SF Trailer Featuring Bell Labs Holmdel (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
The Better Films I Saw in 2021 (film comments
by Mark R. Leeper)
THE PLANETS by Andrew Cohen with Professor Brian Cox
(book review by Gregory Frederick)
Star Trek Economics (letters of comment by Gary McGath
and Scott Dorsey)
THE TIME MACHINE (letters of comment by Jeff Urs,
Scott Dorsey, Kevin R, and Robert Woodward)
This Week's Reading (THE END OF ETERNITY) (book comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: SF Trailer Featuring Bell Labs Holmdel (comments by Evelyn
SEVERANCE is a series that releases on Apple TV+ this Friday. Two
seasons have been scheduled so far; the first has nine episodes,
the second ten. The IMDB description is "Mark leads a team of
office workers whose memories have been surgically divided between
their work and personal lives. When a mysterious colleague appears
outside of work, it begins a journey to discover the truth about
their jobs." Interestingly, they list it as "Drama, mystery"
without even mentioning science fiction.
TOPIC: The Better Films I Saw in 2021 (film comments by Mark
Every year I have been making my list of the films I saw the
previous year that I thought were the ten best. But once again
this year the circumstances are quite unusual, as I am sure the
reader is aware. Again, I have seen far fewer films and while 2021
was better than 2020, the list is still a bit unusual, with few
major films appearing. But at least most of these are
"top-ten-worthy." Here in my opinion are among the best I saw.
(A couple are older films first seen in 2021.)
1. NIGHTMARE ALLEY: NIGHTMARE ALLEY is described by its makers as
a new adaptation of the book by William Lindsay Gresham, not a
remake of the 1947 classic film noir version. There is a great
deal of difference between the two, but this is every bit as good
as the previous film. The production design, art direction, set
decoration, and costume design are all note-worthy, and this film
has a star-studded cast who bring it to life.
2. HOUSE OF GUCCI: This is more than a film about fashion--it is
an Italian family epic in much the same style as THE GODFATHER, and
based on a true story. There is conspicuous wealth, scheming,
betrayal and yes, even murder.
3. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO looks back at the 1960s
through the dreams; the use of camera filters and different film
stock helps fix the time periods of the various scenes, as well as
the set design. This is a surprising film with enough ideas for
4. A HERO: When the secret girlfriend of Rahim (the title
character) finds a purse full of gold coins, he thinks this will
solve his debt problems, but it only entangles him further into a
web of lies and deceptions. Very much a film about honor and
reputation, this does not rely on flashy techniques but on good
solid story-telling and acting.
5. WORTH: WORTH is a film about the September 11 Victim's
Compensation Fund, and uses two very good actors in a strong and
even riveting conflict: when forced to name a dollar amount as the
worth of a human being, how can someone actually fairly assign a
monetary value on the worth of a human? Michael Keaton, Stanley
Tucci, and Michael Tucci star.
6. LAPSIS: LAPSIS is set in a world not quite our own, where Ray
takes a job running cables connecting large, metal cubes in a
(mostly) deserted forest. This is not a big-budget sci-fi flick,
but a low-budget satire of aspects of our lives today.
7. THE COURIER: THE COURIER is a classic spy thriller based on
historical fact and starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It is not quite
up to the recent BRIDGE OF SPIES, but is definitely a quality film.
Again, this does not rely on expensive special effects or stunts,
but on writing and characterization.
8. JUNGLE CRUISE: JUNGLE CRUISE (the movie) was based on "Jungle
Cruise", a Disneyland ride, so we weren't expecting much, and were
definitely pleasantly surprised. The script owes some of its
intelligence and humor to THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROMANCING THE
STONE, as well as THE MUMMY (1999) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.,
but there is nothing wrong with using classics as inspiration. All
in all, this is a fun movie.
9. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE--CITIZEN HEARST: Most people know William
Randolph Hearst only as the fictional title character in CITIZEN
KANE. Almost four hours long, this documentary looks at the real
William Randolph Hearst and the power he wielded as perhaps the
first media mogul. Sadly, this film would not qualify for Oscar
consideration because it played on PBS rather than theatrically.
But the American Experience films made for PBS deserve recognition
for their consistent quality, and this year I MAKE THE RULES.
10. THE FATHER: This is a look at dementia from the inside--Anthony
Hopkins is suffering from progressive dementia and cannot remember
people, places, or events. What makes this different is that, for
example, when Hopkins does not recognize his daughter, she is
played by a different actress than when he does, so we experience
his perception from inside his head. Other techniques are used as
well. Disturbing, but recommended.
TOPIC: THE PLANETS by Andrew Cohen with Professor Brian Cox (book
review by Gregory Frederick)
This 2019 book is a large-size edition science book with many
beautiful color images of the planets and their moons plus new
photos of the dwarf planet Pluto from the New Horizons space
craft. Knowledge gained from decades of robotic missions into our
Solar System is contained in this large format book. Billions of
years ago Mars and possibly Venus too were much more like Earth is
today. That is, there was liquid water lakes and oceans on those
planets and an atmosphere which had a comparable density and depth
similar to Earth's. But only Earth has survived with a stable
life-sustaining environment for more than 3.5 billion years or so.
These days Venus has temperatures as high as 457 degrees Celsius
and a surface pressure as high as 89 Earth atmospheres. And Venus
has a very dense thick atmosphere of mostly CO2. Mars currently
is a cold very dry desert planet with a very thin atmosphere that
is only 1% the density of Earth's atmosphere. The only water on
Mars today is frozen solid at the poles and under the dusty soil
of the planet.
For most of the history of astronomy we only had our Solar System
of planets to study. But since we began recently studying the
solar systems around other stars we have discovered that our Solar
System is quite unique. Most of the planetary systems around other
stars is very different from our own Solar System. Inward from
Mercury our Solar System is empty until you reach the Sun. But
when you look at that same region around other stars you find the
region is packed with a completely different class of planet called
Super Earths. Super Earths are 2 to 8 times the mass of the Earth
and have thick hydrogen rich atmospheres. They orbit around their
star at very fast rates because they are so close to their star.
We also find large mass planets like Jupiter size or greater
orbiting much closer to their star. Scientists have been
conducting many computer simulations of the early days of our newly
forming Solar System and finding out that Jupiter could have been
moving closer to the Sun back then and helped to form the Solar
System we have today. Eventually as Saturn formed its massive
gravity pulled Jupiter back to the location it has today. This is
a well written book with great images of our Solar System's planets
and moons. [-gf]
TOPIC: Star Trek Economics (letters of comment by Gary McGath and
In response to comments on Star Trek economics in the 02/11/22
issue of the MT VOID, Gary McGath writes:
The Ferengi are a running joke. Any trading culture knows that
reputation is highly important. They might grossly cheat people,
but they work hard to keep the appearance of honesty. The Ferengi
don't even try. They literally have a book on how to cheat
Scott Dorsey responds:
You've never bought a car from a dealer, have you? [-sd]
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
**SPOILERS** (but the book *is* almost seventy years old!)
The first time I read THE END OF ETERNITY by Isaac Asimov (Orb,
ISBN 978-0-765-31919-7) I really liked it, but I was probably
about fourteen and it was still the tail end of the post-war era.
Now when I read it, it seems incredibly sexist, and often makes
little sense to boot.
Oh, the basic idea of a "time patrol" (under whatever name) is
nifty, and can result in some intriguing philosophical questions.
But Asimov's "Eternals" are working only in our future, so there's
never any look at the history we know (as there is in Poul
Anderson's TIME PATROL, for example), and no real in-depth
discussion of the future periods (other than how much skin women
uncover, and what the attitudes toward sex are).
As for women, Asimov writes that all the Eternals are men, because
removing women from the timeline is "ten to a hundred times more
likely to distort Reality" than removing men, because of births
that didn't happen, etc. Apparently Asimov was confused about who
is responsible for pregnancies and births--he seems to think humans
reproduce by parthenogenesis. (And don't even get me started on
how Eternals can request a "liaison" and be issued a woman, much as
one would request a new jacket.)
(Also note that when Twissell calls himself "queer", he is using
the old definition of being peculiar. There is apparently no
homosexuality in the entire timeline. Probably just as well;
Asimov's attempt at writing a heterosexual sex scene is appallingly
Asimov (or his characters) never explain why the Eternals would
choose a return to the "Basic State" that would effectively wipe
them all out. Even calling it the "Basic State" implies that it is
the "correct" one and the rest are incorrect or artificial. Why
not declare that the harnessing of fire, or agriculture, or speech,
destroyed the "Basic State"? And while the Basic State allowed the
Galactic Empire that Asimov had already written about (at least the "Foundation" trilogy, if not the later books), it left the question
of why there were no non-human intelligent races in it, since in
this book the Eternals specifically say that these races exist.
Okay, so this is a book the Suck Fairy got to. More evidence that
going back and reading one's old favorites from one's childhood may
not be a good idea. [-ecl]