The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


July 2000, Issue 174

Ann's Agenda

By Ann Cecil

One of the saving graces of Pittsburgh, for me, is that summer heat only comes in fits and starts, a day or two at most. I do not react well to prolonged heat.

I know because I lived in New Jersey for a while, in that part of the state that is reclaimed swamp. The temperature can reach 105 degrees Farenheit and stay there for three or four (or once a record breaking five) weeks. It doesn't cool down at night, either. And all the air conditioners cause an electricity overload, so then nobody has TV, or lights to read by, let alone air conditioning. Reading by candlelight has the drawback that candle flames are WARM.

Nestled in the PARSEC topic list you'll find a low key item entitled 'Planetary Habitability Workshop.' When this topic was brought up, I asked about the intent, and was told it was intended to look at astronomical data, planet size, orbit, etc. and all those factors that determine whether the planet could support life.

OK, supporting life is a good thing. Supporting life somewhere on the planet would be a required feature if you are writing a story set there, and wanted to have natives interacting with your Terran protagonists (heroes, villans, whatever).

But supporting life is not the same as being habitable. I did look in the dictionary, which has one of those circular definition chains: habitablity is 'the state of being habitable'; habitable is 'capable of being inhabited'; inhabited is 'having inhabitants'; inhabitant is 'a permenant resident in a place'; resident is 'residing, being in residence, present, inherent, or not migratory.' Residence has a longer definition which actually says something, but I'm not sure what. The part that got me was 'the place where one actually lives as distinguished from his domicile or a place of temporary sojurn.'

I was NOT going to chase down 'place,' but I'm sure a red dwarf planet, say, would qualify as a place. Nowhere in all the inhabitants and residences does it say we are talking about people. So Planetary Habitability could mean it's a nice place for a fish, or an iguana lizard. It doesn't mean a Human Being would find it any comfier than New Jersey in the summer, say.

I recognize that those who write about places, whether they be locales on our own Earth, or parts of planet Mongo, are responsible for making sure 1) that the basics of astronomy, physics, planetary science, etc. are not being grossly violated, and 2) writing in such way as not to imply one tiny section of the scenery is taken as the whole (the infamous 'it was raining on the planet Mongo' error).

Still, we need to create vivid scenarios within those rules. Certainly you can't have characters who engage in geographically correct dialogue like "This planet's spaceport is a stinking swamp. Of course, the other 82% of the planet is very different."

Humans generalize: "Ohio is all a flat, boring collection of broken down farms" represents the view of those who have never ventured off the turnpike (it gets worse, actually, in some spots). So have your characters generalize, but make it clear it's the characters talking. Save the geographical correctness for the few bits of description you work in here and there.

In truth, I'd rather read about a rainy Mongo than a sterile backdrop with no flavor. Give your planetary locale a vivid and memorable atmosphere, something as steamy as New Jersey at its worst, or as dust-laden as Pittsburgh in its past. It's a lot easier to hook people in the story when the characters don't have to do all the work.

Hooking people into the story by incorporating a vivid setting is something you'd think the movies would do as a habit. Certainly John Ford, for example, had it down to a reflex.

But think about the Sci-Fi movies you've seen; how many have been filmed against something resembling a dark corner of the Moon? Now if you are making your movie on the Real Thing, you don't have any choice about that monotonic look. But so far, we've all been limited to movies made here on good old Earth. So why do we always get these cheesy backgrounds?

For that matter, how come most spaceships are so arid? Nobody sticks up pictures on the walls, to bring some color to the scene? Even Star Trek, which was pretty good on color (before them everybody wore those two-tone gray flannels), kept the set decoration down to a very bare minimum.

These intriguing questions and others will be explained by our resident media master, Randy Hoffman, who will be our speaker (complete with clips) at our next meeting. This one's at Squirrel Hill again; see you all there!

Sad News

Joe Mayhew
August 1942 - June 2000

Joe Mayhew, long-time science fiction fan and for many the heart at the center of the Washington Science Fiction Association, passed away at 9 a.m. on June 10th, 2000. Joe was an active science fiction fan all of his life. He won the 1997 Hugo award for cartooning and was also nominated for 1990, 1996, and 1999. His cartoons have appeared in Asimov's, Analog, Pirate Writings, and numerous fanzines. As the Library of Congress' Recommending Officer for Science Fiction, Joe developed the official government definition of what was science fiction. In his last years, Joe became a professional science fiction author with stories appearing in Tomorrow, Aberrations and Aboriginal SF. He also reviewed science fiction books for the Washington Post, Absolute Magnitude, and TV's Fast Forward.

Joe chaired the 1987 Disclave and the cancelled 1998 Disclave. He served as WSFA Secretary and editor of the WSFA Journal several times, most recently 1995-1996. He was the club's unofficial greeter of new people and storehouse of information about the club's history, its constitution, parliamentary procedure, and indeed everything else.

The last con he attended was Balticon, in April.

After being hospitalized for one month, Joe died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the hospital's best guess), a relative of Mad Cow Disease that is considered extremely rare in the U.S. He is survived by a brother, a sister, and multiple cartoons and carvings. His funeral was expected to take place on June 17th or 18th.

Joe was a program participant at the last four Confluences. Many of us had the opportunity to exhange opinions in chats with him in the Con Suite and other parts of the con.

Joe will be missed by PARSEC and all fandom.


Correction: The NESFA publication referred to in last month's column will contain all of Phil Klass' short SF, not all his short fiction.

What's On Second

by Ann Cecil
[Comments on Eric Davin's article, "Who's on First" in the June Sigma]

Using the form of a 'debate' with someone who is not there to defend himself is an old literary tradition, if a bit hostile. Still, the real point is not whether Phil Klass made a debatable claim, but whether his claim that 'Judith Merrill was the first woman to write SF under her own name' can be upheld.

As refutation, Davin initially cites Mary Shelley. And I quote:"The fact of science fiction as a separate and distinct literary genre was also the work of Gernsback when he brought it into existence with the publication of Amazing Stories (April 1926), the world's first all science fiction magazine." This is a quote from Pioneers of Wonder, p 14, written by Eric Leif Davin. Clearly Klass was using that same criterion in his claim.

Davin's arguments refuting that claim are three: 1) 'at least 51 female authors published in the pulps between 1926-1948'; 2) authors like Leigh Brackett, E. Mayne Hull, and C.L.Moore, whose names are recognisable to SF fans, were well-known as women, even though they had androgynous names or used initials; 3) at least five did publish under clearly female names: Claire Winger Harris, Amelia Reynolds Long, Jane Rice, Margaret St. Clair, and Helen Weinbaum.

While the statistic cited may be correct, there is no context. How many male authors published in the pulps during the same time?. As a statistician, I am always leery of numbers quoted with no background context (5 doctors recommended this product! out of what? out of 10? out of 50? out of 500? and what did the others say?) So with no way to establish a context for that number of 51 (was it 50% of the authors publishing or 5%?), I am forced to treat it as an interesting number that doesn't prove much.

As to the well-known women - Davin says "who knew they were women? The answer is - Everybody!" I certainly had no clue that any of the ones he cites were women. I was delighted when I finally found out, by reading a fanzine column, that C.L.Moore was female, even if 'Shambleau' would never give that away.

In the 70's, an English teacher noted one of the big differences between SF books and mainstream as the book jackets: mainstream books all had the author's photo on the back cover. In a random check of SF books, none had a photo of the author, and most had no details about the author other than previously published sf. While that's changed today, the fact is that early SF did NOT publish much of anything about the author, male or female. It still is a guessing game about what sex some of the androgynous-named authors are. But Judith Merrill was always clearly and unequivocably female.

Of the four women cited who published under clearly female names, only one rings any kind of bell, and that's Margaret St. Clair. I discovered one of her novels (The Dancers of Noyo), but never succeeded in finding anything else she published. I never read Unknown (didn't learn to read until after it had ceased publication).

I depended upon anthologies for my view of early SF. The major anthologies (e.g., Groff Conklin's, Martin Greenberg's) that I have from those years, do NOT include any of the women named. The first story I ever saw in an SF anthology with a woman's name, and clearly a woman's concerns and focus, was Judith Merrill's 'That Only a Mother.'

Technically Eric Davin may be right, but for most of us reading the stuff, what Phil Klass said is true: Judy Merrill was the one who showed us all that a woman could do it just as well as the guys.

Cinemania in the Hall

Movie Reviews by Bill Hall


Dinosaur is a must-see movie if only for its evocative vistas, which allow you to imagine that you are a time traveler seeing how Earth was for at least twenty times longer than any of us primates have been around. Problems arise when you add motion and voices, yet it still emerges as a surprisingly rousing moral tale. The good iguanodon Aladar (conspicuously taught morals by cool-looking lemurs as anachronistic stand-ins for the good old spirit of Humanity) saves a dinosaur herd in the aftermath of a meteor crash (though not That Meteor Crash of 65 Million Years Ago, which I think the ads unfairly left open to suggestion), helps fend off a couple of T. Rex, and finds love (you always gotta find love.) A remarkably painless family outing. (I can see the blurb now: "Remarkably painless!" - Bill Hall, SIGMA.)


The concept behind this reminds me of a scene from the "mundane" Children of a Lesser God, when William Hurt visually interprets music for Marlee Matlin, who is deaf. He shuts his eyes, tries to look enraptured, wags his head swishily, and raises an index finger from up out of his other hand's fist. It is somehow nobly pathetic, though still light-years ahead of the "interpretive dancing" of that old TV show SOLID GOLD. So far as the Hurt-Matlin test goes, the flamingoes and the yoyo to the tune of "Carnival of the Animals" may work best, by being so exacting and obvious. Others are unpersuasive but still kind of neat. We start off with flying whales (this one somehow reminds me of the Ted Chiang short story "Tower of Babylon"), see Noah's Ark through the eyes of Donald Duck, and end with the spirit of Nature recovering from a volcanic blast. Nothing quite rises to the enduring stature of Chernovog at Bald Mountain, or even the hippoes in tutus, and tales such as that of the steadfast one-legged tin soldier feel more functional than inspired. (Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice gets thrown in as a surefire favorite.) Still, I consider it important to remind kids that there was indeed an age when orchestral music had a personality, and was not simply overdramatic background noise for movies and TV shows, or a slave to the percussion-driven catchiness of pop. At a little over seventy minutes, it was just barely short enough to avoid a revolt from kids in the audience. As for the adult, it could easily have been longer.


True, you've seen it all before - in Wrath of Khan (the convenient sight obstruction in outer space for the final submarine-style battle, and the convenient mass to be used by a Genesis Effect), or Waterworld (a world gone, with scattered remnants of Humanity, and a kind of tattooed map to guide them to a new hope) - but never all at once, and this nicely. Made twenty years ago, this would have been a truly big deal; even so, it is already one of the top SF films of 2000. There are some nits - lots of teen-angst plot conventions, hard-rockin' time-outs for the hell of it, an unbelievable "Is the good guy a bad guy?" twist, and the not-so-authoritative voice of Drew Barrymore for the tough heroine - but they're negligible. Go see Titan A.E. and you will recall a time when Stars Wars movies were not some ritual obligation, but actual fun.

Now, from your Cinemaniac, a word about the July meeting. The topic is "Why are SF movies so bad?" This does not bode well at all, for two simple reasons:

Good SF seeks answers.

Mediocre SF seeks excuses.

As goes SF, so go we. We honor and respect the search for answers, yet most of the time we just want to be entertained, we want some handy excuse. I think I have understood this myself for at least the past ten years, yet to date, I'm not sure I have found one other person who does.

What inevitably happens is this:

A far more honest question would be "Why are SF movies so lousy at entertaining?" For, let's face it, SF is also littered with noble experiments that are tough to sit through. Consider THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, FAHRENHEIT 451, 1984 (1984), HARRISON BERGERON, even ENEMY MINE, and just about any attempt at BRAVE NEW WORLD, to say nothing of SOLARIS. Fine ambitions, but unfortunately not much more.

It is too, too easy to think of some merely mediocre movie and groan that it was surely the Antichrist of all cinema. You want bad cinema? You want grist for the mill? Strangely enough, the worst can be as hard to remember as the best. I offer: ANGRY RED PLANET, CHAIN REACTION, DAMNATION ALLEY, DAY OF THE DEAD, DUNE, EVENT HORIZON, THE GIANT KLAW, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, JUDGE DREDD, MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, MILLENNIUM, THE POSTMAN, RED PLANET MARS, SPECIES II, STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER, THE WILD WILD WEST, and ZARDOZ. Some obvious answers are not so surprising:


by Clive Barker
Review by Sasha Riley

Everville is to say the least, a strange book. The writing is good and very mysterious but gives you the information that you need for the scene. The book starts off in a wagon train going to Oregon. A young girl named Mauve O'Connel, and her father dream of building a city called Everville. The father is killed along the way because he is believed to be a devil worshipper. The daughter gets away, and finds herself lost in the woods. She comes upon a large tent and a "wedding".

Then the scene moves to present day Everville and stays there for at least the next 3 chapters if not more. Within the time you spend "In" Everville you get to know the town, and all the important people. Though they do not seem important at the time, they shall become so later on. Word of advice. READ CAREFULLY. In this book everything is important. If it weren't, it wouldn't have been mentioned at all. Then end of the book is weird. While it ties up all the big ends of the book, it leaves many things undone, and unsaid. All the characters are pulled together in the end, by one big joint chaos. In which they learn they all had a part in making.

I really enjoyed the book once it left the wagon train and started to get really weird. The way things were pulled together, and the fact that the ending was not neat and completely clean cut, makes it a really good book.


Knives, half-cooked meat, and things that go BANG.

It's either a cookout or a Klingon party, but on the Fourth of July, it'll be both. PARSEC's very own Kevin Geiselman in his guise as Captain of The IKV Dark Justice, local chapter of the Klingon Assault Group, invites any and all to join the Klingons on the lawn of Carnegie Science Center for an afternoon picnic.

And, once the sun goes down, the famous Zambelli fireworks the way they were meant to be viewed. . . from directly underneath! Beings of all sentient races are invited to attend, but the Science Center requests that pets please be left at home.

Topics List

Confluence programing topics developed by PARSEC members and friends in open meeting June 10, 2000

Note that several of these topics threatened to turn into general discussions on the spot.

The group also concluded that currently there are no prominent trends in the genre; it's almost as if everyone's waiting for the new century / millennium to actually turn.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: July 8, 2000 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Why are SF movies so bad? Examples by Randy Hoffman

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

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

News Flash

Mary Soon Lee's story "Lifework" appeared, quite deservedly, in YEAR'S BEST SF #5, edited by David Hartwell. She also sold electronic reprint rights for 17 (!!) of her stories to Fictionwise and they are already available online.

Tim Esaias' story "The Children's War" appeared in the YA hardback collection SHERWOOD, edited by Jane Yolen. The Italian anthology NOVA SF* #41 reprinted his story "Norbert e il sistema".

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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