Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/20/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 30, Whole Number 1946

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Monster Drive-In Posters
        No, Thank You (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Mini-Reviews of 2016 Films (Part 2) (LA LA LAND, OFF THE
                DESPOT) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)
        Visible Light Telescope Upgrade (comments
                by Gregory Frederick)
                (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        A PATCH OF FOG (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        CLAIRE IN MOTION (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        JACKIE, Fast Radio Bursts, N. K. Jemisin, and BEYOND EARTH
                (letter of comment by John Purcell)
        This Week's Reading (TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY and THE DIM SUM
                FIELD GUIDE) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Monster Drive-In Posters

Makes my mouth water:



TOPIC: No, Thank You (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

A local hospital advertises that it uses GPS-guided surgery.  I
know a GPS can find where it is within a few feet.  No thanks on
the GPS-guided surgery.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Mini-Reviews of 2016 Films (Part 2) (film reviews by Mark
R. Leeper)

Last issue I published short reviews of some films from 2016 that I
thought might have had interest to readers.  Today I will publish a
few more of those reviews.  I have to say one film is turning out
to be a blockbuster but did very little for me is LA LA LAND.  I
have yet to hear from anybody I actually know who has liked this
film. Still it seems to be getting very positive reviews and it
just won the top annual Golden Globe award from the Hollywood
Foreign Press Association.  I have to admit it is pleasing
somebody. Herewith I review LA LA LAND and three documentaries.
Again the films are rated on the -4 to +4 scale.

The musical film seems to be sputtering out since the change of the
millennium.  We have had a handful of notable examples like
MISERABLES.  But how often is there a musical in your local
theater?  It is not very often I would guess.  And though it is
getting good reviews elsewhere, LA LA LAND--the tribute to Los
Angeles musical--does not do much for me.  The story is overly
familiar.  You have a jazz pianist meeting a hopeful actress
during ... well, during a traffic jam in which everybody is jumping
out of their cars and dancing on the freeway.  I guess that is the
sort of surreal thing that happens in musicals.  But the familiar
wisp of a story has boy Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) meets girl Mia
(Emma Stone).  It turns into a "you and me against the world" and
then segues into a love versus careers conflict.  But have no fear.
We have not been dragged through all of this to lead to a sad
ending.  An opera might have a poignant finish, but LA LA LAND is a
light musical.  There was not a single song whose melody I could
remember after the end credits have departed.  Part of the problem
is that too often the lyrics of the songs cannot be heard and
understood.  Neither star projects and they occasionally dance well
enough to be remembered.  Rating: +1

This is a documentary about Darius McCollum, who from the time he
was fifteen was fascinated with public transit and especially the
workings of busses and trains.  He has gotten the authentic
uniforms and stolen buses and trains several dozen times.  Eighteen
years of his life has been spent in prisons as punishment for his
obsessive theft of mass transit vehicles.  He has never had an
accident or harmed anyone.  But stealing vehicles is his
compulsion.  Much of the film is about problems he has that any
lawbreaker might have.  That part of the film is less interesting.
But just the idea of what he is, and obsessive personality, where
OFF THE RAILS derives its interest. Rating: High +1

In this documentary we hear the eloquent words of James Baldwin on
top of archival film.  This is an illustrated autobiography.  That
more globally makes the viewer of race relations in Baldwin's
times.  Samuel Jackson does the voiceovers.  Particularly enjoyable
(if that can be the right word) are the movie clips taking us to
the heart of the black American experience.  Baldwin's manner of
putting prose together, his presentation, his posture, and his
rhetoric are magnetic and help to bring the film to eloquence.
This was one of my top ten films of the year.  Rating: Low +3

Kim Jong-Il, when he was the dictator of North Korea, got it into
his head that he wanted his country to be the film capitol of East
Asia.  The drawback to his plan was North Korea had nobody so
talented they could make great films and bring about his plan and
nobody in their right mind would come to North Korea of his own
free will.  So not to be stymied, Kim had his agents kidnap a
popular South Korean actress.  Then he also kidnapped her ex-
husband, a once very popular film director from South Korean.  With
interviews and documentary and narrative footage the film tells the
story of suspense and intrigue of how the kidnapping took place and
what happened as a result.  The story makes for a compelling tale.
I have one complaint.  Most of what Director Shin made for Kim was
not available outside North Korea.  The film PULGASARI, with a
Godzilla-sized mythical beast, on the other hand was made by the
two and is readily available.  The title character is a giant
monster of Godzilla stature.  It is even complete on YouTube.
PULGASARI almost certainly is Shin's best-known film in the West.
And it has been available on VHS and DVD for decades.  But the
documentary shows only two quick shots from PULGASARI, which would
have been a real attention getter.  Rating: High +2

Next time I will say a little about how to find hard-to-find films
like some of the ones I mention here.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Visible Light Telescope Upgrade (comments by Gregory

The Breakthrough Starshot team (who want to send a super small
space probe on a solar sail to Proxima Centauri) will be upgrading
the best visible light telescope in the world to directly image the
planet that orbits Proxima Centauri.  Proxima Centauri is about
four light years from the Earth.  The team hopes to learn more
about this planet which maybe an earth type planet.

The VLT consists of one primary 8.2-meter telescope and four
auxiliary 1.2-meter telescopes, making it "the most advanced
visible light telescope in the world," according to ESO's website.
An instrument called the VISIR (VLT Imager and Spectrometer for
mid-Infrared) instrument--which, as the name suggests, collects
light in the mid-infrared range--will get an upgrade under the new
partnership.  The upgraded VISIR will be equipped with a
coronagraph, which is used to block out starlight.  The instrument
will also receive an adaptive optics system, to correct for
atmospheric distortions.




2016, Subterranean Press, 139pp, Signed Special Limited Edition
Hardcover, $40, ISBN 978-1-59606-812-4) (excerpt from the Duel Fish
Codices: a book review by Joe Karpierz)

One of the more difficult forms of written science fiction to
execute is comedy.  I specify written here because there are any
number of funny science fiction films; GALAXYQUEST comes to mind
immediately.  But it is difficult to pull off in the written word.
Connie Willis injects quite a bit of humor into some of her novels,
but her latest effort, CROSSTALK, fell flat in that regard.  Many
people have told me that they found the Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett
collaboration GOOD OMENS funny; I didn't (one might argue that
growing up a Catholic would cause my opinion of the book to be a
bit skewed, but I assure you that I didn't think it was a terrible
book--I just didn't find it funny).  I found some of Spider
Robinson's work to be amusing as well as good, but again, not laugh
out loud funny.

Which brings me to John Scalzi.  Many of his books are full of
quick, witty banter.  Characters snap off lines during
conversations which I can see some people may find funny, but his
dialogue doesn't do it for me either.  Which then brings me to
Miniatures, Scalzi's collection of really short works.  All the
pieces in this attractive volume are less than 2300 words--hence
the title "Miniatures".  All but one are intended to amuse (and all
but one can be said to fall within genre, but the one that doesn't
is not the serious piece), maybe even cause the reader to laugh out
loud.  I remember letting out a barking laugh at one line in one
story, but that was the totality of it.

I will admit, however, that the subjects for each of the stories
tends to be amusing: AI claiming they're not out to destroy
humanity after the singularity; Pluto complaining about its
demotion in status; household appliances talking behind the backs
of their owners; a technology which can provide alternate history
search results--in this case, different ways and times that Hitler
died and how that death affected its particular timeline; an
instruction manual on how to interact with a particular alien
species; unions and lawyers for super-heroes and super-villians;
and other amusing ideas.

And I think that's the gist of it for me.  It's the ideas that are
amusing and interesting, but I just didn't find them all that funny
to read.  Maybe they weren't supposed to be funny to read, just
amusing to think about.  Then again, maybe not.  At MidAmericon 2
last year, Scalzi read one of the stories from MINIATURES, a piece
entitled "Important Holidays on Gronghu".  It was absolutely
hysterical--I could not stop laughing (when you read the story,
you'll find it even more amusing to know that there was an ASL
interpreter trying to sign the story).  But the written version?

So maybe that's it for me.  Maybe pieces like these need to be read
out loud to be funny.  I think it's clear to anyone who listens to
audiobooks that the narrator can make or break an audiobook.  I
suspect it's the same for written comedy.  It probably needs to be
read aloud for full impact.

I'm not saying this is a bad book.  None of these pieces are meant
to be great literature; rather, they are meant to be amusing, to
give the reader a break from all the trials of life, if even for a
very short while.  It does do that, and on that level it succeeds.
And that's probably enough.  [-jak]


TOPIC: A PATCH OF FOG (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: This is a compact little blackmail thriller set in
Northern Ireland.  Like J.D. Salinger, Sandy Duffy's reputation is
based on one single novel that he wrote decades ago.  That novel's
reputation has supported him since.  A celebrity author, he has a
comfortable life with one little self-indulgence.  Every few months
he likes to steal some little item from a local shop.  Robert, the
security manager at one shop, catches Sandy in the act on closed-
circuit television.  But Robert does not want to get the police
involved.  It turns out he is lonely and desperately looking for a
friend.  And he decides that he can just force Sandy to be that
friend.  Director Michael Lennox's feature film debut is this
script written by Michael McCartney and John Cairns.  The story is
tense even if not particularly new and fresh.  Rating: low +2 (-4
to +4) or 7/10

Years ago, Sandy Duffy (played by Conleth Hill) wrote one book that
became a modern classic and was popular enough to make him a
celebrity.  He has not written another book since but he is a
familiar face on literary programs on television.

Sandy also has a quirk.  Every once in a while when he wants a
thrill he shoplifts some small item for the thrill of the danger.
This time he really has found danger.  The security manager of a
shop caught Sandy in the act.  That manager is the insular Robert
(Stephen Graham) has caught Sandy on the closed circuit television.
Sandy can see his pleasant lifestyle falling apart and begs Robert
to let him go. It would be "a favor from one man to another."  The
pleading should not save Sandy, but Robert gives in.  For a while
Sandy and Robert are good friends or Sandy pretends they are.  But
Robert does not want to end their companionship.  Sandy's
willingness to be pal-sy with Robert starts to wear thin.  But
Robert can at any time he wants ruin Sandy's life.  What follows is
a neat little cat and mouse game.

The plotline is not unfamiliar.  With some minor variations it is
quite similar to FATAL ATTRACTION and perhaps other films involving

One funny touch: it sounds like characters in the film are saying
"acrophobic" when what they really mean is "agoraphobic."  Sandy is
not afraid of heights, he just does not want to be around

A PATCH OF FOG is set and (I assume) filmed in Belfast, Northern
Ireland, giving United States viewers a feel that is slightly
exotic and occasionally makes the dialog a little hard to

While some of the plotting may be familiar to some viewers, the
story is a tight efficient little thriller.  I rate A PATCH OF FOG
A low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.  A PATCH OF FOG will be
released in the United States on January 27th.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: CLAIRE IN MOTION (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

Spoiler alert: The plot cannot be told without a fundamental

CAPSULE: CLAIRE IN MOTION is a story not really in motion.  It
might more accurately be labeled CLAIRE IN LIMBO.  It is a study of
a woman living with uncertainty after her husband disappears.  One
approach after another is tried to find Claire's husband and Claire
slowly changes when met by repeated failures.  If the viewer is
expecting a mystery he will be disappointed.  This is a story of a
woman who has lost her husband and what her uncertainty does to
her.  Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson co-wrote and co-directed
the film.  Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

This film is getting some negative comment.  That may be
understandable because it is two different films tied together, one
much better than the other.  It is a mystery about a man's
disappearance, and it is a character study of a wife who is in
limbo after the husband mysteriously disappears.  It describes what
living with uncertainty in uncertainty does to her and her son.  If
the viewer thinks of this film as the mystery it will only be a
frustrating experience.

Paul and Claire Hunger (Chris Beetem and Betsey Brandt) teach at a
local college.  One day, which is at first like any other day, Paul
goes off and just never comes back.  Claire does all the expected
things when there is a disappearance.  After a few hours she calls
in the police.  But days go by and the police are having no luck in
tracking down Paul.  Many possibilities are considered.  Most are
not resolved and all swell the list of uncertainties.  Claire
discovers details of her husband's life.  Some may have been
secrets or might have been purely innocent, and even some which
cannot be established.  Paul had been doing an art project with
Allison (Anna Margaret Hollyman) an attractive co-ed that he never
mentioned to Claire.  Allison joins a large set of possible clues
to Paul's vanishing.  Claire gets more and more frustrated. She
dreams about Paul and looks at old video recordings of him.  As
Claire says, "There is so much uncertainty and we are immersed in
it."  The viewer is also immersed and is not shown the way out.

The camera seems to also be mysterious about Paul.  We never see
his face.  In the first scene in which we see him he is walking
around his bedroom, but his head is always framed out of the
picture.  We see a shot of Paul hiking in the woods, but again we
do not see his face, and instead the camera focuses on leaves.  The
camera is more anxious to capture where he is not than to show the
viewer where he is.  As another strange touch, we see pieces of art
made by Allison and perhaps Paul, but they are either totally
abstract or just do not look like anything recognizable.

If the viewer is lulled into expecting this will be a conventional
mystery it might disappoint some.  And seeing the film as a
character study it is more repetitive disappointment than reward.
Perhaps CLAIRE IN MOTION needed less Claire and more motion.  I
rate the film a low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

There may be an unwritten rule that if a film is built around a
mystery it should solve that mystery.  Films in the past have
alienated viewers by leaving mysteries unsolved.  Peter Weir's
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) takes up famous mystery in Australian
history reenacts it adding some of its own mysterious happenings,
but then never explains them as if to say, "But we told you it was
an unsolved mystery."  That film was generally well-accepted but
some viewers complained that they were left hanging.  John Sayles'
LIMBO (1999) leaves open the fate of its characters at the end and
that angered some audiences also.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: JACKIE, Fast Radio Bursts, N. K. Jemisin, and BEYOND EARTH
(letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on JACKIE in the 01/13/16 issue of
the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Many thanks once again for another entry in this very long series
of interesting VOIDS. They are certainly not MT--see what I did
there?--as this brief letter of comment will attest.

My wife and I are interested in seeing JACKIE mainly because it
seems as if Natalie Portman nails the title character.  She appears
to have the look, posture, and demeanor down, although I don't like
the lack of attempt at imitating Jackie Kennedy's voice.  For that
matter, Mark's capsule review makes note of this about every
actors' portrayals.  One would think that a biopic would try to at
least make some semblance of their original characters' voices.
Even so, we still have this movie on the docket.  [-jp]

In response to Mark's comments on fast radio bursts, John writes:

I really got a kick out of Mark's comment about those FRB's--Fast
Radio Bursts--coming from a dwarf galaxy.  I really don't think
that galaxy will ever grow up and mature, Mark.  Dwarfism is
usually genetic in cause, so you are going to have a long wait
time. [-jp]

And in response to Joe Karpierz's and Greg Frederick's reviews,
John writes:

Okay.  That does it.  I really need to start reading some N. K.
Jemisin.  I have heard so many good things about her writings from
friends who rave about her work that I need to check our local
library and see if THE FIFTH SEASON and THE OBELISK GATE are on the
shelves, or anything else by her.  Thank you for the
recommendation, Joe Karpierz.  The same goes for BEYOND EARTH: OUR
PATH TO A NEW HOME IN THE PLANETS.  Good thing I just renewed my
library card.  [-jp]


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

TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY by James Gleick (ISBN 978-0-307-90879-7) is
catalogued as a science book, but it is as much a study of time
travel in literature and popular culture as a book about the
science of time travel.  H. G. Wells has more entries in the index
than Albert Einstein, and more about Jorge Luis Borges than Stephen
Hawking and Hermann Minkowski combined.

Each chapter covers a different aspect of time travel.  There's the
notion of needing a machine, the idea of a time loop, the idea of
the "arrow of time," the concept of eternity, the strange custom of
burying time capsules, trying to figure out what it means to travel
backward in time, the various paradoxes, and of course, the basic
question of what time actually *is*.  Along with the science,
Gleick discusses the major (and also the lesser-known) works that
go with each topic.

This is a must-read for the fan of time travel stories.

THE DIM SUM FIELD GUIDE by Carolyn Phillips (ISBN 978-1-60774-956-
1) presents itself as a guide to authentic dim sum, including
etiquette, customs, etc.  However, for some reason the dim sum
listed seem like a small subset of what I see at dim sum, while
including a lot of items that we never see.

For example, there are no listings for any fried dishes.  There are
no "Mexican Buns" (unless that is what Phillips calls "Snow-Topped
Char Siu Buns").  There are no Leek Dumplings.  And so on.  It is
possible that all those things are "inauthentic", but I am not
convinced of that.  It is possible that Phillips is looking at a
very small subset of dim sum, limited by geography (either in
China, or in the United States  (The publisher is based in
Berkeley; the author gives no indication of her source of

And deciding to use pencil sketches of the various dim sum instead
of photographs is completely inexplicable.  For one thing, the
sketches give the reader no clue as to the colors.  (And it is not
just me--more than half the reviewers on Amazon complained about
the lack of photographs.)  I guess it is supposed to seem more
"natural" or traditional.  Or maybe the cost of printing full-color
photographs would have boosted the price above the point of
profitability for the publisher.

What is covered is interesting enough, but do not be fooled into
thinking this is a comprehensive guide.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members
           of a weird religious cult.
                                           -- Rita Rudner