THE MT VOID
Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
08/27/21 -- Vol. 40, No. 9, Whole Number 2186
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NPR Summer Books Poll: The 50 Best Science Fiction and
Fantasy Books of the Past Decade
FRANKENSTEIN and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,
Lectures, etc. (NJ)
My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in September (comments
by Mark R. Leeper)
Bond Songs (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
Latin (letters of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt,
Keith F. Lynch, Scott Dorsey, Andy Leighton,
Gary McGath, Tim Merrigan, and Paul Dormer)
This Week's Reading (THE PLAGUE) (book comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: NPR Summer Books Poll: The 50 Best Science Fiction and
Fantasy Books of the Past Decade
[I'm not printing the whole list here. -ecl]
There was also a short piece on three YA fantasy novels on "NPR
Sunday Edition" last Sunday:
TOPIC: FRANKENSTEIN and DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (comments by Evelyn
Coincidentally, both the Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN and the
Frederic March DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE started filming on the same
day: August 24, 1931.
Even more coincidentally, the 90th anniversary of that was last
Tuesday (which is today as I write this), but alas, I did not
discover this until it was too late to be put in last week's MT
FRANKENSTEIN filming wrapped October 3; DR. JEKYLL & HYDE filming
wrapped October 20. [-ecl]
TOPIC: Science Fiction (and Other) Discussion Groups, Films,
Lectures, etc. (NJ)
Both groups have returned to the B.C. (Before Covid) schedules, and
the films will be shown as part of the Middletown meetings.
September 2 (MTPL), 5:30PM: Ray Bradbury Centennial: three short
films & stories:
"I Sing the Body Electric!" ("The Electric Grandmother")
"There Will Come Soft Rains"
> for lists of the
many books that also include these stories.
September 23 (OBPL), 7:00PM: THE FOOD OF THE GODS by H. G. Wells
TOPIC: My Picks for Turner Classic Movies in September (comments by
Mark R. Leeper)
This column was originally intended to point out to the readers
good films they have not seen before or to comment on films they
have seen but were still interesting. Since that time my purpose
has strayed and wandered. I see that TCM is going to show one of
the great and iconic science fiction films of all time. I have
never written my comments on this film so it is about time.
Turner Classic Movies has shown the visionary FORBIDDEN PLANET, one
of the most imaginative and influential science fiction films ever
made, but I have never actually made it my pick of the month. I
guess that was on the theory that everyone already knew about it.
It has been (inaccurately) claimed to be the first science fiction
film to ever take place entirely in space. No scenes of this film
take place on earth or even in our solar system, though the
characters are all humans or one of a couple of zoo animals. Well
... that is if we disqualify a robot from being a character. And
sadly it does not even hold the distinction of being the first
truly space-bound film. That distinction probably goes to CAT
WOMEN OF THE MOON.
FORBIDDEN PLANET is probably the best science fiction film of the
1950s. It is the closest to the quality of contemporaneous written
science fiction, a genuine scientific puzzle with a sophisticated
problem solution. Along the way we really are given all the clues
necessary to solve the murder. Visually the film probably shows
the greatest imagination of any Fifties film (in any genre) and
when seen in its widescreen format, much of it still looks very
good sixty-five years later. The beautiful planet-scapes and
space-scapes would not be surpassed until STAR WARS. For the pre-
digital age, the effects are very impressive. And the scenes are
all the more impressive in widescreen format. And this in spite of
the fact that what was released was only a rough-cut of the film
with what we shall see are plenty of errors. Not that it is so
much a tribute to this film, but when Gene Roddenberry was planning
the original "Star Trek" series, he pitched it as being "'Wagon
Train' to the stars," but what he was really planning was
"FORBIDDEN PLANET: The TV Series." The film is almost a template
for the original "Star Trek." Bits of the ideas show up throughout
science fiction to come like bits of the props showed up in
"Twilight Zone" episodes.
The characters are a little stereotypical and 1950s-ish in their
sensibilities and their morality. Much has been made of the idea
that the story was built around the plot of Shakespeare's TEMPEST.
That may be true, but little more than the basic situation and some
of the characters are taken from the Shakespeare. The murder
mystery, which is the main thrust of the plot, and the character's
motivations, are entirely different from the Shakespeare. For
those who have not seen it, the story, in short, deals with a
rescue mission to the planet Altair IV. An expedition to the
planet two decades before had disappeared without a sign. From
Earth United Planets Cruiser C-57D captained by Commander Adams
(played by Leslie Nielsen) comes to investigate and discovers the
sole survivor living on the planet with his daughter. Nearly
everyone else from the expedition had been killed under very
mysterious circumstances, ripped apart by an unseen force. Only
Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his wife survived, and the wife
died of what we are told were natural causes a year or so later.
(In the light of the denouement one wonders if that is actually
true.) Morbius's only company is his daughter Altaira (Anne
Francis) who was born on this planet and Robbie, a fascinating
robot who talks but prefixes every speech with the sound of an old-
fashioned mechanical adding machine.
Connected with the mystery of what happened to the original
expedition is the fact that the planet was at one time millions of
years earlier inhabited by a super-scientific civilization that
were called the Krell. One of the points of the story was to show
the immense power that the Krell had, and for once, what we see
really seems to confirm the fact. The great set piece of the film
is a visit to one of four hundred Krell power shafts. We see four
or five levels of what we are told are 7800 levels. So what we are
seeing is a tiny fraction of what the film claims the Krell had,
but what we do see is dumbfoundingly immense. This is a film that
really dwarfs the human and overwhelms the viewer with the
magnitude of what is possible.
This is a film with beautiful effects that rely in large part on
matte paintings and not models. That approach gave the effects
department much more artistic freedom in the images it could
create. Mostly the effect was used for planet-scapes and space-
scapes, but they are impressive. Then there is Robby, the most
famous film robot outside of the "Star Wars" universe. Over the
years the suit became almost a star in itself. The design is
incredibly creative, a flurry of moving parts and flashing neon to
make it look more a mechanical device than man in a robot suit.
Each time the robot speaks it is prefaced by the noise of a cash
register as if it is computing mechanically. The voice is Marvin
Miller, a familiar voice often used for narration and dubbing at
the time. And those who remember 1950s television may remember him
as Michael Anthony in the television series "The Millionaire."
Special mention should be made of the electronic music by Louis and
Beebe Barron. It was the first totally electronic score in a
feature film and the MGM music department would not even allow it
to be called a score. They were somewhat disappointed that there
was not more interest in their new musical form, "electronic
tonalities." In 1976 Louis Barron decided that there might be a
market for the soundtrack on record. He still had LPs so packed
some cases at his own expense. He brought a case to MidAmeriCon,
the World Science Fiction Convention, in the hopes that there might
be some interest in the record. He told himself that some people
might still be interested in the unusual score after twenty-one
years. After selling in the huckster room for an hour he put in an
emergency call home to Beebe saying to ship him the all rest of the
cases as quickly as possible. He had no idea the demand that there
would be either for the record or for himself. He suddenly found
himself to be a celebrity. For years I remember seeing copies of
the record for sale. I believe it is even on CD. I hope the
latter-day popularity of the score helped the Barrons in their
Leslie Nielsen plays his role straight, as he would his roles for
many years to come. But it is hard to see him in this film without
being reminded of his later slapstick comedy roles. Walter Pidgeon
is clearly a bit uncomfortable in a role very unlike what he is
used to playing. Of course that quality may be just what Morbius
needs. Anne Francis in an ingenue role is somewhat better than
many young starlets have been in similar roles. Les Tremayne who
played a general in WAR OF THE WORLDS narrates three or four
sentences at the beginning.
This is one of the great science fiction films of all time. I give
it a full +4 on the -4 to +4 scale.
[FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), September 21, 6:15 PM]
(But even so great a film as FORBIDDEN PLANET has a few flaws, and
I will talk about them next week.)
Turner is also running two "festivals" of special interest:
Magic/Witchcraft (September 17):
6:00 AM The Magician (1926)
7:30 AM The Magician (1958)
9:30 AM Miracles for Sale (1939)
10:45 AM Fingers at the Window (1942)
1:45 PM La Main du Diable (1943)
3:15 PM The Hypnotic Eye (1960)
4:45 PM Death Curse of Tartu (1966)
6:15 PM The Devil's Own (1966)
Lewton/Lewtonesque (September 23):
7:30 AM The Ghost Ship (1943) [Lewton]
8:45 AM Isle of the Dead (1945) [Lewton]
10:00 AM The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
12:00 PM Dead Men Walk (1943)
1:15 PM Scared to Death (1947)
2:30 PM Bedlam (1946) [Lewton]
4:00 PM The Mysterious Doctor (1943)
5:00 PM Cat People (1942) [Lewton]
6:30 PM The Curse of the Cat People (1944) [Lewton]
as well as another on September 10:
8:00 PM Seventh Victim, The (1943) [Lewton]
TOPIC: Bond Songs (letter of comment by Kip Williams)
In response to Mark's comments on James Bond songs in the 08/20/21
issue of the MT VOID, Kip Williams writes:
Something in the current look at Bond lyrics reminds me that "Gold"
in the various book titles is (apparently in Fleming's glossary) a
rather childish reference to a familiar smelly substance. Sorry, I
don't know where I picked this up, though I'll speculate it was in
reading the second series of Legman's RATIONALE OF THE DIRTY JOKE,
which I could never quite motivate myself to buy, because so much
in it was merely disgusting and not much else.
Another thing comes to mind as I follow the discussion, and that's
the filk I wrote on "You Only Live Twice":
You only live once, that's how it goes.
One life and you're gone, most evidence shows.
You live for your years, you turn your wheel
Some say you get more, but that's not the deal
Your life is the least the world puts on your plate
Be fast to the feast, or be late for your fate!
One life all your own, and you're the price.
One more would be nice, but you don't live twice.
TOPIC: Latin (letters of comment by Dorothy J. Heydt, Keith
F. Lynch, Scott Dorsey, Andy Leighton, Gary McGath, Tim Merrigan,
Paul Dormer, and Kevin R)
In response to Evelyn's comments on Latin in the 08/20/21
issue of the MT VOID, Dorothy J. Heydt writes:
There is a man at the Vatican who invents such [new] words as
needed. It's been years since I read the article about him, but I
bet he (or his successor) is still there.
["Do Catholics with no other common language converse in Latin?"
They used to, but since the vernacular Mass came in, Latin among
the laity has become like whatever language you and I had to learn
in high school (mine was Spanish) and mercifully forgot immediately
Pope Francis recently came down on the Latin Mass, still clung to
by conservative Catholics, who complain (a) that the initial
English translations were in very clumsy English (true) and that
the Latin Mass united the congregation with the Church worldwide
(not true: the closest thing we have to a world language at present
I miss the Latin Mass, but then, I understand Latin.
And there's a letter set in WWII from Lord Peter Wimsey (who, let's
remember, is fictional) to his wife, which says (reconstructing
from memory): "Like the fellow in the hymn, I have seen a wonder
sight: an Anglican padre and a Greek Orthodox ditto discussing the
persecution of the Jews under the Nazi regime. I have never heard
such expressions of sympathy or so many false quantities."
Keith F. Lynch responds:
I've heard that Church Latin would have been incomprehensible to
the ancient Romans, due to misunderstandings about pronunciations.
For instance "Caesar" was pronounced "Kaiser" (which is where the
Germans got that word), and "veni, vidi, vici" was pronounced
"weenee, weedee, weesee." Which pronunciation is taught in schools
today, and does it differ between public schools and church
schools? Thanks. [-kfl]
Scott Dorsey answers:
I can say that the pronunciations taught in schools today in
England and in Italy are very different. [-sd]
Yes. I studied Classical Latin but sang in Church Latin, which is
as near to Italian as makes very little difference.
Andy Leighton responds:
The C in vici was hard--so more like wiki (with the 'I's sounding
like the 'I' in machine)
Quintilian wrote that 'K' should not be used at all in words as 'C'
maintains its force in conjunction with all the vowels.
Also Veni would have a 'eh' sound for the first vowel. 'E's never
had a 'ee' sound in Latin. [-al]
Gary McGath elaborates:
My familiarity with Church Latin is mostly through classical music,
specifically the Mass and Requiem texts. The northern and southern
European pronunciations have noticeable differences. German choirs
pronounce "pacem" as "pahtzem," and Italian ones pronounce it as
"pahchem." Ancient Romans, if I'm getting this right, pronounced it
Those pronunciations aren't "misunderstandings"; the pronunciation
of Latin just shifted over the centuries.
"Caesar" was pronounced roughly "Kah-es-ahr" in ancient Rome, so
not the same as "Kaiser" though close.
I saw a video claiming that the Latin hard 'C' sound has less of a
puff of breath than our 'K' sound. The best I can approximate what
I heard is to pronounce the first syllable as "Gah" with an
unvoiced G. How did they figure out such fine differences in
Correct. Sound-changes over the centuries with minimal chances to
*hear* the other regions pronunciation.
Classical Greek distinguished between aspirated and unaspirated
consonants. "pi" was pronounced [p], and "phi" was pronounced
[p(h)]. Similarly "tau" [t] and "theta [t(h)] and "chi" [k(h) and
And there's a poem by Catullus* about a man who would say
"chommoda" when he meant "commoda," because that was his local
accent. The poem ends with his visiting the Ionian Sea, which
promptly became Hionian.
So that's a clue that at least "c" and "ch" were the unaspirated
and aspirated versions of the same stop.
(*) Which I can't quote just now, because my complete Catullus is
in the fiction room, where (as all know) I can't go without letting
the cats in. [-djh]
Keith answers Gary:
In the old rasff tradition, I'm disagreeing with you just to be
Live languages evolve. Dead languages don't, but are held to have
been correct at some specific past time and place. For Latin,
that's usually whatever dialect Augustus spoke.
Latin evolved, but people today in the former Roman Empire are
neither speaking Latin wrong nor speaking Latin right; they're
speaking Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian, or whatever right.
Similarly Old English and Middle English are no longer evolving.
They were replaced by Modern English, which is still evolving.
Anyone who speaks Old English in a way that couldn't have been
understood by even one person living in England before 1066 is
doing it wrong.
Similarly, dinosaurs are extinct, hence no longer evolving. The
living descendants of dinosaurs aren't being a dinosaur wrong, nor
are they being a dinosaur correctly. They're being birds
And Gary responds:
Latin was used for over a millennium after Augustus's time as a
scholarly language. Newton wrote his major works in Latin. That
had to involve coining new words, so I don't think you can call it
a dead language until the 18th century at the earliest.
It was used as a written language much more than it was spoken,
which is a situation that would encourage changes in pronunciation.
that, the Church was trying to maintain tradition, and it may have
been the main area where Latin was still spoken. Even so,
pronunciation shifted to reflect Italian pronunciation. [-gmg]
I was looking up a number of mathematics papers from the *late*
19th century to find they were all in Latin.
Although of course all the chemistry papers from that era were in
As Gary explains (I think), he isn't saying that Spanish is not
just Latin pronounced differently, but rather that Latin
pronunciation, as it is spoken, has changed over the years. There
are many words in English that are pronounced differently than they
were even a hundred years ago, but Modern English is still Modern
English. (Another example would be Spanish, with the "s" sound
pronounced differently in Spain than in Latin America. And Hebrew
is pronounced differently between Askenazim and Sephardim.) [-ecl]
Tim Merrigan also responds to Gary:
["'Caesar' was pronounced roughly 'Kah-es-ahr' in ancient Rome, so
not the same as 'Kaiser' though close." -gmg]
And not the same as T/Czar which is also descended from it. [-tm]
And Tim responds to Keith:
My understanding is that when The Church adopted Latin as their
official language in the 4th century C.E., around the time of the
Council of Nicaea, there was a debate as to whether it should be
Classical Latin, which was still, and pretty much only, used in
legal documents, or Vulgate Latin which was spoken in the streets
of Rome. They decided on Vulgate because that way the word of God
could be spread more easily. [-tm]
Paul Dormer writes:
There's a bit in the 1939 film GOODBYE MR CHIPS where Chips
complains about the new pronunciation of Latin that he now had to
teach. Of course, he taught at what in the UK is called a public
school and therefore you had to pay to go there. [-pd]
Paul beat me to it, but honestly, that is the one thing I remember
best from that film. [-ecl]
A looong, long time ago my mother was in a chorus who were
rehearsing a song in Latin. She told me how the conductor very
pointedly said they did not want to hear *any* Classical
pronunciation (and I wouldn't be surprised if they had been looking
at my mother when they said that--if the conductor was who I
suspect they were (it's been a while), he knew she had a son who
took Latin at a school that taught Classical pronunciation).
The text of Stravinsky's opera "Oedipus Rex" is in grammatically
medieval Latin. But the instructions are to use Classical
pronunciation. (Since when I first heard it I'd had a couple years
of singing Church Latin, it came as a bit of a shock.) [-djh]
Shouldn't it be in classical Greek? Or, given Stravinsky's
nationality, modern Russian? [-kfl]
Paul Dormer replies:
He had his reasons, and apparently even consider ancient Greek.
'... but [he] decided ultimately on Latin: in his words "a medium
not dead but turned to stone."'
The libretto was actually written by Jean Cocteau in French and
then translated into Latin. There is also a narrator who comes on
from time to time to explain what is happening in the audience's
local language. [-pd]
Kevin R notes:
On the rare occasion we in our children's choir sang a hymn in
Latin rather than English, we used "church Latin" pronunciation.
Soft "g" in "Regem angelorum" in "Adeste Fidelis/O Come, All Ye
Faithful," exempli gratia. We didn't turn "venite" into wehn-ee-
My two years of Catholic School Latin were in 1970-71 and 1971-72.
We leaned classical pronunciation from Sr Thomas Aquinas. She
briefed us on the difference between that and "church Latin," which
had adopted pronunciations that eventually led to Italian becoming
its own language.
What I was told was that, especially prior to Vatican II, with
priests from all over the world, sometimes when two met the only
language they had in common was Latin. I suspect this happened
much less often between two lay Catholics. [-kr]
I remember learning that song in school, but I think the teacher
didn't get the pronunciation right by any version of Latin. We
pronounced "Bethlehem" with the English "th," which I don't think
Latin has ever done. [-gmg]
Since "Bethlehem" isn't of Latin/Roman origin, not pronouncing
it in a Latinate way didn't bother me. Who knows how close
to Hebrew or Aramaic we got, though?
Since we have the intern et, we can find people quibbling over it:
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
Towards the beginning of the pandemic, I read (well, re-read)
Samuel Pepys's diary entries about the plague in London in 1665 and
Daniel Defoe's JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR (written about 1665, but
in response to the plague in Marseilles in 1720). I finally got
around to (re-)reading THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus (translated by
Stuart Gilbert) (Vintage, ISBN 978-0-679-72021-8). First, my local
library was completely closed. Then it was open for curbside
pickup, but it did not have the book and was not doing inter-
library loans. It was only when the library in the next town was
re-opened to people from other towns that I could find it. (Even
then, it wasn't easy--it was not in the "Fiction" section, but a
"Classics" section peculiar to only that library.)
Camus writes about a fictional plague--the bubonic plague, in
specific--that strikes the city of Oran sometime in the 1940s.
(Based on internal evidence, and assuming it is set in the future,
it must be 1947.) He often makes reference, however, to the 1720
plague in Marseilles, so all these books tie together. (I also
(re-)read Connie Willis's DOOMSDAY BOOK, but that does not tie in
to the others.)
In speaking of Oran, our narrator claims that "social unrest is
quite unknown us." One has to remember that Camus wrote this
before the Algerian War, which began in 1954 and lasted eight
While Camus wrote THE PLAGUE as a metaphorical and philosophical
work, much of what he wrote is quite accurate vis-a-vis the current
For example, there is the initial reaction to the plague: "Our
townsfolk ... thought that everything still was possible for them;
which presupposed that pestilences were impossible. They went on
doing business, arranged for journeys, and formed views. How
should they have given a thought to anything like plague, which
rules out any future, cancels journeys, silences the exchange of
views. They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free
so long as there are pestilences."
Even the claims to freedom sound spot on.
There's the claim that something that sounds like herd immunity is
the answer, because nothing else would stop it, so why bother
trying: "The only hope was that the outbreak would die a natural
death; it certainly wouldn't be arrested by the measures the
authorities had so far devised."
One character insists he should be given special privilege to leave
the quarantined town, because he was just visiting and is in love
with someone on the outside. He feels he should get this because
"public welfare is merely the sum total of the private welfares of
each of us." The problem being, of course, that he is only looking
at the positive side of what he wants--his private welfare. He is
not considering the negative side, the people who may get sick and
die because of his actions, particularly if he spreads the plague
to the rest of the world.
We talk about COVID fatigue; Camus writes, "The truth is that
nothing is less sensational than pestilence, and by reason of their
very duration great misfortunes are monotonous," and "[people] who
hitherto had shown a keen interest in every scrap of news
concerning the plague now displayed none at all."
And regarding the actions of some politicians as contrasted to
their words, Camus says, "But the most dangerous effect of the
exhaustion steadily gaining on all engaged in the fight against the
epidemic did not consist in the relative indifference to outside
events and the feelings of others, but in the slackness and
supineness that they allowed to invade their personal lives. They
developed a tendency to shirk every movement that didn't seem
absolutely necessary or called for efforts that seemed too great to
be worth while. Thus these men were led to break, oftener and
oftener, the rules of hygiene they themselves had instituted, to
omit some of the numerous disinfections they should have practiced,
and sometimes to visit the homes of people suffering from pneumonic
plague without taking steps to safeguard themselves from
And some observations are perennially applicable: "Stupidity has a
knack of getting its way; as we should see if we were not always so
wrapped up in ourselves." [-ecl]
I just love dogs, and there really is no better
companion than an animal.