Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
07/22/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 4, Whole Number 1920

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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Topics: eBook Club--One Free Book a Month
        Open Invitation (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        The Growing Threat (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M. R. Carey (book review
                by Dale L. Skran)
        NUTS! (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        "The Roads Must Roll" (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)
        Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" Novels (letter of comment
                by Jim Susky)
        Michael Swanwick (letters of comment by David Goldfarb,
                Philip Chee, Keith F. Lynch, and Tim Bateman)
        This Week's Reading (Retro Hugo finalist short stories
                and dramatic presentations) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: eBook Club--One Free Book a Month

The first book was THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM by Cixin Liu, though that
may no longer be available, because books have a one-week (or so)
download window.


TOPIC: Open Invitation (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

The sign on the church said, "Everybody welcome.  Seriously,
Everybody."  I wonder how many weeks it would take me to change
that to a "by appointment only."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: The Growing Threat (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Like many people I listened to the media coverage of the truck
attack on Bastille Day in Nice, France.  The media said this attack
shows us just how vulnerable anybody anywhere is to fanatical
attacks.  But I was rather surprised nobody pointed out that this
particular attack is a new and particularly disturbing development.

I believe that terrorism is a bigger threat than most people seem
to recognize.  Before September 11, Americans had been vaguely
aware of the threat of terrorism.  Since that time I have seen
terrorism presenting a greater threat and coming closer.  As much
as I detested the truck incident, I have to say also that there is
something to admire.  If I were defending against radical attacks I
would see this truck attack as a particularly dangerous turn of

Until September 11, terrorism was mostly something far away from
our shores and was hurting people who we did not really know.
There had been an attempt on the World Trade Center earlier, but it
had gone badly awry and did not have nearly the impact it was
intended to have.  Mostly the terrorists were made to look like
incompetents.  This business of creating terror was apparently
harder than they thought.

By September 11, 2001, the gestalt of terrorists had gotten a lot
smarter seeing how different groups planned their attacks.  They
could now use missiles against their enemy.  It was a fairly easy
matter at the time to take over a passenger airliner and use that
as a guided missile.  At the time we had very little security from
our airlines.  One airline added a security charge to the price of
a ticket and claimed that it was buying security, but in fact they
were just pocketing the difference.  September 11 was a wake-up
call that we could not be kept safe simply by putting our faith in
the Government and its security measures.  The terrorists had
gotten better.  And they might be in very different causes, but
that did not stop them from learning from each other.

We paid a price.  One of the worst threats of terrorism is not what
the terrorists will do directly but what the terrorism will
frighten us into doing to ourselves.  September 11 proved we would
have to be much more stringent on security measures and you see
what we are doing to ourselves every time we take a passenger
flight.  We pay a heavy price in inconvenience and paranoia every
time we choose to fly.

Meanwhile terrorists used weapons like car bombs to attack crowds
and buildings.  A car bomb can be a powerful weapon.  The problem
with it is that the perpetrator has to hide what he is doing.  If
someone sees explosives they look a whole lot like what they are.
If the authorities find a lot of explosives it is fairly obvious
what they are.  But the truck incident in Nice was cleverer.  If
you see someone with a large truck it does not look threatening.
It just looks like a large truck that could be used for nearly

The Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, was painfully clever.  I
believe the perpetrator(s) had weapons, but their primary weapon
was the innocent-looking truck itself.  Suppose a potential
terrorist is caught with a truck.  Lots of people have trucks.
There are gas stations all over to power it.  A truck that is
simply going to plow into a crowd looks totally innocent right up
to seconds before it is deployed as a killing machine.

Even worse, it is conceivable that the terrorist driving a truck
may not even know he is about to commit a lethal perhaps until he
gives in to an impulse.  The terrorist may think he/she is working
God's will.  Perhaps there is a wish to be killed to claim what
he/she has been told are rewards in an after-life.  Or the attack
could have been planned months in advance.  The important point is
that it could be prepared out in the open without arousing
suspicion.  Explosives and guns were not needed.  Anybody who
drives a truck has a potential deadly weapon and we cannot possibly
trace all trucks that can be used for lethal purposes.

CNN reports that "the man who used a 20-ton truck to plow down
hundreds of people in Nice [July 14], killing 84, somehow became
radicalized very quickly and hadn't even yet shown up on any anti-
terrorist intelligence radar."  There was no way to guess that this
particular truck was to be used for some deadly purpose.  There are
too many trucks in the country and there are too many people who
could possibly plan a copycat attack.  There could be more such
attacks waiting to happen.  The incident in Nice may have shown how
easily the next act of terrorism could be done.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M. R. Carey (book review by
Dale L. Skran)

We all recall those classic SF "girl comes of age stories" like
Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS or Palmer's EMERGENCE or Schmitz's
"Telzey Amberdon" series.  They all feature a young, bright, bubbly
super-genius girl who heroically rises to overcome some difficult
situation.  From the jacket blurbs and the Joss Whedon quotes I
thought GIFTS was about a young girl with super-powers being held
at a government facility.  And, oddly, it is about this.  There is
just one catch--the girl is not human, and the challenge she rises
to overcome is the human species itself.

A deadly plague has covered the world, converting most humans into
deadly flesh easting zombies.  However, one scientist has
discovered that sometimes these mindless zombies have children who
are not mindless.  A base is set up in England for the purpose of
capturing and experimenting on these "mindful" zombies.  In order
to evaluate their intelligence, teachers are brought in to educate
the zombie children.  One of them, Melanie, turns out to have a
genius-level IQ.  They are provided a rather conventional education
with a focus on the Greek myths.  Periodically some are vivisected
for experimental purposes.

One day the base is attacked by "survivalists"--humans who live
outside government control, and most of the soldiers are killed.  A
rag-tag group including Melanie, her favorite teacher, the lead
scientist, and two soldiers attempts to walk to another secure
location.  This is a hero's journey for Melanie, who knows nothing
of the outside world.

As a flesh-eating zombie, Melanie does not get sick and needs only
a meal of raw flesh or grubs once a week to survive.  She has
super-human strength and ferocity along with night vision and a
substantial degree of resistance to injury, which, when coupled
with a genius-level IQ and an education in the Greek virtues,
combine to make her a formidable opponent.  She is truly THE GIRL
WITH ALL THE GIFTS and not the least of them is the wisdom of
ancient Greece.

I'm not going to recap the plot here, but in the end, Melanie wins
and humans lose.  She eventually exterminates the remaining humans
on a global scale and embarks on a plan to educate the child
zombies and create a new, post-human world.  On some level GIFTS is
a metaphor for the race between education and barbarism.  We only
have twenty-five years to get the new generation ready to run
things on its own, so education is the rope across that abyss.

Normally I don't like "British disaster" stories where everything
bad happens and everybody dies.  GIFTS transcends this model by
being about more than just a disaster where everyone dies.  And
Melanie in many ways represents the best of Western Civilization,
while the human characters (mostly) are a degradation of it.
Melanie is also a reminder that the virtues of Western Civilization
transcend race, religion, and even species.  The torch is passed to
her, and she will be a worthy claimant of that inheritance.

GIFTS has received a lot of praise, and rightly so.  In spite of
appearances, it is hard SF with some carefully thought-out science
behind the flesh-eating zombies.  Certainly too dark and violent
for younger kids, but in many ways a young adult novel that
transcends young adult novels.  Melanie is wonderfully realized,
and you will be rooting for her in the end.  Also, I have rarely
read anything that makes it so clear that TEACHER is the most
important job of all.  [-dls]


TOPIC: NUTS! (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: NUTS! is a whimsical documentary, mostly animated, telling
the story of John R. Brinkley, who illegally claimed to be a
medical doctor and who achieved a great following based on the
false claim that he could cure male sexual impotency by an
operation that grafted goat testicle matter onto the patient
testicles.  To help publicize his work he founded a radio station
that became on of the most popular stations in the country.  Penny
Lane, director of OUR NIXON, directs a script by Thom Stylinski.
The story is told with panache, often funny and more often is just
strange.  This is a true story too weird to make up.  Rating:
high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

John Romulus Brinkley was a quack doctor (or self-proclaimed
doctor) whose technique was to transplant goat testicles into men
as a cure for male impotency.  He first performed the operation at
the request of a patient complaining of lack of function.  When it
appeared to be successful he adopted the procedure as his own and
more and more men requested it.  He started practicing the
operation in 1917 in the nearly dead town of Milford, Kansas, but
with the popularity of the operation he opened clinics and
hospitals in multiple states.  Famous celebrities are listed as
having the goat gland operation.  Buster Keaton, Huey Long, William
Jennings Bryon, and Rudolph Valentino were rumored to be patients
and advocates.  As one satisfied customer testifies, "I used to
have a floppy dong, but it ain't floppy no more."

To advertise his medical services--if that is the right word--he
became pioneer of radio and the station he founded became a popular
favorite across the US.  Eventually he had the world's most
powerful broadcasting station.  Brinkley's story is incredible but
true, a nearly forgotten chapter of United States history.  The
story drifts from the medical aspects to the radio entertainment
Brinkley sponsored to legal challenges to the Brinkley empire, and
Brinkley's run for governor of Kansas at a time when the system
really seems to have been rigged against him.

Under the direction of Penny Lane, NUTS! drifts from color to
monochrome.  It largely uses animation with hand-drawn art.
Interviews are done in color with testimony by experts like Pope
Brock, author of CHARLATAN.  Frequently the visuals are of
contemporary news stories covering the career of Brinkley.  Also
there are Brinkley home movies and newsreel and other archive
footage.  The script is broken into chapters with exaggerated
dramatic titles like "THE COBRA STRIKES" and "INTO THE FIELDS OF
ELYSIUM."  The narrator of the film seems as amused as the audience

Oddly, early in the film the narrative makes the operation seem to
be apparently successful.  Toward the end the tone has changed and
it sounds instead that the success rate is what we would have
suspected, very roughly nil.  Any successes Brinkley appeared to
have were probably due to a placebo effect.  One of the failings of
the film is to regard his medical procedures as neither very
helpful nor very harmful.  In fact, people were harmed by not
getting the medical treatment they really needed.

One interviewee says, "I'd call him a psychopath, but I'm not
medically qualified to do so."  Somehow medical qualification seems
to be an unimportant matter here.  This high-spirited documentary
is never less than fun to watch and frequently quite astonishing.
This is one of the more entertaining documentaries of the year.  I
rate NUTS! a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:

Wikipedia on John R. Brinkley



TOPIC: "The Roads Must Roll" (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)

In response to Evelyn's comments on "The Roads Must Roll" in the
07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Evelyn wrote, "But prescient or not, what it boils down to is a
story about a strike in a critical sector of the economy.  The
rolling roads are just calling a six-gun a blaster and a rustler a
space pirate.  [The reference is to the back covers of Galaxy
Magazine in 1950.]  (And does it even make sense to put a
restaurant on a moving belt?  Trying to go to dinner there would
involve some mighty tricky calculations, and a long trip at either
the beginning, the end, or both."

The same objection could be raised to having dining cars on
passenger trains.  [-fl]

Evelyn responds:

I guess I wasn't clear.  Apparently people go to eat in restaurants
on the moving roads even when they are not traveling to somewhere
else.  That would be like deciding to have dinner in the restaurant
car on a train going from Los Angeles to San Francisco when you had
no need or plans to go to San Francisco.  At least that's how I
read it.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Lee Child's "Jack Reacher" Novels (letter of comment by Jim

In response to Dale Skran's comments on Lee Child's "Jack Reacher"
novels in the 07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

I see that Dale Skran has once again addressed Lee Child's Reacher
thrillers (and is having fun turning their pages).  I'd like to
offer a few additional details based on a blurred recollection of
all 18-or-so novels:

On balance, since rural settings comprise a majority of venues, the
villains are also rural "rednecks"--of which, I suppose,
"hillbillies" are a subset.  In more than one story, the villains
maintain a reign-of-terror with locals.  The leaders tend to be
competent and shrewd but most of the "muscle" is not.

I have seen self-described conservatives object to Child's
"liberal" leanings.  This is manifested (as Dale noted) by
Reacher's predilection for competent women in the military and law-
enforcement.  Other "objections" accrue to Child/Reacher's
occasional comment on US foreign policy and perhaps to Child's
general critique of the police and the military.  I think his view,
as expressed through his hero, is more subtle.

(so far I recall no involvement with any CIA persons male, female,
or ambiguous)

Reacher disdains executives both civilian and military - unless
they are also competent, with a "proper" disposition to break
military law when such violates higher a higher moral authority--
his best commanding officers and underlings honor the law "in the
breach" when it would cause unjust results--or just render them

He also has disdain for all law-enforcement personnel--not just
officers--mostly because they are ruining his day.  Exceptions are
those he needs and teams with.  The kidnapped lady FBI agent is
one. Others include the various clerical experts who can tweak
databases, call in favors, cajole other police/military clerks, and
generally do what it takes to get Reacher his information.

99% of the time Reacher is indeed "the smartest guy in the room".
The other 1% is when he's with those competent associates--then
they communicate in a kind of shorthand that shows Reacher is with
his kind of people.

Mark could comment on whether Hitchcock ever respected police
enough to show them to be competent.  Child shows that competence
exists everywhere--even among the villains.  [-js]


TOPIC: Michael Swanwick (letters of comment by David Goldfarb,
Philip Chee, Keith F. Lynch, and Tim Bateman)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Michael Swanwick's talk in the
07/15/16 issue of the MT VOID, David Goldfarb writes:

[It's] Bechdel, with a D [not Bechtel].

[Swanwick said,] "It may seem as if the present should feel more
immediate, but it does not--it is distancing.  The past tense
sounds more like a story."

Mostly I agree with Swanwick here.  The big exception is Charlie
Stross's "Laundry" series, in which Bob's narration just pulls you
in and makes you feel like you're running for cover from
extradimensional horrors along with him.  [-dg]

Philip Chee notes:

q.v. Charlie Stross: Halting State uses the second person mostly.
I didn't expect this to work but it does--at least for me.  [-pc]

And Keith F. Lynch writes:

It's amusing how his Laundry novel THE RHESUS CHART passes the
Bechdel Test.  What do two women discuss, other than a man?  They
discuss the Bechdel Test!  (To be fair, one of them isn't exactly
a woman, but a female vampire.  Close enough for government work.
Especially since the vampire in question is indeed a government
worker.  As is the human woman.)  [-kfl]

Tim Bateman adds:

'Woman' vs. 'female vampire' appears to me to be what our legal
brethren would call a nice distinction.

And, yes, good bodyswerve by Stross in re the matter of the Bechdel
Test.   [-tb]

Evelyn responds:

Thanks for the spelling correction.  That's what I get for not
double-checking these things!  [-ecl]


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

Last week I covered the Retro Hugo finalists for novella and
novelette; this week I will finish up my coverage with the short
stories and dramatic presentations.

Short Story:

"Martian Quest" by Leigh Brackett (Astounding Science-Fiction, Feb
1940): This is the sort of quintessential "we-have-a-problem-and-
we-solve-it-with-science" story one expected of ASTOUNDING in the
Golden Days.  (These days, I guess we would call it a "science-the-
sh*t-out-of-it" story.)  Why Terra assumes that a chemist can solve
any sort of science problem is not clear but even in Leigh Brackett
stories, women were supposed to be more decorative and clinging
than brilliant and clever.  And of course it is dated in other
ways, including the descriptions of Mars and of Venus.

"Requiem" by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science-Fiction, Jan
1940): This is the first published of the five "Future History"
stories that Heinlein has nominated on this ballot, though the
third in internal chronology.  It shows its age in small ways: a
reference to Verne and Wells and Smith (E. E. Smith was big in
1940, but not now exactly the household name that Verne or Wells
is), the use of the term "darktown", the idea of barnstorming
rockets, and of course the whole concept of how we would get to the
moon.  And Heinlein's tendency to preach is already in full flower:
"It's neither your business, nor the business of this damn
paternalistic government, to tell a man not to risk his life doing
what he really wants to do."  Alas, there is not much story here;
what there is will be familiar to those who have seen the film

"Robbie" by Isaac Asimov (Super Science Stories, Sept 1940):
Last year Loncon 3 decided not to award Retro Hugos, which is a
pity because it meant that Eando Binder's short story "I, Robot"
could not be nominated.  Had it been, people might realize how
derivative "Robbie" was.  And the imitation came full circle when
the television show THE OUTER LIMITS did then episode "I, Robot"
dramatizing the Binder story, but taking the gist of the Asimov
ending.  (And now the television show "Humans" has also dramatized
Asimov's story--uncredited.)  Still, the Asimov version is a
classic in its own right, or rather, as the beginning of Asimov's
Susan Calvin cycle.

"The Stellar Legion" by Leigh Brackett (Planet Stories, Winter
1940): Just as "The Roads Must Roll" was a labor dispute dressed up
in futuristic terms, this is a French Foreign Legion tale dressed
up in planetary colonization terms.

"Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Jorge Luis Borges (Sur, 1940): This
was actually the first work nominated in its original non-English
form, because this category was announced before the novels.
Readers who cannot read Spanish have a choice of at least three
different translations.  (For a comparison of the first paragraph
see  I
have written at great length already about this story, so I will
not repeat myself here; see and

[I will note that, much as I am delighted that Jorge Luis Borges
has been nominated for a Hugo Award, I will be the first to agree
that there is not a chance in Hades that he would have been
nominated for a Hugo in 1940.  "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" was not
translated into English for another twenty years, and none of the
128 members of Chicon I would have a clue that it existed.)

My ranking: "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", no award; "Martian
Quest"; "The Stellar Legion"; "Robbie"; "Requiem"

And my comments and rankings on the Dramatic Presentations (with
running times noted):

Dramatic Presentations:

What a motley assortment for Long Form: science fiction, fantasy,
animation, a serial, past, present, and future.

I understand that there is a 20% margin on the 90-minute length
(e.g., 18 minutes) that theoretically divides the Long and Short
Forms, but having *two* Short Forms (THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS at
81 minutes and PINOCCHIO at 88 minutes) longer than *two* of the
Long Forms (DR. CYCLOPS at 75 minutes and ONE MILLION B.C. at 80
minutes) seems like an abuse of the system.

Of course, technically, if the finalists in these categories were
the ten top vote-getters, the Administrator was possibly faced with
having to drop two from the Short Form and run only three in the
Long Form.  (Not necessarily, but let's go with that.)  Then he
should have moved the two longest of the Short Form into Long Form.
As it is, it appears as though PINOCCHIO was moved, whether
intentionally or not, into a category where it has no real
competition.  That seems unfair to true short forms.

I also understand that FANTASIA (120 min) is generally considered a
single feature-length work, but frankly, I would be happier if one
could treat it as separate Short Forms.  Then one could vote for
"Night on Bald Mountain" or "Rite of Spring" without having also to
vote for "Toccata and Fugue" or "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".  (I
like the latter two pieces of music, but not what Disney did with
them.  Then again, Stravinsky hated what Disney did to "Rite of
Spring", both in his re-arrangement and in the visuals.)  As for
Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, SOYLENT GREEN did an infinitely better
job.  The lighting of the orchestra during the interlude is such
that for most of the time they are on screen, they look African.
Until I realized it was a trick of the lighting, I thought the
orchestra quite advanced for its time.

It is hard to vote for ONE MILLION B.C. (80 min) when one realizes
it achieved its dinosaurs by gluing fins onto lizards.  The ASPCA
would have something to say about that today, I am sure.

But it's a toss-up which is worse, ONE MILLION B.C. or FLASH GORDON
CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE.  Mark claims that the IMDB "Goofs" list for
the latter would be longer than the script.  FLASH GORDON CONQUERS
THE UNIVERSE (240 min) may be a "classic," but by Ghu, it's awful.

THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (106 min) has a lot of dark-skinned extras, but
the leading man and (especially) the leading lady are light-
skinned, even while the villain's skin has been somewhat darkened.

DR. CYCLOPS (75 min) is the first science fiction film done in
color, and is based on a novel (novella?) by Henry Kuttner.  If
you're looking for real science fiction in this category, this is
clearly the choice.  THE THIEF OF BAGDAD does have better
production values, but the special effects in DR. CYCLOPS are
really quite impressive for the time.

My votes:

Long Form: THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (106 min), DR. CYCLOPS (75 min),
(240 min), ONE MILLION B.C. (80 min)

Short Form:

The Adventures of Superman: "The Baby from Krypton" (12 min) is
just a thinly veiled parable about climate change on earth and how
the people in charge claim that the money that needs to be spent to
avoid death is too much, and the whole thing is probably a hoax
anyway.  Oh, wait, this is from 1940.  Well, it was a good theory.
As far as Hugo voting goes, though, this episode does not stand on
its own.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (81 min) is the second in the "Invisible
Man" series, but is basically just a re-working of the first.  The
special effects are good for the time (though visible matte lines,
and the inability to show the back collar of the shirts the
Invisible Man wears tend to interfere with the willing suspension
of disbelief).

Looney Tunes: "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (9 min) is a mixture of
animation and live action.  (I suspect lots of fans think WHO
FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? was the first.)

Merrie Melodies: "A Wild Hare" (8 min) was the first official Bugs
Bunny cartoon (a similar-looking rabbit did appear in four or five
earlier cartoons).  Even here, he looks a lot different from his
current appearance.

I was never that taken by PINOCCHIO (88 min), and the fact that it
is an order of magnitude longer than the shorts does not encourage
me to vote for it.

My votes:

Short Form: THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (81 min), PINOCCHIO (88 min),
Looney Tunes: "You Ought to Be in Pictures" (9 min), no award,
Merrie Melodies: "A Wild Hare" (8 min), The Adventures of Superman:
"The Baby from Krypton" (12 min)



                                           Mark Leeper

           The day I made that statement, about the inventing the
           Internet, I was tired because I'd been up all night
           inventing the Camcorder.
                                           --Al Gore