Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/25/15 -- Vol. 34, No. 13, Whole Number 1877

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Transience (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,
                Lectures, etc. (NJ)
        My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in October (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        PAY THE GHOST (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        DARK MATTER, ORPHAN BLACK, and IZOMBIE (letter of comment
                by Paul Dormer)
                (Volume VI of VI) (Part 2) (comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading (SEEING) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Transience (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

A lot of my friends complain that they have gotten old.  What
started with discounts on movies and in restaurants having special
menus with better prices is now leading up to little infirmities as
our bodies get old.  I try to be philosophical.  When a friend
complains about entering old age I remind them that if it is any
consolation, they just have to wait and "this too shall pass."


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

October 8: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) (film and THE INVISIBLE MAN by
        H. G. Wells (novel), Middletown (NJ) Public Library, 5:30PM
October 22: THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH by Leo Tolstoy, Old Bridge
        (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
November 19: WORLD OF PTAVVS by Larry Niven, Old Bridge (NJ) Public
        Library, 7PM
December 17: THE MAN WHO COUNTED by Malba Tahan, Old Bridge (NJ)
        Public Library, 7PM
January 28: "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster and "The Martian
        Way" by Isaac Asimov (both in SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME
        2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM
February 25: OUR MAN IN HAVANA by Graham Greene, Old Bridge (NJ)
        Public Library, 7PM
March 24: HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys, Old Bridge (NJ) Public
        Library, 7PM
April 28: LOST HORIZON by James Hilton, Old Bridge (NJ) Public
        Library, 7PM
May 26: T. L. Sherred: E for Effort" by T. L. Sherred and
        "Earthman, Come Home" by James Blish (both in SCIENCE FICTION
        HALL OF FAME 2B), Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 7PM

Speculative Fiction Lectures (subject to change):

October 3: Ellen Datlow, The State of Horror, Old Bridge         (NJ)
        Public Library, 12N
November 7: Jennifer Walkup, Finding Your Voice in YA Speculative
        Fiction, Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library, 12N
December: no lecture

Northern New Jersey events are listed at:


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

There is something of an irony that crops up this time of year when
I do my picks for October.  While most of my readers have a
particular interest in one or more of the genres of fantasy,
horror, and science fiction, that there would be plenty to
recommend for the month of October in which TCM celebrates those
genres, especially horror, in honor of Halloween.  Anything obscure
in the fantastic genres has been shown long ago in Octobers past.
So what can I recommend?  THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) (a.k.a. THE
DEVIL'S BRIDE).  Or there is THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925).  What
fan of the horror genre has not seen these films?

I do see one very interesting film I can comment on, but I will
have to go outside the genre.  I have to recommend THE GENERAL
(1927), a silent comedy that takes place during the Civil War.  It
was underwhelming at the box-office and went almost completely
forgotten until the 1950s when it fell into public domain and it
started to be seen by a generation who did not have bad memories of
the Civil War.  The film is a beautiful re-creation of the same
civil war that Matthew Brady photographed.  In spite of all the
humor--and Buster Keaton was a comic genius and an amazing acrobat-
-you can learn a lot about what that war looked like.  The film is
a dramatization of the Great Locomotive Chase, an actual event of
the war.  Chattanooga, Tennessee, was a strategic railhead for the
South that the Union desperately wanted to put out of action.  On
April 12, 1862, Union soldiers and Union scouts crept into Big
Shanty (now Kennesaw) Georgia and stole a train intending to use it
as a platform to destroy bridges, telegraph lines, track, and
hopefully make it to Chattanooga and points north to do to the
South all the damage they could do.  Buster Keaton plays the
engineer whose train was seized and who has to chase his train to
get it back.  THE GENERAL works as an exciting action film and at a
comedy at the same time, not an easy balance to strike.  Keaton
always had a way with props and sets, using them in unexpected
ways.  The climax has a train crossing the Rock River Bridge, which
collapses under its weight.  It is no special effect.  They
actually intentionally collapsed the bridge and wrecked a train for
the spectacle of it.

Today THE GENERAL is considered one of a handful of the greatest
films this country has ever made.  If you have never seen THE
GENERAL, even if you do not like silent films, this film is a prize
and a great film experience.  [Friday, October 9, 6:00 AM]

By the way, if the situation of the stolen train seems familiar,
Walt Disney used the same incident as the basis for his studio's
THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956).  Disney tells the story from the
point of view of the Union; Keaton tells it from the Confederate
point of view.

Incidentally, if you like films about trains, TCM dedicates that
whole day till 8 PM to train films.   Then they say "enough of
that" and till 6 AM the next day they devote themselves to films
about mad doctors and other crazies.  This is October 9-10.

  6:00 AM: THE GENERAL (1927)
  7:45 AM: THE SILK EXPRESS (1933)
  9:00 AM: CANADIAN PACIFIC (1949)
12:00 PM: BERLIN EXPRESS (1948)
  1:30 PM: TERROR ON A TRAIN (1953)
  2:45 PM: THE TALL TARGET (1951)
  4:15 PM: DARK OF THE SUN (1968)
  6:15 PM: THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973)

Medical Madness:
  8:00 PM: MAD LOVE (1935)
11:15 PM: HANDS OF A STRANGER (1962)
  2:30 AM: CORRUPTION (1967)
  4:15 AM: EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959)

But for my pick for the best film of the month would stick with THE
GENERAL.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: PAY THE GHOST (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: One Halloween evening literature professor Mike Lawford
loses his son at a Halloween carnival.  The boy never shows up.
For a year Mike looks for his son and tries to find the meaning of
the boy's last words, "Pay the ghost."  After a year of searching
without a clue, horrifying images appear to Mike and his wife, but
also patterns start to form in the evidence, just prior to the next
Halloween.  Mike is afraid that if he does not solve the mystery
soon he will never see his son again.  Uli Edel directs a
screenplay by Dan Kay based on a story by Tim Lebbon.  Rating: high
+1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

The film opens in New York of 1679 for a brief look at some
terrified children.  We see too little to know what is going on.

Next we flash forward, and it is last Halloween.  Mike Lawford
(played by Nicolas Cage) is having a great holiday.  He is thrilled
that he has just gotten academic tenure, he is teaching horror
stories to his class at college, and he is going to take his son
Charlie to see the parade of costumes at a carnival a block or so
from their New York City home.  Mike has a hard time holding on to
Charlie.  Then Charlie cryptically tells his father to "pay the
ghost" and disappears into the crowd not to be seen again.  With
rising fear, Mike searches for his son but the boy has just

Now it is a year later.  Mike is obsessed with finding Charlie.  He
is having what may be hallucinations.  He starts seeing graffiti on
walls and in tunnels, which says, "Pay the ghost."  Is his son the
victim of kidnappers or has he fallen prey to something evil and
supernatural?  Is it something that has its roots centuries in the
past?  For the first half of the film the pacing is a little slow,
but it picks up in the second half.  Still there is something
lacking here to make the climactic scenes pack a sufficient scare.
A final showdown--I will not say with what--is a little bland by
today's standards.

Nicolas Cage can play an interesting range of emotions but fear
just does not seem to be one.  Placed in a terrifying position his
ability to emote seems to shut down.  And it is just where the
viewer could use a little fear to be drawn into the film.  We need
to feel his danger, but even at the climax he has not won the
viewer over to fear his peril.  Perhaps he was the wrong actor for
this role.

Once the premise is established there is not enough original idea
here to sustain a feature film.  The film may work for some if they
are caught in the right mood and have not seen the films that it
borrows from, but in general there is not enough here to excite
enough real horror.  I rate PAY THE GHOST a high +1 on the -4 to +4
scale or 6/10.  The film opens September 25.

Minor spoiler:

Someone could correct me on this, but I am fairly certain that
there were no witch burnings in the North America and certainly not
in New York.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: DARK MATTER, ORPHAN BLACK, and IZOMBIE (letter of comment by
Paul Dormer)

In response to Dale Skran's comments on fall SF television shows in
the 09/18/15 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer wrote:

I rather liked DARK MATTER.  And it got shown in the United Kingdom
just days after showing in the United States.

As opposed to ORPHAN BLACK, where the BBC hasn't shown season 3
yet.  They're showing it next week--all of it, more or less.  They
are showing two episodes of this every night in the early hours of
the morning, starting at 2:10 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Apparently, the BBC reckon what with the iplayer and DVRs, no-one
cares what time a show is actually shown any more.  And BBC3 is
supposedly going online only.

 From what I've heard of IZOMBIE, and the one episode I saw after
Sasquan, I hope some United Kingdom channel picks this up.  [-pd]


(Volume VI of VI) (Part 2) (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):

[concluding my comments from last week]

"In her last decay, Constantinople was still peopled with more than
a hundred thousand inhabitants; but these numbers are found in the
accounts, not of war, but of captivity; and they mostly consisted
of mechanics, of priests, of women, and of men devoid of that
spirit which even women have sometimes exerted for the common

E: Again, Gibbon has a very negative opinion of women's military

"I can suppose, I could almost excuse, the reluctance of subjects
to serve on a distant frontier, at the will of a tyrant; but the
man who dares not expose his life in the defence of his children
and his property, has lost in society the first and most active
energies of nature."

E: While the goals of each side may have been clear-cut in 1453,
many wars seem a lot less focused.  So, for example, during World
War I, both sides had to somehow motivate their populations to
enlist and fight, because at some point it became clear that they
were not fighting "in the defence of his children and his
property," but for some more imperialistic goal.

"By the emperor's command, a particular inquiry had been made
through the streets and houses, how many of the citizens, or even
of the monks, were able and willing to bear arms for their country.
The lists were intrusted to Phranza; and, after a diligent
addition, he informed his master, with grief and surprise, that the
national defence was reduced to four thousand nine hundred and
seventy Romans."

E: So out of a population of 100,000, the emperor could get about
5,000, or 5%, volunteers.  By comparison, while Lincoln got 75,000
volunteers at the very start of the American Civil War, out of a
(Union) population of about 22,400,000, or only 0.3%, by the end of
the war about 10% had served.  (Many were, of course, drafted.)  I
admit it is not clear whether it is fair to compare these figures--
the increasing mechanization of warfare, even by the time of the
Civil War, made the necessity of having a high proportion of the
(male) population bearing arms less than it used to be.  When Rome
was founded, they expected basically a 100% participation rate.  As
time went on this decreased for many reasons, not all of them as
negative as Gibbon paints it.

"The primitive Romans would have drawn their swords in the
resolution of death or conquest.  The primitive Christians might
have embraced each other, and awaited in patience and charity the
stroke of martyrdom.  But the Greeks of Constantinople were
animated only by the spirit of religion, and that spirit was
productive only of animosity and discord."

E: In other words, the Greeks (meaning the eastern Romans) spent
all their energies fighting each other, and had nothing left for
fighting the Ottomans.  They were not even willing to await
martyrdom, but fought with each other up to the very end.  Miyamoto
Musashi said, "Only a fool fights in a burning house," and that
pretty much sums up Gibbon's view of the eastern Romans (Greeks).

"On the twelfth of December, the two nations, in the church of St.
Sophia, joined in the communion of sacrifice and prayer; and the
names of the two pontiffs were solemnly commemorated; The names of
Nicholas the Fifth, the vicar of Christ, and of the patriarch
Gregory, who had been driven into exile by a rebellious people."

E: Well, apparently they did achieve some sort of unity between the
Eastern and Western churches, although only four months before the
start of the final siege (6 April 1453) and six months before the
fall (29 May 1453).

"Their hasty and unconditional submission was palliated by a
promise of future revisal; but the best, or worst, of their excuses
was the confession of their own perjury.  When they were pressed by
the reproaches of their honest brethren, "Have patience," they
whispered, "have patience till God shall have delivered the city
from the great dragon who seeks to devour us.  You shall then
perceive whether we are truly reconciled with the Azymites."

E: As I noted above, Gibbon excoriates the Mahometans/Turks for
believing that they did not have any obligation to keep a promise
against the interest and duty of their religion, but clearly here
the Eastern Christians made promises to the Latin Catholics that
they had no intention of keeping.

"The emperor, and some faithful companions, entered the dome of St.
Sophia, which in a few hours was to be converted into a mosque; and
devoutly received with tears and prayers, the sacrament of the holy
communion.  He reposed some moments in the palace, which resounded
with cries and lamentations; solicited the pardon of all whom he
might have injured, and mounted on horseback to visit the guards,
and explore the motions of the enemy.  The distress and fall of the
last Constantine are more glorious than the long prosperity of the
Byzantine Caesars."

E: Clearly, Gibbon is unimpressed by the Byzantines.

"The example of sacrilege was imitated, however, from the Latin
conquerors of Constantinople; and the treatment which Christ, the
Virgin, and the saints, had sustained from the guilty Catholic,
might be inflicted by the zealous Mussulman on the monuments of

E: In other words, the Muslims did no worse in terms of sacrilege
than did the Christians, e.g., the Catholics of the Fourth Crusade.

"We may reflect with pleasure that an inestimable portion of our
classic treasures was safely deposited in Italy; and that the
mechanics of a German town had invented an art which derides the
havoc of time and barbarism."

E: Well, I suppose the first part is an excuse for England's taking
archaeological treasures from all over the world.  The second part
is referring to the printing press, which 1) tends to prevent the
loss of books that happens when there are only a few manuscript
copies, and 2) makes it easier for many people to acquire knowledge
from books.

"But the position of Rome was less favorable, the territory less
fruitful; the character of the inhabitants was debased by indolence
and elated by pride; and they fondly conceived that the tribute of
subjects must forever nourish the metropolis of the church and
empire.  This prejudice was encouraged in some degree by the resort
of pilgrims to the shrines of the apostles, and the last legacy of
the popes, the institution of the holy year, was not less
beneficial to the people than to the clergy."

E: Now even non-religious tourism has become a big source of income
for some places.  A thousand years ago, travel was much harder, but
the incentive of a religious benefit was a great encouragement.  If
you could not actually travel to a shrine, making a donation to it
was the next best thing.

"To the impatience of the popes we may ascribe the successive
reduction [from one hundred] to fifty, thirty-three, and twenty-
five years; although the second of these terms is commensurate with
the life of Christ.  The profusion of indulgences, the revolt of
the Protestants, and the decline of superstition, have much
diminished the value of the jubilee; yet even the nineteenth and
last festival was a year of pleasure and profit to the Romans; and
a philosophic smile will not disturb the triumph of the priest or
the happiness of the people."

E: It is interesting that the popes started by adopting the Roman
secular games (called that because they occurred once a "saeculum",
or the length of a human life--100 or 110 years).  However, once
they realized what a good thing they had going, they did the same
thing the ancient Roman emperors did--they found excuses to have
them more often.

"The sabbatic years an jubilees of the Mosaic law; the suspension
of all care and labor, the periodical release of lands, debts.
servitude, &c., may seem a noble idea, but the execution would be
impracticable in a profane republic; and I should be glad to learn
that this ruinous festival was observed by the Jewish people."

E: Gibbon understands that rules designed for a small theocratic
agricultural society may not work for a large democratic industrial
one.  The various Utopian societies that were founded in the
nineteenth century discovered this; the only ones that survived
were those founded as religious communities.  The rest--those that
accepted everyone--found that people showed up in the late fall
after all the heavy farm work was done, got food and shelter all
winter, and then left in the early spring before plowing.
Enforcing the law against usury (lending money at interest) was
discovered to stifle economic growth, so in some cases usury was
redefined at lending money at *excessive* interest, and in others
only non-Christians were permitted to lend money.

Indeed, many of the rules laid down in the Old Testament are
difficult to follow in modern society.  Using electricity is
forbidden on the Sabbath (*not* because it is fire, but for a more
technical reason), but as more and more of our lives become tied to
electricity, what can one do.  Door locks are electric, books are on
a Kindle, library card catalogs are computerized, lights all over
are on motion sensors, thermostats turn on air conditioning if your
body heats the room enough, and so on.

However, Gibbon again shows his anti-Semitism by expressing the
hope that following the rules of Jubilee will destroy the Jewish
people.  The best one can say for this is that he is not endorsing
ay actions against the Jews, but rather that they (like the eastern
Roman Empire) will manage to destroy themselves.

"After a dark series of revolutions, all records of pedigree were
lost; the distinction of surnames were abolished; the blood of the
nations was mingled in a thousand channels; and the Goths and
Lombards, the Greeks and Franks, the Germans and Normans, had
obtained the fairest possessions by royal bounty, or the
prerogative of valor.  These examples might be readily presumed;
but the elevation of a Hebrew race to the rank of senators and
consuls is without a parallel in the long captivity of these
miserable exiles."

E: Again, Gibbon does not seem to mind too much that the Goths,
Lombards, Greeks, Franks, Germans and Normans had achieved high
standing in the Roman Empire, but the thought that Jews might
achieve the same level just curdles his blood.

"[Rienzi] fell senseless with the first stroke; the impotent
revenge of his enemies inflicted a thousand wounds; and the
senator's body was abandoned to the dogs, to the Jews, and to the

E: Why the Jews?!  I cannot find anything about how they fit into
this story at all.

"The nice balance of the Vatican was often subverted by the
soldiers of the North and West, who were united under the standard
of Charles the Fifth: the feeble and fluctuating policy of [Pope]
Clement the Seventh exposed his person and dominions to the
conqueror; and Rome was abandoned seven months to a lawless army,
more cruel and rapacious than the Goths and Vandals."

E: This refers to the sack of Rome in 1527, and the Charles V is
the Holy Roman Emperor, not the French King or any other Charles V.
The idea that the worst (by orders of magnitude) sack of Rome was
under the authority of the "Holy Roman Emperor" is certainly
ironic.  The fact that Gibbon gives it only this single sentence is



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

SEEING by Jose Saramago (ISBN 978-0-15-603273-5) is a sequel to
BLINDNESS, although it takes over a hundred pages to get more than
just a passing reference to the first novel.  When it does show up,
it is in a chapter that pretty much gives up on subtlety for
everything, and so we get conversations such as: "Appoint a
commission of inquiry, minister.  To reach what conclusions, prime
minister.  Just set it to work, we'll sort that out later."

[Reminder: Saramago eschews normal punctuation and capitalization,
and delivers each character's lines as a single sentence with what
would be normal sentences separated by commas.]

Other examples:

"... everything is possible in this world, no doubt our finest
torture specialists kiss their children when they get home, and
some may even cry at the cinema."

"... demonstrations never achieve anything, if they did, we
wouldn't allow them."

"... the proof that there is a conspiracy lies precisely  in the
fact that no one talks about it, silence, in this case, does not
contradict, it confirms."

"I've learned from my experience in this job that things half-
spoken exist in order to say what can't be fully expressed."

"As I've learned in this job, not only are the people in government
never put off by what we judge to be absurd, they make use of
absurdities to dull consciences and to destroy reason."

The book begins with an election in an unnamed country (again, as
with BLINDNESS, it feels South American to me, but is probably
supposed to be Portugal).  In most of the country everything goes
normally, but in the capital city, two things happen.  First, bad
weather seems to keep people home most of day, but then they all
come out at the end of the day, causing long queues at the voting
stations.  And second, 70% of the ballots cast in the capital were
blank.  The government calls for a re-vote in the capital, and that
has 83% of the ballots blank.

In addition to the odd punctuation and capitalization that
characterizes all of Saramago's later work, SEEING continues the
conceit Saramago used in BLINDNESS: he does not name any of his
characters.  In BLINDNESS, this is fairly natural--the characters
had little occasion to introduce themselves or talk *about* each
other.  But in SEEING, we have the problem of policemen talking to
their superiors about "the ophthalmologist", "the ophthalmologist's
wife", "the man with the eye patch", and so on.  News reports all
say things like "a superintendent, an inspector and a sergeant,
whose names, for security reasons, we are not authorized to
reveal," and even feebler excuses.

Saramago also references his other works, other authors' works, and
the real world.  For example, "... in order for death to cease to
exist, we would simply have to stop saying the word we use to
describe it," reminds one of his DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS.  The
lines, "You resigned.  No, I walked out," and indeed the entire
premise echoes in some sense Herman Melville's "Bartleby the
Scrivener".  Saramago also mentions fictional detectives (Sherlock
Holmes, Jules Maigret, Hercule Poirot, Philip Marlowe) a few times.

"Here, we each have our own grief and we all feel the same sorrow"
is a line that can apply to every disaster: natural disasters,
terrorist attacks, epidemics, ...  But if there is re-assurance,
there is also unease, as when Saramago writes, "Purged of its
troublesome members, the cabinet was, at last, a cohesive whole,
one leader, one will, one plan, one path."  This is just another
way of saying, "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer."

But what is most notable is that Saramago seems to be contradicting
a major premise of BLINDNESS: In BLINDNESS, people left on their
own with no government or police descend into savagery; in SEEING,
they continue to function in a perfectly civilized manner.

This is a somewhat borderline fantasy, more a political allegory
than a fantasy.  Yet a division of Saramago's works into the
fantastical and the non-fantastical would have to find this on the
fantastical side of the line.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           A cynic knows the price of everything and
           the value of nothing.
                                           --Oscar Wilde