Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

05/01/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 44, Whole Number 2117

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Sign of Our Times

Thoughts on the Horror Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Recent Reviews (letter of comment by John Hertz)

As Long As the Hot Pockets Don't Run Out (letter of comment

by Taras Wolansky)

This Week's Reading (Hugo Award Short Story finalists)

(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Sign of Our Times

Sign seen on a bookstore window:

"Please note: The post-apocalyptical fiction section has been moved

to Current Affairs."


TOPIC: Thoughts on the Horror Film (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I think most people think horror fiction, prose, cinema, etc., is

supposed to be frightening. I am afraid that if fear is the

appropriate reaction I am a near complete loss.  A television show

or a movie has not frightened me since I was about age ten.  The

last thing that I saw on TV that was actually frightening was "The

Hungry Glass," a story on "Thriller" that was based on a Robert

Bloch story.  A vain old woman living in an old cliff-side mansion

took to haunting the glass in the mansion.  This glass had

reflected her one-time beauty.  Now like a siren she tempts new

owners (including one played by William Shatner) to pass through

the glass to their death.  This was pretty scary stuff for a ten-

year-old, and it was the last time that I remember actually being

frightened by a television show.

There is an old saying in science fiction circles that the Age of

Wonder is twelve.  For me the age of horror was about eight to ten.

After age ten I was never really frightened by anything on the

theater screen or the television screen.  I can pretty much list

everything that frightened me up to that age:

--age 5: "Captain Midnight": "The Electrified Man"

--age 5: "Captain Midnight": land missile episode

--age 7: "Alfred Hitchcock": ghost story (girl reaches for sister

         and finds cold and clammy ghost, left bloody footprints)

--age 9: "One Step Beyond": "Reunion" (glider episode)

--age 9: "One Step Beyond": "Image of Death" (spot on the wall


--age 10: "Thriller": "The Hungry Glass"

I will make one exception and say that I was frightened by the

Peter Watkins pseudo-documentary made for the BBC called THE WAR

GAME.  With what was known about the effects of nuclear war in the

late 1960s Watkins tried to show what would happen if nuclear war

came to Britain.  It heavily influenced a later British TV movie,

THREADS, though THREADS lacked the dispassionate BBC narrator

explaining exactly what was going on.  "This is a firestorm.  At

its center temperatures reach 1000 degrees centigrade.  These

people are asphyxiating because the fire is pulling all oxygen to

the center of the storm," the narrator helpfully explains.  But

this is a different type of frightening from the type one sees in

"The Hungry Glass."  This is frightening because it is presenting a

truth that is frightening.  It is not the images themselves that

are frightening.  There probably is some scary stuff right now

about the COVID-19 virus, but I do not listen to the same channels.

I guess part of the problem is that television is not inherently

the most effective medium for horror.  Why not?  First of all,

there is too much distraction in the home.  It is really difficult

to avoid the urge to pick up a magazine or straighten the coffee

table while watching.  Even in a movie theater there are audience

distractions.  Someone is opening a snack cocooned in crackly

cellophane or someone else has his phone going off.  In addition,

horror depends on imagination to work.  In a visual medium you

borrow someone else's visual images.  So one would feel that the

written word is a better medium for horror than are purely visual


There is one important drawback of written horror.  The person

reading the story is really too much in control of the material

being transferred.  The reader is required to turn pages.  The

reader really controls the speed of the storytelling and has the

option to just stop reading.

So what are good media for horror?  The best electronic medium is

radio or maybe the audiobook.  Of course even then there are the

home distractions and the fact that the listener is in a familiar

environment. It is no coincidence that one of the most popular

radio horror  programs was called "Lights Out."  Actually there is

another medium that is even better for horror.  It is the probably

the very first medium of the horror story.  The best medium for

horror is the campfire tale.  The story told in near darkness

around a fire both gives the listener the full ability to use his

imagination and at the same time the listener gives up almost all

control of the pacing of the tale.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Recent Reviews (letter of comment by John Hertz)

In response to Evelyn's comments in various recent issues of

the MT VOID, John Hertz writes:

Recently it seems E only writes about what she thinks is wrong.

I think that's wrong.  [-jh]

Evelyn responds:

I *think* John means that he thinks I am writing only about what I

think is wrong, not that I am only writing about it (or that only I

am writing about it).  What can I say?  I write about what I've been

reading/listening to, and I've hit a stretch of stuff I haven't been

thrilled with.  It is not as though there is a stack of books I

loved but decided not to write about.  Maybe you'll like my comments

on THE DECAMERON better (even though I do complain about some of the

translation choices).  Alas, many of the Retro Hugo finalists do not

seem to have aged well (or maybe 1944 was a weak year).  [-ecl]


TOPIC: As Long As the Hot Pockets Don't Run Out (letter of comment

by Taras Wolansky)

Taras Wolansky writes:

"How Engineers Are Operating Deep-Space Probes, Martian Rovers, and

Satellites from Their Homes"

Driving the Curiosity rover from a living room

By Loren Grush@lorengrush Apr 20, 2020, 12:06pm EDT



P.S.:  As "social isolation" continues, am I the only one reminded

of Isaac Asimov's THE NAKED SUN?  [-tw]

Mark responds:

At least the spacecraft are setting a good example of Spacial

Distancing.  (Been too long since I read THE NAKED SUN.)  [-mrl]


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

I was able to find all the 2020 Short Story finalists for the Hugo

Award, so I will comment on them while I'm working my way through

the Retro Hugo finalists (and of course, THE DECAMERON).

"Do Not Look Back, My Lion", Alix E. Harrow (Beneath Ceaseless

Skies 1/31/19): This does a lot of hard-to-follow things with

gender.  The warriors are women, as are their husbands, husbands

being the ones who are "mannish" and stay at home.  (There are

apparently also men, who are also husbands.  This would seem to

result in a large imbalance.)   There are "daughters" and "near-

daughters" that I couldn't sort out, and eventually I gave up on

the whole thing as a warrior fantasy story that was not only not to

my tastes, but also impossible for me to follow.

"As the Last I May Know", S. L. Huang ( 10/23/19): The

introduction claims this is an alternate history--it isn't.  The

premise is that there is a super-weapon (basically an atomic bomb by

a different name) that can only be used if the President (Prime

Minister?) kills a child who has been chosen for that purpose.  It

is basically an elaboration on the argument that the enemy is not a

faceless abstraction, but made up of men and women and children.

Oddly, I could see this becoming a movie, but it doesn't quite work

on paper.

"And Now His Lordship Is Laughing", Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons

9/9/19): This is a fantasy/horror story centered around the "denial

of rice" policy of the British in Bengal during World War II.  As

frequently happens, the reality is far more horrific than anything

a writer could dream up, but in this case the fantasy is the

aftermath to the horror and the whole story is very effective.

"Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the Cannibal Women

of Ratnabar Island", Nibedita Sen (Nightmare 5/19): The title says

it all.  There is a lot going on here, addressing aspects of

colonialism, cultural relativism, the politics of oppression, and

so on.  This is the sort of meta-fiction that I like, so it is not

surprising that I rate this highly.

"Blood Is Another Word for Hunger", Rivers Solomon (

7/24/19): We have recently seen several stories centering around

African-American experiences under slavery and Jim Crow

segregation, including the award-winning "The Secret Lives of the

Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington" (by P. Djeli Clark) and

Victor Lavalle's "The Ballad of Black Tom".  This is of a different

style, with more religious overtones, but oddly uninvolving.

Still, this is a worthwhile finalist.

"A Catalog of Storms", Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19): Again, this is

not the sort of story that generally appeals to me, so while it may

have its virtues, I cannot rate it highly.

Ranking: "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the

Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island", "And Now His Lordship Is

Laughing", "Blood Is Another Word for Hunger", "As the Last I May

Know", no award, "Do Not Look Back, My Lion", "A Catalog of Storms"

Next week, probably Day 2 of THE DECAMERON, and then after that I

will start on the Retro Hugo finalists.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A barking dog is more useful than a sleeping lion.

                                          --Washington Irving