Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/22/16 -- Vol. 34, No. 42, Whole Number 1907

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        iTunes U (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Project Breakthrough Starshot (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        DOUGH (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        LOVE THY NATURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        AI Authors (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove)
        Passover (letters of comment by Peter Trei
                and Lowell Gilbert)
        Films' Recognition Values (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)
        This Week's Reading ("The Whisperer in Darkness")
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: iTunes U (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Evelyn and I like the courses we get there.  I just don't like the
name, iTunes U.  Every time she mentions it I cannot get the tune
to "This Old Man" out of my head.  It keeps going

ITunes U.
UTunes Me
We're a Happy Fam-il-ee.

At least I have no kids who watch Barney.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Project Breakthrough Starshot (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

When I first got interested in spaceships, outer space was a sort
of fantasy place where Commando Cody could fly from one spaceship
to another by benefit of the rockets he had strapped to his back.
This was a year or two before the Soviets showed that you could
shoot an object into space and it would stay up in the sky almost
indefinitely.  People suspected you could put a piece of metal into
orbit, but that was only theory until the feat was achieved in
1957.  In this same lifetime I am seeing the inauguration of the
Interstellar Age.  Real people who understand real science are
developing craft that will leave our solar system and travel to
another star sending back data--data that will return to Earth,
perhaps arriving in that same lifetime.  No humans would be going
yet.  But the concept of interstellar travel could well become a
reality.  A project called Breakthrough Starshot has already begun
and its primary goal will be to send electronic devices to Alpha
Centauri to explore.  The project is called, appropriately enough,
Breakthrough Starshot.

Now what is the point of all this?  The star system Alpha Centauri
is 4.37 light years away.  Yes, we could have sent Voyager to Alpha
Centauri.  But Voyager travels at 17 kilometers every second.  I
suppose that is fast.  However, traveling at Voyager-like speeds
just takes too long.  If it were going to Alpha Centauri it would
take some 70,000 years to get there.  By then we would likely not
need the data.  This for me was always a good argument that humans
are too puny and short-lived to have any presence at all outside
our solar system.

Even if we could achieve the fantastical speed of 1/20th of the
speed of light, that speed would take you there in about eighty
years.  Sending back information to Earth would require another
four years plus.  I for one could hardly expect to live long enough
to see the returning data.  It is hard to get people excited about
a project that takes a human lifespan to get results.

And then there is this new undertaking called "Breakthrough
Starshot."  How long will it take Breakthrough Starshot to get
hardware to Alpha Centauri?  Twenty years.  We could be getting
data back in twenty-five years.  Breakthrough Starshot can deliver
electronics to another star in just two decades and then it can get
data back twenty-five years after it is launched.

Where are we going to get rocket engines that can take these big,
juicy bites out of the speed of light?  Well, it will not have
engines.  It will have sails.  You see, engines have to carry their
own fuel with them.  Most of your fuel gets used up pushing your
fuel.  You can see using rockets is a losing game.

Imagine, if you will, a line of golf tees, each with a golf ball.
You walk down the line, hitting each ball a very long distance.  If
you hit the balls straight you can knock them very near the cup.
All the energy is expended within a few inches of you but the balls
go fast and they travel to a destination at a great distance.  The
ball is an electronic module with a light sail.  The club hitting
the ball is really a laser beam.  The cup will be Alpha Centauri

Breakthrough Starshot will use light sails.  Light exerts pressure.
Not a lot of pressure, but light on a sail is usable.  At one time
it was thought you could use sunlight to push spacecraft.  The
pressure of the light would cause the craft to accelerate and
persistent acceleration can lead to high speeds very quickly.  But
at these distances sunlight is not strong enough to provide enough
acceleration.  Instead, a very large array of lasers of 100 giga-
watts could be trained on the sails and could in just a short time
get the Breakthrough Starshot modules traveling at 20% the speed of
light.  That would do it.  There would be a lot of Breakthrough
Starshot modules sent but each one does not have to be big.  The
modules are said to be about the size of an iPhone.  If a fleet of
these modules could be sent to very near Alpha Centauri there is a
lot we could learn.

The plan is to send small probes the size of smart phones into
Earth orbit.  Once there they would open their light sails.  From
down below lasers would be focused on the sails knocking them out
of orbit, accelerating them to a fifth of the speed of light, and
sending them onto their (very, very) long journey.

This may sound like a fantasy or (gasp!) science fiction, but the
people behind Project Breakthrough Starshot are fairly notable for
their acknowledged scientific expertise and/or the large number of
zeroes in their net worth.  Leading the project are Russian
entrepreneur Yuri Milner, Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Ann
Druyan, astronomer Avi Loeb, astronaut Mae Jemison, and NASA
researcher Pete Worden.  Directing the project will be Milner,
Hawking, and Mark Zuckerberg.  The project was inaugurated April 12
of this month.



So in one lifetime I will have seen artificial orbit first achieved
and also the inauguration of the Interstellar Age.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: DOUGH (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: DOUGH is an affable if overly familiar comedy-drama about
an Orthodox Jewish baker who takes a Muslim boy for an assistant
not knowing that the boy is a marijuana dealer using the job to
hide his profits from his illicit business.  The two learn to like
each other and help each other though their lives' trials.  John
Goldschmidt directs a script by Jonathan Benson and Jez Freedman.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Jonathan Pryce plays Nat Dayan, the last baker in a line going back
at least a century.  Nat knows the bakery is failing and his son, a
successful lawyer, chose not to be a baker.  When Nat is gone--a
time fast approaching--the bakery will have to close and the ever-
diminishing Jewish community in the neighborhood will have no place
to buy his quality of fresh baked goods.  Nat needs an assistant
and hopefully an apprentice who will continue the bakery going.
Meanwhile a superstore chain is opening in Nat's neighborhood with
the power to out-compete Nat at every turn.

Ayyash (Jerome Holder) is a very small-time drug dealer who may be
getting a little money dealing that may need explaining.  He needs
a place to work.  His mother suggests the bakeshop she goes to, and
so an orthodox Jewish baker gets a Muslim assistant who really is
up to no good.  Each has prejudices against the other, but he
stifles them because he has other agenda.  Ayyash decides to deal
drugs out of the bakeshop and it is not long before the drugs and
the fresh bread get mixed.  Suddenly Nat's customers find that they
really have a good time when they eat Nat's bread, and nobody
guesses what is going on.

There is little here to laugh out loud about, but there are some
warm moments.  It is hard to believe that people can be getting a
(mild) drug high off of Nat's Challah bread and nobody has a clue
what is going on.  That is true even in Nat's family where two
minor jokes have the entire table in uproarious laughter.  At times
the film stretches the viewer's credulity.  But while the selection
of characters created is far from original, Goldschmidt does give
the actors some life.  Jonathan Pryce may well be able to play an
Orthodox Jew, and might well be capable in the role.  But perhaps a
less familiar actor could have been more believable.  I was always
aware I was seeing Jonathan Pryce rather than Nat the baker.  To
some degree the same is true of Pauline Collins as Joanna the
landlady, but she has so much less a part in the proceedings.
Jerome Holder has an advantage being by far the least familiar
actor of the three.  It may well be that most of us are less
familiar with the nuances of African Muslim behavior and Holder
seems authentic.  The neighborhood, what we see of it, looks rather
like the streets of London.  Well, the film was shot partly in
London and partly in Budapest--an economic choice.

Stories of people of opposite cultures who find they get along are
common in films and only a little less common in the real world.
Nevertheless they probably do some good.  And this film seems to be
something of an audience pleaser.  That makes DOUGH one of the
better films of the season.  I rate DOUGH a high +1 on the -4 to +4
scale or 6/10.  Dough opens in several major cities on April 29.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: LOVE THY NATURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Here we have some important messages presented in what is
too frequently a patronizing style.  LOVE THY NATURE starts as a
admiring look at the spectacular natural world and humans' position
within and along side of nature.  Nature really is something to
love right now, as the title says.  The message is true but the
presentation style talks down to the viewer.  It would be a sad
commentary if we need to be patronized if we are going to accept
the message.  Sylvie Rokab co-writes and directs and is one of
three cinematographers.  Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

This is a film that mesmerizes the viewer with some terrific nature
photography to remind the observer how much he/she should be loving
nature, and in doing so talks down to the viewer.  I saw it on a
big screen TV and I wish it had been on a full-sized theater screen
to appreciate the spectacular nature photography.  But when the
film shows people it shows views of happy people enjoying being in
nature like an illustration from a Watchtower tract.

Liam Neeson narrates the film calling himself "Homo Sapiens
Sapiens."  In other words, he is at times pretending to be the
spirit of humanity.  Yet he also is upbraiding humanity for its bad
habits.  So some of the message is much needed but confused.  Also
all too much of the message is laced with New Age ideas, some of
which are actually dangerous.  As an example, the film recommends
natural herbal cures preferentially over mainstream medicine.  It
reassures the viewer that if the herbal cures do not work the
viewer an fall back on mainstream medical therapy.  (A woman I
worked with was taking herbal medicine for her very severe
headaches.  She died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage.)  Not all
the advice the film gives is anywhere near such bad suggestions,
but the viewer may do better to accept or reject points made by the
film on a piece-by-piece basis.  One should not accept all the
ideas without some prudent skepticism.

The film is of an uneven visual style with most of the nature
photography toward the beginning.  The film's approach is rather
scattershot.  It will be talking one minute about how we have a
symbiotic relationship with trees and their photosynthesis, and
then it will be talking about global warming.  Having an excellent
actor like Liam Neeson narrate could be a real asset to the film,
but having him represent all of humanity is bothersome.  Elsewhere
the film has major figures in conservation interviewed, including
people like Andy Lipkis, founder of the tree conservation group the
TreePeople.  One moment the film can be interviewing a respectable
expert on the science of his subject and the next we will be seeing
an animated bee puppet.

This is a documentary that has its heart in the right place,
presenting many challenging issues facing humanity with varying
degrees of optimism.  For me the film would have worked better if
it had a greater degree of trust for the intelligence of its
viewer.  And to some extent the film also seems to be preaching to
the choir.  Most of the film's viewers will probably already
believe the messages of the film before they even see it.  I rate
LOVE THY NATURE a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: AI Authors (letter of comment by Neil Ostrove)

In response to comments on AIs writing fiction in the 04/22/16
issue of the MT VOID, Neil Ostrove writes:

As often happened, Isaac Asimov had already considered the
implications.  His short story "The Monkey's Finger" [in BUY
JUPITER AND OTHER STORIES] contrasts the editor's and writer's
viewpoints.  [-no]


TOPIC: Passover (letters of comment by Peter Trei and Lowell

In response to Evelyn's comments on Passover in the 04/15/16 issue
of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

I'm slightly boggled to find that, for at least some Jews, the
rules changed this year:

"The change, approved by Judaism's Conservative movement in
November, lifts a rule in place since the 13th century that
prohibited Ashkenazi Jews outside Israel from eating a group of
foods known as kitniyot--rice, corn, peanuts, beans and other
legumes--during Passover. "

Which Manischewitz goes well with sushi?

[For that matter, why is it okay to have yeast-fermented wine, but
not yeast-fermented grain?]  [-pt]

Lowell Gilbert responds:

That aligns the Ashkenazi with the Sephardic tradition. There's no
clear reason for excluding those foods, especially if they're not
made into flour.

"Which Manischewitz goes well with sushi?"


"[For that matter, why is it OK to have yeast-fermented wine, but
not yeast-fermented grain?]"

Because it isn't about fermentation per se.  It's about the rising
of the bread.  ["The Israelites had to leave Egypt in such a hurry,
they were forced to bake their bread without waiting for it to
rise."]  [-lg]


TOPIC: Films' Recognition Values (letter of comment by Paul Dormer)

In response to Mark's comments on films' recognition values in the
04/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Paul Dormer writes:

[Mark wrote,] "I certainly agree that KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS and
GREAT EXPECTATIONS are fine films.  I suspect that THE WEREWOLF OF
LONDON and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN have better recognition value
today.  Universal horror films have an undying popularity."  [-mrl]

Perhaps not in the UK.  Ealing comedies get shown quite often on
British TV--I'm sure KIND HEARTS gets shown about every six months.
Universal horror films get shown less often.  I did finally get to
see the original FRANKENSTEIN a few years ago, but I don't recall a
recent showing.  (But with so many channels these days, it would be
easy not to notice it was on.)  I have a box set of Ealing films
PIMLICO and WENT THE DAY WELL.  The last is almost an alternate
history film with its Nazi invaders in the British countryside.

Mark replies:  "It is true I was thinking about my experience with
the two films and that would have been in the US, and here the
Universal Films are shown more.  Of course the US outnumber Britain
by about 5 to 1.  So over all the Universal films still might get
more play.

"WENT THE DAY WELL fits into the very large field of possible-
future science fiction.  I showed WENT THE DAY WELL to a friend who
is a science fiction fan.  She complained that the director did not
do enough to humanize the Germans.  Under the circumstances I think
Alberto Cavalcanti, the director, could be forgiven."  [-mrl]


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

The book and film group read "The Whisperer in Darkness" by
H. P. Lovecraft, and watched the film of it produced by the HPL
Historical Society.

While Arkham, Massachusetts, is a fictional town, all the places
mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness" appear to be real.  The
towns of Hardwick, Montpelier, and Lyndonville are all in the
north-central and north-eastern part of Vermont; Townshend,
Newfane, South Londonderry, and Bellows Falls are in the
southeastern.  (None of them are very far from I-91.)  The rivers
and counties are all real.  (Mount) Wantastiquet is also real, but
"Dark Mountain" and "Round Hill" may or may not be--the names are a
bit too generic to tell.

As alluded to in the story, Massachusetts did in fact issue a
license plate with "the sacred codfish" on it in 1928, but its
history is as murky as Lovecraft's forests.  The Massachusetts
Registry of Motor Vehicles says:

"It was in 1928 that a depiction of a codfish, symbol of the
Massachusetts fishing industry, was the first picture to appear on
a plate.  The image, which resembled an oversized guppy more than a
codfish, sparked controversy among local fishermen.  After
suffering one of the worst years in fishing history, the fishermen
blamed the RMV for representing the cod swimming away from the word
"Massachusetts" which was printed on the plates.  The controversial
image was removed from passenger plates in 1929 and a more
realistic and detailed codfish shown swimming toward Massachusetts
appeared on truck plates in that same year."

But Chris Woodcock writes, "It is a great story and is even
repeated on the current Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles
web site.  Unfortunately it is not at all true!  The fishing was
not particularly bad in 1928.  The swimming away was just
circumstance (note that starting in 1925 the year and 'MASS'
alternate sides).'

The Vermont floods mentioned also really happened, and were the
worst in Vermont's history.  And there was a ninth planet; Pluto
was discovered while Lovecraft was writing "The Whisperer in
Darkness".  (One wonders if the new ninth planet, now dubbed "Planet
X", will be named "Yuggoth".  And shouldn't it be "Planet IX"?)

Lovecraft tried to have up-to-date science in his works, such as
including Pluto, but obviously much of it looks outdated.  Nowadays
he would probably have people's consciousnesses uploaded to a
computer rather than extracting their brains and putting them in a

The description of the structures in the forest made me wonder if
Lovecraft had visited "Mystery Hill" (now named America's
Stonehenge") in Salem, New Hampshire.  He did, but it is not clear
whether this was before or after he wrote "The Whisperer in
Darkness".  It is often claimed that "Mystery Hill" influenced "The
Dunwich Horror", but Lovecraft visited the site to late to have
inspired the 1929 story.  "The Whisperer in Darkness" was published
in 1932, so there is more chance for it to have occurred before
this storty.

What is "Mystery Hill"?  It is a site of stone structures in Salem,
New Hampshire, but more small passages and cave-like structures
than the great standing stones of Stonehenge.  No one is sure who
built it, or why.  Well, that's not true.  Quite a few people are
sure, but they tend to disagree with each other.  What the site's
owners would like you to believe (and it is privately owned, rather
than a national or state site) is that all this was done by
European explorers pre-dating the Vikings.  (St. Brendan's name
comes up, though others think it was the Phoenicians.)  The
descriptions talk about how the bigger standing stones are aligned
with the sun on the equinoxes or other special days, but there seem
to be a lot of big standing stones *not* aligned with the sun, and
it almost seems more like they just pick which stones are important
after the fact.  Also, stone quarrying and other activities took
place here in the 19th century, and many also believe that the
1930s owner may have moved stones to what he believed/claimed to be
their original positions, making their current placement

(I am reminded of the reconstructed stone fort in Scotland that
looked so perfect, but was completely inauthentic.  While there had
been a fort there, it had collapsed or been destroyed, and in the
19th century the owner of the land just took the stones lying
around and built a fort from them with no concern about the
original placement.)

In spite of all this, the site is an interesting tie-in to
Lovecraft's work.  (I should note that it is merely the best-known
of hundreds of megaliths in New England.)

"The Whisperer in Darkness" was Lovecraft's most profitable work--
he got $350 for it.  The mention of the Hounds of Tindalos was
picked up by Frank Belknap Long, who wrote an entire novel based on
them.  And a lot of the off-hand references here re-appear in "The

And "The H. P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast" (Episodes 74-76 at for "The Whisperer in Darkness")
pointed out something true of all of Lovecraft's work--he loves
hyphenated adjectives.  He seems particularly fond of those ending
in "ing": "hill-climbing", "wonder-loving", "night-haunting",
"forest-traversing", "vista-opening", "ether-resisting", "barrier-
breaking", "secret-guarding", ...

While we are talking about a work with a great sense of place, I
should mention HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys (ISBN 978-0-446-36235-
1), which has a major portion of it taking place in the Pine
Barrens of New Jersey.  It is a book of characterization rather
than of events, and its structure means that you will probably be
lost for quite a while before things start to make sense, but that
is part of what makes it intriguing.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           The perplexity of life arises from there being too many
           interesting things in it for us to be interested properly
           in any of them.
                                            --G. K. Chesterton, 1909