Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
04/13/18 -- Vol. 36, No. 41, Whole Number 2010

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
All material is the opinion of the author and is copyrighted by the
author unless otherwise noted.
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        Retro Hugo Finalists Available On-Line and in Print
        New SF Podcast
        You Cannot Believe Your Eyes (comments by Mark R. Leeper)        
        2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (letter of comment by Jim Susky)
        BAJA (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        YEAR 2018!, STAR WARS, MOBY DICK and Starbucks,
                Edgar Allan Poe, and FRANKENSTEIN (letter of comment
                by John Hertz)
        Retro Hugo Award Finalists (letters of comment
                by Peter Rubinstein and Kevin R)
        This Week's Reading (THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS)
                (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Retro Hugo Finalists Available On-Line and in Print

Information on anthologies and collections for and links to many
of the Retro Hugo finalists are available at:

Thanks to Cat Jones, Nicholas Whyte, and Carla for this.

Note that many of the links are available on Scribd under a 30-day
free trial, after which you'll have to pay their subscription
fee.   [-ecl]


TOPIC: New SF Podcast

MT VOID subscribers Caroline and Richie Bielak have started an SF
podcast, "History in Reverse"; their first book covered is THE LEFT


TOPIC: You Cannot Believe Your Eyes (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

The last time I had my eyes checked my ophthalmologist handed me a
piece of paper with a grid printed on it.  It looked like a piece
of square graph paper.  It was a twenty by twenty unit square.  At
the very center of the square there was a back dot.  Immediately
this seemed to me like the statement of a math problem and I was
supposed to graph on it.  But then I thought that some of my
ophthalmologist's patients would probably not be as keen on
mathematics as I was.  It also looked like a picture of how large
masses of matter bend space.  But that was not really his style
either.  The doctor did not give me a lot of instructions.  He just
said I should look at the grid every day and if the horizontal or
vertical lines looked distorted I should contact an ophthalmologist
right away.  I realized it had something to do with my macular
vision.  The square is called the Amsler Grid.  See

Actually what I was looking at was a test to see if my macular
vision needed immediate aid.  The grid was intended to warn me that
the macula at the back of the eye was pulling loose.  You don't
want to have that happen because it will leave you blind.  I did
notice a little bending at the edges, but very small and it
probably was expected.

At least I sure hope it was expected.

But years ago I designed for myself and performed a thought
experiment--at that time that was the only kind of experiment I
could afford--that convinced me our eyes must always distort what
we see.  When you look at what should be a straight line, it must
always really be a curved line.

Imagine, if you will, you are on a perfectly flat plane.  I mean it
is like it is a flat mathematical plane.  But on the plane are two
railroad rails, perfectly straight and parallel.  They go off
to infinity in both directions.  Stand right between the two
tracks.  If asked you would probably say the rails looked perfectly
straight.  But I contend they really look curved to you even if you
thought they looked straight.  If you look down the track the two
rails would look like they came together at a single point.  Turn
around and behind you the two rails again seem to come together at
a single point behind you.

So the two rails intersect each other in front of you and also
behind you.  But two straight lines that have two different points
of intersection have to be the same line.   But we assumed you were
standing between the two tracks.  This is geometrically impossible.
Your eye must be seeing the two tracks bow outward and you are
interpreting it as two perfectly straight lines. What you see as
straight lines cannot be really straight.  Your brain must be
interpreting the lines as being perfectly straight, but it cannot
be seeing them that way.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (letter of comment by Jim Susky)

This morning BBC World Report's "witness" feature commemorated
Stanley Kubrick's stunning 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY first released
fifty years ago.  Something must have been "in the air", since last
weekend I happened upon a seven-part YouTube survey of the various
methods used to make that as yet unmatched visual spectacle.

As Keir Dullea said this morning the entire film was made
"physically"--no digital tricks existed then--with the possible
exception of all those CRT displays used in the film.  He stated
that he was particularly proud that he participated in that film
and that he has gotten by far more attention for his role in 2001
than all his other acting work combined.

I was close to ten years old when I first saw 2001 in a theatre.
During the intermission I wanted to tell mom and the other adults
how exquisitely cool that film was--but they all looked so puzzled,
so mystified, so I held my tongue and waited for the second half.
The opening act, with the early primates, was impressive in its way
(more impressive, given that it was done on A SET!) but the space
ballet between the shuttle and partially-completed space-station
was stunning beyond belief.

And, amazing to a "space kid" like myself, I was amazed that a
film-maker actually understood how a vacuum "sounds"!  So it was
not only visually impressive but scientifically faithful, too.

You are far more of a film historian that I'll ever be, so I'll
ask: was 2001 really groundbreaking in its mundane use of
trademarks?  Some call that "product placement", though I suspect
PanAm, IBM, (and others?) paid nothing (except possibly permission)
to allow their use.

The BBC feature called Dullea the "lead actor"--and so he was.  I
would assert that Douglas Rain was second lead as the voice of HAL
9000--the "brains" of the Discovery probe. Certainly, Rain was
instrumental in eliciting sympathy as HAL's "higher functions" were

Although 2001 is the extreme opposite of a "popcorn movie", I think
we will pop some this weekend and have a movie night for this epic,
unmatched, masterpiece.  [-js]

Mark responds:

I don't consider myself a film historian or a film critic.

I am just a fan.

I am listening to some music from Richard Wagner while I read your
mail.  I feel about the same of each of them.  I don't really think
highly of either of them, but I like each.

At the time I said that 2001 was like space.  There is a little
matter here and a little matter there and a lot of space in
between.  But as I say, I am much more respectful these days.  I
also like any William Sylvester film.  [-mrl]

Jim adds:

You are far more of a film historian that I'll ever be, so I'll
ask: was 2001 really groundbreaking in it's mundane use of
trademarks? Some call that "product placement", though I suspect
PanAm, IBM, (and others?) paid nothing (except possibly permission)
to allow their use.

Mark replies:

I think you were probably right about product placements.  It was
the first film that I remember using placements like that.  It adds
to the realism.  [-mrl]

Bue Mark also adds:

The 1925 film THE LOST WORLD showed a Corona typewriter.  [-mrl]


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

CAPSULE: BAJA reminds the viewer of the 1980s "school break" and
"student mischief" films.  It is the story of a group of 22-year-
olds each with his own agenda for taking a trip on a very fancy RV.
Their destination is in Baja California.  The trip is to get away
on Winter Break.  They find themselves getting involved with crime
and also some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Mexico.  The
film was written and directed by Tony Vidal.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to
+4) or 7/10

This year Mexico looms very high in the American public's
awareness.  Disney Studios has released COCO, which heavily
features Mexican popular lore.  BAJA is heavily invested in Mexican
mysticism and Mexican popular music.  Perhaps a certain President's
political plans this year keeps Mexico very big in popular culture.

Bryan (played by Jake Thomas) is a sort of non-entity who works at
a Southern California sporting goods store.  His friend Todd (Chris
Broch) is always working some dirty deal to make money off his
friends.  There is no situation so screwed up that Todd cannot make
it worse.  Bryan is caught between his own strict parents and his
rebel friend Todd.

Bryan's parents give their son a mission.  They want to have Bryan
drive their RV to Cabo, leave off their RV, and pick up a car, and
drive it north and home.  It is a good plan and lasts just long
enough for Todd to hear of it.  Soon the number of people knowing
of the boy's plans increases.  Each new passenger has his or her
reason for wanting to come.  The boys find themselves dealing with
gangsters and prostitutes.  They also find their way to some
astoundingly scenic landscapes.

Joining in the festivities is a Mexican Shaman played by the ever-
engaging Mark Margolis.  Margolis has a cult of fans since he
played the enigmatic "Alberto the Shadow" a Latin-American assassin
in 1983's SCARFACE and later an equally mysterious Cabalistic rabbi
in the 1998 PI.

Eventually under the influence of Margolis' character the order of
business turns to turns to a mystical appreciation of the natural
beauty of the area.

The story is more sophisticated than it at first appears, but it is
not tremendously original or insightful.  I rate BAJA` a low +2 on
the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

BAJA will have a limited release to theaters on April 13.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: YEAR 2018!, STAR WARS, MOBY DICK and Starbucks, Edgar Allan
Poe, and FRANKENSTEIN (letter of comment by John Hertz)

In response to various comments in the 03/02/18 issue of the MT
VOID, John Hertz writes:

[VOID 2004, 2 Mar 18, v. 36 n. 35]  Here in 2018 are lots of things
we didn't think of back there.  Lots of things we did of aren't.
Consider James Blish's 1956 novel YEAR 2018! (later THEY SHALL HAVE
STARS).  Mark probably is acquainted with the jesting question
whether the title means "Year 2018, goshwow" or Year 2018-
factorial"--an even more staggering thought since the year would
be--well, rather than write, and make you print, thousands of
digits, let's say 9.46 x 10^5794 [you may re-format that number as

When the first "Star Wars" film, now known as "Episode IV" and "A
New Hope", was released in 1977, it was favorably reviewed outside
our field.  My father and stepmother, whom I loved, were kindly
mystified by my love of science fiction; they didn't object but
couldn't see it: I recommended they watch STAR WARS.  My stepmother
said, "Why were all those space-ships flying around?"  She was no
dope, just (with me, anyway) blunt.  My father said, "If I hadn't
been in a wheelchair [he was a quadriplegic from polio] I'd have
walked out."  It occurred to me that the film had a top and a
bottom but no middle.  At bottom it was a shoot-'em-up adventure
with good guys and bad guys.  At the top was a rendition of classic
themes: the boy, nearly adult, who comes home to find it destroyed;
the hermit who's abandoned his former greatness; the far bigger
world in which he reluctantly guides the boy: everything was
perfect, even the masterly touch of setting it *long ago* in a
galaxy far away.  But if neither the bottom nor the top reached
you, you had nothing.

I might tie in MOBY DICK by applying Brother Dormer's remark, "It
seems to have that effect."

Once I saw at a Starbucks coffee shop a copy of MOBY DICK for sale,
quietly placed along other souvenirs and gadgets.  In fact it was
the scholarly 1988 Hayford-Tanselle-Parker edition.  I wrote to the
corporate office in Seattle suggesting every shop might carry one,
perhaps by means of a chain-wide incentive and an arrangement with
the publisher.  It would not sell much, or fast, I said, but would
be a fine gesture.  That, unlike my letter to Mars (!) applauding
the campaign "M&Ms, the candy of the millennium--MM means 2000",
got alas no response.  Perhaps Starbucks has a bottom and a middle
but no top.

In response to various comments in the 03/09/18 and 03/16/18 issues
of the MT VOID, John writes:

This letter has been long enough, so I'll curtail comments about
Poe, and about FRANKENSTEIN [VOID 2005-2006, 9 & 16 Mar, v. 36, nn.
36-37].  Poe's essays are much worth attention, ranging--if I may
say so--from "Maelzel's Chess-Player" (1836), "A Few Words on
Secret Writing" (1941, called "Cryptography in my 1927 Black's
COLLECTED WORKS), and "The Philosophy of Composition" (1846), which
Evelyn notes, to "X-ing a Paragrab" (1849).  His scientific point
of view, which Evelyn rightly perceives, shows constantly, e.g., in
"The Gold-Bug" (1843; cryptography).  FRABKENSTEIN I fear is one of
those books everyone talks of but no one has read.  I cannot make
an exception for someone who thinks the Creature a compassionate
being.  The book is a double tragedy, a remarkable work of
feminism, and an irresponsibility contest between the man and the
monster.  [-jh]


TOPIC: Retro Hugo Award Finalists (letters of comment by Peter
Rubinstein and Kevin R)

In response to Evelyn's comments on the Retro Hugo finalists in the
04/06/18 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

Is BAMBI really an SF dramatic presentation? I'd likely go for CAT
PEOPLE anyway.  [-pr]

Evelyn responds:

I think in general anthropomorphized animals that talk to each
other across species is considered at least fantasy.  [-ecl]

And Kevin R writes:

[Evelyn writes,] "On the other hand, missing entirely is THE
SCREWTAPE LETTERS by C. S. Lewis.  Much as I love Olaf Stapledon's
work, THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS should be on the ballot instead of
DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT."  [-ecl]     Unless you think making works
of fantasy eligible has always been a mistake, or has been one ever
since the World Fantasy Award started back in 1975.   Yes,
"speculative fiction" is a catch-all for both forms, but the
premiere stf award should be awarded to scientifictional works.
Give separate fantasy awards, if that is deemed necessary, but
Lewis, who did write some science fiction, did not produce an "edge
case" with SCREWTAPE, which Orwell described as a "silly-clever
religious book." Splitting categories further into SF and F would
exacerbate the ballot-length problem, of course.  Best to leave
fantasy to the WFA.  [-kr]

Evelyn notes:

This led to a *long* discussion/debate on whether the Hugo Awards
cover fantasy (they explicitly do), and whether they should.  I am
not going to include it all here; you can go to the entire thread
.  [-ecl]


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

THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS by Ursula K. Le Guin (ISBN 978-0-441-
47812-5) was our discussion book this month.  I had read it a long
time ago, but I re-read it for the discussion and have a few
observations.  (Quelle surprise!)

One observation is that one could never confuse character names
from Le Guin with those from, say, Isaac Asimov.. If I tell you
that one has Cleon, Bel Riose, and Ebling Mis, and the other Genly
Ai, Argaven Harge, and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, I am pretty
sure you could say which was which.  And the term "shifgrethor"
would also be clearly Le Guin's rather than Asimov's.  In part this
may be because Asimov patterned his names after Roman ones in the
"Foundation" series, but even out of it Asimov tends toward
"European-format" names, and western Europe at that, while Le Guin
ranges more widely.  (This may be an effect of her father's career
in anthropology.)

Le Guin, "At noon in the passes of Wehoth, at about 14,000 feet, it
was 82 degrees F in the sun and 13 degrees in the shade."  If there
is anything that rips one out of the alien setting it is the
appearance of what are now obsolete Terran units of measurement.
With the United States, Burma, and Liberia the only countries left
using these units, it is completely unbelievable that an
international and interplanetary effort would be using them.

And much of what seemed progressive when the book was written now
seems terribly dated.  On Gethen, those who are permanently male or
female "are not excluded from society, but they are tolerated with
some disdain, as homosexuals are in many bisexual societies."  The
term "bisexual" here apparently means "having two sexes" rather
than its current meaning of "being attracted to both men and

"But now there is evidence to indicate that the Terran Colony was
an experiment, the planting of one Hainish Normal group on a world
with its own proto-hominid autochthones."  Given that it is now
fairly clear that our ancestors interbred with all those "proto-
hominid autochthones" (Neanderthals, Denisovans, etc.) and are also
closely genetically related to other primates makes this extremely

"Will anything [other than genetic manipulation] explain Gethenisan
physiology?  Accident, possibly; natural selection, hardly.  Their
ambisexuality has little or no adaptive value."  Why Ong Tot Oppong
(the author of this statement) thinks she can determine what
adaptive value this ambisexuality has (or had) is a mystery.  There
are many peculiarities on Earth that we do not understand and that
seem non-adaptive, but most biologists do not think genetic
manipulation is the cause.

"As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only
by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible."
Actually, we are finding more exceptions to this as more research
is done: various apes, dolphins, sea otters, and others.  Whether
Le Guin's "most mammals" is still accurate is questionable.

"... continuous sexual capacity and organized social aggression,
neither of which are attributes of any mammal but man ..."  Again,
the former may be exclusively human, but we are finding that the
latter is not.

"Your race is appallingly alone in its world.  No other mammalian
species.  No other ambisexual species.  No animal intelligent
enough even to domesticate as pets."  This seems a contradiction,
since Ai later talks about furs and leather, both of which come
from mammals.  The pesthry are "oviparous vegetarians", but that
does not preclude them being mammals.  And while no mammalian
species evolving on such a cold world is possible, there would
probably be no land animals at all (since cold-blooded animals seem
even less likely).  In any case, I am not even sure this makes
sense from a survival point of view for the Gethenians.

"The seeming nation, unified for centuries, was a stew of
uncoordinated principalities, towns, villages, 'pseudo-feudal
tribal economic units', a sprawl and splatter of vigorous,
competent, quarrelsome individualities over which a grid of
authority was insecurely and lightly laid.  Nothing, I thought,
could ever unite Karhide as a nation."  Clearly he has not looked
at early eighteenth century Germany--or rather, "'pseudo-feudal
tribal economic units', a sprawl and splatter of vigorous,
competent, quarrelsome individualities over which a grid of
authority was insecurely and lightly laid" occupying the territory
that is now Germany.  I am also reminded of the historian (whose
name escapes me) who wrote very lucid book in 1989 explaining how
Europe came to arrive at its current situation and was quite
convincing--right up to the point when he explained why West
Germany and East Germany would never rejoin into a unified Germany.

Estraven asks, "Equality is not the general rule, then.  Are
[women] mentally inferior?"  And Ai replies, "I don't know.  They
don't often seem to turn up mathematicians, or composers of music,
or inventors, or abstract thinkers."  I realize that we have not
yet achieved perfect equality between the sexes, but given how far
in the future this is, this seems like an awfully bleak viewpoint,
especially as this seems to suggest not just inequality, but a wide

"But it is not human to be without shame and without desire."  As
we have learned more about human sexuality, it has become clear
that there are humans who are asexual.

A few quotes of interest:

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable

"It is hard, I found, to be called traitor.  Strange how hard it
is, for it's a easy name to call another man; a name that sticks,
that fits, that convinces."

"Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the
fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he
was."  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           A marveilous newtrality have these things mathematicall,
           and also a strange participation between things
           supernaturall and things naturall.
                                           --John Dee