Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

02/19/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 34, Whole Number 2159

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Mini Reviews, Part 8 (THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020), GREYHOUND,

NOMADLAND) (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

TITANIC and Public Domain (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE by Robert J. Sawyer (book review

by Joe Karpierz)


by Carlo Rovelli (book review by Gregory Frederick)

Westerns (letters of comment by Fred Lerner, Kevin R,

Gary McGath, Keith F. Lynch, and Scott Dorsey)

Heroes (letter of comment by Kevin R)


(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 8 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper)

Here is the eighth batch of mini-reviews, featuring stunning


THE CALL OF THE WILD (2020): The Clark Gable adaptation of the Jack

London story had to shift the focus from the dogs to the people for

not having enough to say about the dog.  This version uses motion-

capture CGI, which helps solve that, and this is the first version

I know of that is centered on the dogs.  The special effects are

below standard but it doesn't matter much in this improved version.

Released 02/21/20; available on DVD from Netflix and on Amazon

Prime.  Rating: +2 (-4 to +4)

GREYHOUND: Tom Hanks has played multiple different combat roles in

war films, most notably in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  (He also plays a

Civil War veteran in NEWS OF THE WORLD, reviewed last week.)  Here

he plays the captain of an anti-submarine destroyer.  The film

takes one incident of submarine warfare and stretches it out to a

real thriller with the help of a lot of (authentic-sounding) Navy

jargon.  The musical score is only minimally used and adds some

tension to the margins, and the color palette is largely blue/gray

except for the fires, which are bright yellow.  Released 07/10/20;

available on Apple TV+.  Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4)

NOMADLAND: This is a narrative film in the form of a fictionalized

documentary.  It uses mostly non-professional actors chosen from

real nomads, and the screenwriter worked with each of them to craft

their dialogue as authentic.  (Frances McDormand and David

Strathairn are the only professional actors.)  This is a somewhat

romanticized view of RV and van owners, with some beautiful Western

scenery.  This film has a shot for audience awards.  Released

02/19/21; available on Hulu.  Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)



TOPIC: TITANIC and Public Domain (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

I wrote about works going into public domain, for films a process

that currently takes 96 years.  So that means that TITANIC, made in

1997, will not be in public domain until 2093.  I guess that means

I will never get to see a movie made about what happened to Sven

and Olaf, though my suspicion is that on April 15, 1912, they

probably considered themselves the luckiest sons of bitches to ever

walk the earth.  [-ecl]



2020, CAEZIK SF&Fantasy, 374pp, trade paperback, $16.99, ISBN 978-

1-64710-013-1) (book review by Joe Karpierz)

I'm going to lead off this review with a prediction, and it goes

like this:  Robert J. Sawyer has won just about every major award

in the science fiction field there is to win.  He's won the Nebula

for Best Novel, for THE TERMINAL EXPERIMENT, the Hugo Award for

best novel for Hominids, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for

Best Science Fiction Novel for MINDSCAN, *9* Prix Aurora Awards

(not counting the Lifetime Achievement Prix Aurora), 3 Seiun

Awards, and a handful of others.  What I don't see on the list that

I'm looking at right now is the Sidewise Award for Alternate

History.  I believe that Sawyer's latest novel, THE OPPENHEIMER

ALTERNATIVE, must be a contender for that award (I would say it

should be the winner, but since I don't, as a rule, read alternate

histories I don't think I know enough about the competition to make

that kind of definitive statement).

THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE is a terrifically researched and

written tale of Oppenheimer's involvement with the research and

development of the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and

Nagasaki.  It is abundantly clear that Sawyer did a ton of research

for this book.  In fact, a very large portion of the novel is not

science fiction, but science fact.  Not only is most of the story

public record, but the extensive bibliography at the end of the

book shows how much research Sawyer put into the novel to make it

as absolutely authentic as possible.  Even some of the dialog can

be found in the pages of history.  The story of what actually

happened is gripping.  I didn't know much, if anything, about the

story of Los Alamos, the University of Chicago, the Manhattan

Project, and other parts of the historical record that make up this

novel.  I found it fascinating.

I've called this an alternate history story; it could be called a

secret history story.  Yes, Oppenheimer and his high-powered

physics colleagues were all involved here.  The book reads like a

who's who of physics.  But what really happened to them after the

bomb was dropped and the war was over?  The answer to this question

is what turns this novel from an accurate historical account into

an alternate history.

While Oppenheimer and his team are developing the atomic bomb that

will eventually be used to end World War II, Edward Teller wants to

develop what he calls "the super", a bomb that uses nuclear fusion,

not fission.  Teller's research causes his to research how the sun

generates its energy, and he comes to a frightening realization:

In the early to mid 21 century, the sun will eject its outer layer,

the result being that the entire inner solar system will be

destroyed, including the earth.  The story then shifts to how

Oppenheimer, Einstein, von Braun, Teller, Dyson, and all the rest

of the high-powered physicists of that era work to solve the


The beauty of the novel is that Sawyer doesn't beat the reader over

the head with out it was all worked out.  He dropped hints and

suggestions, things the reader might throw aside--and no, I'm not

going to tell you what those clues were; you need to read the book-

-and then pulls them all together at the very end of the book when

he finally *does* drop the hammer on you, but in a subtle, gentle,

touching way. The ending is fabulous, and makes you believe that

humanity does indeed have the power to solve problems that seem out

of reach.

Sawyer used to crank out a novel a year, on average.  The last two

novels, RED PLANET BLUES and QUANTUM NIGHT, took roughly two years

each, and THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE was published four years

after QUANTUM NIGHT.  While there were indeed several reasons for

the delay, it gave Sawyer the time to spread his writing wings and

turn out what I believe to be his best-written novel to date. While

it was great to get a novel from him every year--and the novels

were terrific at that pace--I'm willing to wait the extra time for

a novel from him that is even better than those in the past.  I

just don't want him to take too long.  [-jak]



by Carlo Rovelli (book review by Gregory Frederick)

This is another science book by the physicist and author Carlo

Rovelli.  This author takes us on a journey from the ancient past

up to the present scientific understanding about what exactly

comprises the elementary ingredients of the Universe.  This journey

starts with Democritus from ancient Greece and proceeds to

discoveries by Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Einstein, Bohr and others.

Subjects such as classical physics, relativity, and quantum

mechanics are covered in the beginning sections of this book.

This material is needed because the author eventually leads us to

the latest information about one of the theories that combines

quantum mechanics and general relativity into a Unified Theory.

And that theory which is preferred by some physicists including

Rovelli is Quantum Gravity.  The other such Unified Theory favored

by some physicists is string theory.  String theory anticipated

that super-symmetry particles would be discovered by the LHC (Large

Hadron Collider) and these particles have not been discovered so

far therefore Quantum Gravity has a slight edge in the race to a

Unified Theory.  But the race still has a long way to go before one

of these theories or a new one is determined to be the correct

Unified Theory.  During the time of Newton the elementary

ingredients of the Universe consisted of space, time and particles.

Einstein in 1905 combined space and time into space-time but other

elements such as fields because of Faraday's work and particles

existed.  Quantum Gravity combines these all ingredients into only

one entity known as Covariant Quantum Fields.  Rovelli is at the

forefront of the research into Quantum Gravity so he is a great

author to read if you wish to learn about this subject.  Rovelli is

also a very good at translating complex subjects into information

that is accessible for the lay reader.  [-gf]


TOPIC: Westerns (letters of comment by Fred Lerner, Kevin R, Gary

McGath, Keith F. Lynch, and Scott Dorsey)

In response to Evelyn's comments on Western movies and books in the

02/05/21 issue of the MT VOID, Fred Lerner writes:

Theodore Roosevelt begins his book THE WINNING OF THE WEST in the

eastern foothills of the Appalachians.  (And for that matter Daniel

Boone was born in western Pennsylvania.)  [-fl]

Kevin R writes:

Films set after "the closing of the American frontier" (~ 1890) all

have the problem of characters carrying the historical or

metaphorical "West" around in their heads, while having to live in

"modernity."  Unless its Wister's THE VIRGINIAN, the "ur-Western,"

dime novels aside, may be Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales."

QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER gives us an English station owner in Australia

explicitly importing what he thinks is an exemplar of the American

West of song and story.  It's a collision of, in my counting, at

least 4 cultures.  That of the American tribesman is only recounted

to us as back story.

I have a soft spot for "edge Westerns" set when the Old West starts

to modernize.  On TV we had HEC RAMSEY, NICHOLS (starring James

Garner,) not to mention the steampunkish and retro-STFnal LEGEND.

I don't think I ever got to see 1971's BEARCATS!

I've got a nomination for "Is this a Western?": 1961's THE MISFITS

Rounding up wild horses with an airplane?  [-kr]

Gary McGath asks:

What about THE VALLEY OF GWANGI?  It has many Western tropes, but

it also has dinosaurs.  [-gmg]

Kevin responds:

A PRINCESS OF MARS starts out as a Western, then things change.

There's also COWBOYS & ALIENS.

Sometimes you need Bat Durston to come to the rescue, at least here

on Terra, I reckon.  [-kr]

Keith F. Lynch responds:

And don't forget C. L. Moore's character, Northwest Smith, who

sounds like he belongs in a Western set here on Earth, but is

actually a character in various 1930s space Westerns set in some

unspecified future century.  They're complete with space Indians,

i.e. aliens with primitive cultures.  [-kfl]

Keith F. Lynch also writes:

Am I the only one who is more interested in "Western" stories set

in the 16th and 17th centuries than the 19th?  Perhaps partly

because that's when the frontier was in my neighborhood.

I'm also interested in "space Westerns," set in the future when the

frontier is on other planets.  But only if they're not just regular

Westerns with a few words replaced, and only if they get the

science right.  I consider Weir's THE MARTIAN to be a good space


[Randall] Garrett's "Despoilers of the Golden Empire" is in a

category all its own--a 16th century non-fiction Western that fools

you into thinking it's set in the distant future on another planet.

(Do I really need a spoiler warning for a story published 62 years

ago?)  [-kfl]

Scott Dorsey responds:

You might like Matthew Sharpe's JAMESTOWN which takes place in the

future but also in he past.  [-sd]

Evelyn responds to several:

Yes, of course THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a Western.  So is RANGO.

I have regularized the capitalization of "Western" here, since

these days a "western movie" could mean a movie made in Europe or

the United States rather than Africa or China.  (This will probably

start a whole new thread of discussion. :-) )  [-ecl]


TOPIC: Heroes (letter of comment by Kevin R)

In response to comments on heroes in the 02/12/21 issue of the MT

VOID, Kevin R writes:

To many fans of ice hockey, plentiful in NE, a "grinder" can be a


[NY Islanders defeated Boston Bruins last night, 4-2]


This article explains the different names for the sandwiches, but

leaves out the New Orleans Po' Boy and Muffuletta.  In Norristown,

PA they have a variant called a Zeppelin, or Zep.



Vietnamese immigrants brought us the Banh Mi.  [-kr]


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

THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, ISBN

978-0-316-30013-1) is our upcoming discussion book, and I was

really looking forward to it.  I have liked Robinson's writing, and

I have liked Robinson's infodumps.  But one can have too much of a

good thing, and 576 pages of which about half are infodumps (either

to the reader directly or from one character to another) is too

much--especially when a lot is repetitious.

For example, on page 44, Robinson writes, "Also the mass extinction

is one of the most obvious examples of things done by humans that

cannot be undone.  ...  Evolution itself will of course eventually

refill all these emptied ecological niches with new species.  The

pre-existing plenitude of speciation will be restored in less than

twenty million years.  Then on page 58, in case you missed it, he

writes, "Collapse--meaning most of the species currently on Earth

dead and gone.  The surviving species subsequent to this event

would be free to spread in all the empty ecological niches, spread

and evolve and speciate, so that in twenty million years, maybe

less, maybe only two million years, a differently constituted array

of species would fully re-occupy the biosphere."

"... the richest pulled away into their fortress mansions, bought

the governments or disabled them from action against them, and

bolted their doors to wait it out until some poorly theorized time,

which really came down to just the remainder of their lives, and

perhaps the lives of their children if they were feeling

optimistic--beyond that, apres moi le deluge." [page 57]  I find it

(possibly intentionally) ironic that Robinson uses "apres moi le

deluge" in a context that is symbolized by rising sea levels.

And doesn't this sound like someone we are familiar with: "Those

who feel [the Gotterdammerung Syndrome] are usually privileged and

entitled, and they become extremely angry when their privileges and

sense of entitlement are being taken away.  If then their choice

gets reduced to admitting they are in error or destroying the

world, a reduction they often feel to be the case, the obvious

choice for them is to destroy the world; for they cannot admit they

have erred." [page 298]

At the beginning, Robinson writes, "38 degrees.  In Fahrenheit that

was--he tapped--103 degrees.  Humidity--about 35 percent.  The

combination was the thing.  A few years ago it would have been

about the hottest wet-bulb temperatures ever recorded."  In New

Jersey, summer humidity is normally in the 75-85 percent range, and

the temperature is often in the upper 90s.  So why aren't we having

the horrific effects Robinson describes in the first chapter?

Robinson's early books were of a much shorter length.  The "Mars"

trilogy in the 1990s were in the 600-page range.  ANTARCTICA in

1997 was "only" 414 pages, but his next, THE YEARS OF RICE AND

SALT, was 660 pages, and he has pretty much stayed in that range.

(I'm not even counting GREEN EARTH, which was a condensed updated

version of three earlier thick books, and was over a thousand


If you can slog through all the technical details and info dumps,

this book probably has a lot to offer, but I think it is beyond my

limit.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          A man will go to war, fight and die for his country.

          But he won't get a bikini wax.

                                          --Rita Rudner