Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

03/26/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 39, Whole Number 2164

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Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,

Lectures, etc. (NJ)

My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in April (comments

by Mark R. Leeper)

"Decolonizing Zombies!" (Part 1) (film comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)

UNITY by Elly Bangs (book review by Joe Karpierz)

CARNAGE AND CULTURE by Victor Davis Hanson (book review

by Gregory Frederick)

Nebula Award Finalists

This Week's Reading (THE FORGER'S SPELL and the LAST VERMEER)

(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.

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

by Madeleine L'Engle

    rent: **

    rent: **



May 1 (OBPL author talk), 2:00PM (2 hrs): Neil Sharpson (WHEN THE

SPARROW FALLS), details at


(this is a library event, not the discussion group's)

May 6 (MTPL), 7:00PM: THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) & novel

by Ira Levin (1972)



May 27 (OBPL): TBD


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

Mark R. Leeper)

DESTINATION MOON (1950), the film that probably should have led off

the Fifties science fiction cycle actually is still an enjoyable

adventure film even if parts are a little dated.  It is colorful

and fairly realistic-certainly taking into account that it was

released in 1950.  Not that some of the information known then was

handled as well as it might have been.  The acceleration of takeoff

is made to look more of a horror than it is in real life.

Certainly details of weightless flight look more realistic than

they did similar effects in ROCKETSHIP X-M.  The script calls the

moon a "planet" not once but twice.  Of course because of its size,

very unusual among moons, some astronomers have been tempted to

call it that also, and to say it and Earth form a double planet.

Somehow this film's color captures a Fifties feel better than the

black-and-white Rocketship X-M.  The color shows off better the

baggy post-war clothing fashions.  Somehow talk of going to the

moon in an early Fifties film still has excitement that NASA

footage of the actual moon launch lacks.  It is much the same sort

of thrill one gets from Jules Verne, even if he is describing an

1866 submarine that has long-since been surpassed by fact.  It is

the fact that this submarine is around in 1866 that is exciting.

What does seem somewhat dated is the Cold War paranoia that is

present through most of the film.  The nasties have sabotaged a

rocket at the beginning; the main reason given for going to the

moon is to beat the enemy; the enemy tries to use political

pressure to sabotage the mission, and finally the important reason

for returning to Earth is to tell the world how vulnerable it is

from the moon.  Meanwhile, when the Americans get to the moon, they

claim it for the good of all mankind.  Once they get to the moon it

turns out to be a pretty place to look at, but somehow the film

makes lunar exploration itself seem dull.  The script writers have

no way of engaging the viewer in the actual exploration process.

What does save the film is a clever little engineering puzzle that

becomes the last treasure of this film.  It is one that would do

credit to a Fifties science fiction story and it has a reasonably

nifty solution.  What is dramatically lacking is the return to


There are some interesting similarities between DESTINATION MOON

and ROCKETSHIP X-M.  Both use obnoxious, harmonica-playing comic

relief characters, both have Texas humor, and both use stock

footage of V-2 launches, though this film uses it more


George Pal uses the Chesley Bonestell paintings that he would make

use of in later films, especially in the prologue to WAR OF THE

WORLDS.  The integration of the paintings and the forced

perspective sets really gave the feel of being on another world,

where ROCKETSHIP X-M had alien landscapes that did not look at all

alien.  Even at the time people knew that showing the surface of

the moon as a cracked, dried riverbed was wrong, but it made it

much easier to use forced perspective to make the lunar landscape

seem much bigger than the set on which the scenes were shot.

This is a much more enjoyable looking film than most space travel

films of the Fifties.  The ship itself is not a V-2, and that in

itself is something of a novelty.  Pal designed a nice streamlined

ship that looks a lot better than the real thing.  The simple fact

is that this is just a nicer film to view, both prettier and less

downbeat, than is ROCKETSHIP X-M.  If there are some technical

problems with the rescue in space or in how weightlessness is

shown, we can forgive them and still find this film good to watch.

The biggest complaint most people have with the script is the

incredibly dense character of Sweeney.  Perhaps he is overly

stupid, but the writers felt the need to explain the science and

needed someone to whom people could explain what was going on and

could serve as a sounding board.

[DESTINATION MOON, April 4, 4:00 PM]



TOPIC: "Decolonizing Zombies!" (Part 1) (film comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

Our niece is majoring in Spanish at Middlebury College, so I took a

look at the course catalog for that department.  (It's actually a

joint Spanish-Portuguese department, which is fairly common.)  And

I found a couple of courses that were a bit surprising, and also of

possible interest to readers of the MT VOID.

The first was "Decolonizing Zombies!" and the description was:

"SPAN 0381--Decolonizing Zombies: Zombies are generally depicted

as metaphors that represent contemporary affects.  In this course

we will study a number of zombie movies with a focus on theories of

race, gender, coloniality, iconoclasm, and queer temporality.  With

a strong emphasis on the American continent, the course will have a

global approach, which will allow us to delve into issues of

neoliberalism, cannibalism, genocide, diaspora, virus spread, and

political criticism.  The main goal is to expose colonial

structures embedded in the representation of zombies, as well as in

the making of the genre.  Among films included are: WHITE ZOMBIE,




ALMAS, HALLEY (Mexico); DESCENDENTS (Chile), REC (Spain), "I'll See

You in My Dreams" (Portugal), THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (United



The second was "Hispanic Horror Cinema"; I will cover that in a

separate article.

For both courses, I have seen several of the films, but certainly

not most of them.  Some are not even available easily in the United

States.  (I can only assume that the department has a multi-region

DVD set-up.)  But I will comment on those that I can.

In this article, I will discuss half of the zombie films, at least

those I have seen.  (I'll admit it: I'm too cheap to spend full

price on the ones I cannot get through Netflix or other streaming

we have.)  The remainder will be discussed in next week's issue.

WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) (United States) is the first English-language

zombie film, and actually sticks to the classic zombie tropes, even

if Bela Lugosi's stare and hand gesture are a bit overdone and not

at all part of the folklore.  But the zombies are kept by white

colonizers as slaves, which is in line with much of the folklore.

I am surprised that they did not include I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE

(1943) (United States), which really does include some pointed

comments on colonialism, slavery, etc.

THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) (United States) completely

subverts the traditional zombie folklore and makes zombies into

basically a sort of vampire.  They attack the living and if they

bite someone, that person becomes a zombie.  Any connection with

colonialism or slavery is gone.  Ironically, there is a racial

context to the film, but it is entirely accidental.  That the main

character/hero is African-American was not planned, and none of the

dialogue or action was written with that in mind, or changed to fit

it.  So when he slaps the female lead, it was shocking in 1968 in a

way that was not intended (unlike a similar scene in IN THE HEAT OF

THE NIGHT, equally shocking, but intentionally so).

I haven't seen SAVAGELAND (2015) (United States), though it is

available for about $13.

I have seen WORLD WAR Z (2013) (United States) but don't remember

it well enough to comment on it.

MANGUE NEGRO (MUD ZOMBIES) (2008) (Brazil) is not available.

JUAN DE LOS MUERTOS (JUAN OF THE DEAD) (2011) (Cuba) is described

in the IMDB as a take-off on DAWN OF THE DEAD, but that is

incorrect; it is more fashioned after SHAUN OF THE DEAD, even down

to the best friend who makes tasteless jokes, and the use of

graphic novel-style illustrations under the credits.  It clearly

helps to know something about Cuba and Cuban history (such as what

the "Special Period" was).  This is more violent than SHAUN OF THE

DEAD, though, because rather than just try to hide out, Juan and

his friends become capitalists and he starts answering the phone

(which still works) "Juan of the Dead; we kill your loved ones.

How can I help you?"  You can take a cue from one of the zombie

fighters who blindfolds himself because he faints at the sight of


EL DESIERTO (WHAT'S LEFT OF US?) (2013) (Argentina) is not


EL ANO DE APOCALIPSIS (2016) (Peru) is not even in the IMDB, but it

is available on YouTube (at


and even has English subtitles.  (The second word in the title

should have a tilde over the 'n'; as it is, the ASCII I use for the

basic MT VOID won't let me put one, so what is left is not the word

for 'year', but a rather rude word for a nether body part.)  The

title is reminiscent of Daniel Defoe's JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR


Warning: SPOILERS ahead.

This film starts with a long voice-over serving as an infodump to

explain the plague.  Even throughout the movie, much of the

"dialogue" even in the original Spanish is in the form of

subtitles.  This means that Rafael Arevalo (who seems to be the

producer, director, write, and just about everything else) doesn't

have to worry about synchronized sound.  Given that he had no

budget to speak of, that was important, as was the minimal cast.

(We do not see hundreds, or even dozens, of zombies in a scene.)

The film consists of twelve vignettes, one for each month.  From

the days and dates given, the year is probably 2016 (the year the

film was released), though coincidentally, it could be 2021.

"January" starts, appropriately in a cemetery with someone who

does not want to die alone and so takes an extraordinary step.

"February" has four people on a roof who end up killing each other,

but while one is totally destroyed, the other three rise.

(Destroying a zombie hasn't changed since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-

-if you destroy the brain, you destroy the zombie.  Decapitating

them (a.k.a. "topping them off" in the English translation) also

works.)  Zombie speed doesn't seem to have changed either.  Unless

you trip or are surprised by zombies, you can probably easily

outrun them.

"March" has a girl who is being attacked by zombies saved by a Good

Samaritan.  Alas, she has faked her peril in order to bring the man

home to her zombie boyfriend for dinner.

In "April" a group of the elderly and the young are secure in a

compound, but all the other adults have disappeared when they went

out scavenging.  This turns into a sort of "Lord of the Flies"

scenario, where the young first kill the old and then the very

young, out of what is claimed to be necessity.  The one person who

resists this kills some of the others, who then turn into zombies

and destroy the rest of the survivors.

In "May" there is a mute but not deaf girl who is disgusted to see

that people kill each other, but zombies don't.  She also hates the

sounds of humans that she cannot be part of and decides the world

would be better off of the humans all became zombies.  The girl's

dialogue is all in captions, not dialogue, or even the voice-overs

of other characters.  This episode is shot with very stylized,

formalized staging and photography.  But it leaves the viewer with

the question, "Are the dead supposed to be translucent or is that

just poor green screen?"  There is actual green screen shown near

the end of the episode, so it is possible the audience is supposed

to realize it was shot with green screen.

"June" has the explicitly stated moral of "survive with dignity or

die trying" and to illustrate it, the main character tries to help

a girl, and she kills him.

in "July" an infected man digs grave, then is shot in the chest by

another man while a woman watches.  The man buries the corpse, then

man drugs and handcuffs the woman.  When she wakes, she finds a

note giving jealousy as the reason.  The corpse rises as the woman

finds a gun the man left with one bullet and three choices in the

note: permanent suicide by shooting herself in the head,

destruction of the zombie ex-lover, or shoot herself to turn into a

zombie.  End of vignette.

"August" has one man killing another then turning cannibal by

roasting and eating part of him.  When the corpse rises, the man

flees and is rescued by a woman, who takes him home and shows him

something in a pot that horrifies him, but which we do not see.

The man then kills and eats the woman, leaving us to wonder what

could have been in the pot that so horrified him?

"September" has two women giving the viewer the "Rules of


In "October" a man is attacked by zombies but survives by faking

being a zombie.  It turns out that he is immune.  (Apparently his

immunity is that he won't become a zombie if he is bitten, not that

the zombies won't attack him.)  He finds his girlfriend Zoe, but

her friend resents him and so lets zombies in to house to kill

them.  To save Zoe, he bites her.  He's immune, but does that mean

the zombies won't attack him?  Apparently they will.

"November" has us in a laboratory looking for a cure, Their process

involves killing off the researchers one by one.  The last one

tries to escape but apparently can't get the gate open.  However,

she shows up in "December" when she is shot by a man with a

slingshot shoots her but she is rescued by the immune man.  To save

her from zombies he bites her and sends her to a safe camp by the

sea.  She arrives, immune, but in an echo of NIGHT OF THE LIVING

DEAD, the guard sees she has been bitten, assumes she is infected,

and shoots her.

The rest of the films I will comment on next week.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: UNITY by Elly Bangs (copyright 2021, Tachyon Publications,

Print ISBN: 9781616963422; Digital ISBN: 9781616963439, print price

$16.95) (book review by Joe Karpierz)

Tachyon Publications has been making a habit of introducing readers

to new writers, most recently with Kimberly Unger's NUCLEATION.

Now, they've given us a terrific novel by Elly Bangs.  UNITY is a

lot of things: post apocalyptic, cyberpunk, adventure, thriller.

But most of all, it's an exploration of human consciousness and

what it means to be human.

Danae is a worker in the underwater city of Bloom.  The landscape

has been obliterated, forcing most of society to live below ground.

Danae does not feel complete, whole.  She feels the need to escape

Bloom and return to those that make her complete. She hires a

mercenary, Alexei, to get her safely out of Bloom.  Alexei, Danae,

and Danae's lover Naoto begin the trek across the desolate

landscape to find Danae's people.  The problem--and there always is

one, of course--is that there is a bounty on her head--well, more

precisely what's inside of her--placed by a man named Duke, who has

taken over Bloom and who wants the secret of what she carries.

There is a crazy and wild escape from Bloom itself, and then an

eventful chase across a desolate landscape that we learn used to be

the American Southwest.  Danae is desperately trying to get to the

people she wants to reunite with before she is captured and taken

back by Duke and his men.

So far, it seems like a fairly standard kind of story we've read

before, and there really is nothing new:  character has a secret

that bad people want, bad people chase character across dystopian

landscape, other stuff happens.  It's the "other stuff happens"

that separates UNITY from other novels with this plot.

Yes, Danae carries a secret within her.  Alexei has a secret too.

And within the course of the second half of the novel, Bangs slowly

but surely rolls the secrets out, little by little.  Danae's secret

is the whopper, of course, the one that the whole story hinges on.

As Danae and Alexei interact more, it becomes less of a job for

Alexei than it is a badge of honor.  He must finish what he started

with Danae because it is the honorable and right thing to do.  He

is let in on the secret just as slowly and surely as the readers

are, and while he may not understand it, it helps him in his

journey of honor.  Complicating this whole thing is the appearance

of a character out of Danae's past called "The Borrower".  Who is

he and what part does he play in all of this?

As an aside, you may be wondering how Naoto fits in with all of

this.  He carries a secret too, but it comes out fairly early in

the story and provides motivation for what he does throughout the

novel.  In my opinion, he is a minor but important character.

The story's climax is one of the best I've read in years.  Well,

maybe not a climax, but a revelation.  Danae and The Borrower meet

and Danae learns that her project--the secret she's been carrying

with her--had been carried on without her.  What she learns about

humanity and herself is a wonderful statement on what humanity is

and could become, and whether we'd want to go down that road that

The Borrower revealed to Danae.

It's a bit of an uneven book, especially at the start, but once it

gets going and we find out what's really going on, it turns into

one of the best first novels I've read in a long time.  It seems

like Bangs has a bright future ahead of her, and it may be time to

hop on for the ride.  [-jak]



POWER by Victor Davis Hanson (book review by Gregory Frederick)

This military history book is more than just a contribution to our

knowledge of Western history.  It explains why the West has largely

been successful.  The book describes nine decisive battles where a

Western military force faced a non-Western foe.  It starts with

ancient Greece and the naval battle between Greek city states and

Persia at Salamis in 480 B.C., then proceeds to Alexander the Great

in 331 B.C., who fought against the Persians at Gaugamela.

Eventual this review of nine battles ends at the Tet offensive in

Vietnam in 1968 where the United States military fought the North

Vietnamese.  And after more than two millennia of battles the

author proceeds to underscore an overarching theme: the West's

enduring military superiority.  Hanson believes that the roots of

Western military dominance lies with Hellenic culture and its

legacies, particularly its brand of rational, individualistic

thinking, which rejects excessive reliance on theology, custom, and

tyrannical politics.  Hanson suggests that a tradition of civic

militarism, that is, the West's ability to mobilize citizen

soldiers and animate them with the discipline of collective

endeavor has created an ascendancy in military matters that

remains, secure.  A well-written and thought provoking book which

creates the argument for the dominance of Western military forces.


Evelyn adds:

I feel obliged to point out that while we may have won the Tet

offensive, and every other battle, we did lose the war.  [-ecl]

Mark adds:

I feel I should point out that while the North Vietnamese may have

won the war the country went strongly into capitalism.  You see

international brand names all over the country.  [-mrl]


TOPIC: Nebula Award Finalists

SFWA has announced this year's Nebula finalists.  Note: all the

short story finalists are available free on-line.


- PIRANESI, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury US; Bloomsbury UK)

- THE CITY WE BECAME, N. K. Jemisin (Orbit US & UK)

- MEXICAN GOTHIC, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey; Jo Fletcher)

- THE MIDNIGHT BARGAIN, C. L. Polk (Erewhon)

- BLACK SUN, Rebecca Roanhorse (Saga; Solaris)

- NETWORK EFFECT, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)


- TOWER OF MUD AND STRAW, Yaroslav Barsukov (Metaphorosis)

- FINNA, Nino Cipri (Tordotcom)

- RING SHOUT, P. Djeli Clark (Tordotcom)

- "Ife-Iyoku, the Tale of Imadeyunuagbon," Oghenechovwe Donald



- THE FOUR PROFOUND WEAVES, R. B. Lemberg (Tachyon)

- RIOT BABY, Tochi Onyebuchi (Tordotcom)


- "Stepsister", Leah Cypess (F&SF 5-6/20)

- "The Pill", Meg Elison (BIG GIRL, PM Press)

- "Burn or the Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super",

A. T. Greenblatt (Uncanny 5-6/20)

- "Two Truths and a Lie", Sarah Pinsker ( 6/17/20)

- "Where You Linger", Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (Uncanny 1-2/20)

- "Shadow Prisons", Caroline M. Yoachim (serialized in the

Dystopia Triptych series as 'The Shadow Prison Experiment',

'Shadow Prisons of the Mind', and 'The Shadow Prisoner's

Dilemma', Broad Reach Publishing + Adamant Press)

Short Story

- "Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse", Rae Carson

(Uncanny 1-2/20)

- "Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math", Aimee Picchi

(Daily Science Fiction 1/3/20)

- "A Guide for Working Breeds", Vina Jie-Min Prasad


- "The Eight-Thousanders", Jason Sanford (Asimov's 9-10/20)

- "My Country Is a Ghost", Eugenia Triantafyllou (Uncanny 1-2/20)

-  "Open House on Haunted Hill", John Wiswell

(Diabolical Plots 6/15/20)

The Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult


- RAYBEARER, Jordan Ifueko (Amulet)

- ELATSOE, Darcie Little Badger (Levine Querido)


- A GAME OF FOX & SQUIRRELS, Jenn Reese (Holt)

- STAR DAUGHTER, Shveta Thakrar (HarperTeen)


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

I recently saw THE LAST VERMEER amd this led me to read THE

FORGER'S SPELL by Edward Dolnick (HarpersCollins, ISBN 978-0-06-

082541-6), upon which it was based.  (There are several other books

on this subject, both non-fiction and fictionalized.)

And to be specific, the subject is Han van Meegeren and his forgery

of paintings by Vermeer and several other 17th century Dutch

painters.  They were quite convincing, apparently, and he even sold

one--"Christ and the Adulteress"--to Hermann Goering.  That was

what got him into trouble: he was accused of collaboration in

selling Dutch national treasures to the Nazis.  Faced with the

death penalty, he put forward what was certainly a unique defense:

the painting he had sold was a forgery.  Art experts were

disbelieving--they had raved about the painting for years--but van

Meegeren was able to prove it three different ways.  One of which

was to paint another "Vermeer" in front of witnesses.  One was to

tell the court what modern chemicals could be found in the paints

of the forgeries.  (These two also confirmed that his other

"Vermeers" were forgeries.)  The best--though only applicable to

this specific painting--was a plank shown to match perfectly the

stretched behind the Vermeer, and hence have been sawn from the

same larger piece of wood.  And van Meegeren had bought a 17th

century painting (for which he had documents of the sale) that was

just the size of the two pieces of wood placed together.

After this, van Meegeren became a folk hero to the Dutch for

defrauding Goering, although he also profited handsomely from it

and appeared to have been a bit more chummy with the Nazis than his

folk hero status might imply.

At his trial, van Meegeren said, "Yesterday this picture was worth

millions of guilders, and experts and art lovers would come from

all over the world and would pay money to see it.  Today, it is

worth nothing, and nobody would cross the street to see it for

free. But the picture has not changed.  What has?"

In the book, however, Dolnick notes, "Today, visitors to the

Boymans Museum will not find 'Emmaus' in a place of honor.  For

years they would not have found it at all.  Its banishment now

past, it hangs high above the ground--the bottom edge of the

painting is perhaps six feet above the floor...  The painting bears

a label, but it is mounted on the frame's top edge and cannot be

read from ground level.  The museum's audio tour skips over

'Emmaus'.  So does the postcard collection in the gift shop.  But

to the dismay of the Boymans's curators, "Emmaus" is the picture

that most visitors want to see.  'It's awful that it's one of our

most famous paintings,' laments Jeroen Giltaij, a specialist in the

Dutch Golden Age."

Van Meegeren's "today" was 1947.  Dolnick's "today" was 2008.  The

admission fee in 2018 was 17.50 euros.  Ultimately van Meegeren was

wrong about the painting's popularity, but not about how it is

valued artistically.  It is popular the same way the ashtray of

Jackson Pollock or the inkwell of Lord Dunsany would be: as an

associational item or curiosity.

Dolnick also discusses why van Meegeren was able to fool so many

people at the time, yet why now the paintings seem so obviously

forgeries.  The book is worth reading for those interested in art

or hoaxes or both. and the film is entertaining enough if you keep

in mind that it is not entirely true to the actual facts of the

case.  [-ecl]


                     Mark Leeper

* *

          All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling.

                                          --Oscar Wilde