The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


March 2000, Issue 170

Ann's Agenda

By Ann Cecil

Life is full of shared experiences. Over the last three months, PARSEC members have shared moving experiences repeatedly. First many of us helped Lara and Nan and Amy move from Irwin into Penn Hills; then some of us helped John and Diane Branch move from Crafton to Carrick (or is that Brentwood?); and this month (it's still February as I write) we all got to help the Geiselewskis.

Outside of hoping that nobody moves in March (lifting the art panels once again is movement enough!), these experiences led me to the recognition, once again, of how often things happen in cycles within a group. Just as you think that you are unique and what's happening to you is the universe singling you out, you discover that everyone else you know is in the same boat.

Shakespeare talks in Julius Caesar about there being a tide in the affairs of people when Things Happen (he's talking about a political situation, but the idea's the same). Right now, as the media have started to notice, Pittsburgh is experiencing a high-tech tide. CoManage (who bought an ad in the Confluence program book) is the first company to notice the correlation between sf&f fen and creative, inventive workers; I suspect they won't be the last.

Noticing tides is supposed to be a special province of writers, as observers of the world scene, and sf&f writers in particular, as those who not only write but attempt to identify and predict trends and fashions (for good or ill). I've not seen a heavy dose of unusual prediction - with the notable exception of Bruce Sterling, who is always pushing the envelope and also improving as a writer every year.

What I have noticed in sf is the continuing deluge of alternate histories. No longer can we just blame it all on Harry Turtledove; it is clearly a groundswell coming from somewhere or something. I suspect that the sense of history happening, caused by the impending Turn of the Millennium, is behind it all. We all sneer at the fanatics who predict the end of the world, or even the wild-eyed who predicted Y2K disaster, but it is still an event that sends some little thrills down your back, every time you make out a check and write 2000.

We're really living in the future now, or at least what was the future in all those stories we grew up reading. It's just a little scary, and at the same time exhilarating. That joke about holding Pittcon II in 2060 (a Worldcon bid, since the first Worldcon held in Pittsburgh was Pittcon in 1960) doesn't seem quite so silly.

That's a frightening thought too - Pittsburgh with enough fandom to do a Worldcon. But fear is a great motivator, as many employers have discovered. And fear mixed with excitement has always been a popular entertainment formula: thrills and chills!

Thrills and chills, mixed together, is one of the explanations for the enduring interest in vampire legends. What's different about today's vampires is the mix: in some ways the thrills now outweigh the chills, compared to last century's vampire stories.

Our next PARSEC meeting will explore this mix, as we see it today. Kathy Davis, who titled her thesis 'Sympathy for the Devil: female authorship and the literary vampire', will be leading a group discussion on the subject. See you all there, at Squirrel Hill library!

News Flash!

Bobby Nansel and Diane Turnshek are eligible for the John W. Campbell award. This is Bobby's second year of eligibility and Diane's first.

Let's hear it for Bobby and Diane.

The John W. Campbell Award is given to the best new science fiction or fantasy writer whose first work of science fiction or fantasy appearing in a professional publication was published in the previous two years. For the 1999 award, which is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), the qualifying work must have been published in 1997 or 1998. The 1999 WorldCon will be held in Australia.


Timons Esaias sold the poem "Taunts From Beyond" to the ezine Electric Wine.


Don't forget your Dues!

Last Meeting

Parsec Meeting Notes for February 12th, 2000 as taken by Tom Morrow

Guest introduction: Announcements: Presentation by Kevin Geiselman on Mars Direct: [notes slightly edited for space]

Con Review

The Return of Confluence
aka Ann's review of the con

By Ann Cecil

Confluence, the Pittsburgh Science Fiction Conference, was held for the 12th time on February 25-27,2000 at the Sheraton in Mars, PA.

Over 280 fans, guests, and SF enthusiasts gathered to hear a melange of panels and talks and concerts, plus an original play. The featured guest for the weekend was James Morrow, who not only gave a Guest of Honor speech, but also starred in the play (which he wrote) as the villain.

The fun began on Friday around 4pm, and went pretty much non-stop (the Friday night filking, which was terrific, ran until 5am) until Sunday. The dealer's room wasn't just book dealers, though they certainly dominated. The art show was in serious danger of running out of room; we may have to invest in more panels for the future. While few pieces went to auction, sales were a respectable amount for a small con ($1400+).

Ann Cecil is happy to report she got to see one whole panel all the way through (though she only got to hear 20 minutes of a very lively discussion on Kipling with our own William Tenn debating Jo Walton, while Jean Goldstrom took notes). I'll hope to read all about it in AnotherRealm. Ann also got to attend a Kaffeeklatsch, with 3 authors (Paul Levinson and Christopher Rowe were advertised; Bud Sparhawk just came). This was the event much enlivened by Diane Turnshek's burst of - uh - euphoria.

The panel on writing love stories, which started at 9 on Saturday evening, went so well people stayed, and stayed - until 1:30 am. I can't imagine what they could have been talking about so long.

On Sunday, there was a small comic con held in one of the rooms Confluence wasn't using, so the Dorsai went down and discussed a trade: people who paid to attend the comic con were allowed in our Dealers' room. Unfortunately, the young man running the comic con was much poorer than we; our members could go in his Dealers' room (all there was to his con) for $2. It made our dealers happy, anyway, and there was a good deal of business. I knew that was going to be true when I heard a young man go by with his girl; "the comic con is down there" she said; "yes, but," with awe in his voice, "there's books in there!"

Sample Confluence comments
By Diane Turnshek

The filking (that I saw) was superb.

Registration looked smooth.

We should have really had coffee and hot water for tea in the KK room in addition to the pots in the consuite for latecomers and second cups.

Grumbles at the Hal Clement KK that it was set across from world-building. Even from Hal.

Henry did great. Can't wait to see pictures!

Swimming after the dealer's room closed, but before the dead dog dinner was perfect.

The program book was beautiful and the idea of walking around to guests to get them to make changes and corrections (and initial it) was GREAT!

Paul Levinson forgot to bring his 1 hour video, but he'll mail it to Ann if anyone wants to see it. (Michael Swanwick, Catherine Asaro, and Others)

Barb Albert loved how the tee shirts, the program book cover and her art demo turned out.

Science Talk report: I liked John Hilliar's talk on Sunday. His Australian accent was not hard to understand and his talk was pitched at the right level. 16 people attended, including Hal Clement who had set his book Still River in the Eta Carinae system.

As for the How to Write SF Love Scenes seminar? workshop? panel? A decent beta test. NOT what I thought we'd do, but we had ~50 people, some of whom stayed in the room talking till 1:30 AM (from 9 PM). Interesting observations were presented, but there are so many things I didn't say, that I wanted to say, that I'm planning a SIGMA article to fill in the gaps.

I was impressed with Tobias Buckell - cool kid. And I liked Rob Killenhefer, too-neat guest.

Nancy Hagen-Liddle thought JJ looked drastically, completely, radically different from what she pictured. Heehee. Both she and Kevin Hayes would be interested in helping out at future cons.

Cinemania in the Hall

By Bill Hall

The Iron Giant

On the heels of the bomb Superman III (the one with Robert Vaughn and Richard Pryor, notable solely for its fight between Clark Kent and Superman), Christopher Reeve thought up what turned out to be the next bomb, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, in which Superman gathers up nuclear missiles from both sides and hurls them into the Sun. As badly as Superman IV failed, The Iron Giant succeeds, and with the titular Giant tangling with a nuclear missile in the sky while whispering "Superman." I do hope Reeve gets to see this, as indirect vindication.

I frankly remember very little about the children's book "The Iron Man," except for some business about white heat being hotter than red heat. Luckily, memory isn't necessary to sell the charm of this movie. A hundred-foot-tall robot from outer space lands in 1957 in a storm near the Maine town of Rockwell. (As in either the Saturday Morning Post artist or the Space Shuttle contractor; you could interpret it either way!) A boy named Hogarth Hughes, with help from a beatnik who runs a junkyard, befriends the robot. Then the government starts nosing around, which anyone who saw E.T. will tell you always leads to trouble. This is familiar stuff, but it's been ages since it was so beautifully done. The fact is, this Warner Brothers movie handily beats Disney's Tarzan. Tarzan has the hero surfing skateboard-style over moss-slick branches, and Phil Collins in top form; I think, though, it forgets to make its story clear to kids. The Iron Giant is the better communicator.

The Sixth Sense

I have come to the conclusion that there is a subcategory of movies which I call "somber competents." They're relatively small (clearly only a few million dollars going into them), quite quirky, conscientiously made, and they barely register in the memory. If I think hard, I can for example recall seeing something called The Thirteenth Floor, a perfectly okay adventure which went back over the same material as Total Recall or The Matrix, but without nearly as much dash of thunder.

The Sixth Sense seems resolved (doomed?) to be a somber competent, even while starring Bruce Willis. It's beautiful cinematography is very gray, autumnal, sad, befitting a movie which feels more tragic than scary. Willis is Malcolm Crowe, a Philadelphia child psychologist who befriends a kid with the giveaway name of Cole Sear, as in seer (Haley Joel Osment). Cole lives in perpetual awareness of the dead always walking among us, and he is so sweet and vulnerable that we can not help but marvel at his strength of mind and spirit. Crowe tries to help Cole...though, in the end, is he really just trying to help himself? Some may consider this sacrilege, but I could see a great TV series based on this. Remember, you read it here first.

Possible Successors to The Mystery Men

The movie Mystery Men has been on my mind so much that I find myself inspired to create some superheroes of my own:

Avalanche. Capable of summoning vast debilitating torrents of crushed ice from out of atmospheric moisture, Avalanche lives out a quiet secret identity as a mild-mannered sno-cone vendor.

The Planar Detainer. Able to access the second dimension, the Detainer can turn himself into a big and fantastically sharp blade. He can teleport from one TV screen to another.

The Homewrecker. She's great at busting everything up with a sledge hammer. That's it. She really digs doing it, too.

Chasm. An eccentric cave dweller called on only in emergencies, Chasm has the power to make the earth open up and swallow his enemies. He prefers to hang out in Los Angeles.

Dogman. It is believed that Dogman inherited incomplete werewolf DNA, thereby rendering him a kind of weredog. Though human in appearance, he tends to be infested with fleas. He has astounding powers of smell, direction, location, and hearing. However, he suffers from overwhelming urges to relieve himself in public areas, and to hump people's legs. In essence, he is a Lassie who can actually express himself in words.

The Frequent Flyer. Once a test pilot, nearly killed in a freak accident involving a secret plane attempting to use UFO hyperspace technology, the Flyer is able to summon out of pockets of hyperspace various air vehicles which she is cybernetically linked with. Her co-heroes tend to bug her about her accommodations always being coach and never first class.

Whatsisname. A thoroughly unremarkable man with a consistent talent for getting ignored. Villains tend to ignore him even as he's foiling their plans. He must exert some effort, though, to keep his co-heroes mindful of him.

Spice Woman. Descended from a long (matrilineal) line of witches, Spice Woman uses her herbal powers to harass villains with problems ranging from chronic sneezing to sexual impotence.

The Fifth Commandment. The Fifth is a mystic able to summon the ancestral spirits of a given villain, to nag him about the shame he has brought down upon the family name.

Doubletake. Seeming ordinary, yet getting the most dangerous assignments, Doubletake fights evil and sometimes loses, but her power over time lets her immediately replay the battle and learn from what happened last time. She is a wildly redhaired girl named Lola, in honor of the movie Run, Lola, Run.

The Scatterer. A college student suffering from an accident in quantum physics, he is unremarkable in and of himself, yet can choose various courses of action and split himself severalfold to pursue each course. He has a crush on Doubletake and insists "Imagine what our kids could be like!"

The Solipsist. The Solipsist can approach a villain, cause a "Sphere of Solipsism," and punch himself out cold, thereby causing all creatures and machines in the Sphere to get knocked out as well. Co-heroes standing by then move in.

Webs of Wonders

Webs of Wonder (, a web contest sponsored by Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine and New York Times best-selling author David Brin is aimed at generating resources that will help teachers and students use science fiction to complement subjects faced in today's classroom.

The Webs of Wonder Contest will hand out a $1,000 cash first prize -plus runner-up awards- for excellent new sites on the World Wide Web that unite a love of learning with a passion for good stories

For years, educators have given their students famous and obscure science fiction tales to help enliven difficult topics. A chemistry teacher might illustrate part of her curriculum with a classic Hal Clement novel, while a social studies class would argue the ethical questions raised by Tom Godwin's famous story "The Cold Equations."

These efforts have mostly been isolated. Great teachers had no simple way to share their study guides, illustrations, provocative question sets . . . or the story itself. Until recently, that is. Today's technology can help teachers and web-designers create vivid materials to brighten any subject, then let them share their creativity with colleagues all over the country and around the world. Moreover, this offers one more way to get compelling literature into the hands of young people who might otherwise never be intrigued by some of science fiction's greatest stories.

For details about rules and a list of available supporting materials, see our web site

An Outside View

Tony Bertram Bezich, the editor of DarkFont, had this to say about PARSEC after attending the February meeting: Yesterday afternoon (Saturday, February 12), I attended the monthly meeting of the Pittsburgh Area Real-time Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club (PARSEC) at the Carnegie Library in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh. I was warmly welcomed by PARSEC President Ann Cecil and her fellow members.

I enjoyed the meeting and discussion so much that I decided to apply for membership in PARSEC. Visitors are always welcome at PARSEC meetings.

Check out the details at DarkFont Blotter and DarkFont's Calendar of Events at:

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Mar. 11, 2000,12:30 PM to 4:15
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Vampires (No, not the Central Blood bank!)

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

April 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 8 April 2000
Discussion Topic : Phil Klass - John Campbell video
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

May 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 13 May 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

June 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 10 June 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

July 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 8 July 2000
Discussion Topic : Confluence Discussion Topic Development
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

August 2000
Time & Date : 12:00, 19 August 2000
Note the Date Change!!!
Discussion Topic : The PARSEC Picnic
Location : Keystone State Park, Pavillion 1

September 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 9 September 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

October 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 14 October 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : TBA

November 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 11 November 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

December 2000
Time & Date : 9 December 2000
Discussion Topic : Holiday Party
Location : Ann's House

Confluence T-Shirts (2nd Printing)

We sold out of the Confluence T-shirts this year and are going back for a second print run. If there are any interested parties please send e-mail to Ann Cecil ( ) with the following information:

Your name, Quantity, and Size

Small through XL shirts are $10.00, XXL shirts are $12.00

The Editors of Sigma welcome your input! Send your columns, commentary, reviews, rants, letters, laughs, input, and throughput to us! Send art, too!

To Contact PARSEC

phone: 344-0345
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230


The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club

President: Ann Cecil

Vice President: Sasha Riley

Treasurer: Mia Sherman

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Tom Morrow

Snide Commentator: Chris Ferrier

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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