Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/23/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 13, Whole Number 1929

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Problems I Found in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959)
                (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        One-Word Film Titles (quiz by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        SOMNUS (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        I.T. (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
                by Charles C. Mann (book review by Greg Frederick)
        This Week's Reading (THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CTHULHU
                RECORD STRAIGHT) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


(1959) (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I think CASABLANCA is a great film and most people I talk to seem
to agree.  But the truth is that there is a lot in that film that
makes little sense.  There was no such thing historically as
"Letters of Transit" and certainly nothing that the Gestapo would
accept.  And absolutely nothing that the Germans were not allowed
to even question.  Later in the film when the letters are actually
used they seem to be barely examined.  Some films just seem to
click and you accept them even with their problems.  And as for
Rick and Louis walking off into the fog at the end, where do you
find fog in the Moroccan desert?  Still we just accept it because
it is a good film.  That is how I feel about JOURNEY TO THE CENTER

Last week I wrote an evaluation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE
EARTH (1959), one of my favorite movies of the 1950s and what I
consider one of the great adventure films of all times.  I find
what is wrong with the film forgivable.  But I would not feel right
about just ignoring the many problems I saw watching the film
recently.  This is effectively an appendix to that essay listing
problems with the writing of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.

Jules Verne's novel leaned rather heavily on lucky coincidence. He
started with a note falling out of a book where just the right
person could read it.  But that is a small coincidence compared to
those in the 1959 adaptation.  Walter Reisch's and Charles
Brackett's screenplay seems to consider this a carte blanche and
over and over has fortuitous accidents pushing the story forward.
Consider Arne Saknussemm who, knowing he would not return from his
expedition, scratched his message into a plumb bob.  Somehow this
tool made its way back up to the surface from near the center of
the earth.  Along the way somehow this tool was lightly coated in
lava so it look much like another rock.  It managed not to fall
into the sea surrounding the volcano.  Then someone found the rock
and sold it individually to a shop in Edinburgh where a student
volcanologist found it.  What do you figure are the chances of all
that happening?  Later an explosion blows off the lava jacket and
the plumb bob is left shiny and legible once the lava is removed.

Much of the coincidence driving the story is bad luck that turns
out to be extreme good luck.  Consider:

If Lindenbrook and Alec had not been kidnapped and waylaid, they
would never have found Hans to provide the great muscle power
needed for the trip.

The three men stop what they are doing to have a moment of silence
for Goetabaug.  That slows them a bit, but it was in this moment
that Lindenbrook notices the smell of potassium cyanide, which
tells them how Goetabaug died.

If Goetabaug had not died, the Lindenbrook expedition would not
have had the equipment it had.

Perhaps the biggest coincidence of all was that there was a path
and Arne Saknussemm was able to find it, saving the Lindenbrook
Expedition a lot of trial and error.  I have no idea how Saknussemm
could have not only gone by himself on this trek but when he found
a way he could have proceeded he went back and marked it.  How did
he know that a path continued for several days' walk and then
became impassable?

The duck also seem to know the path both when first entering the
cave and later when Count Saknussemm gives them a fraudulent way
marking.  It is an unfortunate expedition that gets its best advice
from a duck.

Chased by a boulder, Lindenbrook throw himself to the ground and
immediately finds the three notches he might have missed.

If Alec had not fallen in the darkness, they would not have found
the crystal grotto.

In the flooding grotto Carla grabs for a stalactite to support
herself and it breaks off, but that gives them an escape.

The gunshot wounds Alec but helps Lindenbrook to find and save him.

In spite of my love for this film (and it is a film I have loved
from when I first saw it) when I see it to say I am willing to give
it a pass in spite of the film's stretches of credulity.  Here are
problems I have noted (in addition to the coincidences already

As I said, without help Arne Saknussemm must have been able to find
his way to the center of the by trial and error and then go back
and mark the whole path.  This seems unlikely.  This is a problem
that goes back to the novel.  It is unbelievable that Arne
Saknussemm could do everything needed to prepare a way for later

The plumb bob covered with lava, which is then roughly removed, but
the message on the tool is still readable.  And it is a long
message that seems unlikely to be written on the surface of a
single plumb bob.

Lindenbrook lightly throws off that Alec will lose his acrophobia
after the first million fathoms or so.  A million fathoms is about
1136 miles.  It is hard to believe he thought they be walking
multiple thousands of miles.

On top of the mountain Alec throws down the jacket for his
accordion and apparently just carelessly leaves it there. That is
not a very good way to treat Jenny's gift.

Lindenbrook is delighted to find a room full of exploration
equipment.  We are never told how four people with light knapsacks
carry all that gear *and* sufficient food.

How useful are charts of underground springs?  After all, they were
made on the surface.

Lindenbrook seems to have some intuition about which direction,
left or right, the path should be going.  How can he any such
knowledge?  Why is there even a rule of which way to go at a fork?

In the crystal grotto I can see that minerals could form a barrier,
but it is unlikely they could form a vertical wall holding back

When the crystal wall breaks, how does Alec avoid even getting his
feet wet?

Lindenbrook says that the last echo of the gunshot will give the
direction of the gunshot.  That seems unlikely even if it were the
first echo.  It is not even clear which is the last of the many
echoes they hear.

When the electric coils are turned off, the rooms seem to get
lighter, not darker.

The band eats the mushrooms they find without even knowing if they
are safe or poisonous.  Don't try this at home, kiddies.

It is hard to judge the size of the dimetrodons, but in our pre-
history at the longest they were about twelve feet and they seemed

Apparently at the very center of the earth there is a sea to one
side and not the other.  And you can tell you are there because
there is "a field of force that snatches gold away."  The physics
makes no sense at all.  (Also in this scene Jenny seems to have
some sort of psychic link to the explorers.)

After traveling across the sea they find land almost exactly where
Arne Saknussemm came ashore.  And it just happens to be where
Atlantis was located.

It is unclear how the sacrificial dish got over to the chimney and
drags the crew over to the chimney and up without injuring or
burning anybody.  At the top of the column they are lightly tossed
into the sea (except for Alec thrown into a tree) all without
anyone being harmed.

In spite of it all, this is a film that clicks for me.  It may well
be second to KING KONG (1933) as the film I have seen the greatest
number of times.



TOPIC: One-Word Film Titles (quiz by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Mark observed that there has been a spate of "one-word" film titles
in the last few years, particularly in science fiction, and they
are difficult to keep straight.  So here's a quick list (okay, "Ex
Machina" is two words, but it fits the type; can you match the
titles with the plots?:

  1.  Advantageous
  2.  Coherence
  3.  Ex Machina
  4.  Extracted
  5.  Her
  6.  Inception
  7.  Limitless
  8.  Looper
  9.  Oblivion
10.  Parallels
11.  Predestination
12.  Reversion
13.  Self/less
14.  Special
15.  Transcendence
16.  Uncanny

A.   A building is a gateway to parallel Earths.
B.   A comet opens doors to parallel Earths.
C.   A covert team tries to use dream-sharing to affect a CEO's
D.   A lonely man takes new medication and thinks he is a
E.   A man falls in love with the operating system on his
F.   A man has his consciousness transplanted into a younger body.
G.   A man takes a drug to increase his intelligence.
H.   A new technology lets you polish up your favorite memories.
I.   A programmer is invited to meet with a genius and the robot
that he has.
J.   A reporter is invited to meet with a genius and the robot that
he has built.
K.   A scientist develops techniques to see people's memories.
L.   A scientist uploads his consciousness into an AI program.
M.   A woman has her consciousness transferred into a younger body.
N.   After an alien war, two people are assigned to clean up Earth
before it is abandoned.
O.   The crime world uses time travel as a way to commit unsolvable
P.   The film adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's "All You Zombies."

The solution will appear next week.



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


CAPSULE: A commercial spaceship from the year 2252 runs into
technical problems followed by the ship's computer guidance system
trying to kill the crew, an idea perhaps borrowed from 2001: A
SPACE ODYSSEY.  The problems on board cause the ship to divert to
the asteroid Somnus.  There they find a cult whose believers are
implementing a plan to take control after the Earth's coming
destruction.  Sorry, that makes the film seem better than it really
is.  It is a stylistic mess, almost impenetrable that seems to
borrow a lot and not give very much in return.  A good science
fiction story can be told without a lot of computer effects, but
this film shows how not to try it.  Newcomer Chris Reading directs
a script he co-wrote with Russell Owen, but neither seem to have
much relevant to say.  Rating: -1 (-4 to +4) or 3/10

SOMNUS (the name means sleep, not too inappropriately) is a science
fiction film that tries to communicate its story with a minimum of
words and with relatively crude visual images.  The story is told
in three chapters.  The first takes place in 1952 and sets the tone
for the confusion to come.  In 2252 a space cruiser has serious
problems with its guidance system, Meryl (voiced conveniently by
Meryl Griffiths), decides to kill the crew on the ship.  The third
chapter takes place on the asteroid Somnus and involves the long-
term life of planet Earth.

The film began with that incident in 1952 England involving a
professor who gets on a train without a document he intended to
carry.  Flash forward 300 years and the crew is in space.  How will
the missing document connect with whatever is happening three
centuries later?  Somebody forgot to put it in the script.  It is
just a loose end the size of a planet.  Then again maybe it does
connect up, since we never really understand what is happening in
the 23rd century, so it could connect up somehow.

SOMNUS mostly comes off as an attempt to copy DARK STAR (albeit
without the humor).  There are also parts of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY,
and bits imitate Andrei Tarkovsky's style.  It has no CGI and
almost no effects of any kind.  Much of the film we have the actors
in a spaceship most of whose sets look like they were cobbled from
parts found in an electronic junkyard.  While the film takes place
in a year something like 2252, the electronic equipment we see
looks very 20th Century.

When the filmmakers want to add some visual interest they do things
like use starscapes and maybe stock footage of sea life.  Most of
the story is carried by short talking interludes embedded in long
sections of silence.  The main action is not shown on screen.
There are lots of long takes with no payoff.  Most of the action
that would lead to visual excitement happens off-stage.

We see some nice lush space-scapes, but then we knew the ship was
in space.  We also get some nice stock footage of jellyfish.  How
does this image connect up with our story?  I don't know.  Maybe
the jellyfish have the missing document.  At 83 minutes this film
is short and at the same time seems way too long.

While some of the sky scenery seems polished, that is about the
only thing about this film that looks accomplished.  I rate SONUS a
-1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 3/10.

SOMNUS had a small theatrical release on September 9th and will go
to digital platforms on October 4th.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: I.T. (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Pierce Brosnan plays Mike Regan, a very-wealthy
entrepreneur who is about to start a new enterprise that will make
him super-wealthy.  But no sooner is his new corporation started
then his efforts are hit by an Internet hacker with seemingly
unlimited cyber-powers.  Regan finds he must fight to save his
business and his family.  John Moore directs a screenplay by Dan
Kay and William Wisher, Jr.  What Regan's nemesis can do is
chilling enough, but it all seems fairly credible.  The film gets
points for being as scary as it is plausible.  But it loses points
because if you take out the software speculations, what is left is
a rather pedestrian stalker film.  I.T. pits a man played by a
former James Bond actor against a hacker.  And Bond does not come
off so well as he does in the films.  Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

We are seeing a lot of films about people with super-powers.  They
are all fictional.  But there really are people with super-powers.
Their powers take the form of tech savvy.  Technical expertise is a
superpower that really does exist.  And what technical hackers
really can do is fairly frightening.  We do not see them often in
films just because Internet hacking is not visually very exciting.
There may not be someone looking at you or your private personal
data at this instant.  But there are a lot of people who could if
and when they want to.  As one of the characters of I.T. observes,
privacy is over.

I.T., pronounced "eye-tea," is short for "Information Technology."
It can also refer to a person who does I.T. works with information
technology and if such a person chooses to be a hacker he/she can
find a frightening range of Internet information including personal
data.  The I.T. in I.T. seems to have unlimited powers.  Is all
that he does in this film possible?  I do not know.  Anything I
could tell you about what an I.T. can do would be hearsay and I
should not state it as fact.  Is what we see in this film
plausible?  It certainly seems that way to me.

I.T. is a fairly common stalker film combined with some frightening
and--yes--plausible suggestions as to what a data hacker might well
be able to do if so inclined.  Pierce Brosnan plays Mike Regan,
very rich now and soon to be much richer.  His new enterprise is to
create for private airplanes what Uber is to cars.  His new app
will make him very, very, rich.  He knows business and he knows
running companies.  For his cyber connections he has a top-flight
staff to solve any technical problems he runs into.  And that is
just what happens.  As he is officially announcing his new company,
he has a computer failure.  Up pops on of his ITs, Ed Porter
(played by James Frecheville).  In seconds Ed is able to diagnose
and fix the computer problem.  Mike is very impressed and invites
Ed to his high-tech home to meet his family and, incidentally, to
fix up his house's cyber-networking.  Ed is happy to oblige and
fixes up the electronics all over the Regan house.  At this point,
dear reader, if you cannot figure out what is coming, I hope you
enjoy the film.

Pierce Brosnan is actually an interesting choice to play Mike.
Having played Remington Steele and James Bond we see him as someone
effective at getting what he wants and he is successful at
eliminating his enemies.  He is the best ... uh ... of the Old
School.  Here he is matched against someone who is the best from
the new school.  Ed is not very good in a physical fight.  He
nonetheless has the technical power to take away his victim's
entire life in just a few hours.  Which is the more powerful?  It
is fairly clear that Mike is over-matched.  When they are in the
same room Mike has a physical edge.  But with a modest room of
equipment it is rather clear that Ed is a much more powerful force.
Ed can crash automobiles and drop planes from the sky without ever
leaving his desk chair.  At least from what we see in this film it
looks like the future belongs to the hackers.

I.T. is worth seeing not for the strength of the basic story, but
for an idea of the sort of damage a technical hacker would actually
be able to do.  I rate I.T. a  +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY educates the viewer about the
importance of seeds to stave off famine.  It foretells the coming
seed crisis with the loss of biodiversity in our varieties of
fruits and vegetables.  There are serious threats to that
biodiversity as mega-corporations genetically modify plants and are
allowed to patent and own plant varieties.  They are getting
dangerous control of our food supply.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or

The international diversity of seeds almost by itself saves us from
having famine.  The Irish potato blight happened because the Irish
depended so much on one variety of potato.  When it was hit with
fungus, the fields of potato essential to the local diet became
useless mush.  When the famine was over, there were two million
people no longer there.  In about even numbers a million had
migrated to elsewhere and a million remained at home and died of
starvation.  There was just not another variety of potato to
replace the one they had lost.  Plant diversity is extremely
important.  Our modern society is also dependent on fewer and fewer
varieties of plants.  For each 25 varieties of vegetable seed alive
at the beginning of the last century, only one is left alive.  The
multiplicity of vegetable varieties is being lost.

SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY is a report on why the many vegetable seed
varieties are so important to us and an account of the loss of
diversity, who is working to save seed, and what threats are
sweeping down on important crops from climate change, genetic
modification, and the legal recognition of plant genetic
modification and patenting.  Mega-corporations like Bayer and
Monsanto control the seed crop and pesticides required to be used
with the genetically modified crops so that the source of seeds
cannot be from the previous year's crop and has to be from the

Perhaps the narrative could have used some fine-tuning.  The
filmmakers start with lore of the seeds and of seed culture.  They
seem overly concerned with creating a pretty film. and they wait
too long to get to the most important message,  (My wife was
waiting to hear about the agricultural crisis, but when the on-
screen experts started having people say that the seed is their
grandfather she decided instead to go read.)  Anthropomorphizing
the spirit of the corn seems to me to be of less value than
presenting a serious account of the problem.  The film should
earlier get to a serious and straightforward account of the danger
to the food supply.  The extent of the problem is discussed in
interviews with scientists, farmers, native Americans, and even
Jane Goodall.  The film is directed by Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel,
respectively the producer and director of QUEEN OF THE SUN: WHAT
ARE THE BEES TELLING US?  That is a beautiful and colorful film
that also takes a while to get to its most important subject
message.  Betz and Siegel see a bleak future with no bees to
pollinate plants and without necessary seed varieties.

SEED includes accounts of Monsanto, these days a biotech company
that is frequently in court as defendant or plaintiff against
farmers.  The film gives an account of one farmer who was sued by
that company because his crop had been contaminated with a leak of
Monsanto's genetically modified seed that had been made resistant
to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide.

SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY, once it gets to the point, certainly gives
and effective case that we are losing control of food production
around the world.   The filmmakers make a case for how serious the
threat is of corporations like Monsanto getting control of our
crops.  I rate SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY a low +2 on the -4 to +4
scale or 7/10.  SEED will open in New York on September 23 and Los
Angeles on September 30.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



C. Mann (book review by Greg Frederick)

If you would like to understand more about how the World we live in
came to be then this might be the book for you.  Charles Mann who
also wrote the well received book, 1491: NEW REVELATIONS OF THE
AMERICAS BEFORE COLUMBUS, followed up that book with 1493:
changes that occurred after Columbus arrived in the Americas.  The
world-sweeping changes are so immense and numerous that actually
one book can barely contain all of the information.

Plants like potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and many
others which previously were only known in the Americas were now
being grown in other parts of the World after Columbus's voyages.
The potato helped to prevent the frequent occurrences of famine in
Europe which occurred before Columbus.  A diet consisting of
potatoes, milk, and butter could provide most of the sustenance
needed for the average person in Europe.  Potatoes mature faster
then grain crops therefore two plantings of potatoes could be grown
in one season.  And because they grow underground supported by the
earth they can become quite large.  Irish peasants would live on a
diet that consisted mainly of potatoes.

Of course, the exchange of plants and animals that happened after
Columbus had good and sometimes bad effects.  Diseases like
measles, smallpox, flu, and malaria did not exist in the Americas
before Columbus but became widespread in the Americas after his
voyages.  These and other diseases killed off large segments of the
American Indian population.  When colonists traveled beyond the
Appalachian Mountains they would find empty Indian villages because
the entire tribe was killed by a European disease that had infected
them.  The disease had preceded the frontiersman.  The Indians had
no natural immunity to a disease that their systems had not ever
encountered until the recent settlement of Europeans.  After
malaria came to the Americas from Europe and Africa both Europeans,
and American Indians were dying in record numbers in the hot swamp
infested regions of southern North America, Central America and
South America.  Africans were then brought in ever-increasing
numbers as slaves to the Americas since they could tolerate malaria
better then other races.  This was because Africans were surrounded
by the deadliest forms of malaria for generations and had developed
a resistance to it.

So if you like history this book is a good one.  Especially since
the author has the ability to educate but not bore you.  [-gf]


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

A couple of weeks ago I reported that Ellen Datlow mentioned that
there were at least ten original Lovecraft-inspired anthologies in
the last year.  THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF CTHULHU edited by Paula Guran
(ISBN 978-0-7624-5620-8) is one of them.  I had read one of its
stories, "Those Who Watch" by Ruthanna Emrys, on, and
really enjoyed it, so I checked the entire volume out of the
library.  (Yes, I know authors would prefer I buy the book, but one
cannot buy everything.)

As with most anthologies, some stories are more appealing/rewarding
than others.  In addition to the Emrys, I enjoyed "The Cthulhu Navy
Wife" by Sandra McDonald, which should appeal to anyone from a
military family.  And John Shirley's "Just Beyond the Trailer Park"
is a different perspective on the horrors of Lovecraft's mythos.

The only problem I have is whether I should recommend this instead
of any of the other similar anthologies.  The best I can do is to
say that if you can get this from the library, it is certainly
worth giving it a try.

Eli Faber (ISBN 978-0-8147-2638-9) is an extreme example of
"annotations" gone wild.  It is 366 pages long (plus 17 pages of
introductory lists, acknowledgements, etc.).  Of that, 146 pages
(37%) are text, 108 pages (28%) are appendices, 76 pages (20%) are
footnotes, and 46 pages (12%) are bibliographies, indices, etc.
True, it is published by an academic press, and as is common with
academic books, has no price printed on the jacket flap; the NYU
Press site has $89 for the hardback and $27 for the paperback.

The conclusion Faber drew was that Jews were represented in the
population of slave traders and slave owners (in English, Dutch,
and Portuguese countries and colonies) in about the same proportion
as Jews were in the general population.  I would note, however,
that the number were so small as to make any definite conclusions
impossible--when you are talking about 3 families out of 102 or
some such, the margin of error is significant.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           In the U.S. you have to be a deviant or exist in
           extreme boredom...  Make no mistake; all
           intellectuals are deviants in the U.S.
                                           --William Burroughs