Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
12/09/16 -- Vol. 35, No. 24, Whole Number 1940

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Thought for the Day (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Do Real Men Read? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        SMART (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        CONQUERORS by Roger Crowley (book review by Greg Frederick)
        Classicists and Science Fiction Fans (letter of comment
                by Tim Bateman)
        This Week's Reading (annotations to Chapter 1 of MOBY DICK)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Thought for the Day (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

My advice to you is keep the Christ in Christmas if you like, but
get the Fuk out of Fukushima.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Do Real Men Read? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I am a member of two different groups that get together monthly and
discuss books.  Now right there is something very unusual.  The
evidence seems to show that book discussion groups in the United
States are overwhelmingly made up of women.  I am male and belong
to a book discussion group, and that puts me way out where the bell
curve gets thin and brittle under me.

Actually I am a member of two such groups, which makes me even more
rare.  One book club is one of a dozen or so sponsored by a local
public library.  Every year the library has a Pot Luck Dinner for
its book groups.  There is a table for each discussion group.  But
as you look across the floor you see almost no men.  The great
majority of the groups have women only, not by choice but because
it is so very rare for men to join in book discussions.  There the
discussions represent only the female perspective.  Then there will
be one or two groups that have just one male each.  In general you
get the impression that guys do not want to read and discuss books.
Maybe they prefer to watch and discuss football or baseball or
hockey.  If need be they will discuss badminton.  But they are not
going to pick up a new book each month and read.  That is just not
considered manly I guess.  Unless...

Unless they are in the discussion group to which I belong.  We have
a group that discusses literature in general though frequently
science fiction and fantasy.  There are five of us who regularly
show up for book discussion.  There is Evelyn and four guys
including me.  Ironically it is the female point of view we have
trouble getting.  And I should say these are people who have gotten
together for discussions for years.  And it is not just this one
discussion group.  There is another book discussion group I am a
member of and that takes place in a different library.  It is, in
fact, in a different county.  And four of the same nucleus of five
people is in that group.

One thing more.  These people know each other and have known each
other for years.  Both of these discussion groups have been
together for literally decades.  The other discussion groups I know
of will have maybe five or six meetings and then will fall apart.

I think these small groups are the Saint Germains of book
discussion groups.  People who attended meetings some years back
revisit years later and our group will still be going on.  So we
have in abundance the secret to getting people to stay in a book
discussion group.  So we run against every expectation.  A
librarian was asking me what our secret was.  Our discussion is in
Energizer Bunny state.  We just keep going.

(Side note: do not trust me on this.  Just because we have a
successful discussion group does not necessarily mean we know why
it works.  I have some idea, but I could be wrong. It is not always
easy to deconstruct a success.)

So what is the reason our book discussion group lasts?  We have
some flexibility in what we read.  We read some classics; we read
some science and even some books on mathematics.  We read
Siddhartha and Feynman.  By keeping the material fresh we keep the
discussion fresh.  And if the discussion strays from topic, well it
is all discussion of ideas.  The books are often just a springboard
for the discussions.

The general wisdom says that women like to read fiction and men
like non-fiction.  We read a lot of fiction, but it is in large
part science fiction.  That pitches in more ideas.

And we have our meetings in the evening.  That opens the discussion
to people who work during the day.  Many of the other book
discussions meet in the middle of the day, which leaves out people
who work during the day, a group that is disproportionately male.
But we do not read the Oprah sort of book.  There are a lot of
popular science books around these days, but I suspect that Oprah
fans would not want to discuss them.  In general, men seem to
prefer non-fiction to fiction.  Books about emotional lives and
especially romance are a turn off for most men I find.  But a book
with ideas is for some of us more inviting than one that rakes over
previous social injustices.  If there were a formula for success it
would be not to limit the reading choices to just something like
mystery books.  Try and discuss as many new ideas as possible.

At least I think that is really working for my discussion groups.


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

CAPSULE: Specialized Mobile Animal Rescue Team of Los Angeles is
one of only two exclusively animal rescue units in the world and
the only one in the United States.  Founded and led by Armando
Navarrete who heads--and often informally funds--a team of
volunteers who at great inconvenience to themselves rescue animals.
Their unit is called on to rescue a range of animals from kittens
in a tree to a horse in quicksand.  Justin Zimmerman directs.  The
documentary style is not exciting, but the cause is a good one.
  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Back when I worked in Detroit we were talking at a business meeting
about a tie-up on the highway getting to the meeting.  One person
said that it was caused by the police stopping traffic to rescue a
dog that had been hit by a car and who was lying on the road.  I
shuddered to imagine what a nightmare the dog had been going
through.  My office-mate said he would not want to see his tax
money spent on saving a dog.  I said nothing, but I could never
look at him the same way again.  I guess I just could not imagine
someone I knew had so little compassion for a hurt dog.

This documentary is entitled SMART and is about SMART.  That is a
slightly contrived acronym for the Los Angeles "Specialized Mobile
Animal Rescue Team."  This is an emergency team, on call 24x7,
overseen by the Los Angeles Animal Services division.  This team
was founded in 2009 and in that time has saved almost 1000 animal
lives frequently at physical risk to themselves.  They brave falls,
equipment failure, and the rage of animals who do not understand
their purpose.  The story of the unit and their principles are told
on camera by group founder Armando Navarrete and his wife and co-
team-member Annette Ramirez.  They married after initial
philosophical differences.  Asked if given the choice of saving
Annette or an animal, Navarrete would try to save the animal.
(After all, Annette is human and would be more able to take care of
herself.  An animal is not so lucky.  Annette was not buying it.
But most of the troubles that animals face can be traced to human

The team has often had to train themselves to get them ready at
their own personal risk in the many kinds of different terrain in
the Los Angeles area.  Often they have invented their own tools
when they do not exist or are too expensive.   Team members say
they do not make any money, often spend their own money for the
equipment they need.  Yet Navarrete can claim a 100 percent success
rate in animal rescues.

Zimmerman directs under a small handicap.  While most of the
rescues are probably recorded by somebody's cell phone, they do not
often enough create captivating images.  Climbing a tree and
reaching out for a stranded cat does not create much visual
excitement.  Your local neighborhood theater is unlikely to ever
have a film with Brad Pitt rescuing a dog from a well.  The SMART
team undergoes danger and excitement, but it is not that kind of
excitement that sells theater tickets.  Some of the rescue scenes
may warm the hearts of some members of the audience, but this is
not the most exciting documentary around.

The film is composed of original footage, archive footage, and
filmed interviews.  I rate SMART a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or

SMART was released to DVD and VIDEO ON DEMAND on December 6.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



Roger Crowley (book review by Greg Frederick)

I have read all 4 of Roger Crowley's amazing books. This is the
latest of his intriguing books about World History. Crowley writes
in a narrative style that makes you feel like you are actually in
the event. Sometimes, the account is so detailed that you almost
think you are watching a film instead of reading a book. This book,
Conquerors relates the story of how Portugal a small and rather
poor European country in the early 1500's created the first global
empire. Parts of this empire existed as colonies for hundreds of
years after being founded by the Portuguese. Only after many years
of sending voyages of discovery along the coast of east Africa did
the Portuguese finally succeed in entering the Indian Ocean because
of Vasco de Gama.  Vasco de Gama's history making voyage occurred
in 1497, and his ships reached Calicut in India. For some not
totally understood reason de Gama had his ships travel due west
toward Brazil when they reached the equator. The Portuguese did not
know that Brazil even existed at that time. But by doing this de
Gama's ships could catch the eastward driving trade winds that
carried the ships to the southern end of Africa and then past the
Cape of Good Hope.  This technique was used by all other Portuguese
sailing ships traveling around Africa to the Indian Ocean. By
reaching India the Portuguese could trade directly for spices and
other desired goods from India, Malaysia, Japan and China. They cut
out the middle men who had increased the cost of these trade goods
as they traveled up the Red Sea to Egypt and then directly to the
Venetian merchants. The Venetians then increased the cost again to
gain their profit and sold them to the rest of Europe. The
Portuguese lowered the cost and pushed the Venetians' out of this
business.  The Portuguese were the first to develop high quality
bronze cannons that were deployed effectively on ships. They
learned to fire the ship born cannons horizontally at water level;
firing them up too high and the shot would whistle overhead missing
the target. They also developed light weight breech loading swivel
guns that could be mounted to their smaller ship's boats. These
smaller ship's boats could be taken right up the shoreline and used
against a foe. This knowledge and skill at using cannons on their
ships allowed them to practice gunboat diplomacy. The Portuguese
could force themselves onto a foreign power and take territory to
establish a trading center or fortress. Portugal became a wealthy
trading power in Europe due to their epic making voyages. If you
like exquisitely insightful information and a great narrative style
in your history book this is one of those books.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Classicists and Science Fiction Fans (letter of comment by
Tim Bateman)

In response to Evelyn's comments on classicists and science fiction
fans in the 12/02/16 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:

[Patty writes,] "I imagined it would be something like a science-
fiction convention, with all the eccentric enthusiasts enjoying one
another's company. Over the past two years, I've become more and
more aware of the similarities between classicists and science-
fiction enthusiasts; in truth, classicists seemed like a kind of
subset of the science-fiction world."

It's true: poke around this blog awhile:  [-tb]


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

I have been working on an annotation of MOBY DICK and thought I
would include the notes for the first chapter here:  (The page
numbers are from the British Penguin edition.)

CHAPTER 1: Loomings

Page 21:

"Call me Ishmael."  Much has been written about this, so I'll
merely point out that Ishmael was an outsider.  The full story can
be found in Genesis, particularly Genesis 16:1-16 and 17 20-21.
But though he is often described as an exile, this is not
completely accurate.  It is true that his mother Hagar was exiled
by Sarai (a.k.a. Sarah), but that was when she was pregnant with
Ishmael, and she returned before the birth.  Later, God says, "And
as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and
will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve
princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation."
[Genesis 17:20]  But God emphasizes that His covenant is with
Isaac.  So Ishmael is more like a disinherited older son passed
over for a favored younger one.  Of course, he also got to miss out
on almost being sacrificed, so this was an advantage.

"The Dark Night of the Soul" ("La oscura del alma") was a poem by
16th century mystic San Juan de la Cruz, but the term in English is
usually associated with F. Scott Fitzgerald's line, "In a real dark
night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning."
Douglas Adams wrote a novel titled THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE
SOUL.  Since Melville pre-dated Fitzgerald, he presumably have
patterned his "damp, drizzly November in my soul" after the
original, or references to it.

"Hypos" in "whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me" is an
abbreviation for hypochronia, as meaning a morbid depression of
spirits rather than a physical illness.

The Cato mentioned is Cato Marcus Porcius (95 B.C.E.-46 B.C.E.),
considered the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.  After
being defeated in his attempts to defend Sicily and to preserve
Rome from the tyranny of Julius Caesar, Cato committed suicide by
stabbing himself.  He is not to be confused with Cato the Elder
(also named Cato Marcus Porcius, 234 B.C.E.-149 B.C.E.) or Cato
Publius Valerius, the poet, who lived about the same time as Cato
the Stoic.

Some names and places were straightforward: "Manhatto" seems to be
Ishmael's poetic version of Manhattan.  In Manhattan, he mentions
Corlears Hook, Coenties Slip, and Whitehall.  The first two are now
under landfills, Corlears Hook near FDR Drive and Cherry Street,
and Coeties Slip near Pearl and South Streets.  Whitehall is still
there, at the southern end of Broadway.  Corlears Hook was known
for prostitutes before and during Melville's time, hence (according
to many) the term "hookers".

Ishmael lists the Van Renssalaers, the Randolphs, and the
Hardicanutes as grand families.  The Van Renssalaers were, but the
other two seem to have left no trace of any grandeur.  (Hardicanute
seems to be an alternative spelling for an ancient king of

Page 22:

A league is three miles. (This means, by the way, that Jules
Verne's title 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, the distance is 60,000
miles, and hence is not a depth--as is often assumed--but the total
distance sailed.)

Spiles are wooden pegs driven into nail holes on a ship.

Page 23:

Ishmael makes the same sort of error in asking, "Why did the Greeks
give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove?" as the coiners
of the word "television" and other hybrid words did.  He mixes
Greek and Latin indiscriminately (Jove being the Latin name for
Zeus).  This is probably due to Melville's having to leave school
at age fifteen to help support his family, and hence receiving only
a partial classical education, covering the Romans, but not the
Greeks (except as somewhat vague exemplars as culture).

An example of Melville's humor: "Now, when I say that I am in the
habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes,
and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have
it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a
passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag
unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick--
grow quarrelsome--don't sleep of nights--do not enjoy themselves
much, as a general thing;--no, I never go as a passenger; nor,
though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a
Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and
distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I
abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and
tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can
do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques,
brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,--though I
confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of
officer on ship-board--yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling
fowls;--though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and
judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak
more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than
I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians
upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies
of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids."  (page

Page 24:

"The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to
a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics
to enable you to grin and bear it."  Seneca the Elder (Lucius
Annaeus Seneca, 4 B.C.E.-65 C.E.) was a Stoic philosopher
eventually forced to commit suicide for his alleged involvement in
a plot to assassinate Nero.  Stoicism was a school of philosophy
found by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century B.C.E. and emphasized
the suppression of destructive emotions; Seneca and others claimed
that "virtue is sufficient for happiness" and so true Stoics would
ignore misfortune.

A hunks is a surly ill-natured person, especially a miser.  Though
it appears plural it is actually singular.

Ishmael says of how to go to sea, "I always go to sea as a sailor,
because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they
never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of.  On the
contrary, passengers themselves must pay.  And there is all the
difference in the world between paying and being paid.  The act of
paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two
orchard thieves entailed upon us.  But *being paid*,--what will
compare with it?  The urbane activity with which a man receives
money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly
believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no
account can a monied man enter heaven.  Ah! how cheerfully we
consign ourselves to perdition!"  The two orchard thieves are, of
course, Adam and Eve.  But money itself is not "the root of all
earthly evils"; the reference is to 1 Timothy 6:10, which says,
"For *the love of* money is the root of all evil: which while some
coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced
themselves through with many sorrows."  [emphases mine]



                                           Mark Leeper

           Get your facts first, then you can distort them
           as you please.
                                           -- Mark Twain