Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
10/12/18 -- Vol. 37, No. 15, Whole Number 2036

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Those Harbingers Just Keep On Coming (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        STRANGE NATURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        HEAD ON by John Scalzi (book review by Joe Karpierz)
                (book review by Gregory Frederick)
        Gender Imbalance (letters of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt
                and Lowell Gilbert)
        This Week's Reading (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and DEATH OF A
                SALESMAN) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Those Harbingers Just Keep On Coming (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

As I think I have mentioned before in this column, I believe that a
major benefit of science fiction is to vent to concerns about
possible futures.  Science fiction gives us tools to think about
possible futures, to evaluate how likely they are, and if some are
more possible, to think about how to be prepared for the more
likely ones.

Back when Evelyn and I founded this club, most of my futures were
optimistic.  Science fiction told me that the good times are
coming.  Sadly, over the years the futures have become less and
less optimistic.  Some of the futures in science fiction still are
possible but more and more science fiction is less a literature of
promises and more a literature of threats.

I have a friend who is still am optimist about the future of
mankind. And he maybe is right to be so, but I keep an unofficial
tally in my head when I hear coastal wetlands hunkering down into
mud as the ocean level rises.  Here are some of the stories of just
this week.

The hot atmosphere of course is causing drought conditions in
California.  That in turn is causing wildfires, which are killing
people.  They are becoming a regular occurrence in the Golden
State.  The question is being asked how often should the
authorities spend huge resources to fight, to build, or to rebuild
buildings and land that is being destroyed by the fires.  We are
used to having FEMA and other organizations fighting the fire and
repairing the results of the fires.

Other warnings of the future are not so visible.  Through the
imbalance of nature, mostly probably caused at base by human
indifference, the Tetragnatha spiders are getting the upper hand on
the Greek island of Aitoliko.  They like the local mosquito
population and have built a giant net of spider webs 1000 feet

Too bad the giant web is in Greece.  The spiders could have a field
day in North Carolina.   It seems that mosquitoes lay large numbers
of eggs that dry out and die.  Well, that is what usually happens.
This year the dry season did not come like it did in California.
Instead, this year citizens of North Carolina were drenched in
Hurricane Florence.  The wet mosquitoes are an unusual species that
are said to be "three times larger" than the usual mosquito variety
that the locals are used to seeing and hosting.

This came from just a few minutes reading the news.  I am not even
looking at the many disasters from hurricanes, earthquake, and
Tsunamis.  These likely have their origin in human activity.

None of these seem to be changing the world very fast, but they are
harbingers that larger changes are coming.  And most of the changes
coming have not been seen yet.  These may look like small changes.
How much is your world affected by a population explosion of
spiders in a Greek island?  Not a lot, you may think.  But it is
probably a tiny and human-generated change in the environment that
caused the giant spider invasion.  Think how many changes there
will be or are to the environment every day.  Nobody knows what
will be the cumulative effect of the environmental changes.  You do
not have to read science fiction any more.  You can just read a
newspaper.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: STRANGE NATURE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: In the rural wetlands of Minnesota near Duluth, Nature
appears to be changing in some most unnatural ways.  People living
near the water are disappearing and thought to be kidnapped.  Other
children are deforming and the as yet unborn are becoming deformed
and monstrous.  Particularly susceptible are the frogs born with
extra limbs and misshapen bodies.  Nature has become most twisted.
Director: James Ojala; Writer: James Ojala; Stars: Stephen
Tobolowsky, John Hennigan, Lisa Sheridan. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4)
or 7/10

In the mid-1960s a new kind of horror film was in vogue.  It was
the ecological horror film.  With attention of many people,
particularly students, was on how neglect and apathy had allowed
the destruction of nature.  A popular subgenre of the horror field
suggested that nature would fight back or worse be destroyed by the
people ravaging nature.  Films like NO BLADE OF GRASS, THE SWARM,
and (perhaps) THE BIRDS were made on the premise that nature was no
longer the happy welcoming place it once was considered.  A
generation of frogs has been born with growths on their bodies and
extra limbs.  A dog gives birth to a litter of puppies and mother
and puppies have inside organs sticking out.  The mother dog is
popping out of her flesh.  Disturbing animals have come a long way
since THE FLY (1958) or even THE FLY (1986).  Besides nobody likes
to see a dog die in a movie.  Dogs are usually a symbol of

Lisa Sheridan plays Kim Sweet, a rock star who once was high on the
charts for the life of one song, but was never able to repeat the
trick.  Her father is now dying and Kim want to do what she can to
ease his pain.  She brings along her eleven-year-old son.  The town
has seen much better days, even without mutant puppies.  And with
realistic-looking five-legged frogs and other suddenly blood-
sucking frogs Kim suspects that the local American Patriot
Chemicals could be connected.  Kim finds the town in denial about
its very serious ecological problems.  Particularly defensive is
town mayor played by (Stephen Tobolowsky, who may be best known by
the film reference "Phil...? PHIL...!"  He is the mayor of the town
by reason of being in the greatest denial.

STRANGE NATURE is very much the kind of horror film that could have
been made in the late 60s or early 70s.  One difference is that the
characters, foreground or background are really better fleshed out.
That is important in a low budget horror film.  Ojala recognizes
that his viewer will not identify with a character who is poorly
fleshed out.  In fact, as a bonus much of the town seems
believable.  Ojala does a good job of making his characters
believable, and he gives them some weight.

The plot may be familiar, but the characters are not and the
characters are always watchable, for those of strong stomach.  I
rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: HEAD ON by John Scalzi (copyright 2018, Tor, $25.99,
335pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-8891-9) (book review by Joe Karpierz)

I'm not really sure what to make of John Scalzi's writing these
days.  He has won three Hugos--Best Fan Writer, Best Related Book,
and Best Novel.  He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New
Writer.  He has won other awards and been finalists for many
others.  His most recent appearance on the Hugo ballot was this
year in San Jose at Worldcon 76 for THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE. He
continues to be popular.  So why am I getting this nagging feeling
that he's starting to go through the motions?

HEAD ON is a standalone sequel to 2014's LOCK IN.  Just before I
wrote that last sentence I reread my review of that book.  It turns
out I feel the same way about HEAD ON as I did about LOCK IN.

There's a violent new sport in town played by Haden's controlling
threeps called Hilketa.  Hilketa is a team sport, the object of
which is to score more goals than your opponent.  Sounds pretty
normal and boring, right?  I mean, we've seen it before.  Well, to
score a goal a player must rip the head off of an opponent and
carry it through a set of goal posts.  Okay, that's a lot more
interesting than the run of the mill goal scoring game, as long as
you're into that whole ripping off the head thing. Anyway, this
"sport" gives the Haden population something of their own they can
do.  The sport's popularity is on the rise, and the league is
looking not only to expand within the U.S., it's looking to start
leagues overseas.

The book starts out at a preseason game that is being used as a
showcase for wealthy investors who the league is trying to convince
to become owners of new franchises in the U.S.  All is going
swimmingly well.  The crowd is loving the game, and the wealthy
investors are being courted by league officials.  Then the worst
possible thing that could happen did happen:  a player by the name
of Duane Chapman dies on the field during the game.  And thus we
have the event that starts this novel rolling.

FBI agents Chris Shane, a Haden and the main character of the
previous novel, and his partner Leslie Vann are assigned to the
case.  The obvious question is whether the death is murder or
simply an accident.

What, you actually thought this was an accident?  It wouldn't be
much of a novel if it wasn't a murder, now would it?

There are some interesting things and ideas in play here, and
that's not really unusual for a Scalzi novel.  Scalzi is using the
idea of the marginalization of minorities here.  Threep technology
is advancing such that "normal" humans will be able to ride in
threep just like Hadens can, thus giving them the ability to take
over the sport that was meant to be played by Hadens.  There is a
technology that allows fans of the sport to read the biometric data
of any of the players they want during a match, as long as they pay
an extra fee (Here we get two ideas for the price of one, where a
consumer can pay an extra fee to get content that other consumers
cannot--think premium cable channels--as well as the spectators can
see what is going on with their favorite players in gory detail--
think (and maybe it's a bit of a stretch) bloodthirsty spectators
watching battles in ancient Rome.  All good stuff.

The rest of it?  Well, it becomes a police procedural detailing a
murder investigation.  There's infidelity, jealousy, doping, drug
dealing, conspiracies, and twists.  Scalzi uses the ideas and world
that he built in LOCK IN to help move the story along, which of
course you would expect him to do.  But it feels like he thought
"How can I use the LOCK IN universe stuff in another novel?  Right,
I'll do a murder mystery!"

There's really nothing wrong with that.  But he's not really
exploring anything that hasn't been explored before by him or
anyone else.  The technology may be a bit different, but the ideas
are not.  And given today's society, the ideas aren't even that

Within the last day or two of me writing this review, Scalzi said
on Twitter that he writes for the money.  And that's okay. He has
to feed his family, pay for his daughter's college tuition, and
make sure the cats are happy.  And if the best way to do that is to
write what he does, good for him.  A lot of people can't do that.
But he's done better than this, with novels like OLD MAN'S WAR and
REDSHIRTS.  I'd like to see him get back to that level of quality.

Then again he's popular.  Who am I to judge, since I like him too?


(book review by Gregory Frederick)

This history book looks at the last years of the Roman Republic and
how it became a dictatorship.  It is a very detailed and absorbing
account of that period.  The end of the Roman Republic begins
approximately around 100 B.C.  This was the time when the
generation that would end the Republic was born.  Holland describes
the rise to power of such leaders as Sulla, Pompey, Cicero and
Julius Caesar.  Leaders, such as Pompey, appealed to the masses by
expanding the Republic through military conquest; others, like
Cicero worked to reinforce class distinctions thru the senate.
During the final years of the Republic the first ruling triumvirate
was created, and it consisted of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and
Crassus.  Crassus dies in the east after a battle with the
Parthians.  Caesar precipitated a civil war between himself and
Pompey by crossing the Rubicon River and taking his army out of his
province and into the Italian boot.  Eventually Caesar would become
the winner by defeating Pompey and obtaining a dictatorship of
Rome.  Caesar is appointed dictator for life and this becomes too
much for those who wished for the Republic to be reestablished and
therefore Caesar is assassinated.  Another ruling triumvirate is
established with Anthony, Octavian, and Lepidus after Caesar's
death.  Octavian defeats the others to gain the title of Augustus
Caesar and become a long-term dictator of Rome.  After this, Rome
would never become a Republic again.  This is a well-written and
compelling narrative which anyone who has an interest in ancient
history would enjoy.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Gender Imbalance (letters of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt and
Lowell Gilbert)

In response to Mark's comments on gender selection in the 10/05/18
issue of the MT VOID, Dorothy J. Heydt writes:

[Mark wrote,] "Consider a simpler choice than cloning a whole
person.  What will be the effects when we can choose the gender of
a baby?  ...  It would mean for a start that there would be less of
this infanticide.  Further, at first the Chinese would have a lot
of male children and not many female.  That would put girl children
in very short supply.  ...  More likely it would end up in the long
run with a 50%-50% split with each gender pretty much equally
valued.  But in the meantime with shortages of women to have,
wouldn't that create a population shortage?  In China?  Be real."

Actually, we're already seeing this happen in China.  I don't
suppose it's altered the fertility rate a whole lot, but there
are more unmarried men than marriageable women, and they resent
it.  They're known as "dry branches," IIRC.  [-djh]

Mark responds:

As I said, "at first the Chinese would have a lot of male children
and not many female.  That would put girl children in very short

Lowell Gilbert writes:

[Mark wrote,] "You see Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand" applies to
more than just a natural tyranny of the Law of Averages.  Those
laws say that it is a random chance what the gender of your
children are.  With a 50%-50% distribution.  But if you really
could choose market forces would take over and they generally work
smarter than pure chance."  [-mrl]

So *that* is why women now run most of America's corporations!

Once they made up most of the workforce and got most of the college
degrees, it was inevitable!  [-lg]


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

CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF by Tennessee Williams (1955) (ISBN 978-0-811-
21602-9) has an underlying theme in common with DEATH OF A SALESMAN
by Arthur Miller (1949) (ISBN 978-0-140-24773-2): mendacity,

In DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Willy Loman is constantly contradicting
himself, and hence engaging in mendacity.  In one line he says that
Biff is lazy, then three lines later he says that one thing about
Biff is that he is not lazy.  In one place, he says he never taught
Biff to steal, but elsewhere he tells him to go get some sand from
the supply at the construction site.  On page 80, Willy says
Howard's father asked him what he thinks of the name "Howard" for
his new son, but by page 97, he is saying that he actually named
Howard.  Most seriously, he is constantly lying to Biff about
Biff's position at Bill Oliver's company, and has even convinced
Biff that Biff was a sales manager, highly respected by Oliver,
when in fact he was a shipping clerk who had to quit just ahead of
being fired for stealing some of the stock.

In CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF the mendacity is of a more common and
obvious kind: Brick is lying about his relationship with Skipper,
Maggie is lying about her relationship with Brick, Gooper and
Sister Woman are lying about the love of their children for Bib
Daddy, and everyone is lying about Big Daddy's condition.  In
addition, just as everyone in DEATH OF A SALESMAN tells whatever
lies will get them the best immediate result, in CAT ON A HOT TIN
ROOF, everyone is using their lies to jockey for the best position
when Big Daddy dies.

There are other similarities.  For example, Big Daddy treats Big
Mama with the same high-handedness, rudeness, and cruelty that
Willy does Linda.  Big Mama refuses to give Big Daddy anything to
ease his pain, while Linda refuses to do anything to stop Willie's
self-destructive tendencies.  Both Biff and Brick are football
stars whose life went nowhere after that was over.  (Was the name
"Brick" inspired by "Biff"?)

One interesting cultural note: When CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was
written the idea of refusing "twilight sleep" (an injection of
morphine and scopalamine) for childbirth was fairly radical, and
the idea of having the father present in the room during the
delivery downright peculiar.  Now the latter is common (it began
about twenty years after CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF was written), and
"twilight sleep" was abandoned in the 1960s.  Maybe Sister Woman
was onto something.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on
           a dare.
                                           --Mike Myers