Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/03/17 -- Vol. 36, No. 18, Whole Number 1987

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Chain Mail (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Motive (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        BLADE RUNNER 2049 (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE (film review by Dale Skran)
        Benoit B. Mandelbrot (letter of comment by John Hertz)
        This Week's Reading (MOBY DICK annotations) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Chain Mail (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I am fascinated with history.  I was just reading about medieval
chain mail.  It is kind of like armor made out of a whole bunch of
metal rings.  Apparently what they would do is write a letter
saying they are making chain mail armor and the reader should
contribute a ring to the armor.  You make three copies of the
letter and give them to friends.  Soon you have enough rings to
make armor.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Motive (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

(I wrote this on October 4.)

When I was three years old my family moved from Chicago to
Charleston, West Virginia.  When you are that young, seeing the
only home you have known being torn apart and packaged up is a
major event.  Perhaps it is a little scary.  It certainly is
disorienting.  I found myself sitting in the living room with a
bunch of boxes and paraphernalia from all parts of the house.

Just sitting right there was the top of our "drum table."  The top
was a piece of glass, a disk of glass maybe thirty inches in
diameter.  And between me and the glass on the floor, one of the
movers had left a hammer.

There is something about glass.  It is fragile and breaks
spectacularly.  There is something about looking at a sheet of
glass that raises some sort of psychological tension.  Back in the
silent film days a frequent gag that would show up in comic chases
would be during a comic chase two workmen would be carrying a very
large pain of glass down the street.  They would be three feet
apart and one would be pulling from the front while the other would
be pushing from the back.  Several scenes would show the pane
nearly getting hit but somehow escaping.  But invariably something
would go wrong and that glass would end up shattered.  Once the
audience has seen a pane of glass there is a sort of psychological
tension.  Show the audience a sheet of glass and the audience will
not let go of the tension until that glass had been broken.

That tension is some kind of crazy instinct.  But the me that was
so young felt the tension.  And he had to release it.  It was not
long before the mover was telling my mother, "Little Oswald broke
the glass."  I don't know where he got the name "Oswald," but his
account was substantially correct.

What went through my mind before the crime was, well, all the
pieces are in place.  There's the glass and there is the hammer.
All I would have to do is pick up the hammer and swing it.  I would
like to think that is the only incident of vandalism in my past,
but there is a natural instinct to bring the pieces together and to
see the act done.  When it becomes too easy to do somebody will
give into the tension and do it.

Many years later I remember my father reading in the newspaper that
a giant forest fire, one that had been doing a lot of damage, had
actually been intentionally set.  He said he just didn't see why
anyone would on purpose start a huge destructive fire.  To me it
seemed obvious why the perpetrator would intentionally set the
fire.  If all the pieces were in place and he could do some action
that would make headlines all over the state, I can see why someone
would do it, particularly if all the pieces were in place.  It
would be sort of akin to solving a puzzle.

As I write this I am just three days after what is now the worst
gun shooting in recent American history.  And people are
desperately looking for what can the motive possibly be.  The
shooter was not from the extreme right or the extreme left.  He was
not a radical Islamist.  All the standard explanations are failing.
But then when teenagers trash a house or spray-paint on somebody
else's wall, we do not start looking to see if it was Radical Islam
to blame.  The real guilt belongs with the people making good money
putting all the pieces in place so Stephen Paddock could easily set
up the whole project and then see it be played out.  The motive was
that the pieces were all in place.  The motive could have been no
more than the sniper could see in his mind's eye how to set up the
attack.  Even a "motiveless" attack might have a motive.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: BLADE RUNNER 2049 (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: After 35 years the classic science fiction film BLADE
RUNNERgets a sequel directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on a
screenplay by Hampton Fancher among others.  The story concerns a
search for the author of the false memories implanted in
replicants.  The film is a long 163 minutes starting at a
contemplative (not to say "snail's") pace, yet is a little
overstuffed with action later in the second half.  It is richer in
ideas than is the original film, though it lacks the iconic visuals
of that first film did so well.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

[Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of the original BLADE RUNNER.
I see it as mostly an action film with a lot of unpleasant visual
imagery.  I think it is given credit for more intelligence than
actually gets to the screen.]

When one thinks of THE GODFATHER one thinks of THE GODFATHER_II
which completes the story and compliments the film.  BLADE RUNNER
2049 is not a sequel in the GODFATHER-GODFATHER_II sense but more
in the WESTWORLD-FUTUREWORLD sense.  Dennis Gassner as production
designer really creates the look and feel of the world of the film.
But he creates a different world than that of the original film.
The new "Blade Runner" world uses its own color palette.  While the
first film had a gloriously detailed setting with a lot to please
and intrigue the eye, Villeneuve saves a lot of effort by hiding
minute details behind smog, smoke, or mist.  This may imply that
the environment has deteriorated in the years between the two
stories.  Some of the models that did stick out of the fog looked
to be exactly what they were, models.  One odd touch in a world
where most animals are extinct (and why is this not killing the
humans off?) the lead blade runner uses Peter and the Wolf as an
alarm tone that advocates killing or confining an animal that is

One stylistic touch of the original BLADE RUNNER was its images of
the neon-drenched streets of Los Angeles.  There are one or two
tracking shots on the street in the sequel, but much of the
richness of detail is lost with much less of the street culture
appearing in the new Blade runner world.

In the original film the Vangelis score helped to create an
auditory image of the future world.  Benjamin Wallfisch's and Hans
Zimmer's score is sound devoid of melody projecting a feeling only
of unease and discomfort.

The film stars Ryan Gosling, reasonably fresh from his success in
LA LA LAND playing the character whose name may or may not be Joe.
In James Bond fashion he is referred to by the letter K.  (Or
perhaps it is a reference to Kafka?)  In the latter part of the
film K gets to know the Deckard of the original story.  Also
returning is Rachael, played by Sean Young as wooden as she was in
the first film.  Director Denis Villeneuve who last year navigated
around the mysterious and enigmatic, directing THE ARRIVAL does it
again directing BLADE RUNNER 2049.  Other familiar faces include
Robin Wright, Jared Leto, and, of course, Harrison Ford.  Much like
the first "Blade Runner" film, I can respect BLADE RUNNER 2049 more
than I like it.  I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE (film review by Dale Skran)

I missed THE GHOST IN THE SHELL when it came out, and dropped like
a rock at the box office.  While returning from the NSS Space
Settlement Summit in California I had a chance to watch it on the

GHOST received a lot of criticism for "white washing" in that an
Asian character was replaced with Scarlett Johansson.  This is
misguided in a number of ways:

- There is no lack of Asian actors in this film.

- There is a tradition in animated Manga, on which this movie is
based, that many of the characters have a Western/Caucasian
appearance, even though they may have Japanese names.

- Strictly from a hard SF analysis, she is an Asian character whose
brain is put in robot body that looks like Scarlett Johansson, so
the movie is internally consistent.  Part of the point of the movie
is that she can look like anything she wants to look like, at least

Unfortunately, I can see why GHOST did not do that well in the box
office.  If I were twelve, I think I would have loved it, but I'm
not, so it seems thin, like a live-action cartoon.  The dialog is
weak and often hard to understand as various characters ape robotic
voices.  The term "ghost" is stuffed into the dialog several times
so that an idiot can understand the title of the movie.

GHOST has a lot of disturbing images of wires going into heads,
robotic eyes, and so on, so many may find it disturbing.  The movie
also serves to normalize cybernetic enhancements, and takes the
position that the Scarlett Johansson character is the next step in
human evolution, i.e., a human brain in a robot body.  At one point
she is told "someday we will all be like you."  My guess is a lot
of viewers found this more disturbing than not.

The movie looks great, but feels like a thirty-minute cartoon.  I'm
rating GHOST a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale, although I recommend it to
Manga fans and SF fans in general.  If you're looking for a really
great movie on similar themes, check out EX MACHINA.  Even the
little known SF-horror movie MORGAN seems fresher than GHOST, again
hitting many of the same themes.  GHOST is rated PG-13, and due to
disturbing images I'd take that recommendation seriously, but it
wouldn't bother a kid who watched any significant amount of Manga.


TOPIC: Benoit B. Mandelbrot (letter of comment by John Hertz)

John Hertz writes:

Am I right that mark has not yet reviewed Mandelbrot's memoir THE
FRACTALIST (posth. 2012)?

I've been much taken with this jest:

Q. What does the B. stand for in Benoit B. Mandelbrot?
A. Benoit B. Mandelbrot


Mark responds:

I live out in the wilds of New Jersey.  We are still chewing on A


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

Here are the notes for the second chapter of the annotation of MOBY
DICK I am working on.  I am not working this slowly; I am actually
up to chapter 104.  (The page numbers are from the British Penguin

CHAPTER 2: The Carpet-Bag

Page 26:

To say that Nantucket is "Tyre of this Carthage" to New Bedford is
to mean that Nantucketers were the founders of New Bedford (or at
least the progenitors in some sense).  Carthage (in present-day
Tunisia) was founded three thousand years ago by Phoenician
colonists from Tyre (in present-day Lebanon).

Page 28:

"The first thing I did was to stumble over an ash-box in the porch.
Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying particles almost choked me, are
these ashes from that destroyed city, Gomorrah?"  The ash-box was
there to provide ashes to spread on icy steps, paths, etc., during
the winter.  The dark color helped absorb sunlight (and heat) and
melted the ice faster, plus the ash provided a grittier surface.
In Melville's time, ash (from fireplaces, cooking fires, etc.) was
plentiful and free, while salt cost money, and also did not provide
a non-slip surface.

Gomorrah was destroyed along with Sodom for its wickedness: "Then
the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire
from the Lord out of heaven;  ...  And [Abraham] looked toward
Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and
beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a
furnace. [Genesis 19:24,28]  It is interesting to note that in the
Bible, Sodom is occasionally mentioned on its own, but Gomorrah is
only mentioned in conjunction with Sodom.  So Melville's choice of
Gomorrah rather than Sodom here is intriguing.

Page 28:

Then Ishmael enters what he thinks may be an inn, and reports, "It
seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet.  A hundred
black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black
Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro
church; and the preacher's text was about the blackness of
darkness, and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha,
Ishmael, muttered I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the
sign of 'The Trap!'"  Tophet was a shrine to Moloch in ancient
times: "And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in
the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their
daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it
into my heart." [Jeremiah 7:31).  It is also another name for Hell.
There was no "Black Parliament" in either, but there were several
English and Scottish Parliaments given that name.  Ishmael's use of
the words "blackness of darkness" emphasizes how ironic it is for a
black preacher to preach using those terms for the representation
of evil.  And Melville did not invent them; the preacher's text was
Jude 1:13: "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame;
wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for
ever."  With its "raging waves of the sea," how appropriate a text
for a sea-faring town such as New Bedford!  And is it a
prefiguration in miniature of Father Mapple's sermon?

"Pea coffee" is just what it sounds like--a coffee substitute made
from roasted English (green) peas.

"It stood on a sharp bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind
Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor
Paul's tossed craft."  This is a reference to the northeast wind
mentioned in Acts 27:14-18: "But not long after there arose against
it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon.  And when the ship was
caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.  And
running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much
work to come by the boat: Which when they had taken up, they used
helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall
into the quicksands, strake sail, and so were driven.  And we being
exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the
ship; ..."  And of course, to New Englanders, the nor'easter is the
most feared storm.

There follows a long analogy to the parable of Lazarus and the rich
man from Luke 16:20-25.  (This is a different Lazarus than the one
who rose from the dead.)  When Ishmael refers to "old Dives, in his
red silken wrapper," that is the rich man, "Dives" being a Latin
appellation for wealth.

Is the painting in the Spouter Inn a well-known painting, or just a
generic whaling painting?



                                           Mark Leeper

           Much of what I make is geometric, and has a kind of almost
           mathematical logic to the form.
                                           --Anish Kapoor