Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
02/17/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 34, Whole Number 1950

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Philcon 2016 Convention Report Available
        Not Just a Boast (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Return of the Dread (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        WAY STATION by Clifford D. Simak (audio book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        Project Blue (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick)
                and THE EXPANSE (letter of comment by John Purcell)
        VARNEY THE VAMPIRE by James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Peckett
                Prest (book review by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        This Week's Reading (THROUGH FIVE ADMINISTRATIONS:
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Philcon 2016 Convention Report Available

Evelyn's Philcon 2016 convention report is available at


TOPIC: Not Just a Boast (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

The nature film SEASONS shows what northern Europe was like at the
end of the last Ice Age with all sorts of new life.  It shows
forest life through the four seasons, including winter.  I could
just imagine the old bear telling the young ones who were tired of
winter, "You think you got it tough?  When I was a cub, winter was
12,000 years long."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Return of the Dread (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

One problem with science fiction is that when it looks at future
threats to the human race it looks at very unlikely futures, but
not what we see happening in our world around us.  The sort of
threat they warn about is what happens if the world is pierced by a
small black hole, but we pay less attention to problems like
cybercrime.  I am not saying that being pierced by a black hole is
impossible, but it is extremely unlikely under normal conditions.
Cybercrime is not just more likely; it is a reality.  The frequency
of stories that look at that sort of threat is disproportionately

One of the issues that may have been covered, though I have not
seen it, is anti-biotical resistance.  We are looking at a future
with far fewer antibiotic drugs than are in our current medical
arsenal.  This is a problem that lies on the Earth with its head in
rich countries and its feet in some of the poorest regions.

The wealthier countries were so astonished with antibiotics when
they became available that they went antibiotic-crazy.  They used
them as if they had magical powers.  For example, they used them in
efforts to treat colds.  Antibiotics are completely useless against
viruses and colds which come from viruses.  For the same reason
they are useless for ear and sinus infections or various sorts of
influenza.  They have been added animal feed in large proportion to
stimulate growth in poultry.

The result is a nice demonstration of evolution in action.  Some
microbes are lucky to just by chance have the right DNA to make
them resistant to antibiotics and they will live through
applications of antibiotics that will kill off the less resistant
microbe strains.  The next generation will be microbes that are
antibiotic strains.  So the richer cultures have overused
antibiotics selecting for drug resistance. But if the problem is
created in wealthy cultures it is much amplified and harder to
control in poorer regions.  India, as is a case in point, is a
hotbed of antibiotic resistance.

India is a very poor country.  Half of the population do not have
in-door toilet facilities.  This makes it a breeding ground for
drug resistant microbes.  And complicating matters where people can
afford it India now is also becoming a major user and abuser of

Ramanan Laxminarayan says in his paper drug resistance in India:

"Antibiotic use is a major driver of resistance. In 2010, India was
the world?s largest consumer of antibiotics for human health... The
convergence of factors such as poor public health infrastructure,
rising incomes, a high burden of disease, and cheap, unregulated
sales of antibiotics has created ideal conditions for a rapid rise
in resistant infections in India."

This is a condition where epidemics of untreatable infections are
not just likely but almost inevitable.  And these same epidemics
will almost certainly spread worldwide.

We probably have lived through a temporary bubble of microbial
diseases being effectively treatable.  Go back just a few
generations and people lived in fear of disease, and go forward
even less and that fear may return.  In some places it already has.
Fiction that portrays a future free from these fears may be missing
the obvious.

See also



TOPIC: WAY STATION by Clifford D. Simak (copyright 1963, 2008
Audible Inc., 7 hours 5 minutes, ASIN B001COY8SS, narrated by Eric
Michael Summerer) (excerpt from the Duel Fish Codices: an audio
book review by Joe Karpierz)

I've been reading science fiction a very long time--something like
48 years if my math is right--and one of my favorite authors back
in the day was Clifford D. Simak.  His novel PROJECT POPE was up
for the Hugo in 1982 at Chicon IV, which not only was my first
Worldcon, but my first con, period.  I'd never read WAY STATION,
though.  It sounded intriguing, and I've had it on my Kindle for a
few years now.  But it sat there, untouched.  However, I had access
to the audio book of WAY STATION, so I decided now was the time,
and at just over 7 hours in length, if I didn't like it, I wouldn't
be wasting a significant amount of time on it.

Enoch Wallace is a Civil War veteran living in Wisconsin.  He is
the caretaker of an intergalactic way station, a stop-over point
for aliens traveling through our spiral arm of the galaxy.  He's
been at his job for over a century; nobody seems to question him
all that much as he keeps to himself and only has contact with the
mailman and a local deaf mute girl.  Eventually, though, the U.S.
government takes notice of the long-lived individual and begins to
investigate him.  Wallace calls them the watchers; he knows they're
there, but as long as they don't bother him he's not going to be
worried about it.

Things change when an alien dies while at the way station.  The
U.S. government steals the body and inadvertently escalates a
growing movement in galactic civilization to shut down the way
station network in our end of the galaxy.  And while Wallace is
able to use an alien math chart to determine that Earth is on the
verge of a nuclear holocaust, galactic civilization itself is
collapsing due to the loss of a mysterious talisman that allows
contact with a spiritual force that holds society together.
Wallace finds himself on the verge of having to make a decision
that will affect all of mankind, a decision that he does not want
to make.

WAY STATION is not really about the way station that Enoch Wallace
is caretaker for; it is merely the item that anchors the story,
that allows Simak the story he wants to tell about civilizations
getting along with each other, the sharing of knowledge, the
maturity of one man as well as the human race.  While Wallace has
grown to be open-minded, he fears that the planetary governments
may not take the same view if he needs to tell everyone about
galactic civilization and the Earth's part in it.  It's the tale of
a man who has had to overcome much when coping with the idea that
we are not alone and that his life will probably never change, and
yet everything will change if he has to inform the world's
governments of the existence of aliens.

WAY STATION is a perfect example of the difference between novels
of fifty years ago and those of today.  These days, we have
sprawling doorstops in which every little detail must be explained
and examined; no stone must be left unturned in describing to the
reader the context of the story in which he or she is being
immersed.  Today, there is much emphasis placed on scientific
accuracy and plausibility and describing in excruciating detail the
science of what is going on in the story (as examples I present to
you Neal Stephenson's SEVENEVES and Kim Stanley Robinson's AURORA).

I think that if Simak had tried to go that route with WAY STATION
the story would have been ruined.  The details of how the aliens
travel between the way stations is almost irrelevant, although
Simak does give a brief explanation.  The details of how Wallace's
house was modified by Galactic Central to turn it into a way
station, or what its protective materials are is almost irrelevant.
It is enough to know that it works, that it fits the need of the
story.  This gives Simak the room to give depth to the character of
Enoch Wallace, to spend time on describing the Wisconsin
countryside, to philosophize upon man's place in the galaxy.
Modern writers could learn a bit from writers of an earlier age, I
Eric Michael Summerer is a competent narrator who never took me out
of the story.  His style is more of a reader than a narrator,
although he did try to vary his voices depending on the character.
As I've said before, as long as a narrator doesn't take me out of
the story, then he or she has done their job well enough.

WAY STATION is a worthy Hugo winner, and one that I know wish I'd
read sooner.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Project Blue (letter of comment by Gregory Frederick)

A group of scientists are attempting to raise money to fund a
project to directly image for the first time an Earth type planet
in the Alpha Centauri system (closest star system nearest to Earth
... 4.3 light years away).  A refrigerator size telescope (with
available tech) in orbit would be able to do this because of the
relatively close location of Alpha Centauri.



THE EXPANSE (letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on walls in the 02/10/17 issue of
the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

[Mark wrote,] "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]

Mark, you are so going to pay for that bad joke.  [-jp]

In response to Mark's comments on THE LORD OF THE RINGS, John

I first read THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy (and THE HOBBIT) in
college back in the mid-70s, and was totally blown away by the
immense detail and inter-connectedness between the books.  To say
that Tolkien's world building is a cultural phenomenon would be an
understatement, and I have to say that Peter Jackson's envisioning
of LOTR was beautifully done.  I am no scholar of LOTR, but I would
have to say that any serious fan of high fantasy literature should
read these books. Spectacular work.  I haven't read--nor seen--any
of the GAME OF THRONES books/episodes.  Some day I might, but it's
going to be awhile. My current reading project is VARNEY, THE
VAMPYRE (serialized 1845-1847, first book edition published in
1847) by James Malcolm Rymer.  At 1166 pages, this is a whopper of
a task.  I did some calculations and discovered that I could finish
this massive tome in 30 days if I read 39 pages a day. That doesn't
sound too bad, but considering the typeface and print size, I could
very easily go blind in the process.  Oh, well.  The things I do in
the name of researching an article: I'm writing an overview of 19th
century vampire novels for a literary journal, and a shorter
version will appear in Robert Jennings' fanzine FADEAWAY later this
year.  It all depends on when I finish reading this blasted book.
I have already consumed a half dozen other novels in this milieu,
starting with John Polidori's 1819 THE VAMPYRE and ending with Bram
Stoker's DRACULA (1897). Some of these are fun, the others
pedantic.  Oh, well, indeed.  [-jp]

Evelyn responds:

What the heck--see my 1987 review of VARNEY THE VAMPYRE below.

In response to David Rubin's comments on autism, John writes:

Thank you for reprinting David Rubin's blog post about Autism and
Asperger's Syndrome.  We believe our three-year-old grandson has
Asperger's, but he has not been formally diagnosed as yet, although
he does display common traits of this condition.  Eventually we
hope that a proper diagnosis is determined before he enters school
in a couple years.  [-jp]

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of THE DISPATCHER, John
I will have to get a copy of Scalzi's THE DISPATCHER.  It sounds
good, and I enjoy his writing style.  Thank you for the
recommendation.  [-jp]

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of BABYLON'S ASHES, John

Of all the television skiffy that I watch, "The Expanse" series on
the SyFy Network is one of the better shows.  Sad to say, I don't
have any of these novels written by James S. A. Corey, but after
reading Joe Karpierz's review of the audiobook, I may have to start
acquiring them.  They certainly have a fervent following in the sf

And this brings me to the end of another letter of comment, but one
last comment needs to be made: stop writing about interesting books
to read!  I am already backed up into the afterlife on my To Be
Read Shelf.  Yeesh...  [-jp]


TOPIC: VARNEY THE VAMPIRE by James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Peckett
Prest (Dover, 1972 (originally published 1847), two volumes, ISBNs
978-0-486-22844-0 and 978-0-486-22845-7) (book review by Evelyn
C. Leeper)

As the heading indicates, this is not your normal horror novel.
It's old (almost 150 years), it's long (868 pages, or close to
900,000 words--by comparison, DUNE checks in at about 200,000), and
no one is sure who wrote it.  The greatest of the penny dreadfuls,
it is described by E. F. Bleiler as "the most famous book that
almost no one has read."  Well, I'm never one to turn down a
challenge, so I determined to sit down and read it.

It's not half-bad.  Okay, so that's not a glowing recommendation.
But considering the length, I think the fact that I managed to read
it all and have a reasonably enjoyable time of it says something.
The first half moves along at a good pace, as the Bannerworths find
themselves tormented by the actions of Sir Francis Varney, who is
trying to drive them from their home.  There is the romantic
subplot, with Charles Holland and Flora Bannerworth, which follows
the standard Victorian pattern.  There is comic relief, with
Admiral Bell and his first mate Jack; this comic relief becomes a
bit overdone at times, with the plot stalled while the admiral and
Jack have yet another squabble. Eventually we find out just what
Varney wants the house for and we begin to sympathize with him and
his predicament as he is chased by the mob and forced to seek
shelter with the Bannerworths, the very family he has been
tormenting. There is a brief section in which Varney is describing
his history that is reminiscent more of FRANKENSTEIN than of
DRACULA, and in fact throughout the whole first volume, the
vampiric elements are quite understated.

In the second half, Rymer (or Prest or whoever) seems to run out of
steam. Instead of a single story, we get a series of episodes of
the sort:
- mysterious nobleman comes to town
- greedy mother arranges to have her daughter marry him, even
   though the daughter doesn't love him and/or loves someone else
- on the wedding day, someone shows up, points to the groom, and
   shouts "That's Varney the Vampire."
- Varney flees and (optionally) the girl marries the man of her
   dreams instead

After several iterations of this plot, interspersed with musings by
Varney himself on how much horror and misery he is bringing to the
people that he meets, Rymer finally changes direction and wraps up
the novel by having Varney tell his life story, or at any rate
major parts of it, to a sympathetic minister.  Having done this,
Varney apparently decides that he has served his literary purpose
and departs, somewhat dramatically, from the scene.  Without
ruining the ending (what makes me think anyone will read this,
anyway?), let's just say a sequel is unlikely.

If this seems like a flimsy plot to hang almost a million words on,
remember how many films Universal Studios, Hammer Studios, and who
knows who else have made based on Bram Stoker's DRACULA.  Yes, it's
padded unmercifully--at one point a character is waiting in
someone's library and picks up a book to read and the next chapter
of VARNEY consists of the story she reads! Yes, many of the
characters are two-dimensional or less.  But there is also genuine
horror, genuine humor ("people will talk even when they have not
anything particular to say, so that we cannot wonder at their doing
so when they have"), and a genuine story.  I'm not sure that I'd
recommend that you plow through the whole of VARNEY THE VAMPIRE,
but you might give the first half--which can stand on its own
without the second half--a try.  [-ecl]


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

CROOK (ISBN 978-1-3316-2057-0) consists of Crooks's experiences and
observations during his time as body-guard, clerk, and dispersing
agent to Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield, and Arthur.
(He was not on duty when Lincoln was assassinated, and no longer a
bodyguard when Garfield was.)  Crook actually served under twelve
Presidents--Lincoln through Wilson--but these memoirs cover only
six.  Arthur is covered in the same chapter as Garfield, and
apparently Crook considered them one administration.

Mixed in with the more straightforward observations, we catch
glimpses of less reported aspects.  We see the casual racism of the
time--not just the use of terms such as "darkies", but descriptions
such as "we saw some [Union] soldiers not far away 'initiating'
some negroes by tossing them on a blanket.  When they came down
they were supposed to be transformed into Yankees.  The darkies
yelled lustily during the process, and came down livid under their
black skins.  ...  The President [Lincoln] laughed boyishly; I
heard him afterward telling some one about the funny sight."  (It
reminded me of the scene in BOARDWALK EMPIRE when some white
character just reaches over and rubs Chalky White's head "for
luck"--apparently this used to be considered [by whites] acceptable
behavior!  You can tell, of course, that White is less than

It was of this same visit of Lincoln to Richmond that Crook says,
"It was nothing sort of miraculous that some attempt on his life
was not made.  It is to the everlasting glory of the South that he
was permitted to come and go in peace."

There is much made by Crook and others of Lincoln's premonitions
about his death.  (For example, Crook says that evening was the
only time Lincoln did not say "good night" to him, but rather
"good-bye.")  But Crook also quotes Lincoln as saying, "I have
perfect confidence in those who are around me--in every one of you
men.  I know no one could do it [assassinate me] and escape alive.
But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent."  While it is
true that Booth was eventually killed, it is certainly conceivable
that he could have escaped.

Crook describes the actions of the Congress in 1866 and 1867 to
effect Reconstruction by opining, "The first was tragic,
culminating as it did in negro Suffrage, the disenfranchisement of
the majority of the better class of Southerners, ..."

There are also small asides illuminating the characters of the men
and women Crook encountered.  For example, of President Hayes he
wrote, "At the commissary the very best things were to be obtained
at cost price.  This President Hayes refused to do.  'I prefer to
buy like other men,' he said."  But he was also careful to absolve
Grant of blame in availing himself of the commissary, preceding
this by, "It had been the custom during the Grant administration to
buy the groceries [for the White House] of the army commissary.
This was perfectly natural and proper because of the army
associations of General Grant."  (I am not sure I would say this
was proper, since by the time he was President, Grant was not
longer in the Army.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Two things are infinite: the universe and human
           stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.
                                           -- Albert Einstein