Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
03/01/19 -- Vol. 37, No. 35, Whole Number 2056

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper,
Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper,
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        R.I.P. Betty Ballantine (1919-2019)
        Middle Earth Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper)
        Retrospective: THE BLACK SCORPION (comments
                by Mark R. Leeper)
        Nebula Award Finalists
        TANGENT ROOM (film review by Mark R. Leeper)
        THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (television review by Dale Skran)
        SPACE OPERA by Catherynne M. Valente (book review
                by Joe Karpierz)
        Science Fiction, the Future, and Art (letters of comment
                by Kip Williams and Daniel Cox)
        Buffalo Soldiers (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)
        This Week's Reading (JUNGLE OF STONE) (book comments
                by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: R.I.P. Betty Ballantine (1919-2019)

"Betty Ballantine, who with her husband helped transform reading
habits in the pre-internet age by introducing inexpensive paperback
books to Americans, died on Feb. 12 in Bearsville, N.Y.  She was

"[They] charged just 25 cents per book, making them easily
affordable for people unable or unwilling to pay for hardcover
books, which cost $2 to $3 each (about $45 in today's money).  And
they overcame the distribution problem by making books available
almost everywhere, including in department stores and gas stations
and at newsstands and train stations."

Betty Ballantine ... helped promote certain genres--westerns,
mysteries, romance novels and, perhaps most significant, science
fiction and fantasy.  Her love for that genre, and her knowledge of
it, helped put it on the map.  'She birthed the science fiction
novel,' said Tad Wise, a nephew of Ms. Ballantine's by marriage.
With the help of Frederik Pohl, a science fiction writer, editor
and agent, Mr. Wise said, 'She sought out the pulp writers of
science fiction who were writing for magazines and said she wanted
them to write novels, and she would publish them.'"


TOPIC: Middle Earth Question (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I was watching THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG.  But they never
tell you how Smaug got solated in the first place.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Retrospective: THE BLACK SCORPION (comments by Mark
R. Leeper)

1958 was the year THE FLY was released to theaters, and my father
took my brother and me to see it.  This is one of my fond memories
of my first decade on Earth.  THE FLY was on a drive-in double bill
with the (incompetently made) SPACE MASTER X7.  I was happy to see
anything that was science fiction.  But I suspect the owner of the
drive-in could see SPACE MASTER X7 would eat into the profits THE
FLY would bring.  He or the distributor rushed to get a better film
than SPACE MASTER X7 to pair the second week with the well-reviewed
THE FLY.  In any case SPACE MASTER X7 was dropped from the drive-in
double bill and replaced by THE BLACK SCORPION.  It was too late to
do me much good.  SPACE MASTER X7 at least had sounded like it
involved rockets and spaceships, but I wondered if THE BLACK
SCORPION was a better film. I think it was a decade or two before
THE BLACK SCORPION finally showed up someplace that I could see it.
It was not all that good either.  But it surely beat SPACE MASTER
X7.  Perhaps today SPACE MASTER X7 remembered because it had Stooge
Moe Howard in a bit part.

Today I can recognize that THE BLACK SCORPION was at least an
interesting monster movie. It was made very much on the cheap, and
it borrowed heavily on ideas from other 50s monster movies,
especially from THEM!  I think that the filmmakers could borrow
what they wanted from THEM! legally since both films were made for,
and I suppose owned by, Warner Brothers.  That may have simplified
copyright issues and it almost made them in some way paired

THE BLACK SCORPION and THEM! have much the same plot.  An erupting
volcano instead of from a nuclear blast causes nature to free giant
scorpions, all of which have been trapped and preserved alive
inside volcanic rock.  The volcano cracks open the volcanic rock
and frees the (very old) scorpions.  Without being seen they hunt
nocturnally and tear up the Mexican landscape.  At first only the
destruction the monsters leave behind can be found, and there is
speculation as to what kind of creature makes a noise like it does.
(More on the sound will come later.)  In one or two places there
are footprints of the creature left behind, but that only increases
the mystery as it is from an unrecognized creature.  THE BLACK
SCORPION even repeats an error THEM! made. In each film only one
footprint is found.  What kind of creature leaves only one
footprint?  Is it hopping on the one foot?

The two geologists--Richard Denning as Dr. Hank Scott and Carlos
Rivas as Dr. Arturo Ramos--go searching for the source of the
killings and the very strange destruction that is left behind. They
are later joined by Mara Corday as Teresa Alvarez.  Actress Corday
was previously menaced by a giant spider in TARANTULA (1955).  She
was probably used to large arthropods.  The main characters of the
film are two geologists who have come to the backlands of Mexico to
study the erupting volcanoes.

The scientists had found giant scorpions sealed in rocks until the
rocks are broken by the shock of the volcanoes releasing the still
living monsters.  The scorpions have been underground for eons of
time and the volcano now frees them.  The local people who have
disappeared in the volcano's eruption have fallen prey to the
appetites of giant scorpions.  One obvious borrowing from THEM! is
the cricket-like chattering squeal sound effect of the ants from
THEM! It is recycled as the sound made by the scorpions in THE
BLACK SCORPION.   The only thing that the attacks had in common is
that just before the creatures' attacks we in the audience hear
them make the insect-like trill.

Paul Sawtell's title music was used for other science fiction films
and may sound familiar to viewers.

Both films advance slowly before they show the audience anything
requiring the filmmakers to use special effects.  That saves on the
film budget.  So does using copious stock footage of volcanic
destruction.  A missing police car is found with a giant bite taken
out of it as if it were a sandwich.  As in THEM! the humans find
the nest of the invaders and risk themselves invading it, barely
escaping with their lives.  Then the creatures attack a more urban
environment, Mexico City.  And the camera shows us the all-out
climactic battle on the streets of the capitol city.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Nebula Award Finalists


THE CALCULATING STARS, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
THE POPPY WAR, R. F. Kuang (Harper Voyager US; Harper Voyager UK)
BLACKFISH CITY, Sam J. Miller (Ecco; Orbit UK)
SPINNING SILVER, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Macmillan)
WITCHMARK, C. L. Polk ( Publishing)
TRAIL OF LIGHTNING, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga)


FIRE ANT, Jonathan P. Brazee (Semper Fi)
THE BLACK GOD'S DRUMS, P. Djeli Clark ( Publishing)
THE TEA MASTER AND THE DETECTIVE, Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean)
ALICE PAYNE ARRIVES, Kate Heartfield ( Publishing)
        ( Publishing)
ARTIFICIAL CONDITION, Martha Wells ( Publishing)


"The Only Harmless Great Thing", Brooke Bolander
        ( Publishing)
"The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections", Tina Connolly
        ( 7/11/18)
"An Agent of Utopia", Andy Duncan (An Agent of Utopia)
"The Substance of My Lives, the Accidents of Our Births",
        Jose Pablo Iriarte (Lightspeed 1/18)
"The Rule of Three", Lawrence M. Schoen
        (Future Science Fiction Digest 12/18)
"Messenger", Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R. R. Virdi
        (Expanding Universe, Volume 4)

Short Story

"Interview for the End of the World", Rhett C. Bruno
        (Bridge Across the Stars)
"The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington",
        Phenderson Djeli Clark (Fireside 2/18)
"Going Dark", Richard Fox (Backblast Area Clear)
"And Yet", A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 3-4/18)
"A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal
        Fantasies", Alix E. Harrow (Apex 2/6/18)
"The Court Magician", Sarah Pinsker (Lightspeed 1/18)

Game Writing

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Charlie Brooker (House of Tomorrow
        & Netflix)
The Road to Canterbury, Kate Heartfield  (Choice of Games)
God of War, Matt Sophos, Richard Zangrande Gaubert, Cory Barlog,
        Orion Walker, and Adam Dolin (Santa Monica Studio/Sony/
        Interactive Entertainment)
Rent-A-Vice, Natalia Theodoridou (Choice of Games)
The Martian Job, M. Darusha Wehm (Choice of Games)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

THE GOOD PLACE: "Jeremy Bearimy", Screenplay by: Megan Amram
BLACK PANTHER, Screenplay by: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
A QUIET PLACE, Screenplay by: John Krasinski and Bryan Woods
        & Scott Beck
        and Rodney RothmanDIRTY COMPUTER, Written by: Janelle Monae
and Chuck
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, Written by: Boots Riley

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction
        or Fantasy Book

CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE, Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt; Macmillan)
        (Rick Riordan Presents)
TESS OF THE ROAD, Rachel Hartman (Random House)
DREAD NATION, Justina Ireland (Balzer + Bray)
        (Henry Holt)


TOPIC: TANGENT ROOM (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Four strangers in arcane branches of science find
themselves imprisoned in a locked room and working on a problem
that has strange metaphysical implications and whose solution might
have serious and far-reaching implications.  And I mean "really
far-reaching."  Directed by: Bjorn Engstrom; written by:        Bjorn
Engstrom.  Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

I have heard that when an author writes a Star Trek script they are
told that for the good of the story they do not have to put in
sophisticated-sounding supposedly scientific explanations.  Instead
they put in the string ""
Someone else who knows a little about science or how scientific
language feels and sounds will remove the tech line and replace it
with something that sounds good, but that does not really mean
anything.  A new film TANGENT ROOM examines the question of what
would happen if you got together a solid chunk of rhetorical
"tech..." and collided it with an identical mass of home-grown

Four scientists--three women and a man--who worked in very
different fields of science find themselves in an isolated room.
They have no idea how they got there.  There does not seem to be
any logical connection to their fields of research.  We soon learn
that what they have in common is that they all work with very
strange and generally large numbers.  (I suppose what I was curious
about is what is a "strange number"?)  I found out surprisingly
that "the right numbers can solve any problem."  Soon we discover
that the supposedly mind-bending cosmic effects are intended not to
be taken seriously (I hope).

It is hard to rate TANGENT ROOM entirely fairly.  The idea is
intriguing, yes, but the plot is too similar to that of Luis
Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena's Spanish thriller FERMAT'S ROOM
(2007). The actual mathematics and physics is wrong and atrocious,
but how many viewers are going to know or care about the
difference?  Then again how often does one find a film built around
a mathematical concept.  Parts of TANGENT ROOM film are whimsically
satirical of time paradox films like a "Back to the Future" film.

I rate TANGENT ROOM a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits:

What others are saying:



TOPIC: THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY (television review by Dale Skran)

Netflix has adapted the Dark Horse comic THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY into
a ten-episode series including events from both comic series,
APOCALYPSE SUITE, and DALLAS.  You may be unfamiliar with THE
UMBRELLA ACADEMY, only the most recent in a long series of efforts
to copy or better the X-Men.  In spite of the Netflix series
borrowing the fundamental idea of the plot from the X-Men "Dark
Phoenix" storyline, there is enough new stuff here to keep most
comic fans watching.

UA is stronger on character and psychological motivation than many
superhero team stories, and via the device of an impersonal and
cruel "Professor X" sets up a variety of character challenges.  UA
also follows the non-Marvel/non-DC line of showing more "real
violence" to the tune of various rock songs.  In fact, music, both
classical and rock, is very important to both the plot and
atmosphere of UA, although I leave analysis of this aspect of the
series to those who know more about it than I do.

Another difference is that UA deals a bit more with truly god-like
powers than Marvel does. "Rumor" has the ability to change reality
by telling a lie.  In many ways, there are not limits to this
power, but UA does a good job of exploring the temptation of using
it too much, and for the wrong things.  "Number Five" can travel in
both space and time, as well as between the ticks of the clock.
Combined with decades of surviving on his own in a post-apocalypse
world, and still more years of experience as an assassin working
for a temporal control agency called the "Commission", these powers
make him the world's deadliest killer.  The "White Violin" can
transform sounds into telekinetic blasts that range in power from
breaking a single glass to shattering the Moon.  Klaus ("Seance")
can talk to the dead, and also is developing telekinesis that he
expresses using ghosts.  These are the powers of gods, not
superheroes.  Two more traditional characters, Luthor ("Spaceboy")
and Diego ("Kraken") are basically your super strong guy and your
Batman guy.  They fade into the background compared to the rest of
the team, although they constantly squabble about who is in charge.

I'm rating UMBRELLA ACADEMY a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. It is for
teens and up only, due to sex, lots of drug use, and violence.
Klaus uses drugs and drink to avoid seeing the dead.  There is a
lot of pretty hard-core violence, and adult themes.  Because the
characters sometimes age greatly due to time travel, some are much
older than others.  All the characters have significant
psychological damage from their harsh upbringing at the academy.
But having said all that, a must see for comic fans, and especially
for those who like "retro" super-science pulp stories, that feature
intelligent apes and robot nannies.

It should also be noted that with the cancelation of all the
Netflix Marvel shows, we can expect to see a lot more non-Marvel
superhero stuff on Netflix, including, one expects, more seasons of
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, and, hopefully, more of THE CHILLING
ADVENTURES OF SABRINA, which is worth checking out.  [-dls]


TOPIC: SPACE OPERA by Catherynne M. Valente (copyright 2018, Saga
Press, $19.99, hardcover, 294pp, ISBN 978-1-4814-9749-7) (book
review by Joe Karpierz)

We've read it before.  The human race is minding its own business,
people going about their lives as they do every day, blissfully
unaware that there's a galactic population out there, myriads of
different races, civilizations, and aliens.  It is a peaceful
galactic life, but it wasn't always that way.  There was a war- the
Sentience War--a big bad nasty war involving just about all the
civilizations in the galaxy.  It was a war over something stupid,
of course, or some misunderstanding; it really doesn't matter, as
with most of these things.  It was big, it was nasty, and it was
devastating.  Peace eventually happened, but those that were left
decided to have a celebration, a contest, that would bring joy and
happiness to every one, and in the process, maintain their
exclusive club.

Thus, the Metagalactic Grand Prix was born.  Once a cycle--let's
call it once a year--the Grand Prix is held.  It's a competition
for bragging rights.  Think of a multimedia concert, complete with
song, dance, visual displays, and anything else participants think
they can do to bring honor and glory to their race.  And every once
in a while, a new race wants to join galactic civilization.  When
that happens, the new race must participate in the Grand Prix.  If
the new race finishes in dead last, their civilization is wiped out
and their planet sterilized to give it a chance to bring forth a
new civilization that might be worthy of joining the galaxy.

Remember when I said that the human race was minding its own
business?  Yeah, well, no more.  Humanity has been noticed, and is
going to participate in the Grand Prix whether they want to or not.
Eventually, a British pop band named Decibel Jones and the Absolute
Zeros, is chosen to represent humanity.  And things aren't looking
good.  The band has fallen on hard times, one member has died, and
in general they appear to be the worst choice to represent humanity
in a battle for survival.  As the dust jacket says, "And the fate
of Earth lies in their ability to rock."  Will the human race
survive?  I don't think that's really a good question, since this
is supposed to be a happy and fun book and really, would any writer
kill off her own entire civilization?

This book is pretty much unlike anything Valente has written
before.  I mean yes, the whole idea of the human race having to
prove itself to the rest of the galaxy in order to survive is
nothing new, but the idea of entering a music contest and not
finishing dead last in order to save the planet is something I
don't think has been done before.

The Metagalactic Grand Prix has as its inspiration the Eurovision
Song Contest, which was born in the mid-1950s as Europe was still
rebuilding from World War II.  Eurovision was a way for the
countries of Europe to come together and celebrate life with song.
The contest is still happening, and it's broadcast all over the
world, and is one of the most watched television programs on the
planet.  Just like Eurovision, the Grand Prix is watched all over
the galaxy, even on dear old planet earth.  And just like
Eurovision, it exists to bring galactic civilizations together, but
it has something of a side purpose of keeping new civilizations out
of the club.

When I said that SPACE OPERA is unlike anything Valente has written
before, I'm not only talking about subject, I'm talking about
style.  I've typically found Valente a difficult read; her prose is
very stylistic and literary.  I've made the comment in the past
that it is more style than substance.  That is probably a bit
harsh.  This book?  It's not that.  Valente writes at a breakneck,
frenetic pace.  There are very long sentences that you feel you
must read fast to get the feeling that Valente is trying to give
the reader.  Some sentences are one paragraph long, and the
paragraph is longer than a page.  In most cases, those would be
called run-on sentences and would be frowned upon.  But those
sentences work because of the story itself.  Everything is fast,
everything is showy, and everything happens all at once.

And it works.  Mostly.  I was less than five pages into the book
when I decided it was probably the best thing I'd read that was
published in 2018.  I loved the style not only because of the
frenetic (there's that word again) pace but because it was actually
funny.  No, I wasn't laughing out loud the entire time I read the
book, but I will say that I barked out a laugh at a local Starbucks
and *everybody* in there looked my way.  The downside is that at
times I was actually *tired* after reading a chapter, and the style
did get a bit tedious now and again.

The resolution to the story is a bit, uh, weird.  But then again,
this whole book is just a bit on the weird side.  I don't know that
I really know what to make of it as a whole other than to say I
liked it.  Heck, even the title is a pun while at the same time
misleading.  How can you not like a book that does that with its

If you're looking for something different, this book is it.  If
you're looking for a science fiction book that sets out, in part,
to be funny, this book is it because it works.  If you're looking
for a book by an author who obviously had a fun time writing it,
this book is it.  And if you're looking for a fun book, this is it.

And if you're looking for a book to shake your head at after you're
done reading it, well, this book is it too.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Science Fiction, the Future, and Art (letters of comment by
Kip Williams and Daniel Cox)

In response to John Hertz's comments on science fiction, the
future, and art in the 02/22/19 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams

[John Hertz writes,] "Changing the metaphor, how does an artwork
look when it shows the artist had an axe to grind?"

It looks like the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, or Goya's horrific war
pictures, or "Saturn Devouring His Children," or Guernica, or it
reads like Dante's INFERNO.

But of course, these obscure examples will mean nothing to the
alert reader, because they were just someone pushing a petty
grievance, and of no interest outside of psychological analysis.

Mark adds:

You have two overlapping sets.  Some propaganda is art and some art
is propaganda.  [-mrl]

Daniel Cox writes:

Re John Hertz's comments on the phrase "to vent concerns"--I think
Mark probably just meant "to air concerns".

My view, and certainly not applicable to all of Science Fiction:
Science Fiction is not so much to examine future science (or
engineering) as to assume some science (or engineering) and see
what it might lead to, including how individuals or society react
to the changes.  An example would be some of the Niven stories
based on the assumption of cheap teleportation.  He does not intend
to state that this is a likely future, or give actual science
behind it.  He examines some of the effects it may have, such as
flash mobs and a trend to live in the country.  I suspect he was
using it as an exaggeration of the effects that (historically)
cheap transportation already had at the time he was writing (an "if
this goes on" approach).

Which leads to a new topic:

There used to be a comment comparing the lack of progress in
automobiles compared to the progress in computers.  It is true by
many metrics, but I think people might not have been not making the
correct comparison.

When computers were new, they consisted of multiple large pieces
connected together.  They required controlled environments in which
to run (lots of cooling, electricity cleaned up to remove spikes
and surges).  They were too expensive for one person to own and
use, so they were owned by large organizations and shared by
several users.  Now, owning and using a personal computer is

When motorized land transportation was new, it consisted of
multiple large pieces connected together.  It required controlled
environments in which to run (carefully spaced rails, limited
grades, gradual curves, careful scheduling to avoid accidents).  It
was too expensive for one person to own and use (perhaps with a few
exceptions), so it was owned by large organizations and shared by
several users.  Now, owning and using a personal locomotive is
considered normal.  It's just that they are not called personal
locomotives.  [-dtc]

Mark replies:

I thought in this context to air and to vent had much the same
meaning. Google defines "vent" as  "give free expression to".  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Buffalo Soldiers (letter of comment by Fred Lerner)

In response to Evelyn's comments on BUFFALO SOLDIER in the 02/22/19
issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Buffalo soldiers were African American troops stationed on the
western frontier after the Civil War.  The nickname allegedly comes
from a perceived resemblance of their kinky hair to that of the
bison.  Fort Davis National Historic Site in Texas preserves a
Buffalo Soldier post and tells the story of those who served there.

Evelyn responds:

I knew that.  My observation that the book never explained or used
the name, so far as I noticed, was because I suspected a lot of
readers would be unfamiliar with the term.  [-ecl]


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

THE MAYA by William Carlson (ISBN 978-0-06-240740-5) is the story
of two of the early archaeologists, who were best known for their
explorations of the Mayan ruins of Central America and Mexico,
though they began in Egypt and the Middle East.  Catherwood is the
lesser-known of the two, though his precise drawings were crucial
to the understanding of these sites.  Stephens did the writing, and
he also was quite thorough.  There had been earlier explorers, but
they often spent more of their time writing about the people or the
terrain, and only a paragraph or two about the actual ruins.  And
the explorers who did write about the ruins often let their
prejudices get in the way; they would claim, for example, that the
ruins looked Mediterranean and hence were built by the Phoenicians.
Jean-Frederic Waldeck, for example, drew the Pyramid of the
Magician at Uxmal to look very Egyptian, and put (non-existent)
elephants into the glyphs at Palenque.  Waldeck also drew very
Egyptian-looking statues that simply did not exist, and in fact
Waldeck had never visited the sites where he claimed to have seen

(Ironically, there are glyphs at Copan that actually do bear a
strong resemblance to elephants.  These have generated much
discussion, with one theory being that a small number of mammoths
might have survived in the Americas until relatively recent
(paleontologically speaking) times.)

The main problem with many of the other illustrators is that the
structures and carvings don't look at all Mediterranean, but until
people accepted that the earth (and its people) were older than
6000 years, they could not envision how a totally unknown race
could even exist.  Even after this, they resisted the notion that
the indigenous population could have constructed such elaborate
cities.  Stephens and Catherwood went a long way towards showing
that the ancient Mayan civilization covered a broad area and was
totally unrelated to any "Old World" civilizations.

Carlson covers a lot of historical detail that Stephens's writing
ignores, such as the odd circumstances that led Stephens to end up
in Panama to start with.  (He was sent as a diplomat after several
previous appointees had died, either in Panama, or before even
leaving the United States.)  Carlson also describes the great
difficulties Stephens and Catherwood faced, and in general provides
the background, but clearly the key works to read are Stephens and
Catherwood's four volumes on the Maya (INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN
OF TRAVEL IN YUCATAN in two volumes), as well as their INCIDENTS OF
CODE by Michael D. Coe is also well worth reading.  [-ecl]


                                           Mark Leeper

           My goal in life is to become as wonderful as my dog
           thinks I am.
                                           --Toby & Eileen Green