Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

02/12/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 33, Whole Number 2158

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




KELLY GANG) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

What is a Western? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

A GHOST WAITS (film review by Mark R. Leeper

and Evelyn C. Leeper))

"Across the Green Grass Fields" by Seanan McGuire

(audiobook review by Joe Karpierz)

SWORD AND SCIMITAR by Raymond Ibrahim (book review

by Gregory Frederick)

NASA Mars Perseverance Project (comments by Greg Frederick)

Heroes (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein)

OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY and (letter of comment

by Kip Williams)

This Week's Reading (THE PRESTIGE) (book and film comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 7 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

Here is the seventh batch of mini-reviews, two "Westerns" (okay,

one takes place in Australia, but it has all the tropes of a

Western; see the article following).

NEWS OF THE WORLD: Tom Hanks is working his way through all the

genres, and this is his first Western (playing a cowboy in the "Toy

Story" series doesn't count).  One thing noted immediately is that

the clothing wardrobe is very different from what one usually sees

in Westerns.  We see the chaos of a Southern (Texan) town getting

"civilized," but without the usual saloon fights.  Hanks as a

traveling news reader serving those who have no time to read the

news, or are illiterate, is an occupation rarely or never seen in

Western films.  (It is reminiscent of that of lector in Cuban cigar

factories.)  The stories are less the major world or national

events, but more human interest or entertainment stories of the

sort in David Mamet's "The Water Machine".  Hanks's character finds

ten-year-old Johanna (played by Helena Zengel), who had been

kidnapped by Kiowas six years earlier.  After the Kiowas were

killed, she is on her own and Hanks agrees to take her to her

German relatives several hundred miles away.  There are echoes of


this film, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  (Note: Texas was

re-admitted to the Union in March 1870, so this must take place in

January or February.)  Released 12/25/20.  Rating: high +2 (-4 to


TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG: This has slow pacing and a photo-

realistic style, but it is not terribly entertaining.  This is the

story of Ned Kelly--bush ranger, gang leader, outlaw, criminal, and

Australian folk hero who used a boiler tank as fighting armor.

(This is the nineteenth on-screen telling (including seven feature

films.)  It is marred by anachronistic rock music.  Released

04/24/20; available on Amazon Prime and on Bluray.  Rating: low +1

(-4 to +4)



TOPIC: What is a Western? (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

[There will be some spoilers.]

A few years ago we went to the Autry Museum of Western Heritage.

Not surprisingly, we spent a lot of time in the hall devoted to

film and popular culture.  One exhibit towards the end asked the

very intriguing question: "What is a Western?"

For example, they gave the description: "Two misunderstood and

alienated outlaw buddies cross the American West trying to elude

a posse and escape the border.  The chase ends abruptly, and the

leading characters choose violent but honorable death over

capture."  Is this a Western?

If you say yes, and I tell you that the movie is THELMA AND

LOUISE, does that change your mind?  If I tell you that, no, it

is really BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, what does that do?

Just as it is impossible to define science fiction, it may be

impossible to define the western.  Just as there is a list of

books that one puts forward to test definitions of science

fiction (and to test the "line" between fantasy and science

fiction), so is there a list of films that test the boundaries of

a definition of the Western, and I would propose the following:












Let's go through the list one by one.

BRONCO BILLY takes place in the West, and involves a Wild West

show, but the setting is modern, and the story is more about the

interface between what Bronco Billy sees as the code of the Old

West, and that (if any) of the modern world.  (GREY OWL is a

similar movie.)

Now, I would think that DANCES WITH WOLVES is clearly a Western,

but I have heard people claim it is not.  I suppose the idea is

that it has too modern a sensibility, or too many Indians, or

something--don't ask me.

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (and OF MICE AND MEN) also takes place in the

West.  The latter even has two buddies traveling together.  But

both are set well into the 20th century.  Also, the people in

both are traveling ranch help, but they are working with crops

rather than cattle.

KINGS OF THE SUN deals with settlers encountering hostile

Indians, but the settlers are Mayans, they have traveled to

the western coast of Mexico, and the hostile Indians are Toltecs.

The book THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS was displayed in one of the

other exhibits at the Museum.  It has a lot of the basic elements

we expect in a Western: the frontier, settlers, a fort, hostile

Indians, and so on.  The only problem is that it takes place in

upstate New York.  I suppose one can argue that at the time of

the story, that *was* the West.

MARK OF ZORRO (and all the other Zorro movies) takes place in the

West (Los Angeles is about as far west as one can get in the

continental United States), but the whole dynamic seems wrong for

a Western.  (Later sequels had a more Western feel.)

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER would appear be the quintessential Western.

It has all the tropes, except that it is a little too far west--

Australia to be precise.

RED SUN takes place in the West--our West, the Old West.  The

fact that one of the two main characters is a samurai makes it a

bit iffy, though.

THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO has a Chinese main character, but that

is not the problem (there were lots of Chinese in the West).  The

problem is that there seems to be too much emphasis on the

fantasy elements and not much Western flavor.

WHITE FANG is a representative of a particular sub-branch of

Western, the Northwestern.  Yes, there really is such a concept,

and apparently audiobooks marketed to truckers find this a very

popular category.

(I have not seen KINGS OF THE SUN, so cannot comment further on


So where does this leave us?  Location is obviously not

sufficient, since a "save-the-ranch" film set in Nebraska in 1870

would almost definitely qualify, while the same film set in 1970

would not.  But it is necessary either, because QUIGLEY DOWN

UNDER and THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS would seem to qualify.

Time period is not sufficient--MARK OF ZORRO seems a bit iffy

even though the era is right.  (Or is it?  Maybe it is too early

to be a Western?)  The older time period may not even be

necessary--what about THELMA AND LOUISE and BRONCO BILLY?

It is tempting to say that it is a combination--there needs to be

a "frontier" and that is a combination of both time and place.

THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS takes place on a frontier, as does


spite of its unusual main character, qualifies on this basis.

And WHITE FANG is certainly on a frontier.  One can even argue

that some of the movies take place on frontiers between cultures

(for example, BRONCO BILLY).  But MARK OF ZORRO does not take

place on a frontier--Los Angeles is settled, has a stable

government, and displays none of the characteristics of a

frontier.  The same is true of THE GRAPES OF WRATH, OF MICE AND

MEN, and THE SEVEN FACES OF DR. LAO.  For all their similarities

with the Western, I would say that they lack the basic trope of

the frontier.

Now I am sure that other people can pick holes in this--they may

be willing to extend the genre to cover some of what I have

excluded, or exclude some of what I have covered.  Even I am not

entirely satisfied--THE NEW WORLD and POCAHONTAS just do not seem

to be Westerns, frontier or no.  It could be that this is an

exercise in futility, and that Westerns, like science fiction,

are what we point to when we say it.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: A GHOST WAITS (film review by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn

C. Leeper)

A GHOST WAITS is a new take on an old idea.  Muriel is fairly

successfully haunting a house: all the renters break their lease

and run away, in a set of shots of household pandemonium under the

titles.  (The last one even leaves a bookcase full of books!)

Then Jack shows up to prep the house for the next renters and he

isn't scared off so easily.  In fact, for a long time we don't hear

anything other than background music Jack is playing or see

anything besides Jack talking to himself.  Eventually more ghostly

things start happening.  It still seems like a feature-length skit,

but this is a movie of slow reveals.  We find out that there is

more to the haunting than just a ghost who cannot rest, and it is

not revealing anything the advertising doesn't when I say that it

is more a rom-com than a horror film.

Filmed in black and white, with the ghost lit from under her chin,

A GHOST WAITS was definitely influenced by classic ghost stories

such as TOPPER and THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR.   Nevertheless, it

blazes its own trail.  It surpasses expectations, and while it is

ultimately more promising than accomplished, its use of an

interesting concept makes it worth seeing.

Opened 11/20/20; available on Apple TV.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4)



TOPIC: "Across the Green Grass Fields" by Seanan McGuire (copyright

2021, Macmillan Audio, 4 hours and 3 minutes, ASIN: B087V7BT2B,

narrated by Annamarie Carlson) (audiobook review by Joe Karpierz)

"Across the Green Grass Fields" is the sixth installment in Seanan

McGuire's "Wayward Children" series.  "Every Heart a Doorway", the

first entry, won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 2017, and all

but one of them have been Hugo finalists since then.  Like the

other six novellas, "Across the Green Grass Fields" follows the

adventures of a child who stumbles through a magical doorway into a

land that is not their own, but is a land in which they are

accepted.  The children are usually different from "normal", and

one way or another find themselves in Eleanor West's School for

Wayward Children.  This latest novella is a standalone within the

series. We never do get to the school here, and it's not clear that

the setting is the same world as the other novellas, but since the

doors appear when they are needed, we can assume it is.

Regan is different, but for the longest time she doesn't know why.

All she knows is that she isn't maturing like the other girls.

When she gets to be ten years old, she confronts her parents,

asking what is wrong with her.  Her parents assure her that there

is nothing wrong with her, and in fact she is exactly who she is

supposed to be.  The difference is that she's intersex.  Now that

she has an explanation for the situation, on that she can live

with, she goes on with her life.  She confides in her best friend

Laurel of the situation, who turns against Regan when she hears the

story.  Regan runs away from school, runs away from--just for a

while, of course--and run through a magical door.  She finds

herself in the Hooflands, where centaurs herd unicorns (As an

aside, the concept of unicorns being herd animals is something I've

never heard of.  I've never actually thought of unicorns having to

be, uh, "cleaned up after", but the image was funny to me.), and

there are all sorts of fantastical hooved creatures, as one would

expect. Regan is taken in to band of unicorns and is treated as a

family member.  She does the work that is expected of her, and she

befriends one of the centaur girls, Chicory.  And while things get

rough for the Centaurs because of Regan--a human--they treat her as

one of their own.

But it's that fact of being human that is the crux of the matter.

Every time a human appears, something momentous happens.  Usually

that humans save the residents of the Hooflands from something

evil.  In this case, it turns out to be the Queen.  The Queen wants

Regan for herself so that she can keep a close eye on her.  Regan

doesn't want to go to the Queen until she has to.  The

confrontation, which takes a turn that the reader doesn't see

coming--well, *I* didn't, anyway--is the crux of the story, and the

event which eventually sends Regan home, many years after she ran


The themes of the novella are the usual ones in the "Wayward

Children" series:  children who are shunned by society because they

are different from others, the opposing sides of children who are

cruel to each other and those who love their friends despite their

differences, and children finding their own way no matter who or

what they are.

I'm finding more and more that unless a narrator either a) is so

good that I'd listen to anything they read--think Jefferson Mays,

narrator for the Expanse novels, or b) is so bad I'd never listen

to anything read by them again--I haven't come across one yet--as

long as the narrator doesn't get in the way, I'm happy.  Such is

the case with Annamarie Carlson.

"Across the Green Grass Fields" is a solid, serviceable entry in

the Wayward Children series.  It is by no means my favorite in the

series, that place being held by "Down Among the Sticks and Bones",

nor is it my least favorite.  It has both strong and weak points,

as most books do.  Fans of the series will like it, and as a

standalone it is a nice entry point for readers coming in to the

series for the first time.  [-jak]


TOPIC: SWORD AND SCIMITAR by Raymond Ibrahim (book review by

Gregory Frederick)

This is a riveting military history book. It offers blow-by-blow

concise accounts of eight battles, and interprets them in the

context of the times.  The author also advances larger cultural and

religious issues.  It starts with the first major Islamic attack on

Christian land at the Battle of Yarmuk in A.D. 636 and goes up to

the European colonization of the Muslin world in the 1800s.

Therefore battles at Yarmuk, Tours, Manzikert, Constantinople and

Vienna are discussed as well as the crusades in Syria and Spain.

The author brings out these following points.  First, Islamic

armies saw themselves as expansionary and driven in a messianic

way.  Second, while there were localized and internal political and

tribal rivalries, Muslim armies went to war against the West often

as religious rather than as national or ethnic forces.  Third, the

author sees continuity between the past and into the present.  This

continuity includes the concept that Muslim religious leaders and

jihadists have characteristically seen Christianity as both

antithetical to the Islamic world and a target for conquest or

conversion.  This is a well-written book that can explain much

about the conflict between the Islamic world and the West.  [-gf]


TOPIC: NASA Mars Perseverance Project (comments by Gregory


A really cool thing happened recently.  Last night I was talking to

one of the chief scientists on the NASA Mars Perseverance rover

project.  This mobile robot will land next month on Mars.  It is

similar to the Curiosity rover on Mars now but has a different set

of mission goals.  It is to search for clues of ancient microbial

life that possibly was on Mars.  It will do more geology research

too. It will collect samples drilled from the surface of Mars and

deploy these samples in sealed containers on the surface for latter

missions to eventually send back to Earth.  It carries the first

vehicle to fly (without rockets) on Mars.  It has a small

helicopter that will fly ahead of the robot and send it info about

what is ahead for it to avoid or to study.  This meeting was part

of a Zoom conference with my Astronomy club.  This scientist

designed the Supercam which is a device that sits on top of the

central mast and shoots a laser at rocks to energize and vaporize

the material.  The robot can then determine the elements and

minerals in the rock.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Heroes (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein)

In response to Jim Susky's comments on heroes in the 02/05/21 issue

of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

Anybody from New England can tell you that a "hero" is a sandwich.


Evelyn responds:

No, the sandwich is a grinder.  [-ecl]



by Kip Williams)

In response to Jim Susky's comments on his temporary lack of access

to the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY in the 02/05/21 issue of the MT

VOID, Kip Williams writes: has OEDs for one-hour checkout, a volume at a time.  I

suppose they have an entire edition of it there.  My eye lit upon

"volume 17" in a field of preview pictures that mostly didn't say

which identical-looking black cover was which, so it's plausible,

at least.

/If you haven't been following it, Archive was stung by authors

who, for some reason, resented their still-in-print books being

handed out for free, and as a result has pulled way back on two-

week loans (with the possibility of DRM-packing PDFs for offline

reading).  The present system of short-short lending periods--

though two weeks is still a possibility with titles that they know

they have multiple iterations of--seems to work well enough if you

can stand to read books on your computer./  [-kw]


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

The SF book and film group discussed THE PRESTIGE by Christopher

Priest (Tor, 978-0-312-85886-5) and the film THE PRESTIGE by

Christopher Nolan.  That both are named Christopher is ...



I read the book when it came out, and saw the film when it came

out, and the two were far enough apart that I didn't note how

different the two were.

Both have the same secret for Borden (and for the Chinese

magician), and both have Tesla building a transporter (though they

vary in process).

In the book, there is a present-time sequence; in the film, it

takes place entirely in the early 20th Century.

In the book Angier buys Borden's diary and vice versa; in the film

it is only the latter.

In the book, Angier and his wife are spiritualists and when Borden

exposes them, the wife is injured and suffers a miscarriage; in the

film, Borden and Angier  work together at the beginning Borden and

Angier's wife agree on an unsafe knot,  which kills her.  That

makes the stakes in the rivalry much higher.

In the book, there are many hints at Borden's secret from the start

of his diary; in the film, the first real hint of Borden's secret

is at Angier's wife's  funeral.  In addition, the use of the diary

allows for a lot of "playfulness"  with the English language that

is quite mystifying the first time one reads it.   The second time

it is quite impressive.

In the book, there is no bullet catch; in the film, the bullet

catch injures Borden.

in the book, there is no bird cage trick; in the film, the bird

cage trick  injures Angier's audience member, and various children

can tell what has happened.

In the book, Angier does not bury Fallon alive; in the film, he


In the book, Sarah does not hang herself; in the film, she does.

In the book, Angier's original is turned to some sort of rubbery

sculpture; in the film, he has to drown the original, who is

basically a clone (or rather, he is the clone).

In the book, at the end of the sabotaged trick there are two

Angiers, described as one the body and one the soul; in the film,

there are not.

In the book, Borden does not shoot Angier; in the film, he does.

And of course, in the film there are a lot of visual "tricks"--for

example, we see glimpses of Fallon much earlier than we are

introduced to him (much as in THE GREAT GATSBY, we see glimpses of

Leonardo DiCaprio at the party before we see him fully).  But it

isn't until at least the second viewing that we recognize Fallon.

In spite of all these differences, I won't say that one is better

than the other, but that I recommend both.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          Opinions have vested interests just as men have.

                                          --Samuel Butler