Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/10/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 33, Whole Number 1949

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Unfinished Business (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        "On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi!" by William Tenn
        The Ascent of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        Autism on the Rise (comments by David Rubin)
        THE DISPATCHER by John Scalzi (audio book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        BABYLON'S ASHES by James S.A. Corey (audio book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
        ROAD TO THE WELL (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading ("Masterworks of Early 20th Century         
                Literature", HEART OF DARKNESS, and SICILIAN CAROUSEL)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Unfinished Business (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Rumor has it that after King Kong was removed from Skull Island the
natives rebuilt and extended the wall.  But, sadly, they are still
waiting for the dinosaurs to pay for it.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: "On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi!" by William Tenn

If you want to hear Wiliam Tenn (a.k.a. Philip Klass) reading his
own story, you can find it courtesy of Tablet Magazine at, which also has the full


TOPIC: The Ascent of THE LORD OF THE RINGS (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

I was in junior high school and high school when THE LORD OF THE
RINGS in book form was just getting popular in the United States.
People who were fond of fantasy, including me, were attracted to
it.  This was a fantasy, but it was also a serious piece of writing
created by an Oxford Don no less.  By the end of the 1960s THE LORD
OF THE RINGS was a publishing phenomenon.  This somewhat spited by
teachers who still saw it as being a little silly and not really

The popularity continued to increase, in spite of a snobbish
reaction on the part of some mainstream critics.  Meanwhile there
were artists like the Hildebrandt Brothers who seemed to specialize
in fantasy art done in a realistic style.  They and other artists
did THE LORD OF THE RINGS calendars and other art.  But few
effectively caught the feel one got from the original writing.

Now to anti-fantasy bigots this all looked hokey.  A classmate of
mine brought to English class one of THE LORD OF THE RINGS books to
get approval to read it for a book report.  Our English teacher
raged in front of the class that he was trying to get us to read
real literature and there is no real literature about fairy tale
creatures like gnomes and fairies.  If he wanted to read about
gnomes and dragons he should be reading a comic book.  (I am not
sure what my teacher would have thought of the way comic book
stories have taken up such a large share of American cinema.)

In spite of disinterest from so much of the mainstream, Tolkien's
following continued to expand and grow.  But common wisdom was that
THE LORD OF THE RINGS was just too much epic story to be adapted to
the screen and was just too big for a motion picture.  And when it
was attempted to make the stories into film, the results were
painfully off-tune.

Counter-culture animator Ralph Bakshi announced he would adapt the
books to the screen in animation.  He started but lost interest and
energy for the project early on and the film he created hardly was
worth seeing on its own, much less was one that did justice to the
books, now modern classics.  Sadly, Bakshi got tired of doing the
artwork and made extensive use of rotoscoping to make the film in
the quickest, cheapest way possible. He got to about the midpoint
of the story and called it quits barely animating over the
rotoscope raw footage he had.

Children's program animators Rankin and Bass had formerly made a
short animated version of THE HOBBIT.  They adapted the second half
of the novel into a 98-minute cartoon.  It had all been adapted
between Bakshi and Rankin and Bass, but nobody was fooled into
thinking what had been did any justice to the book they loved.

And the mainstream still thought the book was kind of silly.

Then Peter Jackson who had some experience making minor fantasy
films was engaged by New Line Cinema to make a giant adaptation of
THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  I think the budget for the film, twelve
hours in length in its longest version, was in the range between a
quarter and a third of a billion dollars.  It was made in New
Zealand with incredible background scenery and even more incredible
imagery.  Jackson's film had arguably as beautiful a visualization
of the story as any of the illustrators had done before him.  It
was a huge success.  And it deserved to be.  One giant story over
three films, it (or rather the third film) eventually won Best
Picture and Best Director Oscars.  Clearly there was something here
that was formidable.  In spite of the nay-sayers, THE LORD OF THE
RINGS had proven itself a major social phenomenon.

It was an inspiration.  Undoubtedly because of the way explored by
THE LORD OF THE RINGS HBO green-lit their project of adapting
George R. R. Martin's even more massive fantasy A GAME OF THRONES.
And then look at A GAME OF THRONES with its immense cast of well-
developed characters, its own visual imagery, its willingness to
kill off major characters to leave the viewer in suspense.  And
look at THE LORD OF THE RINGS with its Hobbit villages, its broad
acting styles and glued on beards and its storybook plotting (at
the climax Gollum trips and falls to his death???), and I guess THE
LORD OF THE RINGS really does look kind of silly and tacky and
downright childish by comparison.  My high school teacher was right
after all.

Oh, well.  So it goes.  [-mrl]


TOPIC:  Autism on the Rise (comments by David Rubin)

[This originally appeared on "David's Blog" in 2013.]

It used to be really rare, then it became as common as one in
eighty-eight.  People have theorized why it's growing.  I have my
own theory.

First, let me explain what autism is.  Autism, for those of you who
don't know, is a form of developmental disability, characterized by
an inability to deal with other human beings.  It's usually
associated with intellectual limitations, but there's a subset of
autistics that often have superior intelligence.  We are called
Aspies, short for Asperger syndrome.  We have our limitations, but
many of us think it's worth it and value our condition.  We object
to those of you NT's (neuro-typicals) who want to cure us.  I,
myself, wear a shirt saying my autism make me smarter than you.  We
also can be rather obsessive over our particular interests.  Nobody
sweats the details like us, even if it's just a bus schedule.

  A decade ago Thorkil Sonne, a telecommunications executive living
in Ringsted, Denmark, as terrified about what the future might hold
for his 7-year-old autistic son, Lars.  But rather than give in to
despair, the middle-aged father started a company, Specialisterne
(ASpecialists@ in Danish), which helps high-functioning adults with
autistic-spectrum disorders (ASDs) find employment.  Today business
is booming.  Sonne oversees branches in a fourteen countries,
including Germany, England, and Spain, and is funneling workers to
such IT giants as SAP.  Now he has even moved to Delaware to
establish a foothold in America.

We object to those of you NT's (neuro-typicals) who want to cure
us.  I, myself, wear a shirt saying my autism make me smarter than
you.  We also can be rather obsessive over our particular

My theory?  I think it's nature taking its course.  It's evolution
in action!  The latest research says we seem to be caused by two
mutations.  There are certain companies, such as my own, that have
taken advantage of our superior abilities and will only hire those
of us with our special mutations.

Continuing in this vein, I figure it's just a matter of time before
the government tries to register and weaponize us and tries to
control us.  Resisters will be chased by giant robots and men in

I think I read too many comic books.  That's my autistic obsession.


TOPIC: THE DISPATCHER by John Scalzi (copyright 2016, Audible
Studios, 2 Hours 19 Minutes, ASIN B01KKPH1NI, narrated by Zachary
Quinto) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audio book review
by Joe Karpierz)

The novella has been called the ideal story length for science
fiction.  It's become very popular in recent years with both
authors and readers.  Novellas certainly don't take as much time to
write as a full-length novel does, and there are many markets for
writer to sell the novella to.  Readers love them because they are
not huge doorstops that consume entire lives and yet satisfy
because there's enough room for a bit of world building,
characterization, and plot development.
John Scalzi has dabbled in the novella form in the past with the
outstanding "The God Engines".  He returned to the form with 2016's
"The Dispatcher", which was originally released as a free audio
book narrated by Zachary Quinto, the actor behind Skylar in the
television series "Heroes" and Mr. Spock in the "Star Trek" movie
reboot (and will be released as a physical book later this year).

In the not too distant future, it is very difficult to commit
murder.  The victim pops out of existence and reappears in his or
her home, naked and alive, in the condition he or she was a few
hours before the act was committed.  Nothing is known about how it
happens, just that it does.

And it has created a brand new job, the Dispatcher.  Dispatchers
are licensed, bonded operatives who are present in times and places
where people could die--say as a result of a risky operation, or
getting hit by a car--to kill the person who is about to die so
they get another chance at life.  Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher, and
a good one.  He has never failed at a Dispatch (there is a 1 in
1000 chance the Dispatched person will remain dead), and is in
demand at hospitals as well as for private jobs where a person may
be on their deathbed.  One of Tony's friend's, a fellow Dispatcher,
has gone missing in an apparent kidnapping, and Valdez must race
against the clock to find him before he dies irrevocably.

In "The Dispatcher", John Scalzi has done a terrific job in
fleshing out the occupation of Dispatcher.  We discover that the
role of Dispatcher is not always that of the good guy, that there's
a good side of the street as well as a bad side of the street when
taking private jobs.  Tony's friend's wife accuses Tony of getting
her husband in trouble, since back in the day Tony would get him
the wrong kind of Dispatching job.  It's really an interesting
thought experiment to try to work out the morality of a Dispatcher-
-how they feel about their job, how other's feel about their job,
and the line they sometimes cross to earn a living.

Scalzi set the story in a place he knows well: Chicago.  He went to
school at the University of Chicago, and a portion of the story is
told there.  The places and streets he references are recognizable
to me, which made it that much easier for me to slide into the
story and stay involved in it.  One might suggest that it's a bit
trite to set this kind of story in Chicago, given its history, but
it works well.

Zachary Quinto does an adequate job narrating the story.  His
ability to change voices between male and female is not the best,
but it didn't throw me out of the narrative, so in that regard he
was okay.  On the other hand, his voice quality was hypnotic, and
kept me focused on the story no matter what my situation was when I
was listening (typically in a car going somewhere driving in
Chicago area traffic).  It wasn't bad, and it wasn't outstanding.
It just was.

It wouldn't suprise me if Scalzi decided to write more "Dispatcher"
stories.  It's plain to see that there are a lot of possibilities
to be explored using this fresh (to me) idea.  I would certainly
welcome them and hope he does write more.  [-jak]


TOPIC: BABYLON'S ASHES by James S.A. Corey (copyright 2016, Orbit
(print edition), Hachette Audio (audio book edition), 19 hours 58
minutes, ASIN B01D53NR9O, narrated by Jefferson Mays) (excerpt from
the Duel Fish Codices: an audio book review by Joe Karpierz)

Looking forward to a new novel in James S.A. Corey's Expanse space
opera series has become an annual event in my household, and it was
no different with the 6th and latest entry in the series, BABYLON'S
ASHES.  I might also point out that every time an announcement came
out that the novel was delayed there was much anguish not only here
at the homestead in Illinois but in Colorado as well with the other
half of the Duel Fish Codices pair wailing loudly enough to be
heard all the way back to Chicagoland (okay, that's a bit of an
exaggeration, but you get the point).  The Expanse is that
seemingly rare breed of action, heroism, great deeds, space
battles, terrific characterization, and excellent writing that your
high school English teacher, who may not approve of you reading
science fiction, would be fond of.

When last we left the Expanse universe, the Earth was a planet in
ruins.  The Free Navy, led by Marco Inaros, has dumped rocks onto
the planet's surface, destroying the planet's infrastructure and
killing millions.  His goal is to remake the political structure of
the Solar System.  He has begun attacking colony ships, those
vessels heading for the ring gates to get out of the Solar System
and start new lives of their own.  He feels his people, the
Belters, have been given the short straw all throughout their
existence, and it's time to start a new regime with his people on
the top of the food chain.  The Earth and the Martian Navy are weak
and without enough power to stop him--and pretty much everyone in
the Solar System other than his own people want to stop him.  Even
some of his own people are turning against him.  But Inaros is
power mad and a megalomaniac who sees that he can do no wrong, that
his plan is the best for his people.  It *will* succeed.

Of course, this is where James Holden and the rest of the crew of
the Rocinante come in.  What's left of the Earth and Martian
governments--let's face it, for all intents and purposes, this
means my personal favorite character of the entire series, Chrisjen
Avasarala--enlist the aid of the crew if the Roci to try to take
over Medina Station out at the Rings to attempt to stop Inaros from
wreaking even more havoc.  And while they're out there, Holden and
the crew discover something that is more sinister and worrying than
the Free Navy (and thus setting things up for the next book,
PERSEPOLIS RISING, presumably to be published later this year (and
thus restarting the whole looking forward to a new Expanse novel
thing I wrote earlier in this review).

BABYLON'S ASHES is quite a departure from the previous two books in
the series, 2014's CIBOLA BURN and 2015's NEMESIS GAMES.  CIBOLA
BURN took us outside the Solar System for the first time, going to
a colony planet where Holden has to play--what else?--peacemaker.
NEMESIS GAMES brought us back to the Solar System, but more
importantly had a very small cast of characters--basically the crew
of the Rocinante itself--who have to deal with their own personal
struggles while the Solar System collapses around them.  In
BABYLON'S ASHES, the whole world has already crumbled around them,
and they are charged with trying to pick up the pieces.  To tell
this story requires a massive cast of characters, several subplots
and storylines, and just a whole lot of juggling of things not only
for the characters but the authors (Ty Frank and Daniel Abraham,
the writers who collectively make up James S.A. Corey) themselves.

I'm not completely convinced that Corey could have written this
novel six years ago when the series began with LEVIATHAN WAKES.
As the series has gone on, Corey has grown as a writer--which in
part means, I'm sure, that Frank and Abraham have gotten the
collaboration act down to an art form (or maybe a science--who
knows?) and can feed off each other really well.  LEVIATHAN WAKES
was terrific because it was the type of story a lot of us have been
waiting for, but BABYLON'S ASHES is that and a whole lot more.
Corey manages to weave intricate plotting with characters that we
care about in a feat of one handed juggling that is a sight to

Yeah, I loved the book.  Can you tell?

So, Jefferson Mays.  I cannot possibly say enough about his
narration of the book.  I look forward to listening to these books
almost as much as I do reading them in the physical form.  His
voice is perfect for the story.  His voicing of Chrisjen Avasarala
is the single, biggest reason I'm going to miss that character when
the series ends, supposedly, after the ninth book.  Every time a
chapter that featured Avasarala began, a smile came across my face.
Mays voicing her profane, no-holds-barred character is perfect.

The Expanse novels keep getting better.  Trust me.  We'll all be
looking forward to the next book.  [-jak]


TOPIC: ROAD TO THE WELL (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Two friends, recently reunited after years apart, take a
road trip to bury a dead woman, currently in the trunk of their
car.  On the way they come across some really unpleasant people and
obstacles to overcome in their dubious mission.  The plot moves
slowly enough for ROAD TO THE WELL to qualify for mumblecore.
Later it picks up a little.  But writer/director Jon Cvack does not
try to rush it.  This is a thriller and it has some thrills, but it
needed more, and they needed to be introduced earlier.  Rating:
high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Frank, played by Laurence Fuller, is in a soul-crushing job
somewhere around Las Angeles.  Privately he hates his job and he
hates his boss.  Frank's boss has decided to send Frank to the
unpleasant northern branch.  Frank is not happy about the
relocation but does not have the spine to refuse, even after he
finds his wife and boss in bed together.  Frank knows he wants some
kind of change in his life.  But arriving on the scene is Jack
(Micah Parker), Frank's old friend.  With a bit of a pep talk Frank
is having sex with an attractive woman, Ruby.  But wouldn't you
know it, while Frank and Ruby are having sex in the parking lot
someone kills Ruby.  Frank would be an obvious suspect for the

Jack suggests that Frank bury the corpse himself somewhere up
north, accepting Frank's relocation north.  Then the woman will
seem to have just disappeared, and nobody will look for Frank.
Jack and Frank begin a macabre road trio north to take Frank to his
new job, to see some old friends, and to dispose of the body.  That
is an absurd situation that might have been the basis for more
humor.  Somehow the humor of the situation is just not there.
Writer/director Jon Cvack creates mostly unpleasant characters.
That approach can work from some writers.  Here it gets a little
tiresome in the early parts of the film.

If the story was handled with a little more comic verve and
perceptive observations of its characters, this ROAD TO THE
WELL has the makings of a reasonable comedy.  Instead it meanders
and risks the viewers' frustration.  The story takes too long to
get going and then is short on action.  It meanders along slow and
a little overly talky.  Eventually we get to know both Frank and
Jack somewhat better, but that just makes the talk a little more
interesting.  It is no substitute for action or suspense.  Laurence
Fuller remains a sort of empty character throughout and we get the
feeling that Jack is a bit shifty.  But neither really pulls the
viewer into their characters.  On the other hand Marshall R. Teague
takes acting honors as Dale, an intense character who is ex-
military and whom the boys run up against late in the film.

If this film had been wound a little tighter, with maybe the
dramatic tension of a BLOOD SIMPLE, the film would have worked.
And as more of a comedy it might have worked.  At times, mostly
near the end, there are moments of tension, especially those
involving Dale who plays cat and mouse with Frank and Jack.  The
North California scenery is a nice bonus and well shot.  But the
film could have stood to be more tersely edited rather than dragged
out to 108 minutes.  Somehow it needed more crackle.  I rate it a
high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

In response to Kevin R's comments on ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in the
02/03/17 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I also played Jonathan Brewster in a local production of ARSENIC
AND OLD LACE, back around 1978 or 1979, though I'd rather have
portrayed Dr. Einstein.  I think what cinched the part was the
convincing English accent a previous director had drilled into my
head (for TEN LITTLE INDIANS).  Our ingenue for the show, who I was
supposed to terrify, was really into her part, and she got herself
so worked up I was always afraid she would pick me up and throw me
around the stage.  [-kw]

Mark responds:

My guess is that Jonathan must be a fun part to play--in a sadistic
sort of way.  But then I suspect both Raymond Massey and Boris
Karloff probably both throttled back a little on the character.


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

I am listening to the Great Courses lectures on "Masterworks of
Early 20th Century Literature" and although the professor said that
the lectures would be accessible even if the listener had not read
the works being discussed, I decided to read at least the shorter
works.  The first was Rudyard Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be
King", which suffers (for me, at least) by being impossible to read
without picturing the 1975 film.

The next was HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad (ISBN 978-0-486-
26464-6).  As preface to my comments, I will point out after an
introductory lecture, there were two lectures about modernism, and
particularly modernism (Impressionism and Post-Impressionism) in
art.  So I was particularly struck by all the references to the
visual in HEART OF DARKNESS: by my count, 236 references to color,
fog, smoke, dusk, "lurid glares", "unstained light", "gauzy and
radiant fabric", "a sea the colour of lead, a sky the colour of
smoke", luminosity, gloom, brilliance, and (of course) darkness.

Some of this is to be expected for a book titled "Heart of
Darkness", but there seems to be far more than can be explained by
that--unless the title was the back of the effect of Conrad's
concentrating on the visual rather than the cause.  And of course
the fact that after noticing the first few references I became far
more conscious of them, meaning that they became even more
noticeable and made every scene a painting in my mind.

One reference to color may not be clear to most readers today.
Conrad refers to "a large shining map, marked with all the colours
of a rainbow.  There was a large amount of red--good to see at any
time, because one knows that some real work is done in there, a
deuce of a lot of blue, a little green, smears of orange, and on
the East Coast, a purple patch, to show where the jolly pioneers of
progress drink the jolly lager-beer."  It turns out that at the
time Conrad was writing, maps tended to use standard colors: red
for English colonies, blue for French, green for Italian, yellow
for Belgian, and purple for German.  (If such standardization seems
odd, just think how we have ended up with red states and blue

I still have not figured out whether SICILIAN CAROUSEL by Lawrence
Durrell (ISBN 978-0-14-00-4687-8) is fiction, or non-fiction, or
some strange combination of the two.  The Coen Brothers began their
film FARGO by saying, "This is a true story.  The events depicted
in this film took place in Minnesota in 1967."  But in fact, the
film was a complete fiction.  Conversely, Durrell begins by saying,
"Though all the characters in this book are imaginary..."  The best
I can guess is that Durrell did in fact take the trip described in
SICILIAN CAROUSEL and all the descriptions of places are true to
life, but the characters and events are all fictitious.

People have criticized Durrell for concentrating on the Greek
history of Sicily and almost completely ignoring its history since
then (i.e., the Romans, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the
Normans, the Germans, the Spanish, and the Italians, and probably a
few I've missed).  But when traveling one must always pick and
choose what to concentrate on.  In Fact, Durrell has one of his
characters describe the notes in his tour guide with, "There are
four terms, four values for the monuments.  Together they form the
word Moss.  M is for must, O is for ought really, SH is for should
really, and SK is for skip."  But even more incisive is his
observation, "This is the whole trouble with guides and guide
books--the difficulty of disentangling what is historically
important from what is artistically essential."  The ruins of an
old fort may be historically important, while the forest
surrounding it more artistically essential.

One thing visitors will miss are the bees in Agamemnon's tomb.
Apparently a few generations before Durrell's trip, wild bees had
taken up residence in what is called "Agamemnon's tomb" in Mycenae,
and the tomb was full of their humming, but then what Durrell
describes as "an unlucky spraying by insecticide" had killed them
all and the tomb returned to silence.  One might debate which is
the more desirable state.

Durrell talks about visiting museums, and how some of their
contents are perhaps not displayed to their best advantage: "We
were going to visit the Archaeological Museum in order to the
cultural treasures which the wretched archaeologists had carefully
removed from Selinunte.  It was distasteful to be forced to replace
them mentally in order to admire them--I was reminded of my youth
when I used to traipse around the Elgin Marbles in the British
Museum, trying in a dispirited fashion to replace them upon the
Acropolis which I had not as yet seen, with the help of
photographs.  It did not work, context is everything; besides,
these were decorative additions to structure not independent art

I know people pooh-pooh synchronicity, but how else to explain why
I saw *two* completely independent references to "chthonic deities"
in one day, one in Durrell and one in the film INFERNO.  And this
only about a week after I saw *two* completely independent
references to Twain's article on the German language in a single
day.  [-ecl]

[I think people underrate the power of coincidence.  There are so
many potential amazing coincidences hanging around that it would be
surprising some of them did not turn out to be true.  -mrl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           When any organizational entity expands beyond
           21 members, the real power will be in some smaller body.
                                           -- C. Northcote Parkinson