptations of science fiction books. That year they had a new comic book version of a Jules Verne novel, ROBUR THE CONQUERER. I had never heard of it. I knew 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON, and of course JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. I had read the comics and seen movies of each of these Verne novels. But this was a Verne story I had never heard of. I eagerly bought the comic book and devoured the story of an engineer who had built a flying machine. It sort of fell into a literary genre that had yet to me named, steam punk.

The following month there was a new Classics Illustrated adaptation of another Jules Verne novel I had never heard of, MASTER OF THE WORLD. This turned out to be a loose sequel to ROBUR THE CONQUERER with Robur again being the mysterious engineer who built what would have been amazing machines at the time Verne wrote.

And shortly thereafter I found out what was probably why the two Verne comic versions came out at that time. They were probably timed to coincide with the release of the film MASTER OF THE WORLD. American International Pictures was releasing their film adaptation, Richard Matheson's mash up of the two novels into a single story.

The story ROBUR THE CONQUERER is, I believe, more usually known as CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS. It is the story of the very Nemo-like Robur and the flying machine he built, the Albatross. This is basically a sea clipper but instead of sail masts it has vertical rotors making a craft that is a cross between a boat and a helicopter. Or more accurately it was a boat-shaped helicopter. The plot is roughly 20,000 LEAGUES IN THE SKY. Except for the fact that it is about a flying machine there are many similarities to 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, which Verne had written sixteen years earlier. Robur is a mysterious engineer who somewhere is building these marvelous machines. In the 1886 novel Robur has an engine-powered, heavier-than-air craft about seventeen years before the Wright Brothers had one of their own. MASTER OF THE WORLD has Robur back with a vehicle dubbed The Terror that is basically Supercar. It is in one machine a racecar, an airplane, a speedboat, and a submarine. At the time Ace Books made a paperback that was both stories in one book with Vincent Price as Robur on the cover.

The film MASTER OF THE WORLD takes elements from the novel of the same title, but it takes much more from the earlier book. The craft is the Albatross. In the film Matheson gave Robur a political agenda to make war on weapons of war and the countries that use them. This is an idea Richard Matheson borrowed from Captain Nemo in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

In the novel Robur had been astonishing the world with strange sounds from the sky, and there is speculation all over the world what could be causing the phenomenon but nobody knows. Robur crashes a meeting of the Weldon Institute, a balloon society, and claims that balloons are very limited because they are lighter than air. Heavier than air is required for a craft that is not at the mercy of the winds. The members of the Weldon Institute are a rambunctious as those from the Baltimore Gun Club in FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON. They chase Robur outside and are about to beat him when he mysteriously disappears into thin air (quite literally we later realize). To prove his point, Robur kidnaps the institute's secretary (Phil Evans), president (Uncle Prudent), and the president's valet, Frycollin. They are to be prisoners for an indeterminate time on a genuine flying machine.

In the novel itself Robur has no political agenda, though he does stop a human sacrifice in Africa. Beyond that he only seems to want only to show off to the two men from a balloon society that a heavier than air craft was actually possible.

It is likely the characterization of Frycollin that is probably responsible for this book's being so little known. Frycollin is the comic relief. He is terrified to be flying and Robur treats him rather sadistically. Unlike the film it is the acrophobic and horrified Frycollin who is hung over the side of the flying craft suspended only by a rope. Verne seems to use him as the comic relief and the usage is as embarrassing as similar portrayals of blacks in 1930s and 1940s films who could get no better roles than "funny negro." Sadly, Verne was probably a victim of attitudes of his time.

Another major problem with the novel is the lack of plot. As with 20,000 LEAGUES and A TRIP AROUND THE MOON (the continuation of FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON), Verne does not give his novels much plot. Once the main characters are in a scientific setting, he lets the plot develop only very slowly while he throws in long, educational expository lumps and shows the reader exotic sights. He may throw in an action scene or two in which the main characters are menaced by some threat out of the scientific environment. Mostly we get expository lumps about everything relevant from technology to geography to physics. But the story proceeds slowly and we and the prisoners are given the grand tour. [-mrl]

Why Streaming Content Is Not the Solution ... Yet (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

A friend of ours says that we should not be buying DVDs or even Blu-ray DVDs (and won't even consider videocassettes!) because downloadable content is the wave of the future. To which my response is that I agree with him, particularly about the "future" part. It is just in the present that things fall apart.

The first problem is that most downloadable content does not seem to have subtitle or closed-caption options. With Netflix, if it's a foreign-language film, you will get English subtitles, but if it's not and you cannot understand the dialogue, you are out of luck. This is being worked on (supposedly), but currently this is a problem. But there is a more basic difficulty.

One needs only look at the recent Sony PlayStation debacle to see what some of the biggest problems of relying on downloadable content are. There are still too many less than robust aspects to this medium. The network can be down, either short-term from some minor failure, or long-term from some hacker attack. I include in this the problem of lack of bandwidth--as more and more people stream Netflix, the "pipes" get clogged fairly often. Sometimes it is just a short delay while it downloads more content; other times it fails entirely. We have run into this with Netflix, and there was a certain satisfaction with being able to take a DVD off the shelf and watch that instead. (In fact, just a few days ago, we started watching with streaming a film we had on DVD, because theoretically the quality was better, but an hour into it, it just stopped and could not load any more, leaving us to take out the DVD to finish it!)

(I have read that Netflix streaming is 20% of primetime bandwidth usage. This is unlikely to decrease, although "cloud computing" might start taking a substantial chunk as well. This, of course, will only make things worse. There is now talk of capping data, or putting a high price on data over a certain amount--not exactly conducive to relying on streaming.)

What you want to see may not be available on-line. This is also my response to the suggestion that we need to get rid of all our "useless" videocassettes--as long as they contain films and television shows not available in any other form, they are not useless. In any case, we have not yet gotten to the point when even all the mainstream films that are available on DVD are available on-line.

Even if what you want is available on-line today, will it be there tomorrow? The films available in Netflix's "instant" viewing system vary over time; what is available today is not necessarily there next week. I spend a fair amount of time keeping track of what I want to watch on "instant" viewing and whether it is expiring soon. And it was recently announced that all the Criterion Collection, previously available through Netflix Instant, will now be available streaming only through Hulu Plus. To how many different services must one subscribe?

But what about buying a downloadable copy? This is possible through and other vendors. But has not had a perfect record in making this permanently available. (See ). And whatever downloadable content you buy is yours only as long as the vendor is in business. This may seem like a sure thing with a company like, but it wouldn't be the first time a stable company has gone under. (And again, you are also relying on the network being up, since unlike with books on the Kindle, you are probably not storing a local copy of the film.)

It's true that you can store a copy on your system, but then you're tying up a lot of disc space, and if you want to own a few dozen movies it becomes a major problem. Of course, you could burn them to DVD to get them off the disc, but then you might as well have bought DVDs, because those you could play on any player, while the downloaded ones are DRM'ed to play on a limited number of units. (Or you could buy external hard drives for them, assuming you have extra ports, storage space, etc. Basically this seems no better than the DVDs.)

I'm not against streaming/downloadable content. We watch it a lot for the movies and shows that are available. And I much prefer it for shorter things (individual television episodes, short films, and so on) which you will probably watch only once (*), and which usually come bundled on DVDs with things you do not necessarily want. But it is not yet a complete replacement for actual physical media.

(*) If you are the sort who watches most things only once, then streaming will seem more attractive. If, however, you re-watch films, owning the DVD makes more sense. We have watched our DVD of the original KING KONG seven times, GETTYSBURG eight times, and THE WAR OF THE WORLDS twelve times. [-ecl]

GREEN LANTERN (film review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

The summer continues with GREEN LANTERN, the first big-screen movie for a secondary DC character. Although Batman and Superman are perhaps the superheroes most familiar to a general audience, and have been the subject of numerous films, the Marvel heroes have been treated in more depth and variety than the DC heroes. Now, for what I believe is the first time, we can see a big budget film focused on one of the lesser DC heroes. Alas, this seems to have flustered the critics, who are giving GREEN LANTERN much worse reviews (25% TomatoMeter) than the two earlier superhero films of the summer--THOR (77% TomatoMeter) and X-MEN FIRST CLASS (87% TomatoMeter.). Having seen all three, I don't see the daylight between THOR and GREEN LANTERN. In many ways GREEN LANTERN is better than THOR, which seems more a light weight introduction to the character than a real story.

GREEN LANTERN is a kind of 1950s SF story that the critics are no doubt unfamiliar with--the large canvas space opera, somewhat in the style of E. E. "Doc" Smith epics. Plausibility is only vague, but I've always found these epics to be lots of fun. In fact, the movie manages to achieve a higher plausibility rating than the comic, which is in many ways the silliest DC comic, and perhaps the silliest of all superhero comics. Green Lantern, you see, gets his powers from a green ring, that is charged up periodically from a "power battery" and that allows him to create anything he can imagine--as long as it is green!!! Green Lantern is more or less invincible, limited only by the power of his will and imagination, and oddly--the color yellow, over which in the comic he has no power. This "kryptonite" is nothing short of absurd in the comic, but in the movie gets transmogrified into something that at least sounds reasonable and is much less contrived--he *does* have power over yellow objects!

Green Lantern/Hal Jordan is played well by Ryan Reynolds, as a Gordon Cooper style hot-dog test pilot with father issues to overcome. I found him fun to watch, and the message of overcoming your fears, although simple, is one worth hearing again. The rest of the cast is professional, with a good show by Peter Sarsgaard as Dr. Hector Hammond, who challenges Green Lantern with a few powers of his own. We are also treated to Angela Bassett playing a much lighter weight (literally) version of Amanda Waller, who appears in a lot of DC comics as a back-stage spy master, and Geoffrey Rush voicing Tomar-Re, an alien Green Lantern. Blake Lively is a bit stiff as Carol Ferris, a fellow pilot who loves Hal Jordan, but she provides at least one really funny (and realistic) scene where she more or less immediately realizes that Green Lantern is Hal Jordan when she sees him close up.

This is a beautiful movie to watch, and may well be best seen in 3D (I saw the 3D version). There are many flight and outer space scenes that work well in 3D, and the villainous monster Parallax is richly imagined visually. I don't intend to regurgitate the plot or spoil the story, but although on some level this is familiar ground, at the end you feel like you've seen a real movie and not just a quick introduction to the characters.

One of the sillier criticisms of GREEN LANTERN is that it is racist. Michael Clarke Duncan (who is black) voices Kilowog, an alien Green Lantern drill sergeant who trains Hal Jordan. This has been criticized as being a racist stereotype--the "tough black drill sergeant." Similar characters have appeared in many films, and I understand that there are a great many actual tough black drill sergeants in an organization called the U.S. Army, but if I had not known that this character was voiced by a black actor, I would not have suspected it--Kilowog talks like any tough drill sergeant, including white ones, and to my recollection does not sound like someone out of the "hood."

Most importantly, even if it is obvious (which it's not) that Kilowog is supposed to be a tough black drill sergeant, this is surely a positive role and not a negative stereotype like a black pimp. These critics also seem to ignore an Inuit engineer played by a half Jewish/half Maori actor who acts as Hal Jordan's principle sidekick. It also it worth mentioning that with its universal focus, i.e. Hal Jordan is the only human in the Green Lantern Corps, the real message of GREEN LANTERN is that to aliens all humans (white, black, red, yellow, brown) are much the same.

I rate GREEN LANTERN a solid +1. It is a lot of fun, wonderful to look at, and appropriate for kids 10 and up. There are a few suggestive scenes but kids won't get them, and except for one or two brief episodes the violence is so cosmic that it won't bother them more than a Johnny Quest cartoon. [-dls]

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (letter of comment by Starwolf):

In response to Mark's review of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS in the 06/10/11 issue of the MT VOID, Starwolf writes:

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is a fun superhero/action film ... IF one doesn't know the story behind the X-Men or just history.

They couldn't have screwed up Shaw's character more if they'd set out to do so from the start. He was an old New England blue blood industrialist billionaire, not a Nazi war criminal. Who came up with that daft idea?

McCoy's character always came across as a self-assured bon vivant--even while hiding his unhappiness at his deformities--such that in the comics he referred to himself as the "bombastic Beast". Certainly not the insecure, hesitant sort in the movie.

Angel's defection made zero sense. She disliked humans. Why? They treated mutants badly and objectified her. So, what does she do? Slips on a skimpy leather fetish number and joins a group she's seen *kill* a mutant. Hello? Is it possible to be more inconsistent than this?

The film's set in 1962. Okay, so why are they flying around in a jet which didn't get off the drawing board until '63, wearing (very well, I agree) miniskirts from the late 60s and, at the end, dodging missiles which weren't in use until the 70s.

Is it really asking too much for the writers to do their homework for such a period piece?

Oh, there were lots of very good things about the movie, Xavier, Erik, yes, and Emma was far better portrayed than the mousey disco ball in the WOLVERINE film. But it could all have been much better with just a bit of thought and attention to details. *sigh*

As it is, I far preferred the first two entries in the "X-Men" film list. [-sw]

Mark replies:

I can't comment on most of this, not being a reader of the comic. The anachronism stuff is a problem. People who like the film seem to do so for the characterization. Again, I cannot comment. [-mrl]

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

In the April 2011 issue of "The New York Review of Science Fiction", Jari Käkelä writes (in "Robots, Foundations and Endless Growth: The Role of Frontier Expansionism in Asimov's FOUNDATION Future"): "The Turnerian component is an even more crucial factor in Asimov's later novels. His 1980s novels ROBOTS OF DAWN, ROBOTS AND EMPIRE, FOUNDATION'S EDGE, and FOUNDATION AND EARTH continue and connect the Robot and the Foundation series into one massive grand narrative. These novels turn Asimov's 20,000 years of future history into a series of cycles of stagnation and revitalization of civilization through constant reinventions of the frontier." Ironically, of course, what was happening at the meta-level was that Asimov was attempting to revitalize his series the same way, by constantly reinventing them, or at least the history behind them. Alas, the consensus seems to be that the result was more stagnation than revitalization. After reading Käkelä's article, one wonders whether the replacement of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire with the expansionist/Manifest Destiny themes of Frederick Jackson Turner may have had something to do with that.

I did catch one error Käkelä made. He talks about the "hymning of 'Tomorrow Belongs to Me'" in Bob Fosse's CABARET, implying it was a pre-existing German song. It wasn't--Ralph Burns and John Kander wrote it specifically for CABARET. It is perhaps the most familiar example of a composer (or a composing team) being able to write so perfectly in a period style that everyone believes the work is from that period.

In that same issue, Chris n. Brown [sic] writes (in "Some Monster Manuals for the Evasion of Capitalist Networks" about how Borges took an after-dinner walk, "setting out with proto-psychogeographical intent." One thing is for sure: Borges would never have written a phrase that looked like that. Nor would he have written, "Borges precociously reveals the ways in which the Situationist dérive prefigures Network culture's labyrinth of detours. And, just as a peculiar stance is required to evade the commercial slipstream of the city, Borgesian transcendence is hard to find while navigating the fruits of the operating system's self-expression." (Or that sentence, I might add.)

The science fiction book-and-movie discussion group chose Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND and the film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. The film is not bad, but has quite a few goofs and sloppy moments. For example, Morgan says he has had eleven kills in three years, but he is making dozens of stakes, and he asks, "How many more will I have to make?" Morgan seems to be drinking three-year-old coffee, finding huge amounts of fresh garlic, and not having any problems with sides of beef that have been hanging in a meat locker for three years. Even with an uninterrupted power supply--which is very unlikely--they would be pretty rank. And the tires on the cars he looks at would be flat.

An example of sloppiness is when Morgan meets the woman, there are two trucks are moving along a road in the distance. Also, the handle on the armory door is on a different side when seen from the outside and the inside. (That is, on either side, if you are facing the door, the handle is on your left no matter whether you are inside or outside the room.)

She says she has been hiding and not eating, but apparently does get to a hair stylist. (It turns out she is lying, but even so, her hair is too well styled for the situation.) [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

         "That is another of your odd notions," said the 
         Prefect, who had the fashion of calling everything 
         'odd' that was beyond his comprehension, and thus 
         lived amid an absolute legion of 'oddities'.
                                          --Edgar Allan Poe

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