Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/10/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 37, Whole Number 1953

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Space News (comments by Greg Frederick)
        Common??? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Superman vs. the KKK (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        BRIMSTONE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        ATOMICA (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        SHARDS OF HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold (audiobook review
                by Joe Karpierz)
                UNIVERSE ITSELF by Sean Carroll (book review
                by Greg Frederick)
        "Stigmata" (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
                MONEY CAN BUY, MOONLIGHT and Mahershala Ali, EYE IN THE
                and ROGUE ONE (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)
                Microbes and Antibiotics, Talented Minority Syndrome,
                ISAAC'S STORM (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)        
        This Week's Reading (POPE JOAN) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Space News (comments by Greg Frederick)

SpaceX is planning to send two paying private individuals in their
new Dragon 2 capsule on a trip around the Moon in 2018.  They will
use the Falcon heavy rocket for this mission.


NASA has a plan to create an artificial magnetic shield for Mars.
This magnetic shield would help Mars to restore its atmosphere.

"This is some truly futuristic stuff, reminiscent of Kim Stanley
Robinson's Red Mars trilogy.  But it is theoretically possible, and
it just might, maybe, be a step toward terraforming Mars for human
inhabitation in the next century."




TOPIC: Common??? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I always wondered: When ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. played in Israel,
was it called ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.E.?  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Superman vs. the KKK (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Someone in a local college got in touch with me to ask me for some
information.  She was doing a paper on something like how science
fiction affects society.  I could tell her a little, but not a
whole lot.  I asked her if she knew how in the late 1940s the
"Adventures of Superman" radio show dealt a serious blow to the Ku
Klux Klan.  She had not heard of it.

It seems that in the years after WWII the group the Ku Klux Klan
had a giant spurt of growth.  A writer named Stetson Kennedy was
disturbed about the increasing power of the radically racist Klan.
Kennedy knew that the Klan was too popular and strong to attack
them from the outside.  He decided to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan
and try to get information he could use to hobble the Klan.  The
Klan must not have been all that big since he soon was in the inner
circle.  There he could get the secret code words that different
Klan members used to indentify themselves as Klan members to other
members they did not know.

This gets a little James Bondy.  He learned, for example he could
ask a stranger "Do you know Mr. Ayak?"  If things were on the up
and up the stranger would say, "I also know Mr. Akai."  Using the
name "Ayak" is an acronym for "Are you a klansman?"  Akai is short
for "A klansman am I."

Kennedy brought his new-found information to the police.  But this
was in the deep South.  Many of the police would probably have been
sympathetic to the Klan and some of the rest would have been afraid
to stand up to the Klan.  It probably seemed like Kennedy's efforts
had gone for nothing.

By a lucky chance Kennedy brought his complaint to the writers of
the radio show The Adventures of Superman.  Now those writers had a
popular radio program.  But Superman had been fighting Nazis during
the war.  Somehow pitting the Man of Steel up against your common
garden variety of bank robber just was not going to excite the
fans.  There were only a limited number of super-villains.

Now the Klan had real power that some of the fans could see in the
streets and read about in the newspapers.  Kennedy gave the radio
producers a storyline for Superman vs. the Klan.  In it Superman
could fight an all too real villain.  And the program could be
peppered with *realistic* dialog for once.  It might have someone
ask "Do you know Mr. Ayak," and get back a response "Yes and I know
Mr. Akai."  And then someone would explain the coded names.

Now that was downright embarrassing.  The super-secret mystical code
words of the Klan had become the fodder for a children's radio
program.  And the program explained the coded words so the kiddies
could use the authentic secret words when they were playing games.

Within the three weeks that the story ran the Klan became a
laughing stock and an embarrassment.  Nobody new wanted to join and
current members decided that perhaps they needed to go home and do
a few household chores.

"Klan of the Fiery Cross" can be found several places in sixteen
chapters on the web, such as:

Also see:



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

CAPSULE: Told in four chapters, this is the grim and painful story
of a woman dominated by men on the American frontier.  The story is
presented in Grand Guignol style with a feeling that
writer/director Martin Koolhoven is behind it all winking at the
audience.  Take this film seriously and it is little but a
pointlessly harrowing film experience.  Accept it as an exaggerated
horror story and it will be a considerably better film.  Rating:
low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

Sadism, bondage, hanging, prostitution, incest, murder, and all
manner of cruelty: they are all here.  BRIMSSTONE is part feminist
diatribe, part exaggerated horror film, part Western.  Your
reaction to the film may well be dependent on how seriously you
take it.  This is a Dutch-French-German co-produced Western about
the grim and bleak condition of women in the American frontier.  In
other words it is a bunch of Europeans telling each other how bad
Americans are.

A woman--Liz, played by Dakota Fanning--is persecuted because as a
midwife she chose to save the life of a mother at the cost of the
life of the baby.  A preacher called "the Reverend" (Guy Pearce
with a deeply scarred face and worse scarred soul) exacts what he
considers the proper, scripture-dictated, vengeance of God on the
woman.  His churchgoers just meekly submit to his will.  BRIMSTONE
was conceived, written, and directed by Dutchman, Martin Koolhoven.
Atrocity follows on atrocity as women are abused and persecuted by
the male-run society.  The issues are righteous, but the
accusations and abuses are laid onto the story a little thickly.

The film requires a strong performance from its villain to take him
seriously enough and Guy Pearce is versatile enough to be taken as
the evil prime mover of this society.  I am unfamiliar with any
film in which Pearce has projected malice as he does in this film,
even falling to howl like a dog.  It is as shocking as seeing Alan
Arkin in WAIT UNTIL DARK or Anthony Hopkins in THE SILENCE OF THE
LAMBS.  Dakota Fanning's Liz walks a narrow step between placid and
tense.  She seems as meek as her neighbors but is ready to take
care of herself.  There is little doubt who will win in the end,
but what will the viewer see along the way of the journey.

The film is 149 minutes long and told in four chapters.  The second
chapter tells how the first came about; the third chapter tells how
the second came about.  The final chapter wraps it all up after the
first chapter.  If the viewer is to sit there and take all of the
abuses seriously, this is a very dismal film.  This, however, is
women's history as seen through a Grand Guignol lens. That says
that it needs to be taken with just a little grain of salt.

If the viewer sees BRIMSTONE as a serious look at the treatment an
position of women in the American West, this film will quickly dip
into a shocking and perhaps nauseating territory.  If it is taken
as a horror tale intended to do little more than shock this film
will not disappoint.  As a horror film I rate BRIMSTONE a low +2 on
the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.  Those who want to take seriously what
is on the screen should take several rating points off.
BRIMSTONE will go into limited release March 10, 2017.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



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

CAPSULE: ATOMICA is a science fiction mystery set in the near
future and involving the last nuclear power plant and two men who
operate it.  When its communications go off-line an engineer is
sent to restore the connection.  She finds more questions than
answers.  This is a low-budget and claustrophobic film, most of
which takes place underground with a plot that develops only
slowly.  Rating: high 0 (-4 to +4) or 5/10

With science fiction films these days being about superheroes, time
travel, genetic engineering and nano-technology it has been quite a
while since atomic power has been much of an attraction for a
movie.  In the 1950s there were films like THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE,
THE ATOMIC KID, and THE ATOMIC CITY.  Six decades later I don't
know many people whose pulse will race at the thought of a film
inspired by atomic energy.  The word "atomic" just does not have
the cachet it once did.

A few years into the future there has been a large nuclear disaster
including a triple meltdown.  Nuclear power is being abandoned and
one last nuclear power plant still is running, just where the
triple meltdown occurred.  To convert the leaked radiation and make
it reusable energy is the purpose of this plant.  When its
communications go unexpectedly offline on Christmas day the
government needs to know what is going on.  They send in Abby Dixon
(played by Sarah Habel) to get the communications operating again.
She finds that two operators run the whole plant, Robinson Scott
(Dominic Monaghan) and Dr. Zek (Tom Sizemore).  But Zek has left
the plant days ago and has not returned.  Since this is a highly
contaminated area, Zek may well be dead from radiation or perhaps
murdered by Robinson.  Robinson's behavior starts friendly but soon
becomes a little threatening.  As Abby stays longer and feels not
particularly welcome she is having bad dreams, seeing herself as a
child.  Abby has to find out what has happened here.  Did Robinson
kill Dr. Zek?  Is Zek alive somewhere and if so, what is he doing?
The film devolves into a game of "guess who is not what he

ATOMICA takes place mostly underground in cylindrical tunnels and
subterranean rooms.  This adds to the claustrophobic effect without
adding much to the budget needed.  (The film's original title was
DEEP BURIAL.)  The wardrobe decisions are a little weird.  For some
reason the men wear coveralls, but Abby wears a tight-fitting cat
suit and an aerodynamic bike-racing helmet.  She does no racing.
Dominic Monaghan's character is named Robinson Scott.  (Is this a
reference to TV's "I Spy?")  The reactor plant in question looks a
little broken down and poorly maintained for a nuclear reactor.
Relative newcomer Dagen Merrill directs a screenplay by Kevin
Burke, Federico Fernandez-Armesto, and Adam Gyngell.

Even at a short 82 minutes this film drags with too much wait for
too little payoff.  And too many questions are left apparently
unanswered or answered with mysterious visual sequences.  I rate
ATOMICA a high 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: SHARDS OF HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold (copyright 1986
Baen, 2009 Blackstone Audio, 8 hours 46 minutes, ISBN-10: 0-671-
65574-4, ASIN: B0028MK7TC, narrated by Grover Gardner)  (excerpt
from the Duel Fish Codices: an audiobook review by Joe Karpierz)

When I reviewed GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN last year, I
stated that I did some research into just how long Bujold has been
publishing Vorkosigan novels.  The answer, as of the writing of
that review, was thirty years, as SHARDS OF HONOR was published in
1986.  One thing that I knew about SHARDS OF HONOR was that I had
never read it.  I remember reading FALLING FREE back in 1986 or
1987 poolside at the apartment complex I lived in back in those
days.  But there were several that I did not read from the late
1980s and early 1990s, so I recently decided that maybe it would be
time to go back and fill in the holes of my personal Vorkosigan
universe.  And so, I dropped into the audio book library for SHARDS
OF HONOR.  With the book being thirty years old, I feel that the
statute of limitations has run out on spoilers for this book, so
while I don't plan on dropping any major unknowns for folks who
haven't read it, I might.  After all, one can nearly completely
deduce what happened in SHARDS OF HONOR just from reading later
Vorkosigan novels and simply paying attention.

To summarize though (because as I write this I realize this piece
is going to be more of a comparison between the first book in the
series and the most recent, which may or may not be useful but may
allow the reader to speculate on what's next), Captain Cordelia
Naismith is the captain of a Betan astronomical survey ship.  She
and her team have landed on what is to them a new planet, and they
are doing what survey teams do when her camp is attacked by what
turns out to be a Barrayaran team which has landed on the planet
before them.  She meets Aral Vorkosigan, who is in the middle of a
bit of political turmoil within his own unit.  Cordelia and Aral
become friends while on the planet--which is surprising to Cordelia
as Aral is the famed "Butcher of Komarr"--and they end up with a
deep mutual respect for each other.  Cordelia is taken up to Aral's
ship as a prisoner who will be allowed to go home after the ship
returns to Barrayar.  There is, of course, one more surprise to be
sprung:  Aral proproses marriage to Cordelia.  She never answers
the question, but it's clear that Cordelia is smitten with Aral.

I really don't need to go through the rest of the story in even
that amount of detail.  Aral and Cordelia encounter each other
again during a Barrayaran attack on Escobar, and after all is said
and done, he proposes again.  She turns him down this time, and
returns to Beta Colony to find it changed.  The authorities believe
she is the victim of Barrayaran brain-washing, and make her life
miserable.  She eventually escapes, gets transport to Barrayar,
marries Aral, and they live happily ever after.

Well, not really.  Those who have read the novels know that life in
the Vorkosigan universe never allows things to end up happily ever
after.  But the couple does okay, really they do.

What happened in between SHARDS OF HONOR and GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE
RED QUEEN is the stuff of science fiction legend.  Miles, his
family, and their escapades are all among the most beloved in the
field.  Miles' exploits are well known, and there is typically
great anticipation of the next "Miles book".

Except, of course, that the next Miles book really doesn't have to
have Miles in it (CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE, for example), for
these are books about the Vorkosigan universe, not just Miles.
Even those that have Miles in it don't necessarily center on Miles
(JOLE/QUEEN) is a good example of that.  I really wanted to like
JOLE/QUEEN, but after I listened to SHARDS OF HONOR I've decided
that while I may like it, it wasn't that *good*.  I've heard the
word "disappointing" used to describe it, and I think I agree with
that now.  And I wonder, in fact, if we've seen the last of the
Vorkosigan books.

Bujold has indeed come full circle with these novels.  SHARDS OF
HONOR introduces us to Cordelia and Aral, and without them falling
in love and getting married, none of the rest of the books could
have happened.  SHARDS is full of action, intrigue, romance,
character development, and story.  We came to like those two
characters (and the rest of the people that inhabit the Vorkosigan
universe), and they were a wonderful springboard to the rest of the
story.  JOLE/QUEEN had ... romance.  There was no story, no
conflict, no intrigue (well, not much, anyway) and in retrospect,
it felt a little old and tired.  In the beginning, Aral and
Cordelia were young and vibrant, feisty, and ready to take on the
universe.  At the end, Cordelia is ... comfortable.  She's lived
her life, done her thing, and is ready to sail off into the sunset;
she's done with all the adventure.

And so, I suspect, is Bujold (mind you, this is speculation--I know
nothing about future plans for Bujold's writing).  I think we've
come around front to back, and as fun and exciting as SHARDS OF
HONOR was, I think (as I mentioned at the end of my review of
JOLE/QUEEN), there really isn't any obvious place to go from here.

If you've read SHARDS OF HONOR, I urge you to go read it again.  If
you've never read it, I urge you to read it soon.  If you've never
read the Vorkosigan universe books, start here at the beginning and
work your way to what I think is the end.  You'll not regret it.

Grover Gardner was the narrator for this book as well as GENTLEMAN
JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN.  While in that book I thought he did a
workmanlike job, I think he is now starting to grow on me.  I
enjoyed his narration of SHARDS OF HONOR, and look forward to
hearing him read more of the Vorkosigan books I haven't gotten to
yet.  [-jak]


UNIVERSE ITSELF by Sean Carroll (book review by Greg Frederick)

Sean Carroll who is a theoretical physicist and an acclaimed author
of modern physics books has written a book that covers the big
picture.  That is this book discusses the workings of the world on
the quantum level, the cosmic level and the human level.  The
author provides us with some thought provoking ideas.  One such
idea is that the observable Universe began in a very low entropy
state.  As the Universe evolves it goes from this low entropy state
to one of higher entropy.  Entropy is usually defined as the amount
randomness in a system and that it increases in an isolated system
such as the Universe.  But in an intermediate medium entropy
condition the Universe can have increased complexity.  Therefore,
you can have solar systems and planets forming possibly with life
on them in an intermediate entropy state.  You can see this concept
when you mix cream into your coffee.  The initial state has cream
separated from the coffee so there are two layers.  This is a low
entropy and simple condition.  When you mix it you see intermediate
entropy but increasing and also interesting complexity.  Finally,
the coffee and cream mixture exhibits high entropy but it is simple
again and therefore has low complexity.  On another subject,
Carroll relates how some modern research studies in evolution are
following the idea that RNA preceded DNA as the information-
carrying molecule that helped life to start.  And that bilayers of
fatty acids which naturally line up in a regular fashion when
exposed to water solutions could have been a primitive membrane for
early one celled life forms.  Looking more into the big picture
view of things Carrol discusses the multiverse concept as a
prediction that came about based on string theory and cosmic
inflation.  Physicists have wondered how we have the exact physical
constants in this Universe to make it amiable to the creation of
life forms such as us.  This multiverse idea allows many universes
to come into existence; even one like ours.  Subjects as diverse as
information theory, quantum mechanics, microbiology, philosophy,
evolution, morality, and other areas of physics are covered in this
wide ranging ideas book.  And finally, the interest people have to
find purpose and meaning in their lives is also addressed in this
book.  Sean Carroll has written a book which many readers will find
very enjoyable.  [-gf]


TOPIC: "Stigmata" (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

In response to Kip Williams's comments on the title of "Stigmata"
in the 03/03/17 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

A fair question for the author to have asked (and I'll pretend this
has happened for rhetorical reasons) would be, "Okay, smart guy,
what would you suggest?"

I keep remembering this when I'm where I can't write to you. My
replacement title would be "Holier Than Thou," because it fits as a
title during the setup, and even later.  [-kw]


comment by Taras Wolansky)

In response to various comments on films (other topics appear in
the next item) in the last nine issues of the MT VOID, Taras
Wolansky writes:

I'm sitting by a muted phone while some people at the other end try
(and fail) to install some software on a mainframe.  As I wait for
a request for assistance that may never come, this is a good time
for me to catch up with some of my mental notes for LoCs.

MT VOID #1952:  In the end, the father (Viggo Mortenson) in the
movie, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, realizes that the life he's giving the
kids, for all its positive aspects, puts them in danger, and he
leaves the kids with his more conventional in-laws (so the kids can
pursue their educations, for example).  The final sequence, in
which the kids unexpectedly (and impossibly) come back to him, is
obviously a fantasy he is entertaining, not unlike the final
sequence of LA LA LAND.  Unless you believe the kids can pull a
coffin out of a grave with their
bare hands (the film discreetly looks away when they do it); and
that the authorities wouldn't descend upon that idyllic family
scene at the end to take them all into custody!

MT VOID #1951:  The great irony about Costa-Gavras' movie, Z, is
that it was used to attack the military junta even though the
events it dramatized occurred four years before the junta took

MT VOID #1948:  I remember feeling disillusioned when I learned how
much of INHERIT THE WIND is bunk; there's a reason why it doesn't
use the participants' real names.  In reality, the trial was a
publicity stunt; the scenes with the defendant behind bars are a
joke.  Clarence Darrow was amoral:  after giving his own summation
he pled his client guilty so William Jennings Bryan couldn't
deliver his.  It was published in SKEPTIC magazine a few years ago:
Bryan pointed out the dangerous, "eugenic" implications of
Darwinism.  Eventually the Nazis made him look like a prophet, but
he didn't live to see it.  [-tw]

Mark responds:

I think the play you really want is "The Great Tennessee Monkey
Trial" by Peter Goodchild.  While a little less dramatic than
INHERIT THE WIND, it is a good deal more faithful to the actual
trial.  [-mrl]

Dems are trying to head off the purging of illegal registrations
from the voter rolls: convicted felons who lost the right to vote,
citizens of countries other than the U.S., and deceased Americans;
that is, three major Democratic voting blocs.  [;)]  Not enough to
explain away Hillary's popular vote majority, but it's likely some
states she carried narrowly were actually won by Trump.

Few people realize that the Dems raise much more money than the
GOP.  In the last election, for example, Hillary raised $1.4
billion; Trump, less than $1 billion (according to the Wash. Post).
N.B.:  Small donors accounted for about 3% of the gap.

MT VOID #1944:  I haven't seen his performance in MOONLIGHT yet,
but Mahershala Ali's winning an Oscar really gave me a warm
feeling.  I loved him in the TV show, THE 4400, where he played a
dignified Korean War-era soldier abruptly dumped into the 21st
century, who can hardly believe it's OK when he falls in love with
a white woman.

The sadly un-nominated EYE IN THE SKY:  Helen Mirren and Alan
Rickman--you can't do much better than that!  I suspect this film
is actually SF, as they are not yet deploying drones that small (I

HACKSAW RIDGE:  unusual for its frank depiction of Doss' deep
religious faith (says this old atheist).  In movies and TV shows,
devout Christians are usually revealed as hypocrites or rapists or
serial killers.

ADMIRAL:  de Ruyter is a name to conjure with, as far as I'm
concerned.  Given what the public knows about history, of course,
perhaps the movie should be marketed as a fantasy--like that recent
THREE MUSKETEERS in which Buckingham leads a flotilla of airships
against France!

THE FINEST HOURS:  A brave captain, played by Chris Pine, breaks
all the rules to rescue people in peril; a brilliant engineer
contrives the impossible to keep his ship alive.  The latest
installment in the new STAR TREK series?  No, a true story more
thrilling than fiction.  It's a comment on contemporary movie
audiences, or something, that true heroism did far less at the box
office than fake heroism.

Implicit in your review of ROGUE ONE is the film's major problem:
among all the battles, the characters never come to life, so no one
cares when they're all killed.  One reviewer pointed out that the
film is an exercise in global marketing:  cute but unthreatening
girl; handsome Hispanic guy; Chinese warrior; Japanese samurai,

I take that back:  One character did come to life--Forrest
Whitaker's "Saw Gerrera".  But Whitaker can make you feel the
weight of the world on his shoulders with no dialogue or direction
at all, so all the credit belongs to him, not the filmmakers.

I see my colleagues have given up for the night, and backed out the
new software.  So this is a good place to stop.  [-tw]


Antibiotics, Talented Minority Syndrome, ISAAC'S STORM (letter of
comment by Taras Wolansky)

In response to various comments in the last nine issues of the MT
VOID, Taras Wolansky writes:

MT VOID #1952:  There's something richly comical about people who
insist in a huff that they will leave the country if the candidate
they oppose wins the election.  Supporters of that candidate then
have great fun egging them on to keep their promises--but they
never, ever do, alas.  [-tw]

Mark responds:

I too take with a grain of salt people claiming they will flee the
country for Canada if they do not like the candidate who is
selected.  I think they are first cousins to people who say they
will *never* vote for X, but just mean not until their party
endorses X.  [-mrl]

MT VOID #1952:  Jules Verne's THE CHILDREN OF CAPTAIN GRANT was one
of my mother's favorite novels when she was growing up in the
Soviet Union.  Like Jack London, Verne's socialist tendencies may
have made him acceptable to the commissars.  I doubt it was a pre-
revolutionary edition:  her father, a high-school teacher, had been
put to death when she was seven, for sharing pre-revolutionary
books with some of his students.

MT VOID #1950:  An amusing moment in Simak's classic WAY STATION is
when the National Geographic Society raises questions about just
how long Enoch Wallace has been subscribing to their magazine!

The longest novel I ever read was probably Dumas' third volume of
the "Musketeers" trilogy, THE VICOMTE DE BRAGELONNE (of which THE
MAN IN THE IRON MASK is an extract).  Unless it's Jane Austen's
favorite novel, Samuel Richardson's SIR CHARLES GRANDISON.  This
had a distinctly modern method of composition, as Richardson worked
out the story, corresponding with noble ladies who were fans of his

I do not see antibiotic resistance as a long-term threat.  We're
sequencing pathogens' DNA and learning exactly where the weak
points are, and we're only going to get better at this.  (I compare
it to reading the enemy's mail during World War II.)  Of course, if
it takes 10 years and $500 million just to get approval to start
selling a new drug, it's obvious a lot of drugs will fall by the

MT VOID #1947:  I'll have to read Greg Egan's "The Four Thousand,
The Eight Hundred".  It appears to be an example of what I call
Talented Minority Syndrome: Indians in East Africa (driven out),
Jews in Germany (killed),
Chinese in Malaya (driven out), Armenians in Turkey (killed),
Christians in the Middle East (all of the above).  The majority is
humiliated by the minority's success and cuts off its nose to spite
its face (as it were).

In Erik Larson's ISAAC'S STORM, as I recall, the Cuban
meteorologists whose warnings the U.S. Weather Bureau chose to
ignore were Jesuit priests and monks.  (Paging Brother Guy!)  In
1900 Catholics were still not well-regarded.  [-tw]


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

POPE JOAN by Lawrence Durrell (ISBN 0-14-00-3760-8) is described on
the back cover as "Durrell's adaptation of the notorious Greek
classic PAPISSA JOANNA" by Emmanuel Royidis (a.k.a. Roides),
published in 1886.  (Durrell's book was published in 1960; I
suspect that under the copyright laws of the time, PAPISSA JOANNA
was in public domain.)

There is a lot of snarkiness in Durrell's work, which derives from
the original work.  (Indeed, Royidis was excommunicated from the
Greek Orthodox Church because of this novel.)  For example, Durrell
writes, "The happy Emperor spent his days with little to do but ...
to track down guilty murderers and bandits on whom he imposed a
small fine: while those of his subjects who ate meat on Fridays or
were caught spitting after Communion were hanged from the branches
of trees.""

Or, speaking of the chastity required of monks, he says, "The
Franks, however, after a term of self-sacrifice, gave it up and
appeased the legates of lubricity, in order that they might, in
calmness and tranquility of spirit, concentrate on salvation.
St. Anthony quitted temptation with a cold bath.  But according to
the wise Archigenes, temperance is itself the most violent
aphrodisiac.  How wise, how very wise, were the Franks, then, to
outlaw such methods in the monasteries."

[For what it's worth, the story of Pope Joan is now almost
universally considered to be a legend.  For one thing, stories
differ on when she presumably reigned.  Some say 1099, and some say
between Leo IV and Benedict III in the 850s.  Record for both dates
reveal no gaps between known (male) popes that Pope Joan could have
filled.]  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Nothing is more miserable than man,
           Of all upon the earth that breathes and creeps.
                                           --Homer, Iliad