Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

10/09/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 15, Whole Number 2140

Co-Editor: Mark Leeper, * *

Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

Sending Address: *

All material is the opinion of the author and is copyrighted by the

author unless otherwise noted.

All comments sent or posted will be assumed authorized for

inclusion unless otherwise noted.

To subscribe or unsubscribe, send mail to *

The latest issue is at **.

An index with links to the issues of the MT VOID since 1986 is at



Cruel and Unusual (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

BIOHACKERS (television review by Dale Skran)


(book review by Gregory Fredrick)

Plastic-Eating Bugs (letter of comment by Tom Russell)

Translation (letters of comment by Daniel Cox,

Arthur Kaletsky, Paul Dormer, and Dorothy J. Heydt)

The Speckled Band (and Translation) (letters of comment

by Radovan Garabik, Gary McGath, and Paul Dormer)

NOSFERATU (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek)

This Week's Reading (DEEP TIME) (book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Cruel and Unusual (comments by Mark R. Leeper)

From Mark Leeper's Diary June 26, 1982:

Somehow I seem to hear news stories and pick up facts that nobody

else seems to be aware of.  I don't know why that is.  When I was

growing up I used to pop some strange fact I had heard at the

dinner table, like that somebody had created a musical tone that

sounded as if it was always descending but when it was done it

sounded higher than when it started.  That was how it was described

on the radio.  I brought that sort of thing up at the table and

nobody particularly commented on it.  Years later I found out that

my father, at least, thought I had made them all up.  Well, ...

maybe one in five I did make up but what can you expect--I was just

a kid and was not really worried about high standards of truth of

the sort that I have today, but still nobody believes me.

Incidentally, I eventually heard this tone played on the radio and

it didn't really sound to me as if it were descending.

Anyway, I was listening to the radio this morning, and in among the

stories of people squabbling over how to spend the "Peace Dividend,"

which high Pentagon officials now estimate to be over

$3.17, was one of those stories such as I would bring up at the

dinner table.  A very important person in New York (sorry, I would

have listened closer if I had known what was coming up) has said

that inmates in the state's prison system should not be allowed to

watch cable television and should have to read instead.  People on

the street would be less likely to commit crimes if they knew they

would be going someplace where they would have to read.  That's

what she said.  I wouldn't have thought it possible.  How can one

person make a statement about a controversy I didn't know existed

and at the same time make both sides sound as if they have a total

IQ of 87?

What I learn from this is that our prison system considers a

fitting punishment for violent crime that people be forced to watch

movies such as RAMBO and DEATH WISH III and some crusader is

popping up and saying, "No, it is a worse punishment to make

hardened criminals read."  I guess if I were to take sides (and I

feel like a jerk for doing it), I agree with our crusader.  This

could start a whole revolution in our penal system.  I think

hardened criminals should be forced to read Dickens and Shakespeare

and then be tested on what they have read.  Parole hearings can

change from asking stupid questions such as "Have you rehabilitated

yourself?"--and what criminal ever says "No" to that one?--and ask

instead that the prisoner explain the symbolism of the whale in


I personally think that Manuel Noriega should be punished by ten

years of wearing thick glasses with paper clips in the hinges, a

pocket protector full of pens, and white socks, and carrying a

Depression-era briefcase full of books.  Let's see if it will scare

lawbreakers to know that if caught they will be sentenced to long

terms of being nerds.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: BIOHACKERS (television review by Dale Skran)

BIOHACKERS follows the arrival of first-year medical student Mia

Akerlund at the University of Freiburg [an actual German

university].  She moves into a house shared by Chen-Lu, a somewhat

Asbergerish girl whose hobby is the genetic engineering of musical

plants, Lotta, a rich girl who likes to party, and Ole, a fame

obsessed nerd who bio-hacks himself.  The time seems to be just bit

over the horizon, with student raves fueled by eye drops that

enhance night vision and pills that allow you to absorb more oxygen

so you can double the time you spend underwater.

Mia, however, is mostly interested in meeting Professor Tanja

Lorenz, a brilliant genetic engineer, and becoming her prize pupil.

The atmospherics are good, and I especially liked the "glowing

mouse chase" where Mia meets Jasper, Lorenz's chief lab assistant.

BIOHACKERS shines in the creation of a plausible group of nerds who

might actually exist somewhere very soon.

It should come as no surprise the Mia has a mission, and soon

proves herself both inventive and manipulative in accomplishing it.

Mia seems really smart--smarter than everyone else in a class of

100s of students--practices medicine as though she already was a

doctor--and has the lab technique of genetic technology Phd--all

while still a first year medical school student.

As a TV shows goes, the science is mostly plausible, although

sometimes things happen faster than is realistic in the lab.  The

fundamental plot, however, is taken straight out of HIGH PLANS

DRIFTER--a stranger rolls into town seeking revenge for a horrible

wrong. And that stranger proves to be something more than meets the


I enjoyed BIOHACKERS, but the spy plot came over more as teen drama

than realistic some of the time, and the "ethical dilemmas"

contrived.  Having said all this, I'm rating BIOHACKERS +1 ON THE

-4 TO +4 scale, and recommending it to SF fans.  Compare to ORPHAN



When the main character casually mentions that she is not sick, and

in fact, has never been sick, the experienced SF fan knows what is

going on.  Mia, it evolves, it not actually Mia, but Emma, the last

survivor of an earlier genetic project of Dr. Lorenz's, "Homo

Deus."  It's a bit vague exactly what Homo Deus was working toward,

but Emma came out of it with apparent immunity to all disease.

Although this may not have been the focus of Homo Deus, Emma is

surely genius level smart, and really well trained in biotech.  She

is also an inventive, daring, ruthless, and manipulative operative,

somewhat warmer than the icy HANNAH, but way beyond other people

her age in social engineering.  For a less than movie-star beauty,

her skills at seduction are excellent, leading one to suspect a bit

of pheromone help. Emma also has high motivation, as she blames

Lorenz for the death of both her brother and her parents.

BIOHACKERS has been renewed for a second season, and I'll be

watching it.  The main flaw is that the ethical sins of Dr. Lorenz

are contrived and unbelievable. We are asked to believe she

inserted genetic flaws into over 250 fetuses so she could test

cures. The cures didn't work on any of the kids but Emma. This

makes Lorenz not a doctor who failed to cure sick kids, but a Dr.

Mengele who created the sick kids in the first place.  Why, one

wonders? Don't we have enough kids with birth defects?  This might

have been fixed with better scripting, but as presented it makes

the story potted and biased against Lorenz, who has no strong

motivations.  Lorenz is helping Jasper, her main henchperson, cure

his own Huntington's disease, and we are led to believe that the

government won't sanction any genetic cures of this disease.  The

German government is very restrictive on genetic research, but this

seems difficult to fathom.  Again, this might have been fixed with

a stronger script.  [-dls]

[BIOHACKERS is available on Netflix.]




NATION, INDIVISIBLE by Simon Winchester (book review by Gregory


This is a history book that looks at the individuals who helped to

unite this vast and diverse country.  When Jefferson purchased the

820,000 square miles of France's possessions in North America in

1803 he needed to know a lot about what he just bought.  So, he

sent Lewis and Clark to survey it.  They only lost one man in their

journey which otherwise was very successful.  The explorers kept

notes about the environment, people, plants and animals they

encountered.  Sacagawea, a female Native American, who joined their

mission was valuable as a guide and interpreter.  Before the

railroads were built; canal building was seen as a way to ship

goods and people across the country.  Even George Washington

realized the importance of this method of transportation but not

much came of this during his time.  Eventually as Americans learned

of canal building technology from the English we started to build

our own canals.  The Erie Canal is one of the most famous and most

successful canals; it sent goods from the Midwest down to New York

city and made New York a wealthy port city.  Theodore Judah was the

main driving force to start a railroad that traveled across the

country.  He planned the rail line route thru the Donner Pass which

is a mountain pass in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains this was

a missing link in the plan to run a railroad across the country.

Later Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act that

appropriated the money for this construction.  Inventors like

Samuel Morse, Alexander Bell, Edison, and Tesla, are mentioned in

the book as others who also contributed to the uniting of the

country with new inventions, like the telegraph, the telephone and

electric power.  The author is very good at detailing these seminal

events in American history.  This book is a good read if you like

history.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Plastic-Eating Bugs (letter of comment by Tom Russell)



"A super-enzyme that degrades plastic bottles six times faster than

before has been created by scientists and could be used for

recycling within a year or two."

Tom notes: The plastic-eating bugs will not know the difference

between what has been thrown away and what has not.  Long before

the oceans are clean all the vinyl siding will have fallen off

houses, cell phones will have dissolved and everyone will be

wearing hand-woven natural cotton clothes.  [-tr]

Mark notes:

This sounds like the plot of MUTANT 59: THE PLASTIC EATERS by Kit

Pedlar.  [-mrl]

Tom replies:

I didn't recall any story about plastic eaters but not surprised

that you recall one.

There was an amateur(?) video documentary in our county library

called "Blue Vinyl" that exposed the problems with that plastic.

It's the only video on the subject that l have seen.  [-tr]


TOPIC: Translation (letters of comment by Daniel Cox, Arthur

Kaletsky, Paul Dormer, and Dorothy J. Heydt)

In response to Gary Labowitz's comments on translation in the

10/02/20 issue of the MT VOID, Daniel Cox writes:

"We eat what we can and what we can't, we can" and its British

translation appear in an episode of "Duffy's Tavern".  "Duffy's

Tavern" is an "old time radio" comedy set in what we might call "a

dive".  I believe the Englishman who translates the remark was

played by Arthur Treacher.  [-dtc]

Arthur Kaletsky writes:

The other nice English-Russian-English roundtrip is "out of sight,

out of mind" which returns as "invisible lunatic".

Paul Dormer writes:

There are lots of stories like that [about being accurate but

missing the flavor].  There's that line in Pratchett

where one of the witches tells her favourite joke, "Give me an

alligator sandwich as fast as possible."  (For those that don't

know the line, they can work out what it was supposed to be.)

And I'm also reminded of the street clown interviewed in Mayhew's

London Labour and the London Poor.  His favourite joke:

Why is Rome like a candle wick?

For it is in the middle of Greece/grease.

Despite prompting by Mayhew, he insisted that was the correct line.

I remember a friend of my sister's back in the seventies saying she

was trying to tell a joke when she was on holiday.  It was a joke

to do with the Last Supper and Chinese take-away food.  The punch

line was Judas's carryout, a carryout being a take-away food place

and in her northern accent it did sound like Judas Iscariot.

Trouble was, she was trying to tell the joke in French.  [-pd]

Evelyn supplies the original line (which Granny mangles) in the

Pratchett joke in WITCHES ABROAD: "Give me an alligator sandwich--

and make it snappy!"

Dorothy J. Heydt responds:

Hm.  In Rome's heyday, Greece was in the middle of the Roman


So what was the correct line (vide supra, Yank)?

Traduttore, tradittore.

(Italian proverb: a translator is a traitor.)  [-djh]

Paul responds:

Well, I guess it was something like, "Why is Athens like a candle


I must admit I've never read MAYHEM, although I have an abridged

version sitting on my to-be-read pile (purchased at the Museum of

London), but I saw a TV documentary about it a few years ago

introduced by Jonathan Miller, with dramatised extracts, including

the street clown, a most melancholy fellow, apparently.

And there was the pure collector, a sixty-something widow who

collected buckets of dog shit to sell to the tanneries in London.

Sixpence a bucket, she could most days get enough to buy a crust of

bread.  It was better than going to the workhouse.  [-pd]

Dorothy answers:

Yes.  I've just finished reading THE GHOST MAP by Steven Johnson,

about the great cholera epidemic of London in 1854.  It begins by

describing the horribly insanitary situation, including the hordes

of people who made their livings by collecting various kinds of

garbage, including "pure" (what cynic gave it that name, I've no

idea).  Well worth reading.  [-djh]

And Evelyn adds:

I was watching SHIP OF FOOLS the other day, and found the closed

captioning at times less than stellar.  Lee Marvin plays an uncouth

racist, yet when he says "I wanna go home" the caption says "I want

to go home," and when he talks about a dark-skinned Mexican, the

caption says "negro" (at the time of the film the accepted term)--

but that is not what Marvin's character said.  The result is that

those relying on the captioning will get an incorrect view of

Marvin's character.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: The Speckled Band (and Translation) (letters of comment by

Radovan Garabik, Gary McGath, and Paul Dormer)

In response to Mark's comments on "The Speckled Band" in the

10/09/20 issue of the MT VOID, Radovan Garabik writes:

It was (and still is) widely believed that snakes like milk. Was it

already known to be a myth at that time?

[Mark writes,] "And people in the story think the words mean a

speckled band of gypsies."  [-mrl]

That's quite untranslatable, because "band" as the "group of

people" and "band" as the "thin long piece of cloth" are usually

two different words.  In the Slovak translation, the "cloth"

meaning has been selected by the translator, and people in the

story considered multicolo(u)red headbands the gypsies usually wear

to point out to the gypsies.

ObSF: While flipping through TV channels yesterday, I watched a few

minutes of Golden Eye, dubbed into Slovak.  They talked about an

Electromagnetic pulse, and something to the effect that "in its

path it destroys everything by the mean of electronic equipment".

Now, in Slovak, it is a matter of putting the noun phrase into

instrumental, so the intended sentence is not *that* syntactically

different, but still ... another example of glaring incompetence in

translation.  [-rg]

Gary McGath suggests:

Surely at some time or other, a musically inclined group of mystery

writers must have dubbed themselves "the Speckled Band."  [-gmg]

Paul Dormer responds:

Reminds me of a skit on a radio comedy show back in the Seventies.

There was a big band, a sort of Glenn Miller tribute act as we'd

now say, led by Syd Lawrence.

Watson:  Syd Lawrence has phoned to say that someone has splatter

his orchestra with paint.

Holmes:  It's the speckled band again.

(Why I remember this stuff after nearly fifty years, I don't know.)


[More at



TOPIC: NOSFERATU (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek)

In response to Mark's comments on NOSFERATU in the 10/02/20 issue

of the MT VOID, Andre Kuzniarek writes:

[Mark writes,] "The only major difference is that the remake is in

color.  But watching it one knows it could have been made with

modern techniques so you are less likely to be impressed.  When you

see a silent film you make allowances for its age.  The difference

is not that the first is done so much better but that one knows it

is not a classic so one can be critical in the way one would not be

with the original."

Older films, made before production techniques became more

sophisticated, almost have a cinema verite feel to them.  Their

crudity aligns with old newsreels and documentaries.  They are so

removed from modern film making that their alienness adds to the

atmosphere of strangeness, which only reinforces supernatural

subjects.  But even the earliest DeMille "historical" epics like

King of Kings are so old that you might think you're watching a

documentary from the period--I'm sure kids would think so.  Flash

Gordon serials used to freak me out as a little kid seeing them on

Sunday mornings in the 60s.  They were so crude (compared to "Star

Trek") that they seemed like they must be more real somehow.  And

being raised Catholic, Ming the Merciless looked like the Devil and

Mongo like raw documentary footage of Hell itself!  [-ak]

Mark replies:

I can see how it might feel that way.  But the rat-face did not

really make it more effective.  [-mrl]


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


Perennial, ISBN 978-0-380-79346-4), Gregory Benford writes about a

panel trying to put up warning signs where radioactive wastes are

buried--warning signs that will remain effective for tens of

thousands of years.  They eliminate words and simple symbols, and

eventually discuss "mythic" symbols:

"The favorite of many panel members was fifty-foot-high Menacing

Earthworks, all radiating outward from the bare site center.  These

are lightning-shaped, jagged, crowding in on the tiny traveler,

cutting off views of the horizon, chaotic.  At the open center is

the existing Pilot Project concrete hot cell, going to ruin.

Beside it, a vast walk-on world map of all repositories of waste.

Added on, a map of New Mexico showing this site.  The map is of

granite and domed, so sand blows off.  A room buried beneath holds

details about what lies in the salt bed below, as do four smaller

buried rooms beneath the largest earthworks.  Inscribed 'reading

walls' of granite appear throughout the site.

"The common ideas here are irregular geometries and anti-

craftsmanship.  This contradicts human archetypes of perfection in

our imperfect world, which circles, squares, pyramids and spires

echo.  Using crooked forms when plainly the designers knew 'better'

suggests a deliberate shunning of the ideal, a lack of value here."

This sounded good until I saw photographs of Balkan war memorials:



and the Treblinka Memorial:



Admittedly these are not of the scale Benford describes, but they

do tell me that the message that "Menacing Earthworks: sends

thousands of years in the future may not be what was intended.



                     Mark Leeper

* *

          One man's folly is another man's wife.

                                          --Helen Rowland