The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


January 1998, Issue 144

Ann's Agenda

Happy New Year to all of P.A.R.S.E.C.!

I'm back again as President, but it's been long enough since the first time that I figured I wouldn't be starting any trends. As many of you know, I finally changed jobs last year and am now actually working in Pittsburgh during the week! This means I have the chance and time right now to spend putting energy back into the club, to show all you people how much I appreciate your support and friendship while I was stuck in that airport treadmill.

The January meeting ( on the 10th), which will be at Allegheny Center (the infamous red room), will feature storytelling, with Allan Irvine as guest presenter. Allan will entertain us, and also talk about the difference between verbal and written storytelling. You may remember, Allan won our Short Story Contest year before last with a moving story, 'Forged in Iron.' So we know he's learned both forms really well! The exact schedule for the next several meetings, which will be announced at the January meeting, includes a speaker from the Horror Writer's Association, the traditional Book Trends/ Topics review, a panel on Women in SF not featuring than Ann Cecil, and more!

You will also be asked to vote on what to do with the picnic this year; since Confluence is on Labor Day weekend, should we have the picnic the following weekend (the traditional PARSEC meeting date)?

And remember to bring dues with you to the meeting!

Last P.A.R.S.E.C. Meeting Review

Minutes by Ann Cecil

The last meeting was the annual Christmas party at Ann Cecil's house. The party was announced as starting at 3PM and by 3:05 the table was groaning under the weight of delicious cookies and cakes and salads and even real food. Matt Urick's sister took the honors again for the 'shortest time on the table' ; this year was a delicious veggie pizza. Diane Turnshek had both the prettiest and the most chocolate entry: she made a serious fudge shaped into decorative leaves. She also provided the spiciest entry, for the shrimp in 'clear your sinuses' sauce. In the real food department, there was chicken (two different offerings), a pasta and meatballs from Judy Friedl, both kielbasi and meatballs from JJ and Lisa Walton, and the notable chili from Mark Stewart. If you were very quick, you were lucky enough to get some of Mark's baked stuffed mushrooms.

There actually were less people present this year, with some of our favorite people having to pass on the party because of other commitments. Still, the members and friends present managed to consume almost all the food and drink ( we wound up with one extra Diet Pepsi, part of Greg's cheesecake, and some cookies). Somewhere between eating and drinking and talking, the official election results were announced by Greg Armstrong, who was collecting votes: Ann Cecil is the new president, Don Turner is Vice President, and Joan Fisher is Treasurer for 1998.

And that was all the business enacted!

Book Reviews

Absolute Magnitude
Edited by Warren Lapine and Stephen Pagel
Review by Christina Schulman

The new Tor hard cover Absolute Magnitude is a collection of stories from the first umpteen issues of the magazine of the same name and its predecessor, Harsh Mistress. It includes a story by Janet Kagan, so you should read it. What? You want another reason? OK, it has a Terry Bisson story too.

"Fermat's Best Theorem" by Janet Kagan isn't science fiction so much as it is math fiction. It's predictable but charming. Write, Janet, write!

"10:07:24" by Terry Bisson is short, clever, and reminiscent of "They're Made Out of Meat."

Those were my favorite stories; the others that I enjoyed are good solid adventure SF:

"The Prize" by Denise Lopes Heald is a rather grim but absorbing story about two wounded soldiers in enemy territory. Heald is also the author of the novel Mistwalker, which I enjoyed.

Linda Tiernan Kepner's story "Planting Walnuts" is reminiscent of Mistwalker: Misfits struggle through a hostile alien jungle on a survey mission. The characters and setting have quite a bit of depth, which leads me to wonder if Kepner's writing a novel in this setting. I'd buy it.

"The Minds Who Jumped" by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre is about a future where people cross the interstellar voids by swapping their minds into different (often artificial) bodies at their destinations. It's full of alliteration and jargon and other word games; I initially found this irritating, but by the time I finished it, it felt quite a lot like a Cordwainer Smith story in both style and subject.

"The Barefoot Mule" by Frank O. Dodge is a likable story about the search for a prospector who disappeared into thin air in Death Valley. I'd like to read more of Dodge's stuff.

"Working For Mister Chicago" by Allen Steele is a depressing but stylish story about a 20th century man working as a house slave in a rich man's personal asteroid a hundred years in the future.

Shariann Lewitt's "Mice" is about how New Yorkers have adapted to survive after diseases wipe out most of the Earth's population.

This collection is worth reading for those stories. There were also a few stories that weren't particularly bad, but weren't particularly original or memorable either; surprisingly, Barry Longyear's "The Dance of the Hunting Sun" falls into this category. There were also a handful of stories that I disliked because they were too dry, too dull, too amateurish, or just not worth the time it took to read them.

Absolute Magnitude is more uneven in quality than the various Best of the Year anthologies, but it's full of solid, mostly unpretentious stories that are unlikely to be collected elsewhere.

Tor Double #25: Fugue State / The Death of Doctor Island
by John M. Ford and Gene Wolfe
Review by Bill Johnston

Fugue State/ The Death of Doctor Island by John M. Ford/ Gene Wolfe is a pair of rather strange social stories.

Fugue State asks the question "what is memory?" through one fantasy and two sf stories. I feel it does not do a sufficient job of explaining itself. I have not read anything else by Ford, but despite the fact that Fugue State has problems, its parts contain well done worlds and I would like to see more of the same.

I read The Death of Doctor Island last year in a Nebula award collection, but it is a memorable story. Doctor Island is an intelligent sanitarium who feels that it is fine to heal some inmates at the expense of the death of others. This story is totally unrelated to The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories by Wolfe, contrary to what I expected. That was about the fantasy world of a neglected, pre-teenage boy. I have not read any novels by him, but I have liked his short stories, and he is anthologized enough that I don't want to look up all the stories I have read by him just so I can list them here.

by Charles de Lint
Review by Christina Schulman

Max Trader wakes up one morning to find himself in a stranger's bed. Even more upsetting, he's in a stranger's body. Its former inhabitant, Johnny Devlin, has moved into Max's body and Max's comfortable life, leaving Max with no money, no friends, no apartment, and no way to get his own identity back. The best thing you can say about a day like that is that it beats waking up as a giant cockroach.

Like most of de Lint's recent urban fantasies, Trader is set in his fictional Canadian city of Newford. Newford is the sort of city that Starbucks managers and street musicians dream of. Every other street corner has a coffeehouse or a blues club or an art gallery or a busker; you can't swing a cat without hitting an open mike. Most of the inhabitants seem to be artists of some stripe, either professional or aspiring, and always talented. The atmosphere is occasionally a bit too New Agey for my comfort, but de Lint beautifully portrays the charm of run-down old neighborhoods. In too many urban fantasies (and urban SF, for that matter), the city just functions as a backdrop, but de Lint uses different areas of Newford to set the tone of the story.

I don't like horror, so I was pleasantly surprised that Trader doesn't feature a villain who acts like he's trying out for a bit part in a Stephen King movie. In Johnny Devlin, de Lint has finally written a bad guy who's motivated by pure unsullied self-interest instead of acting as the local Embodiment Of Evil.

The only problem I have with Trader is that there's not much going on beneath the straightforward story. The central message is that we should live life to its fullest; this is very uplifting, I'm sure, but it's the sort of theme I expect in a Saturday morning cartoon.

But if Trader lacks the depth of Memory And Dream, it's still a very absorbing story, and not as dark in tone as most of de Lint's novels. The characters are very well-drawn and very believable even when they're doing impossible things. This is a good book to give to friends who don't read much fantasy. Especially if they hang out at Starbucks.

The Billion Dollar Boy
by Charles Sheffield
Review by Christina Schulman

The Billion Dollar Boy by Charles Sheffield is the second book in Tor's Jupiter line, which is dedicated to resurrecting the sort of adventure SF that lured so many kids into both science and science fiction. It takes place a few centuries after the events of the first Jupiter novel, Higher Education. I thought Higher Education was dreadful, but I tried The Billion Dollar Boy anyway, hoping it would be a decent imitation of a Heinlein juvenile. To my happy surprise, it's a fun lightweight read -- not because it's a Heinlein juvenile, but because it's a Kipling juvenile: Captains Courageous in outer space.

Anyone saddled with a name like Shelby Crawford Jerome Prescott Cheever has a right to be petulant. (Sheffield is hardly the first author to claim the Very Rich are "not like us," but why do they always indicate this by giving them names that should belong to pedigreed poodles?) Shelby is also vain, pompous, and spoiled, but he can afford to be; the interest alone on his trust fund amounts to more than a billion dollars a year.

While on a luxury cruise of the solar system, bored and dead drunk, Shelby decides that an unsupervised sightseeing jaunt via an interstellar transit node would be a good idea. Instead of being transported to the expected destination out past Pluto, he pops out in the middle of the Messina Dust Cloud, twenty-seven light-years from Earth. He is picked up by a passing mining ship, but the crew doesn't believe his ridiculous story about being fabulously wealthy, and Shelby is expected to -- horrors! -- work for his keep for a few months until the ship swings back to the solar system.

The plot of Captains Courageous has been lifted intact, with just a nip and tuck and a bit of embroidery to round out a few characters and make the ending more cheerful. Sheffield does a deft job of placing it in space. The Dust Cloud is full of wonder and beauty and danger, mysterious might-be-creatures and spectacular vistas. The miners have the sort of fiercely self-reliant but socially interdependent society that Heinlein was so fond of depicting. Sheffield also successfully emulates Heinlein in painlessly working quite a bit of basic physics and astronomy into the story.

To my vast relief, the ideological bludgeoning of the first book has been reduced to a muffled pounding here. Also unlike Higher Education, The Billion Dollar Boy has no sex and very little vulgar language or violence. I enjoyed it. It's rather predictable (even if you've never kippled), but it's a quick, fun read: a good book to give to younger readers. And while you're at it, give them the Kipling version, too.

K-9 Corps
by Kenneth von Gunden
Review by John Clarke

Genetically altered dogs with enhanced senses, size, intelligence, and speech form the future's K-9 Corps, and terraformer Ray Larkin is their leader. On Ray's first assignment he encounters an American Indian-like centauroid race which stands in the way of the military establishment's illegal plans to build a base on their planet.

Von Gunden focuses on the relationship between Ray, his dogs, and the other two members of Ray's group marriage, and how they all react to an "alien" culture during a crisis. The book is fast-paced light reading, and obviously kicks off a series of space adventures. A good read, and I found the inclusion of State College trivia amusing, though Bill Johnston did not.

Mage Heart
by Jane Routley
Review by Christina Schulman

I bet new authors hate being called promising. "Promising" means "I can't really recommend the book, so I'll praise the author instead." I'm afraid that Jane Routley is very promising; her first novel Mage Heart is the sort of story I generally adore, and it comes close to being a good read. Frustratingly, the story grinds to a halt in the middle and never really recovers.

Dion is an extraordinarily powerful young female mage in a land where women aren't supposed to be able to perform magic. The Duke of Gallia hires her to protect his favorite mistress, an elegant courtesan who wields a tremendous amount of social influence despite being named Kitten Avignon. Kitten is being stalked by her ex-lover Norval, a powerful necromancer who doesn't deal well with rejection. (Gallia is undergoing a Renaissance, but apparently no one has yet invented the restraining order.) Dion, who has had a very conservative upbringing in the dour neighboring country of Moria, is considerably more upset about associating with women of ill repute than she is about dealing with an evil necromancer, the vicious intrigues of the Duke's court, persecution by religious zealots, or a leering demon who keeps popping up in dreams and mirrors to proposition her.

The characterization is excellent; even the minor stock characters feel as if they have lives beyond their role in the novel. (The only exception is Norval. In his brief appearances, he's the sort of cardboard gloating sadist that is the fantasy genre's equivalent to the sneering Colombian drug lord in action movies. I half-expected Bruce Willis to burst through a wall, guns blazing, and perforate him with full-auto fire and bad one-liners.) Kitten in particular is refined but earthy, gracious and educated, with a tragic and mysterious past; she's rather like a refugee from a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, in search of a realm where the rulers' mistresses have a higher life expectancy. Dion's transformation from utter prude to slightly less of a prude is neither forced nor abrupt, and her observations about characters that enter her narrative generally reveal as much about Dion as they do about the subjects of her comments.

Unfortunately, the plotting and pacing are uneven. After a strong start, the plot bogs down in the romance subplot: Girl meets Boy; Girl spurns Boy; Girl swoons after Boy; lather, rinse, repeat. In general, I adore romantic fantasy, but I can only take so many chapters of repetitive virginal angst before I throw the book at a wall. Dion is gratingly passive, only reacting to situations as they arise. That's not out of character in an ingenue, but it's a bad sign when even the other characters are telling the protagonist to do something already.

I think that Jane Routley will write a book that I'll thoroughly enjoy, but Mage Heart wasn't it. I look forward to her next novel, but I'll wait for the paperback.

Brain Rose
by Nancy Kress
Review by Greg Armstrong

In the near future, technology is developed through which people can get in touch with past lives. The Gaeist religion proclaims that it is okay to pollute, because the ecosystem will compensate. The AIDS plague brought about strict anti-homosexuality laws.

Brain Rose is a tale of a group of people who undergo the surgery that will allow them to remember their past lives. Nancy Kress worked very hard to develop the characters, and the setting. I enjoyed watching the characters react and grow into their new lives, and into each others. But in the end, I was left unsatisfied. Perhaps because I simply needed a few things spelled out for me a bit more clearly. Why was Robbie Brekke sent to the clinic in the first place? Was he indeed the man Shahid thought he was? If the Gaeists were correct, why did Joe get his new job at the end.

While I enjoyed reading Brain Rose, I feel a bit lost reviewing it. Perhaps it was written for someone who thinks more clearly than myself.


Ann Cecil is our new President, Don Turner is our Vice President, and Joan Fisher remains our Treasurer. Congratulations to all.

Mary Soon Lee reports that she has sold her story "Interior Landscape" to Altair, the new Australian magazine, reprint rights to "The Hollow Dancer" (first published in Sword & Sorceress XIV), to Flesh and Blood. The Canadian publication Singularity accepted reprint rights to "One Small Step" (first published in Pirate Writings #14), but they only pay in copies, so it isn't a sale per se. Her story "Puppetta" appeared in Odyssey #1, November 97 a new British magazine.

The PARSEC web-page has moved to

If you were not listed in the recent PARSEC Directory and wanted to be, you need to get your personal information to Kira Heston, 829-1082.

Due to various things such as copyrights and disk space, Sigma artwork will not be reproduced in the on-line Sigma unless specifically requested BY THE ARTIST."

On the Mark will be performing in Pittsburgh on January 24. This will be their last concert (for the time being, anyway) with Marion, who is going to be moving to the west coast soon. This will also be their first performance with their newest member, Jana Asher. The concert is at, and a benefit for, Grace Episcopal Church on Mount Washington. (For those of you who know him, this is Father Klukas' church.) The suggested donation is $5. The concert starts at 7:30 and On The Mark expects to play for about 2 hours (with an intermission). Directions will be on their web site soon ( They expect to have copies of their new tape, "Among Friends", at the concert.

Upcoming Meetings

The January 10th meeting, which will be at the Allegheny Center branch of the Carnegie Library, will feature storytelling by Allan Irvine. Allan will entertain us, and also talk about the difference between verbal and written storytelling. The meeting is the usual time, 1pm to 4:30pm. Remember, because of the theater next door, we have to keep our noise level down.

Allegheny Center Library is "next door" to Allegheny Center Mall; if you follow the 6th Street Bridge and Federal Way from downtown, you can't miss the mall. There is pay parking in the garage at the mall, I don't know about on-street parking, but I believe it is free on Allegheny Square East. If you park in the garage, walk out through the mall going north (away from the garage) and the library is the building with the "castle tower." [Editor's note: Sorry I don't have better directions, folks, but I don't drive and with the holidays forgot to ask a driver. I heartily recommend the maps on page 19 and 22 of the Bell of PA yellow pages, especially page 22 for bus info. the Pittsburgh Public Theatre in Allegheny Center is next door to the library.]

February, March, April and May meetings are at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie, with topics to be announced.

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: 344-0456
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230


The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club

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.

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This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.