The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


April 1998, issue 147

Ann's Agenda

By Ann Cecil

Horror is an emotion that we all understand and recognize; logically, then, the genre of fiction that we label Horror should be similar and easy to categorize. In reality, it's almost as diverse, as resistant to identification and pigeon-holing as science-fiction and fantasy.

Part of this becomes clear when we talk about horror; we don't just say, I felt horror at what he said, we say I felt a quiet horror or I felt a numbing horror and so on. Horror is also used to define a mood, as in He had a positive horror of being alone. For some reason no one ever seems to have negative horrors, though that thought is a digression.

The Webster definition of horror emphasizes that horror is always intense, whether is an intense fear, or aversion, or thing that causes fear, or state of extreme fear or apprehension. The range of works appearing in the Horror genre all carry this common thread: they arouse intense emtion in the reader. And intense emotions lead to fascination and attraction, even while we are revolted.

At our next meeting, we will meet listen to some practicioners of the Horror genre, who will explain to us why and how they choose to horrify us - but in a most entertaining fashion! So plan to come and be properly horrified along with the rest of us!

Minutes from the March Meeting

by Dianne Eberle

March 14th was the date. We gathered to discuss program ideas. But before we got started brain storming we had the raffle which the lucky winner was Jim Mann. We had a first time attendee at the meeting this month.... welcome Bill Johnston. We know we'll see you again. Welcome....

We had many ideas for Programming at ConFluence, but I'm sure that Ann and Jim will be happy with any more ideas that anyone has come up with since the meeting, or ideas you had and couldn't attend to share them with us. One idea I think is especially wonderful: "The Sexual Harrassment Trial of James T. Kirk." Others are listed below.


Pasquale's Angel
by Paul J. McAuley
Review by Matthew Urick

This is an alternate history novel set in the Renaisance where Leonardo DaVinci's engineering was put into practice instead of confined to his notebooks. The divergence point with our history is never stated, and I don't know enough about this period to catch any clues the author might have given. He seems to have done a credible job in realizing the setting.

The story follows Pasquale, an apprentice artist who is ready skillwise to do his masterpiece, but is not able to conceive how to portray the face of the angel who escoted Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. He is nearby the scene where and assistant of Raphael is murdered. This and his artistic skill enables him to aid Nicolo Machiavegli, an investigative reporter adept at solving mysteries like this.

The mystery only lasts long enough for Machiavegli to explain to Pasquale and to the reader the complex political background that is the motivation for most characters. Pasquale is then given custodianship of a little artifact that is the "Maltese Falcon" everyone wants to obtain. He natually lands in the hands of each and every faction and is instrumental to the resolution of the conflict.

Although well structured and competently written, Angel lacks that strong central reason for me to reccommend it.

Intersections, The Sycamore Hill Anthology
Edited by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner
Review by James Walton

The Sycamore Hill Writers' Conference is an annual invitation only event for professional Science Fiction authors. The authors are encouraged to bring their "problem stories" for critique by their peers. This particular volume contains stories from the seventh Sycamore Hill gathering in the summer of 1994.

Offhand I'd say the Sycamore Hill Conference works. All the stories are well done (though not necessarily to my liking) and two from this volume, John Kessel's "The Miracle of Ivar Avenue" and Bruce Sterling's "The Bicycle Repairman," have gone on to be nominated for major awards.

One of the more interesting parts of this book is the inclusion of workshop comments from the other authors at the end of most of the stories. The professionals have the same problems with their writing as the rest of the world.

I can't say which story out of the fourteen presented I liked most from this anthology. I will mention a few. I think Sterling's story is supposed to be funny (there it is again!) or at least satirical. It works on other levels though. "Sex Education" by Nancy Kress (ConFluence '98 Guest of Honor) was very thoughtful. "Hardened Criminals" by Jonathan Lethem is bizarre and surreal (just like everything else he writes) and the title is a horrid and horrible pun. "The Fury at Colonus" by Alexander Jablokov had me trying to remember the ancient Greek literature I read and forgot so many years ago. Karen Joy Fowler's "The Marianas Islands" is fanciful. I can't call it fantasy or Science Fiction. In her afterword to "Homesick," Maureen F. McHugh says "It's a better story, but I don't know if I really pulled it off or not." No, she doesn't.

Intersections, The Sycamore Hill Anthology is an interesting addition to anyone's bookshelf.

Spec-Lit, Speculative Fiction, Number 1
Edited by Phyllis Eisenstein
Review by James Walton

Although it looks very much like a trade paperback book, Spec-Lit bills itself as a magazine. It was created expressly as an outlet for stories written for Columbia College Chicago's Science Fiction writing class, taught by Ms Eisenstein. As such only people associated with the college need submit work.

Ms. Eisenstein was concerned when she realized most of stories written by her students were forgotten when the students finished her course. Few, if any, of the students chose to pursue writing careers. That is a lamentable state since the stories presented in Spec-Lit are every bit as well written and enjoyable as the work being cranked out by many professionals.

Hopefully this exposure will encourage these authors to write more. I suspect many colleges and universities have a similar treasure trove of unknown stories and authors. Is this project by Columbia College Chicago the only one of its type? Maybe I will send a copy of Spec-Lit to my alma mater, Duquesne University.

As an added bonus, Spec-Lit includes juvenalia by Science Fiction luminaries Algis Budrys and Gene Wolfe. Mr. Budrys at one time taught a Science Fiction class at Columbia College Chicago. Mr Wolfe teaches writing in the college's Continuing Education division.

I am looking forward to reading issue 2 of Spec-Lit. Hopefully the quality of its stories will remain high.

Black Mist and Other Japanese Futures
Edited by Orson Scott Card and Keith Ferrel
Review by James Walton

I was a bit disappointed when I started reading this anthology. From the title I was expecting stories written by Japanese authors looking to the future of their homeland. Instead I got western writers who presumably all have fascinations with Japan. (Yeah, I know. I should learn to look more carefully.) Once I began reading I forgave the editors their (presumably) unintentional deception. The novellas presented in Black Mist are all quite enjoyable.

The title story "Black Mist" by Richard A. Lupoff is a murder mystery set in a Japanese research station on the Martian moon Phobos. Mr. Lupoff is successful in giving his story an oh so Japanese atmosphere. (It may be totally wrong but I went for it.) I doubt any other human society could create the motive for the murder and I doubt this particular resolution could come about anywhere in the Solar system except Phobos.

I found "Tea From an Empty Cup" by Pat Cadigan to be quite odd. It brings up interesting questions about identity and individuality but I am not sure it provides answers. A young girl searches for a missing friend in a world where Japan no longer exists or at least "left the geographic coordinates that were once the country of Japan."

"A Medal for Harry" by Paul Levinson is more a vignette than a story. It deals with ethnic pride and the Japanese concept of "saving face."

"Niagara Falling" by Janeen Webb and Jack Dann is the surreal tale of a honeymoon at Niagara Falls. A thoroughly modern couple on a futuristic but decaying Earth must contend with some very old (and odd) traditions. I think this story wants to be a novel when it grows up.

"Thirteen Views of Higher Edo" by Patric Helmaan gives us an artist famous for his huge, space-going sculptures, or "views" as he calls them. The artist has problems reconciling his public successes with his private failures.

Ill Met in Lankhmar
Lean Times in Lankhmar
Return to Lankhmar

by Fritz Leiber
Review by Matthew Urick

White Wolf Press is putting all of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser adventures in new editions. That alone should be recommendation enough for anyone who has not read them. But these new editions have an attraction for the reader already familiar with these stories: they are putting the contents of two books into one high-quality volume at the regular price. An added bonus is each book and story has a frontspiece drawn by Mike Migola.

All the stories are rewarding reading. My favorites are the first four published. these were bought by John Campbell for Unknown, although he almost did not buy them because he thought they were more of a Weird Tales mood. In fact, Leiber was writing the stories for Weird Tales, but never sold any of the series there. This was surprising to me because those early Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser tales are so different in style and mood, to me, than the average fantasy adventure of then - and of today. They are examples of what made Unknown the unique magazine it was. It is sufficient to say this "difference" is still there in the other stories.

The first two volumes are out in paperback, the third is currently available in hardback, and the fourth and final one is to be published this year (1998). Let me finish by recommending the hardback editions. These editions also contain a map of Lankhmar on the end papers and as a final nice touch, the frontspiece of the two books contained in the volume are embossed on the front cover.

Xanadu 3
Edited by Jane Yolen
Review by James Walton

I find it dismaying that certain poorly conceived and executed fantasy anthologies are up to almost 20 volumes while an excellent product like Jane Yolen's Xanadu is allowed to disappear after a mere three outings. I didn't know the Xanadu series existed until I spotted one on the remainder shelf at a bookstore.

But, as someone pointed out to me, there is a much larger market for wishfullfilment vignettes than for well written stories. Sigh.

As you may have guessed, I greatly enjoyed the offerings in Xanadu 3. It is an anthology of original fantasy short stories and poetry. They are well written and for the most part very fresh.

My favorite stories from Xanadu 3 are "The Man Who Loved the River" by Jo Clayton and "The Hunter and the Stag" by Astrid Julian.

Not every story was a winner. I failed to understand the point of Richard Rowand's "Residual Flight," and I could have done without "Old Woman Who Created Life" by Josepha Sherman. Jeremy Beckett's "A Report Concerning the Predator Population in the Northern Part of the Forest" (a retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood") made me shrug and wonder why it was included.

I intend to search for copies of Xanadu 1 and 2.

Chicks in Chainmail
Did You Say Chicks?!
Edited by Esther Friesner
Review by James Walton

As I've previously mentioned, humor is a very subjective thing. What will have one person chortling is extremely dull to someone else.

I found Chicks in Chainmail and Did You Say Chicks?! to be extremely dull anthologies. I originally ignored them because I hate the titles. I bought them at the urging of a friend who raved about them. I have since reassessed my friendship with this person.

The best part of the first book is Esther Friesner's introduction explaining why she used such titles.

I admit that I did not read all the stories in these two volumes. I couldn't handle it. I picked around and read the work of authors who have impressed me in the past. So it is very possible I missed a couple of real nuggets amid the dross. (All the authors represented in these volumes are welcome to send me letters explaining why I should make an exception and read their stories. Better yet, send me copies of their newest books for review.)

I didn't care for either of the Chicks books, but as they say in the Fidonet Science Fiction echo, "Your mileage may vary."

Cinemainia in the Hall

Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
Movie Review by William Hall

Here's a documentary that is actually less than the sum of it's parts, but the parts are still awefully good. It's a mishmosh of four interviews by Errol Morris, and the subjects are: Mendonca, a topiary gardener who clips hedges most exactly to form animal shapes; Hoover, a lion tamer who looks back fondly on the days of Clyde Beatty; Brooks, a roboticist developing machines that more by a kind of concensus or "nature" than actual design or command; and Mendoza, a biologist endlessly fascinated by naked mole rats, ugly, burrowing mammals whose societies are very much like those of termites. What's irritating is that this movie keeps suggesting some overarcing theme, but never quite hits one or spells it out. Control over nature? Man vis-a-vis the Other? Danged if I can figure it out. Think of it as having four cable channel documentaries all on at once, and someone is doing a reasonably good job of zapping back and forth for you. The title comes from a paper by Brooks on loosing many small robots on Mars and eventually expecting supreme success from at least one of them. I'm intrigued. It beats teatrays that buzz around for a few feet, bump into rock, and die.

Dark City
Movie Review by William Hall

Siskel and Ebert speculate that Alex Proyas, director of Dark City and The Crow before it, might be the man to save the Batman series. I doubt it, but that's not Proyas' fault. He should probably have been called in for Batman and Robin; as things now stand, B&R has probably stomped that whole franchise into the grave. But I share S&E's enthusiasm. Dark City is like good beer: it looks great, and it's reasonably filling. Rufus Sewell stars as John Murdock, a harried, hounded man with emerging psychic powers stuck in a rundown fortiesish megalopolis of eternal night. William Hurt appears as Detective Bumstead, who slowly begins to see Murdock's points. Why doesn't anyone remember having seen daylight? Or having visited Shell Beach? Why is the brilliant Detective Wallinsky now a madman scrawling spirals all over his apartment? Why does everyone sleep for the same two minutes, only to reawaken to a radically reshuffled city plan? And who are all those tall cadaverous albinos in black hats and raincoats? It makes a pretty astonishing amount of sense by tales end. Just remember: it's science fantasy, not proper science fiction. Somewhere between Eraserhead and Blade Runner lies the Dark City. It's a good place to visit, and you'll be thankful you don't live there.

Movie Review by Robyn Herrington

Sphere is proof that even competant actors can't save a bad movie. You'd think that Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel Jackson and Peter Coyote would've been enough to save a ship sinking faster than the Titanic, but nope. No such luck.

Let's start with the directing. There has been a trend, of late, to film action movies with very tight shots of sets and actors faces. Many scenes in Sphere were so tight that not even one actor's face fit onto the screen. Apparently, it's supposed to heighten the action if the audience can't see what's going on around the principle face on the screen. I spent much of the movie wanting the camera guy to pull back so I could have a look at what else was going on. Tight camera shots don't allow for much set up. Good pacing comes from a good set up.

Now, that's not to say that it was *all* filmed that way. It wasn't. There were many portions where the camera giggled around to the point where you could've had Shelly Winters and Homer Simpson on the screen, and the audience wouldn't have known the difference. The Director tried to use reflective surfaces to provide us with different points of view, but didn't do so effectively.

The screenplay follows the books, sorta kinda. Enough that the ending falls into the 'and I woke up and it was all a dream' category. It fails to deal with the issue at hand, and after the closing event, it fails to deal with the *new* issue at hand. Okay, so what do Hoffman's, Stone's and Jackson's characters do *now*?

The science of Sphere? Sigh. Alrighty. I really, truly tried to suspend my disbelief. When they said 'We'll pressurize your body so that you can go out into the ocean, but you'll freeze to death in a couple of minutes', I said, "Okay, in this magic world, they can pressurize a body so that it can go out into the ocean at a depth of 1,200 feet. Okay. Fine." If you pressurize a body like that, won't a body -- outside -- still have a tendancy to float to the surface, pretty damn quickly? You haven't changed the specific gravity of the body, just the pressure.... I had a Big Problem with this. Of course, when someone *does* end up, outside sans suit, in water this cold, they suffer no ill effects. Grrr.

They have to wear little trinkets around their neck because they are breathing a mixture that's very high in helium. Oh. *Okay*. Hmm.

On the bottom of the ocean floor, where it's going to be bloody cold, wouldn't any atmosphere inside a base be somewhat humid? Apparently, according to this movie, *NOT*. They have metal and gobs of electrical stuff, and -- from what I could see -- no way to protect said electrical stuff from a potentially water-filled environment. With all of the water that ends up being in the place, you'd think someone woulda been electrocuted, but nooooooo. Big Problem with the environmental set up.

Dustin Hoffman is the psychologist on this little adventure. He's talking to the entity JERRY that's taken over the station's computer. At one point, JERRY says "DON'T CALL ME JERRY." So, Mr. Hoffman, brilliant psychologist that he is, starts saying "Why, Jerry? Why, Jerry? What should I call you, Jerry?" You'd think that it would be BASIC to *not* call Jerry "Jerry," after that point. Another Big Problem.

A major part of the movie hinges on breaking a code. They break the code to read: MY NAME IS JERRY. Later, Hoffman's character figures out that hey, they have some of the coding sequence wrong. It should read: MY NAME IS HARRY. So, the J/H is different, and oh look -- the 'E/A' is different, too. But then, the 'A' and 'E' of 'NAME' would also be different, wouldn't they? Every instance of J and E would be H and A, right? Conveniently, no. Conveniently, in the whole coding sequence, the name 'JERRY' is the only thing different. I had a Big Problem with this, too.

They figure out that what they're thinking manifests itself into Reality. So why, in the name of all that is logical, couldn't they just *think* themselves to the surface? Couldn't they *think* the ocean base repaired? Couldn't they *think* the explosives away? Seems that the manifestations are only what is convenient to the story.

Sorry. I don't buy that many convienences.

I kept looking at my watch. I kept wondering when the bloody thing would be over. There is some bone-headed, groan-worthy dialogue. There is some adequate computer generation. I don't think Sphere was worth the price of admission, and I probably won't rent it when it comes out on video.

Robyn's Final Rating: 5 = best, 1 = worst, 3 = adequate

Skip it. If you want to see Hoffman, go rent Outbreak instead.

Earth: Final Conflict
TV Review by Alan Irvine

Gene Roddenberry started working on this series back in the late 70s, and got as far as the general storyline and overall direction for the series, along with working scripts for the first few episodes. And then the Star Trek franchise started to take off. Roddenberry set Earth: Final Conflict aside and never came back to it. When Majel Roddenberry started going through her husband's papers after his death, however, this proposal came to light once more. Seeing the potential in it, she teamed up with David Kirschner to produce it for syndication. The series started airing in September, but, with the recent collapse of the syndication market, you have to hunt to find it.

It is worth the effort.

The series begins three years after the Taelons, an advanced alien race, have arrived on Earth. Taelon technology has cured diseases, ended world hunger, brought peace to Earth. As a result, Taelons, or the Companions as they like to call themselves around humans, are honored and revered by people across the globe. A "Church of the Companions" has even sprung up. But not everyone is convinced. Some things just don't add up. There are the top-secret experiments the Taelons have been conducting, trying to mingle Taelon and Human DNA to create some sort of hybrids. There is the fact that the Taelons shut down all human space programs. There is the fact that the Taelons have been very evasive about their reasons for coming to Earth in the first place. A Liberation movement has sprung up, led by billionare industrialist Jonathon Doors, who was originally a close ally and advisor of the Taelons. As the series begins, William Boone is recruited by both sides. Da'an, the Taelon representative to North America, invites Boone to become one of his Implants (humans who receive a cyber-virus implanted in their brains, giving them enhanced mental cababilities, and also altering their psychological makeup so that serving Taelon interests becomes their prime motivation in life.) The Liberation also recruits Boone, encouraging him to get the implant, but so that he can work as their inside agent (they have discovered a way to disable the motivational function of the implants, while leaving all of the implant's other functions intact.)

Boone becomes very much the man in the middle, pulled by both sides. Working closely with Da'an, he gains a growing understanding of the Taelons and their culture, while remaining committed to the Liberation cause. Pulled in two directions, Boone tries to balance the demands of both sides. In this, he is often met by Da'an, the Taelon most sympathetic to humans, the one most inclined to try to live with humans as partners instead of ... well, so far the alternative has only been talked around, but it does not sound like anything we humans would favor. The two of them form the focus around which the greater storyline unfolds.

Around these two central characters revolves an intriguing cast of supporting characters. The characters are diverse, and well thought out, given more depth and complexity than the usual one-dimension. Doors, for example, is abrasive, autocratic, and manipulative, and yet he is one of the good guys - not a combination usually found on TV. The romantic interest on the show does not involve the main character, but two of the supporting characters. And their romance happens mostly off screen. We see them exchange glances, catch odd comments between them, and slowly start to realize that something is up, like when you notice two of your friends seem to be spending an awful lot of time together and you wonder what is going on. As the show has proceeded, we have caught glimpses of the sympathetic (and unsympathetic) aspects of all the characters on both sides of the conflict.

The series builds on itself as it goes. Boone has learned more about the Taelons and their culture; the Liberation's struggle has picked up, so has the Taelon response; pieces of the puzzle of the Taelon's purposes have fallen into place. At the same time, the story obviously has a lot of ground yet to cover. (As a result the series tendency to sometimes air episodes out of order, often mixing reruns and new episodes almost at random like DS 9 does, can be annoying. Fortuantely, the episodes don't build on each other to such a degree that seeing them out of order completely destroys the flow of the series.) The series' web site ( can help fill in missing information. While the site does not contain plot summaries and discussions like the B5 site, it does give some good, short bios of all the characters, from a number of perspectives (Taelon, Liberation, etc.) plus bits and pieces of what happened in the three years before the story begins.

An intriguing storyline, with good plots, well defined characters, and some intriguing ideas (and yes, some neat technology stuff), Earth: Final Conflict is worth checking out.

Meeting Schedule

April 11th will bring a Horror Writers Panel with Lawrence Connolly, Robert Martin, Dawn Martin, and Lee Howard at Squirrel Hill

On May 9th, Dr. Fred Bortz will be talking about his book, "Martian Fossils on Earth? The Story of Meteorite ALH84001." Check out his very informative Web page at:

Our June 13th topic will be Women in SF, a panel discussion led by Anita Alverio

And July 11th we will learn How to write Filk - Randy Hoffman, Barb Carlson, Ann Cecil with group participation encouraged at the Monroeville Public Library


Change in Sigma scheduling! Due to problems with the printer, Sigma deadlines will be moved to 3 weeks before the meetings, so that the editors can have everything done early, and Sigmas will be at peoples homes well before the meeting, even if we have to make emergency printing plans.

Mary Soon Lee's story "Ex Terra, Ex Astris" is in the May 1998 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Mary Soon Lee's story "Universal Grammar" has been selected for the new Year's Best Science Fiction 1997 anthology to be edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Martin Greenberg, and published by Hambleton-Hill.

Barthon Paul Levenson sold an essay entitled "The Ideology of Robert A. Heinlein" to the New York Review of Science Fiction.

Sadly: Paul Melko, member of the Worldwrights and of PARSEC, is moving to Chicago. He should, henceforth, be treated with the contempt this defection deserves. (Editorial comment by Tim Esaias.)

Mary Soon Lee sold the story "The Three Kingdoms" to Talebones.

Timons Esaias's story "Tending Mirror" is in Issue #35 of The Leading Edge. (Available for $4.50 from The Leading Edge, 3163 JKHB, Provo, UT 84602)

Sigma accepts artwork! If you would like it to be reproduced on the WWWeb, please let us know. Due to copywrite rules and artist preferences, we do not reproduce artwork on the web without permission.

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: Don Turner

Treasurer: Joan Fisher

Editor: greg armstrong

Art and Layout Editor: Nancy Janda

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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