Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
01/11/19 -- Vol. 37, No. 28, Whole Number 2049

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        Around the World in Eighty ... (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
        The Theory and Origins of Piquant Food (Part 1) (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE VERY BEST OF CAITLIN R. KIERNAN by Caitlin R. Kiernan
                (book review by Joe Karpierz)
        Rotten Tomatoes (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel)
        MORTAL ENGINES and AQUAMAN (letters of comment by Peter Trei
                and Kevin R)
        This Week's Reading (WALDEN, Edgar Allan Poe, THE SCARLET
                LETTER, and "Benito Cereno") (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Around the World in Eighty ... (comments by Evelyn
C. Leeper)

Jules Verne wrote described someone going around the world in
eighty days.  People have posted at least fifteen years ago that
one could then go around the world on commercial flights in eight
hours.  But is it possible to go around the world in eighty
minutes?  The shuttle went around in ninety minutes, but would
lowering the orbit to an eighty-minute orbit put it inside the
atmosphere and make it impossible?  [-ecl]


TOPIC: The Theory and Origins of Piquant Food (Part 1) (comments by
Mark R. Leeper)

This is a comment I once made, back in 1987, about spicy food.  Let
me just point out to strangers that my recreational drug of choice
is really hot and spicy food.

I have had a couple of occasions in this past week to eat hot
foods.  One of the more harmless of my reputations among friends is
that if no other part of me is really into machismo, my tongue is
super-macho.  I grew up with a pallid cuisine that was an amalgam
of Eastern European and American.  (Why did somebody with an
English-Irish name like Leeper grow up with Eastern European food?
Well, that's another story for another time.)  In any case, as I
have grown older and did not become athletic or otherwise sports-
minded, I have noticed a lot of otherwise macho-seeming men cringe
at the taste of a little hot pepper in their food.  Like me, they
probably grew up with bland food, but I grew a little more tired of
it than they did.  So I have come to like food that sent others
screaming from the room.  My dog decided for himself to stop
begging for table scraps.  The most sadistic Indian, the cruelest
Szechuan, the vilest Mexican chefs had no horrors for me.

In the shelves of my refrigerator jalapeno mustard nestles against
jars of Tabasco peppers.  Oh, and don't let anyone tell you
jalapenos are as hot as they come.  Tabascos, the stuff they dilute
with vinegar to make the famous sauce, are hotter.  And the people
who bottle them have to dress up like they're handling plutonium--
I've seen them.  I've never had Tabascos in their native state,
however.  They come packed in vinegar.  I can only guess whether
they would match the dreaded green peppers you get dry in Indian
restaurants.  The most potent I have ever had our guide picked off
a tree in the Amazon.  Little orange peppers the size of
blueberries.  The fact that they are so small is the best argument
I know for a merciful God.

Then there is another whole breed of hot.  This is the mustard and
horseradish sort of hot.  These don't burn your tongue.  The good
ones just give you three hours of cluster headaches in about five
seconds.  A really good, freshly ground horseradish is quite nice.
Then there is Japanese wasabi.  That is a sort of green horseradish
that you get with sushi.  Less than the amount to cover the tip of
a chopstick is a "wasab." (I have defined a wasab as a unit of
strength equivalent to dropping one volume of the Encyclopedia
Britannica on your nose from one foot up.)  As a way of estimating,
one standard slice of Grossinger's rye bread, generously spread
with Frank's Mr. Mustard--the best mustard in the world--and
diluted with one-eighth in thick slices of a good kosher salami
will total about four or five wasabs.  Divide that by the number of
bites you'd get out of it and you get an estimate of the effect of
each bite.  [-mrl]


(copyright 2019, Tachyon Publications, 432pp, trade paperback, ISBN
9781616963026) (book review by Joe Karpierz)

One of the things I've tried to do in recent years is expand my
reading horizons.  Yes, the bulk of my reading is science fiction,
but even within that genre I've been branching out to works that in
the past I would not have had an interest in reading.  Many of
these works are much more literary in nature, and while I don't
necessarily seek them out, I don't shy away from them either (It
could be argued that science fiction has been heading in a literary
direction for years, and I don't disagree).

And while I prefer science fiction, I've discovered that every now
and again I like to stick my toes in the water of horror and dark
fiction.  A few years ago one of the stories in this collection,
"Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)" appears in one of
Jonathan Strahan's "Best of the Year" anthologies, so when I was
presented with the opportunity to read this collection of Kiernan's
work I decided it was time to dive in (rather than just stick my
toes in the water).

Kiernan's work is ... stunning.  It is dark and disturbing.  It is
horrifying and frightening.  The characters are at once both
repulsive and fascinating.  And the stories are unconventional, in
the sense that there isn't always a traditional story structure.
Some of the stories are just scenes out of people's lives, a
snapshot if you will.  And they are all beautifully written and
intensely compelling.  And they *all* make you want to know just
what it is that is going on inside Kiernan's head.

It took a while for the book to percolate within me before I wrote
this review.  I can tell you that I knew only that one story, so I
didn't know what I was getting myself into.  Once I finished, I
wasn't sure what I'd just read, or whether I liked it or not.  So
it took a week or so to gestate.  And after all that, I realized
that I had been blown away.

"The Prayer of Ninety Cats" tells the tale of a movie critic
watching an art house movie about the infamous Elizabeth Bathory,
the Blood Countess.  I was completely unaware, until I'd read the
story, that Bathory was an actual historical figure, the infamous
Blood Countess.  Apparently the movie told us things about her that
aren't in any of the official accounts of Bathory's life.  The
previously mentioned "Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)"
follows a pair of twins as they travel the country, leaving
butchered people in their wake.  And yet, there is a sadness to it
that makes the reader almost want to feel for the characters.  "One
Tree Hill (The World as Cataclysm)" follows a science journalist to
a remote section of New Hampshire (as with "The Prayer of Ninety
Cats", there is an element of realism with this story, as Kiernan
provides latitude and longitude coordinates that actually exist in
New Hampshire - I checked) who is investigating a weird occurrence
of a lightning strike on a cloudless night up on a hill.  What she
finds is unsettling.

Those are three of the last four stories in the book, and they're
all terrific.  But outstanding stories are scattered throughout the
rest of the book as well.  "The Mermaid of the Concrete Ocean", one
of the non-horror stories in the book, follows an art critic as he
interviews an elderly woman who was a model for a series of mermaid
paintings.  "A Season of Broken Dolls" is one of the most
disturbing stories (to me, anyway) in the collection.  A reporter,
at the urging of her girlfriend, goes to an "art" display of
disturbing and grotesque pieces made of living humans.  "The
Ammonite Violin (Murder Ballad No. 4)" (which leads me to wonder if
Murder Ballads 1 through 3 and 5 through 7 have been written as
well) is a fascinating look at a demented serial killer who creates
violins from the remains of his victims.  The collection leads off
with "Andromeda Among the Stones", a Lovecraftian tale of what can
best be described as a dysfunctional family.  And  "The Ape's Wife"
just possibly gives you the answer to "whatever happened to Fay
Wray?"  "Galapagos" is a science fiction tale of a woman sent to
investigate what happened to the ship Pilgrimage after it abandoned
its mission and stopped responding to communications efforts.  It
is a combination of ALIEN and THE EXPANSE that I found fascinating.

As I go through the collection I find that I want to summarize all
the stories.  "The Maltese Unicorn", "Fairy Tale of Wood Street",
and "Hydrarguros" are fascinating tales--and quite frankly, I just
love the titles.  There are 20 stories here, and each one of them
has something has something different to offer the reader.  One
thing that's true is that every last one of them is compelling and
thought provoking.

However, I would state that it is clear from reading this book that
Caitlin R. Kiernan's work is not for every one.  It's very
different in tone, style, and substance.  Readers looking for
traditional horror or dark fiction probably won't find what they're
looking for here.  However, if you're willing to stay with this
stuff (and it isn't necessarily easy to do so), I'm pretty sure
you'll come out the other side as a changed reader, a reader who
will never be the same.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Rotten Tomatoes (letter of comment by Daniel Kimmel)

In response to Mark's comments on Rotten Tomatoes in the 01/04/19
issue of the MT VOID, Dan Kimmel writes:

You know I side with you about Rotten Tomatoes.  If all one looks
at is the "Tomato Meter" then you're not making the best use of
what RT offers.  I've always suggested that people read some
reviews of films they've already seen.  When you find some critic
with whom you tend to agree (or offers insights that expand your
understanding of a film) then that's a person whose reviews you
should seek out on a new movie.  Only half tongue in cheek I add
that if your find someone with whom you usually disagree, that can
be useful too.  Back in my civilian days (I've been reviewing for
more than three decades) there was one critic that if we agreed
more than once or twice a year I knew one of us must be ill.

Rotten Tomatoes provides links to many critics, with blurbs
indicating what sort of review it is.  Click on some links and see
the reasons for those "thumbs up" or "thumbs down."  [-dmk]


TOPIC: MORTAL ENGINES and AQUAMAN (letters of comment by Peter Trei
and Kevin R)

In response to Dale Skran's comments on MORTAL ENGINES and AQUAMAN
in the 01/04/19 issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:

I'll have to reconsider seeing [MORTAL ENGINES]. Sometimes I rely
too heavily on the Rotten Tomatoes' number.

I'm even less familiar with the DCU than I am with the MCU, but
found the movie OK--the visuals were stunning, but I detest paper-
chase plots (the location of the cave where the trident was kept
seems to be well-known, if the large number of failed questers
therein is anything to go by), and there was a lot more fighting
than I prefer.

I tend to go into nitpick mode with a lot of these movies, looking
for inconsistencies in the world building.  For example, its seems
established early on that Aquaman's skin can't be penetrated by
non-Atlantean steel.  Given that, how did he get his tattoos?

Mark responds:

It is tempting to rely too heavily on the Rotten Tomatoes' number.
It is better to find a set of critics whom you tend to agree with.
Rotten Tomatoes is a useful tool as an aggregator, but it is far
from being a tool that grinds out a rating that can predict if a
user will like the a film without knowing anything about the user.

Kevin R responds:

I haven't seen the AQUAMAN film yet, but one thing bugs me.  I
would have wanted to see a PRINCE NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER film
first, as Marvel's version has seniority by a few years.

That "hunt for the trident" plot is very familiar, also:

Please note: "Adam Austin" was a nom de crayon of Gene Colan, known
for long stints on IRON MAN, DR STRANGE and TOMB OF DRACULA.

I would have also preferred to see a film starring the original
CAPTAIN MARVEL before the one the House of (Nicked) Ideas will be
debuting soon. The SHAZAM! film featuring Billy Batson hits local
screens April 5.  I hope Dick Lupoff likes it!

Note also:  Gene Colan was the first artist to depict tales of Mar-
Vell of the Kree, from whose background the Danvers version was
derived, and also those of the original GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.


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

I've fallen behind in writing about the authors and works covered
in the Great Courses course on American Classics.  Of WALDEN by
Henry David Thoreau (ISBN 978-0-451-53216-9), I have little to
say, except that his rural idyll was not quite the hermit's life
people envision.  He was half a mile from the railroad station,
and close enough to town that he walked in every day or two, often
having dinner with family and friends.  And when he totes up his
annual expenses for food, it very conveniently comes to exactly
the amount given in a housewives' book of the time, indicating
that just maybe he was cooking not only the food, but the books as

Next was Edgar Allan Poe, of whom much has already been written,
to which I have nothing to add to this time.

For Nathaniel Hawthorne, the book was THE SCARLET LETTER (ISBN
978-1-512-09056-7).  This is Hawthorne's classic, so why did we
have to read THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES in high school?  I suppose
for the same reason that someone in sophomore English class got
sent to the principal's office for saying Shakespeare had to marry
his wife because she was pregnant.  In any case, the short stories
were of more interest, "The Minister's Black Veil", "Young Goodman
Brown", and (particularly) "Wakefield".  The latter may have
inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Enoch Arden", though there are
clearly some major differences.  (And the latter in turn inspired
an Agatha Christie novel (TAKEN AT THE FLOOD) and an Agatha
Christie ("While the Light Lasts").)

And then we get to Herman Melville.  Obviously Professor Hammond
spent most of his time on MOBY-DICK, but rather than attempt to
write more here, I will just point you to my annotations and
comments at  Instead, I
will comment on "Benito Cereno" (ISBN 978-1-536-86417-5), a far
more compact work (novelette-length by Hugo standards).  I do not
want to say too much about the plot, since it is best discovered
by reading it.  I will say that the narrative point of view is
critical to the story, and while I would on one hand love to see a
film of it, I have no idea how a film would manage to convey the
third person limited point of view.  (There has been a stage
adaptation; I would be curious to see it.)

I will say that Melville manages to convey the stereotypical
racial attitudes of his time.  Captain Amaso Delano sees the
Africans on the ship at best as loyal and fawning servants and at
worst as animals.  He compares them to does and fawns, to wolves,
to Newfoundland dogs.  He describes them as having "the docility
arising from the unaspiring contentment of a limit mind, and that
susceptibility of blind attachment sometimes inhering in
indisputable inferiors."  As the reader will discover, Melville
does not write of these attitudes as someone who shares in them.
If you have not read "Benito Cereno", go do so.

(I suppose I should also mention that "Benito Cereno" is based on
the experience of real-life Captain Amaso Delano, which is
available in several on-line archives.)  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           We have overcome the notion that mathematical truths
           have an existence independent and apart from our own
           minds.  It is even strange to us that such a notion
           could ever have existed.
                                           --James Newman