Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/16/17 -- Vol. 35, No. 51, Whole Number 1967

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Adam West, R. I. P.
        The Val Lewton Story (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        When Mona Lisa Went Missing (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        AARON'S BLOOD (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        WONDER WOMAN (film review by Dale Skran)
        Agatha Christie (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major)
        Generation Ships, Greece, AFTERIMAGE, Matt Helm, Geography
                and Martians, THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE, HIDDEN FIGURES,
                DEADPOOL, and Hugo Finalists (letter of comment
                by Taras Wolansky)
        This Week's Reading (POSTERN OF FATE) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Adam West, R. I. P.

Adam West, television's Batman, died June 9, 2017.

On Twitter, Bryan Miller suggests, "All the other Batmen should go
to Adam West's funeral, like when a former president dies."


TOPIC: The Val Lewton Story (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Some of you may remember that some months back I informed people
that "The Secret History of Hollywood" podcast was doing a series
of programs entitled "Universal Horrors".  As the title suggests it
was a (highly entertaining and highly detailed) history of classic
horror films from Universal Pictures.  It was a great series.  The
same people went on to do a history of James Cagney and Warner
Brothers Studios.  Now they have returned to horror with "Shadows:
The Boy from the Black Sea".  This is a biography of horror
filmmaker Val Lewton.  So far they have done only the first
chapter.  (That will take you from Lewton's grandparents to his
just starting to work on CAT PEOPLE.)  The chapters come out
irregularly, maybe once a month, but they probably take a lot of
work.  If you subscribe you can probably get the new chapters as
they come out.

I am not sure where all it is available, but you can go into the
iTunes store and just look for "The Secret History of Hollywood".
No charge.




TOPIC: When Mona Lisa Went Missing (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

We were at a friend's house and our hostess mentioned that she had
read a book about the 1911 theft of the "Mona Lisa" from the Louvre
in Paris.  I never knew it was ever stolen.  My first question was
how anybody could hope to fence a painting as famous as Leonardo da
Vinci's "Mona Lisa".  This is arguably the most famous painting in
the world.  (Possible contenders are da Vinci's "The Last Supper"
and Michelangelo's ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.)  But it could
not be fenced like some minor Monet.  Perhaps some billionaire
might want to have it hidden away in his attic where only he could
see it.  Or more likely the painting could have been held for
ransom.  But neither proved to be true.  Well, it turned out the
motive made more sense than I would have thought.

First, the "Mona Lisa" was stolen in 1911.  Before it was stolen it
was not nearly so famous as it would be two years later when the
theft and attempts to get the painting back had given the painting
worldwide publicity.  It turns out that the "Mona Lisa" was not
stolen for profit.  Apparently it was stolen by someone who was the
1911 equivalent of what we would call a hacker.  The thief
apparently wanted the excitement and challenge of seeing if it
really could be stolen.  But his strongest motive was to make a
political point.  The thief it seems was not a glamorous scoundrel
like Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF.  He was a mustachioed Italian
handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia.

So if the thief was not so impressive, the painting was not the
icon of the art world that it is today.  In 1910 the painting had
very little recognition value.  It was the theft and the resulting
publicity that made the "Mona Lisa" famous.  Newspapers around the
world had coverage of the theft of a genuine da Vinci painting.
And the newspapers enhanced the reputation of the painting by
educating their readers why this paining was great.  The theft made
the painting.  After all, it did not make a very good news story if
the reader did not know why this particular painting was

So how did Peruggia steal the painting?  In 1911 art theft was not
a major concern of art museums including the Louvre where the "Mona
Lisa" was kept and displayed.  The major concern was vandalism.  To
protect the most valuable paintings the Louvre had glass cases
made.  A team of workmen would remove a painting from the wall and
take it away to have a protective glass shell built for it.

Peruggia was one of these craftsmen.  He knew that with paintings
being moved to have cases made, people in the museum would not be
surprised to see blank spaces on the wall.  He planned to take the
painting, and one night he did.  He knew the museum was closed
Mondays, so the morning of Monday, August 21, 1911, Peruggia
removed the "Mona Lisa" from the wall in the Louvre and hid it
under his workman's smock.

Some versions of the story say that he found himself locked in the
Louvre and needed the help of a plumber to escape.

Peruggia hid the painting in his room, but would take it out to
admire it.  Also, da Vinci's painting focused Peruggio's anger at
the French people.  What anger?  It seems that under the protection
of Napoleon, the French allegedly had stolen Italian art, much as
the Nazis would later do and they took it back to France.  Peruggia
assumed that this had happened to the "Mona Lisa" because da Vinci
was Italian, therefore the painting must have been stolen from
Italy, he reasoned.

The museum knew the line of provenance of the "Mona Lisa" and was
able to prove they had proper ownership.  But Peruggia wanted to be
the man who returned the "Mona Lisa" to what he was convinced was
its proper place in Italy.

Peruggia did take the painting to Italy and offered to sell the
painting for half a million lire and a guarantee that the painting
would always be hung in Italy's Uffizi Gallery. A little
unbalanced, he expected to be treated as a national hero of Italy.
Except the painting had not been stolen by the French and the
Louvre had proper ownership.

Instead he was arrested and tried in Florence, Italy, by fellow
Italians.  He was completely uncontrollable during his trial and
probably deserved a stiff sentence.  But the fact that he claimed
his motive was extreme patriotism for his native Italy he ended up
spending only six months in prison.  But the "Mona Lisa" was again
hung at the Louvre.


It has been claimed that Peruggia had a secondary motive in the
theft and that a friend of his had been attempting to forge
counterfeit copies of the painting.  People have claimed that the
"Mona Lisa" hanging at the Louvre might actually not be the true
original painting.  The authorities at the Louvre consider these
allegations absurd.  But they refuse to have the "Mona Lisa"
examined and verified.  Just in case.  [-mrl]

[Many historians believe the painting is a portrait of Madam Lisa
Giocondo, wife of a wealthy Florentine.  It is from Giorgio Vasari
that the painting received the name "Mona Lisa", also known as "La
Gioconda" in Italian or "La Joconde" in French.  -ecl]


TOPIC: AARON'S BLOOD (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: What is a father to do when his beloved son is becoming a
vampire?  A father has to choose the lesser evil of betraying his
son or allowing his son to kill.  Writer-director Tommy Stovall
gives us a complex vampire film that delves more deeply into its
characters than most modern horror pieces.  Rating: high +1 (-4 to
+4) or 6/10

The year 2011 saw the release of a pleasant New-Age-ish comedy,
SEDONA, directed and with a screenplay by Tommy Stovall.  The film
had a breezy, New Age style and was shot in and around beautiful
Sedona, Arizona.  The writing had some nice character-based comedy.
I had not heard his name again for more than six years.  But
Stovall was hardly someone I expected to come back with a vampire
film.  His new film trades the light New Age feel for a more somber
world with supernatural creatures.  But this film does not have the
atmosphere a George Romero or a John Carpenter would give it.
AARON'S BLOOD is about human values and a father's responsibility
to his son.  Where does his responsibility lie when he knows his
son will cause evil?

Our central character is Aaron (played by James Martinez) who as a
phlebotomist draws blood for medical tests.  That means that he has
some technical knowledge about drawing blood and that knowledge
will be useful later.  He has had a big share of bad luck.  His
wife died a year earlier in a traffic accident leaving Aaron with
irrational feelings of guilt.  Aaron lives with his son Tate,
played by Trevor Stovall.  (Trevor is the son of director Tommy,
but he turns out to be a good choice to play Tate.  Trevor seems
very natural in the part, with a sort of half hang-dog look of
someone who has been bullied it is what the part needs and most
films would not have gotten that right.)

Young Tate is an easy mark for school bullies.  Until recently Tate
has been a well-behaved, serious student, but now he is fighting
back against a bully.  This is particularly dangerous to Tate
himself because he is a hemophiliac and fighting puts Tate near
death in the hospital to get a blood transfusion.  Tate not only
unexpectedly recovers but quickly returns to his old strength and
then surpasses it.  But he also cannot eat anything but blood.
Aaron slowly realizes his son may be becoming a vampire and Aaron
tries to find how his son might have contracted this malady.  Must
he betray his son to prevent killings?  The same dilemma is faced
by a character in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, but here it is the focus of

By today's standards the horror is kept light--at least lighter
than most horror films would be.  Much of the film is about issues
that I have not seen covered before in any depth in vampire films.
This is a film about the father of a boy twelve years old (and who
will never get older).  The father has to decide if he should side
with his son or with the wider world that a vampire would likely

There is one technical problem.  In one scene we see blood flowing.
But the film stock shows the blood as being black.  At this point
the color of the blood could have plot implications.  Stovall also
gives the viewer multiple false starts.  One would have been
acceptable, I suppose but more than one seems excessive.

I would not call AARON'S BLOOD a creepy classic, but it is a fairly
intelligent low-budget vampire film. I rate it a high +1 on the -4
to +4 scale or 6/10.

AARON'S BLOOD was released to theaters June 2.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: WONDER WOMAN (film review by Dale Skran)

There can be little doubt that WONDER WOMAN (henceforth WW) is the
best comic-book movie yet with a female lead.  Not that this is a
very tight contest--we have CATWOMAN and ELEKTRA--and that is about
it for movies with lead female superheroes. I enjoyed both of them,
but they were not all that great as movies, or even as comic
adaptations.  Perhaps the best prior to WW are the movie adaptation
of KICKASS (Hitgirl) and the CW TV show iZOMBIE.  WW is both a
great movie and a great evocation of a classic DC character.

Gal Godot is simply wonderful in this role--a deadly fighter and a
devastating bombshell, a font of ancient wisdom and a naive
idealist, a stranger in a strange land and an everywoman.  Her
Israeli accent and exotic looks combined with real military
training in the Israeli armed forces make her perfect for the role.
Plus, she can act!  I found her alternation from callow enthusiasm
for her mission and a cynical fear that she has been betrayed by
the world convincing.  She is extremely intelligent, possessed of a
vast array of talents, yet somewhat adrift in a world she knows
that she does not understand.

WW delights as a pure comic-book action story.  There is a deadly
battle between the Amazons and German troops early in the movie
where Diana gets her first taste of the reality of war.  This is
followed by an extended action sequence where Diana crosses no-
man's land (note the irony) to attack the Germans and rescue a
village in some of the best super-hero action ever put on film.
The movie concludes with a goddess-vs-god smackdown as Wonder Woman
takes on Ares himself in a brutal display of pure power.  This
Wonder Woman is ready to go toe-to-toe with any DC hero, including
Superman. The fight choreography stuns, as Wonder Woman smoothly
shifts from acrobatic martial arts to deadly sword thrust to
offensive use of a shield and attacks of overwhelming power such as
throwing a tank.  And her use of the golden lasso as a kind of
weighted chain/whip is amazing.

The bisexual subtext (and there can be little doubt Diana is
bisexual) is handled via some subtle dialog and a conversation in a
boat with Steve Trevor that is both realistic and great fun.
Wonder Woman in the comics has varied a bit over the years in terms
of power level and what she can do, but WW the movie goes to the
"daughter of Zeus" idea and adds to this the notion that Diana is a
weapon forged by Zeus to kill Ares. This makes her more like Thor
in terms of raw strength, and as the daughter of Zeus she is the
mistress of lightning, as well as flight, super-speed, and a
considerable invulnerability.  To all this she adds years of Amazon
military training and the ability to speak (apparently) any

In a movie that could easily have become a tedious feminist tract,
men are allowed to shine alongside Wonder Woman.  Chris Pine
completely fills the shoes of Steve Trevor from the comics, and is
as heroic a soldier as we have seen in quite a while.  Trevor's
team of assistants--a Turkish would-be actor, a lonely American
Indian smuggler, and a white sniper with PTSD--are a bit too
politically correct and obvious to ring entirely true, and in many
ways are the weakest part of the film.  The main villain is Ares, a
traditional Wonder Woman foe from the four-color pages, but Diana
also faces Dr. Poison, a much less well known female character from
the comics.

I'm rating WW a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale, which puts it on the
same level as the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, and the best of
the Marvel movies, i.e. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.  Scenes of Dr.
Poison testing gas on prisoners and battlefield suffering may make
this PG-13 movie too much for those under 13, but it depends on the
child.  There is no explicit sex, although there is an implied
sexual encounter.  There is a good bit of old-fashioned romance.
Feminists may delight at the portrayal of the all-female Paradise
Island, but conservatives will not be upset by much in this movie.
In WW, good is good, evil is evil, and there is never any doubt
that Wonder Woman will triumph!!  [-dls]


TOPIC: Agatha Christie (letter of comment by Joseph T. Major)

In response to Evelyn's comments on A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY in the
06/09/17 issue of the MT VOID, Joseph Major writes:

You comment on the unlikely coincidences that power the plot of
Agatha Christie's A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY.  I remember, long ago,
reading a review in TRUMPET of her POSTERN OF FATE (1973) that
pointed out similar problems.

For example, to take the last first, the mystery was only solvable
because there had been a census the day before of the house where
the killing had taken place and Tommy and Tuppence had everybody's
names.  And the murderer was a character who had never been
introduced before.  Also, they had seen a key element of the
investigation, noted it was worth investigating, ignored it, and
only went back to it because of a random and almost irrelevant

Though the murder had been fifty years ago, no one there remembered
it; everyone had been told about it by their parents or other
elders.  And they all babbled, and for some reason felt it
necessary to quote Flecker's "The Golden Road to Samarkand".  (The
reviewer wasn't sure it was a real work but it is.)

And finally, the investigation had begun because they had found a
note written by a boy saying that he didn't think the death of the
victim was natural.  They ask about him and are told that he just
died--no reason given.  This doesn't seem to register with them.

The reviewer also wondered if Christie was getting others to write
works under her name, as the book was copyrighted in someone else's
name.  This was a way she had of avoiding death duties; the heirs
owned the copyright and would get royalties, while she still had
the advance.  [-jtm]

Evelyn replies:

My review of POSTERN OF FATE is below, but as for solving the
mystery by having some random comment by someone give T&T the clue,
Christie used this a lot.  In one book, it was someone saying,
"Same man, different hat."  In another, it was someone saying they
were going to a dress rehearsal.  In another, it was an earlier
observation about people lying on a beach.

I doubt someone else wrote the novel; it is more likely that the
poor quality is evidence that Christie herself wrote it.  Alison
Flood (, 03 Apr 2009) reported
that a study of fifteen of Christie's novels shows "statistically
significant drops in vocabulary, and increases in repeated phrases
and indefinite nouns" that are symptomatic of Alzheimer's.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Generation Ships, Greece, AFTERIMAGE, Matt Helm, Geography
and Hugo Finalists (letter of comment by Taras Wolansky)

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

#1966: "Strange that it took this long for it [SF] to get around to
the ethics of generation ships."  Actually, in one of the first SF
novels I ever read, Brian Aldiss' STARSHIP (NON-STOP in Britain),
the highly ethical (in the author's judgment) society to which the
ship has returned does not believe in sending out such ships any

Having said that, children born and raised on a starship will, of
course, see their environment as perfectly normal, and will not
feel the lack of what they never had.

#1965: I've read that it was sentimentality about the Cradle of
Democracy that led to Greece being treated as if it were ready to
join the EU, instead of the Balkan slum it really was.

Andrzej Wayda's film, AFTERIMAGE, points out the danger of a
society in which the government controls all the jobs.  There was a
Cuban baseball pitcher who got on the wrong side of the Castro
regime, so the only job he could get was mopping a floor.

[Evelyn adds: And Jorge Luis Borges ended up as a chicken inspector
under Peron.  -ecl]

#1964: A quick way to understand what Donald Hamilton's "Matt Helm"
books are really like is that the character should have been
played, not by Dean Martin, but Clint Eastwood.

#1959: Mark on "Geography and Martians": In 1897, when THE WAR OF
THE WORLDS was written, that "postage stamp area of England"--which
included London--was in a sense the center of the world.  We might
imagine that the Martians thought if they defeated the most
powerful country on Earth in its heartland, all other countries
would surrender without a fight.

Joe K.'s review of Bujold's THE WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE:  Wonderful
book but, no kidding, "the fun has gone out of the series".  The
latest installment, GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN, was so lame I
tried to give it back to the store, something I'd never done
before.  (Wisely, Barnes and Noble refused to take it back.)  It's
as if Heinlein took the most boring episodes of TIME ENOUGH FOR
LOVE and expanded them into a novel.

#1958: Hugo Nominees I mean Finalists: Jerry Ryan asks, "What is
Science Fictional about HIDDEN FIGURES?"  Well, it appears that the
entire US space program took place in Virginia, so let's call it
alternate history!

Though it didn't give the great Mahershala Ali much to do, I liked
HIDDEN FIGURES a lot.  Sometimes I chuckled in the wrong places:  I
was constantly thinking of John Lovitz in HOW HANUKKAH HARRY SAVED
CHRISTMAS, SNL's sly parody of a well-meaning, wholesome propaganda
THE SPACE PROGRAM.  The book presents them more accurately, I

[Evelyn adds: As I noted, the Hugo eligibility is for "any
television program or other production ... in any medium of
dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects."  -ecl]

DEADPOOL is fun, but bogus: the hero is supposed to be a former
Navy Seal.  I've read a lot about them.  They're all conservative
Republican super-patriots who were annoyed when they realized their
heroics would get Barack Obama re-elected.

Then again, physically Ryan Reynolds is a more plausible Seal than
spindly Jamie Alexander in the TV show, BLINDSPOT.  (N.B.:  There
are no female Navy Seals.)

"3/4 of the fiction finalists are works by women. ... None of the
novel finalists are by white men."  I heard a rumor that they
fiddled the rules to keep out the Puppies.  Maybe they went too
far.  (Conspiracy theorists will be interested to learn that I
received my paper nomination ballot about 10 days after the
nomination deadline.)

But seriously:  I have encountered a feminist who says she
nominates and votes only for women in all categories--to make up
for "historical injustices", she says.  [-tw]

[Evelyn adds: They changed the rules to try to prevent any single
voting block from completely dominating the ballot.  One big change
was having six finalists, but still limiting each member to five
nomination slots.  There were also changes to prevent a work being
on the ballot in multiple categories, and limiting the number of
works one author or series can be finalists in a single category.


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

Joseph Major's letter of comment led me to re-read POSTERN OF FATE
by Agatha Christie (ISBN 978-0-062-07434-8).

John Curran, in AGATHA CHRISTIE'S SECRET NOTEBOOKS, says that one
of Christie's greatest gifts was her readability, and that "this
facility deserted her only in the very closing chapter of her
writing career, POSTERN OF FATE being the most challenging

I love the first chapter, which is all about Tuppence reminiscing
about the books she read as a child as they unpack their books
after moving to a new house.

However, I am unconvinced by her argument against the
rehabilitation of Richard III.  She writes, "Though nowadays they
all write books saying he was really wonderful.  Not a villain at
all.  But I don't believe that.  Shakespeare didn't either.  After
all, he started his play by making Richard say, 'I am determined to
prove a villain.'"  POSTERN OF FATE was published about twenty
years after Josephine Tey's DAUGHTER OF TIME, which somewhat
demolished this excuse by pointing out that Shakespeare wrote under
the Tudors, who overthrew Richard III and the Plantagenants, and
based his play on historians who wrote under the Tudors, and were
hardly likely to take Richard's side.

The biggest problems of POSTERN OF FATE are the repetitions and the
vagueness.  Some of the repetitions are distributed, e.g., the
characters talk or think at least a half dozen separate times about
how electricians never finish their jobs, but leave holes in the
floors for the unwary to fall into.  Others are more "compact,"
apparently because either Christie or Tuppence was having a short-
term memory problem.  For example, Tuppence says to Gwenda,
"Beatrice told me that you knew someone once living here called
Mary Jordan," and Gwenda says, "I didn't know her, but I have heard
her mentioned."  Then only a page later, Tuppence says, "It was
someone called Mary Jordan I was asking about.  Beatrice said you
knew about her," to which Gwenda replies, "Not really--i just heard
her mentioned once or twice."  These are basically the same
exchange, and this happens a couple of more times as well.
Apparently Agatha Christie had achieved the "goal" of not having
editors change anything she wrote, or even suggest there might be a
problem.  (A statistical study of word use and grammatical
construction in Christie's novels indicates that it was likely that
she had Alzheimer's towards the end of her career.)

The vagueness comes in when people talk about the past in
circumlocutions, with references to "some people" saying it was
about submarines, but really it was about "something else", and you
have to see where the money was coming from and going to, and so

Someone claimed that the mystery was solved by having some random
comment by someone give T & T the clue.  Christie used this a lot.
In one book, it was someone saying, "Same man, different hat."  In
another, it was someone saying they were going to a dress
rehearsal.  In another, it was an earlier observation about people
lying on a beach.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           Electricity is really just organized lightning.
                                          --George Carlin