MT VOID 02/03/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 32, Whole Number 1687

MT VOID 02/03/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 32, Whole Number 1687

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/03/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 32, Whole Number 1687

Table of Contents

      Ollie: Mark Leeper, Stan: 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

Neither Rain Nor Sleet (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

You may have noticed that last week's MT VOID arrived a bit early. (In fact, you may even have seen a date stamp of Thursday, 01/26, rather than Friday, 01/27. That is because it was sent from Kruger National Park in South Africa at about 6 AM, which is 11 PM, Thursday, 01/26, on the east coast of the United States.

Two weeks ago, we sent the MT VOID from Cape Town, South Africa. We realize how important your Friday MT VOID fix is. :-) [-ecl]

Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups (NJ)

February 9: QUEST FOR LOVE ("Random Quest" by John Wyndham), 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion 
	after film
February 16: THE HIDDEN LIFE OF DOGS by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 
	Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM (postponed from December)
March 8: HOGFATHER (Episode 2) (book by Terry Pratchett), 
	Middletown (NJ) Public Library, film at 5:30PM, discussion 
	after film
March 22: EXPEDITION TO EARTH by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM
May 24: OF MEN AND MONSTERS by William Tenn, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
July 19: SCHILD'S LADDER by Greg Egan, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
September 27: CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem, Old Bridge (NJ) Public 
	Library, 7PM
November 15: TRIGGERS by Robert J. Sawyer (tentative), Old Bridge 
	(NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:

Where Does He Find Them? (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I was hearing the radio talk about TV series and they described Dexter--a serial killer who hunts down and kills other serial killers. Can that really be the premise? Wikipedia lists 218 serial killers in the history of the United States, fewer than five per state. They show up in movies a lot more frequently than that population would indicate, but there really are not that many in the real world to feed this plot. Serial killers are a bit thin on the ground. It makes only a little more sense than a George Clooney who hunts down and kills other George Clooneys. But wouldn't be great to do a series about an Elvis impersonator who hunts down and kills other Elvis impersonators? [-mrl]

Zombie Q & A (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

In the old days horror films had a variety of monsters with the major ones being the Frankenstein monster and vampires. There were a lot of vampire movies. These days the biggest single category of monster film may be the so-called "zombie film." There is even a continuing series, THE WALKING DEAD, on cable and it gets a lot of attention.

[P.S. vampires may have the edge, but what is called a "zombie" in the current films is a variant of a vampire and its origins are with vampires and not with Haitian zombies. -mrl]

I was recently interviewed by a college student on the subject of zombie movies. I would say it is not my area of greatest interest, but I will share with you what I had to say.

Q: Are you particularly familiar with American horror films? Yes or no.

A: Yes, though perhaps more from the last century than the current one. I have not seen any of the "Twilight" films, for example.

Q: Do you believe that it's possible for zombie or vampire movies to mirror society? Yes or no.

A: Yes. It can, but it need not.

Q: Explain the above response.

A: With most filmmakers the first priority is very simply to make money. This means that a certain amount of the material has to deal with the returned undead and usually the undead attacking the living. (One counter-example is THE REVENANTS, a 2004 French film that just looks at how society reacts when the dead return to life and just want much the same things the living would.) Once the undead material is in, the writer can fill into the spaces anything the writer is clever enough to fit in. Most are not that clever and some decide just to make a scary atmospheric film.

In the book PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES author Seth Grahame- Smith mixes zombies and Jane Austen. The original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD filled in with an anti-vigilantism message at least toward the end. DAWN OF THE DEAD had a message about mindless consumerism. SHAUN OF THE DEAD had a subtheme about the difficulty of the working classes. It is human nature and particularly among writers to argue for their own personal agendas, especially because they have an audience. Others just inject humor as in the zombie film FIDO. HBO's THE WALKING DEAD uses its free time to tell a survivalist story much like that of the old BBC series THE SURVIVORS. Zombie films are fairly inexpensive to make, so there is not a lot at risk if the writer uses the script as a forum, but not all present social issues.

Q: What do you believe is a major theme reflected by zombie or vampire movies? (Ex. sexuality, fear of uncontrollable spread of disease, eternal youth, etc.)

A: I cannot say I have noticed a major theme or even much of a pattern. I have listed several themes, but for each know of only one film that have tried it. It is a little like asking if you pick a random paragraph in a newspaper, what it is likely to be talking about.

Q: What do you feel that these themes say about our society (modern or past)?

A: Well, for each theme like consumerism, vigilantism, the state of the working classes, there is at least one writer who has opinions. It is more likely you will read too much into one of these films than that you will miss the point. This fear of being chased by nasty boogiemen goes back to childhood fears. It has been shown to be an inexpensive way to put on film a story that will frighten a fair portion of the public.

Q: Do you believe that zombies and vampires mask common societal concerns, fears, desires, identistic [sic] traits, etc.?

A: I hate to sound superficial or cynical about this, but I do not think the people who make these films are that concerned with making a deep statement or to share deep insights. They are creating entertainment. Their strongest fear is mostly that they will not have enough money to feed their families. Now Richard Matheson wrote I AM LEGEND, the novel that started these films of the undead. He is a good writer and has some complexity to his story. It has fear of abandonment and loneliness. He has fear of contagious disease. There is something about societies turning fascist. And a lot of this was represented in the film adaptation THE LAST MAN ON EARTH for which he wrote the script and then had his name removed. As for vampires, Hammer films used metaphors more commonly. In BRIDES OF DRACULA vampirism is a metaphor for drug use. And of course Hammer later had themes of sexuality-- straight and lesbian--but that was not reflecting any deep concern. It was just what they thought the ticket buying public wanted. [-mrl]

Free Will and FORBIDDEN PLANET (letter of comment by Clinton H. Holder, Jr.):

In response to Evelyn's comments on free will in the 01/27/12 issue of the MT VOID, Dr. Clinton H. Holder, Jr., writes:

On your recent topic about "Free Will", I've always believed that predestination was not viable on several levels. Classical mechanics would have one believe that the future is always predestined by the knowledge that the action of all particles in the universe could someday be calculated. Then quantum mechanics came along with the state of a particle being made indeterminate except on direct observation. Even that could be fuzzy if looked at too closely (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). So one could classify predestination with classical and free will with quantum mechanics. That's the physical approach. On a philosophical level, the concept that all things are predestined to happen leaves no meaning to existence. Still yet, if there is a Creator, the concept that It might create a windup universe inhabited by organic pre-programmed robots seems not only ridiculous but also the longest, most futile joke conceivable.

Even Einstein's statement that "As I have said so many times, God doesn't play dice with the world," may have been taken wrong by many. There is a high probability that the real truth about predestination versus free will may be a physical understanding that we have yet to determine. In other words, the real world may be a mix of both. This what I believe Einstein may have been saying. The "common knowledge" of today is often considered a "myth" when tomorrow arrives. Luminiferous ether is one example:

As I'm sure you know, this is a debate where everybody wins and everybody loses. Herding cats is much easier. [-chh]

And in response to Mark's comments on FORBIDDEN PLANET in the 12/23/11 issue of the MT VOID, Clinton writes:

I've only recently had the opportunity to go through old versions of the MT VOID and I found your question. The movie does mention that Morbius is a philologist. Philology is defined as "the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history, and linguistics." One might presume that he was able to decipher enough to imply the name along with all the other information he picked up. Remember that some sort of "hieroglyphics" were mentioned by the Doc to the Skipper early on. "Krell" may be the name that Morbious associated with a relevant hieroglyphic.

Of course, wondering why some imaginary something is imaginary is all nonsense anyway. [-chh]

Mark responds:

Well, there is a very similar problem with Egyptian hieroglyphics from our own history. Calling Anubis "Anubis" is an intelligent guess on how the hieroglyphic might be pronounced based on an intelligent guess based on element od the language that may or may not still be in still spoken languages. If Morbius had no contemporary languages to make inferences from he cannot know the ancient race was pronounced anything like Krell. I think from context that Morbius was an expert in linguistics more than general philology. Linguistics is what be the most useful. -mrl

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

If you have been reading my column for a couple of years, you know that before I go on a trip, I read a lot of books as research. Before going to Italy, I read two dozen books in preparation. That may have been over-kill. So for our trip to South Africa (or more accurately, southern Africa), I did not read quite so many. (This may be due in part to not being presented with a really long recommended list this time.)

A note on terminology: In South Africa, "coloured" is not a derogatory name for blacks (as it is in the United States), but a specific legal classification (or, according to one book I read, a group of seven sub-classifications). Indeed, it is specifically *not* black, but primarily "mixed race". (Indians had a separate classification as well.) To emphasize this meaning I will use the British spelling rather than the American version (i.e., "colour" versus "color"). And in case it is not obvious, the term "African- American" is completely inappropriate, and as "African" is prone to misinterpretation (born in South Africa, Charlize Theron is at least in some sense African), I will use "black" to describe that segment of the population that is descended from those groups living in southern Africa before the arrival of the Europeans.

The first book I read (simply because it was available in my local library, rather than through Inter-Library Loan) was THE MIND OF SOUTH AFRICA by Alister Sparks (ISBN 0-394-58108-3), written in 1989 and published in 1990, apparently right about the time that F. W. De Klerk announced massive changes in South Africa's political system. These led to the dismantling of apartheid and the enfranchisement of the black and coloured populations, but these were not seen as inevitable, and as with many books dealing with politics, THE MIND OF SOUTH AFRICA's hindsight is better than its predictive ability. For example, Sparks looks at how the history of Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) went, and says it is "conspicuously relaxed in its race relations today. ... In part ... it is because of the exemplary gestures of reconciliation made by Zimbabwe's black leader, Robert Mugabe." As the intervening years have shown, race relations have not continued in a "relaxed" fashion, and Mugabe's reputation is not nearly so good as it used to be.

Later, Sparks writes about racism in various societies and notes, "Jesse Jackson is regarded as unelectable to the presidency of the United States..." Well, that was true in 1989--and it is still true, but that does not mean that Obama is unelectable, nor even that a candidate *like* Obama would have been unelectable then.

One of Sparks's premises seems to be that the conflict between the two European powers in South Africa (the Dutch Afrikaners and the British) was a struggle between Dutch Calvinism (and predestination) and English Methodism. He also sees the Afrikaners' attempt to hold back the tide of majority rule and anti-colonialism as due to their unique position in the world of colonialists. Everywhere else the white colonialists had a mother country to maintain their culture and see that it survived, and indeed to which they could return if they wanted to. The British in Kenya knew that British culture, language, and traditions would survive in Britain, and that they could return to Britain if Kenya no longer suited them. The Dutch in Surinam knew that Dutch culture, language, and traditions would survive in Holland, and that they could return to Holland if Surinam no longer suited them. But the Afrikaners were no longer Dutch. Their culture and language existed only in South Africa, and if it did not survive there, it would vanish entirely. So the Afrikaners were in a much more desperate position (from the standpoint of cultural survival) than any other colonial powers. Sparks does not give this as justification for apartheid, but as explanation for the historical forces that produced it.

Speaking of apartheid, Sparks writes, "Two minds, two worlds, one country: the kind of country H. G. Wells might have invented, or that Jonathan Swift might have sent Gulliver to, where people occupy the same space but live in different time frames so that they do not see each other and perceive different realities." Or perhaps more accurately now, the kind of world that China Mieville might have written about in THE CITY & THE CITY.

What would be your reaction if you read, "The early [pioneers] developed, in their way, perhaps the most boundless individualism that has existed anywhere. They build few villages and felt cramped if they lived within sight of a neighbour's chimney smoke. They had almost no institutions. Each man was absolute master of his own affairs, self-reliant, unencumbered, free. ... So he became inward-looking, concerned only with himself and his immediate family, unaccustomed to relating to others or to considering the views and feelings of outsiders. It made him proud and self-assertive, but it also made him stubborn and intolerant. So the [pioneers] became a disputatious and schismatic people, with groups constantly splitting and moving away from perceived interference toward greater autonomy."? It sounds like the sort of values being promoted these days by certain political parties. But Sparks did not say "pioneers"--he said "Afrikaners", and he was talking about South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. This should give someone pause before unconditionally embracing the values expressed.

The one book everyone agrees *must* be read is Nelson Mandela's LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (ISBN 978-0-316-54585-3). This does a good job not only of laying out Mandela's philosophy and his role in the anti-apartheid struggle, but also of the history of the movement, the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, the Inkatha Freedom Party, and all the other players in the South African drama. In fact, my main complaint is that there is too much detail; at times it seems as if Mandela feels obliged to mention everyone he ever met.

One incident struck me not for its part in Mandela's story, but for its familiarity. Mandela writes of his 1957 trial:

"To support the state's extraordinary allegation that we intended to replace the existing government with a Soviet-style state, the Crown relied on the evidence of Professor Andrew Murray, head of the Department of Political Science at the University of Cape Town. Murray labeled many of the documents seized from us, including the Freedom Charter itself, as communistic.

Professor Murray, seemed, at the outset, relatively knowledgeable, but that was until [Vernon] Berrange began his cross-examination. Berrange said that he wanted to read Murray a number of passages from various documents and then have Murray label them communistic or not. Berrange read him the first passage, which concerned the need for ordinary workers to cooperate with each other and not exploit one another. Communistic, Murray said. Berrange then noted that the statement had been made by the former premier of South Africa, Dr. Malan. Berrange proceeded to read him two other statements, both of which Professor Murray described as communistic. These passages had in fact been uttered by the American presidents Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson. The highlight came when Berrange read Murray a passage that the professor unhesitatingly described as 'communism straight from the shoulder.' Berrange then revealed that it was a statement that Professor Murray himself had written in the 1930s."

(The reference to the Crown is because South Africa did not leave the British Commonwealth until 1961.)

This was almost exactly duplicated in A CASE OF LIBEL, which was a dramatization of the real Quentin Reynolds-Westbrook Pegler case (which pre-dated the Mandela trial). As described by Henry Denker:

"The clash reaches its boiling point when Sloane waves sheets of paper and quotes passages from articles by Corcoran. Bendix characterizes the quotes as Red propaganda, Communist inspired, not realizing that midway Sloane has begun to quote statements from his [Bendix's] own writings. Sloane coaxes Bendix to declare that the writer of the articles is without a doubt a Communist. Sloane brandishes the papers and submits in evidence 'certain writings from the columns of Boyd Bendix!'"

Whether Reynolds's lawyer actually did this (and if so, whether Berrange knew of it), or whether the author of A CASE OF LIBEL borrowed it from Mandela's trial as being a good dramatic touch is not clear.

Mandela's popularity has suffered among those who think he favors the Palestinians too much, so here's my take on that. The situation in the Middle East has some elements of what Sparks talked about in THE MIND OF SOUTH AFRICA. Sparks said that the Afrikaners are not a colonial group with allegiance to a home culture somewhere else; time has made them inextricably connected to South Africa. Similarly, both sides in the Middle East conflict, while to various extents originating elsewhere, no longer have those ties and for better or worse must come to an arrangement in the lands they are disputing.

SOUTH AFRICA BELONGS TO US: A HISTORY OF THE ANC by Francis Meli (ISBN 0-85225-332-3) was written in 1988, so it also is now quite out of date. Given that Meli held high positions in the ANC, it is not surprising that the book is very much slanted toward the ANC's point of view. For example, Meli writes, "It is true that Marx defined religion as 'the opiate' of the people, but the religion of blacks in South Africa, especially those associated with the ANC, has been unusual. African converts, since Nehemiah Tales in the 1880s, had rejected white Christianity and therefore one cannot equate black religion in South Africa with religion in general." Well, Jews had also rejected white Christianity, but that did not mean that Marx did not include Judaism in his condemnation of religion. (By the way, the ANC just celebrated its centenary this past January 8.)

A bigger problem is that the book is encyclopedic rather than narrative. That is, it is fine for looking up who were the organizers of the May 1950 strikes, but not the sort of book one can sit down and read cover to cover.

MY TRAITOR'S HEART by Rian Malan (ISBN 0-87113-229-X) was published in 1990, but seems to have been written before apartheid started to disappear. And so it suffers even more than THE MIND OF SOUTH AFRICA from being (at least up until now, almost twenty years after South Africa's transition to a fully-enfranchised democracy) almost completely wrong about the country's trajectory. The result is that the follow-up is as fascinating as the book.

Rian Malan is an Afrikaaner, a descendent of some of the most famous of early settlers, and a relative of some of the most notorious politicians of the apartheid era. He says in the book that he saw himself as a white liberal, but ultimately decided that it was impossible for whites to understand the situation of blacks in South Africa, or to effectively ally with them, and in any case black rage against whites would extend to all whites, regardless of their individual beliefs. He chose a series of murders as a way to show how everything in South Africa led to violence and would eventually lead to race war.

So far, this has not happened.

At first, after the elections of 1994, Malan kept telling people, "Wait and see; you'll see I was right." He pointed to every violent incident as proof. But eventually, in 2004, he wrote, "The laws of poetic symmetry dictate that we should have been wiped out or at least dispossessed in the great war of 1994. Instead, we are citizens of a stable democracy with an independent judiciary and a constitution that is a beacon unto nations.... To be sure, there are problems on the horizon, but it is not the ending I imagined. All I can say as the 10th anniversary nears is that the Bible was right about a thing or two. It is infinitely worse to receive than to give, especially if one is arrogant and the gift is forgiveness or mercy. The gift of 1994 was so huge that I choked on it and couldn't say thank you. But I am not too proud to say it now."

And (completely off-topic) in MY TRAITOR'S HEART I found yet another connection to DEATH OF A SALESMAN:

"Andries Petrus Hendricks was born in 1910, the younger son of an Orange Free State farmer who expected him to make his own way in life. In the early thirties, young Andries set off to seek his fortune in the Sperrgebiet--the forbidden zone, the nightmarish desert coast of South-West Africa where the beaches were said to be littered with diamonds. Andries and his brother disappeared into the wilderness in a donkey cart. They almost perished out there, but when they came back four months later they were rich men...."

Was Malan unconsciously echoing Ben in DEATH OF A SALESMAN:

"William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich." [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Begin at the beginning and go on till you come 
          to the end; then stop.
                                          --Lewis Carroll

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