The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


April 1997, Issue 135

The Kontinuing Adventures of Kira

I was glad to see that lots of people managed to find the Monroeville library last month. As is usual for our annual "Trends in Science Fiction" meetings, we came up with lots of possible panel topics! (22, if I'm not mistaken.) I apologize again for having left the raffle tickets at home; they did NOT disappear into the ether, as I had at first feared. (Okay, I know it isn't really ether out there, but one of the topics brought up at the meeting involved the current popularity of Victorian-era science.) Anyway, with the wealth of topics we have, this year's ConFluence panels should be well worth going to. There were several announcements at the meeting, and unfortunately, my micro cassette recorder was somewhere in the ether that day along with the tickets, so I'm running on memory alone. The main one I want to bring up is Ann's invitation to join the newly-forming Bulk-Mailing Committee. With the new postal classifications, we can cut our mailing costs, but we will need software and we will need to follow the rules. So somebody needs to check into this stuff and then hash out whether the cost of the software and hassle of sorting properly will be worth the savings we'd get. Apparently, our mailing lists (both PARSEC and ConFluence) have grown considerably recently. (This is at least partly due to our resident Recruiting Machine, Diane Turnshek. Keep up the good work, Diane! Gosh, there's just no feeling like embarrassing your friends!) So, anyone who is interested in delving into postal practices, please talk to Ann Cecil (when she's in town) or any of the officers.

There were several announcements for ConFluence events and information about WorldCon '97 from Laurie Mann (she has Hugo ballots), and I forgot to mention this one: I am still taking information for the 1997 PARSEC members directory. As I mentioned at a previous meeting, anyone who was in the 1996 directory will be carried over; changes of information and new information for members who weren't in last year's should be given/phoned/e-mailed to me (phone #: (412) 829-1082; e-mail: Participation is purely voluntary! You may have any or all of your address(es), phone number(s), e-mail address(es), and web page(s) listed. I am not bothering with forms this time. I type it in no matter what, so just grab a piece of paper and Scribble!

Don't forget this month's meeting on Saturday, April 12, back at Squirrel Hill. It's a Writer's Group Panel; bring those questions you've always had about writer's groups but were afraid to ask!

DatesNamePlaceRoad MilesGuest Of HonorRegistration feeHotel cost per nightPARSEC Members GoingSpace in Ann's Van
Apr. 11-13FilKONtario 7Toronto, ON, Canada325filcon: Talis Kimberley$?$?Randy, ?3
Apr. 18-20Nebula Aw. Bqt.Kansas City, MO850 many$?$??
Apr. 18-20Pittsburgh Comicon 4Monroeville6?$8.50/dN/A??
Apr. 18-20NameThatCon10Earth City, MO625Laurell K. Hamilton$25$???
May 9-11Marcon 32Columbus, OH200Harry Turtledove$35$92Plenty o' folk?
May 16-18Conversion 1Deerfield, IL500over 21: Nick Pollotta$35$78??
May 23-36CostumeCon 15Baltimore, MD250costumecon$>60$95 ??
May 23-26MediaWest 17Lansing, MI350 media con$30$?Beth, ??
May 23-26Disclave 1997Washington, DC250Patricia Anthony$40$76Ann, Irwin Trio?
M. 30-J. 1AllQuietonthePotomacColumbia, MD225ILF Live Roleplaying$?$???
Jun. 6-8Duckon 6Oakbrook, IL475furrycon: Frank Hayes$40$75??
Jun. 13-15The Second ConCertoPhiladelphia300filkcon: Urban Tapestry$40???
Jun. 13-15Ad Astra 17Toronto, ON325 Stephen Brust$35?Randy, ?3
Jun. 26-29Dragon*Con '97Atlanta, GA675many guests$60$112+$10/pers.??
Jul. 3-6Albany AnthroConAlbany, NY475furrycon$>25$75??
Aug. 8-10ConFluence '97Pittsburgh0Stephen Brust$28$85/95PARSECn/a
Aug. 5-9, 1998Bucconeer (WorldCon 56)Baltimore, MD250many guests$110 thru 9/30/97$???

Con Listing Notes

The cons listed here, with the exception of national/international-level fests and selected others, are the upcoming cons moderately accessible to PARSEC, meaning that they are within the maximum driving-distance limit of roughly 575 miles established by members who drive to Arisia and Boskone on occasion. Mileage is to the nearest 25 mi. unless it's under 25 miles. Only those guests specifically identified as Guest of Honor or Author Guest of Honor are listed as GOHs here, not Artist GOHs, Filk GOHs, Fan GOHs, Special Guests, Toastmasters, or High Poobah Lifetime Legacy Guests of Distinction. Registration fees are full-weekend at-the-door. Hotel costs are quad rates per night, tax not included. Call Kira at 829-1082 for more info.

Things to Watch For

Pittsburgh local Lawrence C. Connolly's story "Mercenary of Dreams" will be appearing soon in Martin Greenberg's Elf Fantastic. Also, his story "The Soothsayer" will be in Lawrence Schimel's The Fortune Teller this summer.

Timons Esaias announces his first appearance in a hardback anthology: The Best of InterZone edited by David Pringle (St. Martin's Press, $24.95). It is now available in American bookstores. The story is "Norbert and the System" which was number two in the InterZone reader's poll for its year, and which has been reprinted in the Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Romania. Also, Tim's "Crash Site" is forthcoming in the magazine Terra Incognita, and a poem entitled "Checklist" is due out soon in Asimov's Science Fiction. His poem, "Is It...?," is in The Fractal #6, available from The Fractal, 4400 University Drive, MS2D6, Fairfax, VA 22030-4444 for $5. Another poem, "Rose Today," is in TransVersions #6, available from Island Specialty Reports, 1019 Colville Rd., Victoria, BC, Canada V9A 4P5 for $4.95 U.S..

William H. Keith's Diplomatic Act, from Baen Books, will be released in June. It is a collaboration with Peter Jurasik, of the TV show Babylon 5, and though the book involves TV-star aliens, it is NOT set in the Bab 5 universe, despite what the cover seems to show! Bill says of it: "It is my first hard cover, my first non-military book, my first comedy, and possibly the best thing I've ever written." Bill also mentions the May release of his Bolo Brigade, from Baen, set in Keith Laumer's Bolo universe. A Bolo short story by Bill, "Hold Until Relieved," in the anthology Bolo: Last Stand, also from Baen, is appearing on the bookshelves now. This is his first published short story, and his first inclusion in an anthology.

In other news, Mary Soon Lee's "The Hollow Dancer" is in Sword and Sorceress XIV, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley, published by Daw Books, on sale in bookstores. Her story "Universal Grammar" is in F&SFÓ, April 97, on sale now in large bookstores. Also, Mary's "Silent in the Cities" is in Aboriginal Science Fiction #51-52, available from Aboriginal Science Fiction, P.O. Box 2449, Woburn MA 01888-0849 for $6.70. She found it on sale in the downtown Barnes & Noble, but she bought the three copies they had. "The Mural" is in Freezer Burn #7, available from David G. Rogers, 8 Piedmont Street, Salem MA 01970 for four dollars (make checks payable to David G. Rogers). She just sold the story "Slush" to Pirate Writings.

Paul Melko's "Doreen" appears in Not One of Us #17. His "Bolt" is in Talebones #6, available from Talebones, 10531 SE 250th Pl #104, Kent WA 98031 for $4.50. Paul's first story publication, "Dysfunctional Family Cat," is in Aberrations #39, available from Aberrations, P.O. Box 460430, San Francisco, CA 94146 for $4.50.


There will be a flea market table at ConFluence for PARSEC members. For a $2.00 fee and the promise of an hour to man the table, PARSEC members can drop off any SF/F/H items they'd like to sell in the dealer's room at Confluence. The table is six feet long, so smaller items are preferred. The dealer's room is open approximately 14 hours during the Con. This offer is open to the first 14 people who get $2.00 into the hands of Diane Turnshek. Start thinking of things you'd like to sell!

There is a Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Discussion Group, the 2nd Tuesday of each month. 7:30 PM at Border's Monroeville (374-9772). Upcoming Discussions are April 8th: Clay's Ark by Octavia Bulter; May 13th: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Phillip K. Dick; June, July, August: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

James Walton wrote the review of ConFusion 17 in last month's Sigma. Sorry JJ.

PennWriters Conference

by Jamie Saloff

PennWriters is a fast-growing non-profit organization dedicated to helping aspiring and published authors of all genres. We host Pennsylvania workshops, critique groups, an annual fiction writing contest (judged by authors, agents and editors) a bi-monthly newsletter, a member library, research helps, and, of course, our annual writer's conference.

The annual conference will be held in Pittsburgh for 1997, alternating every other year with a site on the eastern side of the state. This year's conference, to be held May 16-17-18 hosts workshops, panel discussions, after hours events, agent an editor appointments, and lots of networking with other writers.

This year's guests include: Kent L. Brown, Jr., Highlights & Boyd's Mills Press; Michael Seidman, mystery editor; Ginjer Buchanan, SF editor; Agents: Jill Grinberg (Scovil, Chichak, & Galen), Linda Hyatt (Linda Hyatt Agency), George Nicholson (Sterling Literistic); Authors: Kate Elliott, Leonard Bishop, Joseph Korn, Nancy Springer, Susan Meier, Donna Valentino, and many more.

Many of this year's workshops will include hands-on writing activities. Published Authors may attend a special Booksellers Luncheon to network with local area retailers. We also offer an Authors' Tea where purchased books can be signed by the author. PennWriters has several other services for their published members.

Cost for the three-day event is $125. An additional fee is required for the Annual Networking Banquet, the Masquerade, and Sunday Continental Breakfast. Non-members pay an additional $35 fee giving them full-membership status. Non-writing guests may attend (a spouse or significant other) for a nominal fee.

If you have questions about PennWriters, contact Jamie Saloff, PennWriters 1997 Conference Coordinator, at e-mail address

Call For Shorts

The editor of this esteemed publication (well, maybe only the editor is steamed) is desperately looking for short "filler" material for places like this. If you should have any laying around, send them in!

Book Reviews

Ferman's Devils by Joe Clifford Faust

Review by Paul Melko

Boddekker, driven entirely by the need for The House in Princeton, takes a wrong turn on the day the Old Men tell him the world is about to end and comes face to face with Ferman's Devils, a New York street gang. Asked why the Devils shouldn't kill, Boddekker can think of no reason, and his doom is certain until he falls upon the idea of offering the street gang a spot in a commercial. The Devils accept and let him go, with the ominous warning that they will be in touch.

Boddekker, certain that he has outwitted the street gang, goes back to work at Pembroke Hall Advertising Agency. Only fate is against him, and he finds that he must use the Devils in a commercial, a commercial that does indeed rock his world.

Faust's satirical edge is extremely keen; his insight into the advertising business, where he has worked in real life, is scathing. Most successful is his inter-chapter ads, written as actual copy, for such products as "Baby Barely Alive" and "Love Slave Robotettes." These interludes are truly funny. Most of the jokes hit their mark, but a few are off target. Nonetheless, the book is a great read.

The background is filled with corporate fodder: Honniker In Accounting, Upchurch and Churchill, the twin-like sarcasm machines, Bainbridge the love-struck intern, all characters that the reader with corporate experience will know. The plot is fun and gripping, the characters interesting.

I eagerly await the second and final part of this series.

All-American Alien Boy by Allen Steele

Review by Tim Esaias

Allen Steele gets a lot of jacket hype these days about being the new Heinlein or the hottest thing in hard SF (which is, I assume, the opposite of flaccid SF). Well, I'm one of those who thinks that a) One Heinlein was more than enough, and b) Categories are the death of love. But I liked and can recommend this as a good, solid collection of short fiction despite the marketing the author has received.

Steele has a reputation for being blue-collar in his point of view (a refreshing tendency, in my view) and his main characters in this collection support it. They range from a professional lab volunteer ("The Good Rat") to a Tennessee backwoods semi-pro arsonist ("See Rock City") and tractor-pull workers ("Mudzilla's Last Stand"). Other stories explore the worlds of even lower-life types: reporters, serial killers, even SF writers. It's certainly not your average cast of characters, though a geologist does figure in "Jonathan Livingstone Seaslug".

This collection has a variety of styles and themes, in part because several of the stories were originally written for theme anthologies. It makes the collection uneven in tone, but also more interesting in its range.

Three stories stand out for me. First is "Lost in the Shopping Mall" which takes on the trappings of a `something-wrong-in-VR' story but is, instead, a critique of suburbia and of mass marketing with real human characters. Second, is the "2,437 UFOs Over New Hampshire" which originally appeared in Alien Pregnant by Elvis. This is a haunting realization of what the world of alien abduction fantasists might be like, would it come to pass. And finally, "The Good Rat" takes up the subject of human testing in a world where animal testing has been banned, from a volunteer's perspective. What I admire about each of these stories is that they take a common premise of SF and use it for a different kind of story altogether.

Aftermath by Levar Burton

Review by James Walton

Capsule review: Interesting first novel. I wonder who wrote it for him.

Okay! So maybe that isn't fair. But you must admit the track record for actors who become Science Fiction "experts" isn't very good. (Remember William Shatner's atrocious Tek Wars? He even had a ghost writer.)

Of course Mr. Burton is quite talented and experienced. He is the host and co-executive producer of the educational show Reading Rainbow, as well as the writer, producer and director of numerous TV shows and films. So I really shouldn't be surprised that he has turned out a quality product.

Aftermath is a fairly well polished, if unoriginal, story of life in the United States after a devastating racial war. The US Army decided to kill itself along the banks of the Mississippi River and its death throes smashed everything for miles around. What is left of the government is too weak and poor to fill in the bomb craters.

True to the human spirit, the survivors continued onward, despite the few jobs and fewer utilities. Science and some businesses even prospered.

The Beautiful Lady Scientist tries to do business with Rival Evil Scientists and immediately becomes a Damsel in Distress. Her calls for help are heard by various persons who drop everything and rush to her rescue. (Of course, they didn't have much to drop.) The police work on a strict, cash only basis, so the rescuers are on their own.

We follow the Disgraced Researcher, the Indian Shaman, and the Homeless Waif, separately and together, as they follow the voice. Through wits and luck they survive several adventures unscathed.

Of course there are several inconsistencies and unanswered questions. Among these "What are the other countries doing now that the United States is out of it?", "How can such a large organization be toppled so easily?", "Do you really expect me to believe the police didn't know this was going on?" and "Why are the professional security guards such bad shots?"

Mr. Burton (or whoever) succeeds in several ways. (Okay! I will knock it off with the whoevers!) Most books are filled with fairly generic characters, usually males of average height with white skin and brown hair. Burton gives us protagonists with dark skin who are not interchangeable with the standard hero. Skin color plays an important part in this novel, but that is not the only thing this book has to offer.

I did find myself wishing there were a few plot twists in Aftermath. It is well written with scenes and dialogue which flow naturally, but there is nothing new. I'll give this one three out of five stars.

Goa: Blood of the Goddess, Volume 1 by Kara Dalkey

Review by Paul Melko

Young Thomas, apprentice apothecary from London, on a voyage to open a trade route from Cathay, finds himself caught in a web of intrigue, all tied around a powder that has the power of life and death. Originally bound west to find a trade route through the Straits of Magellan, the trading fleet heads east around Africa, looking for easy pickings along the African coast. Off the coast of India, the fleet turns privateer against a Portuguese galley. Aboard is the alchemist sorcerer De Cartago and the mysterious priestess Aditi. Thomas, with the help of the Scotsman Andrew Lockheart, gains some intimacy with the two and obtains possession of the Blood of the Goddess.

When the trading crew is betrayed to the Portuguese, Thomas finds himself an English man in Portuguese-held Goa, a city caught in the clutches of the Inquisition, a Church-headed purge that has been corrupted in the quest for power. He must use all his abilities to escape the Inquisitor and find the source of the powder that brings life.

Dalkey is to be applauded for her historical research. The setting of late 14th century India for this historical fantasy is an excellent choice. Relying heavily on alchemical lore and Greek myth for her magical system, Dalkey creates a universe only a step or two away from our own universe: real, mysterious, and compelling.

The characters are dynamic and interesting, especially the resourceful young Thomas and the roguish Andrew Lockheart. The plot is well-paced, perhaps too fast-paced in some spots, the problem being that some key elements seem to be glossed over in the desire for the author to get somewhere specific. In this multi-volume epic, one would think that Dalkey could afford to be a little more thorough on the plot smoothness.

Compared to Dalkey's Sagamore series with its weak humor and sophomoric tone, this book is much more mature and balanced. In fact, Goa is the best this reviewer has seen from Dalkey. I look forward to the next books in the series.

Reclamation by Sarah Zettel

Review by G. D. Armstrong

Ten thousand years from now, humankind has lost track of its birthplace. The Unifiers and the Vitae are both searching for it. Reclamation is the story of how this search rips into the lives of Eric Born and Arla Stone, of the Realm of the Nameless Powers. Eric is a data pirate who had abandoned that backward place a decade before. Arla is a laborer, searching for the knowledge that will save her family from a life of slavery. The Vitae search for the Home Ground and the race of genetically engineered servants who hid it from them so long ago. The Unifiers search for the Evolution Point as a way to tie humanity together.

I have come to expect a lot from Ms. Zettel's story telling ability, and this book did not let me down. I highly recommend it.

Open Invitation

from Tom Reiland, Director, Wagman Observatory

I'd like to invite the members of PARSEC and their friends to join the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh for a Star Party the evening of April 12, 1997. Comet Hale-Bopp is now the brightest thing in the northern sky and in a dark site like the Wagman Observatory, it's tail is phenomenal! Star Parties run from dusk to midnight on designated nights at the Wagman Observatory in Deer Lakes Park (224-2510). STAR PARTIES ARE HELD ONLY IF IT IS CLEAR. If it is cloudy on the 12th, try to come out on April 25 or 26 or May 16 or 17. There are no parking or admission fees. No alcohol is permitted (it is a County Park) and smoking is not permitted around telescopes or people. You can bring your own telescopes or binoculars or look through ours.

I'm a SF fan (Niven, YES!) and I occasionally speak at Cons (ex. Star Trek Con on the 5th of April). Science and Science Fiction: a good combination. Please join us after the April 12th PARSEC meeting.

Tom Reiland is also Senior Astronomer, Allegheny Observatory, U. of Pitts. and President of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh. See the AAAP web page at E-mail Tom at

New Grand Master

Jack Vance, America's premier author of stylish, atmospheric science fiction, was chosen today by the SFWA to receive the organization's highest honor, the prestigious Grand Master Award. The Grand Master is awarded by the President of SFWA with the advice and consent of SFWA's Board of Directors and Past Presidents as a recognition of lifetime achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy writing. It represents the pinnacle of peer recognition in the field, and is highly coveted. Past Grand Masters include Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov.

NASA's "New Millennium" Program:

Faster, Better, Cheaper, Smarter

Article by G. D. Armstrong

Currently, the technology that NASA is sending into space is decades old. It has the advantage that it is well tested, relatively reliable, and radiation hardened. It has the disadvantage in that it is extremely slow, and are also unsophisticated, requiring large crews of people on Earth to control the probes and interpret the data that is being returned.

The main goals of the New Millennium Program is to "break in" new products, test and validate new technologies, in the hopes that this will allow us to create a "virtual presence in space," with probes anywhere and everywhere. NASA is currently maintaining a pinpoint presence, with only a small number of space probes in isolated regions of space.

There are currently two mission sets being planned: the Deep Space missions and the Earth Orbiting missions. Mission EO1 is a land imaging mission; a new satellite will "shadow" an existing landsat, to show that with modern technology, a small, inexpensive satellite can generate results that are as good, if not better than the larger, older satellites.

Deep Space 2 is a Mars Micro-Probe, which is a small probe that will "piggy-back" aboard another Mars Observer to be launched in 1999. The probe will bury itself deep into the surface of Mars to see what it can find.

Deep Space 3 will be a multi-spacecraft interferometer. 3 craft will be launched in the year 2000, with the goal of performing interferometry experiments. To do this, the craft will have to maintain a perfect equilateral triangle, in a plane perpendicular to the direction of the star they are observing. This will demonstrate the ability of autonomous spacecraft to work together.

Deep Space 1, which the rest of this article will deal with, is an asteroid and comet fly-by mission. It was initiated in late 1995, and due to launch in July of 1998. It will encounter the asteroid McAulliffe in January, 1999, Mars in April of 2000, and finally pass within 5 kilometers of comet West-Kohoutek-Ikemura in June of that year.

Some of the new technologies this probe will be trying out are an ion propulsion system, an integrated camera/spectrometer, an advanced flight computer, autonomous on-board optical navigation, and autonomy remote agent architecture.

Ion propulsion systems have been tested on the ground for many years, but have never been used in space. Though they cannot generate the high thrust of chemical rockets, they do generate a constant (months long) thrust and use much less fuel.

At 25 MHz, 100 MB RAM, the "advanced" flight computer may not sound like it's even as good as your desktop PC, but it is an order of magnitude better than anything NASA has put into space before. While Intel sells Pentiums by the bushel, there is not much market for a computer processor that is hardened to survive the harsh environment outside the Earth's atmosphere.

This computer on board the probe will compute its location by the parallax of stars within pictures taken weeks, or even months apart. Before now, the position of space probes has always been determined from the Earth's surface. Why not use the planets to determine the position? Well, the camera may not be pointed at one (there are only nine), and it takes fuel to point the camera. And actually, using the stars to determine your position in the solar system is not all that hard. Consider the fact that men have been using stars to determine their position on the Earth for centuries.

The autonomy remote agent architecture will put many of the operations normally performed on the ground onto the spacecraft. The probe will be able to make its own plans for getting from place to place, as well as detect it's own flaws and figure out how to correct for them. It will evaluate much if its data on-board, so that it will not need to send as much data back to Earth, only the "important stuff." Often, when the probe is between objectives, it will act only as a beacon, sending a signal to Earth saying that it is okay. This lessens the ground crew necessary, as NASA will not need them to constantly monitor the spacecraft; it will monitor itself.

Past NASA probes have been in the making for many years before they were launched. This allowed them to build a team of experts who fully understood the systems and could make corrections when things went wrong. The time constraints on DS1 will not allow for that. With just under 3 years from start to launch, and programs and systems that are much more complex than ever before, it would be impossible to get a group of people together who could understand everything by the time the craft is launched. So programmers here are also working on diagnostic tools that will help someone on the ground to figure out what is going on in the computer at any time. These programs will illustrate how different programs running on the probe communicate with each other, or show why the probes planner has made certain decisions.

In summary, the New Millennium Program is an attempt to change the way NASA does business. NASA will be testing out many technological advances that will allow them to send out a plethora of probes, capable of working things out for themselves, or even cooperating with each other, eliminating the need for the large, costly infrastructure on the ground.

[Editor's Note: Due to missed deadlines, the autonomy remote agent architecture portion of the mission has been dropped from DS1. It will be tested for a short period on the probe, but will not have control throughout the mission.]

Upcoming Meetings:

The April 12th meeting is in the Squirrel Hill Library, from 1pm to 5pm The topic is Everything You Wanted to Know About Writers Groups But Were Afraid to Ask. The April ConCom meeting will follow the Parsec meeting, as soon as folks can get to Mary's place.

The May 10th meeting is also in Squirrel Hill. The topic is yet to be determined.

The May ConCom meeting will be Wednesday, May 14th, 7:30pm, at Mary's.

At the June 14th meeting, PARSEC members are invited to the Squirrel Hill Library to judge the entries in the ConFluence '97 short story contest.

On July 12th, the ConCom will be ready to talk about guests, programming, and events at the con. Come and volunteer to help, or don't come and be drafted!

Our convention will be August 8th through 10th at the Marriott City Center downtown. Come and enjoy the BEST con in Pittsburgh!

September 13th will be the annual PARSEC picnic, just a bit delayed by the convention.


Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

Isaac Asimov is the only author with books in all ten of the Dewey Decimal System categories.


The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club

President: Kira Heston

Vice President: Wendy Kosak

Treasurer: Joan Fisher

Editor: G. D. Armstrong

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.