Power is interesting to observe. Physical power makes for loud and often impressive special effects, particularly in sci-fi movies, but there's another kind of power: the small, quiet kind of power that lies in choices. Ordinary people like you and me have that kind of power, but we tend to ignore it. It doesn't look as splashy as that light show that afflicts the poor hero at the end of every Highlander, but it can be as satisfying (and not nearly as hard on your belt buckles).
Sometimes people get power mixed up with responsibility, but that's because power, once you admit you have it, leads to responsibility; the responsibility to use it, wisely or safely or daringly or even irresponsibly. Once you realize you have power, even a tiny smidgeon of power, it changes you. If you have power in one little section of your life, you can gain it over more sections; once you have a small power, you can work to make it bigger: You Can Take Over PARSEC.
No, I did not overdose on Pinky and The Brain cartoons (though I admit to having copied the phrasing). Actually I was inspired by the arrival of the Hugo nomination forms, and the realization that 30 people nominating the same book, story, fanzine, fan writer, etc. is sufficient to get it on the ballot. There are close to 30 people from PARSEC going to WorldCon this year, so if we all put down not only JJ's fanzine and Christina for fan writer but also Mary Soon Lee's story -- but which one?
There will be a short discussion of story nominations (due in by March 10) before the official PARSEC meeting in February. Non-Hugo nominators are welcome to try to influence (demonstrating their power of persuasion) those of us with the power to nominate. Please do plan to exercise your power -- we need a local winner this year, since WorldCon is in Baltimore -- only 4 hours away from Pittsburgh (on the same date as our August meeting).
On Saturday, January 10th, 1998, our meeting was held at the Allegheny Center branch of the Carnegie Library. The first thing that happened was Ann Cecil introduced me (Dianne Eberle) as a new member and then promptly appointed me to take minutes of the meeting. She definitely knows a sucker when she sees one. Also we had a visitor, Jason, who enjoyed the meeting with us. Sorry Jason, I missed your last name, but I did get that you are the owner of El Jay's Used Book Store. We hope to see you again! Ann discussed some plans for meeting topics, all of which will be very exciting. The plan at the moment is to have the Annual Picnic the Saturday after ConFluence, which is the 12th of September.
The raffle was held and the ecstatic winner was JJ Walton ... well no. He was actually just donating his money this week. So the drawing was held again and Bonnie Funk was more than happy to choose a prize.
After the business ended, we all enjoyed some story telling, starting off with a story told by Don Turner, then some marvelous story telling by our guest Allen Irvine.
The Square Root of Man
by William Tenn
Review by Timons Esaias
Frankly, I was glad to see that there had been some weaker stories in Tenn's early career. It gives me hope. But I was also impressed by the variety of voices in which he has been able to work.
The first story, "Alexander The Bait" (1946) boldly predicted 23 years before the fact that the first man on the Moon would be named Neil, and that the first words would be flubbed. It also correctly predicted that what would get us there would not be pure exploration and science, but a baser motive. It's a nice light satire on human motivation (in the vein of Bradbury's "The Toynbee Convector") though in a dated vernacular.
"The Last Bounce" (1950) is a space opera that reminded me of Stanislaw Lem's 'straight' pieces. The psychological tension is between the forces that make explorers go, and those that make them toss in the towel and settle down. Unlike many such stories, this one does not come to a neat and pretty resolution. This piece has the Tenn edge.
"She Only Goes Out At Night" is a cute, humorous little vampire tale. It's followed by "My Mother Was A Witch", and I was expecting more of the same, but it's a delightful gem. Tenn admits in the Author's Note that it's not strictly a genre story, but it is worth looking for. I've put it on the list for things I may read at the next Passage Party.
There are two stories in the collection that, together, illustrate Tenn's satirical strength. They are both comic tales of events on a spaceship, and they both take numerous swipes at our presumptions about gender roles in society, but they are set in futures with opposing political assumptions. "Confusion Cargo" is a humorous Mutiny on the Bounty/Pitcairn Island in space, and "Venus Is a Man's World" is something of a "Here Come the Brides". In the first story men rule society, in the second it's women. Either way, Tenn can make us see through the thin and facile arguments of gender determinism.
What is the Cylinder? No one really knows. The huge structure rises mile upon mile above the surface of the Earth. It is so large the Sun is obscured most of the time and it is so old no one can remember it's original purpose. And is the Earth really down there below the clouds?
Axxter makes a very meager living by video recording the odd things he sees in his travels and selling the rights, but what he really wants is to be a successful graffex artist. That means he must sell his designs to the various tribes which wage war constantly on the surface of the Cylinder.
When one of the larger tribes offers Ny a contract to completely redesign their armor he has dreams of an easy life and paying his bills.
Of course Axxter's world view comes literally crashing down on him at the worst of all possible times.
Farewell Horizontal is not a coming of age novel. Axxter has obviously been around for a while and is willing to listen to advice.
I am going to be totally unfair and say Farewell Horizontal is Jeter's version of the book Dinner at Deviant's Palace by Tim Powers. Jeter and Powers, along with James P. Blaylock, were onetime proteges of Philip K. Dick, so it is possible they had some influence on each others work. Both books take place on an Earth rendered unrecognizable by unknown forces and both feature a hero who, despite their better judgment, must save the world as they know it.
But, as I said, the comparison is unfair. Farewell Horizontal is completely Jeter's book. He shows the same wit he displayed in his book Dr. Adder, though Horizontal is not quite as sinister.
Jeter wisely gives us the merest hints as to the Cylinder's origin and purpose.
We assume there are huge hydroponic farms and nuclear power plants buried within the Cylinder's core, but how does the food get to the millions of people who live on the Vertical?
Okay Jeter! You've whetted our appetites, now where is the book that tells us the tale of the Cylinder?
All four stories have a strong satiric element, and they are described by The Ultimate Guide to Science Fiction as "sardonic". That description fits, though one of the stories is nearly straight drama in its tone while the other three are openly comic. There is a certain amount of thematic consistency as well, for all four stories deal in some degree with culture shock.
"Firewater" describes the post-first-contact world of Algernon Hebster, a Bill Gatesian figure who is on the verge of successfully dominating the world of business by applying technology acquired from the aliens. There is a growing backlash against the aliens, though, for a variety of psychological reasons, not least of which is that every human who seems to have been able to communicate with the aliens has gone stark, raving mad and developed awkward telekinetic abilities. The story follows events as both the government and the anti-alien forces try simultaneously to shut down the Hebster Empire. Enriching the difficulties, and the social observations of the tale, are the facts that the aliens trade in a way that seems to make no sense at all, and that they seem largely uninterested in us, though many of them study us incessantly.
The title story is a cute tale of a society that gets the dirty jobs in space done by a Gulag Archipelago of individuals who, in many cases, are working off the time for a crime they have not yet committed. The incentive is that if, very improbably, they survive the horrible dangers of distant planets and complete their sentence, they are given a warrant to commit the crime for which they have already paid the penalty. To commit the crime freely and without repercussion. The story then becomes a comedy of culture shock as two losers in life return to their society as famous men, and licensed killers. It puts quite a different perspective on things.
"The Sickness" is the nearly straight drama, with stylistic distortions caused by its strict Cold War theme. The Earth is months from final nuclear holocaust; everyone knows it; but India has attempted to forestall the crisis by sending a joint Soviet/American expedition to Mars. (One can't help but note the Apollo/Soyuz missions twenty years later and today's joint Mir missions.) Tensions are very high on board the spacecraft, with both sides prepared to seize the ship at the slightest provocation. Tensions are so high, in fact, and the threat of nuclear war so overwhelming, that the discovery of a functioning but abandoned Martian city seems to be more of a nuisance than a marvelous historical moment. Things grow suddenly worse when illness breaks out on board, threatening to topple the balance of power.
The final story is a delightful romp through a future America, entitled "Winthrop Was Stubborn." Five Americans of the 20th century are nearing the end of a visit to the 25th century, when it appears that they won't, as promised originally, be allowed to return home. The story is filled with delightful inventions and various examples of culture shock and differing adaptability by the folks from our time, who were chosen not by skills for exploration, but by lottery and by the need for them to have similar physical dimensions to five future travelers swapping places with them (a humorously inventive way to insert a conservation law into time travel!). Walls, clothes, and sidewalks are sentient; so is some of the food! Mob behavior is worked off by frequent visits to Shriek Field, and fear is faced in Panic Stadium. Moreover, individual rights are absolute, which is the reason that the tourists can't go home; they are not allowed to coerce Winthrop, who has become stubborn.
Reading this tale made me realize how few stories get their tension from just plain cussedness in one or more of the characters, though most of the tension in our real lives, or mine anyway, seems to come from that alone. Tenn works it very well. (Though Tenn doesn't specify, I can state with some assuredness, being of Welsh ancestry, that Winthrop must have been Welsh.)
The great delight of this story, as I mentioned, is the inventiveness of the background in the future, when machines do most everything. Many of them made me laugh, including the Oracle Machine which is portrayed as a general-purpose supercomputer that tries to give the best answer possible to any question, but which reminds one of Clarke's dictum about any sufficiently advanced technology appearing to be magic. Some of these futuristic machines have already come to pass, including the chess machine that can beat anyone, and has thus profoundly changed the nature and purpose of playing the game.
This collection is worth finding.
I found this book to be very good. The plot unravels just fast enough that at times you wont want to put the book down. The author gave very nice descriptions of where the characters were in each section of the story. She also goes very deeply in to some of the rituals that the vampires have perform.
I thought Nancy Collins did a very good job of showing that vampires are not all just unfeeling heart less creatures that hunt the living without reason, even though there are times in the book were such an instance occurs (most of that is done by main characters). After I was done reading the book, I found myself going back to read sections again because I thought they were written well, and they still gave me that slight touch of hatred or caring that I got the first time around.
In early years, ConFusion was very much a student sort of affair; there were snow sculpture contests, the Saturday night Dance was dress for effect (not necessarily in costume or even in clothes), and the programming was dominated by a variety of authors and editors and sf fans talking about science fiction and fantasy. Times have changed, as have the fans.
The attendees are still pretty much students, and the Saturday Night Dance is still the major programming for Saturday. This year the programming had one track of essentially the same 5 or 6 people doing a succession of panels on various sf topics: Mothers in Science Fiction, The Art of Plotting Stories, Where Do We All Come From?, From Capek to Asimov to Now. Poor Connie Willis, who was Guest of Honor, had a GOH interview, followed by the lineup -- 4 hours solid, with no potty breaks or rest stops. She is a witty and charming lady, but she was looking pretty frazzled by the last panel. And beginning to repeat herself.
The other interesting programming involved several panels on Babylon 5. There is an active and enthusiastic B5 fandom here, and they had some ingenious ideas, including a trivia contest that had multiple choice questions, video clips, and then a round robin of questions for the 5 who did best on the first set, followed by clips of past work by the B5 stars. It was lots of fun even if (like me) you didn't know any of the answers.
Other tracks? Oh, there were plenty: a series of filk concerts, a Kid track, some science panels, and gaming. Lots and Lots of gaming. The filk concerts had a few scheduling problems: the best concerts were early in the morning -- the afternoon slots were the ones with people talking about filk. This makes no sense; musicians stay up late and sleep in, so at 11:00 in the morning, scheduling your best act (Ookla the Mok and Urban Tapestry! -- a joint concert) means you get poor attendance (everybody else slept in) and half-awake performers.
Friday's programming was all gaming, Sunday's wasn't much better: a demo of swordplay, so you won't hurt yourself running around in costume, was well attended; a Pagan meeting, and more games, with two last science-fiction entries running at 1pm. Confusions other memorable features were always the filking and the parties. Randy Hoffman can tell you about the filks; since I was running a party, I never made it down. The parties, I am happy to report, are still healthy and entertaining at ConFusion.
The Dealers' room is still large and full of neat stuff; the Art Show is still impressive and full of bargains! And the students still come in droves (membership is over 1000), so ConFusion will undoubtedly continue, even if it does seem a little expensive for a good set of parties.
Yet "pretentious" can be an apt and accurate word. When a movie has earnest pretensions and nothing else -- no story, no background, no subtleties, no depth of character, not even a decent gimmick, a nifty protagonist, or one funny joke --- plus the pretensions may not really be so earnest to begin with --- then there's just no fighting it.
The Postman is truly, truly pretentious.
As perhaps the only Parseckian who kept putting off, putting off, putting off reading the David Brin novel until after This Thing hit the screens, I must first give my impressions I must first give my impressions of the book. I like it. It reminds me a bit of Steven King's The Stand, to be sure, but also some parts of his free-rambling Gunslinger series. It's slim and quick but it covers a lot of ground. It is pro-tech, skeptical of contemporary humanity. And it has all the source material necessary for one hell of a movie.
This isn't it. "Dumb it down" is the unspoken but universally understood commandment of Hollywood adaptation. And we are talking way, wayyy down here. The House of the Cyclops? Gone. Dena's Amazons? besides one whiff of a mention that most of The Postman's forces at the end are women and young people, that's been gapped out as well. Gone even is the name Gordon Krantz, as Kevin Costner laughably attempts to take up the Eastwoodian mantle of The Man with No Name. What we are left with is Brin's relatively minor character Macklin, inflated into a supreme villain named General Bethlehem (played by Will Pattan in one performance that is fun to watch). Costner has a hell of a nerve, complaining on Rosie O'Donnell's show that movies are being unfairly stripped of their subplots. Where is Brin's book!?!? All of this new plotting is nowhere as interesting.
The Postman is such self-consciously prefab Americana, and so annoyingly self-congratulatory, that it might have been a better movie without it's pretensions. SF doesn't need this movie, and this movie didn't really need it's slim claim to SF, as a foundation upon which to insist it's some terribly significant symbolic post-apocalyptic fable. Costner could have made a straightforward Western about the Pony Express, and that at least would have been a simple honest effort. By the end, I guess that Costner is pro-patriotism but anti-war; if he could have begun with that statement, then actually gone somewhere with it, I might have been able to forgive him. But I can't. The next time he says, "I want to make a science fiction epic in which I'm only known by my occupation," will someone please stop him?
It occurs to me that I've got to watch myself, criticizing something like a Bond movie, because I was so underwhelmed by the central gimmick of Goldeneye that I probably left the impression that I was down on the whole movie. Fact it, it is one of my favorite videos. Goldeneye moves well and looks great, like a BMW. Bond gets a BMW in Tomorrow, but unfortunately not the director from Goldeneye. That was Martin Campbell, an anal-retentive chap (i.e. my kind of guy) who insisted on matching everything to exhaustive story boarding. There is a sloppier look now with Roger Spottiswoode at the helm. The cinematography looks scruffier, and which was so cool and sharp under Eric Serra (a veteran of La Femme Nikita), settles for a lot of blatant ancient wah-wahhh-wahs. Yes, thank you, I know it is a Bond movie, please shut up now. These might sound like trivial complaints, but when it comes to Bond you have to craft a very finely honed machine or it feels dingy.
Nor does it help that Teri Hatcher is a new Bond girl, primarily to satisfy the fantasies of her real life mate Jon Tenney from TV's Brookline South. As TV's Lois Lane, and in early work like The Big Picture, Hatcher is positively radiant, but she was not up to playing a woman of mystery in Heaven's Prisoners, and continues not to be. The movie freezes when she's on.
Some things to recommend Tomorrow. The plot is great. You may have heard elsewhere that Carver is trying to instigate a war between China and Great Britain purely for ratings, but that is only half of it. He's also conspiring with General Chang to get first crack at exclusive rights to deal and sell in China. It's the classic Capitalist dream: "A billion potential viewers, all thirsting for cable television!" Would an unscrupulous billionaire start a war just to get such a market? Good question! And Pryce is nicely slippery. He's a bit over the top, but that's not really Pryce's fault; his character was originally conceived as a little boy at heart, accumulating wealth and power to wreak vengeance upon characters from his troubled childhood. that all got cut out, though, and so we are left with Pryce acting particularly freaky.
Mostly, Tomorrow has Asian action star Michelle Yeoh. She plays Chinese agent Wai Lin. I love this woman. Oddly enough, a classic glamour shot, in which she's all gussied up and decked out, doesn't suit her nearly as well as good, basic clothes.Here is a woman who is not so much pretty as she is beautiful (as Bond, Peirce Brosnan has the lock on prettiness), not so much smug high-tech dazzler as feisty low-tech underdog, and not so much bond wannabe as a parallel universe Bond in her own right. When Yeoh first heard she would be a "Bond girl," she exclaimed, "You mean I get to be James Bond!?!?!?" Nope. Her loss, and ours, too. Set Wai Lin Bond loose against Famke Janssen's Xenia Onatopp from Goldeneye and we might be getting somewhere interesting. But I digress.
It is tough not to like Brosnan, and yet I get this nagging feeling that I'm watching some male model refugee from a TV soap opera. Very telling is the inevitable Alone Together in a Boat scene at the end. Usually the woman is gurgling in the juices of her own arousal, purring "Oh, James!" But here I get the sense that Wai Lin is thinking, "It's been a hell of a mission, he's been great, and he's a ringer for Remington Steele, so what the hey?" I'm not sure how I feel about that. Maybe each movie should have one "Oh, James!" woman and one, "Oh, what the hey?" woman. Someone should run this by United Artists.
The movie itself is a fair time machine. In much the same way that I find myself recalling Air Force One as "Get Off My Plane!", so I think of this as "Gone With the Ice". Margrett Mitchell wanted to write of "a civilization gone with the wind," and a novel and subsequent movie were born. And while it might have been more accurately called "Gone With the Whip", recognizing an Old South built upon slavery. That movie at least succeeded at recalling a bygone grandeur, a fresh moment of optimism dashed against disaster, the karmic tragedy of hubris, all that good stuff. Gone With the Ice is in many ways superior to Wind: it's shorter, and it keeps its hold on you from beginning to end.
"Ice" is also a technical masterpiece, perhaps too clever for its own good. Winslet and DiCaprio kiss on the bow, and the view pulls away to see a world --- ship, people, and even ocean --- created by computer. Yet the motion is so smooth, you can't help but realize that, no, it's no zoom lens on board a helicopter. The computer work is almost but not quite "there" yet; there is a faint shimmering blur to just about everything. When the resolution is really sharp, then it will be convincing and we will be able to create just about anything. Till that happy day, though, the DiCaprio-Winslet romance permits us a conveniently thorough tour of the ship before and during its hours of doom. I will always remember Winslet in a flowing angelic dress, running happily past the hellish fires of the engineering section.
Author, scientist, and past ConFluence guest Karen Rose Cercone is the Keynote Speaker at "Expanding Your Horizons in Math and Science," a conference for 6th to 12th grade young women interested in career options. The event is to be held Saturday, March 7th at Duquesne University. Registration is limited, and is first-come, first-served. The deadline for groups is February 13th, and for individuals February 20th. Call Joy Lehmann (412) 262-6214 for more information on the conference, or Kristy McCaffrey (412) 728-0622 for information on registration.
Eric Davin has completed his book, Pioneers in Wonder: Conversations With Founders of Modern Science Fiction. Contact him at the meeting or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about how you can get your own copy!
Costume Call: ConFluence really needs someone to act as a contact person and general motivator to keep the ConFluence Costume Contest alive! Please contact PARSEC at email@example.com, or call Ann Cecil at 344-0456 or Mary Tabasko at 362-0544 if you are interested.
Mary Soon Lee sold the Dutch rights to her story "Ebb Tide" to the magazine Visionair.
Timons Esaias sold the poems "Correcting the Record", "The Latest Literary Device" and "Quantum Uncertainty Haiku" to Asimov's SF Magazine. His non-SF story "The Disillusionment of Monsieur Blanchard" has appeared online in the Fires of Autumn Literary Magazine.
When did SF begin? As old as Gilgamesh or as new as Gernsback? Ann Cecil and Eric Davin claims laterdebate the issue. Feb 14th, Squirrel Hill Branch of the Carnegie Library 12:30 to 5:00 PM. This is the Annual Chocolate meeting in honor of Valentine's Day, so everyone is invited to bring chocolate.
On March 14th, Ann Cecil will lead the annual "Trends in SF" group meeting at the Squirrel Hill Library.
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: http://www.cherryvalleybooks.com/DrFred.
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
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Ann Cecil
Vice President: Don Turner
Treasurer: Joan Fisher
Editor: G. D. Armstrong
Sigma Art and Layout Editor: Nancy Janda
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.