The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


March 1997, Issue 134

The Kontinuing Adventures of Kira

Well, I guess everyone's wondering how we all managed to survive childhood without "Baby Barely Alive", huh? I feel deprived! For those of you who weren't at the meeting, you'll have to start reading Joe Clifford Faust's books to find out what I'm talking about. (Hint: try the novel Ferman's Devils.) He read us an excerpt from the manuscript of his upcoming novel, the sequel to Ferman's Devils, at the meeting. There was much hilarity! In fact, there was so much hilarity that even though I taped the meeting (a new strategy), I can hardly hear Joe over the laughter when I play it back. He turned down another conference in order to come to ConFluence this year; hope y'all get to see him there. He should be fun on panels!

As I briefly mentioned already, I have started taping meetings. This is not a foolproof thing, especially considering that I'm the one attempting to transcribe the tape; I can't tell who is speaking from voices alone when questions are asked or announcements made. I'll have to figure out something. Anyway, someday there may be transcripts of the meeting available for those who don't make it. Possibly. The chance goes up if I can find a.) somebody who is willing to run the monthly con listings, or b.) somebody who actually has dictation transcription skills. Anyone?

As mentioned last month, March's meeting is at the Monroeville library. I still have the directions on my answering machine, and there should be directions in this issue of Sigma. Our own Ann Cecil will be presenting "The Year in Science Fiction", from which we will generate panel topics for ConFluence. So come if you're interested in the current trends in science fiction; come if you want a "sneak preview" of possible panel topics; come if you have good snacks to share with the rest of us; just come!

Book Reviews

The Grid by Philip Kerr

Warner Books, Feb 1997, $6.99, 444 pp.

ISBN: 0-446-60340-6

Review by Paul Melko

The Yu Corporation has commissioned a smart building to be built in Los Angeles, a state-of-the-art skyscraper that manages, maintains, and adapts itself, all by computer control. Only things have gone horribly wrong. Just before the final acceptance of the building by Yu from the architecture firm, Richardson Associates, dead bodies begin appearing in the building. Is it the dismissed senior partner of the archtecture firm, the guard with a criminal record, the chinese nationals picketing the building due to the Yu Corporations's human rights record? The first half of the story builds to the action-packed second half, where a dozen people are trapped in the computerized building, only now the computer is not quite as user-friendly as everyone thought.

Marketed as a techno-thriller, this could also be classified as SF, bad SF at that. Kerr can't seem to create a sympathetic character. Even the main protagonist, project manager Mitch Bryan, is shown as an unsympathetic philanderer, who leaves his mentally ill wife at home while he boffs the Feng Shui consultant. Likewise, Kerr's prose can be clunky, sometimes nearing unreadable. Nonetheless, the action scenes are well-done.

What makes this SF is the extrapolations that Kerr makes in his very near future world (Summer of 1997!). Cadillac has come out with an armed car called the Protector that has two engines, so you never have to stop if one breaks down, and machine guns. Computer programs, such as the one running the building, can program their own subsequent versions, and the old and new versions behave as father and son. Automatic and error-free drug testing occurs every time the toilet is flushed. Dole is named as the current president. And many more smaller speculative ideas that sometimes work and sometimes fall flat.

His knowledge of computer science is obviously flawed and this reflects upon the driving force behind the book: sentient computers. While Kerr postulates many far reaching ideas occuring in his book this year, it will be well into the next century before these things are even possible in a laboratory, let alone a people-populated skyscraper.

In the end, the novel comes across as an anti-technologist action adventure, one where the set-up has to be accepted by the reader to get to the deaths and adventure. This theme may not be appreciated by a true SF reader, and so I suggest you steer clear of The Grid. If you do read it, you may stop taking the elevator, but more likely, you'll stop reading books by Philip Kerr.

Science Fictionisms Compiled by William Rotsler

Peregrine Smith Books

Review by James Walton

The blurb on the cover of Science Fictionisms says "Quotes from great science fiction writers" as opposed to "Great quotes from great science fiction writers." There is definitely nothing great about this book.

Mr. Rotsler lists the quotes under such headings as Witticisms, Futurisms, Lifeisms, and Physicsisms. The order underneath the headings seems to be quite arbitrary though, with the quotes arranged to look good on the pages.

He fails to cite the source and context of these quotes, that is, which book/character or which speech. This is important because many authors have their characters say and do things which are totally at odds with the author's point of view. (In fact Rotsler quotes Larry Niven on this very subject: "We in the writing profession have this technical term for people who attribute the opinions of the characters to the author himself; we call them idiots.")

Many of the quotes in Rotsler's book are useless without a context and some are downright sinister. ("Anybody who'd kill my wife for what I could afford is too stupid to avoid arrest." Alexis A. Gilliland.)

This volume is more of a curiosity than a learned text. I suspect Mr. Rotsler recorded most of these quotes while sitting in bars with the authors. He may have been better served concentrating on his drinking.

You can safely give this one a pass.

Sisters of the Night Edited by Barbara Hambly and Martin H. Greenberg

Warner Books, Inc

Review by James Walton

Do stories about vampires fall under the heading "dark fantasy" or are they considered "horror?" While you are thinking about it, define the two genre and send me the definitions.

Sisters of the Night is an anthology of original stories about female vampires and the people they prey upon. I wish I could say it is a must have collection, but I can't. Very little new territory is covered here. Most of the authors stick to the standard European vampire myth, completely ignoring the wealth of tales from Africa and Asia. Only the stories "La Dame" by Tanith Lee and "Food Chain" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman offer something a bit different. (The only reason "La Dame" worked was I can totally understand why someone would not believe what was killing him.)

All the stories here are well crafted by highly respected authors but none of the stories did anything for me. If you are one of those who are hopelessly enamoured with the Vampire mystique you may enjoy Sisters of the Night. The rest of us will await another anthology with a bit more bite.

Hector Servadac by Jules Verne

Review by Greg Armstrong

Who among us has not heard of Jules Verne's classics, Around the World in 80 Days and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The other day I went into my collection of OLD SF and found one I had not read before, nor even heard of: Hector Servadac. This is the tale of a French Army captain catching, quite accidentally, a ride through the solar system. I thouroghly enjoyed the book, but for possibly different reason's than you might. I enjoy noticing how much science has changed in the hundred years since this book was written; for instance, "the volcano, like those on the moon, was fed by an internal supply of oxygen of her own." I also enjoyed the characters, though this book would not have been published in the politcally-correct 1990s. The money-grubbing Jew and the laxidazical, fun-loving Spaniards would have seen to that. And, of course, the English "will always be English." Altogether a fun romp through the sky, according to the rules of 19th century science.

Convention Review

by James Walton

ConFusion-17, January 24-26, 1997, The Van Dyke Park Suites Hotel, Warren Michigan, The Ann Arbor Science Fiction Association and The Stilyagi Air Corps, P. O. Box 8284, Ann Arbor MI, 48107-8284

{Quick review: an interesting selection of panelists and topics but not enough of them. ConFusion's ConCom is trying to cater to all facets of fandom but is instead succeeding in fragmenting their con.}

Don't let the con title mislead you, this was the 23rd in the line of conventions known as ConFusion. This crew finds it amusing to give their convention various names and numbers over the years as strikes their fancy. ConFusion-17 is named for a similarly entitled novel by Guest of Honor Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17. (I too find the idea of changing the con name amusing, but I will never tell them.)

I arrived late on Friday evening, a little after 10 pm, due to snow on the highway and my leaving home 2 and 1/2 hours later than I originally planned. I have it on good authority that at least one dragon wandered through the hotel lobby.

After several false turns, I found the Con Suite. There were several signs pointing to the best stairway to use, but the ConCom neglected to write the room number on the signs. I followed the noise and wound up at an unidentified room party. (Everyone was in Stealth Mode.) No one in the Con Suite knew how to make the beer keg deliver anything except froth, but patience was rewarded with some tasty brew (Bell's Amber) once the foam had settled.

ConFusion, like most Michigan cons, is very laid back compared to ConFluence. None of the serious (stuff I am interested in) panels got started until 12 Noon so I spent Saturday morning drinking coffee in the Con suite, reading, wandering around the dealer's room, and generally feeling out of place. (The last isn't ConFusion's fault.)

The 12 Noon panel, featuring GOH Samuel R. Delany, was entitled "Crossing the Stream." It concerned authors leaving the "golden ghetto" and writing non Science Fiction work. Delany had several interesting comments about using pseudonyms and markets/reading audiences in general. Kathy Koja, Lloyd Biggle and Carroll Brown were also interesting.

At One PM the panel was called "Sexuality and Science Fiction" and it was very well attended. (I am not sure why.) I don't think this panel turned out as the programming committee envisioned it. Acrimonious is one word I would use to describe the discussion between Samuel Delany, Joey Shoji, L. Warren Douglas, Anne Harris, Sarah Zettel, and Leo Frankowski. This is one of the few panels on Sexuality I have attended where the panelists were not embarrassed.

The title "Beer Panel" got my attention at 2 PM. Some very knowledgeable gentlemen discussed the differences between beer in Canada and the United States. They also touched on the history of brewing in the US. Was it really impossible to get good beer at a US con before 1982?

An interview with GOH Samuel R. Delany was the 3 O'Clock panel. He is a very interesting gentleman who has seen and done a lot in his life. I suspect his non-Science Fiction work is greatly under rated.

I didn't make it to the 4 O'Clock panel. I had planned to attend the Dorsai Bivouac, but instead wound up in the Con Suite sipping beer and talking to Billy Chambers' mom and dad.

At the 5 O'Clock autograph session, I finally met Samuel R. Delany and secured his autograph on several books. Did you know Chip Delany is left handed? (Tim Powers, the GOH at ConFusion 1996 is also left handed. Some sort of conspiracy?)

I was also able to inform Sarah Zettel of my low regard for the editing of her book "Reclamation." She looked appropriately contrite and said that I wasn't the first to mention the poor editing.

From 6 to 8 there was no serious programming. The video room, children's programming and game playing continued, but I couldn't get interested. I drifted across the street to White Castle (not to be confused with White Tower) and purchased my first and probably last Sliders. These miniature burgers were cheap but tasteless.

The Guest of Honor speeches at 8 PM were sparsely attended. I suspect the lateness of the speeches and the long gap for dinner worked against the programming committee. Perhaps everyone was busy getting ready for the masquerade and dance at 9 PM.

On Sunday the weightier programming again did not start until 1 PM. I consider this to be a mistake on ConFusion's part. Many people, including some of the scheduled panelists, left for home in the morning. That, coupled with the hotel staff changing everything to accommodate a Super Bowl party, made programming seemed awkward and hurried. The panel "Comfort Food for the Mind" had 3 of the 5 panelist and six members in the audience.

Summing it up, for a 1000+ member convention, ConFusion seemed to be very lightly attended. There was very little intermingling of the various groups, so very little exchange of ideas, etc. I had a nice time, but I still feel that a great deal was missing from ConFusion-17.

Con Listing Notes

The cons listed here, with the exception of national/international-level fests and selected others, are the upcoming cons moderately accessible to PARSEC, meaning that they are within the maximum driving-distance limit of roughly 575 miles established by members who drive to Arisia and Boskone on occasion. Mileage is to the nearest 25 mi. unless it's under 25 miles. Only those guests specifically identified as Guest of Honor or Author Guest of Honor are listed as GOHs here, not Artist GOHs, Filk GOHs, Fan GOHs, Special Guests, Toastmasters, or High Poobah Lifetime Legacy Guests of Distinction. Registration fees are full-weekend at-the-door. Hotel costs are quad rates per night, tax not included. Call Kira at 829-1082 for more info.

Con Listing

DatesNamePlaceRoad MilesGuest Of HonorRegistration feeHotel cost per nightPARSEC Members GoingSpace in Ann's Van
Mar. 21-23InterCon XIIColumbia, MD225LARP gencon$35???
Mar. 21-23MilleniCon -4Cincinnati, OH300Diann Thornley$30$64??
Mar. 28-30Balticon 31Baltimore, MD250Glen Cook$45$99 ??
May 23-36Costume Con 15Baltimore, MD250costumecon$>60$95??
May 23-26Disclave 1997New Carrollton, MD250Patricia Anthony$40$76Amy, Ann, Lara, Nancy, ??
Jun. 6-8Duckon 6Oakbrook, IL475furrycon: Frank Hayes$40 $75??
Jun. 13-15The Second ConCertoPhiladelphia area300filkcon: Urban Tapestry$40???
Jun. 13-15Ad Astra 17Toronto, ON325Stephen Brust$35?Randy, ?3
Jun. 26-29Dragon*Con '97Atlanta, GA675many guests$60$112 + $10/ person??
Aug. 5-9, 1998Bucconeer (WorldCon 56)Baltimore, MD250many guests$110 (thru 9/30/97)?many of us WANT to!?

Upcoming Meetings:

March 8th meeting is 1 pm at the Monroeville Library, Ann Cecil will be hosting a discussion on Trends in SF, where we will also generate panel topics for ConFluence '97. The Monroeville Library is just down the hill from the Palace Inn (where we held ConFluence before 1994), on Route 48, just south of the Turnpike.


The next Con Com meeting is Wednesday March 12th. We are going over the budget again, as Bob promises the "earth, moon and stars" if we can just give him a little more per head. Let's see were we can tighten those belts, folks!

The April 12th meeting is in the Squirrel Hill Library, the topic is yet to be determined.

The May 10th meeting is also in Squirrel Hill, and also yet to be determined.

At the June 14th meeting, PARSEC members are invited to the Squirrel Hill Library to judge the entries in the ConFluence '97 short story contest. If you entered the contest or have already seen some entries, you can come and read the rest, but you cannot judge.

On July 12th, the Con-com will be ready to talk about guests, programming, and events at the con. Come and volunteer to help, or don't come and be drafted!

Our convention will be August 8th through 10th at the Marriott City Center downtown. Come and enjoy the BEST con in Pittsburgh!

September 13th will be the annual PARSEC picnic, just a bit delayed by the convention.

ConFluence Update:

Peter Grubbs has agreed to be the featured filker.

Things to Watch For:

Mary Soon Lee's "Mail-A-Day", published in Pirate Writings #9 in February 96, has recently won 3rd prize in the Best of Soft SF Contest 1996.

In addition, her short story "Ebb Tide" is currently on the preliminary Nebula ballot (the word "preliminary" is important here. Only the stories at the next stage get designated as Nebula nominees).

To find more of Mary's recent work, her story "Silent in the Cities" is on sale now in Aboriginal Science Fiction #51-52, and her story "Universal Grammar" will be in the April 97 issue of F&SF. The April issue should in fact be on sale in March Fool's War by Sarah Zettel (Aspect) is due out this month. $5.99 US

The Editor Speaks!

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Sigma goes on-line!" That's right, friend! Step right up here and have a taste of the World Wide Web! (No, son, you're supposed to read it, not eat it!) Yes, you too can read this fine newsletter on the World Wide Web if you are one of those lucky few who have access. Just point your browser to to view this months newsletter, or an older one, or see some reviews from when I was editor of Of Cosmic Importance, the newsletter of the Penn State Science Fiction Society.

Submissions are always welcome, and you can get them to me several ways: hand them to me at the meetings, e-mail them to me at, or mail them to PARSEC, P. O. box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA 15230-3681.

Other PARSEC contact points are the e-mail address , and the telephone number, (412) 344-0456.


The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club

President: Kira Heston

Vice President: Wendy Kosak

Treasurer: Joan Fisher

Editor: G. D. Armstrong

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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