The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


December 2001, Issue 191

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

*Sigh* Another whole year -- come and gone. Well, perhaps not quite a year, but close enough to it for my tastes. I don't know about everybody else, but to me it has been a whole year. At the November meeting in 2000 -- the last year of the twentieth century -- I was nominated to lead PARSEC into the future, into the age of Science Fiction. (I don't know if Mia felt the same way about her nomination, though I'd expect she was a little less excited by the prospect than I was.) So for the sake of argument, let us consider that it has been a whole year. 2001. The first year of the twenty-first century -- the first year of the Age of Science Fiction, as I consider it.

Look back and see what we've done. Take a look at my musings for every month. I imagine there are those who would say that for all my meandering contemplations, what I said over the course of the last eleven months could have probably been said in just a few words. I would hope, though, my opinions and thoughts about sf/f stirred at least a little thought and consideration from anyone who actually read what I had to say.

I also think, as a group, we accomplished some interesting things. We provided a huge number of panel topics this year. Stop to consider: we did the topics for Confluence, as well as fifty-some ideas for MilPhil. We helped set the tone for the fannish exploration of the future. An admirable accomplishment, if I do say so myself.

We accomplished other things also. Not to brag, but I managed -- with a lot of help -- to actually have meeting topics for every meeting so far this year. I will grant that the first four were already set up from before December. As I said, done with a lot of help.

We've all participated in a "Life as Art" adventure. As, in, May of last year, we learned just what kind of things can go wrong; how a little creativity and luck and a lot of good will from good people can set bad things right. If you didn't make it to the Parallax Gallery West last year, you owe it to yourself to come to the showing this year. Hopefully a little better organized and a lot less like a trade caravan.

We've had adventures and education. Phil Klass and his tales of Isaac, Ilah Nourbahksh and the adult toy initiative, Paul Levinson and the quintessential literature of our time. Songs, movies, cartoons -- the whole gamut of the things that make sf/f such an interesting genre.

Also consider: as of January of last year, we weren't sure we would have a Con in 2001. Then, in February, things started falling into place and before we were completely aware of it, we had organized Confluence 13. Shows what can be accomplished by crazy people when we put our minds to it.

And if I haven't said it before, I'll say it now, in front of everyone, Thank you, Thank you, thank you everyone. For anyone who provided service by speaking at a meeting, for anyone who provided a meeting topic, for anyone who e-mailed me, called me, returned my call and generally helped me muddle through to entertain and enlighten our group as a whole.

Now we're getting ready to do another year all over again. Another bunch of wandering comments, me wondering if I make any sense at all. Another bunch of meetings I hope will come off with a minimum of confusion and a reason for all of us to continue to enjoy the things we enjoy and look forward to all that is new and wonderful.

I can't think of a better way to end/start the year than the way we have for so many in the past. The annual holiday party at Ann Cecil's. A lot less prep work goes into the planning of it than, say, your average WorldCon, but I'm sure I can say without fear of contradiction, that we look forward to it with no less sense of anticipation. It's always fun, always stimulating and always a reason to be glad we live in interesting times. I'm sure the directions appear somewhere in this Sigma, but if not, I'm equally sure a call to someone like Ann, or Greg, or Mia will provide them. Hope to see you Saturday.

News Flash

Barton Paul Levenson sold his story "Scrunched Up" to Future Orbits.

The first Worldwright book is in print!! Mary Soon Lee's Winter Shadows and Other Tales is available from Dark Regions Press, P.O. Box 1558, Brentwood CA 94513. Checks only, at $13.95 per. This collection contains a score of Mary's best fantasy tales, and includes four new stories not available elsewhere.

Last Meeting

PARSEC met at the Squirrel Hilbranch of the Carnegie Free Library on November 10, 2001. Book selling went on at tables on the sides of the room throughout the meeting. At 2:45, president Kevin Hayes very decisively called the meeting to order.

Out of town (from Ohio) guests Phil Textor and Anne Marriott were introduced.

Mary Soon Lee announced publication of her first book, Winter Shadows and Other Tales, and waved around order forms in case anyone wanted them.

Barton Levinson announced his short story sale to an on-line magazine (see WorldWright news elsewhere for details).

Randy Hoffman reported on the OVFF (Ohio Valley Filk Fest) contests; Pittsburgh rules! He won the original songwriting contest, and Robert Sotckton won the lyric writing contest.

Jean Martin announced that Animal X is hosting a special Christmas show at Antonian Hall, Carlow College over the 21st-23rd of December.

There was a discussion of organizing a special 'go to Lord of The Rings' viewing, as well as a Scribble LOTR t-shirt. Scribble, Lord of Mordor? nah... Scribble the Hobbit? closer, but ... Watch the website for details. Heidi Pilewski volunteered to coordinate this activity.

Greg Armstrong gave a Treasurer's report: PARSEC spent more than it took in, with a net outflow of $223.30, but soon a new year starts and we'll collect more dues.

Diane Turnshek talked about 'Alpha' - a teen-writing workshop to held at Robert Morris in Moon Township, the week before Confluence, next summer. PARSEC would sponsor at least a reception, and maybe contribute some more once the organization is further along.

Kevin Hayes announced the programs for next year: January, Tim Esaias 'On Killing'; February, Diane Turnshek, 'Mentoring Young Writers',;March, Ann Cecil, 'Confluence Topics'; April, Jay Apt, the astronaut; May, PARSEC's own in 'Art Show and Tell'. And of course August is the picnic, December is the Christmas party, so more than half the year is set.

On that note, nominations for officers for next year were opened. Since only one name was entered for each office, this slate is hereby elected by acclimation:

President: Kevin Hayes
Vice President: Heidi Pilewski
Treasurer: Greg Armstrong
Record Secretary: Joan Fisher
Commentator/Corresponding Secretary: Ann Cecil

Greg Armstrong moved that next year email nominations be allowed, to be accepted only between the October and November meetings. There was a second, and the motion was passed.

Last announcement was that we got an email about paintings by Amelia Reynolds Long; someone is selling them for her estate. Contact John Schmid if you are interested.

At 3:11, Randy Hoffman began his presentation, "To talk of Filk and other things." Randy sang his winning song from the recent OVFF, humming over the lyrics where he couldn't remember them (since he couldn't find the page with them). He also sang Robert Stockton's winning song, 'You can't do that.'

Randy described filk: Science fiction and fantasy folk music; usually with acoustic instruments and voice. He listed types, playing examples of each from tapes or CDs on his handy boom box.

SF space opera: Bill Sutton, Dr. Jane Robinson Fantasy: a Tolkien song, Talis Kimberley's Archetype Cafe Paganism: A Rite of Passage Star Trek: Innerlite (based on the episode of the same name)

[Mary Soon Lee's son William walked around the room during the examples and sang along. It was very cute.]

Randy then worked with the group to develop a filk song of our own. He suggested several song topics: Trak, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and some possible songs to which we could write new lyrics. The group voted for Riders on the Storm (Jim Morrison) and Lord of the Rings.

The new title: Riders from Mount Doom

Finished lyrics:

After the group sang the finished song through once, the security guard announced it was time we left and the meeting concluded with the usual clean-up scramble.

submitted by Tom Morrow and Sasha Riley


Abandon In Place
by Jerry Oltion
Review by James Walton

The novel Abandon In Place is based on the Nebula award winning novella of the same name. I think it suffers from the expansion. I enjoyed the first part of the book, the original novella, very much and it is deserving of all the praise it has garnered. It is after that when things turn downright silly.

While a very confused world watches a phantom Saturn V rocket mysteriously materializes on a long abandoned launch pad and rises majestically on a column of fire toward a rendezvous with the Moon. It sends telemetry to Earth stations during the entire flight only to disappear when the command module reaches the point where a human would take control during a real mission.

Mystery rockets continue to appear and fly at regular intervals while NASA decides how to deal with the phenomenon. It is determined that astronaut Rick Spencer is the focus of the manifestations so he is the natural choice when NASA decides to place an astronaut aboard one of the phantom rockets. While in orbit Spencer decides to ignore his orders and take the Apollo command module to the Moon instead of shutting it down. Rick is joined in the Apollo by Tessa and Yoshiko and with some help from Russia they head off to the Moon. The result, while predictable at many points, is an entertaining story. It is after Spencer and his crew return to Earth that things bog down.

Abandon in Place suddenly becomes an odd mix of hard science with New Age mysticism and fantasy. Rick, Tessa and Yoshiko have somehow developed psychic abilities and Oltion gives us the obligatory paranoid government officials who want to enslave Rick and Tessa and force them to use their powers to make weapons.

And of course, just as with The Force, the power Rick and Tessa have learned to tap into has its dark side. When it is revealed that everyone has the potential to use the power, people use it to do such questionable things as kill their neighbors and start wars.

Despite the New Age version of technobabble, Abandon In Place has a positive message, definitely in favor of human space exploration. I just wish Oltion had left his original novella untouched and explored other uses for his ideas.

The Chronoliths
by Robert Charles Wilson
Review by James Walton

I picked up The Chronoliths immediately when I saw it on Larry Smith's table because I been impressed with Wilson's previous novel Darwinia. I am happy to say that Wilson continues his winning streak.

Wilson is revisiting territory he covered in Darwinia. (Ann says Wilson wrote the same book several times.) In both books we have strange artifacts appearing mysteriously without warning. These artifacts change the world forever. The main character in both books must find his place within the brave new world, a place where neither wants to be. Where Darwinia is about a man taking a journey into unknown lands due to an improbable event, Chronoliths is about a man taking a journey into himself due to an improbable event.

The Chronoliths is told in first person via the view point of Scott Warden (as opposed to the third person account in Darwinia). Warden is a young American on wanderjahr in 21st century Thailand. Unfortunately Warden makes the poor decision to strand his wife and young daughter there with him while he wastes his life. His lack of direction and ambition place a strain on family relationships. The sudden appearance of the first Chronolith signals the end of Warden's marriage and drastic disruptions in his life.

All through the book Warden berates himself for being a poor father and an even worse husband. He is a decent guy who is smart enough to recognize his mistakes but is not clever enough to find a way to travel back in time and erase those mistakes.

Chronoliths are huge monuments made of seemingly indestructible materials. Each of these monuments commemorate a great victory by a military leader named Kuin in a war of conquest that takes place some time Warden's future. The Chronoliths have been sent back in time to grace future battle fields.

Despite himself Warden winds up working with a semi-secret government organization dedicated to understanding and eradicating the Chronoliths.

Warden admits he doesn't understand the physics or mathematics behind the Chronolith phenomenon. The explanations by other characters make the "tau turbulence" sound like more a new age religion than a legitimate branch of science. The tau is sort of a study of time and space and history and how they interact. Events in the past have an effect on events in the future and the future can exert an influence over the past to manufacture the future. The parameters of tau are difficult to define: the science is more intuitive than quantifiable and it is difficult for the leading tau scientists to know if they are making real progress in understanding or are going crazy.

The world of The Chronoliths is one of economic depression, odd religious cults and even odder political factions. War is a constant. Kuinism is very popular among young people who make up their new religion as they go along and participate in pilgrimages to see the Chronoliths. Older people seem to gravitate toward semi-secret radical political groups, some of which advocate overthrowing the government.

All through this the identity of Kuin the future conqueror and exactly why he is sending monuments back through time remains a mystery.

At the end of The Chronoliths we find ourselves thinking about the nature of time, predestination and inevitability. It is an interesting and thought provoking book. Though not quite as imaginative as Darwinia it is enjoyable.

(Chronoliths? Isn't that two different languages?)

The Last Hot Time
by John M. Ford
Review by James Walton

Anyone who dislikes the Elves with Machine Guns subgenre is invited to leave now.

A young man is driving along a highway towards Chicago to seek his fortune. (He is also driving away from his misfortunes but that seems to be part of the human condition.) The Chicago that the man seeks is not the Chicago of our world. After thousands of years the land of Faerie has returned to mundane Earth. We are given the impression that the return was not pleasant and there was much suffering as an aftermath. The part of faerie which is located in Chicago is called the Levee for obscure reasons.

The young man is in time to witness an apparent gangland shoot out between two large and mysterious cars. He uses his skills as an emergency medical technician to save the life of one of the shooting victims. Another of the car's occupants, a human crime boss, is grateful and immediately gives the young man a job.

Because no one uses their real name in the Levee and because he was born on Halloween night, paramedic Daniel Holman is quickly dubbed Doc Hallownight. (Get it?)

No explanations are forthcoming about why Elfland reappeared: it just did. And 19 year old Danny is born into a world where Chicago always had elves as gangsters.

No one answers questions directly in this book. Everyone replies to Doc's queries with a story or parable or semi-riddle or example. After some reflection and cogitation on his part young Doc usually nods his understanding and continues on. The reader is left to scratch his head and keep reading. (Yes, you have to think about some things in this book. Is there anyone left out there?)

Although we don't meet many of them, Elves are everywhere in the Levee. Elfland uses the Earth as a dumping ground for its unwanted low level royalty, much like the United States was used at one time. Magic is also everywhere but much less certain. Spells which worked in Elfland sometimes have unexpected consequences in the Levee. Guns and cars don't always work but many people carry swords.

The Levee itself seems to be an odd mix of Chicago during the Roaring 20' and the Chicago of the 1990's. Parts of it seems very old and well maintained or lies in ruins. Other parts seem very shiny and new as if the modern world is leaking in from one side while Faerie oozes in from the other.

The Last Hot Time is very Dhalgren-esque at times. Our main character freely but naively wanders into a known Strange Situation and prospers but never really knows what is going on. (You've all read the book Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, right?)

While it is a coming of age book (Danny turns 20 about halfway through) Hot Time has several underlying themes which are hinted at but never explored. One of the more salient of these is sex and power. (If you think I am being redundant there, I feel sorry for you.) One of the forms of power in the Levee is Magic of course and many of the players, both on and off screen, seem to spend a lot of time trying to acquire more. The results are often quite deadly.

Although I enjoyed it I was struck by the lack of originality in The Last Hot Time. When I started reading it the thought that sprang to mind was "This is a Borderlands book." (I also enjoyed the various Borderlands stories and books.) Mr. Ford has taken well used material and crafted it into a very readable and enjoyable book. I suspect Mr. Ford, who has been associated with several of the Borderlands authors, just could not get clearance to use the name. Too bad: Hot Time would have been a good addition to the Borderlands continuum.

(As an aside, John M. Ford also wrote the best Star Trek novel ever, The Final Reflection. Okay, so he broke the rules, it's still the best. Find a copy of that and ignore the rest.)

Audiotape review:

Spirits Walk
By Connie Regan-Blake
Reviewed by Alan Irvine

From Mythic Stream Productions
PO Box 2898
Asheville, NC 28802
Phone: 800-864-0299

"Chilling Tales for Teenagers and Adults." That is the blurb on the cover of this CD, and it is an apt description. Connie Regan-Blake tells her tales in a soft, quiet voice, with just enough inflection to avoid a monotone, but not so much that the telling draws attention to itself or disrupts the overall mood. Underlying it is a soft hint of mountain accent, lending flavor to the voice. With her tellings of these tales she weaves a delightfully eerie and chilling atmosphere.

The CD contains five tales, ranging from eight to seventeen minutes in length. Two of the tales are familiar classics: "Mr. Fox" and "Mary Culhane." Regan-Blake stays close to the familiar, traditional versions of these tales. But if she does not bring anything particularly new to these tales, she does keeps them fresh and interesting. Both are tales I have heard many times before, enough that they can easily bore me, but these tellings held me throughout. More importantly, I enjoyed them both. A third tale, "Two White Horses," is described as a true story, which would seem to suggest a unique experience. It quickly turns out to be a version of yet another well-known, oft-told tale. That does not necessarily mean this version could not have happened, but, after expecting something else, that turn of the tale was a little disappointing. (Of course, the full description of the tale: "a true story of a Southern Appalachian mountain woman returning from the grave," gives a pretty strong hint a to what story we are about to hear. (And if the description does not ring any bells, I am not going to ruin things for you here.))

The remaining two stories are relatively new, at least to me. "Rag Doll" is a soft, gentle story from West Virginia. In parts, it weaves a definite eeriness, particularly with the music that heralds the ghost's appearances. But other than those moments, I found it the weakest story of the five. While Regan-Blake tells it with a wonderfully gentle chill, I found it all too obvious who the ghost was and how it could be laid to rest. I could not believe that it took so many years for anyone in the village where the story is set to figure those things out as well. The final story, "The Veil," was the oddest of the lot. Regan-Blake explains it as "from the Scottish tradition and from my own imagination." I know enough of Scottish fairy lore to recognize the traditional elements, and to notice those elements that varied sharply from tradition. Those variations kept distracting me; I kept wondering if they were the teller's own invention, or some aspect of the tradition that I just did not know. I suspect, however, that only a few people will be so bothered. Most listeners will simply enjoy the tale of one family's struggle with the malevolence of the fairy world.

In the end, all five stories work well. They depend, not on shock, surprise, or horror, but on a quiet, unhurried unfolding vision of the other world.

So pick a dark night. Turn off all the lights in the house, save for a candle or two. Slip Spirits Walk into the CD player, sit back, and let Connie Regan-Blake weave a soft and eerie atmosphere around you.

Merry Christmas andHappy Holidays to All!

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Dec. 8, 2001, 2:00 PM to whenever

LOCATION: Ann Cecil's Home
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 from downtown, get off at Kelton, walk back to Hillsdale, cross tracks, 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: Kevin Hayes

Vice President: "Cap'n" John Cope

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Tom Morrow

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

Return to the Sigma mainpage.

This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.