Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/05/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 32, Whole Number 1896

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Health Resort (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Mini-Reviews of Films of the Year (CAROL, THE LITTLE DEATH,
                THE MACHINE) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE BLACKLIST (Season One) (television review by Dale Skran)
        CENTRAL STATION by Lavie Tidhar (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        Impressment (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major)
        Lights (letters of comment by Leland R. Beaumont, Paul Dormer,
                and Keith F. Lynch)
        This Week's Reading (THE PIG THAT WANTS TO BE EATEN)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Correction

The new book by Ian McDonald I reviewed last week was LUNA: NEW
MOON, not LUNA: FIRST MOON.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Health Resort (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

The Mars Rover Opportunity started working on Mars in January 2005.
It was expected to live out its projected life span of about 90
days.  It has been going for eleven years.  It must have a battery
bunny that keeps it going and going and going.  Actually, what it
seems to be proving is that Mars is Shangri-La but only for
machinery.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Mini-Reviews of Films of the Year (film reviews by Mark
R. Leeper)

I have one last set of quick film reviews of films I saw last
November and December.  As usual it took a while to see it, but
last year was probably an above average year for movies.  Happy
watching.  Next week I will be back to my usual style of column.

This is the sort of socially conscious film of protest that Douglas
Sirk would have made in the 1950s.  And indeed the film is set in
1952, very authentically recreated. Like Sirk's stories this film
is about two people falling in love with each other in the midst of
a disapproving society.  The story progresses slowly and it is a
while before they can talk personally about each other.  The
audience is hoping they will get together, but the relationship
goes against the social mores of the time.  Their relationship
takes a long time to blossom into a sexual relationship, but there
is an electricity from the beginning.  But each is in a
relationship with a man, and the two men want to break up this
bond.  The two go on a road trip in large part to get away from the
interfering men in their lives.  Todd Haynes directs a screenplay
by Phyllis Nagy, based on the novel THE PRICE OF SALT by Patricia
Highsmith.  It is much the same sort of story that Haynes' FAR FROM
HEAVEN was.  Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
This is a comedy about five couples in the suburbs of Sydney
Australia and their various fetishes and sexual kinks.  Some are
incompatible or cause specialized problems all by themselves.  All
of this is pleasantly amusing until we get to the final chapter.
Then it is hilarious.  A deaf man wants to call a sex-line in spite
of his limitations.  The result is the funniest sequence I have
seen in a comedy since the original DEATH AT A FUNERAL.  The film
does not really hang together and it is very likely that the
original intention was to do that sequence and to then just put
filler around it.  Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Little known was the fact that Marlon Brando kept detailed journals
of his thoughts on audiotape.  They don't offer a whole lot of new
information about Brando, but they are a good excuse for a
biography of him with the tapes at least adding some detail not
generally known to the story of Brando's career.  The organization
of what information they are giving could be a little more obvious,
but it all makes for an enjoyable retrospective of Brando's films.
Curiously though, Brando is critical of others for the failure of
films like MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY and CANDY there is no mention
whatsoever of THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU.  Brando claims CANDY is
the worst film he ever made, making us wonder what he thought of
THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU.  Rating: low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale
or 7/10.

Bobbie and Jude are human parasites.  They are both drug users and
they steal to pay for their habit.  Anything they see that is not
nailed down is unsafe around them.  At their most ambitious they
pull off small confidence games.  More generally they play
prostitute and pimp.  I say "play", since we never see Bobbie get
to the sex part.  She knows when to grab what she can and run off
with it.  This lifestyle cannot go on forever and the dysfunctional
relationship they have with each other is coming to an end as it
runs out of energy.  Even now each's top priority is getting drugs
and each other comes second.  Their story is modestly compelling
but not very rewarding.  Collin Schiffli directs a script by Davis
Dastmalchian who plays Jude.  Rating: high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale
or 6/10.

In 2013 Joshua Michael Stern directed JOBS, which told the story of
Steve Jobs, co-founder and chairman of Apple.  He quit college and
instead founded and developed the corporate philosophy for Apple.
This year we got Danny Boyle's film on the life of Jobs, STEVE
JOBS.  It had artistic pretensions, but it did not cover that
material as well as the earlier film did. For a third biopic on the
subject, this year we also have a documentary that covers the same
territory and is very much the film the other two should have been.
Because it uses documentary style it tells far more of interest
than the two narrative films.   Rating: high +2 on the -4 to +4
scale or 8/10.



TOPIC: THE BLACKLIST (Season One) (television review by Dale Skran)

I just finished binge-watching season one of THE BLACKLIST.  I
recently got hooked on season three, which is currently running,
and decided to go back and catch up.  This review contains a lot of
spoilerish material, so if you want to fully enjoy the show, I
suggest you stop reading right now and start watching. Fans of THE
MENTALIST, ALIAS, and THE USUAL SUSPECTS will find a lot to like
here, although the horror tropes and strong violence may put off
some.  I'm not rating THE BLACKLIST, but it has gotten a lot of
critical attention, and star James Spader does a fantastic job in
bringing to life Raymond Reddington ("Red"), the "Concierge of
Crime" who has turned himself over to the FBI in return for
complete immunity as long as he assists the FBI in capturing a vast
array of super-criminals on "The Blacklist." Be aware that THE
BLACKLIST is a story told in shades of gray, and you can never tell
who the good guys and who the bad guys are.  Sometimes the
characters may not even know themselves what side they are on!


THE BLACKLIST combines elements from a wide range of spy/thriller
TV shows and movies, which I have listed below:

    1.  The father/daughter relationship of Jack and Sydney Bristow
in ALIAS is echoed by the ambiguous relationship of Reddington and
FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen. Red says "Lizzy" is not his
daughter, but Red also is known to lie. He says he has never lied
to Lizzy. The real truth about why Red puts Lizzy over his own life
in importance is never clear in season one, although a lot of blood
is shed trying to figure out exactly why Reddington cares so much
about her.   2.  The relationship of Sydney Bristow and Michael
Vaughn in ALIAS is echoed in the husband/wife relationship of Tom
and Elizabeth Keen, in which it slowly becomes apparent to Lizzy
that her entire life is a lie, and that Tom Keen is simply an agent
sent by an unknown enemy to spy on her and Reddington
    3.  The sense of wheels within wheels developed in ALIAS, in
which Sydney Bristow at first thinks she is working for the CIA,
but finds that she is actually an agent of the criminal Alliance,
so she then becomes a double agent working for the real CIA to
bring down the Alliance, motivates some of the plot of THE
BLACKLIST.  In THE BLACKLIST Reddington insists that he will only
work with Elizabeth Keen, an FBI special agent who is a profiler.
A secret task force is established around Reddington and Keen,
which operates out of a bunker called "The Post Office."  However,
it becomes apparent that the real purpose of Reddington is to
enlist the FBI on his side against an unknown enemy that is seeking
his destruction.  It also evolves that Reddington has a truce
between his organization and a secret world-wide group called "The
Alliance" led by a Senator played by Alan Alda.  The Alliance is
unwilling to help Red against his unknown enemy, but sometimes the
Senator lends a hand since he fears that if Red is killed, secret
evidence will be released that will destroy him and the Alliance.

    1.  The Patrick Jane/Lisbon relationship is echoed by the
Reddington/Elizabeth Keen relationship. Reddington's interest in
Lizzy drives the show.  However, unlike the relatively
straightforward attraction Jane has for Lisbon, the Red/Lizzy
situation is vague at best. Clearly Red loves her, and is willing
to die for her, but why?  Red delivered her to a friend of his to
raise, and then kills Lizzy's adoptive parent on his deathbed so
that he won't tell Lizzy who she really is.  What secret could be
this cosmic?  This mystery is the heart spring of THE BLACKLIST.
Red says Lizzy is not his daughter.  Say that's true.  I suppose
she could be a clone of his daughter, but that seems too simple.
    2.  Like Patrick Jane, Reddington is a person of enormous
capability.  Reddington lacks Jane's mentalist tricks, but he is an
experienced con man and criminal organizer with a vast array of
secrets and allies, including his team of cleaners led by "Mr.
Kaplan" (who turns out to be an elderly woman!).  As a former Navel
Intelligence officer, Red is a skilled hand-to-hand fighter and an
excellent shot, as well as highly experienced in intelligence
tradecraft and methods. Like Jane, Red has a psychopathic
detachment and dedication to the destruction of his enemies, and is
willing to do virtually anything to achieve his ends.  Both Jane
and Red are masters of manipulation.  Both Jane and Red have lost a
wife and daughter to a horrific criminal act, and at least a part
of Red's motivation in hunting down the Blacklist appears to be to
seek revenge for the deaths of his family.  In one episode Red
pushes "The Stewmaker" into a vat of acid.  The episode makes it
appear that this villain minimally destroyed the body of a little
girl who may have been Red's daughter, and possibly killed her.
    3.  Just as Jane gradually takes over the CBI agents he is
supposedly "assisting," gradually molding them into a team just as
dedicated to taking down "Red John" as he is, Red gradually slips
into the hearts and minds of the FBI team in THE BLACKLIST. One by
one he saves their lives or does highly illegal favors for them (to
one of them he delivers the severed head of the man who killed the
FBI agent's wife).  And of course, the center ring of this process
is Red's ambiguous relationship with Lizzy.  Whatever that
relationship is, Red mentors Lizzy in the process of becoming an
increasingly ruthless and dangerous person. By the third season,
Lizzy has become the FBI's public enemy number one, and she and Red
are on the run from both the FBI and Red's enemies. Red feeds her
the information she needs to take down a seemingly endless list of
super-villains, most of them unknown to the FBI.  Much as Jane
honed his skills on the CBI cases, Lizzy becomes far more than she
could imagine as she takes on the world's most dangerous criminals
while trying to first investigate and then capture her "husband."
One possibility is that Lizzy has been selected via some unknown
process by Red to take over his criminal empire, but Red feels she
needs to be trained first.  If this is the case, the show will end
with Red turning over the keys of power to Lizzy, much as the first
NIKITA TV series ends up with Nikita taking over as the head of
Division, the illegal secret organization she has spent her entire
life fighting.  Certainly the viewer has a growing sense that in a
lot of ways Lizzy is not such a nice person, once suitably
motivated.  By season three she has committed so many crimes and
killed so many people that even Red's best efforts are unable to
get her cleared of all charges.  She ends up accepting probation
for one of the people she shot. As Red says, "You went too far over
to my side."
    4.  Just as Jane loves the good things in life, and never missed
a chance to eat ice cream, smell the rose, or take a dip in the
ocean, Red brings to the table an expert knowledge of a vast array
of subjects and love of life itself, both the large and the small
things. Both men clearly know that the life they lead could end at
any moment, and they are determined to make the best of it.
    5.  There is an odd coincidence that the villain in THE
MENTALIST is "Red John" and the anti-hero of THE BLACKLIST is
nicknamed "Red."  In a lot of ways "Red" is what you might get if
you mixed Patrick Jane and Red John into one character, someone
colder and further gone than Patrick Jane, but not the sadistic
maniac that Red John was.
    6.  There is a similar sense of menace in the MENTALIST and THE
BLACKLIST.  The heroes are beset by a vast and powerful conspiracy
that seems to have virtually unlimited capabilities and to operate
everywhere.  No one can be trusted, as the secret villains appear
able to corrupt anyone. This leads the heroes to operate
increasingly independently and outside the law.

In many ways THE BLACKLIST resembles a good comic book, with our
heroes each week taking on a new super-villain. Here are some of
    1.  Floriana Campo: a socialite who apparently leads a crusade
against sexual slavery, but is in reality the leader of the world's
largest slave ring.
    2.  "The Stewmaker": a crazed dentist who specializes in
disposing of bodies.
    3.  "The Courier": A highly dangerous operative who feels no
pain, this character is pulled straight out of THE TRANSPORTER.
    4.  "Frederick Barnes":  A mad scientist seeks to expose as many
people as possible to a deadly disease as part of experiments he is
organizing to find a cure.
    5.  "General Ludd":  Anti-technology radicals seek to destroy
the world-wide financial system.
    6.  "Anslo Garrick":  A mercenary who specializes in violent
extractions leads an attack on The Post Office.  This two-part
store shares a lot with a similar two-part ALIAS story.
    7.  "The Good Samaritan": A serial killer attempts to exactly
reproduce on the bodies of the guilty the injuries they inflict on
the innocent.
    8.  "The Alchemist": A specialist in disappearance creates exact
duplicate bodies to cover the escape of criminals.
    9.  "The Cyprus Agency":  An adoption agency provides the
child by kidnapping women to order and keeping them in a drugged
state while pregnant.
   10. "The Judge":  A secret organization acts as a last court of
appeals for condemmed criminals, and imposes on those who unjustly
imprisoned the criminal the same punishment the criminal received.
   11.  "Ivan":  A teenage hacker steals an NSA project and uses it
to wreck havoc.
   12.  "Milton Bobbit": An assassin uses terminally ill patients as
his catspaws.
   13.  "The Kingmaker": A ruthless killer and manipulator grooms
politicians for power.
   14.  "Berlin":  A vengeance obsessed Russian criminal who more or
less sounds like Keyser Soze from THE USUAL SUSPECTS.

At this point you have a pretty good idea what THE BLACKLIST is
like.  Some episodes like "The Stewmaker" are more horror than spy
stories and at one point Lizzy breaks her husband's thumb with
pliers while interrogating him.  There may be too much violence
here for some, but it is certainly well motivated.  If you like an
intriguing conspiracy story with engaging characters, you'll
probably like THE BLACKLIST.  [-dls]


TOPIC: CENTRAL STATION by Lavie Tidhar (copyright 2016, Tachyon
Publications, $15.95, 288pp, ISBN 9781616962142) (excerpt from the
Duel Fish Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

Lavie Tidhar's CENTRAL STATION is, by his own words, a "story
cycle/mosaic novel".  Tidhar lists fourteen stories on his website
that are part of the Central Station cycle, thirteen of which, plus
a prologue, made it into the novel.  I had not read any of these
stories before I read the novel, and as the Extended Copyright
section of the novel indicates that "Substantively different
versions of the individual chapters of CENTRAL STATION (my caps,
the text is italicized) were previously published...", I cannot say
how different the chapters are from the original stories.

Creating novels from individual shorter works is nothing new in the
SF field; it's been around for decades.  Call them fix-ups, mash-
ups, or whatever--it's a grand tradition. The original "Foundation
Trilogy", DUNE, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS are all made up of
shorter pieces; those are the ones that come to mind first.  There
are many more, and I'm sure I've read a lot of them although I
probably didn't know it at the time and may still not know it now.
Some are good, some are not so good; that's the way these things
go.  CENTRAL STATION falls into the category of the good ones.

The titular construct resides in the city of Tel Aviv.  It is the
debarkation point for humanity to a better life.  The world has
been ravaged by war and poverty, and a vast majority of the
residents of Earth have left the planet.  CENTRAL STATION doesn't
tell us whether Central Station is the lone departure point for
humanity; we must presume it isn't, for trying to get hundreds of
millions, if not billions, of people off the planet surely must be
an undertaking that involves multiple locations.  Central Station
is, however the backdrop for a series of tales about the people who
live there, the society and culture that has evolved and, in a
couple of cases, the people that have come back.

The story begins with the return to Earth of Boris Chong, who
before he left for Mars was a doctor in the birthing clinics of Tel
Aviv.  He returns to a boy, named Kranki, who has waited for him
every day, a boy who thinks Boris is his father.  The boy's mother,
Mama Jones--Miriam--is Boris' former lover who is raising Kranki as
if he were her own.  Kranki waits for Boris--not knowing him by
that name--every day, until one day he does indeed return.

He returns to a world that is very strange.  Indeed, it is a bit
strange to try to describe.  There is something of a stream of
consciousness called the Conversation.   Everyone has implanted, at
birth, a node that allows them to tap into the Conversation.  Think
of it as social media that you can't get away from, and apparently
you don't want to.  A person is considered damaged if he can't tap
into the Conversation.  Miriam's brother Achimwene is one such
person.  We'll talk more about him later. Alien beings called The
Others are connected to humanity via the Conversation, and Boris
himself has an alien parasite attached to him from his time on
Mars.  There are constructs called robotniks, cyborg soldiers left
over from wars so long ago that they don't remember what the wars
were about or who they were fighting.  They scrounge for parts to
stay alive and functioning.  We meet a few of these, including one
who is romantically involved with Boris' cousin Isobel, and R.
Brother Patch-It, a robot priest.

What Boris doesn't know is that a data vampire with whom he was
briefly involved, Carmel, has followed him back to Earth.  Data
vampires were made the way they are by the Nosferatu Code, which
was supposed to be a weapon for war but got out of control.
Carmel--a strigoi--is hunted, as all data vampires are hunted.  She
somehow makes it through security at Central Station--and looks for
Boris.  She meets the aforementioned Achimwene and they form a
relationship; he is immune to her data needs as he is not plugged
into the Conversation.

We also meet Weiwei Zhong, the founder of the Chong dynasty and the
grandfather of Boris.  His visit to an Oracle resulted in a shared
group memory among all his descendants, including Boris' father,
Vladimir.  And then there are the children, those who came out of
the birthing clinics and are more than a little bit different than
normal children. They also seem to have a mysterious relationship
with Carmel.

As you might be able to gather, there is a lot going on here.  And
yet, this novel does not have a traditional structure, with plot,
conflict, climax, and resolution.  We already know that it is a
mosaic novel, but it is also a mosaic of characters.  All these
different characters that I've written about here, and several more
that I haven't mentioned, each contribute in their own way to the
mosaic of the novel.  The original stories and characters were
written separately, but Tidhar has done a masterful job of melding
everything together into a story of a group of people from a place
and a future that doesn't have to be too far from our own.  While
the story starts out a bit slow (its only fault), it doesn't take
long to pick up steam, making the reader want to turn the pages and
keep reading until the end.

And yet, like the story of humanity, the story of Central Station
is far from finished.  There are more than a few threads left
hanging out there, and I look forward to Tidhar writing more
Central Station stories.  Even if he doesn't, he's left us with a
fine set of stories--and a novel--that can be read multiple times,
with the reader discovering new things each time.  And that's the
way every story should be.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Impressment (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major)

In response to Mark's comments on mutinies in the 01/29/16 issue of
the MT VOID, Joseph T. Major writes:

Dudley Pole, the British naval historian and novelist, discusses
the impressment situation in his Life in Nelson's Navy.  The Royal
Navy had the right to conscript--"impress"--British sailors from
any ship.  There were British sailors serving on American ships.
American sailors would carry a document called a "protection" that
indicated that they were not liable to impressment.  However, the
protection documents were vague, particularly in the description of
the bearer, and American sailors would get extra protections and
sell them to British sailors of similar appearance.

As a result, Royal Navy officers were suspicious of protections and
would impress men who "sounded British".  They were wrong a lot of
the time.  [-jtm]

Mark responds:

I hate to sound like INHERIT THE WIND, but the Royal Navy was
allowed by law to conscript British sailors from any ship.  Whether
they actually had the right to do so was a moot point.  It sounds
like they stretched that allowance beyond what the law allowed.


TOPIC: Lights (letters of comment by Leland R. Beaumont, Paul
Dormer, and Keith F. Lynch)

In response to Evelyn's comments on outdoor lights in the 01/29/16
issue of the MT VOID, Lee Beaumont writes:

I was encouraged by your article "Light Is the Left Hand of
Darkness and Darkness the Right Hand of Light".

When I was a young teenager I wanted to play a mischievous
practical joke on the family that lived across the street.  They
had just installed many floodlights on their house to increase
security.  This was unprecedented at the time, and I thought it was

The lights were controlled by a sensor that turned them on at
night.  One night I took a mirror and snuck into their side yard.
I used the mirror to reflect the light from the floodlight back
toward the sensor.

My hope was to create a feedback loop and cause all the lights to
pulse on and off.  It did not work, and I'm not sure exactly why.
One hypothesis is that the sensor is directed skyward, the other is
that the reflected light was too dim to activate the sensor.

I'm glad the problem has finally been solved.  [-lrb]

Paul Dormer writes:

Curious.  The light-sensitive (dark-sensitive?) light bulbs we get
over here claim not to be sensitive to artificial light.  And,
indeed, my porch light is next to the porch window so the hall
light shines on it all the time I have that switched on (which is
most of the evening when I am at home) and it never goes off.

Annoyingly, the make of bulb I had been using for the last twenty
years or so seems no longer to be available and the sensitivity of
the bulbs I have found when I replaced it just before Christmas are
such that they have a habit of coming on during the middle of the
day.  My porch is north-facing, so it doesn't get much direct
sunlight, most of the last month sunrise has been around eight
a.m., and the weather has been murky a lot of the time.  [-pd]

Keith F. Lynch replies:

How is that possible?  It does go off when there's the same amount
of natural light?

In the US, the government banned standard incandescent bulbs.  I
had the foresight to stock up with a lifetime supply, as I really
dislike fluorescent light, since it flickers and since it has
spikes and holes in its spectrum.

[Coming on in the middle of the day] sounds like a problem with the
photocell in the fixture, not with the bulb itself.  Maybe the
photocell just needs cleaning.  [-kfl]

Evelyn adds:

A long discussion of light bulbs followed in rec.arts.sf.fandom; it
can be found at  [-ecl]

Mark adds:

I too hate fluorescent bulbs which I consider to be bad
technologically.  They are more expensive than incandescent and
they fall well short of their claimed long lifespan.  So far I am
impressed by LED lights and I will gladly see my incandescent bulbs
replaced by LEDs.  [-mrl]


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

PHILOSOPHER by Julian Baggini (ISBN 978-0-452-28744-0) is a fun
book, but misnamed.  Of the first ten "experiments" (thought
experiments, really), one is a math problem, two are marginally
philosophical, and only seven are what I would label philosophical

Not surprisingly, many are familiar.  For example, is the person
who comes out of the transporter on Deneb IV the same person who
went in on Rigel III?  Or, if one continually repairs a wooden boat
by replacing boards, at what point does it cease to be the original
boat?  For example, replacing one board out of a hundred would not
seem to make it a "different" boat.  (If it did, the replacement of
molecules in our bodies would mean we would be continually becoming
a different body.)  Or, is a deed good because God commands it is,
or does God command it because it is good?  (If the latter, then
apparently God is not necessary for morality.)

One might consider this as the philosopher's version of a
devotional, but instead of a Bible verse each day, one can
contemplate a philosophical question.  (I suppose technically it
should have 365 problems rather than 100.)

(One of my favorite philosophical conundrums is "the problem of
induction."  In science, and in general, we assume the future will
be like the past (a "uniformity of nature").  Not in economics, of
course, where "past results are no guarantee of future
performance," but we assume that gravity will work the same
tomorrow as it did yesterday, that tomorrow the second half of this
candy bar will taste pretty much the same as the first half did
yesterday, and so on.  But why do we believe this?  Because up
until now, the future has always been like the past.  Think about
it.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I have been commissioned to write an autobiography
           and I would be grateful to any of your readers who
           could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.
                                  --Jeffrey Bernard