Readercon Report by Washington Post Columnist Michael Dirda
Old Bridge Public Library Science Fiction Discussion Group
OPPENHEIMER (film review by Mark R. Leeper
and Evelyn C. Leeper)
BLACK NARCISSUS (letter of comment by Andre Kuzniarek)
This Week's Reading (A HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH SPEAKING
PEOPLES: THE BIRTH OF BRITAIN, THE DAUGHTER OF
TIME, and Richard III) (book comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: Old Bridge Public Library Science Fiction Discussion Group
After twenty years of meeting, the Old Bridge Public Library
science fiction discussion group is disbanding. Given that the
last few meetings have been only three or four people, that sounds
a bit more dramatic than it really is. Our final book was THIS IS
HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Saga
Press, ISBN 978-1-534-43100-3) and all three of us disliked it, so
we have referred to this as THIS IS HOW YOU KILL THE DISCUSSION
GROUP. The book swept all the major awards for novellas, so we are
clearly in some sort of minority here.
But it was not really the book that killed the group, but the
gradual drifting away of members. We tried both Zooming and
in-person meetings. but though we had weathered the pandemic, the
return to other opportunities for socializing et al made it harder
to get people to attend.
The other factor is that everyone who was attending the Old Bridge
group in the last couple of years is also in the Middletown Public
Library science fiction discussion group, so it isn't as if we are
giving up on science fiction discussion groups altogether.
If you want to be added to the mailing list for the Middletown
group, contact Charles Harris <email@example.com>.
TOPIC: OPPENHEIMER (film review by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C.
OPPENHEIMER tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer. There is a
lot of substance to the film, but there is a lot of style as well
(it is after all a Christopher Nolan film), and the style sometimes
gets in the way of the substance.
Nolan jumps among three time periods: the 1930s to 1945, 1954, and
1959. (It could be worse; at least they all run forwards in time,
as opposed to the two timelines in TENET.) The last two time
periods are in black and white, reversing the usual practice of
having older periods in black and white. But Nolan wants the
"center" of the film to be Oppenheimer's career up to Hiroshima and
Nagasaki, with his security revocation in 1954, and Lewis Strauss's (non-)confirmation hearing in 1959, more as news reporting of
after-effects than narrative (although they are not actual news
footage, but just more narrative film). This is often
disorienting, and Evelyn said that it took a while for her to
realize that the back-and-white sequences actually represented two
totally different hearings five years apart.
There are a lot of characters, and it is difficult to keep some of
them straight. And often the people you expect to see don't show
up at all, or are merely in the background. The one woman
scientist we see is Lilli Hornig, not Lise Meitner. Richard
Feynman seemed to be a faceless background character in two scenes, identifiable only by his bongo drums, although his position in the
credits indicates he may have appeared in other scenes and we just
didn't notice him.
One question some reviewers ask is why the film was shot in IMAX.
It consists primarily of people talking in rooms. The only
"expansive" scenes would be the exteriors in New Mexico (a rather
small proportion of the film), and the football field and the space
below it in Chicago. the New Mexico scenery would look much better
in IMAX, but to use it for the entire film seems overkill.
Released theatrically 21 July 2023. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4), or
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
The "Classical Stuff You Should Know" podcast has been doing an
on-going series about the Plantagenets and is finally getting to
Richard III (referred to from here on out as just Richard, since
there is no other Richard in sight here). They have been quoting a
lot from Winston Churchill, presumably from A HISTORY OF THE
ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLES: THE BIRTH OF BRITAIN (Bloomsbury USA
Academic, ISBN 978-1-472-58524-0), so I decided I should get the
jump on them for Richard III, since I count myself as a Ricardian,
which is to say, I believe that Richard did not kill the two
Princes, and that Henry VII did. (And also that most of the other
negative claims about Richard are also false.)
I will admit to being influenced by Josephine Tey's THE DAUGHTER OF
TIME (Scribner, ISBN 978-0-684-80386-9, although I highly recommend
the audiobook read by Derek Jacobi, BBC Audiobooks America, ISBN 978-1572702448), but I realize that is a work of fiction.
Therefore what I base my conclusions on are facts that I can verify
in real sources, and logical conclusions from them, rather than
citations from (possibly) fictitious sources (e.g., Oliphant).
Starting with the obvious, Churchill seems determined to take Sir
Thomas More's biography as reliable. First he explains why More
should be considered unreliable: "Sir Thomas More late in the next
reign wrote his celebrated history. His book was based of course
on information given him under the new and strongly established
regime. His object seems to have been less to compose a factual
narrative than a moralistic drama. In it, Richard is evil
incarnate, and Henry Tudor, the deliverer of the kingdom, all
sweetness and light. The opposite view would have been treason.
Not only is every possible crime attributed by More to Richard, and
some impossible movies, but he is presented as a physical monster,
crookbacked and withered of arm. No one in his lifetime seems to
have remarked on these deformities, but they are now very familiar
to us through Shakespeare's play [based on Holinshed's Chronicles,
which were written under the Tudors as well]. Needless to say, as
soon as the Tudor dynasty was laid to rest defenders of Richard
fell to work, and they have been increasingly busy ever since."
(Just a reminder: Thomas More was eight years old when Richard was
Killed Bosworth, so hardly a reliable witness to the goings-on of
After King Henry VI was replaced by Edward IV, Henry VI said (as
quoted by Churchill), "Since my cradle, for forty years, I have
been King. My father was King; his father was King. You have all
sworn fealty to me on many occasions, as your father swore it to my
father." Then Churchill goes on to say, "But the other side
declared that oaths not based on truth were void, that wrong must
be righted, that successful usurpation gained no sanctity by time,
that the foundation of the monarchy could only rest upon law and
justice, that to recognize a dynasty of interlopers was to invite
rebellion wherever occasion served, ..." Churchill conveniently
ignores what this means in terms of Henry VII, who was arguably a
usurper and interloper (and who specifically claimed the kingship
by right of conquest), or for that matter King William I (a.k.a.
William the Conqueror).
Churchill acknowledges the possibility of an earlier marriage of
Edward IV, saying, "[Clarence] may have discovered the secret of
Edward's alleged pre-contract of marriage with Eleanor Butler which
Richard of Gloucester was later to use in justifying his
usurpation. Certainly if Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville
were to be proved invalid for this reason Clarence was the next
legitimate heir, and a source of danger to the King [Edward IV]."
But then he announces, "More's tale however has priority." And
why? Apparently because it describes a very dramatic scene at the
Council in the Tower. Whether there is any evidence that this
scene took place, or is one of the "impossible crimes" of Richard,
Churchill does not say. But the fact that it is dramatic does not
make it real.
Churchill also quotes Fabyan's Chronicle about how the English
people came to hate Richard because of his crimes, and though he
adds, "It is contended by the defenders of King Richard that the
Tudor version of these events has prevailed," he still seems to
take Fabyan as accurate--even though Fabyan's Cronicle was
published (posthumously) in 1516, thirty years into the Tudor
Later, he says of Richard's tour of England, "Yet he could not
escape the sense that behind the displays of gratitude and loyalty
which naturally surrounded him there lay an unspoken challenge to
his Kingship." Apparently, Churchill can not only read minds, but
can read minds 450 years dead. This is fabrication, pure and
Churchill says, "[We] are invited by some to believe that [the
Princes] languished in captivity, unnoticed and unrecorded, for
another two years [after what Churchill says was their last
appearance, in July 1483), only to be done to death by Henry
Tudor." But apparently he believes that Richard would have the
Princes killed in secret and pretend they are still alive--and
expect to keep up this pretense for years, if not decades. As many
have pointed out, if he had them smothered, the smartest thing to
do would be to announce they had died of a sudden fever and display
their bodies, thereby removing them as a rallying point.
Richard is quoted to have asked, "Whom should a man trust when
those who I thought would most surely serve at my command will do
nothing for me?" This is too similar to "Will no one rid me of
this turbulent priest?" (Henry II speaking of Thomas Becket) to be
taken as accurate without some real evidence.
Of the supposed actual murderer, Sir James Tyrell, Churchill
writes, "But it was not until Henry VII's reign, when Tyrell was
lying in the Tower under sentence for quite a separate crime, that
he is alleged to have made a confession upon which, with much other circumstantial evidence, the story as we know it rests." Why he
would have confessed these murders is not clear (unless Churchill
is referring to a confession to a priest). But note that it is
merely alleged that he made such a confession, and all the other
evidence is circumstantial.
In 1674, two skeletons were found under some rubble in the Tower,
They were the apparent ages of the Princes, and the royal surgeon
and others "reported that they were undoubtedly the remains of
Edward V and the Duke of York." Charles II had them buried in
Westminister with an inscription blaming Richard. Churchill
dismisses attempts to clear Richard and to blame Henry VII by
saying, "However, in our own time (1933), an exhumation has
confirmed the view of the disinterested authorities of King
Even if the exhumation proved the skeletons were those of the
Princes (and there have been many criticisms of it, including that
no tests were done to determine even the gender of the children, or
the number, since what was found was not two intact skeletons, but disarticulated bones in a wooden chest), it is certainly true that
in 1674, there was no way to determine whether they were murdered
in 1483 or 1485.
Churchill does have a sense of humor, at one point saying,
"Money--above all ready money. There was the hobble which cramped
the medieval kings; and even now it counts somewhat." [-ecl]