Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

09/01/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 9, Whole Number 1978


Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,

Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,

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Greece Trip Report and Philcon Convention Reports

(comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

Grocery of the Living Dead (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Of Kangaroos and Thinking Cars (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

ANTI-MATTER (a.k.a. WORMS) (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE (The Interdependency #1) by John Scalzi

(audiobook review by Joe Karpierz)

NEVER LET GO (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

1977, TAFF, Worldcon, Television Shows, HAROLD AND LILLIAN,

and THE MARTIAN (letter of comment by John Purcell)

This Week's Reading (THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND) (book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)




TOPIC: Greece Trip Report and Philcon Convention Reports (comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


My trip report on our vacation to Greece earlier this year is

available at:




My con reports for Philcon 2015 and Philcon 2016 are available at:









TOPIC: Grocery of the Living Dead (comments by Mark R. Leeper)


Evelyn goes to a grocery store called Aldi that seems to attract

people to the store. Any time we go in we see these people

wandering the aisles listlessly. (I guess a few have shopping

lists.) But I look at them and ask myself, "Aldi lonely people,

where do they all come from?" [-mrl]




TOPIC: Of Kangaroos and Thinking Cars (comments by Mark R. Leeper)


I remember hearing long ago that Australia had a serious traffic

hazard in places where you might least expect a traffic hazard.

The problem is something we could call kangaroo manners. If a

kangaroo intends to cross a road he/she will carefully walk

(bounce?) up to the road safely on his side of the road. The roo

will very politely look both ways and then will bound across the

road regardless of anything that is coming. Kangaroos assume that

anybody else will watch out for them. Why not? They are bouncing

along on this flat land. They are nice and visible and the masters

of creation in these parts. It is just part of driving in

Australia that the driver knows that he/she needs to watch out for

kangaroos. The kangaroo may do just about anything when crossing a

road so the driver has to be prepared for just about anything.

Sometimes that is possible and sometimes it is not. That is why in

Australia 90% of car collisions involve a kangaroo doing something



Well, this sounds like a cute little animal story. It really is a

story about technology. Recently something happened that

constituted a new threat to kangaroos. The new thing in their

lives is the driverless car. There are lots of animals that might

be hit and injured by driverless cars. But there is software in

the driverless car system that knows how to avoid all of the common

breeds of moving wildlife. If an emu steps in front of an

approaching driverless car the software guiding the car knows an

evasive maneuver so car, passengers, and emu all will get home that

night and the emu will have a heroic story to tell its family of

how it beat one of those... those funny shiny things... You know.


Anyway, the problem that Volvo engineers are having is that the

kangaroo has a distinctly different behavior from just about any

other animal. Well, you can guess it if you just look at one, with

those weird back legs and the I-don't-care look in its eyes. And

those legs are the key to the whole problem. Most animals pace or

run. Kangaroos bounce. The car judges where the animals it sees

are by how the leg moves forward and back over the ground. A

kangaroo's legs do not move forward and back. They go up and down.

On dry land a kangaroo cannot move his/her hind legs apart from

each other. The two legs act as one and the tail is used for

balance. It is basically a different means of locomotion. It is

very hard to associate the leg with a point on the ground. I bet

your current car does not have a kangaroo tracking system. In the

future it will.


So maybe Volvo engineers can figure out how their cars can react

safely in the presence of a hopping crazy roo. Does that mean your

Toyota in Canada will have to know how to react to kangaroos in

Australia? After all you may want to ship your car to Australia

and to drive it there. It will need the kangaroo software package.


I wonder how many other breeds of animal will all cars have to know



See the Guardian article on this problem at:







TOPIC: ANTI-MATTER (a.k.a. WORMS) (film review by Mark R. Leeper)


CAPSULE: Quantum teleportation may have side effects. This film is

like a Whitman Sampler of cutting edge physics ideas packed into a

science fiction mystery. ANTI-MATTER is very much auteur science

fiction. Newcomer Keir Burrows writes and directs based on his own

story. This is a film that could well earn a cult following.

There is little visual flash to the story but it is an accomplished

technical mystery. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10


The technical revolution in filmmaking is allowing some films to be

made at a small fraction of what they would have cost a few decades

ago. This means if a young filmmaker comes along with a good idea

for a science fiction plot, it is not so hard to turn it into a

film. So we are getting better science fiction films made without

being hampered so much by budget constraints. Examples include

time travel films like PREDESTINATION, CHRONO-CRIMES, and PRIMER.

The latter involves a group of young science entrepreneurs who

accidentally find a means of time traveling, strictly to their own

disadvantage. ANTI-MATTER feels like it will be this year's PRIMER

and has much of the same look and feel. Probably it will go

directly to DVD, but I expect it will still get an audience.


The main character of ANTI-MATTER is Ana, played by Yaiza Figueroa,

in the kind of role that used to go exclusively to white males. At

Oxford Ana is a PhD student on a four-person team of physicists

exploring some super-physics effects. They find a phenomenon that

seems to have the power to make objects disintegrate. Before long

they find that they also can teleport objects. Ah, but will it

teleport a human? The physicists draw lots to see whom they are

going to teleport. It turns out to be Ana (big surprise). The

team prepares to send Ana--presumably taking adequate precautions

to be sure that they are not at the same time teleporting a fly.

The moment of teleportation should be the greatest moment of Ana's

life, but when it is over and she is successfully teleported,

suddenly she cannot remember whether it actually even happened. It

turns out teleportation has unexpected memory effects.

Her other team members seem suddenly reticent to discuss the

results with Ana. At this point the film turns into a mystery as

Ana has to figure out what could have happened and why her team

mates are unwilling to talk to her. She finds that the formerly

close-knit team are no longer so friendly. What is going on?

Burrows juggles multiple red herrings to maintain suspense.


The science may of course be a little bogus. But the dialog that

describes it sounds like it really has some meaning. That is

another parallel to PRIMER. It is interesting to see what Burrows

finds in other films to borrow. There is even a tribute to PLANET



ANTI-MATTER is director Burrows' first feature length film, but he

seems to have a good idea of what he is doing both in the writing

and in this direction. The film does slow down a bit toward the

middle of the film, but it does come back and while it does most

audiences will stick around to see where the film is going. Yaiza

Figueroa is a newcomer as well, but she also holds the audience's



The ending has some logic problems but it still is an idea I have

not seen elsewhere. And a film with new ideas is always welcome.

I rate ANTI-MATTER a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. The

indistinct English accents may be a problem for some viewers.


Release date: September 8


Film Credits:



What others are saying:







TOPIC: THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE (The Interdependency #1) by John

Scalzi (copyright 2017 Tor, 2017 Audible Audio, narrated by Wil

Wheaton, ISBN-10: 076538888X, ISBN-13: 978-0765388889,

ASINB01L2PERQY, 336pp, 9 hours 16 minutes) (audiobook review by Joe



With THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, John Scalzi starts off (I believe) his

new contract with Tor in typical Scalzi fashion. The first book in

the "Interdepency" series contains everything the reader has come

to expect out of a John Scalzi novel: snappy dialogue, engaging

characters, a good dose of action ... and something to think about.

Scalzi takes a space opera and makes it relevant to our day,

filling it with commentary that fits with what's going on in the

world today while at the same time not hitting the reader over the

head with it. The novel is entertaining and fast paced while at

the same time giving us some pause to think about how an

interdependent society--not unlike ours--would survive a

catastrophic event.


The Interdependency--not only the title of the series but the

titular empire--is a group of planets that are connected by the

Flow. The Flow is what allows travel between star systems. Yes,

it's yet another way to get around the FTL problem, but it also

provides the mechanism by which the story is driven. The Flow is

not a two-way tube like your local subway might be; it's actually a

series of tubes (I call them tubes, for a lack of a better word, I

guess) that travel in a single direction. Thus, there are two

tubes between planets--one outgoing and one incoming. A ship

enters and exits the Flow via "shoals". There are entrance shoals

and exit shoals. However, there is no choice as to where the

shoals are placed. In fact, most shoals are near planets that are

uninhabitable; the residents of the planets live in artificial

habitats. Since the residents of planets cannot provide everything

they need for themselves, the Flow is not only used as an

interplanetary highway carrying passenger ships, but as trade



The action of the story takes place on two planets: Hub, where a

vast majority of the Flow routes converge, and End, the planet

furthest away from Hub. Hub is, naturally, the seat of the Empire;

End is the dumping ground for criminals, malcontents,

undesirables. It is important to note that in order to make the

Interdependency work, the Empire is made up of a system of, for

lack of a better term, royal families, who negotiate trade deals,

fight amongst themselves, and of course, with each other. The

system as set up is ripe for political intrigue, power struggles

(both within and between families), and plots within plots within



Sound familiar? Sure, there's a bit of an homage to Dune in this

book (and since Scalzi has said that he started writing the book in

a Dune-like tone as he wanted to try that kind of writing style,

but eventually abandoned it as not working this time around, this

makes a bit of sense. Royal houses, scheming, backstabbing, and

plots to take over the Empire are all either DUNE or, as I now

think about it, GAME OF THRONES elements. But unlike DUNE, which

really doesn't, at least in my opinion, have an impending major

catastrophe on its hands, THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE has one big problem

on its hands: what happens when the Flow begins to shift, changing

the travel and trade routes, abandoning some planets altogether?

All right in the middle of one family trying to wrest the Empire

from another? In DUNE, the resolution to the problem at hand is

which house is stronger than the rest. In THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE,

the issue is how is the human race going to survive, as the

connections between the planets of the Interdependency as they are

known are going to disappear. Will humanity find a way to

cooperate, or will it go down in a blaze of not so much glory?


This book is fun. There is a wide range of characters, from solemn

to profane, from buffoons to cunning schemers. This book made me

laugh--not in the out loud non-stop laughter one gets at a standup

comic's performance, but at the situations and the characters'

reactions to them. By the time we get to the end of the novel, we

like the people Scalzi wants us to like, dislike the people he

wants us to dislike, and maybe, just maybe, feel sorry for the



The book is masterfully narrated by Wil Wheaton. This is not the

first of Scalzi's books that Wheaton has narrated. He changes

voices well enough so that the listener can readily tell the

difference between characters as the story goes on. His pacing

seems accurate, and he certainly doesn't do anything to throw the

listener out of the story.




I've gone to conventions and listened to John Scalzi perform--and

anyone who has seen him live understands that it's a performance

(and even he will admit to that)--enough times to know what he

would sound like in certain situations. Mentally, I can replace

Wil Wheaton with John Scalzi and not miss a bit. I can sense

Scalzi in not only what Wheaton is reading, but how he is reading

it. To my ear, Wheaton sounds like Scalzi. And for some reason,

that threw me out of this book just a little. It certainly didn't

deter from my enjoyment of the book, it just unnerved me now and



In any event, Scalzi continues his high quality of writing with THE

COLLAPSING EMPIRE. I expect no less out of the next installment of

The Interdependency. [-jak]




TOPIC: NEVER LET GO (film review by Mark R. Leeper)


CAPSULE: Filmed in large part in Morocco, NEVER LET GO is an action

thriller about a new mother traveling in North Africa when her baby

is kidnapped. NEVER LET GO has some good action, too much really,

but suffers from an overly formulaic script. What could be a

credible suspense plot is squandered on a new mother suddenly

exhibiting Jason Bourne's superhuman strategic talents for fighting

and chasing. The film is produced, scripted by, and directed by

newcomer Howard J. Ford. Rating: low +1 (-4 to +4) or 5/10


[Following the main body of the review is an important note on the

statistics given and a comment that could be considered a spoiler.]


NEVER LET GO begins with a home invasion in which a baby is stolen

and is reported missing. It then tells the viewer this dire

statistic, "Over 800,000 children are reported missing every year.

The first three hours are critical. After that, there is less than

a 25% chance of finding them." The 25% statistic is not referred

to again, and it just overhangs the narrative. This is a film

mostly about a different child snatching.


In the main plot Lisa Brennan (played by Angela Dixon) is a young

mother who is traveling with her baby daughter in Marrakech,

Morocco. She is sitting on a beach with her baby when a man comes

over to talk to her. That moment of distraction was all someone

needed to grab the baby and make off with her.


So far it is a reasonably believable circumstance. Now things

start going haywire with both the thieves' plan and with the film's

script. They picked the baby daughter of Lisa and Lisa has the

fighting and chasing skills of a James Bond or a Jason Bourne. It

seems that Lisa may look domestic as a mother taking care of her

baby, but she is actually also a US government agent. The script

explains why she has this amazing skill set, but it still makes it

too contrived and convenient that she has nearly the powers of a

super hero.


This somewhat ruins the suspense since in spite of wounds that

would have stopped another person short, she can transform herself

from a good mother to a "mean muthah." She can chases up walls,

bounds from rooftop to rooftop; she seems to be an adept martial

artist. After she is badly cut in her side she needs just a needle

and thread to stitch herself up without benefit of anesthetic. No

problem. In general she is the wrong person to steal a baby from.

She is called on to kill the baddies in her quest to get her baby

back and does not suffer any qualms.


NEVER LET GO has a pacing problem as the script seems to be

designed to show off Dixon's skills, but as with many action films,

when the action really gets going the plot narrative stops dead.

For ten-minute intervals Lisa climbs walls, runs over the tops of

buildings, survives car accidents, and generally does her action

hero thing. All this time the story is on hold. This is not

really a criticism since it probably is what most of the target

audience wants to see. Once we have seen her hugging the baby, it

is hard to really think of her as the action hero. But the acting

serves the film better than the plot does. I rate NEVER LET GO a

low +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 5/10.


NEVER LET GO was available on DVD and VOD as of August 22.


[Reuters, the international news agency, reports that the domestic

danger from kidnappers is much lower than represented here. See

the April 26, 2012, article MISSING CHILDREN IN U.S. NEARLY ALWAYS



[SMALL SPOILER ALERT: Do not expect much along the lines of

suspense. The real villain of the story is instantly recognizable

as the bad guy of the piece. If you cannot figure out who is doing

what to whom you don't see enough mystery films.]


Film Credits:



What others are saying:







TOPIC: 1977, TAFF, Worldcon, Television Shows, HAROLD AND LILLIAN,

and THE MARTIAN (letter of comment by John Purcell)


In response to the 08/25/17 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell



The latest issue number of VOID reminds me of the year 1977, when I

did not go to WorldCon (saving up for the following year in

Phoenix) and the debut of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE, triggering the

rise of big budget science fiction movies. Other things happened

that year, too, I know, but it's early in the morning and I'm only

on my first cup of coffee. Cut me some slack, okay?


Not only that, but I *think* I am pretty much over my jet lag since

returning from Europe one week ago today. Valerie and I had a

wonderful time visiting fans and seeing some truly incredible

places during my five-week TAFF Trip [attending Worldcon]. I

managed to keep sort of a running diary on my Facebook page of

major events with pictures, and realize that when looking over my

notes and entries for that thirty-eight-day jaunt how bare-boned my

accounts were. No matter. Probably this upcoming weekend I will

begin working on the next issues of Askew and Askance, both of

which will begin accounts of TAFF trip events and other related

stuff. Overall, we had fun and enjoyed the trip.


Being back home also means catching up on the television shows we

recorded on Direct TV, such as PREACHER, IZOMBIE, THE LAST SHIP,

DARK MATTER, KILLJOYS, and a bunch of other programs. Movies were

not recorded because they tend to be repeated. I am glad you

mentioned HAROLD AND LILLIAN is on in September since that is a

movie that sounds really interesting and received great reviews.

It was released only two years ago and is the kind of story that

would reveal some of the many layers that create the Hollywood

mystique and culture. I am looking forward to seeing this film.


There is a "The Martian Wikia"? Figures. The phone booth/kiosk

reference in the book and movie is generally passed over because

Mark Watney is a very well-read and intelligent fellow, so his

knowing about phone booths and Superman is part of American

cultural literacy. I remember the audience chuckling in the

theater at that scene in the original SUPERMAN movie (1978).


That should do it for now. Coffee cup is empty and needs

refilling. It is good to be home. Keep these weekly zines coming,

folks. I appreciate them very, very much. [-jp]


Evelyn adds:


John also notes that he is not in the flooded area of Texas, though

they have gotten some rain. [-ecl]




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


After seeing some of the paintings of N. C. Wyeth at the Brandywine

River Art Museum, I decided to re-read my childhood favorite, THE

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND by Jules Verne (no ISBN for the Scribner's

edition) in the Scribner's edition. I still love the book, but as

an adult I see a lot more flaws than I did as a child.


For example, there was no storm as is described in the first

chapters of the book. Indeed, to have a storm blowing so strongly

northeast to southwest for several days from east of Virginia to

the Pacific Ocean is probably meteorologically impossible. (Andy

Weir maintains the tradition of starting a book with an impossible

storm in THE MARTIAN.)


Cyrus Harding comes from Massachusetts, and Neb is described as a

slave from his estate that Harding freed. Since no slaves appeared

on any census in Massachusetts after 1790, this would make Neb at

least 65 years old. All I can say is that he is mighty spry for a

man that age.


The escapees throw away all their personal effects, even their

pocket knives, in an effort to keep the balloon aloft. After they

do this, and the balloon continues to fall, they climb into the

rigging and cut the basket loose. With what?


Similarly, later they clean a capybara before roasting it. I am

not sure what is involved in cleaning an animal to cook it, but I

suspect knives or other cutting tools are required.


While they are throwing out all their possessions, even matches and

pocket knives, *two* of the castaways (conveniently) keep their

pocket watches.


A big deal is made of the necessity for tinder, and how its loss is

a disaster, yet in Chapter XIV, Pencroft "struck a light and set

fire to a twig," apparently without any tinder. (Okay, maybe Verne

just did not mention it.


In Book I, Chapter XII, Neb and Pencroft "naturally" become the

cooks, "to the one in his quality of negro, to the other in that of

sailor." The implication is that it is Pencroft's training, but

Neb's innate genetic make-up, that determines this.


In this old (bad) English translation of Book II, Chapter II, Neb

dances like a "n*****". In French, the word is "negre"--the same

neutral word used everywhere else in the book.


Jup is way too human-like. I agree that orangutans are very

intelligent, but they are intelligent in their own way. The idea

that the castaways could dress Jup up and have him wait at table

is not believable. Then again, knowledge of orangutan abilities

was fairly minimal in Verne's time, and their close similarity to

humans probably led many to assume they were as trainable as other



How did they get back into Granite House after they all went to

search the island for the escaped pirates? When they all left they

let themselves down by a double rope and then pulled the rope down

by pulling on one end. When they returned, they "re-entered

Granite House, and with the help of a double rope, shot with an

arrow through the window frame, they re-established communication

between their domain and that of the sun." You can't just shoot an

arrow into a window and then climb it. Even if it was shot *into"

a wooden window frame, it would not be strong enough to support the

weight of a person climbing it. (There is no indication that they

had a grappling hook, and even if they did, they could not shoot it

high enough or far enough.) [-ecl]




Mark Leeper


When I speak of the beauty of a game of chess, then

naturally this is subjective. Beauty can be found in

a very technical, mathematical game for example.

That is the beauty of clarity.

--Vladimir Kramnik