Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

05/22/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 47, Whole Number 2120

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Comments of a Teetotaler (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

THE LIGHT BRIGADE by Kameron Hurley (book review

by Joe Karpierz)

Horror Films (letter of comment by John Sloan)

Cattle (letter of comment by John Purcell)

This Week's Reading (Retro Hugo Award short story and

novelette finalists) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Comments of a Teetotaler (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Let's talk about what has gone wrong with the American Dream.

First of all, what is the American Dream?  Anyone out there know?

Yes, you there with your hand up.  Yes.  Very good.  You all hear

that? He said, "free booze."  But why is free booze the American

Dream?  Well, as we all know, drinking feels good.  That is sort of

a nasty trick that evolution played on us.  That good feeling is

the death of brain cells.  Back when we were evolving, when if you

lost a foot you might not be able to run from a mastodon, we

developed pain for those occasions to warn us not to lose feet.

However, until alcohol it was tough to kill brain cells for fun, so

we did not develop pain sensors around them.  (Uh, well, you could

but it was with a club and that *did* hurt.)  If it had worked out

differently so that it hurt to kill brain cells and felt good to

knock out teeth, no doubt a lot of people would be on liquid diets.

Non-alcoholic liquid diets.

Now I know what you are saying to yourself.  For the vast majority

of us there is a big difference between teeth and brain cells.

True.  One of these differences is that science knows how to

replace a tooth.  Just how would you go about replacing a brain

cell?  Unlike diamonds, the loss of a brain cell *really* is

forever.  Of course, a lot of brain cells never do get used, some

of my drinking friends tell me.  What better use for them than to

have some fun Friday night lining them up on Brain Cell Death Row

and dowsing them in alcohol?

And speaking of traffic, I have always loved those statistical

tables that tell you that if you have had N drinks in M hours ago

you are legally "driving under the influence of alcohol."  Do you

mean to say that if last week you killed off a bunch of brain

cells--ones that were all ready to help you drive but which died in

alcohol in the meantime--do you mean that isn't "under the

influence"?  And do you think the alcohol in one glass of wine is

not an "influence" to be under?

Well, you know how these laws get enacted, don't you?  Your

lawmakers decide what behaviors they want to discourage and call

them crimes.  I'd never do that!  That must be a felony.  Now

driving under the influence of alcohol?  Well, I do like to have a

little pick-me-up before dinner.  And a glass of wine with dinner.

And just once in a while a dessert liqueur.  Hey, they might catch

*me* on this one.  It must be a misdemeanor."  You think you're

gonna get laws against drunk driving?  You're going to get wrist-

slaps until drunk drivers start aiming for legislators.  If a

legislator thinks he might be caught drinking and driving, then

that will made a misdemeanor.  But if you really wand to curb drunk

driving, just have a patrol car sit in the parking lot of a bar at

closing time.  I bet that would still work even during the lockdown

So you get people trying to do something about the problem

themselves.  You get MADD.  That's Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.

Why did they have to pick that name?  Sure, it gives you a cute

acronym, but do you really think that some drunk driver is going to

say to himself, "Now I've done it.  I've got somebody's *mother*

angry at me."  Yeah, good luck.  I don't care who founded it, if

they want to be effective they should make it something like

"Handgun Owners Against Drunk Drivers."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: THE LIGHT BRIGADE by Kameron Hurley (copyright 2019, Saga

Press, $16.99, trade paperback, 356pp, ISBN 978-1-4814-4797-3)

(book review by Joe Karpierz)

I struggled to begin writing this review of Kameron Hurley's THE

LIGHT BRIGADE because, quite frankly, there are too many place that

I *can* begin.  On the surface, THE LIGHT BRIGADE is a military SF

novel with one twist that is almost lost in the rest of Hurley's

magnificent story telling, and that is the way it gets around the

problem slow interplanetary travel: travelers are broken down into

particles of light and sent to their destination.  Think Star

Trek's transporters but for vast distances, in this case between

the Earth and Mars.  The more I thought about it, the more I

realized that not only is this really the single sfnal idea in the

book--and yes, there are the usual trappings of military sf here,

but to be honest, we're probably not all that far away from the

technologies that are used in this war--but the whole story turns

on that single idea, in a way that is so mind-bendingly brilliant

that I believe it's going to last with readers for years to come.

The plot idea starts out as something we've seen a hundred times

before in science fiction.  The young protagonist joins the fight

against the enemies of Earth because those enemies destroyed that

person's home.  In this case, it's Sao Paolo, and the enemy is from

Mars, with the twist that those Martians are humans.  The event is

called "the blink", and it ended the lives of over two million

people.  Our protagonist, Dietz, joins the army to exact revenge

upon the Martians.  Dietz and her various squads--and a point of

reference here is that we don't find out until the near the end

that Dietz is female (hold that thought)--are dropped on Mars via

the previously mentioned new process, except that Dietz'

experiences on those drops don't match up with what the rest of her

squads experienced.  It turns out that Dietz is a member of The

Light Brigade, a group that  experiences the war in a time-slipped,

out-of-order fashion.  The more drops she goes on, the more she

pieces together the truth of the situation, and she realizes that

the information the world has been fed about the war is a lie.

It should be pointed out that there are no longer nations the way

we know them today.  The world is run by supermassive corporations

that run every aspect of a person's life, and they perform all the

functions of a corporation as we know them today as well as those

of a government.  A person is either a citizen, a resident, or a

ghoul, with ghouls being on the low rung of society.  One can work

their way up the chain, or get born into a certain class.  One can

also get sent down the chain.  Some see the army as a way out, a

way to make a mark for themselves, and it doesn't really matter

what class a person belongs to. The point is, of course, that

corporations will do what corporations do, only on a grander scale.

The writing style and story telling are magnificent.  The reader

experiences Dietz' confusion and sometimes humiliation as she comes

back from a particular drop not having experienced the same things

her squad mates experienced, nor knowing things her squad mates

know, at the same time, without any explanation.  The reader

discovers what's going on the same time that Dietz does, and while

it can be a bit disorienting--as when all of a sudden there is a

virus that is killing people which results in a quarantine

situation (and even though this book was published last year you

have to ask yourself if Hurley knew something we didn't) and you as

a reader shake your head, wondering "where did THAT come from?"--

and then you slowly realize this is another one of those things

that we're learning about right along with Dietz.

We all know that war is hell, but when we as readers find out

what's really going on in THE LIGHT BRIGADE, we realize just how

disturbing things can really get, and how bad humanity can really

be.  It's military SF in the grand tradition of Heinlein's STARSHIP

TROOPERS or Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR.  Back to an earlier point,

sure, Dietz is female, but I think the point that Hurley is trying

to make is that war touches everyone, and everyone can participate.

Every one is affected by war, no matter who you are, and everyone

can participate.  It's irrelevant that Dietz is female.  What's

relevant is that Dietz is human, and can be and is affected by

events around her; why shouldn't she be able to fight in this war?

THE LIGHT BRIGADE is well written, entertaining, and thought

provoking.  It is magnificent.  [-jak]


TOPIC: Horror Films (letter of comment by John Sloan)

In response to Mark's comments on the horror film in the 05/01/20

issue of the MT VOID, John Sloan writes:

I remember as a kid--maybe I was ten years old, for sure it was

over fifty years ago--watching THE HAUNTING, Robert Wise's

adaptation of the Shirley Jackson novel, on television.  It freaked

me out.  It took days before I could get back to my normal sleeping


Decades later I was traveling on business towards the end of

October.  I returned alone to my hotel room, took off my sport

coat, and turned on the television for background noise.  The first

image it displayed was the opening credits for that 1963 film.  I

immediately turned the TV off.  And I slept with the bathroom light

on that night.  No joke.

Another few decades later, I read Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting

of Hill House", partly out of curiosity, partly out of a desire to

short circuit whatever pathways had been established in my brain so

long ago.  And I bought a copy of the DVD and watched it with my

spousal unit and some friends.  Now, I find I take a more studied,

intellectual view of the film, instead of responding to it purely

emotionally.  But it still holds up.  [-jsl]

Mark responds:

It sure does hold up, doesn't it?  I am not frightened but it is an

effective horror film.  Can you believe it was directed by the

great Robert Wise who in two years would direct THE SOUND OF MUSIC?



TOPIC: Cattle (letter of comment by John Purcell)

In response to Mark's comments on cattle in the 05/15/20 issue of

the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:

I'm sitting in the car outside the dentist's office where my wife

is having a one-week post-op checkup after the oral surgery she

endured last Tuesday afternoon, and I can't think of a better time

to write a letter of comment. Social distancing at work and play in


As an avowed omnivore, I found your little parable about cattle

riding this carnival ride called Life interesting, but feel it

ignores an important caveat.  Yes, cattle are bred for market, but

not all of them are consumed. In fact, not all bovines are bred for

meat.  Dairy cows, for example, provide milk, which is nutritious,

yet there are many people who are lactose-intolerant.  My son is

one of those.  The random factor of life is at play here: some may

live, some may die, some may be destined to another path.  In this

world things happen for various reasons, so we must learn to adapt

in order to survive.  The best way to deal with life is make

choices that match our needs.  In terms of beef, for example, as

much as I enjoy a good burger or a steak, I have made the decision

to eat less beef: nothing wrong with poultry, seafood, vegetables,

and fruits in my book.  These are all good.  The key here is

maintaining a balanced diet; on a broader scale, the key is to

maintain a balanced life.

Honestly, I find some vegans quite radical. "Stop eating all meat

products!," they screech.  Personally, I do my best to avoid

factory farm meat products.  The more humanely raised animals tend

to be more healthy for consumption anyway, so there is that to


As for your starting point, cows/cattle/bulls are reasonable

beasties, and I think they're beautiful, too.  This reminds me of a

bumper sticker I saw on a car in Iowa over 20 years ago: "I love

animals.  They're delicious."  [-jp]


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

This week I'll cover the finalists for the Retro Hugo Awards for

Best Novelette and for Best Short Story.

The Best Novelette category was a clean sweep for "Astounding".

"The Big and the Little" ("The Merchant Traders"), Isaac Asimov:

Whether this actually stands on its own is questionable, but the

readers of the time would have read all the preceding stories.  The

real problem is that the climax of the courtroom scene relies on a

stroke of luck.  The parallels to the Roman Empire are fairly

obvious: the Commdor as "First Citizen", but an absolute monarch

ruling what is supposedly a republic.  As an aside, the priest in

this is named Jord Parma, and the priest in Carl Sagan's CONTACT is

Palmer Joss.  Coincidence?

"Arena", Fredric Brown: There have been other stories about war-by-

champions, but this is, I believe, the first.  (The best known is

probably the "Arena" episode on the original "Star Trek", which

credits Brown as the original story.)  It does seem a bit drawn out

at times, but still deserves credit as the origin of a theme.

"No Woman Born", C. L. Moore: I found this story of a human brain

housed in a mechanical body quite good (although with what seemed

to me an over-emphasis on beauty) right up to the end, when it took

a sharp left turn into "super powers" territory.  It made no sense

to me and diminished the story.

"The Children's Hour", Lawrence O'Donnell (C. L. Moore & Henry

Kuttner): This is about implanting a human brain in an artificial

body, but the side effects see totally unlikely.  On the other

hand, there seems to be so much emphasis on how Clarissa's beauty

affects everyone who sees her that I have to wonder if Moore and

Kuttner were trying to make a point about the emphasis placed on a

woman's appearance over her mental abilities, even if those are


"When the Bough Breaks", Lewis Padgett (C. L. Moore & Henry

Kuttner): This seems very similar to their previous story, "Mimsy

Were the Borogoves".  Both have precocious children being educated

by futuristic toys to have exceptional mental powers.  This is a

bit more downbeat, however, and one wonders if at some point

[SPOILER] Moore and Kuttner started thinking about the childhood of

someone like Hitler and whether getting rid of them early might not

be a good idea.  Because this has those philosophical aspects (at

least as far as I can tell), it rates higher than many of the other


"City", Clifford D. Simak: This is the first of the stories that

eventually made up the fix-up novel CITY, and it suffers from a

very "First World" perspective.  Oh, sure, the people in it are

folksy farmers and all, but the idea that cities will disappear

because everyone can have a private plane and a ten-acre estate

could not have made sense even in 1944.  Certainly now, it makes

even less sense.  In 1940, the "urban area" of New York City had 13

million people, London had 12 million people, and Tokyo had 8

million people, and these were the largest cities in the world.

Today there are *twenty* cities larger than any of them.  Tokyo

alone has over 37 million people.  The majority of these cities are

in China and India and I doubt everyone there will be getting a

private plane soon.  And for the population of Tokyo to get a ten-

acre plot for each family, even assuming six people in a family

would require 100,000 square miles.  All of Japan is only 150,000

square miles.  It's all a bit too nostalgic for the good old days

of individual farmers and all for me.

Ranking: "When the Bough Breaks", "Arena", "The Big and the

Little", no award, "The Children's Hour", "No Woman Born", "City"

And here are the finalists for Best Short Story:

"The Wedge" ("The Traders"), Isaac Asimov: This became the third

section of the fix-up novel that was the first of the "Foundation"

trilogy, FOUNDATION.  It really is a minor episode that has not

much plot and does little to advance the overall story.  Indeed,

when the Canadian Broadcasting Company did a six-hour radio drama

of the trilogy, they omitted this episode entirely.  Nor does it

stand on its own.

"I, Rocket", Ray Bradbury: This is quite different in style than

all the other stories.  Though all appeared in the pulp magazines,

"I, Rocket" is far more poetic in style, with its eponymous

narrator describing what it feels like to be a rocket ship.  This

is not THE SHIP WHO SANG, which had a human rain operating a rocket

ship, but a truly non-human being.  As such, it stands out in this


"And the Gods Laughed", Fredric Brown: [SEMI-SPOILER] There may

have been a time when the ending of this was not obvious, but this

is not that time.  Still, voters at the time probably would have

thought this very clever.

"Desertion", Clifford D. Simak: This is the fourth story in CITY.

(The third, "Census", did not make the ballot.)  I will not be the

first person to point out the similarity of Poul Anderson's 1957

novelette "Call Me Joe" to this story.  Both involve putting people

into bodies designed to survive on Jupiter: Simak's story modifies

the actual body (a la THIS ISLAND EARTH) while Anderson's

transplants the mind into a new body engineered for Jupiter.  The

description of Jupiter is poetic, even if totally outdated.

"Huddling Place", Clifford D. Simak: This is the second story in

CITY, and is basically just an idea from "The Machine Stops" (which

was later also used by Isaac Asimov in 1953 in THE CAVES OF STEEL).

The premise is that as people have more ability to see everywhere

and communicate with everyone from their homes, they will become

less willing to actually *go* anywhere.  They will all develop

agoraphobia (apparently enabled in part by their robots, who

support them in their decisions).  In these days of "stay-at-home"

and social distancing, this story has a certain poignancy and

relevance.  "City" may have a misplaced nostalgia for the old-

fashioned farm life, but this has a nostalgia for the days when

people could go outside their homes without having a panic attack.

That's a nostalgia we can all get behind. :-)

"Far Centaurus", A. E. van Vogt: The basic idea behind this story

is good (I won't spoil it here even though the story is seventy-

five years old), but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.  I

know it was a different time and all that, but the only female

character (other than someone's three ex-wives) is there only so

that the main character can keep remembering her red lips and

goodbye kiss.  Add to this bizarre (and frankly unbelievable)

science, with bizarre "scientific" terms (Adeledicnander?

Really?!), and an excess of exclamation points, and you get a real


Ranking: "I, Rocket", "Huddling Place", "Desertion", "And the Gods

Laughed", no award, "The Wedge", "Far Centaurus"



                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A particle gets pulled over.  Cop asks "Do you know how

          fast you were going?"  Particle says "Yeah, but now I'm