Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society

07/02/21 -- Vol. 40, No. 1, Whole Number 2178

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Co-Editor: Evelyn Leeper, * *

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Romper-Noir (by Mark R. Leeper)

MIDWAY (2019) (film review by Mark R. Leeper

and Evelyn C. Leeper)

THE FATED SKY by Mary Robinette Kowal (audio book review

by Joe Karpierz)


(book review by Gregory Frederick)

SONG OF FREEDOM (letter of comment by Kevin R)

This Week's Reading (Hugo Award Dramatic presentation,

Long Form, finalists) (film and book comments

by Evelyn C. Leeper)


TOPIC: Romper-Noir (by Mark R. Leeper)

All around the mulberry bush,

The monkey chased the weasel

The monkey thought it was all in fun,

But he was DEAD wrong.



TOPIC: MIDWAY (2019) (film review by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn

C. Leeper)

This is a 2019 re-creation of the Battle of Midway, currently best

known from the 1976 film MIDWAY.  The special effects seem a grade

below those of Michael Bey's 2001 PEARL HARBOR, and the script

drops a lot of names to tie this film to that one.  In fact, the

first half of this film is about the attack on Pearl Harbor and the

subsequent Doolittle raid on Tokyo.  It is an hour into the film

before Midway is more than just a passing name.

But the name-dropping is also because, unlike the earlier 1976 film

MIDWAY, or PEARL HARBOR (which also covers the Doolittle Raid),

this film does not add fictional characters or a fictional love

interest.  (Another film set in this period that sticks to real

people is TORA! TORA! TORA!)  So all the names are real and hence

sound a little like name-dropping.  Even when names aren't

mentioned, there are glimpses of the best-known people from Pearl

Harbor.  For example, at the awards ceremony shown about an hour in

(and which took place shortly before the Battle of Midway on the

deck of an aircraft carrier), we see from behind an African-

American seaman in the row of recipients; that would be Doris

Miller, who was awarded the Navy Cross on May 27 on the deck of the

USS Enterprise.

(Many films have featured highly fictionalized accounts of the

attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, or both.  This may be

the first reasonably accurate depiction of those events.)

One problem in war movies is balancing the chaos of battle with the

need to let the audience follow what is going on.  MIDWAY leans

more toward the former than the latter.

Another problem with the film is that it may be too accurate.  We

are introduced to a lot of actors with unfamiliar faces who are

much less familiar than those in, say, the earlier MIDWAY, making

it harder to keep the characters straight.  This makes it harder to

follow the events.

The script also takes the story from 1937 to 1942, chops it in

pieces, and although it shows them in chronological order, the

script jumps a few months or years with only minimal warning.

Mark summarizes: "I never actually followed a historic battle for

accuracy.  This one I did.  The Battle of Midway is one of the most

amazing stories in military history and I was very pleased to see a

new film featuring that story."

This is the rare war film that gets more points for historic

accuracy than for entertainment.

Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4)  [-mrl/ecl]


TOPIC: THE FATED SKY by Mary Robinette Kowal (copyright 2018, Tor,

$15.99, trade paperback, 384pp, ISBN 978-0-7653-9894-9; copyright

2018, Audible Studios, ASIN B07G8KZRST, 10 hours and 14 minutes,

narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal) (audio book review by Joe


THE FATED SKY is the second book of the Lady Astronaut of Mars

series, the sequel to the Hugo winning THE CALCULATING STARS and

the predecessor to this year's Hugo finalist, THE RELENTLESS MOON

(I have seen that there is a fourth book in the works, THE

DERIVATIVE BASE, but the only thing I know about it is that it is

continues the story from THE FATED SKY), although the word

predecessor may be the wrong word.  There are a lot of cases where

the second book in a series tends to be weak; not so with THE FATED

SKY, although I don't think it lives up to the standards of THE

CALCULATING STARS.  In fact, in my review of that novel I wrote,

"THE CALCULATING STARS is a terrific novel, and a worthy Hugo

finalist.  I look forward to reading its sequel, THE FATED SKY".

Still, this novel is a good one.

So, the human race has colonized the moon, and trips to and from

the Earth are commonplace enough.  Elma York is a pilot on those

runs, and she makes periodic visits to her husband back on Earth,

Nathaniel York.  One of those runs back to Earth results in a

terrorist attack of the shuttle by a group that thinks the space

program is a waste, and that the money should be better spent here

on Earth (now where have we heard that before).  There is also some

sentiment that space travel is for the privileged few, and that it

will never be truly opened to every one on the planet.  Remember,

the opening scene of THE CALCULATING STARS has an asteroid crash on

Earth, destroying Washington D.C., and the space program

development is accelerated in response to that disaster. There is a

point, we can admit, to wanting the money spent on the planet to

rebuild instead of looking to get off this rock.  It's an

interesting angle that really isn't explored in this novel.

Elma is still the face of the space program; she is still the Lady

Astronaut.  She is not only a pilot, but a computer.  Since

mechanical computers are still primitive and can't do the

calculations necessary for space travel, human beings still do it

better. The fact that she is the Lady Astronaut and a computer

plays heavily into the story.  A mission to Mars is revving up, and

training is underway.  As much as Elma would like to go--and she

really would like to go--she is satisfied to stay with her job as a

pilot shuttle as it allows her to see Nathaniel on a periodic

basis. Out of the blue, long after training has started, she is

reassigned to the Mars mission, and discovers that she has been

tabbed to take the place of one of the other computers.  Why?  Not

because she is any better than the other person, but because she is

the Lady Astronaut.  The space program needs positive attention

which leads to continued funding, and what better way than to

assign the Lady Astronaut to the project.  This causes strained

relationships between Elma and the rest of the mission team, and is

the first of many events which causes conflict within the team.

And so THE FATED SKY is the story of the flight to Mars, complete

with technical issues, emotional problems, racial conflicts, and a

host of other problems that contribute to the tension of the novel.

And all the human issues are relevant to the time period. It is the

early 1960s; racism and sexism are rampant not only in society on

Earth, but within the mission team.  The women are the ones

assigned the laundry duty.  The Blacks are assigned clean-up duty,

and as a rule don't get assignments within their fields of

expertise.  The messy situation is made worse by the presence of a

racist South African on the mission team.

And yet, even with all the problems, it is a human story, as people

band together in times of difficulty to do their best to make the

mission succeed.  And speaking of it being a human story, there is

something on the back cover of the book that I find a bit lacking.

In describing Elma, there is the description "Mathematician,

Computer, Astronaut".  What is missing in that description is

"Wife".  That may sound sexist, but given that Elma has given up a

good number of years of her life with her husband--a decision that

agonizes Elma throughout the novel--as well as the family they

wanted to have, I believe it is a term that should be included.

Still, I supposed that's a nit pick, as it really has nothing to do

with this terrific novel.

Kowal is the perfect person to narrate this novel.  She knows the

characters well, she knows how she wants them to sound, and she

knows how she wants them to act.  Her narration is, in my mind,

flawless, as one would expect.  After hearing her read this story,

I can't imagine anyone else narrating a Lady Astronaut book.




(book review by Gregory Frederick)

THE HUMAN COSMOS is about the disconnect between humanity and the

heavens.  According to the author for 20,000 years, we have led an

earthly existence which was intimately connected to the cosmos.

The heavenly cycles drove every aspect of our daily lives.  Our

relationship with the stars shaped who we were in art, religious

beliefs, social status, and scientific advances.  Even our biology

is effected by heavenly cycles.  In current times, for example

instead of living by the rising and setting of the Sun as in the

past we follow the strict order set by our clocks.  During the last

few centuries we have separated ourselves from the universe that

surrounds us.  Per the author, this disconnect comes with a major


Our relationship to the stars and planets has moved from one of

awe, wonder and superstition to one where technology is king.  The

cosmos is now explored through data on our screens, not by the

naked eye observing the cosmos.  Today, in most countries modern

light pollution obscures much of the night sky from view.  That

experience of viewing the cosmos and experiencing its awe inspiring

effect has been lost to many.  This experience has been the source

of our greatest creativity in art, in science, and in life.  These

days, people will stare at screens on their phones or PCs for hours

and never even look around at the natural world surrounding them.

Jo Marchant shows many examples of how in the past humans used the

awe and wonder from viewing the heavens to create art, religion,

and science.  One example mentioned occurs during the summer

solstice at a 5,000-year-old tomb at New Grange in England.  In the

book, we visit medieval monks coming up with methods to measure

time separate from nature and Tahitian sailors navigating by the

stars in tune with nature.  We learn how experimenters examined

light to reveal the chemical composition of the sun.  We see how

Einstein worked out that space and time are one and the same.  This

book puts a different perspective on our history and warns us not

to be too separated from the natural world. [-gf]


TOPIC: SONG OF FREEDOM (letter of comment by Kevin R)

In response to Evelyn's review of SONG OF FREEDOM in the 06/25/21

issue of the MT VOID, Kevin R writes:

[Evelyn wrote,] "Zinga ([played by Paul] Robeson[, American singer

and political activist]) wants to improve the lives of his people,

but he wants to make change by fiat--in other words, be a dictator

(even though it is softened to "king"). So he tells people what

they should do without any consideration for their opinions.  What

makes this all even more noteworthy is that Robeson had final cut

approval, meaning he apparently had no issues with the various

portrayals."  [-ecl]

I don't find it strange that a committed Stalinist would go along

with a dictator-protagonist.



Great singer, but Robeson was a political knucklehead. If I had

been of African descent in the early 20th Century USA, perhaps I

would have been similarly sucked in.  [-kr]


TOPIC: This Week's Reading (film and book comments by Evelyn

C. Leeper)

As I noted earlier, 2020 was not a great year for films of the

fantastic (or films in general), but here goes on the Best Dramatic

Presentation, Long Form, Hugo Awards category.


QUINN): Well, I suppose there had to be some superhero film on the

ballot, and Marvel did not release a film last year, so it was this

or WONDER WOMAN 1984.  I have not seen WONDER WOMAN 1984, but if

this is the better of the two, I probably don't want to.


mean, I know it was a bad year, but there were plenty of films with

more fantastical content more worthy of nomination: I'M THINKING OF


POSSESSOR, ...  The amount of fantastical content is equivalent to

that of HAMLET, and less than MACBETH.  I know that THE RIGHT STUFF

was nominated on the basis of perhaps even less fantastical

content, but at least one could argue it was on a related topic and

in fact the description of the category was modified to explicitly


SAGA?  I think not.

THE OLD GUARD: This "immortal superheroes" story was so

unremarkable that I did not even remember that we had seen this

last year until I went to schedule it on Netflix.  Even so, it is

far from the worst in the category.

PALM SPRINGS: This has the same "time loop" premise as GROUNDHOG

DAY, so everyone who reviews this has to confront that.  But one

can argue that just as not all time travel stories are unworthy

copies of H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE, so not all time loop

stories are just copies of GROUNDHOG DAY.  (Yes, it's its own sub-



SPRINGS.  As reviewers have pointed out, there are aspects of

GROUNDHOG DAY that are disturbing (e.g., the female lead is

basically manipulated the entire time, and Murray is never bothered

by this), but that PALM SPRiNGS avoids.  And there is also

J. K. Simmons, who always perks up a movie.

SOUL: I had a couple of problems with this.  First, it is very

centered on jazz, and I don't understand jazz.  Maybe it's even

broader in that I may not understand music in general.  For

example, I don't understand how one musician can just go off on a

solo and the others can instantly figure out what to play as

background accompaniment.  I also have no sense of what is coming

next, in the sense that with some music you can sort of predict the

next few notes.  The other problem is that I just didn't buy the

premise of the Great Before.  (Yeah, I know about willing

suspension of disbelief.)  And the cheat at the end didn't help.  I

can totally understand why some/many people like this; I'm just not

one of them.

TENET: I really wanted to like this, but Christopher Nolan's

decision to crank up the sound effects and muffle the dialogue made

it very difficult to even hear, and what I could hear (or read

subtitles for--Ghu bless the ADA!) I could not always make sense

of.  But I have to admit the premise was more interesting (if no

more likely) than many of the other finalists.






                     Mark Leeper

* *

          People asking questions, lost in confusion, well,

          I tell them, there's no problem, only solutions.

                                          --John Lennon