Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

06/05/20 -- Vol. 38, No. 49, Whole Number 2122

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, * *

Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Nebula Award Winners

Will Books Spoil Human Thought? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Marco Polo, Bats, and Retro-Hugos (letter of comment

by Taras Wolansky)

Scary Movies (comment by Guy Lillian)


(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Nebula Award Winners

Best Novel: A SONG FOR A NEW DAY by Sarah Pinsker

Best Novella: "This Is How You Lose the Time War" by Amal El-Mohtar

    and Max Gladstone

Best Novelette: "Carpe Glitter" by Cat Rambo

Best Short Story: "Give the Family My Love" by A. T. Greenblatt

Ray Bradbury Nebula Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation:

    GOOD OMENS: "Hard Times" written by Neil Gaiman

Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction:

    "Riverland" by Fran Wilde

Best Game Writing: The Outer Worlds by Leonard Boyarsky,

    Kate Dollarhyde, Paul Kirsch, Chris L'Etoile, Daniel McPhee,

    Carrie Patel, Nitai Poddar, Marc Soskin, and Megan Starks

Grand Master: Lois McMaster Bujold


TOPIC: Will Books Spoil Human Thought? (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

I think we have to take a look at how technology is spoiling our

very existence.  Technology and time seem to destroy all of the

great arts.  And I can tell you when it started to happen.  I think

it was the printing press that did us all in.  There was a time

when we could appreciate great works of art like the Iliad.

Nowadays who really listens to the Iliad any more?  Nobody.  And

I'll tell you why.  It's that damn printing press.

When the Iliad was first told, that was really something.  People

used to wait for weeks, looking forward to hearing it presented.

And what a show it was.  The poet would sing it and play the lyre.

You never got tired of it because it was different every time.

Different singers would tell it differently, stressing this aspect

or that.  You could really feel you were taking a voyage on that

wine-dark sea.  The story really lived for you.  Then what

happened? That German guy found a way to take a press and squash

this living thing onto a piece of paper like a bug.  Now anybody

can get it smashed onto paper and read it any time.  But what have

they got?  Is there lyre music to go along with the story?  No!

Can the teller read his audience and tailor the telling to the

audience?  NO!  Are there even any differences from one telling to

the repeat?  No way, Jose!

But it just takes one printing press to make hundreds, or thousands

of copies.  The power of big money just lets the presses roll.  And

there are always chuckleheads who are willing to shell out good

money for this printed abomination.  And they get what they

deserve, a lifeless thing on paper.

Look what books are doing to family values.  When the poet came to

retell the story of the Iliad, whole families got together to hear

it.  It was something the family could do together, to enjoy

together.  Now as soon as dinner is over you have the kids going

off to read some book by themselves.  You do not even know whThey

are in their own little world, cut off from everybody else.

Parents these days are lucky if they even remember what their

children look like.  And who knows what they are reading?  Who

knows what ideas are being put in their heads? Oh, we all know that

parents should monitor what books their children are reading, but

how many really do?  Let me tell you, some of the things written in

these books shouldn't be shown to a dog, much less an

impressionable child.

Now I want you to try a little experiment.  Take your favorite

book, if you have one.  Take a funny passage and cut out an "r".

Take a sad passage and cut out an "r".  Don't worry about damaging

the book.  You cannot damage so worthless a thing; you can only

make it harder to read.  Now mix up those two letters "r".  Which

was which? You can't tell can you?  Your book was printed with

movable type.  On the printing press it may even be the same piece

of metal that printed those two letters "r".  I can tell you if a

singer sang you the story he would not pronounce those two letters

exactly alike.  But the two letters were put on the paper by a dead

piece of metal.  Probably it was a piece of lead.  The stupid

senseless piece of metal does not know that one of these portions

is so sad and the other is joyously happy.  It just knows how to

stamp one letter "r" just like every other letter it has ever

stamped it its whole, long, senseless life.

And what about plays?  It is just such a small part of a play that

is what the actors say.  There are a hundred different ways to say

a line, but they all write the same way on paper.  Try saying

"Hello" as if to your lover.  Try saying "Hello" as if to your

worst enemy.  Try saying "Hello" as if to your boss.  They are

almost three different words.  I say almost because once they are

applied to paper they are all identical.  "Hello" is "Hello" is

"Hello."  That is how the printing press treats them.  But you and

I know they are almost entirely different.

The venerated Plato did not trust his great arguments to be put on

paper.  What if someone reading them had a question? What if they

wanted to counter argue?  They have not a chance.  Try arguing with

a piece of paper.  Try arguing with a book.  And these pitiful

readers think they are in contact with the great Plato by reading

these dead skins, these books.

And still these printing presses roll on and on and on.  As long as

there is money to be made promising to sell wisdom and instead

giving people these dead paper things.  And the people who profit

from them do not care a bit about how they are affecting the world.

It is all merely a question of profit.  The people who spend their

time not seeing the real world but engrossed in these lifeless

paper things, reading these books, they are almost degenerates.

They have lost their humanity and what a poor thing they are

selling out for!  I guess we have to get used to technology taking

everything of value from our lives, sucking it dry for profit, and

spitting it out in these lifeless things, this printed form.  The

genie is out of the bottle and there is no way to stop it now.  But

we don't have to like it.

"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the

body."  --Ecclesiastes 12:12



TOPIC: Marco Polo, Bats, and Retro-Hugos (letter of comment by

Taras Wolansky)

In response to various comments in the MT VOID, Taras Wolansky


After Coronavirus and, now, the murder hornet, I have but one thing

to say:  Curse you, Marco Polo!!!

Then a bat got into our house, we have no idea how.  We eventually

got it to fly out through an open door, without determining whether

it was a sinister virus bat sent by the insidious Doctor WuFlu


In a more serious vein, Wuhan, China is ground zero not just for

COVID-19, but also for an entirely different epidemic.  According

to ABC, it is the chief source of chemical precursors for the

manufacture of the illegal narcotic, fentanyl.

Whenever the Retro-Hugos come around, my first action is always to

peruse the relevant year of ISAAC ASIMOV'S GREAT SF STORIES; my

second, to check the SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME.  It's a way of

zeroing in on the generally accepted classics of that year.

Here's what I found, this time.

Best Novella:

"Killdozer" by Theodore Sturgeon (Great SF 1944)

Best Novelette:

"Arena" by Fredric Brown (Great SF 1944 & Hall of Fame)

"City" by Clifford D. Simak (Great SF 1944)

"No Woman Born" by C. L. Moore (Great SF 1944)

"When the Bough Breaks" by Lewis Padgett (Great SF 1944)

Best Short Story:

"Desertion" by Clifford D. Simak (Great SF 1944)

"Far Centaurus" by A. E. van Vogt  (Great SF 1944)

"Huddling Place" by Clifford D. Simak (Great SF 1944 & Hall of


I will probably grant first place in their categories to "Far

Centaurus" and "No Woman Born", in honor of their astonishing

originality--in the context of 1944, of course.  Interestingly,

these are the first and last stories, respectively, in the Asimov

best of 1944 collection.

Van Vogt, probably the most influential SF author of World War II

(when Heinlein and DeCamp and the youngster Asimov were doing war

research), I honor for recognizing that the future will be a place

strange to his readers.  In the stories collected as MISSION TO THE

STARS, for example, an intergalactic warship with a crew of thirty

thousand is commanded by a woman.  In "Far Centaurus", the brave

astronauts who embark on a five-century voyage in suspended

animation wake up to find their descendants regard them as uncouth

primitives who don't even use perfume like civilized men.

When I saw James Cameron's AVATAR (2009), Simak's "Desertion",

about humans abandoning Earth for a blissful life on Jupiter,

immediately came to mind.  Judging from Evelyn's description, I see

that Poul Anderson's thematically similar 1957 novelette, "Call Me

Joe", resembles the movie even more closely.

Speaking of James Cameron, John Purcell writes, "TITANIC was

dramatic enough that it did not need a gunfight."  Like the movie

SAN ANDREAS (2015), Cameron realized TITANIC needed a blue-collar

hero and a cowardly, upper-class villain.  In real life, during the

disaster, the rich people behaved well while the poor people

behaved badly--but who wants to see that.

Finally, Evelyn, I look forward to your continuing explorations of

the DECAMERON.  [-tw]

Evelyn responds:

The "Decameron" series of podcasts seemed to have petered out only

halfway through Day Two, but I will be continuing, at least for a

while.  I had paused, hoping they would resume, but it's been three

weeks, so I will journey on alone...  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Scary Movies (letter of comment by Guy Lillian)

In response to the MT VOID in general and Mark's comments on scary

movies in the 05/01/20 issue of the MT VOID in particular, Guy

Lillian writes in ZINE DUMP #49:

Every week a new issue appears in my inbox, another topic

investigated and propounded upon, well-turned and entertaining

every time.  Check out Vol, 38 No. 44 (whole number 2117)--listing

horror films or TV shows that frightened him at certain ages, Mark

mentions two I remember: "The Electrified Man" on CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT

and "Image of Death", the "face on the wall" episode of ONE STEP

BEYOND.  Both scared the bejasus out of me when I was a wee tot.

(Reminded that I switched off the former as a kid.  I looked it up

on YouTube and finished the show at last.)  I'd add "And When the

Sky was Opened", the classic TWILIGHT ZONE with Rod Taylor and Jim

Hutton, as another show that thoroughly freaked me out on first,

pre-adolescent viewing ("someone ... or some thing ... made a

mistake ...").  Poor Ms. Argo--babysitting for me--had to spend an

hour calming me down.  Anyway, good stuff each and every week,

deserving of far more recognition than it receives.  [-gl]


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

A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR by Daniel Defoe (ISBN 978-0-140-43785-

0) was written about 1665, but sounds so current.  I should start

by saying this is fiction, albeit heavily fact-based.  (In many

ways, it's one long info-dump.)  Pepys for reportage, Defoe for

fiction.  Defoe wrote this in response to a resurgence of the

Plague in Marseilles in 1720, because people had forgotten how bad

the Plague could be.  Defoe himself was born in 1660, and so was

only five at the time of the Great Plague, but did have some

memories of it, as well as using contemporary reports as a basis of

some of his novel.

Even from the very beginning, we see parallels.  Defoe talks about

the official deaths from the Plague, and then notes that what we

now call "excess deaths" were considerably higher, and that

probably most or all of those were attributable to the Plague.

He writes about streets being deserted, and even where there were

people in the streets, they were in walking in the center to avoid

being close to any of the houses.

Unemployment?  Servants by the thousands found themselves let go as

their masters closed up their town houses and fled to the country.

Only public charity saves any of them.

People looked for preventatives and cures and "even poisoned

themselves beforehand for fear of the poison of the infection..."

Theaters were closed, and serving food at taverns was forbidden.

(Taverns could stay open for drinking, but there was a curfew.)

People assaulted those in charge of making sure quarantine and

other rules were followed.  Those who could afford to do so stocked

up on food and drink and locked themselves within their homes.

People started doing other things as "social distancing".  "When

any one bought a joint of meat in the market they would not take it

off the butcher's hand, but took it off the hooks themselves.  On

the other hand, the butcher would not touch the money, but have it

put in a pot of vinegar, which he kept for that purpose.  The buyer

carried always small money to make up any odd sum, that they might

take no change..  They carried bottles of scents and perfumes in

their hands [their version of hand cleaner], but then the poor

could not do even these things, and they went at all hazards."  And

"My Lord Mayor had a low gallery built on purpose in his hall,

where he stood a little removed from the crowd when any complaint

came to be heard, that he might appear with as much safety as


Not just domestic servants were unemployed.  Defoe lists master-

workmen, dock workers, home builders and repairers, merchant

sailors, and so on.

As to the spread, Defoe (or rather, his narrator) makes clear that

it was often spread by those whom we would call "asymptomatic"--or

at least those who had not yet shown symptoms.  He also accepted

that material goods could spread the Plague.  What he did not seem

to know was the role that fleas played in the spread.

Unlike our current pandemic, the Plague in London seemed to sweep

across the city, starting with the western side.  By the time it

reached the eastern side, the west had mostly recovered, and Defoe

says this saved the town, because it meant there were always people

who could perform the essential tasks.  However, this has a

parallel in our notion of "flattening the curve": not overwhelming

the hospitals by having everyone sick at once.  Ours may not be

geographical in nature, but the concept is the same.

In short, one finds so much of contemporary relevance in A JOURNAL

OF THE PLAGUE YEAR that it is truly startling.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A Higgs boson walks into a church, and the priest says

          "I'm so glad you've come--we couldn't have mass without