The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


May, 1997 Issue 136

The Kontinuing Adventures of Kira

As I mentioned in April, I will not be at the May meeting; I will be in New Orleans for my 10-year reunion. I just noticed the second movie about a high-school reunion coming out; reunions are apparently "in" this year. Well, I always knew I would be cool one of these days! Here's hoping that none of my classmates are professional killers (la Grosse Point Blank).

The subject of May's meeting will be "Women in Science Fiction", presented by Anita Alverio. I am sorry to be missing this one; I suspect a major debate could crop up. I will try to have someone tape the meeting. This time, I know where the recorder is, and it has fresh batteries! I can't wait to find out what else will go wrong with it! I think it was once owned by Magician Murphy (sorry, a Xanth joke--I'll try to restrain myself in the future).

I leave you in the hands of our capable Vice President. But I'll be back!

In Memoriam: Sam Moskowitz 1920-1997

by Eric Leif Davin

Science fiction has lost its greatest historian and most dedicated fan. Sam Moskowitz is dead at age 76. A leading editor and critic, Sam was also the foremost expert on science fiction's pulp magazine origins and the author or editor of sixty hard-cover and paperback books. He was the recipient of the Pilgrim award from the Science Fiction Research Association (1981) and a member of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (1972). No one knew more about the early years of science fiction, or had done so much to document this largely unheralded literary genre. No one devoted so much time and energy to tracking down every nugget of information, from the origins of the words "science fiction" and "fanzine" themselves, to who wrote the first twists on now standard SF cliches. Though others have worked diligently to shed light on the various forgotten corners, for more than half a century Sam Moskowitz was the main searchlight cutting through the night. And now the night has claimed him.

Sam Moskowitz died on Tuesday, April 15th, after suffering a massive heart attack in the early morning hours of Tuesday, April 8, at his home in Newark, N.J. He had just returned from a weekend SF con in St. Louis. The day before, he had attended the funeral for a member of the local chapter of "New Voices," of which Sam was the president. "New Voices" is a medical self-help group for people who have lost their larynxes due to throat cancer, an illness Sam had already fought and survived. He retired about midnight on the 8th. A few hours later he woke his wife in an agitated state. A medical doctor herself, she recognized the signs of a heart attack and quickly rushed him to the local hospital. Though he lingered for a week, he never regained consciousness.

Sam Moskowitz began his self-appointed task of documenting the history of science fiction in the early 1940's. After working at hard manual labor all day, he would come home and put in another full "day" of research and writing about the field. Until his retirement, he had worked for many years as the editor of a frozen-food industry magazine. Much of his work appeared in Fantasy Commentator, a "fanzine" begun by A. Langly Searles in 1944 and which continues publication to this day. Indeed, Sam Moskowitz was originally best known in the genre for The Immortal Storm (1954), a history of the science fiction fan movement from its beginnings up to World War II, which appeared first as a series in the pages of Fantasy Commentator. Searles, who urged Sam to write the series, had recently urged Sam to continue with his fan history. This Sam was doing, and Searles was publishing, at the time of his death. This continuation will remain forever incomplete, as no one other than Sam Moskowitz has the intimate knowledge needed to write such a history.

Other works for which Sam is noted include Explorers of the Infinite (1963) and Seekers of Tomorrow (1966), both collections of author profiles which appeared in various SF magazines over the year; Science Fiction by Gaslight (1968); The Man Who Called Himself Poe (1969); Under the Moons of Mars (1970); Strange Horizons (1976), another collection of author profiles; Science Fiction in Old San Francisco (1980); and A. Merritt: Reflections in a Moon Pool (1985). Sam also recently discovered that the version of early SF giant Stanley Weinbaum's The Black Flame, with which the world was familiar, was greatly truncated. Thus, almost 60 years after its original 1938 publication, Sam made possible the first complete edition from Tachyon Press (1995) of this SF classic, for which Sam wrote the introduction.

Sam was consulting editor for The Pulps (1970), an anthology of pulp magazine fiction, and general editor of the two important Hyperion Press Science Fiction Classics reprint series (1974, 1976). Among the dozens of other anthologies he edited are A Martian Odyssey & Other Classics of Science Fiction by Stanley G. Wienbaum (1962), for which Sam wrote the biographical introduction; Masterpieces of Science Fiction (1967); Ghostly by Gaslight (with Alden Norton, 1970); When Women Rule (1972); and Out of the Storm (1975), by William Hope Hodgeson, containing a 25,000-word critical biography of the noted author by Sam.

Sam Moskowitz also organized the first World Science Fiction Convention (1939), taught the world's first college-level course in science fiction (1953-1955), and edited both Hugo "Father of Magazine Science Fiction" Gernsback's last magazine, Science Fiction Plus (1952-1954), and a brief revival of that greatest of all fantasy magazines, Weird Tales (1973-1974).

Sam also possessed what is no doubt the most comprehensive science fiction collection in the world, which he insisted was a "working library," out of which grew his writing. Two years ago he completed a massive "autobiography" of the legendary science fiction editor John W. Campbell, which is waiting publication. Based entirely upon Campbell's voluminous correspondence, Sam pulled out references devoted to current fan developments, author conferences, and other aspects of Campbell's life. Due to his intimate personal knowledge of the events of which Campbell wrote, Sam knew the context of the most obscure reference and could track down more information on it in his massive personal library of fanzines, correspondence, author manuscripts, and interview transcripts. No one else could have envisioned such an imaginative undertaking, much less had the personal and documentary resources to carry it through to completion. There will be no other Sam Moskowitz.

Book Reviews

The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell
Review by Jim Mann

I am generally at least a little wary when approaching a novel by an author I haven't heard of before. This is especially true when the novel is a first novel and when it's clearly an SF novel (using standard SF situations and settings), but is marketed as literature. Such novels can be good, but often they don't work well as SF. (Some of Kurt Vonnegut's later works come to mind here.) Thus, I approached The Sparrow thinking "this might be quite good, though it'll probably make some of the mainstream-author-writing-SF mistakes." I'm delighted to say that I was wrong. The Sparrow is a superb novel, that functions as SF, while addressing a number of the concerns, and having a depth of theme, typical in good mainstream novels.

The story takes place in the next century. Radio telescopes pick up signals -- songs actually -- being broadcast from Alpha Centauri (from a planet later named Rakhat). While humanity in general tries to decide whether to send a mission to the stars, the Catholic Church quietly prepares a ship (using an asteroid purchased from the thriving asteroid mining industry) and sends a Jesuit mission to the stars. They go not to convert, but to learn. Yet, at the start of the novel, we find out that the mission has failed. More than that, the only survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, has returned in disgrace, accused of prostitution and murder. The rest of the novel unfolds the story.

The novel works well on a number of levels:

The novel is filled with fascinating details. Russell has worked out the future Earth society in a believable amount of detail. Rakhat's flora, fauna, and intelligent species and their society are also well done. Finally, she clearly has a good understanding of the Catholic Church hierarchy; her Jesuit's and the way they interact seem quite believable. (She does a fine job, by the way, making her priests into real people, not just religious stereotypes. They experience doubt and sexual longing, like baseball, cuss from time to time, and are generally well rounded human beings.)

I can't recommend this novel too highly. It's a shame it is only out in hard cover (though Books has it in their 40% off Amazon SF 50 list). This novel should be on the Hugo ballot, but I'd be very surprised if it does make it. Everyone who I've talked to who has read it has liked it a lot; but not enough people have read it yet.

At its best, SF can at times fuse the concerns, standards, and approaches of SF with those of mainstream literature. When done well, the result can please both genre readers and mainstream literature. Mary Doria Russell, if she decides to write more, should join the ranks of Ursula Le Guin, Michael Bishop, Kim Stanley Robinson, and Gene Wolfe as a write who manages to bridge this difficult gap.

(Please note, by the way, that I'm not trying to imply that the only way an SF book can be good is to try to also be good mainstream literature. There are other types of good books, addressing different concerns. I do think the very best SF though is that subset of "good SF" that is also "good mainstream literature.")

The Book of Skulls
Robert Silverberg
Review by Paul Melko

Having started reading science fiction in the late seventies, I sometimes feel I don't have enough of a grounding in the classical SF authors. Sure, I went through all the Heinleins and the works of my personal favorite author, Philip Jose Farmer. But there are a bevy of older authors I know very little of. One of these is Silverberg, of whose work I have only sampled the popular Lord Valentine's Castle, and the sequels that I could stomach. To remedy my lack of exposure to the masters, I chose to read and review some of the classics in the field. My next few reviews will deal with novels taken from Gardner Dozois' recommended reading list on the SFWA homepage.

The Book of Skulls was originally published in 1972 (when I was 4 years old!) and is heavily ensnared in the culture of the time. It is not a plot-oriented book; the plot is a quite straight-forward quest set in the then-modern 70's. No, the book's strength is its superb characterization. Written as first person narrative, alternating through the points of view of the four main characters, the story allows the reader to come to know each of the story's characters intimately. The characters are incredibly alive and vigorous. Even after reading it weeks ago, I could describe each of the four characters in the novel in detail.

I am surprised that Silverberg succeeds with this four pointed point of view diary style. But he does, and this is a tribute to his ability to make four unique and individual characters: Eli, the intellectual geekish thinker, stuck upon his own sexual development; Ned, the sulking, cynical homosexual; Timothy, Waspy rich man's son; and Oliver, clean-cut boy from Kansas, jock and pre-med student. Even though I can sum their lives up with these stereotypes, it is Silverburg's characterization that makes the four dynamic.

The quest plot centers around the search for immortality. Eli has found reference to a book called the Book of Skulls, where in is detailed the method for immortality: a group of four must journey to the House of Skulls. One of the questers must be killed by the group, and one must die of his own hand so that the other two will have immortality. This leads the four on a spring break quest to find the House, located somewhere in Arizona.

The most distracting drawback of this book is its treatment of women. The four male main characters are somewhat misogynistic, even the sexually repressed Eli. And the monks at the House of Skulls are all male. The females present are merely used as objects of sexual release. Perhaps this is endemic of the times in which the book was published, but nonetheless, the sexism of the tale is quite obvious.

The story concludes with revelation and surprise. To gain the thing they each want, they must reveal to each other their hidden secrets, reveal to themselves their fears. These revelations are what the book has built up to, these most horrible things that each has done. And it works because these characters are so real, drawn by Silverberg piece by piece on this cross-country trip.

The Book of Skulls is a classic to be read. It may not be timeless in all its aspects, but its devices of style are flawless.

The Other End of Time
Frederick Pohl
Review by James Walton

During the beginning pages of The Other End of Time, I wondered if this book would have been published if had been by someone of lesser stature than Frederick Pohl. By the end of the book I realized that no one except Frederick Pohl could have written it. Unfortunately, it feels as if the story were originally a novelette which Pohl was cajoled into expanding to book length.

Pohl spends a great deal of time showing us a world where inflation has run rampant, Florida has become a separate country and astronauts are left to die in space stations due to lack of public interest. A pair of broadcasts from outer space showing alien beings fail to noticeably stir up a reaction. Everyone is too busy being miserable.

For obscure reasons the United States (what is left of it) recalls a deep cover secret agent, one Dan Dannerman, from an important assignment and sets him to spying on his own cousin. The first third of the book is told from his POV as he awkwardly tries to worm his way into his cousin's confidence. Through his eyes we learn about the world and what little there is to know about the space aliens. Luckily, space travel has advanced enough so that with no training, Dannerman is able to trick his way into a spaceflight. No one even bothered to check his heart.

The first part of The Other End of Time seemed to have nothing to do with what went on in the rest of the book. This is fine since the first part of the book is so stiffly written, you really don't care. This appears to be the part Mr. Pohl tacked on, perhaps to justify Dannerman's presence.

The story becomes much more interesting as the crew boards the abandoned space station, but said crew doesn't become any smarter. They ignore several indicators which scream "Danger! Danger!" and find themselves as prisoners on a planet many light years away from Earth. Their alien captor makes several startling revelations but the humans fail to react. Maybe it is just me, but it doesn't seem natural that supposedly intelligent people would not ask certain questions under certain situations. They didn't even have the wit to have nervous breakdowns.

The Other End of Time has several interesting ideas wandering around inside, such as what is the nature of death and how alien races might view death. Too bad such an enjoyable story was allowed to become bloated.

The Killing Machine
Jack Vance
Review by Paul Melko

Jack Vance is another author whose works I generally missed during my early years of reading. My library shows that I have read The Grey Prince and The Faceless Man. Both I remember as good, and the former sticks with me the most. The Killing Machine was another that was listed on Gardner Dozois' recommended reading list. Originally published in 1964, the book is a sequel to the The Star King, but it stands alone well enough. The book depicts the struggle of a man, Kirth Gersen, to avenge the death of his family at the hands of the five Demon Princes.

One of these Demon Princes is Kokor Hekkus, known as the Killing Machine. Twice Hekkus slips through Gersen's hands, until Gersen finally tracks him to the mysterious planet Thamber, cut off from the rest of the galaxy. There, Gersen must find Hekkus and kill him, aided by the Princess Alusz Iphigenia Eperje-Tokay. (I love that name.)

I can not do the plot justice. Just as Silverberg in The Book of Skulls uses stylistic characterization, Vance uses elaborate plot devices and interwoven details to make a gripping and exciting story. I should say that the fight scene between Kirth Gerson and the Tadousko-Oi hetman is the best written fight scene I have ever read.

Vance creates a galaxy that is extremely intricate. The front-matter to each chapter provides humorous and witty insight into the universe of Kirth Gerson. Vance's humor, while subtle, permeates the book. Characters such as Myron Patch are there to provide humor with their indignant response to the world and Gerson's single-minded goal of revenge.

The Killing Machine is a gripping page-turner, as good as anything I've ever read. I heartily recommend it, if you haven't already read it.

Dear Kordite: A Klingon Advice Column

Dealing with 'Slave Driving' Professors.

Dear Kordite, At this human-run university I attend, I've come to have a problem: My professor gives us too much homework. I spent so much time doing it last weekend, I had no time to hunt fresh meat, which forced me to eat (eeeew) pre-killed food. My thirst for vengeance is just, but I cannot just kill him publicly, or I fear that the humans would cause complications. How do I deal with the swine in a way that would still retain my honor?

Son of Kanga'h Dear ,

You pathetically sniveling, mealy mouthed, whiny little wimp! You claim to have honor and yet cry soppy wet tears over having too much homework and not enough leisure time to fill your engorged, disgustingly soft belly. Were you any sort of real warrior you would show your heart and demand even more assignments from your professor. Rise to the challenge and do three times the work of your human classmates rather than crawling and grazing on molds and excrement like a lethargic ooze-covered slug. A warrior's greatest weapon is his mind but yours is embarrassingly underdeveloped and languidly hedonistic, controlled by your obscenely bloated stomach. You should remove it yourself and save the rest of us the trouble.

Lt.Cmdr. Kordite vestai-Tasighor (aka Kevin Geiselman) is Executive Officer of the IKV Dark Justice and advice columnist for the Internet. Send your questions to him via e-mail c/o or via snail-mail at 301 Overdale Rd. Pittsburgh, PA 15221

Movie Reviews

Review by Henry Tjernlund

Sean Connery, John Boorman, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelmen, & others.

Zardoz is a 1957 British sci-fi film set in the future where human kind is divide into two groups. One is a small band of godlike intellectuals maintained eternally youthful by a secret and hidden machine. The machine records all their thoughts so it can clone them and resume their memories from the exact point they die in the remote chance they are killed. The rest of the human race is reduced to barbarianism fighting amongst themselves for scarce resources. To make matters worse the intellectuals act as antagonistic gods from their barrier protected haven giving weapons pitting one tribe against another.

One intellectual has lured one barbarian (Sean) to a library of books and given him the gift (or curse) of literacy. Now more aware of the true nature of the world Sean stows himself away aboard the flying craft used to exchange weapons and supplies for food.

Once in their protected camp the intellectuals decide to toy with their new pet barbarian. However the barbarian is better prepared than they know. Much of the rest of the film has some interesting philosophical debates between Sean and the intellectuals. (At least I liked it when I saw it back in my college days.)

At one point Sean challenges them to do something "grand" like explore the stars with their unlimited life spans. The one intellectual responds in an almost yawning "been there, done that, nothing interesting to see" dismissal.

It becomes apparent as to how bored the intellectuals are with their immortality. Many had even committed suicide only to be "restored" by the hidden machine that maintains them.

Definitely a film worth looking up if you are taking a philosophy course. However, not for the kids since it contains some sexual and violent content including both a physical rape and a "mind rape" scene.

Does order reduce to chaos? Rent it (if you can find it) to find out.

The Whole Wide World
Review by Bill Hall

At last there is a good movie, not F&SF per se, but one of its most popular authors. that Bullock-O'Donnell movie purporting to be about Hemingway came went across a lot more screens than this movie will ever see, and it is a kind of Conan-like triumph that this movie about Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan The Barbarian, is better than the "tribute" to Hemingway.

Howard is considered the best pulp writer in the whole wide world, hence the title. Stuck in several rural Texas during the Depression, doting on his ever sickly mother and reading her poetry, shouting out his adventures as he bangs them out on his typewriter, Howard is a big and somewhat awkward man, a Conan wannabe. In an age when a perfectly bland mayor can inspire women to sigh dreamily, when Clark Gable has not yet denied Vivien Leigh his infamous "damn," Howard is a breath of fresh air, brash and big-egoed, taking credit for a sunset or a harvest moon. Novalyne Price is a local up-and-coming writer who dates Howard in the hope that he'll teach her how to write; however, since she likes to write stories like, "I Gave My Daughter Movie Fame," there are bound to be some problems.

So begins a kind of bittersweet Beauty and the Beast partnership, and it is to the movie's credit that each person never just sounds one note. Howard is often overblown machismo held up to unflattering scrutiny, but he also has earnestness and charm. Price could have been portrayed as either a prude or a knight of feminism but she is neither, simply a quietly strong woman who earns the title of "spitfire" from Howard, easily deflating some quickly-tired arguments of his deft wit. Vincent D'Onofrio (a local talent, best remembered as "Gomer Pyle" from Full Metal Jacket, and one of the film's producers) and Renee Zellweger (a sudden new talent, holding her own against Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire) paint memorable portraits of this uneasy couple.

Like Hemingway, Howard shot himself, and the movie has to try very hard to give some good ending to a very rambling and uneven relationship. One wonders if Howard ever thought about his "spitfire" Novalyne Price while creating Red Sonya, who for all her campiness was a pre-Xena heroine in her own right.

As ever, a movie like this never sticks around nearly long enough to get appreciated. Consider this a video alert.


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.

DatesNamePlaceRoad MilesGuest Of HonorRegistration feeHotel cost per nightPARSEC Members GoingSpace in Ann's Van
May 9-11Marcon 32Columbus, OH200Harry Turtledove$35$92Plenty o' folk?
May 16-18Conversion 1Deerfield, IL500over 21: Nick Pollotta$35$78??
May 23-36CostumeCon 15Baltimore, MD250costumecon$>60$95 ??
May 23-26MediaWest 17Lansing, MI350 media con$30$?Beth, ??
May 23-26Disclave 1997Washington, DC250Patricia Anthony$40$76Ann, Irwin Trio?
M. 30-J. 1AllQuietonthePotomacColumbia, MD225ILF Live Roleplaying$?$???
Jun. 6-8Duckon 6Oakbrook, IL475furrycon: Frank Hayes$40$75??
Jun. 13-15The Second ConCertoPhiladelphia300filkcon: Urban Tapestry$40???
Jun. 13-15Ad Astra 17Toronto, ON325 Stephen Brust$35?Randy, ?3
Jun. 26-29Dragon*Con '97Atlanta, GA675many guests$60$112+$10/pers.??
Jul. 3-6Albany AnthroConAlbany, NY475furrycon$>25$75??
Jul. 17-21Origins '96Columbus, OH200game expo$?Varies??
Aug. 1-3Phrolicon 13Mt. Laurel, NJ320Connie Willis$30$68??
Aug. 8-10ConFluence '97Pittsburgh0Stephen Brust$28$85/95PARSECn/a
Jul. 18-20RiverCon 22Louisville, KY375?$?$60??
Aug. 5-9, 1998Bucconeer (WorldCon 56)Baltimore, MD250many guests$110 thru 9/30/97$???

Upcoming Meetings:

The most massive star in the Milky Way Galaxy is Eta Carina, at 100 Solar masses.


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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