The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


December, Issue 167

Ann's Agenda

Science fiction has a number of prophesied gadgets that we all wish someone would really make: ftl drive, a matter transmitter (aka Star Trek's transporter), helpful humanoid robots (like Star Trek's Mr. Data, of course), a ray gun that really works.

One of the things that is interesting, by the way, is that this list is a lot shorter than it used to be, say ten or twenty years ago. We don't have to wish for as much: they have put an artificial heart in a person; you can buy a computer that fits in the palm of your hand; an artificial intelligence has beaten a grandmaster at chess. There's a book, called The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, by Tom Disch (one of the classic sf writers), discussing this topic. He contends that the world has no need for sf now, since it's all becoming reality. I haven't finished the book yet, but it was a hot topic for argument at Philcon, and we may yet do a debate about it, once I finish reading it (and probably lend it to Eric Davin).

The point I was really trying for is that of all this list, most people, myself included, have always put the matter transmitter at the head of the list. True, this preference is strongest when in the middle of the seemingly wasteland Ohio Turnpike on the way to a con in Michigan. It is also reinforced every time we go to a con in Boston or New York, and realize just how big a state Pennsylvania really is. But at least PA has scenery to look at, and look at, and look at.

Lately I have been reconsidering. Maybe a time machine should really be at the top. It doesn't fix the problem with Ohio. But right now, at this point in my life, being able to go back to last week and get some things done is very attractive. This column, for instance, which I am sorry to say, held up your SIGMA, cause I just couldn't find time to get it done.

The more I approach the idea of a time machine as a useful gadget, the more attractive it gets. In fiction it's always presented as useful for saving the world, or catching major criminals, or changing history. But all the uses I have in mind aren't particularly heroic, wouldn't even make a wrinkle in history, but would definitely be an advantage to me. They're functions I'd pay good money for, too.

It would be extremely attractive to go back about a month and take notes at Philcon, when I was enjoying myself and not paying attention. Then the review (which is elsewhere is this issue) would be accurate instead of dependent on my hazy memory. There were meetings at work, just two weeks ago, that just a moment's revisiting would really help to clarify now.

While I'm doing it, I could go back even farther, to summer, and relax a little in the sunshine. Then I'd be refreshed and ready to plunge into serious housecleaning for the party on Saturday. Oh yes, and while I was doing it, I'd write down a few recipes I have since misplaced for edible goodies I want to make.

Sadly, no time machine is handy. Happily, the Christmas party is next weekend, and you all get fascinated by the books and the food and the conversation and don't notice if I am still a little behind on the housecleaning.

And this year (thanks to Greg Armstrong and Jeff Nartic), the downstairs bathroom is working, so we're back up to 3 bathrooms, no waiting! Remember to bring back the books you borrowed last year, and be prepared to borrow new ones! The doors will open around 2pm, and won't close until after midnight (how much after depends on how interesting the conversation is at that point).

If you can't make it to the party, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

In Case You Were Wondering...

WorldCon 2000 Chicago
WorldCon 2001 Philadelphia

Announcing: WorldCon 2002 San Jose

ConJose Guests of Honor

Last Meeting

Members who attended the PARSEC meeting on November 20, 1999 at the Monroeville Public Library saw tables stacked with rows of books, mostly sf and fantasy, all for our annual book sale.

This year several people brought computer software, of varying vintage and type. Kevin Geiselman had old copies of Lotus and some word processing programs, all with the manuals, in their original bulky cases. Chris Hutson was waving software CDs.

The spirit of the sale was perhaps best exemplified by Cap'n John (John Cope), who explained his pricing policy thusly: "books are twenty-five cents for one, or free if you take three." A number of people had old magazines they were giving away. Beth Bowles and Ruth Heller probably had the largest number of books there. Randy Hoffman, to the amazement of his friends, did NOT go home with twice what he brought.

Continuing a recent trend, we had a visitor who we hope will turn into a new member: Bob Dinkel, a friend of Bill Hall. Bob's avocation is music; he tells us he has a serious sound system in his basement (play producers take note).

Between book sales, we also held a meeting, since there was serious business to conduct. The raffle, for Beth's glass, was won by Kira who didn't buy all the tickets (a ploy that has been used successfully in the past), but did buy more than her usual.

Tom Rafalski paid his dues, getting membership card #101 in return! This means, for the first time ever, PARSEC has over 100 paid members.

For the serious business, our annual nominations for officers were held. Ann Cecil was nominated for an unprecedented third term for President, which she accepted on the basis that she would like to continue through the Other Worlds Fair startup. No other nominations for President were entered, so Ann gets it.

Mia Sherman was nominated for her first full term as Treasurer, based on the excellent job she's done so far. There being no other nominations, she was declared 'accepted.'

There were two nominations for Vice President (both were present and both agreed to run): Sasha Riley and Kira Heston.

In addition, the group present voted to amend the by-laws to add two new offices: Secretary and Snide Commentator. For the office of Secretary, Tom Morrow was nominated and accepted, with no other nominations. For the office of Snide Commentator (in honor of Christina Schulman), Chris Ferrier was nominated and accepted.

After the elections, the tryout version of the MST3K game was played. Everybody got paper and a pen, and then we watched an episode of Commander Cody - Radar Men From the Moon. After seeing it once, everybody got a chance to organize their thoughts, and then the episode was played again, with people shouting out their comments at the appropriate point.

Honors were split between Tom Rafalski for the '1-800 collect' comment as the Moon man phones one of his henchmen on the Earth, and Randy Hoffman for several comments including one on the opening credits. A number of people got in good shots and generally all agreed the game was enough fun to use for the Other Worlds Fair.


Amend by-laws to include new offices:

4. Secretary whose duties shall be to write up the minutes of each meeting in a timely fashion for printing in SIGMA.

5. Snide Commentator whose duties shall be to continue the tradition started by Christina Shulman of keeping the officers and members from taking themselves too seriously.

vote to change by-laws: yes_ no_

Officers for 2000:

President: Ann Cecil
Vice President: Sasha Riley__ Kira Heston__ (check one)
Treasurer: Mia Sherman
Secretary: Tom Morrow
Snide Commentator: Chris Ferrier

Members may either mail in votes or vote at the Christmas party. All ballots must be in by 6 pm Saturday December 11th where they will be counted and the results announced.

PARSEC book reviews now World Famous

By Greg Armstrong

The World Wide Web is really a wonderful thing. When I was editor of Sigma, I started putting up the individual reviews onto web pages. I added a web counter, mostly to see if anyone was actually looking at the pages. Well, the Reviews page recently reached 500 hits, and is rapidly approaching 600. The counter reports to me daily with the locations the hits are from. More and more, I am seeing hits from outside the USA.

During Thanksgiving weekend, fully half of he hits were from outside the USA: Canada and New Zealand I expect, as they speak English there. But other hits were from Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Congratulations to all of you who have submitted reviews to Sigma and the site, and enjoy your fame.

Dammit, I'm an Actor, not a Star Ship Captain!

By Greg Armstrong

William Shatner is collaborating on another book, some of you may have heard. Yes, I know that they used to shoot collaborators, but this is different. He is working with CMU adjunct professor Chip Walters on a book about how the technology dreamed about on Star Trek is true, or coming true today.

Recently, William Shatner was in Pittsburgh to look at what was going on at the Robotics Institute, among other places. He stopped in at my lab, and interviewed me and my coworkers. I must say that he asked some unexpected questions. William Shatner is definitely NOT James T. Kirk. Mr. Shatner described how his home was wired with sensors on the lighting, so that he never has to throw a switch, the lights are *supposed* to come on whenever anyone enters a room. But the sensors don't work, and he can't turn his lights on! That is not something you would expect from a graduate of Star Fleet Academy.

Yes, William Shatner is definitely ignorant of the way technology works, but I really think that that is helping with this book. he asks questions and will help to write a book that anyone can read, and get a basic understanding of the concepts underneath all of the technology that many people are taking for granted to read.

When this book comes out, I suspect that it will be a good basic science book that you and I and our children can read. It will help us all to understand the things that are changing in the world around us.

1999 Hugo Winners

Best Novel of 1998: To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Best Novella of 1998: 'Oceanic' by Greg Egan

Best Novelette of 1998: 'Taklamakan' by Bruce Sterling

Best Short Story of 1998: 'The Very Pulse of the Machine' by Michael Swanwick

Best Related Book of 1998: The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of by Thomas M. Disch

Best Dramatic Presentation of 1998: The Truman Show (Paramount)

Best Professional Editor of 1998: Gardner Dozois (Asimov's)

Best Professional Artist of 1998: Bob Eggleton

Best Semiprozine of 1998: Locus edited by Charles N. Brown

Best Fanzine of 1998: Ansible edited By Dave Langford

Best Fan Writer of 1998: Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist of 1998: Ian Gunn

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer of 1997 or 1998 (Sponsored by Dell Magazines): Nalo Hopkinson


David Brin's Out of Time Series
Number 1
By Nancy Kress
Review by James Walton

I think it took Ms Kress about a week to write this one. That includes the hour she spent listening in on teenagers' conversations to pick up a phrase or two of youthful slang.

Yes, I know the Out of Time Series is Brin's attempt at luring young readers to Science Fiction (an extremely laudable cause) but I suspect this effort by Kress will lose as many youngsters as it gains.

I will try to not overuse the word 'dull.'

The premise of the Out of Time series is fairly standard. In Earth's future, humanity has succeeded in colonizing the Solar System without destroying Earth in the process. This deed has earned humanity the notice (and possible respect) of an ancient alien race called The Gift Givers. Earth learns there are hundreds of other alien races out there, all pretty much competing for the Gift Givers' favors.

One of the gifts Earth received was the ability to use special teleportation devices located around the galaxy. These devices, 'sally ports,' transport people and material instantly through great distances. Of course there is a catch: any person (human anyway) over the age of sixteen who uses a sally port dies in pain and madness. So when problems arise on distant planets, only teenagers can be sent to handle them. (This is a handy device to get the kids out of direct adult supervision.)

So why are teenagers from Earth's past yanked into the far future? It seems that the people in 2336 are a bunch of wimps. All the aggressiveness and 'grit' has been bred out of them. The thought of violence and direct confrontation makes them ill.

For special missions the Earth of 2336 kidnaps (oops!) yanks teenagers with grit to the future. Each particular youngster is chosen because he or she had demonstrated courage, grit, and intelligence. Each on has 'made a difference' in their own time period.

In this particular book the teenagers are:

These 5 teens, along with a robot babysitter (Danger! Danger!) are sent on a quest to a far off planet to rescue a group of spacewrecked children and to recover an artifact vital to humanity's standing in the galactic community. A complication is the existence of another search and recovery mission, this one sent by a competing alien race. These competitors are roughly at the same level technologically and socially as Earth so they too are vying for the Gift Givers' attention.

Although it is never explicitly stated, I suspect these teens were all 'conditioned' to get along and accept each other. I can't imagine a street thief from 1810 willingly taking orders from a Black person, nor can I imagine a Viking girl from 987 being nonplussed by the sight of a Black person.

This same conditioning probably accounts for the ease in which the teenagers accept their unusual circumstances and dive into their mission.

The interactions between the teens is so uneventful and wooden that it is something of a relief when the alien party finally appears. The only friction is caused by the thief who shows something resembling a healthy paranoia in strange surroundings.

I suspect the dullness of this book is not Ms Kress' fault. She is 'playing in someone else's universe' and is probably following a strict set of rules.

The success of the Harry Potter books is proof that books for Young Adults need not be deathly dull for older readers. Of course, the Potter books don't pretend to be anything more than entertainment. The Out of Time books have a Message.

There are two more volumes in the Out of Time series as I write this. Presumably they all use the same basic plot, that of pulling teenagers out of their own time periods to be used for nefarious purposes. I just hope these later books will be a bit more entertaining.

PhilCon 99

Convention Review by Ann Cecil

I really wanted to go to Philcon this year, for a number of reasons: 1) I missed last year, 2) I hadn't been to a con all year and, 3) Philcon is one of my favorite cons. I even talked Parsecians into moving the November meeting so I could go.

In many ways Philcon is the model for Confluence. Philcon holds to tradition: it is really a conference, not a convention (like Confluence), and they have a Principal Speaker, not a Guest of Honor. It seems appropriate to hold to such minor distinctions when you live in a Commonwealth, rather than a State.

Philcon is also a very large con that has held on to the smaller, serious feel; fen and pros mingle freely at programming and in the lines for elevators. The hotel venue is one of the best for a con (it's an Adam's Mark, which seem to consistently plan their function space, as distinguished from just adding it on). And the elevators are reasonable, it's just the place where you wait for them that's a little tight. There are parties, but it's not a Big Party con; most of the parties are open, and you can wander around and meet people with similar interests, or just listen to some eyeball-popping conversations.

This year there weren't any lines. Anywhere. Attendance was down - instead of over 2000, there were just over 1500 attendees. Now this is still a healthy number, but it made for a much lighter load on the facility. It also meant you could always find a seat at panels, of which there was the usual surplus - 5 or 6 tracks, counting the extensive video and film program.

Part of the reason was that there was a ban on alcohol at open parties, thought this shouldn't have affected attendance that much. The con suite has been 'dry' for several years. Part of the reason was that there were NO Goths in evidence - I don't know if that was a conscious decision by someone, a trend or reaction (I wasn't at Philcon last year).

There was a problem, though; the same faces kept turning up on panels. The pocket program had an amazingly long list of guests - 4 or 5 columns with about 30 names per column. I don't know where they were, though. I counted: Swanwick did 6 panels over the weekend, John Norman and Catherine Asaro did 5, and James Morrow did more. Katherine Kurtz, who was Principal Speaker, did less, but her speech was longer and she had to do it all by herself.

Not only did many of the panels seem to have the same set of 8 or 10 people, shuffled around slightly, the topics repeated. I heard a panel on sf predictions three times: once focused on predictions that were good, once on predictions that were bad, once on predictions in general. Some of this was sparked by Tom Disch's book, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, but it felt like overkill and a serious lack of imagination.

For whatever reason, there was a kind of lethargy among the audience as well. Considering how much they were asked to do, the panelists held up surprisingly well, but when they opened panels for questions from the audience, mostly everybody sat there (maybe they were all asleep, having heard these panels before?).

That was the down side. There was an up side as well. While it was poorly advertised, the premiere performance of James Morrow's one-act play 'The Zombies of Montrose' was a definite success. The play was clever, and the lead (James Morrow) displayed a definite talent for physical comedy that made parts of the play hysterically funny. David Hartwell was amazingly convincing as a zombie. His son, however, slept through the whole performance.

There was a LARP running all weekend, that never lacked for people and action; and the Masquerade is a time-honored attraction that brings out top-level costumes. There were some neat videos and films: something called PI was recommended, but it was shown during the point where I lost my badge and couldn't get in. You'll have to ask Randy Hoffman about that part of the program. Heidi Pilewski, Randy and I drove up and back together, and worked in a side trip on our way back to Stoudt's, which has good food as well as great beer. JJ and his sister Lisa stopped at Stoudt's on the way to the con.

I bought a membership for next year, since they give you a healthy discount when you buy ahead, but right now I'm re-evaluating. I had a good time, and bought a number of neat Christmas gifts (wait'll Barb sees!), but it keeps getting more and more expensive. Maybe they're getting tired, after all these years? Maybe it was just a one year fluke, a problem with the program committee. Maybe it's a trend in cons - maybe we're seeing the end of an era, and only the really good ones are going to continue. We'll see.


NEXT MEETING: Dec. 11, 1999, 2PM to Midnight
LOCATION: Ann's House

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

TOPIC: Annual Holiday 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.

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

January 2000
Time & Date: 12:30, 8 January 2000
Discussion Topic: Can Robots Be Your Friend?
Professor Sebastian Thrun from Carnegie Mellon University will speak about interactive mobile robots developed for educational and entertainment purposes and for assistance of the elderly population. He'll explain some of the research challenges, and how robots are perceived by the general public.
Location: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

February 2000
Time & Date: 12:30, 12 February 2000
Discussion Topic: Pre-Confluence Panic
Location: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

March 2000
Time & Date: 12:30, 11 March 2000
Discussion Topic: TBA
Location: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

April 2000
Time & Date: 12:30, 8 April 2000
Discussion Topic: TBA
Location: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

May 2000
Time & Date: 12:30, 13 May 2000
Discussion Topic: TBA
Location: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

Good News

Mary Soon Lee sold the story 'Spell Night' to Pulp Eternity.

Timons Esaias's story 'The Mars Convention' appeared in the Czech magazine Ikarie, and two stories and six poems became part of the library at Alexandria Digital Literature. Of those, his story 'Crash Site' was a Pick Of The Week, and also ADL's Best Seller for the month of October.

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

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.