Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

02/26/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 35, Whole Number 2160

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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 March (comments by

Mark R. Leeper)

THE VIGIL (film review by Mark R. Leeper and

Evelyn C. Leeper)

Westerns (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein)


(letter of comment by Jim Susky)


(letter of comment by Jim Susky)

This Week's Reading (THE MARTIAN, "Birth of the Modern Mind")

(book and film 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.

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

by Barry B. Longyear

    rental: **






by Kim Stanley Robinson

April 1, 2021 (MTPL), 7:00PM: A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018) & novel

by Madeleine L'Engle

    rental: **

    rental: **




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

Mark R. Leeper)

Martin Gardner once wrote a book about what he called the "Aha!-

experience."  That is the instant in problem solving when all the

pieces of the puzzle fit together and everything makes sense.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was an entire TV series designed to create

"Aha!" experiences.  In each episode the main characters knew

exactly what they were doing, but until the end the viewer was

confused.  Then at the end everything fit together.

Don't look for that sort of scripting in the current Tom Cruise

"Mission Impossible" series or at least look for it in the current

"Ocean's 11" series, which seems to leave the viewer guessing until

the end of the story.

The Coen Brothers' BLOOD SIMPLE is sort of the dual of TV's MISSION

IMPOSSIBLE.  It is a film about the "Huh?" experience.  Through

most of the convoluted plot, it is the viewer who knows what is

going on and the characters keep finding out that they only

*thought* they knew what was happening.  With the exception of the

moments when the plot twists, it is really easy to keep track of

what is happening.  Yet, like RASHOMON, each character has a

different understanding of who is doing what to whom.  The plot can

just be described as slow chaos punctuated with moments of

delicious confusion from the characters.

This is a film of very high production values which looks as if it

was printed on cheap film stock.  Somehow the film stock gives it a

gritty feel of authenticity that a slick production would lack.

There are some incredible camera shots in this film and it is

amazing that they do not feel contrived.  It is like reading Victor

Hugo: the first time you read a paragraph, you are amazed at how

well-written it is, and only secondarily you realize that it really

did advance the plot.  Scenes in this film are amazing in the same


One scene toward the end of the film is particularly haunting.  We

are in a dark room and someone is shooting holes in the wall from a

well-lit room.  The effect is one of columns of light sprouting out

of a dark wall.  The scene fits naturally into the plot, but still

is an unforgettable image.  The effect was used again in SILVERADO.

In some way I still do not understand, the cameraman is

unobtrusively able to make the viewer notice props that will be

important later.  A prop will become important in the plot and the

viewer finds himself thinking, "Yes, I noticed that prop five

minutes ago, but it was in a corner of the screen and I thought

noticing it was my idea."

[BLOOD SIMPLE, March 20, 12 M]



TOPIC: THE VIGIL (film review by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn

C. Leeper)

THE VIGIL is a horror film in a Jewish Hasidic setting.  The

"vigil" of the title is not the sitting shiva after a Jewish

funeral, but sitting with the body before the funeral, as tradition

demands the body never be left alone.  THE VIGIL seems to crank up

the supernatural aspect of the "shomer", tying it specifically to

protecting the body from demons.

There are some interesting touches.  For example, the main

character is attending an ex-Hasidic support group, and there are

many Jewish references in the set design, which is rich rather than


The film's style seems inspired by Darren Aronofsky and (less

likely) Guy Maddin.  But the story is still basically a ghost

story, and while it is atmospheric and effective, it does not go

much further than other horror films.

One problem is that the subtitles for the Yiddish dialogue are in

fairly small print.  Another is the loud and strident score and

sound design.

Released 02/26/21.  Rating: low 0 (-4 to +4)

Film Credits:


What others are saying:




TOPIC: Westerns (letter of comment by Peter Rubinstein)

In response to various comments on Westerns in the 02/19/21 issue

of the MT VOID, Peter Rubinstein writes:

With respect to "Westerns" in space, how about FIREFLY and

SERENITY?  And for that matter, wasn't "Star Trek" originally

pitched as "Wagon Train to the Stars"?  [-pr]



BOMB (letter of comment by Jim Susky)

In response to Joe Karpierz's review of THE OPPENHEIMER ALTERNATIVE

in the 02/19/21 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Big thanks to Joe Karpierz, who reviewed THE OPPENHEIMER

ALTERNATIVE by Robert J. Sawyer in last week's MT VOID.

Like Joe, I "didn't know much about (Los Alamos, the University of

Chicago, (and) the Manhattan Project."

Further: "(OPPENHEIMER) reads like a who's who of physics."

An excellent companion to this novel would be Richard Rhoades' THE

MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB which has one advantage in that one is

not obligated to read it from beginning to end--or even in toto.

Another advantage--MAKING has an index.

Yet another--Rhoades' door-stopper starts in the 1920's in the

middle of the revolution that formed modern physics.  It describes

in considerable detail the discovery of many radioactive elements,

their half-lives, and the chemical determination of their atomic

numbers.  It therefore "drops names" like a madman--including that

of Dr. Einstein, who used his fame to trigger the Manhattan


I'm off now--to order a copy of OPPENHEIMER.  [-js]



(letter of comment by Jim Susky)

In response to Gregory Frederick's review of REALITY IS NOT WHAT IT

SEEMS in the 02/19/21 issue of the MT VOID, Jim Susky writes:

Now that I'm on a roll:


TO QUANTUM GRAVITY reminds me of one of the best review/histories

of modern physics in my experience: EINSTEIN AND THE QUANTUM: THE


Unlike many, there is "math" in this book, but no more than


This book makes a good case to show that Dr. Einstein was indeed

the "first quantum mechanic"--that his contributions extended far

beyond his famous one--and that "God does not play dice" only

scratches the surface of his QM work.

What causes me to want a re-read is that SWABIAN gives a taste of

how utterly strange the sub-atomic realm is.  We BSEE's think of

the electron as free-charge in metallic conductors--which is to say

we have no clue about the electron's actual nature and behavior.

"Weird and Wonderful" does not begin to describe the electron.

Who needs "string theory"?  [-js]


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

I know you're probably all bored to death seeing me write about THE

MARTIAN by Andy Weir (ISBN 978-0-553-41802-6), but in this case I

will be talking about the major differences between the novel and

the movie.  Some I can see the necessity for, but others seem just


One of the arbitrary ones is that in the film the storm takes place

on Sol 18 rather than Sol 6.  Another is that he asks Lewis rather

than Martinez to check on his parents.

Other changes are more understandable.  A feature-length film

cannot have the detail of a novel, so some events have to be

deleted.  Watney never seems to lose contact with Earth once he

gets Pathfinder working.  (Admittedly, we do not see or hear of

much communication after Watney starts on his journey.)  A lot of

detail of his journey are omitted, e.g., how he navigates, or how

he designed the "rover train".  For that matter, his "rover train"

is very different from the book--the roof hole is in the

(front/only) cab, and the trailer is just a flatbed.  The

Johanssen-Beck relationship is barely shown.  Most notably, Watney

doesn't drive into a sandstorm and he doesn't roll the rover.

The airlock explosion is quite different.  First, the airlock is

much larger in the film than in the book.  In the book, the airlock

is the size of a phone booth.  In the film, the airlock is large

enough to hold the entire crew with room to spare.  As a result,

Watney has plenty of room to move almost everything out of the HAB

to make the farm, and to easily bring in the soil.  Oh, and he has

a full size shovel rather than just a sample trowel.  After the

farm dies, Watney empties the hab of the dirt rather than leave it

there (obviously easier with a huge airlock, but still ...), and

uses what appears to be plastic sheeting to cover the airlock hole

rather than hab canvas.

The airlock explosion is less critical in the film: he is able to

tape up his helmet fairly easily, has no breaches in the rest of

the suit, doesn't need to roll the airlock, and does not have only

a very brief time to get a new helmet and suit.

In the book, he is clear that he uses only his own "manure" for the

farm, so catching diseases from it is not possible--he already has

all those microbes.  In the film, he brings all the night soil in,

including that of the other astronauts, but that has been freeze-

dried, so there is no possibility of contamination.

The hab in the movie is far more luxurious, with more substantial

beds, paper manuals, etc.  But he claims nothing is flammable--are

the manuals flame-retardant?  It turns out that even in our own

time, NASA has developed a paper from stone that will not burn.

I am still annoyed that Mindy Park is not Korean and Vincent Kapoor

is not Indian.  I am also annoyed that someone else tells Mindy to

check the photos of the base, rather than having her discover it on

her own.

And while I'm nitpicking, the second lecture of the Great Courses'

"Birth of the Modern Mind" describes Aristotelian scholasticism.

One aspect is the appeal to the past, as in, "If we have believed

this for centuries, we would have found any flaws by now, so it

must be true."  But then Professor Alan Charles Kors says that we

still do this and that it makes sense.  His first example is asking

what would happen if a teacher of freshman geometry presented

Euclid's five axioms and some student said, "Wait a minute--how do

we know those are true?"  Well, we would say the student was

Riemann or Lobachevsky and was about to discover non-Euclidean

geometry.  The other examples (Kepler's laws of planetary motion or

Newton's laws of thermodynamics) may be a bit more secure, but they

also said that about Newtonian physics until Einstein came   [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          It is easier to fight for one's principles than

          to live up to them.

                                          -- Alfred Adler