The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


Decemder 2000, Issue 179

Ann's Agenda

By Ann Cecil

The millennium is now unquestionably upon us. In less than two months, we will be denizens of the new one, twenty-first century citizens all. And we'll have a new president of the US.

Somehow it seems oddly fitting that this election will go down in the history books as a record-maker, in many ways. Who'd want to start the millennium with another normal boring election when you can have the foul-up of all time? I can just see the time-travel novels being written fifty years from now in which travelers go back and assassinate that poor woman who designed the ballot in Florida.

Writing and reading sf does have its advantages; it gives you a perspective on the activites of the mundane world. When they all start acting like they were trapped in a Philip K. Dick novel, fans can laugh in recognition, instead of panicking. Or at least, we can tell ourselves that however insane it gets, it's not as bad as some of the futures dreamed up by writers like Orwell, or Walter Jon Williams, or even Howard Hendrix.

Perspective is an important part of life. After three terms as your president, I've begun to lose mine, I think. It's a good thing that, starting in the next year, PARSEC will have a new president. I personally intend to run for a different office, in which I can safely resist the impulse to ever get myself elected president again.

Not that it hasn't been fun - after all, this is a good group, and I've had a good time trying to keep up with all of you. There are more Parsecians now - 117 at last count - and I feel sure that the momentum will keep going, building something even more impressive under the new administration (whoever it turns out to be).

PARSEC has, directly or indirectly, helped to make sf & f part of the New Pittsburgh scene. Not only do we have a healthy, growing club, we've put on a record number of conventions (13 to date), and Pittsburgh now has three sf&f writer's workshops, with members of each in print. Bridget Spitznagel has successfully organized a club at CMU, which is meeting regularly this semester. We didn't succeed in putting on the Other Worlds Fair, but I still intend to pursue a venue and make that an unreality.

The last PARSEC Christmas party of the old millennium will be held at my house on December 9th. Come and celebrate with us - PARSEC's successes and plans for even better events. Oh, and Tim plans to announce the winners of the Short Story contest, probably along about the time I announce the winners of the election and introduce (presuming the person is there) the PARSEC president for the new millennium.

Bring food and/ or drink, and especially a healthy appetite!

We Have a Date...

...and we aren't talking about a romantic date, but rather the date of the Worldcon to be held in Glasgow in 2005, should we win the right to hold it.

We plan to hold the 2005 Worldcon over the first weekend in August, i.e. 4-8 August 2005.

Worldcons are traditionally held over the Labor Day weekend when held in North America and past European Worldcons have usually been held a week earlier, coinciding with the English Bank Holiday Monday. However, as part of our consultation with fans to determine what would work best for them, we found that many people - parents, teachers, students - preferred a date during the school summer holiday period. We discussed the option of moving earlier with as many fans as possible and the great majority either preferred the earlier date or didn't care whether it was early or late in August.

Since many of the people attending a Worldcon in Glasgow would also be coming for a longer holiday we can confirm that the early date will still allow you to visit the Edinburgh festival and the Military tattoo, which usually begin in early August.

This early date will be low season for accommodation in Glasgow so we will exploit that fact in our negotiations with the hotels. (And note that we will include a clause to ensure members get the lowest rate - whether the 'official rate' or weekend specials, a problem we hit in 1995.) August is, unfortunately, high-season for transatlantic flights, however all dates we could have chosen are in high season so this early date should not result in additional travel costs.

We hope that by moving to the earlier date, more fans will feel able to attend the Worldcon.

Co-convener UK2005 Worldcon Bid

Last Meeting

Minutes by Tom Morrow

The PARSEC meeting was held November 11, 2000 at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library.

Ann Cecil called the meeting to order about 2:30, and introduced newest members Stephanie Burgis Matthews and Ben Burgis. Dave Douglass also joined, becoming the 113th member! A visitor for the meeting was Kelly Stiver, who is interested in joining a writer's workshop accessible by PAT line.

Announcements were made:

The floor was opened for nominations for officers for the year 2001; results are as follows:

Mia Sherman made a short Treasurer's Report: since the last meeting, there have been no expenses, and we put raffle money in, so we have more money than last month!

The raffle was won by Stephanie Matthews, who took a book.

Kate Elliot, the author of the Jaran series (4 science-fiction books) and the Crown of Stars series (4 Fantasy books and still going) gave an hour's talk on Why it is Very Easy and Very Hard to Write a Long Series.

Ms. Elliot started by defining her terms.
A Classic Series has: A Sequence Series has: A Multivolume Novel (Used to be called a trilogy) has:
One universe One universe One plot/set of plots
Standalone books Standalone + Overarching plot. Many books
Same characters/mostly same Emergent Plot
Not much character change

Why write a multivolume novel?

Why do series sell?

Why do they (both the individual books and the series) get so long? (They can end up being 10 to 12 books or more long)

Depth and Resonance are created in two ways. Landscape and Character. Landscape -- start with a map ... make sure you have internal consistency. A properly developed landscape will be revealed and developed by itself to the writer a lot more than the writer directly makes it up. Dune is a good example of connecting culture and environment, one of the best examples of SF&F world-building.

The more you rush your world the less depth it has. If you develop too much, your narrative becomes slow paced.

Everything about the landscape is true twofold for the characters. Characters and the world need back story. To make something work, the characters have to connect with it. To believe in it. It must be real to them. A writer and an actor are closely related because one must get outside of themselves, and put themself in the place of the character. Readers focus upon, live a story through the characters.

Depth and Resonance are an intersection of cultural, physical, and historical. Internal inconsistency causes readers to not suspend disbelief.

In a "fat" fantasy, it is typical to write limited multiperson third person. Scope must exist in a multiple volume novel. One must introduce the multitude of characters slowly enough to let the reader get accustomed, but not too slowly that it gets too linear.

Tolkein did this. He starts with the Shire and a few characters. Both his landscape and his characters soon grow in scope and number, but slowly enough that it does not overwhelm the reader.

With a cast of thousands, the first problem is details. A writer can deal with this by making lists or by not describing a character purely as a physical description, but as more of a vague description.

There is a problem of scope and intimacy. A writer must deepen secondary characters. Give them emotional arcs. A true self instead of being props. Let them be people. This brings landscape and character together. The greatest depth results from this, however this adds length. Everyone wants to be a star. A writer must rein in the secondary characters, and also avoid side-trips.

Plot threads must end as smoothly as they begin, not be rushed together. Each plot thread must have its own story arc and not be too coincident with the other plot threads. A writer must also keep a good list of plot threads so they do not forget to further and/or close them.

There are many kinds of fantasy novels. From intimate little novels to wide epics. Most multivolume epics could be shorter...if they could write it first and then revise. Writing in installments complicates and lengthens, and can even distort the story arc of a long story.

"The Problem of the Misplaced Middle" by Henry James, was cited by Ms. Elliot as applicable today. In a lot of multi-installment stories, the middle of the story came either too early or too late. Because he had to write in installments, he did not have the time to weight the plot threads properly.

A writer often does not know where story arcs and plot threads tend to go. In many cases, it isn't until the whole story is told that one knows exactly what should and should not be emphasized.

There is no better way to destroy a novel than to try to force it to stay "on topic" when a revelation, or the power of the characters want to have it take a new direction.

In response to a question, Ms. Elliot said that "70% Irrational to 30% Rational" is the best description of the process of writing a multivolume novel. The more time you take to write the books, the more paths you walk down in a book. Events in one's own life affect what is written.

The meeting concluded at the usual time.


The Dragon's Eye
by Joel Champetier
Translated by Jean-Louis Trudel
Review by James Walton

Some time in Earth's future interstellar travel has been (presumably) perfected enough to allow explorers to search through the galaxy, finding planets suitable for human occupation. One such planet is very Earth-like except for one flaw. The planet orbits a binary star system, one of which, the smaller, is very faint in the visible light spectrum. Unfortunately, the star, The Dragon's Eye, gives off massive amounts of Ultra Violet light, causing horrible sunburn and severe eye damage to anyone foolish enough to venture outside unprotected. The planet is found to be unsuitable by most of the countries of Earth. For some reason China thinks the planet, which they immediately rename New China, is a good place to start a colony away from the interfering, decadent West.

When we arrive on New China, the colony is already very large and well into its third generation of inhabitants. Things seem to be going well, but the colony is heavily into debt to various Earth entities all of which want a hand in running New China. The New Chinese chafe at this interference and dream of their independence from Earth.

About six or seven pages into The Dragon's Eye, I began getting the feeling I'd read it before.

An inexperienced intelligence agent is pressed into service to complete a field assignment. His job is to separate fact from fiction about the coming rebellion and meet with a highly placed spy.

He must contend with a double agent (laughably easy to identify) a partner who freely admits he has his own agenda, and the ineptness of his buffoon superiors.

While nothing is wrong with the book, The Dragon's Eye comes across as a rather lackluster spy novel. I can recognize the influences of Ian Fleming and John Le Carre, but I see none of Fleming's edginess or Le Carre's grim irony.

We follow the agent, Rejean Tanner, as he bumbles his way through his assignment. Luckily Tanner seems to know he hasn't a clue and seems genuinely surprised at his successes.

Champetier lifts his colony from history. The New Chinese rebellion has many parallels with The Boxer rebellion in China in 1900. That was against foreign interference, though it ultimately failed.

If it were not for the constant references to the UV light and possible blindness, much of The Dragon's Eye could take place on Earth in any crowded, urban area. Is it possible that Mr. Champetier developed a planet as some sort of exercise them placed a mundane story around it?

This book is never as interesting as it should be. Since The Dragon's Eye is a translation, I am will to believe that something was lost in the process.

The Art of Arrow Cutting
by Stephen Dedman
Review by James Walton

The Art of Arrow Cuttingreads a great deal like a movie script. Each scene, and scenes they definitely are, seem to be taken directly from any of the dozens of Normal Guy turns Action Hero movies that were popular during the '80s and '90s. (They may still be popular; I don't know.)

You know the type of movie I mean. Dull, innocent, nice guy runs into a beautiful damsel in distress and the bad guys chasing the lady assume Mr. Dull is involved because he helped her change a tire, buy a newspaper, etc. Mr. Dull must immediately learn to protect himself while searching for the Damsel and unraveling the mystery.

While these movies are usually in mundane settings, there is no eason why fantasy elements can't be added. I have to wonder though if Mr. Dedman wrote his novel in this manner because he has watched so many movies, or if he had a possible movie deal in mind.

As a matter of fact, Arrow reminds me a great deal of Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, which started life as a TV script. Alas, while Neverwhere seemed to soar beyond its meager beginnings, The Art of Arrow Cutting never seems to rise above its apparent movie origins.

Michelangelo Magistrale is pretty much a ne'er-do-well and a drifter. He makes his living as a professional photographer for men's magazines. When between jobs he drifts about the country sponging money and sexual favors from the women he photographs. He prefers to be called Mage, which gives us a clue about him.

While en route to an assignation with one of his many conquests, Mage encounters Amanda, who is beautiful but troubled looking. After knowing him for 3 minutes Amanda asks Mage for money and gives him an odd key tied to an even odder piece of twine. As she disappears Mage snaps a picture of Amanda with his ever present camera.

Mage never sees Amanda again but the die is already cast. The Bad Guys, in the form of the Yakuza, come looking for Amanda and find Mage instead. And what an assortment of Bad Guys they are: a bumbling hit man who sleeps with his guns, an accountant/assassin who pays his secretary to watch his back, a Japanese vampire who appears as a disembodied head and pair of hands, a woman with no face, a small army of beautiful girl ninjas, and the Boss, an incredibly rich and mysterious wizard.

Mage has entered a world of magic and intrigue at a very mundane level. All the Bad Guys may be magical but none of them have the wit or imagination to elevate themselves above mundane concerns. They are all content to be petty criminals in an organized crime syndicate. Is being a crime lord really the best way to control the Earth?

Mage soon learns that the key Amanda gave him is a lot more than it seems, enabling him to fight Bad Guys even though he has no idea of what is Going On.

Of course the hero picks up companions during his adventure: we must adhere to traditions. Charlie is a movie stunt man and a martial arts expert. Kelly is a lawyer who keeps several semi-legal weapons in her apartment. They both come to Mage's aide and place themselves in danger after they've known him for a short time.

With his two friends, Mage must figure out What is Going On in time to save all of them and defeat the Bad Guy's.

Despite several near death situations, the trio never really act as if they think they are in danger. They open the door to anyone who knocks, talk freely about their plans on the telephone, and in general behave as if they were characters in a so-so movie.

If it were not for the inclusion of Japanese monsters and magic, Arrow would be deathly dull. Using a Japanese vampire as an assassin is a nice touch even though it was never frightening.

I am very glad I didn't buy this one in hard back. I didn't hate it but I really can't recommend it. Perhaps the movie will be better?

By the way, The Art of Arrow Cutting, from which the book derives its title, is a sub-discipline of a sub-group of Japanese martial arts.

Live Theater in a Pittsburgh Basement

University of Pittsburgh Repertory Company's production of 'Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said'
review by Ann Cecil

The play, written by someone named Linda Hartinian, is indeed faithful to Dick's novel. Like most of Dick's work, the novel features rapid action with seemingly meaningless plot twists and turns, punctuated by bursts of clear and insightful comments on relationships, being human, and the quality of life. Unlike much of Dick's work, 'Flow My Tears' has a coherent plot structure and comes to a reasonable resolution.

The Pitt production captured a great deal of the essential story and feel of the novel. The acting was particularly good; the lead, Jason Taverner, played by a pro named Doug Mertz, was excellent, never breaking the illusion that he was in Dick's world, not ours. A young student named Banafsheh Wallace was a stand-out as Kathy, the seriously crazy girl who gives Jason a new identity when his is stolen.

Lending to the air of unreality was the location, in the basement of the Stephen Foster Memorial. The set designer made good use of the already gray look of the place, and had some clever props (one desk unfolded to become a bed, served sideways as a stand) that I wished some of the Parallax Players could have seen.

My only gripe was that the playwright yielded to the compulsion, as in the first airing of Blade Runner, to add a 'voice-over,' in this case a narrator, to the play. While the epilogue in the book is indeed a narrated wrap-up, I can think of ways to do this without the obtrusive character - who broke the fourth wall, Brechtian-style - who told us what we'd just seen in action and heard in dialogue. In addition, the playwright added a very odd bit, with one of the actresses reading a letter from Philip Dick to his publisher, talking about another novel entirely. I have no idea what they were trying to convey, but with that quibble, the production was thought-provoking, enjoyable, and well worth the $12 I paid to see it.

News Flash

The winners of the Confluence Short Story will be announced at 6pm during the Christmas Party at Ann's house. Be there!

Mary Soon Lee sold the SF poem "Every Other Day of the Year" to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (appeared 11/11/2000). More importantly, Dark Regions Press has decided to bring out an anthology of at least 18 selections of her work. The project does not yet have a title.

Ann Cecil's flash SF fiction piece "Drink" (based on real characters and events) appeared in the Anotherealm Bests #3 print collection.

Tim Esaias sold a poem each to Asimov's ("Nudge Toward Libration") and Fantastic (formerly Pirate Writings), and the story "The Briefing" to the Speculative Fiction Micro Anthology. His story "Il giudizio" appeared in the Italian quarterly anthology NOVA SF* #44.

James (JJ) Walton has a story, "Get the Job Done," on AnotheRealm's website ( under Flash Fiction. Way to Go, JJ!

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

January 2001 PARSEC meeting
Location:Squirrel Hill
with Illah R. Nourbakhsh talking about the 'Toy Robot Initiative'

"The Toy Robots Initiative aims to commercialize robotics technologies in education, art and the toy markets. In this talk, I will describe the robots behind the toy robots initiative and our successes and failures. I will also speak about the future role of robots in education and in ordinary human-interactive social situations, including the workplace, businessplace and the home." --Illah R. Nourbakhsh

February Parsec Meeting
Location: Squirrel Hill
Panel discussion on 'Hugo Nominating' panelists include Jim Mann and Randy Hoffman (or designated substitutes)
Discussion on what to nominate - novels, novellas, short stories, etc. for the coming Millennium Philcon in both the 2000 awards and the Retro Hugo for 1950 categories.

March Parsec Meeting
Location: Squirrel Hill or Allegheny Library.
The subject of the March meeting will be 'Topics for the Millenium Philcon.'

April Parsec Meeting
Location: Squirrel Hill
Phil Klass (William Tenn) will show us a video of Isaac Asimov and give us some personal reminiscences of of the Greats of SF.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Dec. 9, 2000 2:00 PM to ?:?? PM
LOCATION: Ann's House: 2966 Voelkel Avenue
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.
TOPIC: Annual Christmas Party

Please Note: it is an open house, starting around 2pm and lasting til whenever.


From east, north, go thru Liberty tunnels to West Liberty Ave. From South, go north on Washington Road (rte 19) until it turns into West Liberty Ave. From West, come across rte 51 to West Liberty Ave, or come up Potomac (and up and up) and turn right on Belrose, just beyond Potomac T stop, and right on Hillsdale.

Off West Liberty Ave, turn onto Hillsdale Ave (coming from the south, turn left, from the city, turn right), go down 4 blocks, cross trolley tracks, turn right and park somewhere. 2966 is first house (not the apartment) on left side of Voelkel (one-way going towards Potomac Ave).

PAT: take any 42 (S or L) trolley, get off at Kelton, walk towards town to Hillsdale, go left, etc.

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

To Contact PARSEC

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


The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club

President: Ann Cecil

Vice President: Sasha Riley

Treasurer: Mia Sherman

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Tom Morrow

Commentator: Chris Ferrier

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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