The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


March 2003, Issue 205

Chris' Comments

By Chris Ferrier

The March PARSEC meeting will feature Ann Cecil searching for Confluence topics.

So start thinking about any movements or trends in sf/f/h you might have spotted. They can be as simple as: "Why vampires are popular and werewolves aren't" or as genre-spanning as a trend toward crossover novels in literature. Come to the meeting and throw out some ideas. Idea tossing is fun.

Speaking of idea tossing, if any of the members has an opposing view about any of the topics I've written about in my editorials, feel free to write a rebuttal. A good debate is also fun. I shouldn't get my own way all of the time.

At this point, I have to confess that I usually miss trends in the book world until they're fading away. As a young reader, the New Wave went straight over my head. Cyberpunk finally sank in when it was in its eleventh hour.

I first started reading science fiction when I was fifteen. I'd been a fan of the original Star Trek and liked genre movies. The first science fiction book I read was Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night. I don't remember how I came to read it, but I knew I wanted more of the stuff. My favorite authors were Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Delany, conveniently in alphabetical order. I didn't know they belonged to different factions and would have considered it irrelevant if I had. I liked what they wrote. And I'd appreciate it if one of you could explain what The Einstein Intersection was actually about.

Currently, the literature is the usual mix. A few titles that come to mind:

Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt has generated a lot of talk. It will probably influence books with alternate history plots for some time. Jack McDevitt's Chindi is well written adventure and great fun. Probability Space by Nancy Kress is a fine conclusion her trilogy. In Bones of the Earth, Michael Swanwick ties time in knots and it has dinosaurs. Terry Prachett's Night Watch is another in a long list of very funny novels. Can Prachett write a bad book? I recommend Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang, The Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, and The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

I probably missed an even greater number of good books because of lack of time. So if any trends are lurking out there, they'll most likely take me by surprise.

Fortunately for us book lovers, books are surviving in the year 2003. In spite of corporate mergers and bottom lines, the war on terrorism, and plummeting retirement funds, they're still there. I hope this trend will continue for many year s to come.

Speaking of topics, if any of the members have ideas for PARSEC meeting topics, feel free to mention them to one of the officers.

WorldWright News

Chris Ferrier's poem "The Fortune Teller" has been nominated for the Rhysling Award.

Mary Soon Lee's story "The Immigrants" appeared in The Third Alternative #33.

Barton Paul Levenson sold the story "Writer's Block" to the premiere issue of Dark Seasons and it is already online there.

Ken Chiacchia sold the story "And Yet It Moves" to Paradox.

Former Worldwright Paul Melko recently rejoined for a few meetings while he was working in the Pittsburgh area. As a result of this, we are certain, he sold the story "Kirby Drogan and the Two Giants" to Spider Magazine.

Tim Esaias had the story "After School Activity" in issue #36 of Alien Worlds, and resold "Osmund Considers" to the Greek magazine Dramatourges Of The Yann, and resold "Fame" to France's Science-Fiction Magazine.

Last Meeting

Minutes by Sarah Wade Smith, Sec'y

The business portions of the meeting convened at the Squirrel Hill Public Library at appoximately 2:12 PM.

The first order of business was a report on the state of the ConFluence play by Ann Cecil. The proposed play is a musical adaptation of Issac Asimov's novel, The Caves of Steel done to the tunes of "The Music Man". For lack of any better inspiration, the current working title of the play is "Musical Caves".

Ann was pleased to report that in addition to the working title, the play now also has a working script which should be completed within the next month. What the play needs is some more cast members. While the leading roles of Lije Bailey, and his wife and son have been cast, the play still requires at least three more cast members who can sing competently, at least one who doesn't have to, and someone who can both sing and impersonate Mr. Data at the same time. Interested Parsecians are encouraged to apply to Ann.

The second report of the day concerned the perhaps forgotten, but not gone PARSEC library. The library, a rather extensive collection of science-fiction books owned by the club as a whole, has for some time now been stored in Bob and Sandy Melick's basement. The Squirrel Hill branch has never had storage space. The club has discussed renting space in U-Store facility, but the difficulty in finding one with temperature controls that is also cheap was felt to make this an unsatisfactory solution.

At present, Elizabeth Penrose is attempting to see if an accessible storage space can be rented at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, a move which might also offer us alternative meeting facilities.

Thirdly, there was the treasure's report from Greg Armstrong. Club income for the last month equaled $325 including $24 from Feb.'s raffle , dues and the value of a non-financial donation of stationary for the use of the Sigma newsletter.

For those of us who have already paid our dues, the club has begun distribution of this year's membership cards, designed by Kira Heston.

The members present also voted "by non-acclimation" to hold this year's August club picnic at the same site in Bellevue Memorial Park as last years.

Finally, this month's activity began in the form of a party game designed by Matt Urich: the Periodic Table of Authors. The basic plot of the game was to match each element with a science -fiction author until all elements were matched up. Matches were frequently made by initials (Harlan Ellison for He/ Helium, or H.G. Wells for Mercury, chemical symbol Hg), or meaning of the name (Herbert Gold for Gold, Elizabeth Moon for Selenium, etc.) and a few for more bizarre reasons; H.P. Lovecraft for example was given the element Lithium because "you need to take lithium after reading his stories". And a jolly good time was had by all.

Periodic Table of SF

by Matt Urick

The activity at the last PARSEC meeting was to create a periodic table of science fiction/fantasy/horror authors. This was to be done by coming up with an author whose name fit the chemical symbol of each element. Of course, this rule did not last long as people started to use their creativity in filling out some of the tougher elements. Each person attending was given four or more elements they were responsible for - that is, they got the final choice on author for those elements. That means everybody was responsible for the shame and honor of the final table. It is suspected that some of the elements below are highly radioactive and shouldn't stay in that form for long. That's a challenge for you to join in the fun.

Here is a listing of the final table. Except where noted all comments are what was written on the element by the owner in way of explanation. If you don't understand some of the unexplained choices, come to the next meeting and ask someone who was here last month to explain it. v
1 H Edmund Hamilton 2 He Harlan Ellison
3 Li H. P. Lovecraft 4 Be John Bellaires
5 B Barrington Bayley 6 C John Campbell
7 N Cordwainer Smith 8 O Rebecca Ore
9 F Philip Jose Farmer 10 Ne William Tenn
11 Na Marquis de Sade 12 Mg Mary Gentle
13 Al Alfred Bester 14 Si Frank Herbert
15 P Alexei Panshin 16 S E. E. "Doc" Smith
17 Cl C. S. Lewis 18 Ar Ayn Rand
19 K Nancy Kress 20 Ca Arthur C. Clarke
21 Sc Orson Scott Card 22 Ti Alice Sheldon
23 V Vernor Vinge 24 Cr William Gibson
25 Mn Mervyn Peake 26 Fe Alan Dean Foster
27 Co Michael Coney 28 Ni John Norman (Ni is nickel which is about what I'd pay for his complete works)
29 Cu Susan Cooper 30 Zn Roger Zelazny
31 Ga Manly Wade Wellman 32 Ge George Orwell
33 As Isaac Asimov 34 Se Elizabeth Moon
35 Br John Brunner 36 Kr Larry Niven
37 Rb Ray Bradbury 38 Sr Theodore Sturgeon
39 Y Jane Yolen 40 Zr George Zebrowski
41 Nb Robert Bloch (creator of Norman Bates) 42 Mo Michael Moorcock
43 Tc William Shatner 44 Ru Edgar Allan Poe (Murders of the Rue Morgue)
45 Rh Robert Heinlein 46 Pd Philip K. Dick
47 Ag Robert Silverberg 48 Cd Charles de Lint
49 In Dean Ing 50 Sn Michael Swanwick
51 Sb Fred Saberhagen 52 Te Terry Carr
53 I Ian Watson 54 Xe Zenna Henderson
55 Cs Charles Sheffield 56 Ba Barry Longyear
57 La Keith Laumer 58 Ce Clifford E. Simak
59 Pr Terry Pratchett 60 Nd Norman Spinrad
61 Pm Anne Rice (Vampires prefer the evening, P. M.) 62 Sm S. M. Stirling
63 Eu Harry Turtledove 64 Gd Gordon Dickson
65 Tb Terry Bisson 66 Dy Freeman Dyson
67 Ho Robert E. Howard 68 Er George Alec Effinger
69 Tm L. Frank Baum 70 Vb Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
71 Lu Richard Lupoff 72 Hf Howard Fast
73 Ta John Taine (Eric Bell) 74 W Jack Williamson
75 Re Robert Reed 76 Os Olaf Stapledon
77 Ir Anne McCaffrey 78 Pt Peter Beagles
79 Au Horace L. Gold 80 Hg H. G. Wells
81 Tl Tanith Lee 82 Pb Pierre boulle
83 Bi Michael Bishop 84 Po Wm. Shakespeare
85 At A. A. Atanasio 86 RN Robert Nansel (MFU - who if he had arrived to the meeting a bit earlier could have been in his own element.)
87 Fr Leo Frankowski 88 Ra Robert Lynn Asprin
89 Ac Nikola Tesla 90 Th Thorne Smith
91 Pa Piers Anthony 92 U Ursula Le Guin
93 Np Sarah Zettel who is such a nice person 94 Pu Poul Anderson
95 Am Neal Gaiman 96 Cm Ray Cummings
97 Bk Ian Banks 98 Cf Kim Stanley Robinson
99 Es Praised be the hamster(?) goddess Esther Friesner 100 Fm Joe Clifford Faust
101 Md Robert Louis Stevenson 102 No Andre Norton
103 Lr Lawrence Watt-Evans 104 Rf Robert Forward
105 Db David Brin 106 Sg Carl Sagan
107 Bh H. Beam Piper 108 Hs Hal Clement (Harry Stubbs)
109 Mt Mr. Twain (who did write S. F.)

There were a lot of funny comments made and I wish I could remember them all. An observation by John Schmid that John Campbell was in the place of carbon led to the statement that all sf life is Campbell-based!


Diane Turnshek sold three pieces of flash fiction to "Sheep," "Decoupage," and "21-Bubblegum Salute" will be available for reading online in the March 1st issue.

Dr. Philip Smith of U Pitt, and a PARSEC member, appeared in the current New York Review of Science Fiction. That makes two months in a row for PARSEC member contributions!


By Ann Cecil

What makes a good panel topic?

While it is true that there is some subjective measure here - what I like and what you like may not be exactly the same - there are general rules that anyone can follow. The rules are developed from a consideration of the goals for a panel.

These rules apply in about the same amount whether you are talking panels that last an hour, 90 minutes, or two hours. (Do not run over two hours: at two hours, it is time to give the audience a break!)

These rules assume a multi-person panel, but also can be applied to a single person presentation.

Goal number 1: a good panel attracts an audience.

Attracting an audience can come through a variety of attributes. Note that the examples given below are a mixture of actual panel topics used at conventions I have attended, and ones I think should have been used.

... The panel idea can lend itself to a clever, catchy title.

... The panel idea can feature a popular subject.

... The panel idea can lend itself to popular participants.

... The panel idea can be described easily in a short program blurb

The best panel ideas, of course, have more than one of these attributes.

Goal number 2: a good panel interests the audience. Another way of saying this is, the audience enjoys a good panel.

... A good panel idea can stir up debate among the panelists. If the panel dea is posed as a question, there must be two (or more) possible worthy answers. There is nothing duller than listening to a set of panelists all repeating "I agree." It is also perfectly ok for the debate to come from the audience as well, but you can't rely on that.

... A good panel idea can provoke anecdotes from the panelists. It can also provoke anecdotes from the audience, but you can't rely on this either.

... A good panel idea can bring out extrapolation from the panelists. After all, these people are in a profession that requires considering "What if ??" on a regular basis; it is not unreasonable to ask them to exercise this consideration. The trick is that the idea must either be about an area of general knowledge, or in one the panelists have written (and presumably thought) about.

... A good panel idea keeps everyone talking; there is no dead space, with the panelists and the audience staring glassy-eyed at each other.

Goal number 3: a good panel informs the audience; the audience learns something new (not necessarily earth-shaking, but something they didn't know before). In this context, it is often useful to have a Moderator for the panel, to prevent a really knowledgable panelist from lapsing into jargon. Impose limits like one major equation per panel, please.

... A good panel idea lets the panelists present new (or generally not known) information to the audience in small doses. The trick is not to overload the audience with information.

... A good panel allows the information to be illustrated in a memorable way. This can involve an anecdote, a joke, a pun, a catchphrase, or a picture. Picture is meant loosely here: today we may be using a computer projection, a slide, or a drawing as the picture.

What makes a panel topic bad?

This seems like an obvious list, and again is subjective.

1) The panel idea is too broad. In each of the examples below, a talented set of panelists can carve out a reasonable subset of ideas to talk about, but you should have done the work for them in advance. The panelists are there to talk entertainingly; the more work you make them do, the less they entertain.

You can fix these ideas: add limits, for instance (a particular galaxy, a particular religion in a type of fantasy, a time period or facet of Cyberculture).

2) The panel idea is too obscure. I have only a hazy idea of what content was in the latter two of these examples, and I consider myself a knowledgeable fan.

3) The panel idea is too stale (aka, "please, not again."). Those who regularly attend cons have listened to this panel over and over. Only the newbies will come, and they have often already read printed discussions on these topics. Only a few select panelists really enjoy rehashing these topics, and several of them are starting to get moldy around the edges.

OK, those are the ground rules. Now you know, and you are equipped to come up with even more and better topics: Pittsburgh rocks!

Don't forget to sent in your dues!


The Dragon Society
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Review by Ann Cecil

Arlian, who was orphaned as a boy by dragons, which are nasty and malevolent in his semi-feudal world, managed to survive not only the dragons but slavery in a mine. In 'Count of Monte Cristo' style, Arlian revenged himself on the human villain who ruined his childhood. Now he is ready to start his revenge against the dragons. He has some serious surprises coming, in unanticipated consequences of his actions, as well as in more details of the secrets behind dragon reproduction and the battle between dragons and Humankind. Arlian is forced to fight duels against the Humans he expected to see as allies, but finds allies he didn't expect. He is forced to count the cost of revenge, both for himself and his allies, and examine his own motives. The ending of this book is both satisfying and a terrific surprise.

While this book is a sequel, there is enough 'back story fill-in' that the reader can follow the plot, even if you missed Dragon Weather. Watt-Evans writes fantasies that are way better than the average (in my opinion). Rather than straight wish-fulfillment, or thinly disguised romances, this fantasy has plot and characters that behave like real people. Not only is the logic stronger than usual, the whole concept of 'dragonhearts' is well-developed, and a concept I've not seen before. Highly recommended.

by Robert Sawyer
Review by Ann Cecil

In my opinion, this is Sawyer's best yet. The concepts are familiar: dimensional travel (better dressed in new quantum clothing, but familiar from older sf), and the suggestion that the Neanderthals were brighter and more capable than we traditionally view them. These are cleverly twisted into a surprisingly entertaining, well-crafted mix, with solid characters and plotting. Of particular interest is the society Sawyer has developed for the Neanderthals; as always, trying to guess what would be different and what would be the same is a fascinating game, and Sawyer gives us a very satisfying and logically worked out extrapolation.

Two stories are intertwined. One is the reactions by scientists (and non-scientists) to the dramatic arrival of a Neanderthal named Ponder in our world, with the suspense provided by Ponder's increasing awareness of how poorly he fits here, and his poor chances of going home. There are sub-plots involving Ponder relationships with the Human scientists, particularly Mary Vaughan, a Canadian geneticist.

The second story is a kind of detective thriller on the Neanderthal world, where Ponder's partner is accused of his murder, and is in serious danger of conviction, in spite of the absence of a body. The conclusion manages to bring both stories to a happy ending, though there is a suggestion of 'more to come.' Sawyer has already published a sequel called Humans, which I am looking forward to.

Highly recommended.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Mar. 8, 2003 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: Confluence 2003 panel topic development

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

April 2003
Date : 12 April 2003
Discussion Topic : Timons Esias moderates a panel on SF & F poetry (tentative)
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

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: Chris Ferrier

Vice President: Steven Turnshek

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Sarah-Wade Smith

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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