Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

11/20/20 -- Vol. 39, No. 21, Whole Number 2146

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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THEM! (1954) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

THE LORD OF THE RINGS Life Lessons (comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)

NUCLEATION by Kimberly Unger (book review by Joe Karpierz)

THE LONG GOODBYE (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

REPLAY (letter of comment by Jim Susky)



by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: THEM! (1954) (film retrospective by Mark R. Leeper)

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS did well enough for Warner Brothers

that they followed it up with another monster film, THEM!  In fact,

THEM! was one of the better Fifties science fiction films and one

of only a handful that are still fairly effective forty years after

it was made due in large part to some very intelligent script

choices.  The style of the film begins as a straightforward police

procedural in which the killer turns out to be giant mutated ants.

The feel of the drama is no less than one would find in "Dragnet."

The terrible poster used in the ad campaign gives away that this is

a monster movie.  But with the exception of the comic scientist,

the parts are all played with grim realism.

Certainly the opening does not immediately give a clue of what is

to come.  A girl is found wandering in the desert of New Mexico.

The police investigate as they would a human crime and besides some

odd clues there is no evidence that the police are not dealing with

human criminals.  Investigating is Police Sergeant Ben Peterson

(played by James Whitmore) and his partner.  As the police

investigated keep finding apparent crime scenes and odd clues.  The

partner is killed after having been left at a crime scene.  One of

the first victims was an FBI agent, so another agent is assigned to

the case, Robert Graham played by James Arness.  Arness had been in

two previous science fiction films: TWO LOST WORLDS and more

notably in the title role of THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD.  The

plot unfolds tensely, but has time to have several comic vignettes.

Some of the comedy involves Edmund Gwenn as an entomologist brought

in to when somebody discovers that the clues point to giant ants.

Joan Weldon appears as his daughter, also a scientist.  Reportedly

one of the minor players built an entire career on this film.

Walt Disney--who reportedly was a fan of THEM!--saw Fess Parker

and decided he would be a good Davy Crockett.

Some of the touches have their problems.  Multiple times ant

footprints are found, but always singly.  Do ants hop on one foot?

In the ant colony, Whitmore's and Arness's voices are muffled by

their breathing gear, but Joan Weldon's voice seems to be clear and

unmuffled.  The ant props are surprisingly well-handled to give the

impression of many more ants were than props than there actually

were.  In fact, there is only one and a half adult ant mock-up built

for the film and half of another that were used in the films.  The

audience never sees more than one ant and a half ant in any one

scene.  The film was made in color, by the way, and the ants were

purple.  THEM! was released in black and white and that probably

helps the tension of the film.

BEST TOUCH: The combination of realism with the science fictional


WORST TOUCH: The usual expository lectures about ant natural

history seem particularly awkward.

This film stands up very well today because it was taken seriously

by the filmmakers.  I rate it a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

Turner Classic Movies is running this on December 3, 4:15 PM.



TOPIC: THE LORD OF THE RINGS Life Lessons (comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

I just watched THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS and discovered

it had valuable life lessons for the viewer--things like "Don't

build your evil fortress downstream from a dam" and "Don't piss off

the ents."  These are surely lessons we can all live by.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: NUCLEATION by Kimberly Unger (copyright 2020, Tachyon

Publicatons, ASIN: B084ZZM6YJ, Print length: 288 pages) (book

review by Joe Karpierz)

First contact stories have been a part of science fiction for

decades.  Humans are fascinated by the concept of there being other

races out there, other beings for us to communicate with.

Underlying that fascination is the simple question: are we alone?

Kimberly Unger's debut novel, NUCLEATION, doesn't start out as a

first contact novel.  Helen Vectorovich is one member of a two-

person team which is on a very high profile project: the

construction of a wormhole gate that would connect earth to, well,

"out there"--interstellar space.  She is connected via quantum

entanglement to a waldo, a robot hundreds of light years away.  She

and her partner Ted are amongst the best in the business, and thus

they have been assigned to this very high profile mission.  All is

going well, and the team is going through the standard system

checklists checklists when something goes very wrong--that can't be

much of a surprise, of course - and Ted is killed.

The mission is put on hold, of course.  This kind of thing *never*

happens; if anyone is in danger, it is the pilot, not the

navigator.  And so, an investigation ensues.  There are all sorts

of possibilities, of course.  Industrial espionage is the number

one suspect, of course.  Any number of companies and hot shot young

teams would like to take over the project and make a name for

themselves.  But what if it's not that?  What if what killed Ted

was a new life form that humans haven't encountered previously?

Another team is sent out to investigate, and more problems occur.

As the person with the most experience, Helen is part of the team

leading the investigation, but as one of the top suspects in the

accident, her job is difficult, with many roadblocks thrown up in

front of her.

It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the answer to the problem

is a combination of espionage and alien life forms.  But who is

leading the sabotage, and how are they working with what appears to

be a new life form that is essentially destroying Helen's team's

corporate equipment?

NUCLEATION is a well-written, fun, fast paced, and interesting

debut novel.  It's a whodunnit, a "whydunnit", and a "what's gonna

happen next?" kind of story.  This is an idea novel, the kind of

novel that many of us used to read as kids when we were starting to

get our feet wet in science fiction.  This is really not a

character driven novel, other than the fact that the characters are

there to move the plot along.  And that's okay, as plot and idea

are among the core tenets of science fiction.  If you're looking

for deep dives into the backgrounds of the characters in

NUCLEATION, you won't find them, as those deep dives aren't

necessary.  Unger tells us just enough of what we need to know to

move the story along.  There isn't massive world building and

character development, but it's not necessary for the story; I find

this a benefit, not a etriment.  The story works because of it.

There is definitely room for a sequel.  The story has really just

begun, and I'm interested in finding out what comes next, whether

it's in the NUCLEATION universe or something else from Kimberly

Unger.  I believe she's a writer to watch.  [-jak]


TOPIC: THE LONG GOODBYE (letter of comment by Kip Williams)

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE LONG GOODBYE in the

11/13/20 issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:

The biggest change they made in that wretched movie was to make

Marlowe into a whining loser, a betrayal of the source material

that's on a par with what Disney did to Victor Hugo. They could

perhaps have deviated farther from the books by making him a tap-

dancing hedgehog, and I'm not entirely sure why they didn't.  [-kw]

ObSF: And for this we may have to blame Leigh Brackett, who wrote

the screenplay.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: REPLAY (letter of comment by Jim Susky)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Time Magazine's list of "100

Best Fantasy Books of All Time" in the 11/06/20 issue of the MT

VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Thank you for the notice on the Time Magazine "top 100 fantasy


I quite agree that THE LORD OF THE RINGS is one work along with

other famous multipart works.

Clarke and Asimov formed my young fiction tastes well before any of

the fantasists so I still tend toward hard SF in the spec-fiction

realm.  Still, I was surprised to find that I'd read six on the

list (four, properly accounted).

I'd like to mention the winner for the 1988 World Fantasy Award for

Best Novel--Ken Grimwood's REPLAY.


This was a most satisfying, fully-adult, time-travel yarn set with

a plot-device similar to that for GROUNDHOG DAY--albeit with a 25-

year cycle.

According to the Wikipedia entry, in 2010 Warner announced a film

version--which apparently remains in "development hell".  [-js]

Evelyn responds:

REPLAY seems to be the literary equivalent of a cult film--it is

not at all well-known, but keeps popping up in discussions of time

travel books.  There is another difference between Grimwood's time

loop and GROUNDHOG DAY's besides the length, but I won't describe

it.  [-ecl]


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

THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper (Margaret K. McElderry Books,

ISBN 978-0-689-82983-3) is another book on Time Magazine's "100

Best Fantasy Books of All Time".  It is another juvenile/young

adult book, and has what is clearly a common theme in this

category: the child or teen of about the age of the target audience

who has unsuspected magical powers.  (In science fiction, the

protagonist has unusual intelligence, calculating skills, or

deductive reasoning.)

Towards the beginning of the book, the powers of darkness try to

defeat the protagonist in a sequence that is very similar to one in

the film THE DEVIL RIDES OUT: a rider appears on a black horse, and

the people representing the forces of good form a circle, holding

hands but facing outward, to hold it off.  Then voices come through

the door claiming to be the protagonist's sister and mother, asking

him to let them in.  All this is very much like the scene in THE

DEVIL RIDES OUT where the voice of the daughter of a main character

is heard (and indeed, her image is seen) but it is a trick to tempt

the mother, and there is a black horse and rider.  I assume these

are standard tropes, although it is possible Cooper borrowed them

from the Dennis Wheatley book THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, which came out

in 1934 (the film was in 1968), while THE DARK IS RISING was

published in 1973.

And the theme of the child with unexpected magical powers appears

again in AKATA WITCH by Nnedi Okorafor (Speak, ISBN 978-0-142-

42091-1).  This is set in Nigeria, but the protagonist was raised

in both Nigeria and the United States, which makes her someone a

little less alien to American readers.  (This reminded me of THE

AMERICAN GIRL magazine published by the Girl Scouts of America in

the 1960s.  It had an advice column where an American girl would

ask for advice and someone from another country would answer.  The

one I remember was an American girl asking what to wear to a party

and getting an answer from a girl in Africa about how to wrap a

kanga.  I guess this was the 1960s version of promoting diversity,

but I was unimpressed.)

Anyway, AKATA WITCH does a much better job of giving American

readers a sense of another place in general and of Nigeria in

particular.  This is particularly tricky since the fantasy element

could easily overwhelm the reality of Nigeria.  (For example,

reading older books, one often gets the impression that zombies are

wandering down every street in modern-day Haiti, or that everyone

in a shtetl breaks out in song almost every day.)  I think I

preferred this to THE DARK IS RISING, maybe because the fantasy

element was much less familiar to me.

And once more, THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY by Alix E. Harrow

(Redhook, ISBN 978-0316421973) has a child with unexpected magical

powers--at which point I decided enough was enough.  THE TEN

THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY has gotten a lot of good reviews, what I

read was quite good, but I have just had enough of children with

unexpected magical powers, at least for now.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          Going out to eat is expensive. I was out at one

          restaurant and they didn't have prices on the menu.

          Just faces with different expressions of horror.

                                          --Rita Rudner