Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

01/29/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 31, Whole Number 2156

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,

Lectures, etc. (NJ)

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in February (comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov Day (comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)

"The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle (audiobook review

by Joe Karpierz)


GATSBY) (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,

Lectures, etc. (NJ)

At the risk of stating the obvious, now that all the meetings are

Zoomed, you don't have to be in Old Bridge or Middletown or even

New Jersey to participate.  So if we are discussing one of your

favorites, contact me at * *
for Zoom


Both the Old Bridge and Middletown groups have (temporarily, we

hope) switched to Zoom meetings.  For Middletown meetings,

participants need to watch the film on their own ahead of time as

well as reading the book.

February 4, 2021 (MTPL), 7:30PM: THE PRESTIGE (2006) & novel

by Christopher Priest


    rental: **


March 4, 2021 (MTPL), 7:30PM: ENEMY MINE (1979) & novella

by Barry B. Longyear

    rental: **







by Kim Stanley Robinson


TOPIC: My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in February (comments by

Mark R. Leeper)

The first adaptation of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There" was

also the first Fifties science fiction film that really still makes

good entertainment.  It is not just an artifact but a genuine

thriller.  It works in part because it is timeless.  Destination

Moon became outdated when the government decided it would put a man

on the moon.  But except for references to Truman and the Cold War,

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD could be set in the current decade.

The plot is simple enough.  A flying saucer crashes near the North

Pole.  Men from a small military installation nearby accidentally

destroy the saucer but bring back its pilot frozen alive in ice.  A

second accident allows the alien to thaw and come to life.  The

creature proceeds to lay siege to the base.

What makes this film so watchable is that it takes the time to

create interesting people and has its share of whimsical

characterization.  It also is very subtle in its handling of the

alien.  The viewer spends the whole film without ever getting a

really clear view of the alien visitor.  This makes the alien

considerably more frightening.  In fact, the stills of James

Arness, released well after the film had run its course in

theaters, are almost silly-looking.  So the film has very little in

the way of special effects and not much monster makeup, just

intelligent characters in an unusual situation.  And the film still

stands up forty-three years after it was made.

There is a lesson there that modern filmmakers would do well to

heed, if they still can.

This was also the first science fiction film of the Fifties to

carry an anti-science theme.  It was scientists who wanted to push

things too far without thinking of the consequences to humanity.

In this case Prof. Carrington wants to breed cuttings from the

alien, a thinly disguised statement that it was the fault of

scientists rather than the military that nuclear weapons were used.

These days the military and not the scientist would be more likely

to be at fault, as it was in ANDROMEDA STRAIN, but this was less

than six years after the end of World War II and much of the public

still identified itself with the military.

The dialogue is done in a realistic style that was uncommon to

films.  Dialogue overlaps so that more than one actor may be

talking at once.

Overlapping dialogue probably makes this a difficult film to dub

into other languages.  Of course, the score is by Dmitri Tiomkin

and is a classic.  Tiomkin's tones musically evoke images of an

Arctic blizzard with a pounding wind.  It is definitely a chilling


The best touch: Finding the shape of the craft to be circular could

have been silly but instead is genuinely thrilling.  On the other

hand, the silly "melting-man" climax was a mistake.

This is certainly one of the top three or four science fiction

films of the Fifties and deserves a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale.


Also running on TCM is THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959) (also known as

BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER), the second of Eugene Lourie's "Dino"

trio, following THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953) and preceding

GORGO (1961).  These were the first three English-language sound

films to have dinosaurs destroying cities.  The film stars

sometimes-cowboy Gene Evans and popular British television actor

Andre Morrell.

For some of the animation effects they used a model built on an

armature which gave the dinosaur from the front the look of a

capital 'A'.  It's not clear where that came from but it creates a

different look for this film's beast.  The model that was going to

be used for the distance shots in the Thames and elsewhere was

broken when the producer let his son play with it the weekend

before they wanted to film it.  As a result, the film does not show

as much of the behemoth as people wanted/expected, and some scenes

are not very good.  The film also uses some inexpensive video

effects to portray radiation.  Still, it is a film of interest that

not many fans have seen.

[THE GIANT BEHEMOTH, February 4, 12:00 N]



TOPIC: Online Film Critics Society Annual Movie Awards




BEST ACTOR - Delroy Lindo, DA 5 BLOODS









BEST ORIGINAL SCORE - SOUL, Trent Reznor Atticus Ross





- SOUND OF METAL, Sound Design

- EMMA, Costume Design

- TENET, Visual Effects

- MANK, Production Design

- THE INVISIBLE MAN, Visual Effects


- "Small Axe": Director Steve McQueen created a series of films for

the small screen that rivals the best of the theatrical features of

the year, that can be seen individually and yet work together to

explore a cultural experience largely unseen on big screens,

television, or streaming to date.

- Distributor Kino Lorber for being the first company to offer

virtual film distribution as a way to help independent theaters

during the pandemic through the Kino Marquee.

- Kudos to the independent theater entities that participated in

presenting "Virtual Cinema" when forced to close due to the

pandemic.  Films that otherwise may not have been seen were made

available through online platforms, with ticket prices shared by

the distributor with the theater.


- Rob Bottin (Makeup Artist)

- David Byrne (Composer)

- Jane Fonda (Actor)

- Jean-Luc Godard (Director)

- Frederick Wiseman (Documentarian)

Founded is 1997 by film critic Harvey Karten, OFCS is a

professional association that comprises of online film critics,

film journalists, historians and scholars from around the world.

The membership is dedicated to its mission of furthering the growth

of the informed film audience by utilizing the Internet as a

valuable source of news and commentary.  OFCS provides a forum for

its members to communicate and discuss ideas about journalism and

cinema and encourage a high standard of journalism across online

media platforms.

[Mark is a member of the OFCS.]


TOPIC: Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov Day (comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

Tomorrow, January 30, raise a glass to Vasili Alexandrovich

Arkhipov.  Without him, chances are that you would not be here.

In July 1961 he was on the nuclear submarine K-19 when its engines

started to melt down, and was instrumental in preventing a nuclear

catastrophe.  But that was just a sideshow.

On October 27, 1962, he was the second-in-command on the nuclear

submarine B-59 off Cuba when the United States Navy started

dropping depth charges on it.  They were too deep for radio contact

and the captain wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.  The political

officer agreed, but they needed Arkhipov's agreement to do so, and

he refused to consent.  Apparently his actions during the K-19

crisis helped convince the captain and the political officer to

surface and ask Moscow for instructions--which luckily did not

include firing a nuclear torpedo.

Had they fired that torpedo it might easily have set off a nuclear

war.  I don't know about you, but we lived a half mile from a major

military base, and in fact my school's back fence was the base's

fence as well.  (We did those "duck-and-cover" drills, but we all

knew that if there was a bomb, it would be close enough that the

school desks was not going to be much help.)

So everyone talks about how President Kennedy saved us, and a few

people point out that Krushchev was also pretty critical to the

process, but no one seems to remember Vasili Alexandrovich

Arkhipov, one of the true heroes of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was born on January 30, 1926.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: "The Ballad of Black Tom" by Victor LaValle (copyright 2016,

Macmillan Audio, 3 hours and 9 minutes, ASIN B0161YR0I8, narrated

by Kevin R. Free) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz)

A few years ago, there was a Lovecraft revival of sorts.  Writers

of stature were rebelling against the racist Lovecraft, and they

did so by writing stories that invoked the kind of stories he wrote

without the racism and bigotry, or as in the case of "The Ballad of

Black Tom", make that racism and bigotry part of the story in a way

that the reader understands how those things shape the characters

within.  Further, the trophy for the World Fantasy Award was change

from being a bust of Lovecraft, recognizing that nominating and

awarding people of color with a bust of a man who was clearly a

bigot was just plain wrong.  "The Ballad of Black Tom" won the

Shirley Jackson award for best novella, and was a finalist for--

take a deep breath--the Hugo, Nebula, British Fantasy, Bram Stoker,

Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy Award.  It is, depending on

how you want to look at it, a retelling, a revisiting, or a

rebuttal of Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook".  I mentioned in

my review of "At The Mountains of Madness" that I was interested in

Gothic horror and eventually picked up a copy of THE NECRONOMICON

(no--not the one referenced in Lovecraft's stories, but a giant

collection of his stories) but never read it.  Unlike "At The

Mountains of Madness", about halfway through "Black Tom" I decided

to pick up The Necronomicon and read "The Horror at Red Hook".  I

discovered a few things: 1) yeah, that racism and bigotry is right

out in front; 2) Lovecraft's writing style was putting me to sleep

(although to be fair I was reading the story late in the evening

with only one light on in the room); and 3) "The Ballad of Black

Tom" is a superior version of the story.

Charles Thomas Tester lives in Harlem with his father, Otis.

Tommy, as he is known, takes odd jobs to earn money to keep the

roof over their heads and feed them the best he can.  The story

opens with Tommy delivering a strange book to an odd woman in a

part of town where he clearly doesn't belong.  He is Black.  The

neighborhood is white.  He tries to be inconspicuous, knowing that

carrying a guitar case--after all, Black people are musicians--and

wearing particular clothing can in fact hide him in plain sight.

It certainly doesn't always work, as he is followed and taunted by

white men reminding him of his place, that place being "not here".

Tommy seems to know something about the occult and magical things;

he knows what the book he is delivering contains and is capable of,

for example.  This fact lends an air of mystery to Tommy.  LaValle

is making the reader wonder why Tommy gets involved in this kind of

stuff in the first place if he knows that odd things can happen.

He gets the attention of a man named Robert Suydam, who,

recognizing Tommy's desire and ability to be hidden, offers him a

large sum of money to play guitar at a party he is throwing two

days later.  He goes to the house a day early to essentially

audition in front of Suydam, and enters a house that is very

strange, where things aren't as they appear to be.  Tommy is

afraid, but the lure of money, being able to help his father,

overrides his desire to flee.  Tommy leaves, but has been followed

by a couple of law enforcement personnel, who are tailing Suydam at

the behest of his family who think he's not the simple old man he

appears to be.  What Tommy learns is that Suydam is deep into the

mysteries of the Old Ones, and is looking to awaken things that he

shouldn't.  The meeting is attended by "people like you"--

essentially Suydam's words--who will help him perform his unholy

task. This is, of course, a case of the white man having people of

color, people he feels are inferior, doing his work for him.

The second half of the novella is much closer to the story of "The

Horror at Red Hook", as it follows the tale of one of the policemen

from the first half, who is tracking down what's going on with

Suydam and, eventually, the person we now know as Black Tom, who is

Suydam's lieutenant and who has strange powers.  This is the part

of the story that contains the horrors that Lovecraft wrote about

in the original.  It is frightening, to a degree.  While I'm

fascinated by this kind of material, I don't think I've been truly

frightened by anything the way I was frightened by the movie ALIEN

back when it came out.

Kevin R. Free is the perfect narrator for this story.  There aren't

a lot of characters for him to try to voice, but those that are

there he distinguished between wonderfully.  As I'm writing this, I

realized that other than servers at a club the characters visit,

there are no women in the story.  Even the servers are people of

color, fitting terrifically with the setting that LaValle is

portraying.  All in all, "The Ballad of Black Tom" is highly

recommended and well worth your time.  [-jak]


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

I started THE MALACIA TAPESTRY by Brian W. Aldiss (PS Publishing,

ISBN 978-1-84863-792-4) but after about a third I realized I had no

interest in it.  I went back and looked at the books I had added to

my "to-read" list from Time Magazine's list of a hundred best

fantasy books, and realized I had little interest in them and they

would be "obligation" reading rather than books I actually wanted

to read.

I find a lot of books end up this way.  When I was younger it

almost might have made sense, but at this point I figure I don't

have time to waste reading books I'm not really enjoying.  Of

course, this means I am doing more re-reading of books I have

already commented on, which makesit more difficult to fill these


The big news this month, of course, is that THE GREAT GATSBY by

F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, 978-0-743-27356-5) passed into

public domain.  This is (I think) pretty much a good thing, but it

has its downside.  For example, the "Planet Money" podcast people

did a full reading of the book, at slightly longer than four hours.

This is less than ideal--a single four-hour-plus track is hard to

reposition oneself in.  But a bigger objection I have is that they

bowdlerized it; at the end they said there were some racial and

ethnic slurs that the readers felt uncomfortable saying, so they

changed them.  (They did say what pages they were on in the

Scribner edition, but that's of no use to people who picked up the

free ebook from Project Gutenber.)  They should of at least

announced this *before* they did the reading, not at the end.

And, please, Planet Money, don't do HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  I'm not

ready for "African-American Jim" and "Native American Joe."  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          I finally found out what font they use for alphabet

          soup ... Times New Ramen.

                                          --Dennis Johnson