Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/08/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 10, Whole Number 1979

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Slow Adopter (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Highest Recommendations for Ten Years (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        INFINITY WARS (The Infinity Project) edited
                by Jonathan Strahan (book review by Joe Karpierz)
                THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2012; and TALKING BACK,
                TALKING BLACK) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Slow Adopter (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

One problem with retirement is that I am no longer keeping up with
technology.  When I was working, I got a lot of current technology
on the corporation's tab.  Now I have become a very slow adopter.
I think instead of seeing my self-driving car I expect to see
myself driving car.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Highest Recommendations for Ten Years (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

I frequently find myself talking to people who know that I have
this hobby of reviewing film.  The first question I am asked is
what films do I recommend.  Well I they ask about current films I
may know a film or two.  But the truth is that if don't keep
current on films.  If I hear a film is good I will make a note of
it and then put it in my NetFlix queue.  That means in two or three
months I might find out that a given film would have been worth
recommending.  Too late.

There are older films that I consider classics like BICYCLE THIEF
or AMERICA, AMERICA.  But this is not what people are mostly
looking for.  I think what they really want is something that they
might have gone to see in a theater in the last ten years, but
somehow the word of mouth was not strong enough or it just did not
interest them at the time.  Now they might give some films second
chances.  Really what they would want is a film of the last ten
years or so.

Okay.  That is not hard to find.  Here are the films that I thought
were the best of the last ten years.  Each of these films rated a
high +3 on the -4 to +4 scale, meaning it was really close to
getting a perfect +4.  In reverse chronological order:

TRUMBO (2015)

Dalton Trumbo has been for many years a person of singular interest
in Hollywood. He went from being one of the most respected film
writers to being blacklisted for his political beliefs and unable
to sell his work. After refusing to testify before the House Un-
American Activities Committee in 1947, Trumbo was added to the
notorious blacklist. For years he could sell his film writing only
under a false or borrowed name. His story is very much the story of
the Hollywood blacklist. In 2007 that story was told in Peter
Askin's film TRUMBO. The current TRUMBO is a narrative film telling
the story of how Trumbo came to be blacklisted and how his case
eventually broke the blacklist. The story is told well and with
wit, and it tells how the First Amendment was seriously threatened
by the government sworn to uphold it. And it tells how a small set
of filmmakers fought and defeated the Hollywood blacklist. Jay
Roach directs a screenplay by John McNamara from the book by Bruce

The Trumbo presented is far from being saintly. In many ways his
family had life worse than Trumbo himself. And Trumbo is mostly
blind to the needs of those around him. His family is presented as
being understanding, but politics was destroying his family's
relations just as it was hitting artists and filmmakers. One nice
touch in the writing is nice explanations of Trumbo's philosophy.
When his daughter asks him if he is a communist (and is she
herself)?  He shows through a quick thought experiment what he
believes and why her own philosophy might be consistent with the
(theoretical) principles of Communism.


Benedict Cumberbatch, one of the busiest actors in filmmaking,
turns in a bravura performance as computer theoretician and code-
breaker Alan J. Turing who broke the Nazi Germany military Enigma
code and later was legally prosecuted by the British legal system
for homosexual acts. The film's release could not have been more
timely and topical and it gets more so each year that passes.  THE
IMITATION GAME is a thriller that really does thrill and at the
same time draws viewers into a mathematical problem.


Guillermo del Toro gives us one of the masterpieces of the fantasy
film. A child's fairy tale fantasies help to shape events in a
military outpost after the Spanish Civil War. This is a film that
works as a fantasy film and even better as a war film. Del Toro is
one of the finest fantasy filmmakers in the world and this is his
finest film.

I consider this one of the great fantasy films. For me it compares
matching their creativity. I would give it a high +3 on the -4 to
+4 scale or 9/10. Warning: Just because it is a fantasy film does
not mean I recommend it as a family film. This is most definitely
not a film for children. Most of the horrific scenes are in the
non-fantasy story line. There is painful, nightmarish carnage
onscreen and implied. This film is suggestive enough of painful
images that members of my audience were seen to wince and leave the

Those should keep you busy.  THE IMITATION GAME is even on NetFlix
Streaming.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: INFINITY WARS (The Infinity Project) edited by Jonathan
Strahan (copyright 2017, Solaris, 356pp, ASIN: B0742MK14F, ISBN-10:
1781084912, ISBN-13: 978-1781084915) (book review by Joe Karpierz)

The sixth entry in Jonathan Strahan's "Infinity Project", INFINITY
WARS, explores what war would be like in the future.  That, however
is such an oversimplification as to be misleading.  There's
military science fiction, and then there's the type of military
science fiction as depicted by the terrific fifteen stories written
by some of the best in the science fiction field that are included
in this volume.  The stories here are largely character driven, and
focus on the impact that war has on its participants as well as
those people who are not active participants.  As usual, Strahan
has assembled a star-studded diverse group of writers, both new and
old, both unfamiliar and well-known.

I've always been a sucker for anything Peter Watts writes, and his
story "ZeroS" does not disappoint.  A group of zombies--resurrected
humans who are used to test new weaponry that is essentially an
upgrade to the human body, turning them into enhanced humans--are
dispatched to fight a series of encounters that is beta testing for
the weapons systems.  The story explores the humanity that the
soldiers still have--even though they are technically dead--as they
witness first hand the violence of war and the atrocities they are
visiting upon their victims.  The zombies--the ZeroS of the title--
don't actually know what's going on at first.  All they know is if
they serve their period as ZeroS--they will eventually be returned
to real life.  But as the realization that they are nothing but
test subjects hit them, the conflict between war and wanting to
live again comes to the forefront.  It's a terrific tale.

Another favorite is Elizabeth Bear's "Perfect Gun", about a
freelance operative named John who buys a "rig"--a war machine with
an AI for a brain--to allow him to provide his services to the
highest bidder.  It took time for John and the rig to build a
relationship--an odd term to be using between a mercenary and a war
machine--that once built, proved to make for a profitable period
for John.  Profitable, that is, until moral ambiguity entered the
fray.  The reaction of the ship--whose John (and we, for that
matter) never learned, made it's own decision by the end of the
story.  "Perfect Gun" lets us know that even AIs have their limits.

Caroline M. Yoachim provides another favorite, "Faceless Soldiers,
Patchwork Ship", about a soldier that is heavily modified to
infiltrate an enemy ship to try to prevent said eneny--the
Faceless, who modify themselves by using body parts from conquered
foes--from making progress using "fire kittens" to teleport--
because that's what they do--weaponry, and thus turn the tide of
the war.  The modifications to Eknudayo's body come with a catch;
if she doesn't complete her mission within a specified period of
time, she will actually become a member of the enemy race.  It's a
fascinating story about the lengths participants in war will go to
in an effort to prevent the enemy from gaining
an advantage.

Garth Nix gives us the delightful "Conversations with an Armory",
in which military personnel at a lonely, isolated, and nearly
abandoned outpost desperately try to activate and open an armory,
controlled by an entertaining but strictly rule following AI, so as
to get at its stored weapons cache and as a result defend
themselves against an attack.  This is not a deep, thought
provoking story by any means, but in its own way lets the reader
know that there can be a humorous side to war as well as the side
we're all to familiar with.

These aren't the only terrific stories in the book, of course.
"Dear Sarah", by Nancy Kress, shows us how war can affect familial
relationships, and not in a good way.  An Owomoyela gives us "The
Last Broadcasts", about the  deceptions involved in war and how one
participant reacts to that deception once the truth comes out.
It's a powerful lesson about war not being just about guns and
ships and explosions.  Dominica Phetteplace's "The Oracle" is a
tale of realizing not all that you wish for, especially in war
time, is a good time, especially when it comes to the AIs involved.
E.J Swift gives us "Weather Girl", a rather interesting story with
a twist I don't remember having read before, about being able to
block enemies from determining weather patterns and how disastrous
storms can be used as weapons.  Sometimes weapons have unintended
consequences--in this case it's a former partner of the protagonist
getting caught in the path of the storm--result, and those
consequences do weigh heavily on the people who make those
decisions.  Eleanor Arnason's "Mines" is a study of people living
on an Earth devastated by climate change and how those people cope.
Here, mines dot the landscape, and these mines and how they are
detected are the backdrop of a relationship between two people.
It's a touching, powerful tale.

I could continue, but I think that you get the idea of how these
stories operate.  They make you think about war in a different way-
-a way that may not be something that you're used to.  Stories by
Carrie Vaughn ("The Evening
of Their Span of Days"), Indrapramit Das ("The Moon is Not a
Battlefield"), Aliette de Bodard--rapidly becoming a favorite of
mine--("In Everlasting Wisdom"), David D. Levine ("Command and
Control"), Rich Larson--a rising star in the field--("Heavies"),
and Genevieve Valentine ("Overburden") all give us glimpses into
the future of war and its effects on those involved.

Once again, Jonathan Strahan has assembled an outstanding
anthology; he's one of the best there is at putting themed
anthologies together, and of course his annual "Year's Best" is
always a treat.  Strahan has his pulse on the field when it comes
to short fiction, and he always seems to pick the best of the best.
I highly recommend Infinity Wars and everything else Strahan puts
together.  Reading any of his books will be time well spent.


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

Think of this column as "speed reviewing":

HOLLYWOOD ENLISTS! by Ralph Donald (ISBN 978-1-4422-7726-7) is a
reasonably good coverage of Hollywood films during World War II.
Donald lists a half dozen tropes that one finds in war propaganda
("the enemy are beasts", "we are just defending our way of life",
and so on) and examines how films made in Hollywood exemplify these
tropes.  This would be of particular interest to fans of war
movies, but a bit pricy for the casual reader.

978-1-8402-3968-3) covers all the films based on Dick's works,
including films that never got all the way through the film-making
process.  The only problem is that there are a lot of books about
Dick's films, and unless you are researching them particularly, you
probably do not want to read them all.  (And if you are, you are
probably looking for primary sources anyway.)  I can say it seems
more comprehensive than many others I have seen.

Hill and John Joseph Adams (ISBN 978-0-544-44977-0) is (in my
opinion) a better than average annual anthology.  In part this may
be because I prefer slipstream stories (or if you'd rather, stories
closer to mainstream).  Hill has taken his selection from sources
outside the traditional science fiction and fantasy markets (much
as Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling for their series of "Year's Best
Horror and Fantasy").  The result is an anthology that should have
broader appeal than the various traditional "Year's Best Science
Fiction" series.  Its placement in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
series of "Best American X" should help them get this wider
audience as well.  However, it has a downside of covering only
*American* stories, rather than all those in the English language.

THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS 2012 edited by David Brooks (ISBN 978-0-
547-84009-3) starts off with an essay on why Ralph Waldo Emerson's
"Self-Reliance", promoted for well over a hundred years, is full of
bad advice and to blame for much of what is wrong with the country
today.  The rest are equally thought-provoking, interesting, and in
general worth reading.

FRANCA by John McWhorter (ISBN 978-1-9426-5820-7), McWhorter lays
out what I think is a convincing argument that Black English (which
has some formal name in linguistics such as "African-American
Vernacular English") is not just English spoken badly, but a
genuine dialect or language in the same sense that Yiddish is not
just German spoken badly, but is a separate dialect or language.
(The difference between a dialect and a language is that "a
language is a dialect with an army.")  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           It isn't necessary to have relatives in Kansas City in
           order to be unhappy.
                                           --Groucho Marx