Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/27/15 -- Vol. 33, No. 35, Whole Number 1847

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,
                Lectures, etc. (NJ)
        My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in March (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        Translations (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)
        Country Rankings (letters of comment by Scott Dorsey
                and Philip Chee)
        KINGSMAN (letters of comment by Jette Goldie, Tim Bateman,
                Scott Dorsey, and Paul Dormer)
        Strofe and Antistrofe (letter of comment by Tim Bateman)
        This Week's Reading (THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS) (book and movie
                comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,
Lectures, etc. (NJ)

March 12: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (Amazon TV pilot) and THE MAN
        IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Philip K. Dick (book), Middletown (NJ)
        Public Library, 5:30PM
March 26: THE SHOCKWAVE RIDER by John Brunner, Old Bridge (NJ)
        Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):

March 7: TBD, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:


TOPIC: My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in March (comments by
Mark R. Leeper)

The complaint has been made that after STAR WARS was released in
1977 it inspired a wave of fantasy films to show off the new
special effects technology.  Story values were definitely
considered a secondary priority.  But that is much the same thing
that had happened in the late 1950s and early 1960s with special
effects that were generally shoddy but could still put images on
the screen that portrayed imaginatively if not always believably.
One of the major names in placing giant or tiny things on the
screen was Burt I. Gordon.  Gordon wanted every about him to spell
BIG!  Even his initials spelled BIG!  The special effects in a
Gordon film were frequently--make that usually--flawed, but thrown
on the screen with a certain enthusiasm.  Not all of his films
were big on special effects and he had special effects films into
the STAR WARS advent year of 1977 with EMPIRE OF THE ANTS.  By
then his effects were modestly better created, but still were a
long way behind STAR WARS.  TCM is running a retrospective and
tribute to Bert I. Gordon.  The films that will be shown are:

TORMENTED (1960) [Friday, March 13, 8:00 PM]
CYCLOPS (1957) [Friday, March 13, 9:30 PM]
ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE (1958) [Friday, March 13, 10:45 PM]
MAGIC SWORD, THE (1962) [Saturday, March 14, 12:15 AM]
BOY AND THE PIRATES, THE (1960) [Saturday, March 14, 1:45 AM]
PICTURE MOMMY DEAD (1966) [Saturday, March 14, 3:15 AM]
VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS (1965) [Saturday, March 14, 4:45 AM]

TCM will also have a tribute to Alan Arkin.  They will have him
participate in their Classic Film Festival and in return they will
be showing three of the four films that show his acting chops off
to the greatest advantage.  The one film missing is THE RUSSIANS
ARE COMING!  THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!  Sad.  But the three films
they do show each features an amazing performance.  In addition to
24, 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM].  They will show THE IN-LAWS (1979) a
laugh-out-loud comedy that gets really strange [Tuesday, March 24,
9:00 PM], THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER (1968), one of the most
moving American films ever made. [Wednesday, March 25, midnight],
WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967) in which Arkin plays a really creepy
psychotic killer [Wednesday, March 25, 2:15 AM].

TCM seems to be leavening their product with a few recent major
films.  They are showing the entire LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy
(theatrical length) in one night.  The films are certainly modern
classics and Turner is essentially giving the full film away to
TCM subscribers.  It is a major cinematic work and the quality of
his special effects will make an interesting contrast to those of
Bert I. Gordon:


They will be shown Monday and Tuesday, March 2-3, 8 PM, 11:15 PM,
and 2:30 AM respectively.

The next two films are notable not so much for themselves but
because they have been rare films in the US.  They are of interest
to fans of other films.

One nice find is THE SORCERERS (1967). This is the second feature
film that Michael Reeves directed and is considered to be a decent
horror film, its main claim to fame is that the next film Reeves
made was the excellent historical horror film WITCHFINDER GENERAL
(1968).  Reeves is now considered to be one of the great British
horror directors based on WITCHFINDER and it has created a great
curiosity about Reeves's earlier work. [Wednesday, March 11,
6:30 PM]

The British series of CARRY ON... comedies are films of
questionable taste and humor.  They satirized a broad range of
aspects of British history and culture.  They eventually got
around to satirizing the concurrently popular Hammer horror
films.  The film was CARRY ON SCREAMING (1966).   Fans of Hammer
should take notice.  But I can't help asking, is nothing sacred?
[Saturday, March 28, 10:30 AM]  Or you can save the effort and get
the feel by looking at

My choice for the best film of the month is THE HEART IS A LONELY
HUNTER (see above).  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Translations (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)

In response to Evelyn's comments on translation in the 02/20/15
issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerneer writes:

You wrote:

[This is why Ken Liu's solution in THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin
Liu (no relation) is excellent: he footnotes historical references
that the Chinese readers would know but that English-speakers would
be unfamiliar with.  Ken Liu discusses this and other translation
issues on an episode of the Coode Street Podcast.]

When THE STORY OF LIBRARIES was translated into Turkish, the
translator added some footnotes to explain things that a Western
reader would know about but that the Turkish audience might not.
For example, in my chapter on mediaeval libraries in Europe, I
described the role of monastery libraries in providing Lenten
reading for the monks.  The translator helpfully added an
explanation of "Lent" for the benefit of Muslim readers. I am
grateful to him for doing this.  [-fl]


TOPIC: Country Rankings (letters of comment by Scott Dorsey and
Philip Chee)

In response to Evelyn's comments on country rankings in the
02/20/15 issue of the MT VOID, Scott Dorsey writes:

Actually, I believe that Mexico has now beaten us out in terms of
obesity rates.  People just aren't trying hard enough anymore, so
get out there and eat those French fries for America.  [-sd]

And Philip Chee writes:

I've read that some schools in the U.S. or school districts are
teaching "Singapore Mathematics".  I'm not sure if just importing
the textbooks works if you don't import the containing neo-
Confucius culture as well.  [-pc]

Which leads Scott to ask:

What does "Singapore Mathematics" involve?  If it's just beating
children who don't get the right answers, they tried that on me
when I was a kid and I found the method wanting.  [-sd]

Mark responds:
I have seen the textbooks of what is called "Singapore
Mathematics."  We are not just importing their textbooks.  We are
turning them back into United States Mathematics with all or most
of the faults.  They are big and colorful and not the Singapore
approach.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: KINGSMAN (letters of comment by Jette Goldie, Tim Bateman,
Scott Dorsey, and Paul Dormer)

In response to Mark's review of KINGSMAN in the 02/20/15 issue of
the MT VOID, Jette Goldie writes:

While clearly very British, "the Kingsmen" are not any branch of
the British Secret Service--it's stated in the film that the
organisation is "international and independent".

[In response to a comment that Firth and the boy work together:]

mmm - "together"?  uh, no.  :-/

[In response to a comment about the boy's English accent, Jette
says it is a London accent.]

[In response to a comparison to Oscar Pistorius:]

Because he's the only double amputee para-athlete in the world?

Mark responds:

Because of the curved metal feet, looking like metal shoehorns,
that most people have seen only on Pistorius.  [-mrl]

Tim Bateman responds:

Thank you, Jette.  I say, I was wondering whether Mark meant that
this character talked like Prince Charles or Ray Winstone, innit?

Mark responds:

Sorry, I was not thinking of anyone in particular that I could
remember.  [-mrl]

Jette replies:

Definitely more Ray Winstone :-)

I believe that was what is known as a "Sawf Lunnon" (South London)
accent.   [-jg]

Paul Dormer adds:

But which part of south London?  I was born and lived in Lewisham
in south-east London, and the accent there is notably different to
that in say Croydon.  [-pd]

Scott Dorsey adds (regarding the organization of Kingsmen being

Of course not.  They're a band out of Seattle.  [-sd]


TOPIC: Strofe and Antistrofe (letter of comment by Tim Bateman)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Tim comments on strofe and
antistrofe in the 02/20/15 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman

Wonderfully dry of you, Evelyn.

I am reminded of that book on uniforms of the Second World War and
its remark on the tie issued to German soldiers when they first
went to North Africa and were issued with Tropical Kit: rarely seen
in the field.  [-tmb]


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

The book-and-film pair this month was THE MIDWICH CUCKOOS by John
Wyndham (ISBN 978-0-141-03301-3) and VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.  This
has gone through many editions (including a movie tie-in in 1960
re-titled VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, but the most bizarre may be the
Ballantine "Bal-Hi edition of 1966, which has "A Note to Teachers
and Parents" at the beginning which begins, "This is not a novel
for young children or the unimaginative.  Very young children will
not appreciate the catastrophe of every woman in a small English
village suddenly becoming pregnant, and the unimaginative will not
find it easy to accept the idea that the human race may be an
underdeveloped contestant in a jungle war to the death with other
living forces in the universe.  The fascination of books which are
good novels, imaginative science fiction, and provocative
speculation is that in addition to being fun to read and among the
best modern forms of the mystery story, they raise questions which
are so fundamental."  They then go on to compare THE MIDWICH
CUCKOOS with Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END, and John Wyndham's
OUT OF THE DEEPS and RE-BIRTH.  This defense of science fiction is
then followed with nine questions to think about, which makes this
all seem the pre-cursor to the "discussion group" edition.

The idea of the human race as among the lesser intelligences in the
universe is one that does recur, but not nearly as often as the
idea that we are among the best.  (One reason Asimov populated his
universe in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s was that John W. Campbell
pretty much insisted that in a multi-species universe, humans had
to win out, and Asimov just avoided the issue altogether.)  But
this question is coming up now in a different context: artificial
intelligence.  Recently, some scientists (and others) have
expressed concern that the attempt to create artificial
intelligence could result in a "computer" which is capable of
modifying its own programming as it learns reaching and then
surpassing humanity in a matter of milliseconds.

And this gap would not be just like the gap between a very smart
human being and a mentally retarded human being, but more like the
gap between a human being and an ant.

This points out one difficulty that science fiction has, of course-
-to portray this effectively, the author needs to be able to do the
equivalent of explaining to an ant what a human being's thought
processes are like.  (Dan Carlin, on the podcast "Common Sense",
uses a dog rather than an ant--closer to us, certainly, but as he
notes, no matter how smart the dog is, it will never understand how
a gun works, or how to make one, or why one would make one, or just
about anything else humans do.)

However, Wyndham, along with others, has to make his aliens
smart/alien enough to make the threat believable, but not so alien
that we cannot even understand them.

Based on the 1959 copyright and the mention of September 26 as
being a Monday, one can presume that the events take place starting
in 1960.

"The Domesday survey notes [Midwich] as a hamlet..."  I love the
offhand way Wyndham establishes the age of Midwich; the Domesday
survey was in 1086, 873 years before he wrote the book.  Needless
to say, Midwich is fictional, and Stouch, Oppley, Hickham, and
Traune are apparently as fictional as Midwich.  (London is real,

Wyndham has some marvelously sly humor:

""[Midwich] has had its moments.  In 1931 it was the center of an
untraced outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.  And in 1916 an off-
course Zeppelin unloaded a bomb which fell in a plowed field and
fortunately failed to explode.  And before that Black Ned, a
second-class highwayman, was shot on the steps of the Scythe and
Stone Inn by Sweet Polly Parker.  Although this gesture of reproof
appears to have been of a more personal than social nature, she was
nevertheless much lauded for it in the ballads of 1768.  Then, too,
there was the sensational closure of the nearby St. Accius' Abbey
and the redistribution of the brethren for reasons which have been
the subject of intermittent local speculation ever since it took
place, in 1493."

St. Accius is also fictional, by the way.

It is a reminder of the illegality and unavailability of abortions
in the late 1950s that the doctor talks of one woman who attempted
suicide and then goes on to say, "Besides, there is another aspect
that is scarcely less worrying.  In the last fortnight I have been
called to two women who have fallen downstairs, and one who had
stewed herself into a state of collapse in a hot bath.  I can't be
sure, of course, but in the circumstances I feel obliged to regard
such things as pointers.  One notices things--such as, for
instance, a certain young woman who has suddenly bought herself a
bicycle and is now likely to be encountered pedalling madly up any
hill in the district."  (One can also point out that these are
examples of things a young child would not understand, or even
notice.  For the record, bicycle-riding would probably not have any
effect, and hot baths could affect the pre-natal development but
probably not terminate the pregnancy, but falling down stairs would
pose a definite risk.)

The doctor and Zellaby spend some time discussing how much to tell
Mrs. Zellaby and whether to mention the possibility that the women
are carrying alien babies and decide not to, because it might upset
the women and they would not be able to cope with it.  (They do say
that women are "mentally tougher" but that it "is difficult to
appreciate how a woman sees these matters."  This is a classic
example of the paternalism towards women that was so common in the
1950s.  It shows up now in shows like "Mad Men", where the
psychiatrist calls the husband to give him his diagnosis of the
wife's problem.  (Clearly, in that instance confidentiality did not
count for much either.)  But in "Mad Men" they may well be trying
to make a point of it; here it is just the way things are.

This recurs throughout the book.  "[It] still suits more
temperaments than our times like to pretend to go straight from
dolls to babies."  And, "if we remember that the majority of
feminine tasks are deadly dull and leave the mind so empty that the
most trifling seed that falls there can grow into a riotous

(Interestingly, the book does technically pass the Bechtel Test,
although discussions of pregnancies is not far removed from
discussions about men.)

The idea that by four months after the "Dayout" people would be
"inquisitive as to what it could be that could put the doctor, the
vicar, their wives, the district-nurse, and both the Zellabys, too,
to see that everyone was called on and given a personal
invitation," indicates that the inhabitants of Midwich are not the
brightest bulbs in the chandelier.

Mrs. Zellaby talks about "girls of seventeen and eighteen," but
since the effect was supposedly on all women of child-bearing age,
there should be girls of thirteen and fourteen as well (unless one
assumes the aliens felt that was too young--but why would they,
since their considerations seem to be entirely on the biological
aspects rather than sociological or psychological?).  But it seems
that Wyndham balked at dropping the age that low.

It is not clear how the influence of the Children works.  Early on,
it was made clear that the baby born to Miss Lamb was perfectly
happy to be brought back to the village by Miss Latterly--indeed,
as soon as Miss Latterly took the baby away from Miss Lamb, the
baby's attentions were focused on Miss Latterly.  Later, Zellaby
says, "Separate the baby from the mother--or perhaps one should say
remove the mother from the neighborhood of any of the babies--and
the compulsion at once begins to lessen and gradually to die away."
This seems to imply that the babies could exert influence on anyone
nearby.  But they don't have the ability to read minds that is in
the movie.

[It is interesting how I seem to see more "Boston marriages" in
British fiction than in American fiction.  Agatha Christie had her
Hinchcliffe and Murgatroyd, and Wyndham has his Lamb and Letterly.]

Wyndham has a skepticism of science in general.  The doctor and
others who attempt scientific explanations spend a lot of time
saying they do not know what is happening, or why, or what they can
do about it.  The minister does not try to explain it either, but
he is not bothered by his inability to explain it.  This can
probably be summed up by Zellaby's statement, "[Our] ancestors ...
had a word for it: they called such things changelings.  None of
this business would have seemed as strange to them as it does to us
because they had only to suffer religious dogmatism, which is not
so dogmatic as scientific dogmatism."

Zellaby seems to be a stand-in for the author, serving as the
mouthpiece for what is presumably Wyndham's own philosophy.  So
when Zellaby is reported as wondering whether "civilization is not
biologically speaking, a form of decadence," or "whether the gap
between homo sapiens and the rest was not too wide; with the
suggestion that it might have been better for our development had
we had to contend with the conditions of some other sapient, or at
least semi-sapient, species," one can probably think of these as
Wyndham's ideas.

Of course, the irony is that recent discoveries show that Homo
sapiens *did* have to contend with at least one other sapient
species, namely Homo neanderthalensis, and possibly Denisova
hominins as well.  However, Wyndham died in 1969, well before these
discoveries, and it is not clear he would have been happy with the
results--whether or not there was some interbreeding, Homo
neanderthalensis and Denisova hominins both ended up extinct.  (And
just as a total aside, can someone explain why it is "Denisova
hominins" and not "Homo denisovensis"?)

"If we don't evolve we shall die out, like the big reptiles."
Well, the big reptiles *had* evolved, but when the asteroid hit
they just couldn't evolve fast enough to cope with that change.
(Given that they would have had to evolve into much smaller, less
resource-intensive animals in ... oh ... about a week, it is not
clear that they could have. :-) )  Evolution only works when there
is enough time--indeed, that was what stumped Darwin at first,
because the estimates for the age of the earth (and hence for its
inhabitants) were much lower than what we currently believe, or
even what was believed toward the end of Darwin's life.

Wyndham definitely seems to think women are practically a separate

     "'Man's arrogance is boastful,' he observed, 'woman's is
     something in the fibre.  We do occasionally contemplate
     the once lordly dinosaurs, and wonder when, and how, our
     little day will reach its end.  But not she.  Her eternity
     is an article of her faith.  Great wars and disasters can
     ebb and flow, races rise and fall, empires wither with
     suffering and death, but these are superficialities: she,
     woman, is perpetual, essential; she will go on for ever.
     She doesn't believe in the dinosaurs: she doesn't really
     believe the world ever existed until she was upon it.
     Men may build and destroy and play with all their toys;
     they are uncomfortable nuisances, ephemeral conveniences,
     mere scamperers-about, while woman, in mystical umbilical
     connexion with the great tree of life itself, knows that
     she is indispensable.  One wonders whether the female
     dinosaur in her day was blessed with the same comfortable

     He paused, in such obvious need of prompting that I said:
     'And the relevance to the present?'

     'Is that while man finds the thought of his supersession
     abominable, she simply finds it unthinkable.  And since
     she cannot think it, she must regard the hypothesis as

As the Children's powers become more apparent, one of the girls
asks Bernard, "Can *any* State, however tolerant, afford to harbor
an increasingly powerful minority which it has no power to
control?"  This question has taken on a new meaning--consider "the
1%" (or the fractional percent).  If Bill Gates throws litter out
his car window, he might get fined $1000.  How much will this
actually affect him?  About as much as a one-cent fine would
matter--to a millionaire.  So ordinary financial penalties, unless
keyed to net worth, are not very useful.  Prison time?  But given
how much someone really rich can spend on a lawyer, how likely is
it that they will actually serve any prison time?  And if things
get really dicey, they can just take off in their private plane or
their private yacht to some other country with no extradition
treaty.  The Children may have mental powers, but the super-rich
have money.

The movie, not surprisingly, dropped a lot of this.  There is very
little discussion of the higher intelligence of the Children, hence
no discussion of competing sapient species.  (In fact, the Children
don't seem to be considered more intelligent at all.  However, they
do have telepathic powers.)

What else is gone?  The humor, which might have been difficult to
convey in the film anyway.  All the references to abortions,
miscarriages (induced or otherwise), and only one passing mention
of an  attempted suicide.  No long discussions about women (no
great loss), and Miss Lamb and Miss Latterly are nowhere to be

What is left is basically an invasion by aliens with telepathic
powers.  The lead-up to the Children's arrival took half the book,
but happens very quickly in the movie, giving people very little
time to philosophize about it.  The plot may be the same, but the
effect is very different.  [-ecl]

[Mark adds:  In the movie, they talk like adults and are very good
at solving new puzzles even if none of their number have seen the
puzzle before.  And they have the intelligence-enhancing ability of
hive-sharing of experience.  -mrl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           If dogs could talk it would take a lot of fun out
           of owning one.
                                           --Andy Rooney