MT VOID 03/09/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 37, Whole Number 1692

MT VOID 03/09/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 37, Whole Number 1692

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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/09/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 37, Whole Number 1692

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


Last week's MT VOID was labeled "03/02/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 35, Whole Number 1690".

It should have been "03/02/12 -- Vol. 30, No. 36, Whole Number 1691".

Identification 2 (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

A "manga" is a female mango. [-mrl]

Test Tube Meat (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

A project is underway at Maastricht University in the Netherlands to grow meat in a vat from a cow's stem cells.

Chicken Little, anyone? (It's a Frederik Pohl reference.) [-ecl]

New Info on Old Relatives (comments by Mark R. Leeper):

I read something in SCIENCE NEWS's December 31, 2011, issue that piqued my curiosity. It said, "Humans may have acquired important immune system genes via liaisons with extinct hominid cousins, the Neandertals and Denisovans." Reading that one sentence brings three questions to mind. Let me start with the banal question first. Is it Neanderthal or Neandertal? When I grew up it was always spelled with an 'h'. Well, the first of these hominids were found in the Neander valley. "Thal" is the German word for "valley". So they were dubbed "Neanderthal" in 1856. But German pronunciation of "Thal" is like it was "tal". So depending whether it was heard or written it would come out either "tal" or "thal". But meanwhile the German government decided that in order for the German language to be regular, the spelling of the word for "valley" would be "tal". But by now most non-German" people pronounced it with a "th" sound and were not going to change that to be in line with the Germans. So both are acceptable and you can pronounce it the way they do in your country, provided your papers are in order.

Rob Sawyer summarizes this nicely at

Also, it was not long ago when I thought I was being told that there was no inter-breeding between our line of descent and that of the Neandertals. (I think most book illustrators helped to foster this impression by drawing Neanderthals as being ugly and hence unlikely to attract the more handsomely depicted Cro-Magnons. However, friends reliably inform me that my looks would be more appropriate on a Neanderthal than on a Cro-Magnon. This is doubly true when I am scratching my armpits or using my tongue to clean food from between my teeth. Triply so when I am doing both at once.) However, less than two years ago the question has been resolved by examination of the Neanderthal and human genome. And, yes, there was interbreeding going on. But this understanding is very new. In 2009 when the Neanderthal genome was first decoded, it was thought that there was no evidence of interbreeding. It must have taken about a year to reverse that conclusion. Probably much of the readership knew that before I did.


But the big question I had was, who were the Denisovans? That is a new name for me. There has been a lot discussion of Neanderthals in the news. Denisovans must be of similar importance. How could another human race come along and I not know about it? Well this news is also just twenty-four months old. One reason we are not hearing a lot about them is that there is not a lot to hear. There has been found in Siberia a finger bone and a tooth. A DNA analysis was done and it is apparently similar enough to us and the Neanderthals to be of genus homo--more closely related to us than chimpanzees--but it is not us. And it is not Neanderthal. There was a lost race of humans.

So that answers that question, but raises a whole bunch more. Why is there so little evidence of another race of humans? Neanderthals were discovered in 1829 and defined as a separate type of genus homo in 1856. The tools the paleontologists had were crude at that time and are much better now. How was it that there has been so much evidence for the existence of Neanderthals in the interim and now we have just three small fossils of the Denisovans? (Subsequent to the original discovery and the identification of the Denisovans as human a third fossil has been found and shown to be Denisovan, a toe bone.) Was it that there were just a lot more Neanderthals than there were Denisovans?

DNA also seems to indicate that the Denisovans left Africa before the modern humans and Neanderthals did. If they left Africa before Neanderthals and modern humans, would they not be better adapted to the turf outside of Africa than their later-arriving cousins? It is suggested in the original quote that started this article that, though Denisovans are a different branch of descent, they possibly bred with modern humans.

Now let us see how long it takes this new understanding to filter into science fiction. [-mrl]

Three Retro Films to Look For (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

With steampunk and all things "retro" being so popular, there are three films available that should be more well-known than they are. The first (and longest) is H. G. WELLS' THE WAR OF WORLDS, made in 2005. This is *not* the Steven Spielberg version, nor is it the version done by The Asylum. The version I am talking about was done by Pendragon Pictures, was directed by Timothy Hines, and is three hours long. The second (and shortest) of my three films is THE CALL OF CTHULHU, also made in 2005. This was made by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS) and is only 47 minutes long. And the last is THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, made in 2011, also by the HPLHS, but feature-length at 104 minutes long.

And what do these three films have in common?

First, they are all based on written fiction pieces from about a century ago. THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was published in 1898, "The Call of Cthulhu" in 1926, and "The Whisperer in Darkness" in 1930.

Second, they are all set in the period of the original work. There have been several versions of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, but all the others have updated it to the year of the specific film. (The Jeff Wayne musical version is set in Victorian/Edwardian times, but has not been filmed.) Those of Lovecraft's works that have been filmed are often transposed in time and space.

They are accurate to the original works. Not only do the other adaptations change the time and place, they also change the plot, dropping subplots, re-arranging events, or keeping only the basic idea. It is, of course, not surprising that the HPLHS would be accurate to the written word, but to find a work faithful to the Wells is less expected. (THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is reasonably faithful to the story, but then adds more after the ending of what Lovecraft wrote.)

The budgets are low (minuscule might be more accurate). This is accomplished in several ways. First, the casts are mostly first- timers. (THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS does have some experienced actors, but also many first-timers.) They act in the style of the period, by which I do not mean silent movie style over-acting, but in general in a more theatrical and less realistic style. (Compare Olivier's and McKellan's Richard III, or Olivier's and Branagh's Henry V to see what I mean.)

One problem that does exist with the actors is that the nature of these projects is that they attract mostly younger people, so there are no old actors, even for parts that would call for them.

The special effects, while not absolutely strictly of the period, are much more basic than the usual effects one finds these days. Georges Melies could have designed most of them.

The Lovecraft adaptations are done in black and white, another retro touch. (I have heard that black and white is actually more expensive than color, so if this is true, this is not a budgetary decision.) They also have intertitles (title cards) or subtitles in dozens of languages. THE CALL OF CTHULHU (a silent film) has intertitles in Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Euskera (Basque), Finnish, French, Galician, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Welsh. THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS has subtitles rather than intertitles, and appears to have taken advantage of computer fonts to add three languages that do not use the Roman alphabet (Greek, Japanese, and Russian). (To compensate, it has dropped Galician, Irish/Gaelic, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, and Welsh.)

This multi-lingual approach may seem very modern, but in fact one of the big advantages of silent films was that there was no real language barrier. There were few intertitles, and so it was easy to splice in intertitles in a new language if a new market opened up. The subtitling is probably less true to the period, but having started the tradition, the HPLHS probably felt it should continue with it.

And a final similarity: all of these are available only on DVD. None has had any sort of theatrical release. The details are as follows:

The extras on THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS, particularly the "making of" documentary, are highly recommended. If you're interested in seeing some of the actual miniatures and models used, they were donated to the Main Street Museum in White River Junction, Vermont, to help get it going again after Hurricane Irene.

(Oh, and one more thing these have in common: I nominated all of them for the Hugo Award, and none made the final ballot.) [-ecl]

Yet Another Batch of Movie Reviews (film reviews by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

Like a lot of Americans, I'm not getting out to the theater as much as I used to. However, thanks to the wonder that is the DVD and the big screen LCD TV, I can catch on movies when the DVDs show up in the $5/rack at Best Buy. I'm sure some of you have seen these movies long ago, but in case you missed them here are the reviews.


I've never been a big fan of this long-running show, although I admit that the sense of mystery it created has greatly influenced many subsequent fantasy and SF efforts. I have watched dozens of X-FILES episodes, but long ago concluded that unlike, say, ALIAS or BABYLON 5 or FRINGE or SUPERNATURAL or BUFFY, the plot was never going to be resolved, ala David Brin's UPLIFT WAR. Episode by episode it might be interesting or entertaining, but in truth is was just meandering along going nowhere.

Having passed this final judgment on the TV show itself, I found the final movie a decent capstone to Chris Carter's vision. Here are the things like liked about it:

I found the plot a bit heavy on the uber-CSI style grotesque crime horror, with a few two many heads in boxes and so on for my taste. The movie felt like a good TWILIGHT ZONE episode, not a real movie. I am rating this a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale, with a warning that due to an excess of the horrific, this is not for kids, even though the PG-13 rating might suggest that it is. In the days when the PG-13 rating was first created, I WANT TO BELIEVE would have been rated R.


The first half of ELI seems like a combination of every post- apocalypse western you have ever seen or heard of. There is a tall, dark stranger, Eli, played by Denzel Washington. Eli has preternatural fighting skills with a long knife or a gun. He carries a mysterious book in a rucksack that he reads at night, while walking west for reasons unknown. After a series of fights and adventures he meets the warlord Carnegie (played by Gary Oldman), who is looking for a book, which it gradually evolves is the Bible. If I was not a post-apocalypse completist there is a good chance I would have quite watching at some point since everything seemed highly derivative.

About half way through the movie things start to get a bit more interesting, and the script diverges quite a bit from what you may have been expecting. There are a few startling revelations that you may or may not have seen coming, and which I won't reveal here. This is not a realistic movie, but it manages to seem mythic for the most part. Oldman, Washington, Jennifer Beals (as Carnegie's concubine) and Mila Kunis (as the concubine's daughter) do a good job acting even if the post-bomb world never really makes that much sense (we are asked to believe that every Bible except the one Eli carries has been destroyed!!!). The disaster is presumably an atomic war, but could also have been an EMP attack or a solar flare--this is nicely left vague.

This is a movie with strongly religious themes, somewhat along the lines of THE ROAD, but with less realism and more fantasy. Oldman and Washington are quite watchable. There is a final revelation that puts the movie firmly into the realm of fantasy, and which is not actually all that clear in the film itself--I had to read background on the web to make sure I understood what happened.

Again, I'd rank this one a solid 0 on the -4 to +4 scale--a decent, entertaining film. R rated for rape, violence, and a generally grim tone, but more like ROAD WARRIOR than the really grim THE ROAD.


In this stylized fantasy, the director of TWILIGHT spins out a sexed-up Little Red Riding Hood for the werewolf and vampire generation. Generally watchable, RED stars Amanda Seyfreid as Red and Gary Oldman (is he the villain in every movie?) as an inquisition style werewolf hunter. There is a good bit of plot with plenty of twists as all the traditional storybook figures-- grandma, the huntsman, Peter, etc. are trotted out and re- envisioned. I actually thought the balls were all held up in the air pretty well until the very end, which I found somewhat unsatisfying.

This is not a movie I'm going to watch again, but it did hook me in pretty quickly and pull me along to the end. I'd rate it a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. The PG-13 rating is appropriate, i.e. it is not really an R-rated movie, so RED is fine for the 13 and up crowd. It is probably too scary for younger kids, but that would depend on the kid. [-dls]

YOUR FLYING CAR AWAITS by Paul Milo (2009) (book review by Dale L. Skran, Jr.):

I am an avid collector of books on the future and futurism. I find it quite interesting to review predictions of the future and, now that I've reached the 21st century, compare them to what really happened. Apparently, I am not the only one with this hobby, as Paul Milo has turned out an entire book on the topic.

Milo's book is somewhat marred by the mixed origins of the predictions he reviews. For example, Chapter 9--"The World Will End ... Pretty Soon" covers a wide range of end-time forecasts, all of which have turned out to be wrong, but most of which are not from what I would call serious futurists or thinkers. Instead, an array of mainly religious writers are examined, including Hal Lindsey and Nostradamus. Although fun to read, this is a bit of a fish in the barrel exercise. Still, I must grant Milo the fundamental point, oft-repeated by my own parents, that so far every single prediction of the end times has been wrong.

Milo's book also suffers a bit from being too short. The final Afterword--"Right on the Money" covers Verne's FROM EARTH TO MOON but fails to mention 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA although it is surely just as accurate and perhaps even more important. I also think that Arthur C. Clarke is not given nearly the space he deserves for his accurate predictions, including communications satellites.

Milo should be awarded considerable credit for Chapter 3--"Scarcity and Other Disasters" which takes on THE POPULATION BOMB and other books of this ilk, examining how they could be so far off in terms of actual events. It is worth mentioning that generally, so far, the most pessimistic predictions have tended to be wrong, as have the most optimistic predictions. On the balance, I'd generalize and say that almost all the really downbeat predictions have turned out to be completely wrong, while a significant number of the optimistic predictions have turned out to be right--although not all of them.

What Milo does not offer is any kind of analysis as to why some futurists seemed so accurate while other went far afield. Clarke's book PROFILES OF THE FUTURE is, in my view, the best futurist book ever written since it provides a useful framework for the analysis of possible futures. Basically Clarke calls on us to first discover what is actually impossible, and then work backwards from that, on the theory that if it is possible, eventually it will be done. One thing Clarke does not give enough emphasis to is economics, and especially the role of concentrated cheap energy in making certain technologies possible. Still, Clarke is surely right that in the long run there is no lack of energy or materials, only imagination.

The yardstick I like to bring to the discussion is the idea that some problems are harder than others to solve. I analogize science to a miner following a vein of ore. The vein may be rich, and progress easy, or it may peter out and progress may grind to a halt until a new vein is found. Right now information technology is a very rich vein that we have followed a lot faster and deeper than anyone in the 1950s ever thought might be possible. The vein of technology surrounding the rocket engine has proved less rich than was expected in the 1950s, with resultant slow progress. Cancer and aging are clearly hard problems to solve, and may even be impossible problems--it is just too soon to tell. However, given the large array of "thinking" animals on the Earth, I submit that eventually, one way or another, we will create useful artificial intelligences, as there is no obvious reason that this is impossible. Fusion works in the sun, so one suspects that eventually we will tame it.

Milo makes the excellent point that just because we would like to do something, i.e., cure cancer, live longer, or have cheap fusion energy, does not mean that it is actually easy to do this. On the other hand, sometimes things turn out to be possible that once seemed absurd, for example invisibility shields, which have moved from the realm of fantasy to small experimental models. Clarke has a whole list of things that, prior to their invention, seemed equally absurd, including Xerox machines, the laser, and spectroscopy. It is just hot off the presses ("Nature" magazine) that someone has invented a time shield, i.e., a shield that takes something outside of time for brief interval. Once outside of time, the object is completely undetectable to any technology, not just to light. The apparatus to do this seems vaguely similar to the time mirror in PAYCHECK, and no less fantastic.

A detailed review of the book would take a long time, so let's focus on Chapter 4--"Space: Still the Final Frontier." The first prediction is "We don't have liftoff" which refers to all those old-time forecasters who thought rockets would not work in space for some reason like "there is nothing to push against." This set of predictions was clearly 100% dead wrong. The second prediction is "We have a base in space." I don't like section this since it conflates a lunar base, a Mars trip, and a space station, and finds the promises all unfulfilled. Well, we do have an actual space station, in orbit and populated, as I write this. Yes, the Mars trip is way off in the distance, and a lunar base well behind schedule, although still making headlines in this election year. It is also true that the actual space station is quite different from Von Braun's ring, but it is pretty amazing all the same.

The third prediction is "The Orbiting Time-Share" which conflates O'Neill space colonies with orbiting hotels. Milo gives this a mixed result, as we area behind where a lot of prognosticators expected us to be, but at the same time, God willing, we may see the first sub-orbital tourist flight of Space Ship Two this year, which may lead to wild new age of private space tourism. The fourth prediction is "Star Wars--For Real" which reviews all the early predictions of space warfare, and finds that although we have yet to see the first space war, we have seen tests of Chinese anti- satellite weapons and other signs that since at least NEO space is vital to military operations that there may yet be a real space war.

As a non-scientist, Milo is excellent at evaluating the status of predictions, but not so good at looking ahead to see what might eventually happen, or not happen, as the case may be. In any eventuality, this is a short, fun book if you like this kind of thing. [-dls]

LONDON RIVER (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: In London two people from very different backgrounds forge an alliance when each looks for his/her child in the aftermath the July 2005 terrorist attacks. Though the arc of the story is fairly predictable, Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate bring humanity to their roles. The points that LONDON RIVER loses from its predictability it gains back for two terrific performances. Franco-Algerian filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb gives us a moving story of two cultures in conflict and of the human understanding that can rise above that conflict. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Elizabeth (played by Brenda Blethyn) is from a small community on Guernsey in the Channel Islands and is used to being around people like herself. Though well-meaning, she is provincial and suspicious of people she is unused to, especially people like the large population of Muslim immigrants moving into London. Her daughter Jane lives apart from her in London, but Elizabeth has not even visited her daughter's current apartment. Then come the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks on London transit. Elizabeth wants to be sure that Jane was not caught up in the terror. Calling Jane repeatedly, Elizabeth hopes to hear that her daughter is safe, but gets no response. She determines she must go to London and find Jane.

What Elizabeth discovers in London only adds to her fears. She finds Jane's apartment is in a mostly Muslim neighborhood. To her shock she finds out that her daughter not only has been living with a Muslim man, Ali, but she was herself studying to become a Muslim. Elizabeth makes up a missing-person poster to try to locate Jane. She discovers that after the bombing there are many missing people and many such posters are going up on kiosks around the city. But through the poster she meets Ousmane (Sotigui Kouyate) who turns out to be the father of Ali.

Ousmane is a West African searching for his son just as Elizabeth is searching for Jane, but Ousmane does not know even what his son looks like. Ousmane has worked in France the previous fifteen years and has not seen his son since Ali was age six. Now the boy is really a stranger to him, but he has to find him. She repeatedly runs into Ousmane, her daughter's boy friend. Elizabeth is highly suspicious of this man of a different race and religion who wears dreadlocks and dresses so shabbily and differently from what she is used to. She blames Ousmane's son and Muslims in general for enticing Jane to change religions. Even more complicating (or perhaps un-complicating) her distrust is the knowledge that the transit attacks were done in the name of Ali's religion.

The arc of the story by director Rachid Bouchareb is simple and generally predictable from the beginning. It is almost cliche. But the story rises above cliche by centering on and making very human the relationship of these two so-very-different people on so similar a mission.

Sotigui Kouyate has played the West African stranger in a strange land before. In 2001's LITTLE SENEGAL he played a man sent to the United States by a vision in his dreams. That film, also directed by Rachid Bouchareb, has Kouyate bewildered by the strange life of New York City. His performance is usually an expressionless face and a stoic demeanor that speaks volumes by letting the viewer decide what he is feeling. He has a very deep sorrow that in addition to not knowing where his son is, he does not really know even who his son is. His quiet desperation and introspection contrasts with Blethyn's more than out-in-the-open manner. Her obsession with her own problems borders on rudeness particularly to the father of her son's lover. Yet each provides their relationship something the other person needs.

There is never much doubt where the story is going. But the contrast of personalities, of cultures, and of needs gives this drama its humanity. I rate London River a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. LONDON RIVER is available on DVD and for digital download as of March 6, 2012.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:


SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper):

CAPSULE: This compelling documentary covers the conflicts in Afghanistan over the two decades from 1986 to 2006. It is the merging of two documentaries after the makers of one of the movies were killed while producing their film. SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN is at its best when it is showing the destruction the wars did to the Afghan people themselves. When the concentration moves to the politics and the leaders, the discourse becomes a little muddled and hard to follow. At times the testimony of their experts seems rather arguable. Still, this film concentrates on a world with which United States policy is intimately connected, but a world that remains largely unknown and misunderstood by the American public. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In 1987 two film crews independently came to Afghanistan to film the turmoil going on in the country. One crew intended to focus on the how the war with the Soviet Union was affecting lives of the people. The other crew wanted to document the refugees from the war. With a great deal of common interest the two documentaries would overlap and later would be joined into a single documentary. The resulting film tells the history of the fighting with first one super power, the Soviet Union, and then, with very different goals, the United States would send their military to Afghanistan and a different war would begin. The war against the invading Soviets would lead to civil war and to the rise of both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. From there the history goes to the 9/11 attacks and the United States' subsequent invasion. The period covered goes up to shortly before the completion of the film in 2006.

THE SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN became a history of not one or two but several conflicts in Afghanistan. Before their death Lee Shapiro and James Lindelof had examined the political turmoil with their focus in large part on Wakil Akbarzai of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan who guides the crew, advises them on how to be relatively, and much of the conflict is apparently seen through his eyes. That same year under circumstances that are still not clear Shapiro and Lindelof were caught in ambush and killed.

The footage they took documenting the lives of Afghans, some of it very personal, came into the possession of the other film crew led by Suzanne Bauman and Jim Burroughs. They incorporated that footage into their own documentary and expanded it to give a quick history going back to President Eisenhower's 1959 visit but really concentrating on the previous twenty years of conflict in Afghanistan, 1986 to 2006.

At times some of the expert testimony presented seems questionable. Frequently the filmmakers will present the comments of Fatima Gailani, the charismatic director of the Afghan Red Crescent. It is her point of view that the threat posed by the Taliban is mostly the result of the widespread illiteracy of the Afghan people. She says that people accept the Taliban's interpretation of the Koran because they are not literate and so cannot read the Koran for their own interpretation. However, religious extremists exercise great power in many places that have far more literate populaces. It seems naive to assume that the power of the Taliban comes just from the inability of the people to argue Koran with them.

The creation of this documentary was quite a feat and two filmmakers died in the process of creating it. That dedication is admirable. But the political case is muddled and could be put more clearly and more cogently. So the film is far from ideal, but it does present a lot of information that will be new to most of its audience. I would rate SHADOW OF AFGHANISTAN a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. This film was completed in 2006 and became available from Cinema Libre video on February 28, 2012.

Film Credits:


Many Names (letter of comment by Bill Higgins):

In response to Evelyn's comments on naming towns in New Jersey ["Half Price Books in Montgomery/Rocky Hill/Belle Mead/Delray/Skillman, New Jersey. ... The confusion over the town's name is just how New Jersey works.)"], Bill Higgins writes:

Could the town have been named for Lester Ramon Felipe San Juan Mario Silvo Enrico Alvarez-del Rey, who also had many names? [-wh]

And Mark adds:

I wonder how old he was when he was first able to say his whole name. [-mrl]

And Evelyn explains:

Montgomery is a township. Rocky Hill is a borough incorporated from parts of Montgomery. Belle Mead is a "census-designated place" (defined by the Census Bureau, and which usually includes unincorporated areas) which straddles Montgomery Township and Hillsborough Township. Skillman is an unincorporated area within Montgomery Township, and also the US Post Office serving that general area (hence may include addresses not strictly in the Skillman area). Belle Mead, Rocky Hill, and Skillman are also hamlets within Montgomery Township.

I cannot figure out what "Delray" is/was, but it definitely wasn't "Delrey". I remember seeing it somewhere in an address for the store. [-ecl]

HUGO and the Academy Awards (letter of comment by Jerry Ryan):

Jerry Ryan writes:

In the dream sequence in HUGO, there's a scene where the train goes through the end bumper on the tracks, crashes through the station, and end up crashing through the front of the station, with the locomotive and some cars coming out a story above the street and hanging over onto the street. I am almost positive that this particular scene (train hanging out of the front of the station) is from a classic silent film, but I cannot find a way to know for sure. So ... Mark ... am I right? And if I am, what's the film?? [-gwr]

Mark replies:

No, it is not from a film; it is from reality. On October 22, 1895, a train traveling too fast pushed its way through the bumpers at the end of the track. I guess the train station must be on a hillside since the tracks are on the second floor of the building. See the following link complete with photograph.


Jerry continues:

Oh, and I think Hugo was robbed at the Oscars. THE ARTIST was a fun film, but it had this feeling of Hollywood types standing around muttering to each other about how clever they were.

I went to the AMC Best Picture marathon ... nine films one right after the other in Midtown, on the day before the Oscars, which was much fun. The AMC folks asked you to text your ratings of the movies to them, then they accumulated the ratings and sent them back. THE TREE OF LIFE, which was lustily booed, got the lowest overall review by far, THE ARTIST was in the middle of the pack, and the top films in that poll (with an admittedly younger skewed electorate) were THE HELP and HUGO. For my money the top films were HUGO, THE HELP and EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE. [-gwr]

Mark responds:

If you mean Hollywood executives, they might have been asking why they didn't think of it. THE ARTIST is a French-Belgian film with French stars and a few American supporting actors. They shot some in Hollywood, but it is a foreign film. HUGO was my best picture, but THE ARTIST was #6 of my top ten. I like them both.

I have seen as many as six films in one day. Nine would be pushing it for me. What did they charge to see nine films?" Regarding THE TREE OF LIFE, I identified with the story. My father and I often did not get along, and some of my earliest memories were stepping on the heads of dinosaurs. I didn't see THE HELP or EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE, but HUGO was my best film of the year. [-mrl]

BEING HUMAN and LOST GIRL (letter of comment by Paul Dormer):

In response to Dale Skran's reviews of BEING HUMAN and LOST GIRL in the 03/02/12 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

I presume this is the US version of BEING HUMAN being discussed. The original UK series is up to series 4 now. Curiously last night's episode introduced a succubus, and a character less like Bo in LOST GIRL you couldn't imagine, but there were enough similarities in the plot line that I did wonder if the writers of BEING HUMAN had come across LOST GIRL and were riffing off it.

When LOST GIRL started on Syfy in the UK, it was described in a TV listings magazine as "yet another Canadian show about a bisexual succubus who solves crimes." I think they were being ironic. [-pd]

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

A recent podcast about time travel novels led me to re-read A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT and THE END OF ETERNITY.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT by Mark Twain (ISBN 978-0-812-50436-1) was Twain's last major work, and reflects a lot of his bitterness about the human race. (Indeed, at one point C.Y. says, "Well, there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce.") [His name is Hank Morgan, but I like "C.Y." better.] I will start by saying that its plot is seriously flawed at the beginning with the whole "solar eclipse" gimmick. As C.Y. relates, "But all of a sudden I stumbled on the very thing, just by luck. I knew that the only total eclipse of the sun in the first half of the sixth century occurred on the twenty-first of June, A.D. 528 O.S., and began at three minutes after twelve noon." Just exactly why and how would C.Y. know this, particularly since we are talking about an eclipse visible in England, not Connecticut. And just why would the uneducated Clarence give the date as June 20, 528, rather than St. Someone's Day in the tenth year of King Arthur's reign (or whenever)? I will not even discuss the unlikely circumstance of Clarence getting the day wrong in such a convenient manner.

But once that is left behind, what we have is Twain showing us the reality represented by the Arthurian legends. While reading Twain's descriptions of the land and the people, one is inevitably reminded of the Monty Python line that you can tell which one the king is--he is the one who is not all covered in shit. The people are dirty and ill-clothed, the streets are filthy, and even the tapestries are worn and mended.

C.Y.'s introduction of American-style coinage also has some basic problems--without a government backing them up, the coins are worthless (unless he is minting them from gold and silver--but then why introduce new coins at all?).

C.Y. does not like an established church (in specific, the Roman Catholic Church), so he somehow enforces a type of religious freedom: "Everybody could be any kind of a Christian he wanted to." I suppose it is a slight improvement.

One sees in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT the inspiration for LEST DARKNESS FALL and countless other novels in which an extremely competent engineer finds himself in the past/the wilderness/an alien planet, and can use all that knowledge to take control of the situation. Twain has written the quintessential "Analog" story.

Oh, and if your acquaintance with the story is through the movies, you are not really acquainted with the story. In the 1931 version (titled only A CONNECTICUT YANKEE), Will Rogers stars as Hank Martin (rather than Hank Morgan). Martin is a radio personality and repairman rather than an engineer, though he manages to invent telephones, roller skates, factory, eyeglasses, photography, newspapers, advertising, radios, automobiles, tanks, airplanes, handguns, and machine guns, all in about six months. He goes back when he is hit by a suit of armor (not a crowbar), Alisande is King Arthur's daughter, the knights arrive in automobiles rather than on bicycles (where do they get the petrol?), and the villainous Merlin's features have a definite Semitic cast to them. Martin does use a lasso in a joust against Sir Sagramore, as in the book, but given Will Rogers's skill with a lasso, they could hardly have dropped this part! And there are several "unnecessary" deaths, just as in the book--the fact that Twain has C.Y. kill several people is usually glossed over. (In the film, it is not Martin who does the killing, though.)

Oh, and given Will Rogers's appearance and persona, the romantic subplot is shifted to be between Clarence and Alisande, rather than C.Y. and Alisande.

In this version, Martin does not have all the eclipses memorized, but instead has a memo book that lists them:

Why there are so few, and why they would be ones visible in Britain, and why the first one lasts twelve hours, are not clear.

In keeping with the "it-was-all-a-dream" resolution, the main actors play double roles (one in the present, one in the past, like in THE WIZARD OF OZ), but Martin does not see the "present" Merlin until *after* he returns, so he would have no reason to visualize him as he does.

The 1978 television version (made for "Once upon a Classic" and only an hour long) keeps a lot more of the flavor of Twain--for starters, the full title, but also some of Twain's wordplay ("you're no page--you're no more than a paragraph"). Merlin is once again portrayed as someone exotic, in this case an African (?) played by Roscoe Lee Browne. While Brandon Hurst in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE was a two-dimensional villain, here Browne plays Merlin as at first mysterious, and later philosophical ("Who shall prevail: the Royal Magician or the Royal Technician?"). He is not the fool that Hurst was; he does not oppose C.Y. for selfish reasons, but out of a sincere attempt to protect Britain from what he sees as an evil influence.

Morgan (he retains the name Twain gave him) is an engineer and was knocked out in a factory floor fight by, if not a crowbar, then at least a wrench. The cessation of the Holy Fountain--one of the main episodes in the book--is here as well, as are the traveling of Arthur and C.Y. in disguise among the common people, the episode with the smallpox hut, the capture into slavery, and many of the political comments. In fact, it is quite surprising how much scriptwriter Stephen Dick was able to put in only an hour, when the longer versions leave most of it out. (It even keeps the bicycles!)

By the way, the date here is changed from June 20, 528, to October 20, 528. I am not sure why, because on *neither* date was there a total solar eclipse in Britain. The whole confusion with Clarence giving C.Y. the wrong date is dropped (a good thing, in my opinion).

While the time travel in A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT is classic "time machine" stuff (minus the actual machine)-- go to a different time and deal with it--THE END OF ETERNITY by Isaac Asimov (ISBN 978-0-765-31919-7) uses the "time police" structure. That is, there is an organization whose job it is to make sure that things proceed according to a plan, that no rogue time travelers, or even just random chance, messes it up. THE END OF ETERNITY precedes Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, but comes after H. Beam Piper started writing his "Paratime Police" series, so Asimov did not invent the concept.

But if Asimov did not invent the concept, it was one that fit in very well with themes that he did invent. Psychohistory, for example, is all about being able to project long-term effects from a given set of circumstances, and also about how to change those effects. Hari Seldon calculates how to cut the coming "Dark Ages" from 100,000 years to just 1,000 years by making certain changes; the Eternals in THE END OF ETERNITY calculate the Minimum Necessary Change to bring about Maximum Desired Response. The difference, of course, is that if the Eternals make a mistake, they get to do it over, but Hari Seldon gets only one chance.

There is a lot of talk about the fact that changes will eliminate some people, or result in some work of literature not being written, or other negative effects, but there is not much talk about how the changes will add some people, or create new works of art. Asimov does explain why this is so--the Eternals are always making changes toward safety and stability, and this is not conducive to art. ("In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love--they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.")

It is not conducive to progress either. By postponing space travel for 125,000 centuries (never let it be said that Asimov does not think big--that's over twelve million years!), the Eternals set up a situation where by the time humanity got to the stars, there was no place that had not already been claimed but other races. So a group of humans decide to block the Eternals' plan and put humanity back into its "Basic State" so that it can colonize and control the galaxy. But as Joseph Patrouch notes in THE SCIENCE FICTION OF ISAAC ASIMOV, Asimov's characters (and presumably Asimov) have a very jingoistic attitude. They may worry that a change in the 625th century will eliminate a great symphony, but they do not seem to care that they are basically condemning all the other races in the galaxy to die out the way humanity did in the Eternals' timeline.

Note that there seem to be only two alternatives: Earth gets there first and "establishes itself throughout the Galaxy", or all the other races get there before us and so there is no place for us. But the latter implies that there is room for multiple races. So when they talk about changing time so that humanity gets there first, they are condemning not just one other race to extinction, but all of them. [-ecl]

                                          Mark Leeper

Quote of the Week:

          Then assuredly the world was made, not in time, 
          but simultaneously with time.
                                          --St. Augustine

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