Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

01/24/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 30, Whole Number 2103

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      Mark Leeper's Top Ten Films of 2019 (film comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

      COLOR OUT OF SPACE (film review by Mark R. Leeper)

      POSEIDON'S WAKE by Alastair Reynolds (audio book review by Joe

      THE AMERICANS (letter of comment by Dale Skran)

Antarctica, Calgary Convention, and Old Time Radio

(letter of comment by Dale Speirs)

      Statistics and MOBY-DICK (letter of comment by John Purcell)

      This Week's Reading (LITTLE WOMEN) (book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Mark Leeper's Top Ten Films of 2019 (film comments by Mark

R. Leeper)

Well, it is time again to list my top ten films of the previous

year. I am sorry that my list comes out after so many others have

been published. Some reviewers announce their top ten lists in the

middle of December.   How they know that nothing better will come

out in the next two weeks, I have no idea.  As for me, I am lucky

if I have seen all the major films of the previous year by the end

of January.  I have decided not to include films that I have seen

over the year that have not yet been released in the United States.

Too many of my readers will have forgotten I rated some of these

highly by the time they finally do get released.  I believe that

the following in some order are what I think are the ten best 2019

films I saw.

1) JOJO RABBIT: Near the end of WWII a ten-year-old German boy who

idolizes the German military finds he has to make some hard

choices. While the film usually has high spirits, there are times

when the viewer will not find the story a happy one.  But this film

is unusually creative.

Director: Taika Waititi

Writer: Taika Waititi

2) THE AERONAUTS: With a little flair borrowed from Jules Verne, we

get a story of two mid-19th century explorers who attempt to travel

by balloon higher above the Earth than any humans had ever been to

that point. The two leads from THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, actors

Felicity Jones and Eddy Redmayne, are reunited in a piece of proto-

science fiction. Of their two characters one is serious and in the

process of inventing what will be the new science of meteorology.

The other is a daredevil adventurer for whom the record-breaking

flight is little more than a publicity gag. Ms Jones is an exciting

woman taking a bite out of life and in return it may well take a

bite out of her.

Director: Tom Harper

Writer: Jack Thorne

3) THE REPORT: This film has a three-word title that requires

special equipment to print.  It is THE XXXXXXX REPORT.  But the

middle word has been redacted.  It is so secret you cannot know the

name of its author.  The subject of the report is the notes on an

investigation as to whether the United States has used torture

among its special interrogation techniques.   This is one of those

films that shine a light on what our country does not want our

people to know.

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

4) DARK WATERS: This film starts with one farmer's observation that

his cattle are dying.  There is a conspiracy by in this case DuPont

Chemical where there the environment is being poisoned and it is

very hard to stop because big money stands in the way.  This film,

a true story, has special interest since the main character

actually works for the corporation committing the crime.  This is

every bit as scary a horror story as anything that Hammer Films

ever made.

Director: Todd Haynes

Writers: Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan

5) HARRIET: It has been years since I heard about Harriet Tubman

and I guess I had always assumed that Harriet Tubman was remembered

because she was a cogent advocate for abolition of slavery.  This

film shows her being a sort of action hero risking her life e to

save hundreds of people from slavery.

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Writers: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons, Gregory Allen Howard,

and Tom Harper

6) WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY: This is a documentary about brave

people.  In the Warsaw Ghetto almost a half million Jews are

interned.  Weapons for defense are available only for a high price

in lives and blood.  The only weapon that could be afforded is

documentation of the hell they face on a daily basis.  They have to

write their own histories and accounts of what they have

experienced or personally seen.  If the Germans find their accounts

they would most likely be instantly murdered.

Director: Roberta Grossman

Writer: Roberta Grossman

7) KNIVES OUT: This is a case of a film company wishing they had a

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS sort of story.  It is an ensemble

piece of a group of people at a country house and one of them is

murdered.  Daniel Craig with a funny voice is the detective, though

he denies he is solving the crime even when the audience expects it

of him.  The film's biggest flaw is that it is so typical of its


Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

8) SOBIBOR: The question is frequently posed as to why the Jews did

not fight back and resist their own murders.  There were, in fact,

600 internees who attempted an escape and of that number about half

escaped into the surrounding countryside.  This docudrama tells the

story of how the escape was planned and executed.

Director: Konstantin Khabensky

Writers: Konstantin Khabensky, Aleksandr Adabashyan, Anna

Tchernakova, Andrei Nazarov, and Ilya Vasiliev

9) THE SPY BEHIND HOME PLATE: This is a biography of Moe Berg an

American League catcher and a coach.  He travelled internationally.

He was a polymath with an extremely broad base of knowledge in many

languages.  This prepared for a second simultaneous career as an

agent for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), during World War

II.  His task was to discuss with European physicists the

likelihood of Germany developing a nuclear bomb.

Director: Aviva Kempner

Writer: Aviva Kempner

10) MARRIAGE STORY: Noah Baumbach directs his own screenplay about

a marriage that is on the brink of destruction.  The film stars

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, both seeming to be ubiquitous

on the wide screen this year.  The film in fact seems strongly

reminiscent of KRAMER VS. KRAMER has in its view of the destruction

that a divorce brings to members of a family.  In the first minutes

of the film one feels these two people should really be together.

Then the subject of the film is how they hoveringly tear at each

other.  Everything really comes to a boil when the lawyers get

involved. That brings forth a heavy dose of mixed emotion and turns

their lives into a battleground.

Director: Noah Baumbach

Screenplay: Noah Baumbach

That seems like a downbeat selection of films.  If that bothers

you, try THE AERONAUTS.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: POSEIDON'S WAKE by Alastair Reynolds (copyright 2016, Ace,

copyright 2016, Recorded Books, 492pp. e-book, 27 hours 4 minutes

audiobook, ASIN (e-book): B00X5937LW, ASIN (audio book):

B0163BDK42, narrated by Adjoa Andoh) (audio book review by Joe


POSEIDON'S WAKE completes Alastair Reynolds' "Poseidon's Children"

trilogy, begun with BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH (2012) and continued with


can be read as a standalone.  While there are only a couple of

characters that have made it from the previous book to this one, it

is definitely a continuation of the story started in the first book

of the series.  However, enough time has passed in the story that

it's not really necessary to have read the first two book; there is

enough "what has gone before" woven into the narrative in an

unobtrusive way that the reader will not be lost without having

read the first two books.

The story kicks off on the planet Crucible, where a simple message

is received from deep space: "Send Ndege".  Ndege is a member of

the wealthy, powerful, and famous Akinya clan.  She has been placed

under what amounts to be permanent house arrest on Crucible for her

part in an accident that killed over 400,000 people.  While the

feeling within the Akinyas is that Ndege has done enough to redeem

herself that she would be allowed to go, she is deemed too old to

travel into space on this mission. Her daughter Goma joins the

mission to Gliese 163 on board the ship Travertine to determine who

sent the message and why.

Alastair Reynolds really has become a modern master of space opera

and hard science fiction.  His depictions of the universe and the

people within it invoke memories of previous generations of science

fiction writers, but with the modern sensibilities of the current

state of the field.  His stories are of immense scope and wonder.

POSEIDON'S WAKE is no different in this respect.

The story follows the crew of the Travertine eventually to the

Poseidon system, where a great and powerful civilization of old has

placed evidence of a dark secret upon the water world of Poseidon

itself, which can only be reached by non-mechanical creatures that

the civilization, known as the M-builders, allow to reach the

surface.  The secret leaves those who encounter it in deep despair.

As much as I am a sucker for all things grand and cosmic, I feel

that POSEIDON'S WAKE misses the mark in a lot of ways.  The secret

is never followed up on, and this is one thing that would draw me

further into the book.  The elephants are here, as they have been

since the beginning of the trilogy, but other than providing a

mechanism for Reynolds to revisit this universe in a future book, I

really don't see the point (and I know I could have missed the

point entirely) of them.  There is a large number of interesting

things that are introduced, played around with a bit, and put

aside, never to be resolved. And maybe that's the point; to set

things up for more books in this universe in the future.  However,

this volume doesn't really resolve anything, and it doesn't seem

like much is accomplished.  While the book is not empty by any

means, it's not full enough of stuff to justify its length.

Adjoa Andoh continues to be a terrific narrator here.  Once again,

her reading never took me out of the story, and her ability to

change voices between all the various characters that are present

in a particular scene made it easier for me to keep track of which

characters are saying what - and there are a lot of them.  It's so

much easier when a listener can keep track of characters during a

long and complex novel, and Andoh is adept at it.

However, for me, POSEIDON'S WAKE misses the mark.  It's not a bad

book, it's not a good book.  It's just a book.  [-jak]


TOPIC: THE AMERICANS (letter of comment by Dale Skran)

In response to Taras Wolansky's comments on Dale Skran's review of

THE AMERICANS in the 01/17/20 issue of the MT VOID, Dale writes:

Taras says, "Reading Dale Skran's review of THE AMERICANS, it

occurred to me that what probably would have happened to such a spy

family is that they would have been turned in by a defector, if

they didn't defect themselves.  The first thing a Soviet spy

learned on entering the United States was that everything he had

been told about the United States was a lie, and that everything

was better in the United States than in the Soviet Union.  Whereas

in the 1940s the Rosenberg spy ring could steal every military

secret the United States had, by the 1980s the Soviets were falling

hopelessly behind in military technology:  strong evidence that

their spy apparatus in the U.S. was failing."  [-tw]

One of the strengths of the Americans is how honestly it deals with

these issues.  In the very first episode Phillip proposes to

Elizabeth that they defect.  Phillip is very aware of the

superiority of America, and eventually takes up western style

dancing and EST to calm his nerves.  Phillip is able to continue to

work as an agent via an ability to dis-associate two parts of his

personality: a psychopathic killer who works for the KGB, and a

regular American dad who runs a travel agency.  He is fully both of

these people, just not at the same time.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, holds tightly to a long gone Soviet

Union of suffering and heroism that she is defending.  The story

she lives by is true--Russians suffered terribly in WWII, and

fought heroically.  It can be argued that the Russians should get

far more credit than Americans usually give them for defeating the

Nazis.  Elizabeth constantly sees very real American self-deception

and weakness.

Like many foreigners, she sees Americans as decadent, not fully

grasping little details like the fact that the most destructive war

America has been involved in was our Civil War, and that was

Americans fighting Americas in America.  Freedom to pursue life,

liberty, and happiness can often operate like decadence until

Americans are pushed.  And then it is found that Americans do not

take well to being pushed.  Just ask Bin Laden how that worked out.

As a practical matter, the identities of sleepers would be among

the most top secrets in Russia, so it is not likely that any

defectors would know enough to be able to give up Philip and


The difference between the KGB pre-1970 or so and afterwards, is

that for much of the 20th century there were large numbers of

"useful idiots"--intellectuals with top secret clearances highly

placed in US weapons projects that steadily fed the Soviets

American secrets.  As time went on, and news of what the Soviet

Union was really like leaked out, the supply of "useful idiots"

diminished, and the KGB was less effective at stealing technology.

The Soviet spy apparatus did not collapse until the fall of the

Soviet Union with the result that when Russia sent sleeper agents

they were rank amateurs that the FBI caught with ease.  [-dls]


TOPIC: Antarctica, Calgary Convention, and Old Time Radio (letter

of comment by Dale Speirs)

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD

in the 01/17/20 issue of the MT VOID, Dale Speirs (from Calgary)


The latest issue with its discussion of Antarctic exploration was

apropos to this Cowtowner.  We have just completed a week of -30C

weather, but a chinook is scheduled to arrive January 19 and bring

the temperature up to zero.

There are those who go on modern Antarctica treks.  I suggest they

could get the same effect by walking from Winnipeg to Calgary along

the Trans-Canada Highway (about 1,500 km) in January.  In that

direction specifically, so they will be facing into the prevailing

winds as they trudge across the treeless prairies.

Permit me to get in a plug for Calgary's annual readercon, When

Words Collide coming this August.  It may seem a while away but the

convention always sells out by June, as do the hotel room bookings.

Membership is limited to 750 plus about 250 volunteers and guests,

so it has the feel of a village.  Details from


THE MT VOID mentions old movies a fair bit.  May I also recommend

old-time radio shows, available by the thousands as free mp3s from *.  Better than
paying for audiobooks if

you want something to listen to on your commute.

Comedy, mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and variety shows from

the 1930s to middle 1950s abound.  For SF, consider DIMENSION X and

X MINUS ONE.  Lots of weird fiction in series such as QUIET PLEASE,


few.  [-ds]


TOPIC: Statistics and MOBY-DICK (letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on mathematics in the 01/17/20 issue

of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

Good morning, Mark and Evelyn.  I trust you are well and enjoying

yourselves.  There are a couple quick comments your latest VOID

brings to mind, so let's get this over with.

First up, I am not very mathematically inclined; I can handle it up

to simple algebraic equations, but things like calculus,

trigonometry, and other esoteric computational methods are way over

my head.  So when I started working on my Masters Degree, the

thought of successfully completing Statistics very nearly threw me

into shock.  I was worried sick that I couldn't handle it.

Fortunately, the SPSS software I purchased (a requirement for the

degree that wasn't too much of a financial hit) helped immensely,

so imagine my relief when I actually passed that Stats class with a

C+; that was the only course in my entire MA program with a grade

lower than a B.  Same thing for my doctoral coursework in

Educational Psychology.  In fact, it took me three tries to

successfully pass Behavioral Statistics: the first time I withdrew

after two weeks, the second time I did a Q-Drop halfway through

because I was failing the course, then the third time I took it as

an online course during summer session.  Being the only course I

was taking and setting my own pace was probably the smartest thing

I have ever done.  Needless to say, I did pass--this time with a

rousing B-minus!  Any lower I'd have to retake that Behavioral

Statistics class--which, by the way, abbreviates to BS.  Rather

appropriate, don't you think?

The funny thing about taking statistics is that I actually found

the process of doing regression analyses and working with standard

deviations, scatter plots, and other statistical evaluation methods

quite interesting.  Having the computer do all the hard

computational work--it's in the name of the beast, so let the

machine do all that work--really helped.  Plunk the numbers into

their proper locations in the equation you're using, push a key,

and voila! out pops the numerical answer.  Piece of cake.  It

turned out that I have no problem looking for patterns or

understanding principles of analysis.  But doing the computations

by hand ...  no.  Just.  No.

The latest movie in the STAR WARS saga doesn't really interest me

that much, except for maybe just going to see it--gawd-almighty, I

hope they don't make any more of these fershlugginer movies in this

SW milieu--so I can simply say, "Fine!  I have seen them all!"

It's kind of like that old television commercial where this guy is

internet surfing on his home computer, and the message pops up on

the screen, "You have reached the end of the Internet."  All he can

do is stare blankly at the screen and mouth a silent "whoa!"

That's how I feel about the "Star Wars" movies.  When will they

end?  Why can't Hollywood just get to the end of it all and leave

it alone?  Enough is enough.

In response to John Hertz's comments on MOBY-DICK in the 01/17/20

issue, John writes:

I love the book MOBY DICK (color me a devout Herman Melville fan)

and the original movie version starring Gregory Peck.  The language

of that novel never fails to amaze me, and the details Melville

incorporates are, in my mind, the best part.  It is one of the

greatest American novels ever written, if not the greatest.  I know

some people will argue about that final comment of mine, but there

is no question that MOBY DICK is an astonishing literary

achievement.  I adore that book.  I also think "Bartleby, the

Scrivener" is one of the spookiest stories I have ever read.  A

great story.  It is sadly unbelievable that Melville died penniless

and unknown.  Thank the literary gods his work was rediscovered.

Well, that should do it for this letter.  Once again I thank the

two of you for continually publishing MT VOID.  I don't write to

you folks often enough, but this weekly fix is something I always

look forward to reading.  Thank you for your devotion to the cause,

and take care.  [-jp]

Mark responds:

Well, I am okay but below prime thanks to Parkinson's.  That is

playing hell with my mathematical reasoning.  Prior to the attack I

was better.  No, I don't think Statistics is BS, but you have to

study it.

I also was a big fan of "Star Wars" for a while but I have no

ambition to see the new film.  I will wait for it to come up on

Netflix.  [-mrl]


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

Having just seen the new movie of LITTLE WOMEN I figured I should

probably finally read the book (which was a favorite of my mother's

when she was young).

One thing I noticed was that while everyone rags on Jules Verne for

his Moebius-like chronology of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and THE

MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, no one seems to call Alcott out for her errors.

The book clearly starts *during* the Civil War ("You know the

reason Mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was

because it is going to be a hard winter for everyone; and she

thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are

suffering so in the army"), so it is December 1861 at the earliest.

[The timeline I cite below says it must be December 1862.]  So

later, when Amy writes, "To this will and testiment [sic] I set my

hand and seal on this 20th day of Nov.  Anni Domino 1861," she

clearly has the year wrong.

There are few external events mentioned to pin down the date.  At

one point Alcott writes, "The three years that have passed have

brought but few changes to the quiet family.  The war is over, and

Mr. March safely at home."  If this is three years from the year

that March returned on Christmas Day, then it must be 1866 at the


In the film, Jo was the oldest.  The book starts with Meg at

sixteen, Jo at fifteen, Beth at thirteen, and Amy's age not given,

but younger still.

In the film, Jo has some traits considered masculine, but this is

actually more subtle than in the book.  Alcott writes, "Jo wanted

to lay her head down on that motherly bosom, and cry her

grief and anger all away, but tears were an unmanly weakness,"

When her father returns after a year, he says, "I don't see the

'son Jo' whom I left a year ago."  But even after this, "Jo felt

quite in her own element, and found it very difficult to refrain

from imitating the gentlemanly attitudes, phrases, and feats, which

seemed more natural to her than the decorums prescribed for young


Today this would all seem natural, given that both men and women

wear pants, walk with their hands in their pockets, and in general

act much more similar than they did in Alcott's day.

It would not be surprising if people reading all this read Jo as a

lesbian, or with lesbian leanings.  This might be re-inforced by

Jo's interest in "love of all kinds": "Mothers are the best lovers

in the world, but I don't mind whispering to Marmee [her mother]

that I'd like to try all kinds.  It's very curious, but the more I

try to satisfy myself with all sorts of natural affections, the

more I seem to want.  I'd no idea hearts could take in so many."

SPOILER (can one spoil a book that is 150 years old?)

But pretty clearly this is not the case, as the rest of the novel

(and series) shows.


The contrast is sharp between Jo's freedom and the constraints

indicated by "Meg's high-heeled slippers were very tight and hurt

her, though she would not own it, and Jo's nineteen hairpins all

seemed stuck straight into her head, which was not exactly

comfortable, but, dear me, let us be elegant or die."

Apparently authors were not treated very well by publishers back

then: "And when I went to get my answer, the man said he liked them

both, but didn't pay beginners, only let them print in his paper,

and noticed the stories.  It was good practice, he said, and when

the beginners improved, anyone would pay."  Alas, this still goes


People also aged faster.  "Amy is with truth considered 'the flower

of the family', for at sixteen she has the air and bearing of a

full-grown woman."  On the other hand, Jo thinks, "Almost twenty-

five, and nothing to show for it, and "At twenty-five, girls begin

to talk about being old maids, but secretly resolve that they never

will be.  At thirty they say nothing about it, but quietly accept

the fact, and if sensible, console themselves by remembering that

they have twenty more useful, happy years, in which they may be

learning to grow old gracefully."  In other words, the best they

can hope for is a life expectancy of about fifty.  (And Beth--

SPOILER--dies at nineteen.)

The book has no villains, and everyone is so concerned about doing

good and helping people, especially the poor.  But their help is

sometimes a bit patronizing.  The Hummels are a poor family who

live nearby.  Alcott writes of Jo's cooking efforts, "While the

cooking mania lasted she went through Mrs. Cornelius's Receipt Book

as if it were a mathematical exercise, working out the problems

with patience and care.  Sometimes her family were invited in to

help eat up a too bounteous feast of successes, or Lotty would be

privately dispatched with a batch of failures, which were to be

concealed from all eyes in the convenient stomachs of the little

Hummels."  Somehow sending all one's cooking failures to the poor

and considering it charity seems mean.

Another difference between the book and the film is that in the

book Jo says, "I'm glad Amy has learned to love him.  But you are

right in one thing.  I am lonely, and perhaps if Teddy had tried

again, I might have said 'Yes', not because I love him any more,

but because I care more to be loved than when he went away."  In

the film, she has not come to this conclusion when Teddy returns,

she doesn't discover that he and Amy are married until they return,

and it takes her a while after that to get over it.

"Haughty English, lively French, sober Germans, handsome Spaniards,

ugly Russians, meek Jews, free-and-easy Americans, all drive, sit,

or saunter here."  One rarely sees Jews stereotyped as meek.

"Demi learned his letters with his grandfather, who invented a new

mode of teaching the alphabet by forming letters with his arms and

legs, thus uniting gymnastics for head and heels."  And you thought

this was invented by the Village People.

The movie is also made with modern sensibilities.  In the book, Jo

says, "Boys.  I want to open a school for little lads--a good,

happy, homelike school, with me to take care of them and Fritz to

teach them."  In the film, she wants to starts a school for girls,

but then says she will take boys also.

In the book, Alcott also says, "There were slow boys and bashful

boys, feeble boys and riotous boys, boys that lisped and boys that

stuttered, one or two lame ones, and a merry little quadroon, who

could not be taken in elsewhere, but who was welcome to the 'Bhaer-

garten', though some people predicted that his admission would ruin

the school."  In the movie, the dances and parties we see African-

Americans mixing with whites (although not actually dancing with

them), so in the movie version it seems unlikely the school would

be an issue.

[There is a suggested timeline for LITTLE WOMEN and its sequels at




                     Mark Leeper

* *

          Dr Donne's verses are like the peace of God; they pass

          all understanding.

                                          --James I