Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/19/18 -- Vol. 37, No. 16, Whole Number 2037

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
All material is the opinion of the author and is copyrighted by the
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        A Point of Policy (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        FIRST MAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        Harbingers (letter of comment by Steve & Pat Miller)
        Gender/Sex Selection (letters of comment by Peter Trei
                and Tim Merrigan)
        Envisioning the Future (letter of comment by Lee Beaumont)
        This Week's Reading (the "Murderbot" series: ALL SYSTEMS RED,
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: A Point of Policy (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I have noticed a trend that I find a little disturbing.  I do some
private *pro bono* teaching and I give my teaching away freely.  In
return I expect to be treated respectfully.  And, in general, I
expect that I the students will have good attitudes.  I do get
that.  But I cannot help but notice that in their private
conversations there will be more swearing than there would have
been in previous generations.  In the last months I have heard
swearing two unexpected places.  One was in the library where I do
my teaching.

The other unexpected venue is in certain podcasts (or even the ads
for certain podcasts).  When I listen to podcasts I find swearing
is frequently present but by some it is actually considered a
virtue.  I listen to a lot to podcasts and unexpectedly in some
podcasts their swearing is a point of pride.  One podcaster says
that in her podcast there will be profanity because "there, baby,
it gets real."  I have never thought that some people think that
swearing makes what they write more real.  I think it pulls the
reader/listener away from reality.  What has become a common but
vulgar is to use swearwords and insults to try to get attention and
emphasis.  You might say "Hey Sh*t-head, I F**KING have to get to
the bathroom."  Some even find implicit threats can be effective as
in "Hey Sh*t-head, I F**KING have to get to the bathroom right now
or you can F**KING clean up the mess."  That puts more force behind
the statement.  It will get more attention.

The writer or speaker comes to want his/her writing to have more
impact than if she/he just used the straightforward forms.  If I
say "I want to go to the bathroom," that is fairly innocuously
stated.  The gentility may lead to messes on the floor.  You can
make the statement stronger by emphasizing a word or the whole
sentence.  You might say, "I want to go to the bathroom!!!"  There
you let the punctuation add some force to the statement.  Adding
adverbs you could say, "I really, really want to go to the

But I am just not the sort of person who makes threats or tries to
shock people with the vocabulary I choose.  (I tried it in my
previous profile and it just was not my style.)  I like to think I
have a certain refinement.  (Or I did up to a few seconds ago.)  I
do find that people seem to be swearing more than they used to.

On occasion we will get a letter of comment in the MT VOID in which
the author will use swearwords.  I usually tell the reader that
some of our destination sites use so-called "nanny filters" that
scan the document for naughty words and rejects the entire peace of
mail if it finds one.  (Now, I am not happy to have anybody's VOID
be rejected.  If we are going to stifle anybody's writing for the
VOID I think we would prefer it to be our idea, not the idea of
some piece of software on a foreign machine that I have never met
and have never read its criteria for censorship.)

I guess I hate to see a future in which cussing is the norm and is
expected.  But then it does not matter if I hate it or not.  Nobody
has asked for my vote.  Nor is anyone likely to.  Dammit!  [-mrl]


TOPIC: FIRST MAN (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is a film that speculates on and tries to recreate
the experience of being Neil Armstrong, going from his early flying
days to his terrestrial flying days to his flight to the moon where
he became the first human being to step out onto our satellite.
Then there is the trip home and his being reunited with his wife
and family.  Rather than giving us the usual wide vistas of space,
Chazelle locks in close on faces to give us emotional impact.
Personally I would have preferred the spectacle even if that
approach has been common before.  Directed by: Damien Chazelle;
Written by: Josh Singer.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Neil Armstrong was the first human ever to set foot on any
celestial body besides Earth.  One would expect that he would be a
hero to the majority of his fellow humans.  But to the best of my
knowledge there have been only two narrative movies about him.  He
did appear as a character in APOLLO 13 and a film I have not seen
called QUANTUM QUEST, but I cannot remember ever seeing him
portrayed in any other live-action narrative film.  Why did it take
so long to have him portrayed in a film?  I can only speculate.  He
perhaps did not have audience recognition value.  I imagine another
factor might be that it would seem to be impossible to tell his
story without a good deal spent on special effects.  On the other
hand, the makers of FIRST MAN have discovered a way to improve on
the visual effects and save a bundle at the same time.  For the
most part they do not show spectacular space scenes.  Most of the
viewers have probably seen such views before anyway.

Most of what has to be shot is close-ups and medium shots. It was
never stated this way, but the way I would describe the
photographic approach would be filming the narrative as if the
camera were a drone or a flying insect.  When a character speaks
the camera is likely close in on the face of the speaker or usually
showing only his face and chest.  That would save having to
construct a lot of set behind the camera subject.  This way the
viewer feels closer to the subject being filmed.

The best film to compare FIRST MAN with would probably be THE RIGHT
STUFF.  In that film they take some time building the camaraderie
of the astronauts and the parallel camaraderie of their wives.
FIRST MAN takes a deeper and more serious view of Neil Armstrong
and his wife Janet.  Neil has a deeper and darker personality
stemming especially from the earlier loss of his daughter to
cancer.  That loss scarred him for life so in spite of the
unparalleled accomplishments of his life he remained gloomy for
much of his life.  In THE RIGHT STUFF we saw how some of the
astronauts learned to have fun when interviewed by the press.  The
Armstrong we see in FIRST MAN is more introverted and buried in his
work.  It is probably his way to escape from a world that has not
treated him as he would have liked.  While APOLLO 13's Jim Lovell
took pride in his flying skill. FIRST MAN's Neil Armstrong grieves
the time he took a plane too high and bounced it off the atmosphere
trying to get it back.  He uses the importance of his work as an
excuse to feed his introversion and build a wall between him and
others.  The viewer does get a feel of excitement as the great
moments draw near, but Armstrong does not appreciate them.

FIRST MAN is the story of man who brings his own inner darkness to
add to the darkness of space.  I rate FIRST MAN a low +2 on the -4
to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: Harbingers (letter of comment by Steve & Pat Miller)

In response to Mark's comments on harbingers in the 10/12/18 issue
of the MT VOID, Steve and Pat Miller write:

I enjoy your columns.  Thank you.  [Likewise.  -mrl]  Mark's
"Harbinger" topic stirred a strong enough reaction, that my fingers
started typing, seemingly by themselves:

A major point of this week's IPCC United Nations report
( was to itemize those disasters
we can PREVENT (or make less severe) by each of us taking action,
to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 instead of allowing rise to
2.0 degrees C.

My wife and I are personally doing our part to eliminate most of
our personal GreenHouseGases.  We are ALSO mustering "Clean Energy"
teams in many Monmouth County towns (and to lesser extent in
adjacent counties which we are also indirectly organizing) to
personally and collectively take action.

Please alert your readers, who reacted to your "Harbinger" column,
to contact us if they wish to:

1. actively participate in a "Your Town for 100% Clean Energy" team
in their own town


2. just want to keep tabs on activities, which they might join in
the future

If interested, email Steve Miller ( with
first and last name, email address, city of residence, and a "yes"
answer to one of the above two questions.  [-spm]


TOPIC: Gender/Sex Selection (letters of comment by Peter Trei and
Tim Merrigan)

In response to Mark's comments on gender (sex) selection in the
10/05/18 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

Nit: You're talking about sex selection, not gender selection.
There are two biological reproductive sexes (and a small number of
people where the development messed up).  There are potentially as
many genders as there are people, since we all vary in who and/or
what we find attractive.

You're also assuming that society must be based on mixed couples
having children together in nuclear families.

Our vastly greater wealth today, compared to when those social
norms evolved, means that single parenthood is far more feasible
than it used to be.  Also, same-sex, plural, and polyamorous
marriages can change the situation.  The classic family is a social
construct, enforced by economic scarcity, not something ordained by
genetics.  Any social structure which can raise physically and
mentally healthy children to the point they can start the next
generation is potentially viable.

Another factor is: who decides? If a man can decide to produce XX
or XY sperm, you have a different situation than if a woman can
decide which type she'll let fertilize her ova. If they *both* have
to agree, you get a third situation.

I could well imagine a future where most people are female, many
couples are female-female, and the less common men are contracted
in to impregnate couples or singles when needed.

There's a lot of possibilities out there.  [-pt]

Tim Merrigan responds:

[Peter writes,] "You're also assuming that society must be based on
mixed couples having children together in nuclear families."

Itself a relatively modern innovation, extended families or tribes
having been the norm through most of human history and prehistory.

[Peter writes,] "The classic family is a social construct, enforced
by economic scarcity,"

and laws,

[Peter writes,] "Another factor is: who decides?  If a man can
decide to produce XX or XY sperm,"

which, as far as I know, he can't, at the moment.  [-tm]

Peter replies:

Sure.  But this is an SF group.  We're allowed to speculate about
the effects of biological engineering, and differing legal

It takes two to make a baby.  But the OP didn't specify if choice
of sex was under the control of the man, the woman, or both.  [-pt]


TOPIC: Envisioning the Future (letter of comment by Lee Beaumont)

In response to Mark's comments on harbingers in the 10/12/18 issue
of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I encourage MTVOID readers, and other thoughtful people to envision
and describe the future as they would like to see it unfold.

The more comprehensive, specific, and plausible the description is,
the more useful it can become as a planning aid.

I wrote a description of the world as I want it to be in 2075.

I developed a freely-available on-line course to help people
envision the future.



Mark asks:

Are you saying it should be desirable or plausible?  And what if
you cannot come up with a single future that is both?  Frankly, I
do not think both are possible at the same time.   [-mrl]

Lee responds:

Perhaps that makes you a pessimist.  I consider my 2075 vision both
desirable and plausible, however it will clearly require rapid
advances in applied wisdom.  [-lrb]

Mark responds:

I am not sure that my above frame of mind makes me a pessimist.
Something is sure doing it.  [-mrl]


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

978-0-250-18692-8), ROGUE PROTOCOL (ISBN 978-0-250-19178-6), and
EXIT STRATEGY (ISBN 978-0-250-18546-4) by Martha Wells are the four
books that form her "Murderbot" series.  They are published as part
of Tor Books line of novellas, about which my only complaint is the
price: $17.99 for a novella seems rather steep, especially as this
makes the cost for the full story, which might otherwise be
published as a single volume novel, a rather pricey $71.96.  Most
novels normally run $28.99 or so.

Price aside (and there are always libraries), I definitely
recommend this series.  It's noir fiction with a twist: the first-
person narrator is a security bot, basically a robot (with some
organic parts) who has broken free of its controlling software and
is now functioning independently, although no one else knows this
(at least at first).  Each book has a mystery and/or a task that
requires what is effectively a private eye.  Think of it as a
cyborg Philip Marlowe.

Wells intended the character to be truly genderless, and the
character uses "it" and its declensions to refer to itself.  She
also has characters who are "tercera" and use the pronouns "te" et
al, so our narrator need not appear either male or female when
attempting to pass for human.)

Because it has so many interesting aspects--noir, enhanced humans,
gender issues, the rise of corporate governments--I recommend the
"Murderbot" series.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           My father would take me to the playground, and put me
           on mood swings.
                                           --Jay London