JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING (film retrospective
by Mark R. Leeper)
Reviewing and Advance Reading Copies (letter of comment
by Joe Karpierz)
Scientific Accuracy in Films (letter of comment
by Peter Trei)
This Week's Reading (PROPHETS AND MOGULS, RANGERS AND
ROGUES, BISON AND BEARS; THE WORDHORD)
(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THING (film retrospective by
Mark R. Leeper)
June 25 is the fortieth anniversary of the release of JOHN
CARPENTER'S THE THING (not to be confused with THE THING FROM
ANOTHER WORLd (1951) or THE THING (2011)). Given that it is forty
years old, and based on a story that is about seventy-five years
old, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS! Briefly, this is a logic puzzle mixed
with an alien invasion story.
I started by saying, "My reaction to the opening of this film was
different from other people's. This film is based on "Who Goes
There?" by John W. Campbell, Jr., opens with a helicopter chasing a
dog across a large snowy field. Now I generally like dogs and with
this one my usual reaction would have been rooting for the dog but
being very familiar with the story, my reaction was "Get that
For that matter, the Norwegian spoken by the pilot at the beginning
of the film gives away the plot, shouting that the dog isn't really
a dog, it's some sort of thing imitating a dog.
While this was not exactly John Carpenter's breakthrough film--it
came after after DARK STAR, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, HALLOWEEN, and
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK--but it may well be his best film. However,
it was a commercial and critical flop at the time, and only over
the years has its gained the stature that it has. (It scores 8.2
out of 10 on the IMDB, and 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
The original story, and the first movie, were set in the Arctic,
but this movie is moved to Antarctica. When the story was written,
and the first movie made, permanent bases were fairly common in the
Arctic, but not in Antarctica. Moving it to Antarctica gives it
some hints of H. P. Lovecraft and the Elder Gods.
It might help one's understanding of the film if one can remember
what characters had what names, but personally I have never found
anyone who could keep the characters straight. Is that perhaps to
emphasize how they are all part of a Protean entity with no
Jed the dog deserves an acting award. I'm serious about that.
This dog is better than Boris Karloff at appearing menacing and
also mysterious. And he never looked at the camera, the dolly, or
the crew (which is a common acting animal problem).
Here you have a base made up mostly of scientists, and the only one
really thinking is the helicopter pilot? (In the original movie
it's the airplane pilot and the secretary. There seems to be some
implication that she has some scientific position, but we see her
typing, making coffee, and doing other non-scientific stuff.)
Childs (Keith David)'s voice may be familiar, since he has narrated
many PBS documentaries. Other than Ken Russell and Wilford
Brimley, though, there are not a lot of familiar faces (which may
be why it's hard to keep the characters straight).
TOPIC: Reviewing and Advance Reading Copies (letter of comment by
In response to Heath Row's comments in the 05/27/22 issue of the
MT VOID on Joe Karpierz's reviews in various issues of the MT VOID,
My thanks to Heath Row for his kind words about my reviews of THE
KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY, COMFORT ME WITH APPLES, and THE
With regard to me having an advance reader copy of THE
EXTRACTIONIST, yes, I did have one. My fortune in being able to
get ARCs from various publishers stems from two people. First is
Evelyn, who encouraged me to review for the the MT VOID back in the
1990s when I discovered that she, Mark, and I all worked for the
same company (AT&T at the time, although it may have been Lucent
Technologies by the time we made that discovery) by way of a
comment in one of Roger Ebert's movie reviews in which he mentioned
Mark. So yes, I've been reviewing here since sometime in the
1990s. Second is Robert J. Sawyer, who, while he, I, Rick Wilber
(I think), and Jacob Weisman, owner of Tachyon Publications, among
other authors (man, that's a lot of commas--I probably used them
wrong) were sitting at a bar at Chicon in 2012 when Sawyer turned
to Weisman, pointed at me and said "Jacob, you should have him
review books for you".
The fact that I review for the MT VOID got me accepted at
NetGalley, which Jacob suggested would be a good place for me to be
so they wouldn't have to ship me physical ARCs as that is so
expensive. Since then, things have changed a bit in that Tachyon
does offer to send me widgets directly, but I go to NetGalley to
get them so I can build up my review portfolio (for lack of a
better term) so that I can get ARCs from other publishers.
Tachyon knows that I only request books from them that I'm pretty
sure I will like, which means they will get good reviews. Side
note is that I'm auto-approved on NetGalley for ARCs by Tachyon.
Another side note is that Tachyon has asked me to read and review
NEOM, the new book from Lavie Tidhar, to be published in November.
I have that ARC now, but the earliest I will get to it will be
after I've finished my Hugo reading.
I do get ARCs from other publishers. They are always small
publishers, like Subterranean, Rebellion, and Gallery. My
presumption is that my audience is too small for a large publisher
to consider me for reviewing their books. I've never been able to
get an ARC from Tor, for example. In fact, one of my next reviews
will be of "The Dark Ride, The Best Short Fiction of John Kessel",
out in July from Subterranean. So yes, another ARC. [-jak]
TOPIC: Scientific Accuracy in Films (letter of comment by Peter
In response to Jim Susky's comments on implausibilities in THE
MARTIAN and the accuracy of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY in the 05/27/22
issue of the MT VOID, Peter Trei writes:
[Jim Susky writes,] "In 1968, Kubrick, Clarke, his NASA guru, his
thousands of hours of reading, and others conspired to make his
art film/sci-fi-epic technically unimpeachable."
It always bugged me that they didn't attempt to simulate lunar
gravity. This is most obvious in the motions of the photographer
moving around the conference room, and somewhat less so in the
movements of the astronauts at the dig site. They missed a great
chance too; when they pour coffee in the shuttle to the dig, the
shot cuts just before the liquid appears. A slow motion shot of it
pouring would have been great.
Finally, that shuttle is shown flying over the lunar landscape
about a hundred meters up. While low orbits are possible, that's
ridiculously low, given mountains, etc. [-pt]
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
PROPHETS AND MOGULS, RANGERS AND ROGUES, BISON AND BEARS by Heather
Hansen, with the tag line "100 Years of the National Park Service"
(Mountaineer Books, ISBN 978-1-59485-888-8) goes from a
straightforward history of the National Parks and the Park Service,
to stories of those impacted by the actions taken regarding the
National Parks, to sidebars and anecdotes, and so on. If you can
stand the literary whiplash, it is a fascinating story, though the
earlier period is more interesting than recent times. (The book is
from 2015, so doesn't cover the enormous rise in attendance over
the past few years in the most popular parks.)
It is also flawed by poor copy-editing. resulting in such sentences
as, "Little Bighorn--where the Battle of the Greasy Grass, as it's
known to American Indians--took place, is now also working to get
it right." (Hint: the dash belongs after "took place", not
before.) And the index, while well-populated with people and
places, is woefully lacking in topical entries. Then again, I
suspect this is intended as an entertaining book for park-goers,
not an academic history.
Last week I wrote of BEOWULF: "It is rife with the compound nouns
(and adjectives) of the original poem: whale-road, house-dweller,
wolf-slopes, guest-building, sea-booty, life-injury, water-sport,
... We still have many such nouns, but nowhere near as many, and
certainly not in common usage."
Then I ran across a review of THE WORDHORD: DAILY LIFE IN OLD
ENGLISH by Hana Videen (Princeton University Press, ISBN
978-0-691-23274-4). Reviewer Henry Hitchings writes, "Since the
fall of 2013, she has taken to Twitter every day, as @OEWordhord,
to post a single example of an Old English word." And he explains
"kennings", which are those compound words I loved so much:
"A kenning is a figurative phrase or compound noun that stands in
for a familiar word: The mind is a 'hord-loca', and instead of
referring to a ship one might speak of a 'flud-wudu' (flood-wood).
... Even when rendered in 21st-century English, many kennings
remain wonderfully vivid. The body is a bone-locker, flesh-hoard
or life-house; the sun is a heaven-candle; the sea can be the
wave-path, sail-road or whale-way. A spider is a weaver-walker. A
battle is a storm of swords. A visit to a grave is a dust-viewing."
So apparently they are not the standard words for these items, but
a poetic rendering of them, much as in Homer one finds standard
poetic phrases, e.g., Athena was not called "gray-eyed" in everyday
speech, but the phrase filled in the meter that Homer was using.
Kennings are still really cool, though. [-ecl]