The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


April 2001, Issue 183

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

Very often I am struck by our human ability to accommodate two opposing views of an issue at the same time. Our folk-wisdom is rife with sayings we have all heard and probably wondered at how such an obvious wisdom has been distilled so clearly down to its essence. Sayings like: "you can't judge a book by its cover" (particularly appropriate considering how much we all like books) have their opposites in adages like: "clothes make the man." For every "don't buy a pig in a poke" there is: "never look a gift horse in the mouth."

I'm sure as we all wend our ways through existence, we find certain of these aphorisms more applicable than others. The thing is though, that a great number of these seem to have their Newtonian equal and opposite.

The idea of duality and opposition of ideas is not a new one. There is an old tale, by Aesop I believe, about a man, half frozen and almost dead, found by some nature spirit in the midst of an ancient Greek winter. I have variously seen the nature spirit called a satyr, a faun, or forest nymph of some sort. The man is given a cloak and brought to the domicile of the other. On the way, the man blows his breath on his hands. Questioned by his escort, the man explains that he is warming his hands. Upon finally reaching the Good Samaritan's home, the man is taken inside to the warmth and ultimately given a bowl of hot soup. The man happily takes the soup and begins to blow on it as well. His deliverer again questions him as to the reason for the action, whereupon the man answers he is blowing on the soup to cool it down. The nature spirit then marvels at the wondrous human ability to blow warmth and coolness with the same breath.

I'm not trying to make any kind of a political statement here, but accommodating apparently conflicting dualities certainly seems to be an intrinsic part of the human condition. So much so that the great Eastern tradition of Taoism arose with that specific idea as the foundation. In the Tao, the philosophers talk about the Yin and Yang -- the two opposite, yet inextricably linked, sides of things in the known universe: male and female, light and darkness, hot and cold; Without duality, I would not be able to produce this column as easily. Of course computers are based on the binary logic system -- on and off. Bits, bytes, on up into operating systems and more, all because, ultimately something is one way and not the other.

That is sometimes the challenge of science fiction and fantasy. One, if not two, things have to be done to help generate a good story: to provide something familiar and put an unfamiliar face on it, or conversely, to provide a familiar face on something unfamiliar.

I realize those two statements somewhat oversimplify what goes on in a good SF/F story, but most of the good things I've read and movies I've enjoyed have had that as a basic starting point. Star Wars: a young man comes of age. Granted, it was with a wookie, two robots and a teacher who was a ghost, but that's the unfamiliar overlaying the familiar. Outland: the story is "High Noon" with oxygen tanks.

For books, there's Terry Pratchett's "Lords and Ladies" -- he goes into detail talking about how real fairies only want you to think they are lovely and noble, when in fact, they are barbaric and mean-spirited. In re-reading "Dune" -- Frank Herbert foresaw the oil shortage, put a different name on it, and made it look epic and heroic.

In the best stories, there are both elements present. Not all writers are able to address both dichotomies: familiar face on unfamiliar concept or vice versa. A look back at past Hugo and Nebula winners reveals the names of some who were masters of that ability. At our next meeting we have the distinct honor of hearing one, our own Phillip Klass a.k.a. William Tenn, reminisce, with video accompaniment, about another: Isaac Asimov. Both mastered the art of making the usual seem bizarre and making the fantastic seem commonplace. It makes me wonder, should we expect aliens to encompass two impossible ideas before breakfast as easily as we seem to do?

See you on Saturday.

Last Meeting - March 10,2001

PARSEC met at the Squirrel Hill Branch of the Carnegie Library, with the usual pre-meeting confusion and conversation.

Kevin Hayes called the meeting to order early (about 2pm), so there would be plenty of time for the Topics discussion.

Captain John Cope announced his intention to host a party on March 23rd at EPOC- I (his house, read it backwards folks) to celebrate the vernal equinox (or whatever).

Several sales by local members of the Worldwrights were announced, including Barton Levenson's sale of an article in the New York Review of Science Fiction.

Henry Tjernlund said that he is unable to coordinate the May meeting (Art Show), due to his isolation in Beaver County. Sasha Riley volunteered to take over.

Two visitors: Rachel Ross and Judith Sullivan, were introduced.

Ann Cecil reminded everyone that only $6 will buy your very own copy of the new PARSEC Anthology. Two people promptly bought copies, making Ann happy.

Dan Bloch won the raffle and took a book.

Laurie and Jim Mann were both present, as co-chairs of Programming for the Millennium Philcon (this year's Worldcon). They had requested the brain-storming session for program topics. PARSEC not only complied, they broke all previous records. Using the amazing Moebius blackboard, president Kevin Hayes and Treasurer Greg Armstrong recorded 32 separate topic ideas. Laurie actually posted a list on the Millennium Philcon website that has 57 items, but she counted the blackboard as one, and included a number of comments people made that were rejected for the official blackboard list.

Members left the meeting at 4:45 pm, happily discussing ramifications of topic ideas, or mumbling to themselves about story ideas triggered by the blackboard list.

[these notes reconstructed by Ann Cecil, due the failure of the Powerbook to disgorge Tom Morrow's actual minutes]


EerieCon Three

APRIL 20-21-22, 2001





EERIECON THREE, like its two predeccesors, will be held at the Days Inn Riverview, 401 Buffalo Avenue, Niagara Falls, NY 14303. Telephone (716) 285-2541 or 1-800-DAYSINN. Convention room rates are: $69 single/double, $79 (triple) and $89 (quad). To get these convention rates, members should reserve hotel rooms at least a month before the convention; make sure that you mention Eeriecon. If you try to reserve a room later than the dealine, tell them you are with Eeriecon and hope that they will still be able to give you convention rates. Memberships are $30 until March 15, 2001; $40 after that date and at the door.

For further information including updates, please check out our two websites at:

Questions?? Please write us at our PO box or email us at: Buffalo Fantasy League, PO Box 412, Buffalo NY 14226

PARSEC Commentary

Official PARSEC Commentary from your elected Commentator, Ann Cecil

Filking is a lot of fun, if only to see what other people consider a song that qualifies as filk. For most, the song must contain a reference to or use material from science-fiction or fantasy, preferably some well-known story. The classic example would be 'The Green Hills of Earth', which uses the words as Heinlein wrote them in the story about the blind poet/songster Rhysling, and adds original music. I know of at least three different versions. Within the same story, other songs are mentioned, some with only titles; energetic fans have gone on to write the words as well as music.

Similarly, Anne McCaffrey's Pern stories feature song snippets (single verses), that are teaching songs the heroine uses as clues for her actions in the story. These have been set to original music and woven into an artful longer work, blending spoken narrative and song. It's called Dragon Songs, premiered at Worldcon in 1983, and is available as a cassette tape. This doesn't get sung at regular filk sings much, because it was written for a trained soprano to perform.

Much more common at filk sings are the homages to a story that use an existing pop tune. This has the big advantage that more people than the singer know the tune, so once they've heard the chorus, they can all sing along. An example of this is "Grabthar's Silver Hammer" (a Galaxy Quest filk) to the tune of the Beatles "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," which we heard Steve MacDonald perform at last year's Confluence. If you're not Steve MacDonald, you can also take advantage of the fact that many voices blending often help to strengthen a somewhat shaky or strained voice. In addition, it's a lot easier to write words than music.

There are fans who write both words and music, and filkers are busily keeping the best of them alive. Probably the all-time best known is Leslie Fish's "Hope Eyrie" (For those like me who never remember the real name of the song, the chorus goes: "The Eagle has landed, tell your children when, time won't drive us down to dust again". That song.) There are half a dozen people out there, enriching filking fandom with really good songs; most of them have recorded tapes or CDs which can be bought from fannish dealers at cons or via mail.

Another type of music that filkers are keeping alive are the original folks songs, songs like "The Blacksmith of Brandywine" and "Barrett's Privateers," which are regularly performed at filk sings because they are just plain good songs that everybody likes to sing and hear. For instance, a local performing group, On the Mark (they'll be back with us again at the 2001 Confluence), do concerts which mix folk and filk in equally entertaining measure.

And let us not forget 'found filk,' those songs which were recorded commercially and pushed by the Official Music Establishment. Anyone of us who's listened to Weird Al knows that songs like "Yoda" and "The Saga Begins" are filk in pop clothing. There are amazing things out there: 'The Girl From Venus' by They Might Be Giants, "You Will Go to the Moon" by Moxy Fruvous and "Mutant Cows" by The Dyzmals. While I'm not sure I really want to hear all of these, you never know. One of the panels suggested for this year's Confluence is a session on 'found filk' allowing fans to expose their favorites.

Filk has been around long enough now that it is developing little sub-categories, like Food filk (songs about sentient chili, plotting broccoli, rabid tomatoes)[or was that the movie?], or Space filk (songs about the real space program, of which Leslie Fish's 'Sputnik' is my personal favorite for the chorus) or Lovecraft filk (songs about Cthulu, mostly). Is Goth filk out there? Probably. If not, we'll get Sasha to write it.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this column: Randy Hoffman has been working on the filk concerts for Confluence. He has come up with an even bigger and more impressive lineup (5! at least ), that feature new artists we haven't heard at Confluence before like Heather Rose Jones and Dan and Melissa Glasser along with favorites like On The Mark and the great Pete Grubbs (and maybe Steve MacDonald again). Watch the webpage for updates!


Focus on Poland: A lecture about Stanislaw Lem's Science Fiction

Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Central & Eastern Europe Forum presents another event in the Focus on Poland Series:

"Stanislaw Lem's Science Fiction: Linkages between science, philosophy and literature"

A lecture and discussion with Professor Leszek Koczanowicz (Opole University, Poland, & SUNY at Buffalo)

April 5, Thursday @ 7:00 PM in 208 Weyandt Hall

This lecture will present Stanislaw Lem, a prominent Polish writer, as a pioneer of literary reflection and concern on the social and cultural implications of technological progress. The lecture will establish the linkages between sciences, philosophy and literature in Lem's writings. It will also discuss Polish culture and history as they heavily influenced, along with the writer's life story, Lem's ideas about dangers that present and future societies will face as they evolve technologically.


Stanislaw Lem was born in Lvov, Poland in 1921. His short stories were first published in magazines specializing in modern prose and science fiction. Subsequent books gained him worldwide acclaim (e.g., "Solaris," "His Master's Voice," "The Cyberiad") and now belong to the most famous science-fiction works of the twentieth century. Lem's books were translated into thirty-six languages, totaling over twenty seven million copies. The particular value of Lem's works lies in the combination of sensory richness of fantastic visions with first-class scientific knowledge and a truly philosophical mind. Today Lem is regarded not only as an outstanding science-fiction writer but also as a philosopher, a humanist and a universal thinker. The New York Times Review of Books said: "The Polish writer Stanislaw Lem is both a polymath and a virtuoso storyteller and stylist. Put them together and they add up to a genius..." (For more information:


Professor Leszek Koczanowicz is a philosopher and psychologist at Opole University, Poland, where he has been teaching courses in history of psychology and social philosophy. Currently Dr. Koczanowicz is a visiting professor at SUNY at Buffalo. His doctoral dissertation (1987) compared L.V. Vygotsky's historical cultural approach to the mental life with G.H. Mead's social behaviorism. His later work has been devoted to the concepts of the self in American Pragmatism. His current research deals with social philosophy and psychology. Dr. Koczanowicz studied and taught at University of Wroclaw, Poland, UC at Berkeley, SUNY at Stony Brook, SUNY at Buffalo, Institut f_r die Wissenschaften vom Menschen in Vienna (Austria), and Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Holland).


College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics
Office of International Affairs
Robert E. Cook Honors College

For more information email Ola Kaniasty:

Call for Reviewers

Hi Everyone!

I'm looking for names of reviewers in the Pittsburgh Area so I can send out advance copies of my first novel, ALIEN TASTE, which is set in Pittsburgh.

My publisher ROC is really into the idea of supporting Confluence and we'll be buying an ad in the program book. The book comes July 10th -- talk about great timing!! I'll be in the Pittsburgh area doing book signings either before or after the con.

Check out my web site at

Wendy Kosak -- the long distance PARSEC member!


DUES are now due for those who haven't paid for 2001 yet.

Dues are $10 annually; if there is a second person at the same address who does not want a separate copy of SIGMA, they can pay $2 for their membership. (this is usually a spouse or children, but can be anyone). The $2 membership entitles you to vote, get the Confluence discount, etc. It just means you don't get your own SIGMA.

PARSEC also accepts barter: if you have artwork or books (in mint condition) you want to donate for the raffle, they can be credited as a $10 membership (or $12) at the discretion of the PARSEC President.


Calculating God
by Robert Sawyer
Review by Ann Cecil

This book is successful in its main intent: it intends to be thought-provoking, and it is. I'm not sure it is as successful as science-fiction, though it has the requisite depth of science (I can always tell true physics: my brain starts to twinge around the third equation/concept). The reason I can confidently say it is successful in main intent is that 3 weeks later, I am still arguing with it in my head. And I can write this review without having to refer back to a copy of the book.

The protagonist, Tom Jericho, works for the Royal Ontario Museum as a staff paleontologist. One morning, an alien turns up: the alien, Hollus, a Forhilnor from Beta Hydri, is one of several in a research team, which turn up more or less simultaneously at various spots on Earth. They are researching our fossil history, and, oh yes, they believe in God. They feel they have absolute proof - statistically significant evidence.

Tom is a resolute atheist, and plans to hold to Carl Sagan's example: to go out as much an atheist as he lived, since Tom is dying of cancer. Statistics doesn't do it for him, he tells the alien. The alien, much concerned, informs him that there is a second race, the Wreeds, picked up from Delta Pavonis, traveling with the first, and they are believers as well. Tom holds out, even after he gets to meet the second alien. Tom has a (church-going) wife and son, whom we get to know at a surface level. In the course of the book, we get to know a great deal about Tom, and eventually more about Hollus (who turns out to be female, to Tom's surprise) and her people.

The author does not cheat: Tom gets his conclusive evidence, but no easy answers. The God Tom meets is the God he needs and wants. How satisfying you will find the ending depends on your personal requirements for God.

Another comment on this book; Sawyer very cleverly uses the alien as the voice that gives Tom all the standard lines most people say when confronted with a dying friend. This gives them an ironic undertone, that adds to the argumentative nature of the book.

Brain Plague
by Joan Slonczewski
Reviewby Ann Cecil

In spite of its title, this book is really about being God. At least, that's what it starts out to be. Chrys, a young female artist who lives in a far-future, well-established, high-tech colony world, is the primary point-of-view character. In typical artist fashion, Chrys is broke; further, she came from a fundamentalist farm settlement, where she left family who desperately need financial aid. When a handsome stranger offers her a regular stipend plus full medical coverage, just for 'hosting' some microbes in an unused area of her brain, she agrees.

The microbes, who are the secondary points-of-view in each chapter, turn out to be very sentient; they call themselves Eleutherians. To Chrys' initial consternation, they name her 'God of Mercy' and insist on worship. Turns out they have names for all the 'Gods'; human hosts that carry the microbes, who are an alien race rescued somehow from a dying planet.

The world Chrys lives on is split between normal humans, who inhabit Valedon, and enhanced humans, who call themselves Elves and live on the moon which they call Elysium. Just to keep things lively, there are also sentient Sims (enhanced apes, I think), and sentient AIs, all of whom appear as characters. Chrys is a people junkie, who regularly attends gallery shows and seeks out crowds, making for a long (and sometimes confusing) character list.

Chrys also frequents the UnderWorld, a low class nightclub type scene, where she runs into Slaves, people who are almost mindless junkies. It turns out that their addiction (referred to as 'Brain Plague') is to a variety of microbes, cousins of Chrys' inhabitants, who have 'gone bad' and are burning out their host with bursts of dopamine. Chrys, being both compassionate and daring, gets herself in trouble trying to help microbial defectors from the Slaves.

As the plot level rises in complexity, and Chrys and her people take an ever greater part in saving their hosts from disaster, the focus subtly changes. The book becomes less a study in being God, and more a study in managing God. The microbial Rose is particularly effective as a character; some of the best parts of the book are her arguments on ethics with the other microbes.

All the plot twists and turns are very neatly worked out. By the end, Chrys has become more of a Captain Kirk than a God, and the Eleutherians have earned their place on the top of the microbial ladder. The book is enjoyable as an adventure; while the author slides in her 'messages' on sex, politics, and religion, they are done as relatively subtle asides.

Con List

April 20-22: Eeriecon Three, Niagara Falls NY with Robert J. Sawyer
April 27-29: Pittsburgh Comicon, Monroeville Expomart.
May 25-28: Balticon, Baltimore MD with Randy Hoffman's First Filk Concert! (and Hal Clement) PARSEC Attendees: Randy Hoffman, Ann Cecil, Greg Armstrong, Mia Sherman May 25-28: MediaWest*Con 2001, Lansing MI.
May 25-27: Marcon, Columbus OH.
June 21-24: MidwestCon, Cincinnati OH
June 22-24: ConterPoint Four, Rockville MD.
June 22-24: Contraption 2001, Detroit MI with Eugene Roddenberry Jr. and Nene Thomas
June 22-24: Monster Bash 2001, Butler PA.

Also coming: Xavier the Robot will be at InConjunction in July, Confluence (that's OUR con, folks!) will be in July, and Worldcon will be on Labor Day Weekend.

Remember, folks, that's PARSEC's very own Randy Hoffman appearing at Balticon. And it's a long Memorial Day Weekend, too. :)

News Flash

Mary Soon Lee's story "To the Maxi-Blender 3000, Serial Number 1-498-86" appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of On Spec. Her "Birthdays" appeared in Kinships.

Barton Paul Levenson's review of Jeffrey Sackett's Candlemas Eve appeared in The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Ken Chiacchia's short story "A Matter of Gravity" appeared in the online magazine The Martian Wave. This is his first fiction publication.

Bobby Nansel's haiku "Germanium" appeared online in SciFiStory's Periodic Table of Haiku. This is thought to be (by this reporter) his first poetry sale and publication.

Tim Esaias sold a non-sf poem to The Elysian Fields Quarterly: The Literary Journal of Baseball. He sold the poem "Reasons No-one Took Him to Mars in His Lifetime" to Dreams & Nightmares; and two of his poems, "The Last Word" and "Advice for Our New Galactic Warriors", were nominated for the Rhysling Award.

Laurie Mann has placed a humorous essay, "Homecoming with Wookies," with Collision, a new nonfiction journal at Pitt. It will be published in late April. the first issue will be free. There will be a Collision kick-off reception in the cloister of the Frick Fine Arts building on Tuesday, April 24th, from 8-11 PM. Light snacks will be served. Come on over, see the magazine and the accompanying web site.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Apr. 14, 2001, 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Aspects of Asimov by Phill Klass

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: Kevin Hayes

Vice President: "Cap'n" John Cope

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Tom Morrow

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.