The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


April 2002, Issue 195

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin and Nora Hayes

I sat down to write this month's column, thinking about perceptions and the way we all see things differently. My daughter stood looking over my shoulder and asked, "whatcha doin'?"

I explained I was trying to write my column and it wasn't progressing the way I wanted (it seldom does) and she said, "I could do that."

I stood up and let her sit down.

* * * * *

Just so everyone knows this right from the start, this is Kevin's daughter, Nora. I didn't want everyone here reading the following and wondering "What on earth has possessed our beloved president?"

Anyhow, before proceeding with this column, I was told the theme should be something about what's out there. I'm sure, what with the entire club centered around science fiction and all, it is supposed to be pertaining to space, or frontiers being explored in science and machines. But to a fifteen year old girl in ninth grade, what's out there is whole lot more confusing.

For instance, it has taken me the entire year to realize that there are only three short years until college. Though I have wanted to pursue paleontology since I was around seven years old, new career choices and paths have shown themselves, and my future is a lot more uncertain. It has become a family joke, mostly between my dad and me, that my career choices are very different. Paleontologist, stage-actress, animator, playwright, medical doctor, bar-tender, and chef are just a few. My choices vary, and gosh darnit, I can't chose just one!

Of course the major is the easy part. I have yet to find a college that I like that even offers the option of paleontology as a major. Penn State has a fairly good one, and so does Pitt, but to tell you the truth, Pitt is way too close to my hometown, and Penn State has an ugly campus. Not to offend those who work, or went to Pitt, or Penn State; they are very good schools in their own right, but I want to see the world, or at least try to get out of Pennsylvania.

Also, just recently, I became part of the working class. I am in charge of the tanning bed in a nail salon two or three days a week. This is not my ideal job, but it pays, and that's good enough for me right now. Of course, I'm always looking for something better, something with more hours and higher pay (who isn't?) Unfortunately, I have come to realize that finding a job is a tough business, and finding one that is enjoyable is even harder. I'm not particularly worried about my skin and how tan I can make it. I also treat my nails horribly, what with the chlorine and water damage they get from my swimming, and the horrible habit I have of chewing on them when I'm bored. I stopped painting them, that tore them apart. Not that anybody else cares.

Jobs, college, and future professions aren't the only things on my troubled mind. Friends, boyfriends, boys that are friends, socializing, looking good, keeping up with my school work, and staying out of trouble with my parents; these are the usuals. Every kid goes through this. Okay, maybe not the whole boyfriend thing, but you never know. These things are always important to the average teenager.

There are some teenagers that say, "I don't care what other people think," but I can say safely, that's not true. For instance, looking okay isn't as important to some as to others. I care about how I look, but I care more about whether I think I look good as opposed to what other people think about the way I look. But then, I get paranoid about how tight my clothes are, how low-cut my tops are, how short they are, or how low my pants ride. I look at some of the other girls in my classes and think, "Why would someone want to look so cheap?" Of course then I realize that, hey it's Bellevue, and cheap is beautiful.

So this is my life. There is a lot out there for me. Granted, most of you have gone through this, and know what it's like and are sitting there, reading this and going "Waa waa! Let's move on shall we?" But sometimes it's nice to see things from the younger generation again, and it does let you know what is out there for us. May this be enlightening, and may everyone be there on Saturday. My dad told me to say that.

* * * * *

Did not. Kevin again. It's always interesting to see things a little differently. Isn't that why we read what we read? I look forward to former astronaut Jay Apt showing us how differently things looked where he has been. He'll be speaking about "What It's Like Out There" at our next meeting. See you Saturday.

Last Meeting

Meeting Minutes by Tom Morrow
March 9, 2002

PARSEC met at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library on March 9th, 2002. At the beginning of this meeting, we finished a roll of raffle tickets...or...well, we are 4 tickets short of it. There was a short discussion as to whether this was the original roll of tickets bought more than 10 years ago; we think this was. However, President Kevin Hayes announced that we don't need to buy a new roll; in the PARSEC supply box, there is another very large roll of raffle tickets just waiting to be used.

This month's winner is...................*drum roll please* ............ ..............Jean Martin

On Friday, March 8th, Randy Hoffman's father died. He will be missed.

Sarah Zettel had her baby on Groundhog's Day, Alexander James Smith - We will send a card to them congratulating them on their Groundhogs Day production.

Nils Hammer and Mia Sherman are in a production of Princess Ida, put on by the Pittsburgh Savoyards, the Gilbert and Sullivan group, that will be performing in April at the Carnegie Theatre in Carnegie.

Various upcoming book-signings were announced for March: Mary Soon Lee on 3/14 at Borders, Diane Turnshek on 3/16 at the Greensburgh Barnes & Noble.

ALPHA (the writers' week-long workshop for young writers [ages 13-21] that we are running in conjunction with Robert Morris U the week before Confluence) - is now getting some applications. PARSEC will hold an auction at the next meeting to support ALPHA scholarships, chinese auction style.

Treasurer's report made by Greg Armstrong: So far this year, PARSEC has made $198 in dues, $51 in raffle, and spent nothing, so deposit was $249. Pres. Kevin Hayes then presented a bill for $85 for the grove for the August picnic.

There was an apology for the mix-up in the current SIGMA (the end of one review was cut off, the beginning of another missing). Bobby Nansel passed out copies of Shoshana Kaminsky's complete review of Mary Soon Lee's book (the review with the missing beginning). Greg Armstrong pointed out that the on-line SIGMA had the complete text for both reviews.

There was a discussion, started by Ann Cecil, on possible changes to SIGMA, in content and/or in format. We are open for ideas and changes to SIGMA. All suggestions are quite well accepted. Send on parsec-talk, talk to us, or, if you really want to know someone is listening, come to a meeting and alk to one of us in person.

The Next Meeting is at 102, Thaw Hall (in the physics dept) at University of Pittsburgh in Oakland, with ex-ASTRONAUT Jay Apt speaking on 'What's it Like up there?"

The meeting then became a forum for topics, suggestions for panels to be used at Confluence. The forum was led by Ann Cecil.


1. Can you make a living writing SF?
NY Review of F&SF: Brian Stableford says not [comments in the review of the Tenn and Swanwick anthologies]

2. What's the effect of the internet on SF publishing?
The small presses seem to be growing again; they can sell through Amazon, so the distribution problem may not be the killer; There's beginning to be on-line magazines; If it doesn't make it into a bookstore, do the readers care?

3. Are how-to books and workshopping intellectually treasonous?
Stableford, in the review cited above, calls sf the genre that resists formula, which makes it harder to write but more rewarding. How-to books often try to reduce everything to formula, and workshopping at its worst has some of the same effect; so should we avoid them both?

4. Attack of the Niven-Boy Geeks
SF readers traditionally write more letters to the editor, and point out more errors; is this still true? Or are the standards relaxing - can you get away with sloppy science?

5. What about all those Brits?
There seem to be 2 flavors [schools?] of British writers: the Big Space Opera & the Gritty/Depressing School (Banks, Hamilton, MacLeod, vs Mieville, MacAuley) Are they flourishing because American writers are doing these topics, or because they are better at them?

6. Why is it the Sorcerer's Stone?
Translation (or Corruption, dumbing down) from British English to American English

7. (Media) - Flogging a dead book; do we need another "Time Machine"?
What are the reasons for re-making and re-making. [suggested for John DeChancie]

8. Manifold : Book
The newest trend seems to be a new take on an existing story (e.g., Ender's Shadow, or the MacLeod books which show two futures - sort of an 'alternate story' as versus alternate history)

9. Why are monsters always monstrous?
Why don't we ever see them rest? What are they like after they've eaten?

10. Where does horror fit into SF&F?
Is this another cross-over genre, or a genuine part of the genre? LOCUS, which is the 'professional' magazine of the genre, has a regular reviewer (Ed Bryant) that concentrates on horror.

11. What's good about a vampire?
The original vampire stories were playing on the terror evoked by the image; now we're turning it into a glamorous, attractive image, with a Vampire as the star of the TV show. Did the literature change people's perceptions? Or is society just hung-up on evil?

12. Whatever happened to horror?
Is the market still flourishing? Is there more out there than Stephen King wanna-bes?

13. Are e-books dead or has their time not come yet?

14. Double-Plus Good in 2002 - When does PC become Newspeak

15. How can you top real life?
Weird directions science has gone [panel for the science-minded ]

16. Predictions that came true but weren't what we expected.
SF has made predictions that came true but weren't in the same form - the giant computer rooms, the industrial robots; was this just beyond anyone's power of prediction?

17. Invasion of the Genre-Snatchers
Has SF become cool? Why are we seeing some books labeled SF, when they really aren't?

18. Dare to be Fictional (Challenge Panel)
write a story outline during the panel (see Bobby Nansel for details)

19. Limerick Challenge - Dueling Limericks
divide into teams and write limericks while audience is regaled with some older samples; then return and audience votes on best limerick

20. What topics are still forbidden - Taboos in SF&F

21. Is 9/11 bringing on 1984?
In the wake of the Terrorist attack, we are losing information access: websites with things like water-main maps are being taken down, for fear of terrorist use - but this hampers legitimate use. Where should surveillance end? Where does security become harassment?

22. Safe at any speed vs Life is risky
SF used to be a forum for warning that the trade-off for security is often stagnation (e.g., With Folded Hands). Do we still believe that? Is SF still pushing these ideas now that's it's grayer (both readers and topics).

2002 PARSEC Contest results

The results of the PARSEC Short Story Contest are in. We had a record number (74) of valid submissions, which came from 19 U.S. states, as well as Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Australia and the U.K.. Our judges this year were: Flonet Biltgen (Clarion, Writers of the Future winner, published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, etc.), Carolyn Ives Gilman (author of Halfway Human, and several short stories), and Mark W. Tiedemann (Clarion, author of six novels, including the current Philip K. Dick Award nominee Compass Reach).

The Committee determined that the quality of the stories in this year's contest warranted the awarding of all three prizes. The winners are:

1st: "Mr. Bones Speaks to the Bright Round Moon" by John Weagly (Chicago, IL)
2nd: "The Souvenir You Most Want" by Sue Burke (Madrid, Spain)
3rd: "A Carnival Feeling" by LaZealtrice Addeana Jackson (Houston, TX)

The 1st place story will be published in the Confluence Program Book. The other two winners will be published in the next edition of the prestigious PARSEC fanzine.

PARSECians should know that the Contest entrants have expressed a great deal of gratitude for this contest, and that the Club has done a Good Thing. Each of the 74 story entrants got a brief critique of their story, with longer collections of notes to those writers whose stories went to the judges.

I will be trying to finalize the decision on next year's theme in the next two weeks (it's still not too late to suggest a theme), so expect a new Contest Announcement soon. Mary Soon Lee and Philip E. Smith have agreed to judge, and I'm preparing to twist a certain arm to get my third judge.

Finally, the 2003 Contest will be my last one as Discombobulator, so Ann and President Hayes are looking for someone to take the job. Feel free to present them your credentials at any time.

Timons Esaias
Contest Co-ordinator


by Melvin Burgess
Tor Books, ISBN 0-765-30048-6
Review by James J. Walton

In an extremely dystopian future London has been walled off from the rest of the world for generations to serve as a prison. Warlord Val Volson dreams of uniting the many factions which fight for control of the city. Only a consolidated London has a chance to break out of the prison and perhaps take all of England.

As a first step toward peace Val must follow the time honored tradition of marrying his daughter to Conor, the ruler of a an adjacent and hostile territory. The daughter, 14 year old Signy, is opposed to the idea as are her brothers Sigmund, Hadrian and Ben. But this is business.

The wedding feast has a strange, uninvited visitor, a huge one-eyed humanoid wearing a slouch hat. The visitor gives Sigmund a gift: a knife only he can use.

Of course despite the seemingly happy start to the marriage, there is treachery and Signy finds herself a prisoner as well as a bride, in love with a man who regularly commits horrible crimes.

A cautionary tale, a future history, a re-working of a classic tale, a Science Fiction story, a fantasy novel, all of the above, Bloodtide is a retelling of the first Icelandic Saga. As such, those familiar with the source material will know the basic direction of this novel but, as has been said many times, sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

Burgess takes us on a surreal journey through landscapes populated by genetically engineered halfmen, part human and part animal du jour, shapshifting cats, armies of dogmen and a pigman or two. All under the control, directly and indirectly, of Norse gods come back to reclaim what is theirs.

But are they really gods? Is the one-eyed humanoid with the slouch hat really Odin returned to Earth or is he a cleverly crafted machine housing an extremely powerful artificial intelligence? Is that really Loki prowling the battle fields or a robot?

To the mere mortals who must bleed suffer and die it makes little difference. They are wise enough to know they cannot distinguish between advanced science and magic.

Just like the Volsunga Saga, Bloodtide is a very violent tale. Life is extremely cheap and death is quite casual. The bloodshed is rarely graphic but Bloodtide may not be for everyone.

Burgess does not stay 100% within the confines of the saga. The final destination is the same but he takes a slightly different route. As a result several of the characters appear much more ruthless and bloodthirsty than they might in a straight retelling and a certain air of mystery is added, enriching the plot.

At the end of Bloodtide we have resolution to a few salient points but thesemake other issues even more mysterious.

Since there are several more Icelandic sagas, I expect Burgess to continue his tale of the Volsons and what they become.

My only general displeasure is none of Mr. Burgess' other novels appear to be available in the United States. A pity. I suspect I'd enjoy them as much as I enjoyed Bloodtide.

The Pickup Artist
Terry Bisson
Tor Books, ISBN 0-312-87403-0
Review by James J. Walton

In this future dystopia many artists and the entire body of their work have been banned from society. Why? So new works of art can be created without undo criticism and comparisons. Museums which once housed masterpieces now exhibit bare walls in tribute to the new political correctness. It is the responsibility of the Bureau of Arts and Information, via its field agents, to catalog and collect all examples of banned art works and turn them in for destruction.

Henry Shapiro is one such field agent, known euphemistically as a Pickup Artist. Henry Shapiro is also a very lonely man. He lives in a small house with his pet collie, Homer. He has no interests outside of his job and brooding about his life. The type of lifestyle which makes him perfect for a Grand Adventure.

Shapiro's curiosity about a particular piece of art leads him to an involvement with Henry (short for Henrietta) a woman with a shadowy past. He, of course, soon finds himself on the wrong side of the law. He is not the first lonely man to be lead astray by a pretty face (or, in this case, a nice pair of breasts) and he knows he brought his problems onto himself.

Shapiro, convinced he can save his job if he has enough sick time, begins a cross country trek in search of a banned Hank Williams album. He is accompanied by Henry, who may or may not be an agent for a subversive organization, Cowboy Bob, who is dead but talks a great deal, and Homer the collie.

Of course the object of the journey is not nearly as important as the journey itself, (though Shapiro might disagree) and what our characters learn about themselves and the country.

Bisson's sense of humor makes The Pickup Artist a mixture of Dante's Inferno, Kafka's The Trial, and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. It is ridiculous and frightening at the same time.

Bisson sends Shapiro through a United States both absurd and plausible. As we follow Shapiro as he wanders through a mountain of garbage being excavated by people who pay to be there we at first say "No way!" then we think a moment and say "Well, if certain things happen...".

How did Shapiro's world become so strange? As the reaction to runaway technology and a senseless and deadly act of terrorism. The real rulers of the western world, the business men and the entertainers, pooled their resources and worked out a method for cleansing the arts. A billionaire software company owner named Mr. Bill and a has-been movie actress form the nexus of a shadowy group bent on changing the way the world thinks.

The Pickup Artist may be too cerebral for some tastes and too buffoonish for others (how is that for contradiction?) but I found it entertaining.

Millennicon Review

Review by Ann Cecil

Millennicon is a con that seems to have reinvented itself. Originally started as a Dayton, Ohio area con, it has moved to the Cincinnati area, evidently permanently. It seems to have found a home in the Kings Island Resort, off season. While that makes it a longer drive from Pittsburgh (by about 30 minutes), it is still in the 5 hour range.

And then there's the name; originally the con was Millennicon - n, starting with 14 and counting down to the start of the millennium. A clever gimmick suggested by local author Joe Patruch, both the gimmick and Joe seemed to have been discarded along the way. The progam book, flyers, etc now say Millennicon 16, no minus in sight. And next year will be Millennicon 17.

Membership for this con is about the same as Confluence - I overheard someone say '350' and that seemed reasonable. None of the programming was crowded, possibly because there was a large gaming contingent. I saw signs at registration that suggested Millennicon is running a separate gaming track, where those who want to can come and disappear for the weekend.

This idea - a separate room where the gamers can come, give us money, and then disappear - sounds good on the surface. This will pay for our con, and they won't bother us, right? Except that the evidence, as seen at Millennicon, is that a con that's not making it on the strength of it's main attraction - the con itself - isn't going to benefit from the extra gamers' fees. The programming was not crowded at Millennicon; in fact, there were several panels with a very small audience, and I never saw a panel with 'Standing Room Only.' I didn't go to everything, so maybe Maureen McHugh drew more people for her Guest of Honor speech.

I know most of the people putting on this con; I used to live in Dayton before I found Pittsburgh. There's a good local Star Trek/Romulan/Klingon group (or maybe it's groups, technically, though it's pretty much the same people). I don't know whether they are just putting on the con by rote, and are tired, or whether they are still recovering from some financial problems they had a few years ago. Any way, this year, the energy level seemed much lower than I remember. This group used to do clever, inventive things - I remember contests involving creating an alienbeing, for instance. Not this year.

The dealer's room is too small - the aisles give new definition to crowded. I never made the full circuit because I was afraid I'd knock something over. The Con Suite was nice, a pleasant array of munchies and sodas, particularly good on the mornings.

So how was the programming? Well, they are using an eclectic mix of panelists. The most memorable was Heidi Hollis, who looks you right in the eye and says, "I've talked to aliens. Lots of them. No dreams, no fantasies, the real thing. It's all happened to me." No matter what the topic, this tends to stop the discussion cold. I don't know how Maureen McHugh handled this, but Wen Spencer sort of gulped, and then turned the discussion off on another tangent.(The panel was entitled "When They come, will we all get a raise?")

By far the best panel I went to was the one on Friday night, entitled The Erotic Edge. Something about that kind of title brings out the most interesting, stimulating things in the panelists. The discussion ranged well beyond writing erotic sf, but was enjoyable and informative. None of the panelists had any background in writing porn, by the way; all were talking about using romance in their science.

Will I go back next year? I'm not at all sure; this isn't a con on the must-make list, I'm afraid. It's nice, but it really depends on factors outside the con itself (like seeing friends and maybe doing a party).


Horror Writers Association as having a healthy YA mentoring program. This isn't true. We have a mentoring program, yes, but it's open to anyone. It's on a first-come first-served basis. (I happened to be one of the first; I'm lucky enough to have Brian Hopkins as a mentor.) It's popular, but not limited only to teen writers.

Hope this may help. Take care.

btw - I liked the speech . . .

- Jared Sandmann ( Thanks for the correction. ed.)


Mary Soon Lee's story "Common Courtesy" appeared in Kinships vol. 1, #4; and her story "New World" is in the February issue (#176) of Interzone.

Tim Esaias sold the story "The Right Thing" to Future Orbits, and it will appear in the next (April/May) issue.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Apr 13, 2002 12:30 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: 102, Thaw Hall (in the physics dept) at University of Pittsburgh

PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: "What It's Like Out There" by Jay Apt

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

April 2002
Date : 13 April 2002
Discussion Topic : "What It's Like Out There" by Jay Apt
Location : 102, Thaw Hall (in the physics dept) at University of Pittsburgh

May 2002
Date : 11 May 2002
Discussion Topic : Art Show and Tell
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

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: Heidi Pilewski

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Joan Fisher

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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