Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

06/04/21 -- Vol. 39, No. 49, Whole Number 2174

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Correction to Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups,

Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ)

HIGH NOON Versus UNCLE VANYA (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


(film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper)

Kolchak, Las Vegas, and Forensics (comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)

THE STEPFORD WIVES (letter of comment by Arthur Tansky)

Tom Swift, Jack Ryan, Grand Opera, Sexuality, and Race

(letters of comment by Scott Dorsey, Keith F. Lynch,

Paul Dormer, Tim Merrigan, Gary McGath, Jeff Urs,

and Lowell Gilbert)

This Week's Reading (Hugo Award short story finalists)

(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Correction to Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups,

Films, Lectures, etc. (NJ)

According to Charles S. Harris:

At this point, everything about future meetings of [the Middletown

SF group] is tentative: date, day of the week, start & end times,

location (outdoors/indoors, CommunityRoom/CompLab/smallroom), movie

viewing, and even book/film choice.  However, we hope that by July

we will have a full complement of members able to attend in person

at the MT Library.  [-csh]


TOPIC: HIGH NOON Versus UNCLE VANYA (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)

"Do not forsake me, oh my darling, on this our wedding day."

I agree; even Waffles' wife in UNCLE VANYA waited until the next


[Inspired by Mark's response: "Wait at least a couple of days."]



TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 18 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and

Evelyn C. Leeper)

Here is the eighteenth batch of mini-reviews, three films of the

fantastic, using a variety of animation techniques.

WOLFWALKERS: This is an animated film that is the third of the

Cartoon Saloon's "Irish Folklore Trilogy".  (The first two are THE

SECRET OF KELLS and SONG OF THE SEA.)  The story has strong echoes

of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON.  It has a very pleasant style of

artwork, and a supernatural adventure story strongly influenced by

Disney films.  Released 11/13/20; available on Apple TV+.  Rating:

low +2 (-4 to +4)

DOLITTLE: This is a reboot of the 1967 and 1998 films (both titled

DOCTOR DOLITTLE, the first starring Rex Harrison, the second Eddie

Murphy) of Hugh Lofting's book.  This version stars Robert Downey,

Jr., and does not have the pushmi-pullyu that appeared in the

previous two films.  It demonstrates the current state of CGI,

though some have criticized the implementation.  As is common these

days, various  celebrities use their voices for the voices of the

animals.  This is a film that starts out looking like it might be

an exciting pirate story, but eventually the excitement wears off.

Released 01/17/20; available on Amazon Prime and on DVD.  Rating:

high +1 (-4 to +4)


And one guest mini-review by Evelyn:

THE WOLF HOUSE: This fairy tale seems like a mash-up of the "Three

Little Pigs", "Little Red Riding Hood", and "Hansel and Gretel".

It's a combination of 2-D and 3-D (stop-motion) animation, and

works at appearing like a single continuous take with a constantly

moving camera.  (It reminded me of BIRDMAN.)  But since it took

five years to make, it is not likely to have been a single take.

The premise is a girl who runs away from a German colony in Chile,

and there are swastikas hidden in a few of the backgrounds.

Another touch is that at the end it simulates the scratches and

wear one sees on these sorts of educational films.  This is a must-

see for students of animation techniques.  Released 03/20/20;

available on Amazon Prime and on DVD.  Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) [-ecl]


TOPIC: Kolchak, Las Vegas, and Forensics (comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

We were recently watching THE NIGHT STALKER recently (as part of

our continuing series of Richard Matheson films, following Matthew

R. Bradley's book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN).  As we were seeing

Carl Kolchak visiting crime scenes in Las Vegas, taking pictures,

advising the police, and making suggestions, Mark suddenly said,

"You know, what we need is a series about crime investigation in

Las Vegas, maybe following the same team every week."  I assume he

also meant one with lots of shots of downtown Las Vegas, the Strip,

and other iconic areas.  I don't know--do you think he's onto

something there?

(Actually, that might be a good idea for a mash-up, with the Las

Vegas CSI investigating a crime that some obnoxious reporter

insists is supernatural.  Unfortunately, Darren McGavin is dead,

but maybe he could show up the way Laurence Olivier did in SKY

CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.  Along with William Petersen and

Jorja Fox, it would be a killer movie--no pun intended.)

We are also finishing up the Great Courses/Teaching Company course

on "Trails of Evidence: How Forensic Science Works", and I found

myself concluding that the Las Vegas police as portrayed in the

1974 film were pretty sloppy.  They find one body in the middle of

a large patch of sand (at least fifty fee square) which has no

footprints in it.  Do they have a police photographer take any

pictures before they tromp all over the sand?  No--apparently there

*is* no police photographer.  Only Kolchak, the newspaper reporter,

takes photographs.  [-ecl]


TOPIC: THE STEPFORD WIVES (letter of comment by Arthur Tansky)

In response to Evelyn's comments on THE STEPFORD WIVES in the

05/28/21 issue of the MT VOID, Arthur Tansky writes:

I know that when I read THE STEPFORD WIVES for my local book

discussion group (back in 2009), I was certain that the wives were

not brainwashed, but were replaced by robots.  I've still never

seen the movie.  And I didn't care enough for the book to go back

and see how we arrived at different understandings.

In case you're interested, here are the notes I made for myself

back then:


The book was written in 1972.  The 1978 COMPROMISING POSITIONS was

much more explicitly sexy.  Is it the six-year difference or is it

the authors?  It was interesting reading this so soon after I read

CP.  I'm not, and never have been, a woman, but CP's woman-to-woman

sex talk sounded genuine.  SW's didn't.

It's difficult to read this book, knowing the town's secret. Even

though it has some nice bits for the re-reader (e.g. Diz's smiling

for the first time as he contradicts Joanna's comment that he

doesn't want other people to be happy).

I found that this book would be more in the Horror genre than SF.

However, it may fit better with Romances.

I was put off by some of what seemed to be gratuitous sex (although

understated by today's standards).  Then I realized that this book

was written not for fen, but for bored suburban housewives.  It was

supposed to look like just another sex in the 'burbs books, then

take the reader by surprise.  It can't do that now, and I wonder

why it's still popular.

There are also problems with the writing that I wouldn't have

expected except in a first novel (which this isn't).  I was often

confused as to who was being referred to by pronouns.

I was also unsatisfied with a lack of information at the

denouement.  Was Walter converted to the dark side by propaganda

from the other men, or did he buy the house in Stepford

specifically in order to get a Stepford Wife?  In a small town,

isn't one house a month turnover a little high?  Especially in such

a town as this?

There's also a bit of a plot hole.  If these are animatronic dolls,

Bobbie wouldn't have needed a padded bra or a girdle.

Also, I admit a surprise: I expected mind control rather than

robotic replacements.  I wonder if the movie version used the

former and whatever info filtered into my brain came from talk

about that.

And if they're that far advanced in robotics, don't you think that

maids would have come before replacement wives?  (Another reason I

don't think it fits in the SF genre--not enough thinking things

through.)  [-at]


TOPIC: Tom Swift, Jack Ryan, Grand Opera, Sexuality, and Race

(letters of comment by Scott Dorsey, Keith F. Lynch, Paul Dormer,

Tim Merrigan, Gary McGath, Jeff Urs, and Lowell Gilbert)

In response to Dale Skran's comments on Tom Swift in the 05/28/21

issue of the MT VOID, did we get letters!  Dale wrote, "In this

already entertaining mix throw a new version of Tom Swift, with

Tian Richards playing a black, gay, and super-rich version of Tom.

This is in sharp contrast to Nancy Drew, who in spite of having a

diverse, modern set of friends, looks and acts like she stepped

right out the original books."  [-dls]

Scott Dorsey writes:

I don't think this is a character inversion at all.  In the

original books, Tom Swift was clearly very, very rich, likely from

all those profitable inventions he came up with.  He had no real

sexuality of any sort, so making him gay isn't that much of a

stretch.  Being Black is a pretty dramatic shift but a perfectly

reasonable one if you are going to update the character.  The

original character was white by default of course, as things would

be in the Age of Edison.  [-sd]

Keith F. Lynch responds:

He was definitely straight in the original novels.

I was rather surprised that the movie TOM CLANCY'S WITHOUT REMORSE

cast a Black actor to play the protagonist, John Kelly a.k.a. John


Are there any characters who should never be Black?

(I'm not complaining that Kelly was Black.  But I am complaining

that he coerced a confession from a suspect, whom he then killed.

He's supposed to be a good guy.)  [-kfl]

Scott replies:

Was he [straight]?  I don't remember him ever expressing any

interest in girls at any point.  Even the Hardy Boys were vaguely

interested in Iola, even if they never made out with her in the

rumble seat of Chet's jalopy.

Hmm, now I need to go re-read some of those Swift books.  I haven't

read them since third grade when I found a stack of them in the

school's attic.

Of course [there are characters who should never be Black].

Characters in historical dramas need to represent the original

characters.  You couldn't cast a Black man as George Wallace

effectively. The same goes for characters for whom their race is a

dominant factor in their lives and in the plot (again, George

Wallace being a fine example).

[Re Jack Ryan] You can take that up with Clancy.  [-sd]

Paul Dormer adds:

Coincidentally, a new series about the life of Anne Boleyn is

starting of British television.  The title role is being played by

Jodie Turner-Smith.  [-pd]

Evelyn notes:

For those unfamiliar with Jodie Turner-Smith, she is Black.  [-ecl]

Keith clarifies:

Note that I'm speaking of the *original* novels, circa 1910.  The

reprints and sequels may have been bowdlerized.

[Clancy] was unavailable for comment due to death.

To be fair to the movie, he did write positive depictions of

coerced confessions.  I don't recall if there was one in WITHOUT

REMORSE, but there was certainly one in CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER.


Tim Merrigan adds:

Soon after the (grown up, grifter) Bobbsy Twins were introduced to

the show, I looked up the original books and their publisher.  (I

hadn't known that The Bobbsy Twins were part of that universe.)

It seems that having no sexuality was part of the publisher's

bible, unless it was asexual.

[Re characters who should never be Black] Jefferson Davis?  [-tm]

Keith replies:

What show [were the Bobbsy Twins introduced to]?

To be fair, they were six years old [in the books].

The original novels in 1904, so they'd be 123 today, hence also

presumably not sexually active.  [-kfl]

Tim reminds Keith:

Nancy Drew, the show this subthread is about.

But that was the bible for all the titles they published, Nancy

Drew, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and several others I can't think

of off the top of my head.

I have a question for people who've actually read the books, in

whatever iteration.  Was Nancy constantly dealing with supernatural

investigations?  I was kinda under the impression she mostly dealt

with "mundane" crimes, missing persons, murders, theft, etc. rather

than the ghosts, including the ghost of her biological mother, and

hauntings and possessions and curses, the show has her dealing

with.  [-tm]

Regarding the race of characters/actors, Gary McGath writes:

In opera anything goes.  In THE MAGIC FLUTE, Pamina is supposed to

be white, but Kathleen Battle has played her (quite well, too).  I

once saw a live performance of FAUST where Marguerite was white but

her brother Valentine was Black.  Conversely, a number of white

performers have played Aida, who is Ethiopian.  It's no stranger

than overweight sopranos portraying heroines who are dying of

wasting diseases.  [-gmg]

Evelyn interjects:

Mark once referred to an opera company's season including LA BOHEME

and LA TRAVIATA as featuring "the two tubercular titans of grand

opera."  [-ecl]

Paul writes:

I have seen the great Jamaican-born baritone Sir Willard White sing

Kutuzov in Prokofiev's WAR AND PEACE.

I also saw a review of a production of THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE

where, for each pair of twins, one was white and the other Black.

And nobody could tell them apart.  [-pd]

Re Tom's interest in girls, Jeff Urs writes:

Wikipedia matches my memory:

"Phyllis Newton--Daughter of Ned Newton and Tom Jr.'s customary

social date.  Facing death, Tom Jr. declares his love for Phyllis


Just the existence of a Tom Swift, Jr., strongly implies that the

elder Tom had some interest in women.  I haven't read the books, so

I don't know if any family details were ever given.  [-ju]

But Lowell Gilbert responds:

You seem to be implying the existence of some kind of consistency

that none of these stories employed on any kind of ongoing basis.

They were reliably consistent with their backstories, the relevant

points of which were generally laid out in the first (no, second,

now that I think of it) chapter, but not with wider details.  [-lg]

And Jeff Urs replies:

Oops.  That was me reading one thing and seeing another.  [-ju]


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

As I said, I'm going to start with the shorter fiction; not all the

novellas are available to me except through inter-library loan,

which is currently suspended.  (And given my broken hip, even

getting the locally available novellas is on hold.)  I am not going

to do the novels, or (Ghu help me) the series, though I will talk

about the long form dramatic presentations (i.e., movies) after I

manage to get SOUL from Netflix.

So let me start with the short story category.

"Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse", Rae Carson (UNCANNY

MAGAZINE, January/February 2020): My main problem with this is that

there seems to be a never-ending stream of post-apocalyptic zombie

movies these days.  (Well, more like a surging river, and "these

days" is more like "at least the last twenty years".)  Is it right

to downgrade because of that?  Who knows?

"A Guide for Working Breeds", Vina Jie-Min Prasad (MADE TO ORDER:

ROBOTS AND REVOLUTION, ed. Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)):  I found

the style awkward to read, and the ideas familiar (robots achieving

[more] self-awareness, unexpected consequences, etc.).

"Little Free Library", Naomi Kritzer ( This is a slight

variation on the "libraries as portals" idea, but on a smaller

scale.  (I am reminded of books such as Stephen Fry's MAKING

HISTORY, where you have a time machine that can send items back to

the past, but only in very small quantities.)  This is a more

lightweight story than a lot of what we are saying on the ballot

these days, but it is enjoyable.

"The Mermaid Astronaut", Yoon Ha Lee (BENEATH CEASELESS SKIES,

February 2020): I kept waiting for a big "reveal", and there was

one of sorts, but not all that surprising.  More a character study

than a story with a plot, it operates on a different level than a

lot of the other finalists.

"Metal Like Blood in the Dark", T. Kingfisher (Uncanny Magazine,

September/October 2020): I managed to totally miss the allegory in

this one, but it was still not a bad story.  (I won't say more, so

as to not spoil it.)

"Open House on Haunted Hill", John Wiswell (Diabolical Plots, 2020,

ed. David Steffen): Most haunted house stories are intended to be

scary; this one is not.  It's not exactly a ghost story, but I

would think of it in the same category as BLITHE SPIRIT, THE GHOST

AND MRS. MUIR, and TOPPER.  In any case, it's a nice change from

all the horrific haunted house stories one reads.

Ranking: "Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse", "Open House on

Haunted Hill", "Little Free Library", "Metal Like Blood in the

Dark", "The Mermaid Astronaut", "A Guide for Working Breeds",

no award



                     Mark Leeper

* *

          The analysis of variance is not a mathematical theorem,

          but rather a convenient method of arranging the


                                          --Ronald Fisher