Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

08/07/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 6, Whole Number 2131

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      Fear and Loathing (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

      DISPERSION by Greg Egan (book review by Joe Karpierz)

      DARK (television review by Dale Skran)

      Dog Expressions and Opera (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

      Hugo and Retro Hugo Awards Winners

      This Week's Reading (Hugo and Retro Hugo Award winners)

            (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Fear and Loathing (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Based on Mark Leeper's Journal, October 16, 1992 (with updates):

I have been talking to a friend about how so much of the world so

quick reacted over a virus.  One day (March 15--the Ides of March,

incidentally) only a very small of number of people had even heard

of Covid-19 and the next day just about everyone was terrified of

it.  That name was more terrifying than Godzilla.  And it was not

without some justification.  But I can get a little scared just by

having to pack a suitcase.  I should be fair to luggage.  A lot of

my discomfort is what I do to myself.  I am a sort of masochist I

guess.  I am one of those people who sucks on a sore tooth.

When I pack I have a checklist to be sure systematically that I

don't forget to bring something on a trip.  Then on the way to the

airport Evelyn will ask me something like, "Do you have your

toothpaste?" and inside I will panic.  Now it doesn't matter that I

know it was on my list and that I remember packing it; I still have

to double-check.  Evelyn knows I have never in my life forgotten my

toothpaste; I think she asks just to see me go into a panic frenzy

and see me dive through my luggage to double-check on the

toothpaste.  And it doesn't matter how absurd the question is--it

will panic me.  She could ask me, "Did you blow out the candles?"

and through the whole trip I will be white-knuckled just knowing

for sure we are going to come home to a house burned to the ground

and our precious collection of books will have all gone for tinder.

There will be nothing but ashes.  I just cannot sit down and

logically tell myself, "Look, Ponty, the last time you had a lit

candle in the house was on your birthday two-and-a-half years ago."

No, logic doesn't help the situation.  Is everyone like that?  If

the Pope is traveling someplace like the Dominican Republic, what

happens if you ask him, "Hey, Ponty, did you remember the notes

for your speech?"  Will he start yelling to land his jet so he can

tear apart his luggage or does he have the presence of mind to say

to himself, "Look, dummy, you can't have forgotten your notes.

You're infallible!  Remember?"

Lauren Bacall commented on her policy for fighting fear.  She said,

"You can't start worrying about what's going to happen.  You get

crazy enough worrying about what's happening."  [-mrl]


TOPIC: DISPERSION by Greg Egan (copyright 2020, Subterranean Press,

160pp, hardcover, ISBN-10: 1596069899, ISBN-13: 978-1596069893)

(book review by Joe Karpierz)

It would be an understatement to say that 2020 has been a year

unlike any other in our memory.  Readers have had, I think, three

reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic:  those that don't want to read

anything pandemic related, those that will read more pandemic

fiction now than they ever have in the past--maybe trying to get a

handle on what our genre has to say about pandemics--and those that

keep right on going reading whatever it is they normally read, as

their fiction reading is not affected by everything that's

happening in the world around us.

Then there are the writers, who in all fairness are readers

themselves and generally fall into the same categories as the rest

of us.  While it is true that the job of SF writers is not to

predict the future, an oddly high number of them have released

books in 2020 that deal with pandemics and the like.  Heck, even

Kameron Hurley's THE LIGHT BRIGADE, a Hugo finalist in 2020,

mentions a worldwide pandemic, and that book was published in 2019.

And in reality, most books that are being published in 2020 have

been in the pipeline since late last year or early this year,

before COVID-19 hit.  What did they know that the rest of us


And so we come to Greg Egan's new novella, "Dispersion".

Dispersion is both the title of the book and the name of the

affliction that is affecting the world in which the story is set.

Egan does not tell us where this planet is, how its population got

there (if that is even relevant) or much else about the people in

the story.  What we do know is that there are six "fractions"

(nations if you want to put a label on it, but I don't think that's

even correct) who are incompatible and in many cases invisible to

each other.  The Dispersion appears--never explained, but I don't

think it much matters in the larger context of the story--and

infects members of each of the six fractions.  Dispersion manifests

itself by dragging detritus (for lack of a better term, I think)

from foreign fractions into people and dragging parts of the

infected people into the foreign fractions.  People die a rather

horrible death as a result.

The basic solution?  Each fraction self-isolates (now where have we

heard that before?) while a cure is sought. Alice Pemberthy is the

scientist who is working on trying to figure this all out and come

up with a cure.  The odd thing about Alice is that her parents are

from two different fractions--something which is never really

explained, and I'm not sure has any relevance to the story (and if

it truly doesn't have any relevance, why is the fact introduced at


The story, then, is about the search for the cure and how the

various fractions act toward each other during the course of the

story.  One fraction or another brings fires and floods to another

fraction, in an effort to destroy those fractions they deem

responsible for the problem.  There is basically no trust between

fractions, even as scientists from all fractions try to work out a

solution to the problem.

Egan weaves a tale that in many respects is eerily like our own

today.  The world building is not expansive, nor does it need to

be.  Egan tells us what we need to know in order to understand what

is going on, and not more.  Alice, like the scientists of our day

today, is doing what she can in order to come up with a cure to the

Dispersion. As is usual with a Greg Egan story, the science is

meticulously laid out; it's clear that, as with his other books,

he's given a lot of thought to the situation. And the ending sure

isn't what I was expecting, and I'm still trying to work it through

in my mind.

While I liked Egan's previous story, "Perihelion Summer", better

than this one, it's still a good read.  And I really do want to

know what writers knew that we didn't when they gave us storieslike

this that so eerily predict the situation we're in.  I'll never

know, and it really doesn't matter.  What matters is the story, and

it's a good one.  [-jak]


TOPIC: DARK (television review by Dale Skran)

The third and final season of DARK recently appeared on Netflix, so

this seems like a good time to review the entire series.  DARK is

only for those who have a high toleration for super-complex science

fiction plots, and a basically tragic tale.  DARK does make a

reasonable attempt to wind up all the various plot threads while

not letting the viewer down, and the end, although not Hollywood,

was fitting.

There is a lot of good stuff in DARK--atmospheric music, excellent

acting, camerawork, effects, and location shooting--along with

about 10,000 interesting ideas--that draw you deeper and deeper

into a labyrinthian plot.  This is also a story that plays fair

with the viewer--it is not "all a dream", or more aptly, "all a


For quite a while I thought DARK was going to conclude as an anti-

nuclear screed, but the nuclear power plant near the isolated

German town of Winden is more atmosphere than anything else.  At

the core, DARK is the classic Frankenstein tale--smart, brave, good

people seek their heart's desires, and create an endless nightmare

using a technology that, in the end, is too powerful for humans to

use.  But those same smart, brave, and good people who commit

horrific atrocities in pursuit of their goals, finally relinquish

both the technology that created them and their very existence.

There is a lot of wonderful SF craziness in DARK, including

Victorian super-science, a post apocalypse world, competing

conspiracies of time travelers, beautiful laboratories and

impressive secret lodges.  In many ways similar to COUNTERPART,

DARK focuses on how events can evolve differently in parallel

timelines, but in a much more complex and twisted fashion than


The great failure of DARK is that it is almost certainly too hard

to follow for most viewers, even die-hard SF fans.  Toward the end

of the series the directors start to use a year clock to help the

audience better understand the flow of time, and side-by-side views

of parallel dimensions, but it is too little, too late.  I suspect

99% of the viewers have long since given up.

In the first season, there is good reason to follow key characters

as they discover for the first time just how crazy the world of

DARK really is, but once it is clear that time travel is involved,

the viewing experience would have been greatly enhanced by clear

transitions between different time periods.  After the idea of

parallel worlds was introduced, it would again have been much

better if there was a visual way to understand which world the

characters were currently in.

It seems clear that both DARK and COUNTERPART express the modern

German obsession with a "divided world" [West and East Germany],

their divergent paths, and their inevitable conflict/dissolution.

They remind me of much British fiction and theatre from the 50s/60s

that was, one way or another, about the fall of the British Empire.

Read no further if you wish to avoid major spoilers.

The central conceit of DARK is the conflict between the two main

characters, Jonas and Martha, who are variously friends, lovers,

allies, and enemies.  Both of them kill some version of each other

at some point.   Both of them believe they are trying to variously

perpetuate or terminate the endless Mobius strip that imprisons

them, while in fact both are trapped in an infinite loop of death

and resurrection.  Both switch sides, in effect becoming an evil

version of their earlier selves.  This dance is just about the most

complex plot ever.  In time, the young and naive Jonas becomes

Adam, the horrifically scarred, ruthless mastermind of one time-

cult, Sic Mundus, and the similarly young and naive Martha, becomes

Eva, the equally ruthless although somewhat less scarred leader of

an opposing time-cult, Erit Lux.

DARK uses the "river" theory of time, with the idea that time wants

to not change.  Thus, as long as a future version of yourself

exists, you can't be killed.  In one scene, a major character first

tries to hang himself, but someone appears and cuts him down.  He

grabs their gun, and tries to shoot himself, but the gun jams over

and over.  His rescuer picks up the gun and fires it at the wall to

demonstrate that as long as the character's future self exists, he

cannot be killed--or kill himself.  This gives the two main

adversaries, Adam and Eva, a highly useful invulnerability, which

although not often displayed in DARK, must have come in handy at


Eva/Martha and Adam/Jonas wage a cosmic war that stretches over

hundreds of years and multiple dimensions as they both learn ways

to use time travel as a weapon.  Eva discovers a trick that allows

her to have multiple versions of herself or her agents active at

the same time and place.  Adam believes he has found a way to use

the "god particle" to destroy the person that links two of the


And so it goes with all the characters dancing to the tune of Adam

and Eva, until finally, one of them [and I'm not saying which one]

figures out a way out of the maze.  That escape route, however,

requires a great sacrifice by Martha and Jonas--not just their

lives, but both of their entire timelines/dimensions must be

destroyed.  This sacrifice seems fitting give the insane cycle of

death Jonas/Adam and Martha/Eva perpetuate.

Rating: DARK is +4 in ambition but perhaps +2 in execution.  It is

violent and, well, dark, with numerous suicides, murders, and other

tragedies, suitable only for adults.  There are sex scenes and lots

of adult themes.

Just one final question: what company built that convenient bunker?

It served the needs of various conspirators over many decades, and

survived the apocalypse in two dimensions--it must have been made

of strong stuff!!  [-dls]


TOPIC: Dog Expressions and Opera (letter of comment by Kip


In response to Mark's comments on dog expression in the 07/31/20

issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

I always thought that dogs did certain things--tilting their head

to one side, for instance--because they worked.  That when they're

puppies, they simply try everything as part of exploring their

world.  When a particular move gets the "aww, let's pet it"

reaction from people, it stays in their repertory and perhaps gets

experimented with.

One thing that gets my goat, though, is cartoons and comics where

the animals wear human expressions, instead of the storytellers

bothering to learn how they really convey things.  There was an

uncanny valley western about a horse called Spirit (if memory still

haunts) who smiled ("I AM HAPPY!") and frowned (" AM SAD NOW!") and

made the Standard Disney-style All-Purpose Earnest Expression

(mouth down, head forward, eyes narrowed from below, eyebrows

elegant esses) and so on, and if I ever got even a quarter inch

into the story, I could count on being yanked out fully by yet them

pulling another inappropriate face.  It's one thing when Horace

Horsecollar does it, quite another when they've rotoscoped horse

movements and stuck a ham actor on the front end.  [-kw]

And in response to Paul Dormer's comments on opera in the 07/31/20

issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

Opera at the Bastille!  Well, it figures.  Twenty or so years ago,

when I was in 'Man of La Mancha', I always imagined the audience

for this impromptu presentation whipped up by Cervantes in the

Inquisition holding room, standing up afterwards: "That was great!

What do you want to do tomorrow?"  "Well, I hear they're doing 'My

Fair Lady' over at the Bastille."

And here we are.

Also, I drew a cartoon, years ago, of an opera manager coming onto

the stage during an opera to tell the audience that the surtitles

[a.k.a. supertitles] are not there so they can sing along.  [-kw]


TOPIC: Hugo and Retro Hugo Awards Winners


Best Novel:

      A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE, by Arkady Martine (Tor; Tor UK)

Best Novella:

      THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR, by Amal El-Mohtar

            and Max Gladstone (Saga Press; Jo Fletcher Books)

Best Novelette:

      "Emergency Skin", by N. K. Jemisin (Forward Collection


Best Short Story:

      "As the Last I May Know", by S.L. Huang (,

            23 Oct 2019)

Best Series:

      "The Expanse", by James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Best Related Work:

      "2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech",

            by Jeannette Ng

Best Graphic Story Or Comic:

      "LaGuardia", written by Nnedi Okorafor, art by Tana Ford,

            colours by James Devlin (Berger Books; Dark Horse)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form:


Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form:

      THE GOOD PLACE: "The Answer"

Best Editor, Short Form:

      Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form:

      Navah Wolfe

Best Professional artist:

      John PicaciA

Best Semiprozine:

      Uncanny Magazine, editors-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas

            and Michael Damian Thomas, nonfiction/managing editor

            Michi Trota, managing editor Chimedum Ohaegbu,

            podcast producers Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky

Best Fanzine:

      The Book Smugglers, editors Ana Grilo and Thea James

Best Fancast:

      Our Opinions Are Correct, presented by Annalee Newitz

            and Charlie Jane Anders

Best Fan Writer:

      Bogi Takacs

Best Fan Artist:

      Elise Matthesen

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book (Not a Hugo):

      CATFISHING ON CATNET, by Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)

Astounding Award for Best New Writer, Sponsored by Dell Magazines

      (Not a Hugo):

      R.F. Kuang (2nd year of eligibility)


Best Novel:


            (Startling Stories, Fall 1944)

Best Novella:

      "Killdozer!", by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding, Nov 1944)

Best Novelette:

      "City", by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding, May 1944)

Best Short Story:

      "I, Rocket", by Ray Bradbury (Amazing Stories, May 1944)

Best Series:

      The Cthulhu Mythos, by H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth,

            and others

Best Related Work:

      "The Science-Fiction Field", by Leigh Brackett

            (Writer's Digest, July 1944)

Best Graphic Story Or Comic:

      Superman: "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk", by Jerry Siegel

            and Joe Shuster (Detective Comics, Inc.)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (tie):


Best Editor, Short Form:

      John W. Campbell, Jr.

Best Professional Artist:

      Margaret Brundage

Best Fanzine:

      Voice of the Imagi-Nation, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman

            and Myrtle R. Douglas

Best Fan Writer:

      Fritz Leiber


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

Hugo Awards

The only category that I read here was Short Story.  I ranked the

winner "As the Last I May Know" by S. L. Huang, fourth, and my

first choice, "Ten Excerpts from an Annotated Bibliography on the

Cannibal Women of Ratnabar Island" by Nibedita Sen, came in sixth.

While the Retro Hugo Awards ceremony went on fairly well, people

seemed to be of two minds about the regular Hugo Awards ceremony:

half thought it was a dumpster fire, and half thought it was a

train wreck.

Why?  Well, for starters, it ran for almost four hours, about

*twice* the normal length.  (It ran so long that one winner was

apparently unable to accept their award because Shabbos started

where they were living because of the long running time.)  Given

that the ceremony started at midnight in Britain and 1AM in

continental Europe (if I've calculated correctly), letting it run

that long is simply rude to the fans in those regions.

Why did it run so long? Because the two hosts, George R. R. Martin

and Robert Silverberg, reminisced at great length about past

Worldcons and awards ceremonies they had attended--and Silverberg

has attended *all* of the awards ceremonies!  Someone posted an

edited-down version of the ceremony, cutting out their

reminiscences, and it ran about an hour and a half, meaning Martin

and Silverberg spent two hours of the time on things of little or

no interest to the current finalists (or most of the audience).  As

many people said, give them a panel of their own to reminisce, but

the Hugo Awards ceremony is not the time or place.

That the two of them spent time praising many of the past figures

of science fiction who have since been revealed as racist, sexist,

or otherwise prejudiced was also criticized, especially since many

of the finalists were people that these figures would have thought

unworthy of being nominated.  Again, having a panel on

reconsidering past figures would have been better.  There were also

some references to offensive or inappropriate jokes or comments

(e.g., something about the crotch area on the Oscar statuette).

And as the icing on the cake, many of the finalists names were

mispronounced.  This was particularly egregious since ConZealand

asked the finalists for the phonetic pronunciation of their names.

(Martin says he never received this from the convention.)

Given that all of Silverberg's and Martin's comments and

introductions were pre-recorded, the convention could have (and

should have) asked them to re-record the mispronounced parts,

dropped the inappropriate jokes, and made the whole thing a lot

shorter.  (As an example, one pre-recorded segment of Martin's ran

seventeen minutes by itself!)

Obviously one problem with using pre-recorded segments or even

something like Zoom is that the hosts and presenters have no way to

"read the room"--to see that the audience is booing their comments,

or getting restless, or even getting up and leaving.  This is why

everyone must err on the side of brevity.

Retro Hugo Awards

As I suspected, it did not take many nominations for something to

make the ballot.  The finalist for Best Novel with the fewest

nominations had 10, Novella 5, Series and Pro Artist 4, and Graphic

Story and Fan Writer 3.  The number of voters was between 200 and

400 for all the categories, but it clearly was easy to get

something on the final ballot.

I ranked the Best Novel winner, SHADOW OVER MARS, fourth (and below

No Award).

I ranked the Best Novella winner, "Killdozer" by Theodore Sturgeon,

I ranked the Best Novelette winner, "City" by Clifford D. Simak, last.

I ranked the Best Short Story winner, "I, Rocket" by Ray Bradbury


I had commented on the absence of the film THE UNINVITED, which I

assume was because it was Long Form and that category did not have

enough viable candidates.  But apparently ConZealand moved it and

its nominating votes (if any) to Short Form and it still missed the

final ballot by one vote (it had 6, while THE CANTERVILLE GHOST had

7).  That THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE got 10 nominations and THE

UNINVITED only 6 is ludicrous (IMHO).  Of the winners, I ranked THE


As I suggested, Best Series was plagued by nominations for series

that did not have enough installments by 1945: both "Foundation" by

Isaac Asimov and the "Venus Equilateral" series by George O. Smith

were disqualified even though both had enough nominating votes to

make the ballot.  (Indeed, the "Foundation" series had the most

nominating votes in this category.)

Some complaints have been raised about John W. Campbell receiving

the Best Editor (Short Form) award and "The Cthulhu Mythos"

receiving the Best Series (because it was H. P. Lovecraft's

creation).  The influence of the latter, and the fact that it had

other named contributors make it at least reasonable, but one might

argue that Campbell's lasting influence from 1944 in particular is

minimal, and if he was so racist in his editorial policy, was he

*really* the best editor even at the time?

People also complained in general about the Retro Hugo Awards,

which they claimed were there to honor dead white men, but several

women did win Retro Hugo Awards this year.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          In high school I was voted the girl most likely to

          become a nun. That may not be impressive to you,

          but it was quite an accomplishment at the Hebrew


                                          --Rita Rudner