The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


October 2001, Issue 189

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

Each of us has a first memory. Mine is a rather undistinguished one in that it is a simple memory of a three-and-a-half year old boy watching his mother come out of a hospital in a wheelchair, on a cold February day. She was wearing a nubby, red, mid-calf length coat and holding a bundle of blankets which later proved to contain my younger sister. I remember other things about that particular moment, but those are the important things. My children claim they can remember things from periods between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half. I have no reason to doubt this, they have discoursed at length about whatever the occasion in question was and reminded me of things I had forgotten.

Throughout our lives as individuals, we all have certain memories that, for some reason or another remain as vivid to us as the day they occurred. Certain things are always a momentous circumstance that engenders a memory: first day of school, first car, first kiss, firsts of all sorts. There are other things we imbue with meaning enough to remain with us through our lives as well, such as favorite teacher, when a particular individual was encountered for the first time, a terrible blister at scout camp -- oh, and that one counselor, you know, the one who sang all those -- but I digress. We as individuals all have our individual memories. As a culture, it is a different story entirely.

There are certain things of such a nature that it makes an impression on the psyche of the whole of society. When the colonists faced the British in open revolt, an unknown participant, after the initial exchange of fire at a bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, is purported to have said, "That was the shot heard round the world." It must be wonderful to have such a fine sense of history at what must have seemed such an inauspicious time.

Down through the years, other things, usually of dire moment, have entered into the memories of our culture as a whole. Each of these is constituted of multiple individual memories. Ask World War II veterans where they were and what they were doing when they heard about Pearl Harbor, then later, on VJ day. Those in my generation (and a little ways on both sides of it) can remember vividly what they were doing on November 22nd, 1963. I was in fourth grade. I remember my science teacher, Mr. Hilbert, coming in and somberly making the announcement that the President had been shot. I knew it was important, but in my fourth grade understanding of things, I didn't really understand why.

Just before my son started school this year, I told him what happened to me in fourth grade and I wondered out loud what historic things would happen while he was in fourth grade. Less than two weeks later, that question was horribly answered. The horror in New York and Washington DC on September 11 has entered the mind of the world as an example of the worst kind of terrorism that can be visited on one people by another. Flight 93 and elements of the aftermath have also entered the collective consciousness as examples of the heights of heroism to which humankind can rise.

When all of this was going on, even though I was appalled by the actuality, I was also struck by the fact that elements of the reality have been (unfortunately) the fodder for Science Fiction for years. I'm sure some of the more scholarly among us could name more stories, or books that do this than I can, but "Friday" by Robert Heinlein explored a premise in which a terroristic plan was executed and people all over the US and the world were assassinated without apparent reason or explanation. And "Millennium" by . . .I Don't Remember, I think it was Joe Haldeman, but I could easily be wrong, looked at evacuating people from historical tragedies by using time travel -- something that was proposed by a young writer I know. Sometimes, people like us can be a little too prophetic.

But it was a satiric fantasy writer who said it best, Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson) in "Alice's Adventures Through the Looking Glass" had a character say, "It's a poor memory that only works one way." Science Fiction -- good Science Fiction -- has always tried to remember the future and the effects of things today on the things that have yet to happen. Hopefully it is a literature of thought and examination. And of course that brings us to our next meeting, Paul Levinson, Writer of "The Silk Code" and "Digital McLuhan" will grace us with his presence and speak about "Science Fiction as the Quintessential Literature of Our Time." Somehow that strikes me as singularly appropriate.

But that's not all! On Friday night, October 12th, the night before the meeting, we are planning a PARSEC foray to Castle Blood, a haunted house in Bealsville, PA -- Washington County, then on Saturday after the meeting, we'll have dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant in Squirrel Hill. Who knows what we'll do after that -- maybe make some good memories.

See you then.

Cinemania in the Hall

Reviews by Bill Hall

Current Events as Seen From the Second Dimension


It was a comet-heavy injury, heaped upon an insult that cut as deep as a scrapped utopia. 2001 was already a bad enough year for what we did not have: the Howard Johnson's Earthlight Room, the sprawling Moonbase, the giant ship to Jupiter, even the too-human supercomputer.

There was a time when, thanks to Kubrick and Clarke, the very number 2001 shone with hope as brightly as 1984 did not. Their vision, though rooted in the story "The Sentinel," was ultimately cinematic. 1984 had failed cinematically, either by being too Cold War and ludicrous the first time, or too overlooked the second time, when they finally got it right with John Hurt as Winston and Richard Burton as O'Brien in his final performance.

Thanks to Kubrick, film did not hamper the original concept, but liberated it, and in so doing set a standard that to this day has only occasionally been brushed up against.

Because of that impact, the Taliban triple strike (it seems as good a name as any) has felt uncomfortably intimate for me. It is as if someone set out to make an ultimate mockery of the movie 2001, as if someone took one look at a Star Gate and a voyage "beyond the infinite" and decided to twist it Moebius-style into a pathetic egg-small crumple. It is as if Kubrick and Clarke had the right dream imagery, culled from the psychedelia of prophecy, but got the gist wrong. The main event would be on Earth, not in Space, and a warning, not a promise.

The movie 2001 is a Tale of Two Monoliths, the one that teaches us to use tools during the Dawn of Man (sorry, Flonet Biltgen, but I am only quoting the movie itself), and the other one we dig up from beneath the lunar crater Tycho. In these two monoliths, we see an alien power taking credit for our rise and our development -- comforting if you are simply anxious to get on with First Contact under any circumstances whatsoever, but potentially disquieting in the long term. The monoliths say "We're older; we're bigger; we're smarter; we got you started; let's examine you now."

What if someone objected to that?

Here is where we leave 2001 the Movie and enter 2001 the War. We've not been back to the Moon in nearly thirty years; however, a billion people go on making their own "journeys" via Islam, a faith represented by a crescent Moon. You will recall that the movie showed us the Earth monolith beneath a crescent Moon, and then the Moon monolith beneath a crescent Earth -- and that too speaks to the Taliban movement, as well as its distinction from the majority of Islam: that it seeks a crescent Earth, a neat gapping away and obliterating of a large "infidel" fraction of humanity.

As the movie starts, the Earth monolith inspires a man-ape to take up bones as weapons, first against animals for their meat, then against fellow man-apes in the fight to secure the supremacy of one's family. The man-ape hurls a bone into the air; it becomes a spaceplane, by which we will go visit the Moon monolith. Yet the Taliban, apparently, object to all this, so they take airplanes (for want of spaceplanes, or getting on board a Shuttle) and hurl them like mere weapons of bone into BOTH monoliths: namely, the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This is how they protest what they perceive as cultural imperialism.

Even Flight 93 is reminiscent of David Bowman. There he is, stuck in his pod: he has had to let go of the body of Frank Poole, and he can guess that the hibernauts Hunter, Kimball, and Kaminski are dead; he knows what the score is. Without his helmet, the explosive bolts set to go, he is terrified -- and yet he must wrest the good ship Discovery away from its "hijacker," a serene and aloof intellect gone mad with contempt for "mere" humans.

Overreliance on technology is the subplot of both movie and war. We thought satellite surveillance and sophistication of weaponry could compensate for a breakdown in simple human espionage. We keep hoping magic machines will save us from our dirty work, work that we may still need to do for ourselves. Meanwhile, it stings to recognize how MacGyverlike the whole operation was, without so much as one gun, and that all this was achieved at K-Mart prices.

But you know what? 2001 was always, frankly, a little too openly overanxious a choice of year to begin with. 1984 was simply 1948 transposed, but 2001 ... it was as if to say "At last, all things Earthbound will be neatly tied up and left behind, come the next millennium."

So it may not be so surprising to hear so loudly, and even so violently, from our fellow Terrans come 2001. Think of the terms we use: First World, Third World. How can we speak of each other as separate planets? Before we do finally conquer Space, how much of a sense will we truly have of Earth, the entire Earth, and its Chinese, its Indonesians, its Brazilians? And isn't it presumptuous to wrap everything up by 2000 AD without a thought for the Jewish calendar, or the Muslim one? There may have been some haste, some hubris.

Yet what Usama bin Laden miscalculated is that this is our wake-up call. September 11: 9/11, or 911, the emergency number. 2001: with the Cold War gone and terrorism an international threat, the beginning of a truly global millennium. We have ten centuries to get on with, and they demand our immediate and urgent care and attention, if we are to hold sway over the course of history, and keep everyone alive and safe -- but we shall go out into Space, and united this time, shoulder to shoulder, providing Mecca-like pilgrimages for all.

I could end here, but I recall Clarke milking the 2001 phenomenon with the politely overlooked sequel 2010. In that, Jupiter is transformed into a small second Sun, right during the brink of an atomic war on Earth.

A major thermonuclear spectacle, resulting in global peace and unity? I do hope that Clarke has quit being so prophetic. The peace and unity sound nice -- but speaking from the Ground Zero that was once the World Trade Center, what could such a thermonuclear spectacle possibly be? I refuse to contemplate that.

As fans of science fiction, keepers of that subgenre known as future fiction, we understand that the Future is equally as real a coordinate of time as the Past. It is my hope, not only that we will secure the blessings of (the movie) 2010, but that we will do so with no need for further hazardous spectacle.


Jerry Bowyer will interview Dr. Paul Levinson on WPTT radio at 10 AM Friday morning, October 12, 2001. Tune your radios to 1360 AM.

Friday, October 12, 7 PM, PARSEC members will be meeting at the Castle Blood haunted house in Beallsville, PA. It is run by fen with professional level costuming. We have a group discount in place -- it'll only cost $5.00 a head (attached, that is) for each person in your party -- Friday night only (The regular $8 fee has been reduced to $5 for people who use the magic word "Turnshek"). The tour takes 30 minutes, and then we go out for ice cream! Castle Blood is located in the S.W. corner of PA at 2860 Main Street (Route 40). It's about 45 minutes from Pittsburgh. From I79 South, take the Rt. 40 East exit at Laboratory and go 12 miles East. Go to for a map and directions. For further info call Castle Blood at (724) 632-3242. Please plan to join us (with your families). I can't think of a more appropriate group of people with whom to check out period costumes . . .

In January 2002, Diane Turnshek will be teaching a module called "Astronomy and Science Fiction and Fantasy" at the Seton Hill College Masters Degree Program for Writing Popular Fiction. For more info see:

Robert Brust sold his science fiction painting, "Nebular Encounter," to an unknown buyer at Studio Z Gallery (on the the South Side) some months back. Though Rob sells more mundane works occasionally (and has been represented by SZG for years), this is noteworthy as his first-ever sale of art in the SF genre at a professional gallery (after having been told by another in our area that such images might move on the West Coast, but were unsalable and could not be shown in Pittsburgh). And that's in addition to the painting kindly bid on and purchased by Ann Cecil at the Confluence Art Show.

Rough Beasts, the multimedia CD anthology of shapechanger poetry, is due out this fall but can still be preordered online at a 25% discount. Poetry read by Linda Addison, Nancy Etchemendy, Charlee Jacob, Robert Lunday, Mark Rudolph, Kiel Stewart, Steve Rasnic Tem, Sandra Katuri, Diane Turnshek, Melanie Tem, John Trantor, Colleen Anderson, R. G. Evans, Kathy Shaidle, and Kurt Newton.

Directly following the PARSEC meeting on Saturday (October 13th) will be a group dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Please join us.


Hell on Earth
by Michael Reaves
Review by James Walton

Colin, who seems to have no last name, is a mysterious man who lives in an equally mysterious mansion in New York. He is very highly trained in the use of magic and is sort of a cross between the characters "Dr. Strange" from Marvel Comics and DC Comics' John Constantine, though meaner than the former and not as nasty as the latter. Colin awakens one morning to find his mansion burglarized by demonic forces. A magical artifact called The Trine has been stolen from its hiding place and all of Colin's warding spells are neatly nullified. Colin, baffled by the theft, sets out to retrieve his property. Colin is joined in his search by his sometime business associate, a lower ranked demon named Asdeon, and a beautiful angel named Zoel.

Liz Russell is a journalist and the author of a best selling book on a serial killer named Maneater. She spent two years of her life being stalked by Maneater and is one of the witnesses when the killer is executed. But Maneater refuses to stay dead.

Terry Dane is a professional bodyguard for a company with an exclusive clientele. He is very good at his job but he occasionally has nightmares about something he saw while a soldier during the Gulf War.

And wandering around somewhere is a demon who achieved an Earthly body via the unholy union of a father and daughter.

Each of the above have a part to play in the events which unleash Hell on Earth.

When I finished Hell on Earth I put it down and said to myself "I can write a book like that if I want. But I want to write a _good_ book." Not that Earth is a bad book. It's just that there isn't much to it. It's a fairly standard plot found in many books in all genres. Reaves doesn't do much with it, adding just enough to make it a dark fantasy. So it never has a chance to become a good book.

Colin spends most of the book wandering around reacting to situations instead of trying to figure out what is going on. Why were his artifacts stolen? Why is he able to retrieve them so relatively easily? You can understand why Dane and Russell may be a bit confused. They aren't trained magic users, but Colin is supposed to be some sort of guardian.

Why is he so clueless? Why has he been entrusted with protecting the Earth from the Fallen?

Colin's battles with demonic forces, while interesting in themselves, are more like highlight scenes from an action movie. The reader wonders "What was that about" instead of learning more about the story.

About 200 pages into the book Colin begins to show the frustration the readers are feeling. He demands answers from his companions, the angel and the demon, who just shrug and say "You know the rules."

The book's dust jacket mentions that Mr. Reaves has done a lot of work in television and comics. This experience didn't translate well to the novel form. All the emphasis in Earth is on action and scenery. I can see "made for TV movie" stamped all over this one. Hell on Earth reads remarkably like a mediocre comic book. But in the last 10 years or so we have seen comic books which featured superior writing and story telling along with great artwork. Earth doesn't measure up.

At the end of Hell on Earth there is a scene in which Colin is having a conversation with Zoel and Asdeon. This scene is probably meant to be funny but all it does is highlight the comic book nature of the novel.

Although it is self contained, Hell on Earth contains many references to Colin and his previous encounters with the forces of Good and Evil. I can find no mention of a previous book featuring Colin but I suspect the author will be very happy to crank out a prequel if there is interest.

by Garth Nix
Review by Ann Cecil

Sabriel is a teenage witch, in a very proper, very British sort of way. At eighteen, after years of girls convent-like boarding school, she thinks herself very ready to face the perils of rescuing her father. After all, he has sent her his sword and his bells, so she gathers her magical armor and spell books, and marches off into the Old Kingdom, which seems the source of both good and bad magic.

The good magic is called Charter Magic; along with Sabriel, we discover that the Charter Magic is embodied in three bloodlines (hers, the royal family, and a half-explained odd group) and two physical objects: the Wall (that separates the Old Kingdom from the New), and the Charter Stones. The bad magic is called Free Magic, and seems to embody a Chaos principle. It is clearly a Dark Force, oozing evil and blackness at every chance.

The New Kingdom, called Ancelstierre, seems to be England in about the 1920s; they have electricity, steam power, guns, and telephones. The Old Kingdom is a distinctly medieval place, retaining the quaintly British names (Holehallow, Nestowe, Cloven Cleft), with villagers bobbing servilely, lots of big stone castles and mazes, clearly stuck in an earlier pre-industrial age. The beginning sections of the book, as Sabriel starts her search for her father, sounded very Lord of the Rings-like to me: Sabriel is pursued by a Mordicant, a dark menace that foreshadows the eventual rise of a Greater Evil, and she must pursue a quest to restore the land from outside threat, complete with magic silver ring, through a path that leads underground, across narrow fragile stone bridges over chasms and rushing water.

What makes the book different ultimately are two innovations: 1) Death is a land, with Seven Gates, and Sabriel can walk there at will and return; and 2) her familiar is a talkative cat with a sharp and twisted sense of humor. The swordplay is kept to a minimum; a complex set of bells are used as the real magic weapons, spicing the fairly standard coming-of-age and romance plot. There is a real surprise at the climax of the book, logical but jolting for the reader.

Obviously this is the first book in yet another trilogy, but it is a very quick read. It is targeted, I'm told, for the young adult audience (i.e., teenagers), and comes from an Australian author I've not read before. I'm not sure how I would have liked it when I was a teen; the LOTR parallels would not have occurred to me, and the scenery would have intrigued. The palace reservoir is an extremely cool and unusual place, with the weird skylights adding an otherworldly touch. Ultimately, the success of the book depends on how much you are cheering for the heroine, and eager to read her further adventures. I had a bit of trouble with her level of sophistication in areas like sex, given the background setup, but her growing awareness of how little she really knows, as she tries to apply her training to the real world, is all too recognizable. For me, Sabriel was interesting if not compelling.

Last Meeting

Minutes Submitted by Ann Cecil

PARSEC met on September 8, 2001 at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library. The business part of the meeting was called to order by Kevin Hayes around 2:15 pm. The raffle was won by Diane Turnshek, who actually took a prize for herself.

Treasurer's Report was given by Greg Armstrong: the raffle brought in $23, giving us a net gain for the month after expenses (mostly postage) and other income (mostly dues for new members) of $142.30.


Confluence report: Randy Hoffman has 4 filk concerts already scheduled: Dave Kushner, Gary Ehrlich, Ilk, and Steve Hoag. Kevin Geiselman will see to it that the website has a direct map for the hotel (a better one than the hotel site has). David Honigsberg has inquired through the website about maybe being invited to attend and perform (both an author and a filk guest).

The main program was a Deconstruction of Worldcon, by those who went, along with questions from those who didn't. The following report was taken from notes made by Laurie Mann.

PARSEC, the Pittsburgh SF Club, spent about two hours Saturday discussing the Millennium Philcon. There were probably about 30 Pittsburgh-area fans at Worldcon. Nearly half of them worked on Program in some capacity, and the remainder were attendees. About 20 of these fans were at the deconstruction meeting.

Junkyard Wars - we'd love to see an in-depth report of this. People who were there had a wonderful time (local fan Tom Morrow was tapped to join Micheal Whelan's team, which placed third).

The "building a language" panel should have been two shorter sessions rather than one really long session.

No one liked the location of the workshops.

Program ran short of program participant ribbons.

Moderators forgot to repeat the questions given by audience members, and this was a particular problem in the larger rooms. The 50-minute hour was often ignored. Moderators often ignored the "STOP" sign when it appeared in the back of the room.

Gaming was a problem. Many people included on gaming panels were never notified (though in at least one case, the person in question managed to ignore E-mails from at least two different committee members).

Gaming panels were then moved around without any warning. Gaming needed more signs and fewer rooms. M414, CC103B, CC105B and much of Franklin were not used by Gaming (and Program could really have used CC105B more than Gaming on Saturday! At least one gamer told me the reason the gaming rooms were so empty is that many gamers went to Program instead!).

The writing exercises organized by Diane Turnshek were well-attended.

Book discussions went well, though Ann Cecil wound up leading two of them when the writer to lead the discussion chose not to read the book. Discussion leaders MUST choose a specific book and should not have one assigned to them. Room Marriott 307, where most of the book discussions were held, was said to be too hard to find.

Program items really needed descriptions. ISAAC interviews must be pre-scheduled. Kevin Hayes helped fix problems with ISAAC interviews and also lent a hand at Autographing. Program rooms needed to have been bigger and needed more Buffy panels.

The Hidden Lovecraft panel digressed way too much.

The Hawthorne Suites staff was very helpful.

The restaurant guide was said to have not included information on how to find the underground mall. This made finding cheap, open restaurants on Sunday and Monday very hard.

Random fans rescued anime several times during the overnight. A DVD was defective, but a fan had a VHS tape with the same material so the VHS tape was donated to the cause. Sometimes, fans had to start the next DVD when a staff person failed to appear.

The early closing and moving of Registration was a problem. A tall, bearded, dark-haired man (possibily Australian, possibly named John) who worked Registration yelled at people who asked questions (multiple people reported this, including William Tenn). People who work with the public must attempt to be polite. (Information kept sending people up to Program Ops for things that had nothing to do with Program - we had to send a lot of people back over to Ops, which was in the Marriott. I don't think we yelled at anyone (except for Alyson Abramowitz when she came in and demanded that Program Ops do her Press staff job for her.)

The filking was excellent and the concerts were very good, except the stage should not have been put right under the ventilation ducts. Concerts also tended to blast the people trying to filk in Open Filking next door (especially Monday). Open filking was particularly crowded after 2am (when bars and parties closed) and should have been in a bigger room at that time. Tables were in the way in some filk circle rooms.

People liked the Radio Room, but noted it only ever had between 3 and 6 attendees.

Fanzine Lounge was awesome. Weakest Link was good.

Internet Lounge was not well-administered technically. Java was not properly configured. People running the room did not seem to understand Unix networks. They got some volunteer help from some Unix administrators from time to time.

DYR/Educator's program was excellent.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Oct. 13, 2001 12:30 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Dr. Paul Levinson speaking about SF

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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