The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


February 2000, Issue 169

Ann's Agenda

By Ann Cecil

In just a few weeks, we'll all be confronting those minor life decisions: "if I start a serious diet now, I can justify spending next week's food money in the dealers' room." It is infinitely easier, if, at this point, one either has no spouse or a sympathetic spouse to explain this logic to. It is also better if said spouse is not TOO sympathetic; as in, "I already spent that and more at Larry's table, dear."

Of course you all realize I'm anticipating Confluence. It's been more than a year since we've all had a chance to see that dazzling array of book dealers (interspersed with jewelry, t-shirt, and other dealers) that makes up our Dealers' Room. By now we've all had a chance to clear our bookshelves (or build new ones), and make new lists of "must haves" or "missed on the first time."

Not that books are everything at Confluence. The music quotient is rising; our Filk concert level keeps right on rising - last time out we had four, this time there will five, count 'em five! Traditional, rock-tinged, jazz-tinged, whatever - we have all parts of the filking spectrum covered. And I understand that we have arranged to get better sound than ever (ok, one of the filkers took pity on us and volunteered to bring in his rig). So all those clever lyrics will be really clear this year!

And we'll all have a chance to learn something - we have five science panels as well (consistent, aren't we?): a talk by Hal Clement, an AI panel with Mary Soon Lee and Paul Levinson, Zhexi Luo talking about "Early Mammals: In the Shadow of the Dinosaur," John Radzilowitz on "Astronomical Events That Have Changed History," and John Hilliar on an astronomical subject. Since Diane Turnshek is our Science Programming arranger, you know these will all be entertaining as well as informative and thought-provoking.

Authors? You want me to mention the authors? Of course Confluence has authors. And editors, too. And artists. But you know you can count on them being there - in early days, we sometimes had more of them than we had attendees. And of course, most of us (excepting Christina, who protests too much) want someday to join the author list - whether we sell enough to be guest material or just become "informed" attendees.

So naturally our thoughts are focused on Mars - Pa, that is. But Mars the red planet is becoming a target of controversy, as well as NASA near-misses. Our next PARSEC meeting will deal with MARS the planet, and how we can maybe get there "directly." Kevin Geiselman is going to present a program dealing with "Direct Mars," bringing us all up-to-date on the idea and explaining why this has raised so many questions and arguments within the space-centric community.

Besides the Mars program, we'll also be giving you last minute insights into Confluence changes and chances to see the con from "behind the scenes." See you all at Squirrel Hill!


It's that time again.

For those who can't remember, the base membership is $10, $2 each additional membership at same address (one SIGMA). If you actually wanted separate copies of SIGMA, you'd pay $20 (nobody ever has).

Checks can be ade out to PAESEC and sent to:
PO box 3681
Pgh, PA 15230-3681

The new cards, as those who came to the January meeting know, are really spiffy! Kira did herself proud. Last but not least...remember that PARSEC members receive a $5.00 discount on Confluence memberships.

News Flash

Mary Soon Lee sold two stories to the Sword and Sorceress anthology series. "The Fall of the Kingdom" will appear in #18, and "Shen's Daughter" in #20. She also had the Spanish version of "Ebb Tide" appear in Gigamesh issue #21.

Timons Esaias had two stories appear in the Italian quarterly NOVA SF*. "Cambio della guardia" is in #39, and "Il luogo dello schianto" is in #40. He also sold the poem "I Wonder" to Reality's Escape.

In Memorium

A.E. Van Vogt Dead At 87
By Kevin Hayes

A.E. van Vogt, the prolific writer of SF stories and novels who helped shape the Golden Age of Science Fiction, died Jan. 26 of complications of pneumonia in Los Angeles. He was 87. Van Vogt, a native of Canada who lived in the United States, had suffered from Alzheimer's disease for the last several years, his agent, Dan Hooker, told SCI FI Wire.

"During the Golden Age ... of Science Fiction, which was the late '30s through the early '50s, A.E. van Vogt was one of the four or five pillars of the universe," friend and SF writer Harlan Ellison told SCI FI Wire. "The entire genre rested on his and few others' shoulders." Van Vogt, who went by the nickname "Van," was best known for his first novel, Slan; the Weapons Shops stories; and the Null-A sequence of books, which included The World of Null-A.

One of the first genre writers to craft dreamlike, complex narratives with sophisticated themes, van Vogt was recognized in 1996 with the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He was an inaugural inductee into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and received a retro-Hugo from the World Science Fiction Convention.

Born in 1912 in Manitoba, Canada, Alfred Elton van Vogt first came to prominence with his stories in John W. Campbell Jr.'s Astounding Science-Fiction magazine, where Golden Age SF first appeared. The first of these stories, "Black Destroyer," was published in 1939.

Also in 1939, van Vogt married E. Mayne Hull, and they wrote several stories together in the 1940s. They moved to the United States in 1944. Hull died in 1975. The last 50 years of van Vogt's life were spent in Los Angeles.

Van Vogt is survived by his wife, Lydia.

Sixth Annual Confluence SF&F Short Story Contest

Prizes and eligibility: The contest is open to non-professional writers (those who have not met eligibility requirements for SFWA or equivalent). Previous multiple winners and contest coordinators are also ineligible.

The story which best relates to and features the contest theme will be published in the Confluence 2001 program book, and the author will be awarded the first prize of $200. At the discretion of the judges a second and third prize in the amounts of $100 and $50 may be awarded, with publication in the Out of James® Attic fanzine. Submission to the contest implies consent for these publications, but all rights revert immediately to the authors upon publication. The entries will be screened by the coordinators, and the best submissions will go on to our panel of three Judges (not yet named). Decisions of the judges and coordinators in all these matters are final. There is NO entry fee.

Format: Stories must be Science Fiction or Fantasy in genre. Stories must be original, unpublished, unsold and no more than 3500 words in length. Submit in standard contest format (title and page number on each page, but author name only appears on separate cover page; otherwise as in any professional submission). No email submissions. Include SASE for notification only, as manuscripts will not be returned. Incorrect format will make entry ineligible. Stories must Relate To The Theme.

Theme: "Tales of the Venus Diner." Taking its inspiration from the real Venus Diner which lies about halfway between Pittsburgh (the gravitational center of our local system) and Mars, PA (the location of Confluence) the contest seeks to ask such questions as: Does the diner sit on a time/space nexus where anyone and anything from any time period can show up for a burger? Why does the diner look so much larger, or smaller, from the inside? Can only rightful princes or princesses extract a smile from the harried staff? Just who or what is the diner prepared to serve. And, most importantly, can you get fries with that? Please place your Venus Diner some time after the year 2050 CE (2803 AUC) and anywhere in any continuum you deem fit. Will the Venus Diner still be in Pennsylvania, or out on Pluto? You tell us. But please, oh please, try to find it in your heart to make the diner crucial to the story, and not just a frame for something you've already written.

Deadline: Entries must arrive by September 15, 2000.

Address: Send entries to Timons Esaias, Confluence Short Story Contest, 6659 Woodwell Street, Pittsburgh PA 15217-1320. For questions or clarifications only you may email to


Happy Policeman
Patricia Anthony
Harcourt Brace and Company, 15 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010, hardback, 282 pages, 1994, ISBN 0-15-138478-9, US $21.95
Review by J. J. Walton

DeWitt Dawson is the police chief of the small town of Coomey Texas. He is self centered, getting fat, racist, just shy of being a redneck and extremely content. When he comes upon the nude body of the local Mary Kay representative, her throat torn out, her left eye missing, and her legs spread at an impossible angle, he immediately wonders how he can make the death look like an accident. A murder would ruin the fragile status quo in his town.

The status quo is very important to a town like Coomey.

On Bomb Day the inhabitants of Coomey awoke to find their town surrounded by The Line, a barrier which cut the town off from the rest of the world. The official story is that a nuclear war has destroyed civilization and aliens, the Torku, were able to put The Line in place just in time to save the town. The Line changes color and pattern randomly, perhaps responding to someone's mood.

Dawson has the dubious honor of being the primary liaison between his town and the Torku, who really run things. The Torku supply all the food, power, clothing and emergency services. Yet the people of Coomey go on as if life hasn't changed. People still get drunk and drive their cars through red lights. People still grow marijuana and have extra-marital affairs. Children still attend school and throw rocks. And people still kill.

The possibility that one of the Torku committed the murder threatens to tear the town apart. Dawson fumbles through an investigation, doing more harm than good, while facing the irony that his own family is more alien to him than beings from another planet. He is unable to stop the violence which can destroy Coomey.

Policeman starts interestingly enough despite the fact that we have seen the "town stolen by aliens" scenario before. Unfortunately the book soon degenerates into a tawdry, small town melodrama, ala Peyton Place, with everyone having a dirty little secret. The aliens are forgotten and we never really know their reaction to human foibles. They watch and give no useful answers.

In the end when things are as sorted out as they are going to get, we are left with several questions. What really happened that made the aliens erect the shield in the first place? What did the aliens want? What did they gain? Were they from outer space or was Coomey the site of a rift between universes? Were the aliens real or was Dawson having a very strange delusion?

When I read books by Ms. Anthony I get the feeling she is describing herself and her own thought processes when she is describing aliens.

Year's End Reader Polls

The following items came in via Tim and Diane (who both have eligible works this year).

Note that the Asimov's Readers' Poll voting is open for the year 1999, including the Poetry catagory. Voting may be done through the Asimov's Web site. Thus, readers who may have enjoyed Certain Poems, not to mention an excellent story ("Fossils" by William H. Keith, Jr., August issue) have an avenue to express that appreciation permanently, and in a public forum.

Vote in the Analytical Laboratory Poll for your favorite science fiction published in Analog Magazine in 1999. Votes must be turned in before February 1, 2000. One lucky voter will win a free one-year subscription to Analog Magazine.

Cinemania in the Hall

By Bill Hall

1. The Matrix. True, it was indeed slick, hip, and eerily prescient of Columbine. My favorite Matrix anecdote is that, come the subway showdown between Neo and Smith, someone in the audience whistled the first notes of Ennio Morricone's classic score for Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, and I went, "Wah-waaah-wah!" Then the stranger whistled again, and I went, "Wah-waaah-WAH!" Plus, the sight of Keanu Reeves readying himself by saying, "Clear your mind . . . !" made me ask, "You mean you're not there already!?" It was a goof, a hoot -- but oh, it was a chance for those introductory philosophy courses we took to finally come in handy! WPXI newscaster Bob Bruce complained "I needed Cliff's Notes to see that movie." Once ol' Bob blurted that out, wild horses couldn't keep me out of the theater.

2. Mystery Men. Once in a too-long while, some smart wacky mile-a-minute comedy comes out and leaves me as helpless as the proverbial infant. In 1999 it was Mystery Men, the story of absurd B-list comic book superheroes finally getting their day of glory. Mystery Men is as good as Batman and Robin is not.

3. Princes Mononoke. Perhaps more respectable than likeable, sort of like Babylon 5, Monomoke is Japan's highest-grossing animation epic, transplanted to America with dubbing. The voice casting is so-so -- Gillian "Dana Scully" Anderson as a giant wolf goddess is interesting, but somehow not compelling -- with Minnie Driver as the standout as Lady Eboshi, founder and leader of an industrial town run by former prostitutes. This is a strongly supernatural 19th Century kind of world -- a bit like that of my own PARSEC contest short story "The League of Horses" (plug, plug). It does have its high-strung melodramatic moments of moralism, but I just attribute that to its being Japanese. (I mean, c'mon, even Kimba the White Lion on Paul Shannon's Adventure Time tried to teach us vegetarianism once.) I found it not to be so much a coherent message movie as a situation assessment movie, with terrible Nature and callous Civilization settling for a brief but pleasant stalemate by the end. For me, a majestic gelatinous giant, the Night Walker, is half the movie.

4. The Iron Giant. And speaking of giants, I'd say Disney was officially on the run in 1999. What does one say about a Tarzan movie inspired by skateboarding and Phil Collins? Here, we had a Cold War fable of a boy in Maine befriending a giant alien robot. Given that Christopher Reeve tried writing the disastrous Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, I think Reeve might appreciate something the Iron Giant has to say in one crucial moment.

5. Being John Malkovich. This movie lies somewhere between Kafka and a Monty Python sketch. John Cusack plays the sort of puppeteer who gets beat up on a street corner for his sensual portrayal of Abelard and Heloise. He finds work in an office building's seven-and-a-halfth floor, where everyone has to walk around stopped over. He finds a hole which puts you in the body of actual real-life actor John (Horatio???) Malkovich for fifteen minutes before dumping you near the New Jersey Turnpike -- and if this doesn't already sound like a must-see for you, then I can't help you. I think it reaches its poignant, highly orchestrated, Twilight Zone style conclusion rather clumsily -- in his lust for fame, he is doomed like his Abelard to always yearn for the two women in his life but never speak to them -- but overall it's a success. Malkovich told Charlie Rose, "It's a movie that's not about other movies." Damn straight.

6. The Sixth Sense. This frankly is a movie, which did not wow me at first -- Sasha was more enthusiastic, and actually reviewed it -- but it has grown on me in retrospect. It may in fact be one of the best movies about the supernatural, easily outclassing Stir of Echoes which came out around the same time. Bruce Willis, in one of his unusually quiet performances, plays psychologist Malcolm Crowe. He is trying to help little boy Cole Sear (yup, uh-huh, as in seer), played by the extraordinary young actor Haley Joel Osment, to deal with Cole's seeing the dead all around him, all the time -- but is it Crowe who really needs to be helped by Cole? This is sneakily unforgettable. The sleeper success of so actionless a movie probably speaks to a deep and serious public curiosity in issues of death and the beyond.

7. The Insider. True, it's not science fiction -- and yet, is speaks so strongly to one of the most fundamental principles of SF, i.e. technology and its impact on how we conduct our society, that I really must recommend it to anyone who is serious about SF. We're so used to the standard SF horror formula: we're all bopping along in our safe quiet status quo lives, when whammo, some Mad Scientist seeks to force some obviously hideous perversity upon us and we must stop him. But what of the stickier issue of a retroactive horror, long accepted by the status quo? What if, say, we learned that the manufacturers of Star Trek transporters had for years been deliberately reconfiguring human brains to desire their goods and services? That would be a galaxywide scandal -- and that, in sum, was what tobacco company health expert (consider what a grim oxymoron that title has been) Jeffrey Wigand blew the whistle on. There has been controversy over this movie, and it is deserved; too much of it is taken up by the grandstanding of 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, played by Al Pacino. Personally, I donŐt care much about Bergman. The heart of this story is Wigand, a man who wants the good life, who deeply resents having to make heroic sacrifices, but plays the hero anyway, and Russell Crowe is brilliant in this role. Ours is a SF world, people. Fight horror today.

8. The Mummy. Shamelessly lavish and splendid hokum, everything you could ask for in a drive-in movie. Just when you thought a movie couldn't possibly exploit old-as-the-dunes scare tactics anymore to make you cover your eyes, along came Mummy. The biggest complaint against it is that it hasn't nearly the stature of Raiders of the Lost Ark -- but then again, what does?

9. The Blair Witch Project. If you went to this seething, "I double dare this to be the scariest movie of all time!" it's no wonder you were disappointed. Trying to understand this movie on its merits alone is rather like trying to appreciate The Rocky Horror Picture Show without all the audience participation. Far superior to the actual movie was the Sci-Fi Channel special "Curse of the Blair Witch," which built up a nicely tantalizing back-story. This movie grew as an underground Internet legend long before it hit the screen. The end result? It's really not that supernatural; insert the word Cult into the title and a lot instantly gets cleared up. It is also more dreary than thrilling; the National Park Service could easily have put this out under the warning title "How to Have a Dysfunctional Hike." Yet there is drama here, drama far more real than in, say, the overproduced Haunting. What's eerie is that we've met these people before. We've known an overgrown kid like Mike, a regular guy like Josh, a compulsive tunnel-visionary like Heather. In its day, Pittsburgh's own Night of the Living Dead lent a bit of a documentary feel to horror, and this has raised those stakes even higher. Ghost stories still get told at campfires, and big-budgeted movies have not stomped out those campfires just yet.

10 Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Some movies are bullies. They are so big and so important that, at some point, you have to pay them their due. Birth of a Nation is one, and Phantom Menace is another. Here is a movie far less notable for its characters than for its sets and scenery. Before, we were eager to catch up on this stuff; now, we feel a kind of ceremonial obligation. For me, the salvation of Menace was to imagine it as a kind of supertelescope, permitting me to peer in on the actual goings-on of some distant galaxy. (And since this was long, long ago, the light would be reaching us right about now!) Maybe it's the impact of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, but I actually dug getting to see the Galactic Congress. Still ... five more of these? I don't think so, George. I will say this much: if you HAD to see one overhyped megaflick of 1999, you were better off seeing this than The Wild, Wild West.

All in all, 1999 was not too bad. Even beyond this list, you can find the sweet Midsummer Night's Dream or the gritty intellectual fable Pi, which was actually completed back in 1997. Best of all, there were stirrings of dissatisfaction and daring to be found behind most of the movies on this list. No megakiller success just yet, but that's find. That will come.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Feb. 12, 2000 12:30 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Mars Direct (not directions to Confluence) by Kevin Geiselman

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

March 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 11 March 2000
Discussion Topic : Vampires (No, not the Central Blood bank!)
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

April 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 8 April 2000
Discussion Topic : Phil Klass - John Campbell video
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

June 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 10 June 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

July 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 8 July 2000
Discussion Topic : Confluence Discussion Topic Development
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

August 2000
Time & Date : 12:00, 19 August 2000
Note the Date Change!!!
Discussion Topic : The PARSEC Picnic
Location : Keystone State Park, Pavillion 1

September 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 9 September 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

October 2000
Time & Date : 12:30, 14 October 2000
Discussion Topic : TBA
Location : TBA

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

December 2000
Time & Date : 9 December 2000
Discussion Topic : Holiday Party
Location : Ann's House

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

Snide Commentator: Chris Ferrier

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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