The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


May 2001, Issue 184

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

Every time I started on this month's column, I would get a couple of paragraphs into it and realize I didn't have anywhere else to go with it. Now, I recognize, in looking back over my last few pieces, it isn't as though I started somewhere with a road map and had any kind of clear cut goal in mind, anyway. But for some reason, this month it was just a little harder. I don't want to sound like I'm lecturing and I don't want to sound too disjointed, but if I tend to wander a bit, bear with me, eventually I'll get done. That's what I keep telling myself, anyway.

I went at this a little differently, as well. When I found myself floundering for ideas, I tried to write down random thoughts to see what might be stimulated. Mostly what I got was more random thoughts. One of the most random was: if exceptions are the rule and I'm not exceptional, does that make me a rule breaker? But I digress.

One of the things that ran through my mind when I started trying to put this mischegoss together is something that has probably been forgotten by the person who said it. When Diane Turnshek sold "Dancing In the Light" to Analog, she was excited. When she learned there was to be an accompanying illustration, she was ecstatic, and not without a little trepidation.

I can remember, at a writer's group meeting, her comment about how she hoped whoever supplied the artwork would be able to do justice to the pictures she had in mind when she wrote the piece.

When she received the illustration (prior to publication, I believe), she crowed, "This is it! This is exactly the way it looked to me when I wrote it! ...Except for one thing... it was all facing in the other direction."

I just think it's interesting how people can read a story and get different images from it. Part of the challenge to a writer is to provide enough imagery to a reader that he or she is taken beyond their willing suspension of disbelief into the writer's world.

There is a lot of room for error when dealing directly with the imagination. That's why sometimes a writer will agonize over just the right word in just the right place. It has to sound right and have the right flavor to imbue a scene with the sense he or she wants to put across. The same holds true for sound effects and foley artists.

I had thought to talk about radio shows and how sound effects were used to enable the listeners to paint mind pictures of lonely, windswept hillsides, or dark, musty mansions with logs burning in the fireplace and creaking stairs. But, as I think of it, even in movies the sounds help define what you see. Everyone knows what Tarzan's famous yell sounds like, but in the Burroughs books it was generally referred to as nothing more than, "the victory cry of the bull-ape." I remember the story about how long the director searched for just the right combination of sounds to produce the now famous other-speciesistic exaltation of personal achievement.

Somewhat the same is true for Steven Spielberg's search for what the Tyrannosaurus Rex would sound like in Jurassic Park. The piercing roar of rage and power he finally settled on was so appropriate that, if somehow, we were able to clone a T-Rex, I would be disappointed if it sounded any different.

The people who take the biggest risks, though, are the ones who try to make their visions concrete, the ones who don't describe in word pictures, but provide actual visual representations of what they see in their own imaginations.

Some have a powerful enough talent and vision that it influences every other one that follows, for instance: Thomas Nast. Well known as the father of political cartoons, his Santa Claus in the illustrations for the poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" has influenced just about every version of the jolly old elf for the past hundred and more years.

But then, isn't that the aim of almost every artist? Not to become another Thomas Nast, necessarily, but to enable their audience to see something in the same way they do, as the artist?

And so it is with great pleasure that we would like to extend this invitation to you to attend this season's opening at the Parallax Gallery (in our meeting room at the Squirrel Hill Library). Many artists will be featured in this rich and exciting representation of the fantastic and the futuristic. No admission price, no RSVP necessary. And be mindful, these people are artists in every sense: unpredictable, possibly dangerous and definitely given to wild flights of imagination into the bizarre.

See you Saturday.

Last Meeting - March 10,2001

Minutes by Ann Cecil

PARSEC met at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library. There were three guests: Michael and Mary Ellen Stanley, and Susan Homitz. When the raffle was held, tradition was followed and Susan won! She picked a book (fortunately, Ann has lots more of those to donate)(Ann hasn't been paying close attention again, folks).

There were lots of announcements as part of the business meeting. Kevin Hayes read an description of the Saxonburg HS performance of The Rhythms of the Land, based on Tolkien's work. Diane Turnshek announced that the Carnegie Science Center has offered to let us hold a meeting in the Planetarium, and is interested in having local authors read their original stories while a show is being held (with music?). Kevin Hayes is investigating further. Nils Hammer will be performing in Iolanthe (a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta) for the next three weeks at the Carnegie branch in Carnegie. Heidi Pilewski proudly announced that April has one of the leads in her class musical. Henry Tjernlund announced that he had brought computer books to sell in the back of the room. Mia Sherman announced that any visitors to Ann's house will be encouraged to take away some of the 600 sf&f books we got free from the Carnegie Bookmobile discards. Kevin Hayes and Mia Sherman performed a short number: the Confluence advertisement.

Greg Armstrong presented the Treasurer's Report: there were no expenses, and several more people paid dues, so we have even more money than last month. Greg promised a slightly more detailed report next month.

Tim Esasis announced the theme for the next Parsec Short Story Contest: Well Met By Moonlight. The deadline is February 1, 2002, and the usual rules apply: 3500 words maximum, sf or f using theme, double spaced, one-sided, authors name only on cover sheet, original unpublished work only by amateur author (SFWA definition of amateur). The professional judges have not all been announced, though one is (surprise!) not a Pennsylvanian this time.

For the meeting proper, Kevin Hayes introduced Philip Klass (aka William Tenn), who gave us a short discussion of Isaac Asimov's career, mixed with personal anecdotes, all told with Phil's customary wit and charm, and then showed a short video of Asimov lecturing on science fiction and its development.

The meeting concluded at its usual time, with a group being organized by Kira Heston to go eat and then attend a movie afterwards (Spy Kids was being discussed).

Aspects of Asimov
being a liberal paraphrase of Phil Klass' talk

Phil Klass began by stating, "Most of what I know about Isaac Asimov is irrelevant." Klass and Asimov first met in 1947, when Phil characterized him as a very productive, very learned, very accomplished man, but not very modest: a genuine diamond in the rough.

Asimov came to Penn State in the late 1970s, to lecture, and received the highest sum paid to any speaker that year. Phil introduced him: Asimov had requested that he not be funny, but Phil was anyway, and ended his introduction by saying that Asimov was not Superman, he'd never jumped the Empire State Building in a single bound, and had never sung the Quartets from Rigoletto. So Asimov mounted the platform, took a deep breath, and sang them, to thunderous applause.

To illustrate the quality of Asimov's writing, Phil read the first two paragraphs aloud of the classic, "NightFall." Phil noted that John W. Campbell gave Asimov the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that inspired the story, but it was Asimov who turned it into one of the most powerful and remarkable pieces of science fiction.

The Three Laws of Robotics, which are another of Asimov's major contributions to the genre, were each credited by Campbell and Asimov to the other. They also are literary reactions to Capek's play RUR and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Phil predicts that when intelligent robots become a reality, Asimov's laws will be used in some form.

Speaking about Foundation (the original three novels), Phil called them sheer intellectual pornography, and noted that at the time they were printed they absolutely knocked them [the audience] out! Asimov credited his inspiration to reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Phil noted that Campbell also pushed his writers to read Toynbee's A Study of History. Phil also asked Asimov once if the name Trantor came from Burroughs; Asimov said not consciously, but agreed that it was possible.

Phil interspersed the discussion of Asimov's writing with a number of personal stories, including some hilarious criticism of DeMille's movie The Ten Commandments. Phil also noted that Asimov's first published book was a collaboration on biochemistry, which is not surprising, since Asimov's PhD was in biochemistry.

Phil noted that the tape does not show the very best Asimov, but a very good bit of history. The tape was made in 1969-1970 by James Gunn, and it records a lecture that Asimov normally charged $3000 for giving.

In the tape, Asimov talked about science fiction, calling 1938 a watershed year for sf, since that was when Campbell's influence was really shown in Astounding. Asimov calls the brand of sf Campbell favored engineer-oriented, and credits Heinlein with dominating the field from 1939-1942. He also dates the trend from magazines to hardcovers and paperbacks as occurring in the early 1950s, and notes that in the 1970s (when the tape was made), magazine sf was only marginally profitable.

After the tape, Phil commented that the theory that stories were written for a new class of reader: middle class, engineering science managers. The genre was broadened and read beyond that, and today is moving toward a new class: mystical, non-scientific. Phil personally thinks we are at the beginning of a regressive movement in intellectualism.

As a conclusion for the presentation, Phil read from Asimov's introduction to the anthology of Jewish sf, Wandering Stars.

Questions from the audience included one from Bink about Asimov's lack of accent on the tape. Phil admitted that Asimov had a heavy Brooklyn accent, but noted that on the tape, he was suppressing it, which is why he sounds almost as if he'd been reading notes.

Eric Davin asked why Asimov was concerned about using pen names (based on comments in the Wandering Stars intro), and Phil explained in more detail about the prejudices of the genre in the early days.

Several people asked why Phil believes we are heading into intellectual regression. Phil related some personal statistics as an example: in 1981, at Penn State, he asked a class of 163, and found that 62 believed seriously in astrology.

News Notes

Diane Turnshek's SFR poem "Alien Pygmalion" has been accepted for publication by editor Sandra Kasturi in the anthology Rough Beasts (scheduled for publication in August 2001 according to publisher Brian Hopkins of Lone Wolf Publications).

More information on the anthology of poems about shapechangers, which is in multimedia compact disk format, at:

Nebula winners

Best Novel Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
Best Novelette "Daddy's World" by Walter Jon Williams
Best Novella "Goddesses" by Linda Nagata
Best Short Story "macs," by Terry Bisson
Best Script Galaxy Quest by Robert Gordon, David Howard

Editor's Note: "Goddesses" was first published in SCI FICTION, SCIFI.COM's short story section.

New Hugo Award


ConJose, the 2002 World Science Fiction Convention, has announced that it will be presenting a special Hugo Award for Best Web Site. The Award will be open to any web site primarily related to the fields of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom and will be given for material displayed on the World Wide Web during the calendar year 2001.

The Hugo Awards are presented for achievement in the fields of science fiction and fantasy literature, both to professionals and fans. They are given by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and are presented at the Society's annual convention (Worldcon). Past winners include Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ursula Le Guin, William Gibson and, of course, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Awards are named after the pioneering science fiction magazine editor, Hugo Gernsback.

The 2002 Worldcon, known as ConJose, will take place at the McEnery Convention Center, San Jose, California from 29 August through 2 September 2002. Over 5,000 science fiction fans are expected to attend the event. San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley, and therefore an ideal venue to introduce an award for excellence in publishing on the World Wide Web.

More information about the Hugo Awards can be obtained from the WSFS web site ( or from this fan-run site ( More information about ConJose, including current membership rates, is available from its web site ( or by writing to


Cave of Stars
by George Zebrowski
Review by James J. Walton Jr.

In a far future time the Earth is gone. We are given no explanation: we are told the Earth died three centuries before the book begins. To save itself humanity went to the stars.

Some of the colonists took the conventional route of finding planets to settle. Others took asteroids, fitted them with star drives and roamed among the stars. These roaming colonies or "mobiles" are over 100 kilometers long and contain enough room for millions of people to live comfortably. The societies aboard the mobiles are high tech. Nanotechnology allows the people to live hundreds of years while the Artificial Intelligences aid in all forms of learning and research.

In one of these mobiles visits the planet colony Tau Ceti IV. The society of Tau Ceti IV is deliberately conservative and backward. Its government is a theocracy based on the old Catholic Church. All the leaders are members of the Church, with a pope as the ultimate authority on everything. Change is kept to a minimum. Medicine, industry, technology, etc. are all kept simple to avoid the problems humanity had in the past. Anyone with "new" ideas or anyone seeking to rise above his station is subject to arrest and imprisonment. The vast libraries of knowledge from Old Earth, which contain information to turn Tau Ceti IV into a paradise, are closely guarded.

Cave of Stars, has a clash of cultures with the inevitable misunderstandings and mistrusts. The leader of Tau Ceti IV, Pope Josephus, sees the visiting mobile as the ultimate threat to his planetary society and a personal insult. Josephus' hatred and treachery shatters both worlds and leaves the survivors fighting for their lives.

Zebrowski has a dry, spare way of writing. He seems to use only the number of words necessary to get his idea across. The result is a narrative which is compelling and cold at the same time. We experience the fear and danger the characters face, but we are also strangely distant from it. I am not sure how to describe it, nor am I sure if it is good or bad. I felt the same dual reaction when I read Zebrowski's Brute Orbits.

I suspect one reason for my dis-ease with Cave of Stars (and Brute Orbits) is that Zebrowski doesn't use heroes. In both books he uses several viewpoint characters to tell his story, filtered through the goals, desires and agendas of each. But each person is a victim of circumstance. He or she is merely trying to get by and survive. Even the villain, Josephus, is quite understandable though I soundly condemn his hatreds and remedies.

I enjoyed Cave of Stars but I cannot help to wonder if I'd have enjoyed it more if Zebrowski had written it in a different fashion.

Cave of Stars is apparently a companion novel to Zebrowski's Macrolife, which speculates about life aboard space-going habitats.

The Coming
Joe Haldeman
by James J. Walton Jr.

In October of 2054 Astronomy Professor Aurora Bell makes a startling discovery. From deep space a very quickly moving object is headed toward the Earth. It initially travels at the speed of light but soon begins decelerating at a fantastic rate. It cannot be a natural object. It is also broadcasting the very enigmatic message "We're coming" once every sixty seconds. Is the Earth finally to be visited by beings from another planet? Or is it a very elaborate hoax?

Of course this news causes quite a stir among the people of Earth but the excitement quickly dies down leaving the various political and religious organizations to worry about the proper responses.

No matter who is coming, be it Jesus Christ or Darth Vader, people still have to live. For most of the people of Earth, it is business as usual:

Despite her newfound notoriety, Professor Bell must still deal with her fragile relationship with her music composer husband.

The high-tech porn star is saving her money for medical school and is worried about her physics grades.

The local gangsters look for a way to make an illicit profit.

The bag lady is probably not as crazy as she pretends, but she has a terrible secret.

The computer hacker/drug addict looks for his next fix.

The local politicians just want their city to remain standing a whileonger.

And there is the historian who watches everything and takes copious notes.

But what do those notes mean?

We witness the events of The Coming through the eyes of these characters and others, each with his own take on things. Each character is affected directly or indirectly by the approaching object. And none of them can do anything except continue on as best he can.

The Earth of 2054 is pretty much the same as it is now. There are many technological advances, such as intelligent, computer-controlled houses, automatic cars and better medical facilities. But fewer people can afford them. There are also the expected slow catastrophes such as global warming, which are endured as well as the dozens of never ceasing wars. The people live on this Earth because the have no where else to go. They live as best they can and adapt to any adversities. In the town of Gainesville, Florida, where most of The Coming takes place, people must deal with high temperatures and humidity and flooded land caused by the aforementioned global warming.

I was impressed with the apparent ease with which Haldeman wrote The Coming. He seemed to breeze right through this one, taking the people and locations from real life. (Is the Historian character in any way autobiographical?) There is only one false note, which I can't mention without giving away too much of the book. Everything else is very true to life.

Is The Coming Mr. Haldeman's best book? No, but Haldeman doesn't write bad books. There is nothing really innovative and Earth shattering here, but I enjoyed it and recommend it. My favorite Haldeman book is The Forever War, if anyone is interested.

Haldeman's book reminds me very much of Frederick Pohl's The Day the Martians Came. In that one Pohl chronicles the lives of various people, some of whom are directly involved in the space industry. For many people, the news that We Are Not Alone has no effect. Both books spend relatively little time on the science of the situation, preferring to focus on the human aspect.

Short Story Contest

Announcing the Seventh Annual PARSEC Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Contest!

Prizes and eligibility: The contest is open to non-professional writers (those who have not met eligibility requirements for SFWA or equivalent). Previous multiple winners and current contest coordinators are also ineligible. The best story which relates to and features the contest theme will be published in the Confluence 2002 program book, and the author will be awarded the first prize of $200. At the discretion of the judges a second and third prize in the amounts of $100 and $50 may be awarded, with publication in the Out of James' Attic fanzine. Submission to the contest implies consent for these publications, but all rights revert immediately to the authors upon publication. The entries will be screened by the coordinators, and the best submissions will go on to our panel of three Judges. Decisions of the judges and coordinators in all these matters are final. There is NO entry fee.

Judges: Authors Carolyn Ives Gilman (Halfway Human) and Flonet Biltgen ("A Glimpse of a Distant Relative") have agreed to jury the contest, along with a third judge to be named later.

Format: Stories must be Science Fiction, Fantasy, or Horror in genre. Stories must be original, unpublished, unsold and no more than 3500 words in length. Submit in standard contest format (title and page number on each page, but author name only appears on separate cover page; otherwise as in any professional submission). No email submissions. Include SASE for notification only, as manuscripts will not be returned. Incorrect format will make entry ineligible. Stories must Relate To The Theme.

Theme: "Well Met by Moonlight": The "Moonlight" theme lends itself to fantasy, science fiction or horror. Stories should take place at night or at some time when the Moon is visible, either on Earth or from out in space, and should involve an interaction between two or more beings: whether romantic, adventurous, criminal, political warlike or all of the above. The Lunar element of this theme commemorates our con's recent move from Mars, PA to Moon Township, PA.

Deadline: Entries must arrive by February 2, 2002.

Address: Send entries to:
Timons Esaias, PARSEC Short Story Contest
6659 Woodwell Street
Pittsburgh PA 15217-1320

For questions or clarifications only you may email to

Last time's winners were:

First Place: "The Thithshtach Diner" by Kevin Hayes
Second Place: "The Venus Diner Traveler's Club" by Cynthia Crise
Third Place: "No Honor" by Nancy Hagen-Liddle

Con List

May 25-28: Balticon, Baltimore MD with Randy Hoffman's First Filk Concert! (and Hal Clement) PARSEC Attendees: Randy Hoffman, Ann Cecil, Greg Armstrong, Mia Sherman

May 25-28: MediaWest*Con 2001, Lansing MI.

May 25-27: Marcon, Columbus OH.

June 21-24: MidwestCon, Cincinnati OH

June 22-24: ConterPoint Four, Rockville MD.

June 22-24: Contraption 2001, Detroit MI with Eugene Roddenberry Jr. and Nene Thomas

June 22-24: Monster Bash 2001, Butler PA.

July 13-15: InConjunction, Indianapolis IN with Catherine Asaro, Richard Biggs, and Xavier the Robot. PARSEC Attendees: Greg Armstrong, Mia Sherman, Ann Cecil.

July 13-15: Readercon 13, Burlington MA with David Hartwell and Michael Swanwick.

July 20-22: CONFLUENCE! Here in Pittsburgh!

Also coming: Worldcon will be on Labor Day Weekend.

Remember, folks, that's PARSEC's very own Randy Hoffman appearing at Balticon. And it's a long Memorial Day Weekend, too. :) And Confluence not only is a really great con (plug), but it's close to home! Check the PARSEC webpage for more details.

News Flash

Ken Chiacchia sold his story "Medical Command" to the ezine Alternate Realities.

Mary Soon Lee had three major story sales: "Luna Classifieds" to Spectrum SF, "Clever People" to the Anthology, and "Patterns" to Realms Of Fantasy.

Both Mary Soon Lee and Tim Esaias have poems ("Fall Clearance", "Please Note") in the Spring 2001 issue of The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. Esaias also has the poem "Whatever She Needs" in the Spring 2001 issue of Fantastic, which contains a typesetting error that makes complete hash of the whole thing (Tim's words).

Diane Turnshek is looking for a volunteer to video tape her reading of the poem, "Alien Pygmalion" for the Lone Wolf publication ROUGH BEASTS, an anthology done in multi-media CD format.

We'll be having a SF reading and filking event at the Carnegie Science Center planetarium at the end of June or in July, open to the public, free to all card-carrying PARSEC members. Get your PARSEC membership card now, only $10.00. We need some help running this pre-Confluence publicity vehicle. Those who wish to offer help or to audition for stage time during the event please write to the PARSEC P.O. Box, email the PARSEC discussion list or call Diane. Watch for updates on the PARSEC webpage at:

Local SF writer and sometime Confluence guest John Randal has landed a really big sale. His story "Bad Animals" is currently online at SCIFI.COM in the SCI FICTION section.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: May 12, 2001 1:00 PM to 4:30 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Art Show and Tell

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: Kevin Hayes

Vice President: "Cap'n" John Cope

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Tom Morrow

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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