The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


October 1997, Issue 141

ConFluence 98 Announcement:

We now have a guest of honor: Nancy Kress. She taught Clarions East and West in 1992, and Clarion West in 1994. She regularly teaches SF writing in Rochester, NY where she lives with her two children, Kevin and Brian. She is a "Fiction" columnist for Writer's Digest magazine. She has won Hugo and Nebula awards.

Her bibliography includes the books: The Aliens of Earth, An Alien Light, Beggars and Choosers, Beggars in Spain, and the short story collection, Trinity. In addition, the novella "And Wild to Hold" was published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (July 1991) and the story "Eoghan" appeared in Alternate Kennedys, edited by Mike Resnick

Hugo Winners

Best Novel: Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Best Novella: "Blood of the Dragon" by George R. R.Martin
Best Novelette: "Bicycle Repairman" by Bruce Sterling
Best Short Story: "The Soul Selects Her Own Society"by Connie Willis
Best Non-Fiction Book: Time & Chanceby L. Sprague de Camp
Best Dramatic Presentation: Babylon 5 "Severed Dreams"
Best Professional Editor: Gardner Dozois
Best Professional Artist: Bob Eggleton
Best Semiprozine: Locus, Charles N. Brown, ed.
Best Fanzine: Mimosa, Dick & Nicki Lynch, eds.
Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford
Best Fan Artist: William Rotsler
John W. Campbell Award: Michael A. Burstein

Book Reviews

Dean Koontz
Review by Paul Melko

Chyna Shepard is used to being alone. Her mother, involved with one shady character after another, dragged Chyna across the country as a child, emotionally wrecking the girl, placing her in physical and emotional danger from the violent people she stayed with. And now Chyna, a graduate student in psychology, has finally begun to open up to someone for the first time, her college roommate Laura.

The story opens with Laura and Chyna driving to Laura's parent's home to stay the weekend. This is Chyna's first vacation in a long time, and she is tense, nervous at meeting Laura's parents. But all goes well, and she is welcomed graciously into Laura's home. It is a picture of home life that Chyna has never seen.

But that night will be the last peaceful one Laura's family sees, for a killer, calculatingly vicious, is stalking them. Chyna hears a muffled scream in the middle of the night, and only the fact that she is there by chance allows her to live, playing cat and mouse in her friend's home.

This is the start of Chyna's psychological battle with the demonic Vess, a killer who is his own god, who lives for the intensity of any emotion, any pain, any experience. Chyna is forced to protect herself, and also the young Ariel, one of Vess' victims, still alive, but buckling under Vess' physical and psychological assault.

To say the least, this book deserves its title. It's a page-turner, and I read the thing within 24 hours, oddly the same length of time that passes during the novel. Koontz has written a gripping story here.

The story itself, one of struggle between Vess and Chyna, with Ariel as the prize, is primed by the character of Chyna. She is the underdog, repeating her mantra of "Chyna Shepard, alive and well" as she faces one obstacle after another. Chyna is one of the most sympathetically developed characters I've ever read about. She is driven, no super human, both fragile and strong.

Vess is a moderately interesting villain, but paling in comparison to some other villains of the past. His Nietzschian philosophy seems cliched, weak. His machinations appear sometimes clownish. He and his actions are seldom horrifying.

This indeed is no horror novel; it is action/adventure, the story of Chyna's struggle. The supposed horror in this novel, that of imprisonment of innocence, has been done better before, as in John Fowles' "The Collector." Koontz seems to draw directly from this source, and this spoiled the psychological intensity of Ariel's plight.

Nonetheless, this is a gripping read, if expensive for a paperback.

Alien Bootlegger and Other Stories
by Rebecca Ore
Review by James Walton

The stories in this collection all have three underlying themes.

First, there are aliens in all the stories, either from other planets or artificially grown, which the humans in the book must react to for various reasons.

Secondly, the aliens all want to be human.

And third, all the humans are stranger than the aliens.

In the title story, a space alien buys a house in the hills of Virginia, a county where the chief industry is moonshine. Under the protection of the US State Department, the alien immediately sets up his own still, produces a superior product, and undercuts the human competition.

Of course the humans don't roll over and play dead. This story is about the humans, not the alien. All of them react to the alien in odd ways, perhaps driven mad by the aliens presence.

Two of the stories in this collection, "The Tyrant That I Serve," and "Giant Flesh Holograms Keep My Baby's Eyes Warm," are based on the same idea, but told from different perspectives. The rich (who are different from us) are able to buy pets grown to their own specifications. Usually these pets are nominally humanoid, with wings, claws, whatever strikes the owners fancy. Unfortunately, these chimera are usually more intelligent than the owners can comprehend and that leads to disaster. In both Tyrant and Giant the chimera want to be "real boys."

The other three stories book are about space aliens who try to fit into Human society. The rub is, these aliens were considered crazy in their own societies. Why do they think coming to Earth will suddenly make them sane?

Ms. Ore's writing has always reminded me of the work of Terry Bisson. Take that as you will.

Star Well
The Thurb Revolution
Masque World
by Alexei Panshin
Review by Paul Melko

I read the Anthony Villiers novels in my teens, and I loved this comedy series of manners. Anthony Villiers is the epitome of the wayward second son of a nobleman, embarrassing his father and set free to roam, as long as he remains away from the family at all time. (His father sends him an itinerary every so often so that Villiers can make certain they never meet.)

So Anthony Villiers, Viscount Charteris, travels the Nashuite Empire with his companion Torve the Trog. He is a dandy, but more than that. His interests are varied, his companion Torve banned in all but two star systems, and his encounters unique and always met with an imperturbable air.

Book one, Star Well, finds Anthony passing through Star Well, the central port of the Flammarion Rift, a gambling establishment, a resort, a hot bed of thumb-running. Through no fault of his own, he finds himself caught up in duels, con games and shady dealings.

Book Two, The Thurb Revolution, deals with the impact Villiers and Torve have on a backward planetary system. Torve's artform, his thromming thurbs, is the catalyst for change on Shiawassee and Pewamo, both under the tyrannical censorship of Admiral Beagle. Yagoots abound.

Book Three, Masque World, Villiers travels to Delbaso to visit his Uncle, Lord Semichastny, to obtain his remittance. But also, Villiers is in search of forged papers for Torve, to allow him to travel throughout the Empire. His uncle, however, is having troubles of his own and is reluctant to hand over the money; the local summer-winter laws are forcing him to leave the planet, and there's no one left on Delbaso to come to his masquerade.

Book Four, The Universal Pantograph was never written by a disillusioned Panshin.

The success of the Villiers books rely on the slightly off-kilter universe that Panshin has built, where Villiers, a slightly off-kilter character himself, serves as the voice of ironic reason. The background of this novel is as textured as a Vance novel.

The Virgin and the Dinosaur
by Garcia y Robertson
Review by James Walton

I admit to buying this one because the title struck me as odd.

The Dinosaur of the title is Jake Bento, a professional Time Traveler. He places and monitors miniature "wormholes" and leads expeditions through these holes into designated time periods in Earth's past. Jake is considered to be a loose cannon by his employers, but also one of the best in the business.

The Virgin in question, the beautiful, young paleontologist Peg on her first time trip, is not a virgin. She is well experienced sexually but not with men. The author goes out of his way to mention Peg's sexual preferences, then does nothing with this fact.

Peg freely admits she intends to use her attractiveness to control Jake and wanders around in the Mesozoic era totally nude. Jake, being the consummate professional, immediately shuts off his brain and thinks with his, well, he doesn't think at all.

Jake's lack of concentration on his job causes him to make some very stupid mistakes which jeopardize the expedition, along with their lives.

Peg is not blameless. She blithely does what she wants with seemingly no thought to the consequences. I call it the "Lois Lane syndrome." That is, the female fearlessly wanders into dangerous situations knowing that the male will always come running to save her.

And you can't call Garcia y Robertson a sexist since he makes both his main characters look equally dense.

By the way, there are real dinosaurs in the first and third section of the book. Garcia y Robertson scatters enough names and obscure facts around to let the reader know that he has researched the prehistoric era. More dinosaurs and less Jake's libido would have been welcome.

The middle section of the book has Jake and Peg wandering around through America's Midwest during the early 1800's. It seems that one cannot go directly from the Mesozoic era to Jake's time. One must traverse several eras through a series of wormhole gates located at various places on Earth. Jake's stupidity has forced the pair to make this leg of their journey the hard way.

Peg and Jake meet various figures from history, some of whom recognize that Jake is not what he seems. But the time travelers are in no real danger during this time (nothing at all would have happened if Peg could keep her mouth shut) and this is the weakest section of a weak book. By the way, I am sure Peg has a last name. It's just that Garcia y Robertson has forgotten to tell us what that it is.

The Virgin and the Dinosaur isn't the worst book I've read. But it is very forgettable.

The Demon-Haunted World
Carl Sagan
Review by Paul Melko

Humans are subject to mass hysteria, optical illusions, and hallucinations. We are error-prone and influenced by the actions of others. We reject unpleasant evidence and have fallible senses. We'll pick the world-view that gives us the warmest, fuzziest feelings. We are easily fooled. But, when we know our limitations, when use the tools that are at our disposal, the human mind can go a long way to cutting the chaff from the wheat. For Sagan, the tool to use is, of course, science.

Science will cut the fiction from the fact, the drivel from the data. It provides a way of critical thinking, a unique world-view that is self-correcting, self-critical. It takes into account the fallibility of human sensation by relying on peer-review and skeptical thinking.

Pseudo-science, on the other hand, does not stand-up to skeptical analysis. It is not reproducible. It does not rely on wishful thinking. Science never claims to be inerrant, while pseudo science often hides behind hand-waving and misdirection.

Sagan bolsters his thesis with many examples of human self-deception and silliness, such as crop circles, UFO abductions, astrology, witch hunting, demonology, and many more. Critical thinking, an examination of the facts, and a reliance on science as a tool shows all of these things to be with little merit.

Often Sagan's message is one of education in scientific thinking. He argues strongly for skepticism and critical analysis in the classroom and in popular media as the best way to maintain a technologically advanced society. Without it, we are subject to mass delusion, uninformed decisions, and just plain stupidity.

This is a great book, and I recommend it. It makes the reader think and that is never a bad thing.

Author Appearances in the Pittsburgh Area

If you have any questions, contact:

Kathy Robinson
South Fayette Township Library
515 Millers Run Road
Morgan, PA 15064

Context: A Review

Review by Jim Mann

The lastest Context was held over the weekend in Columbus. Guests of Honor included David Brin and Gene Wolfe. Several NASA types also attended.

This was my third Context. I went three years ago and enjoyed it a lot. I went two years ago, when it was in a new hotel, and didn't like it near as much. The new hotel seemed way too cramped, making for an uncomfortable convention. Last year, they moved to a better hotel (though we couldn't make it last year), a hotel they were in again this year.

By and large, Context is a nice con. It is focused on literary SF and science. The SF panels were pretty good; the science panels were superb.

They had several folks in from NASA. Marc Millis and Catherine Asaro talked about the recent NASA symposium on the future of space flight, including the possibilities of FTL drives, getting energy from the vacuum, and so on. Chris Ready had slide shows on Hubble and Pathfinder. Hal Clement did a nice talk called "Bleachworld," on what the chemistry of an atmosphere containing lots of chlorine would be like and how life could develop there.

David Brin had both a guest of honor speech and a guest of honor interview. He was very pleasant and accessible. (He also had a number of good ideas about trying to get junior high kids involved in SF.) And of course Gene Wolfe is always interesting.

There was a filk concert, but since I'm not particularly interested in filk I did not attend. The art show was decent though there was nothing particularly outstanding there.

The huckster room was small, but Larry's table (though not Larry -- Sally ran the table since Larry was at Archon) was there, as was a table from a mystery book shop and a few other dealers. Overall, I think they had about 6 dealers.

The Context Con Suite is a mixed bag. They do a very good job with food, and on Saturday afternoon (and presumably Friday night, though we didn't arrive till 10am Saturday) it is a pleasant place to hang out. However, due to the cheese and other things that are left out all day long, the smell becomes overpowering by late day Saturday. I pretty much avoided the Con Suite on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon.

The location of the con is good. There is a superb Spanish restaurant within a couple of minute walk (with portions that even I thought were huge) as well as Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, steak, and other places. There's a Bob Evans next door and a Max and Erma's up the street.

As I said, we had a pleasant time and plan to return next year.

ConFluence '98 Short Story Contest

PARSEC proudly announces the Fourth Annual ConFluence Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Contest!

The submitted story which best features the contest theme will be published in the ConFluence '98 program book. The author will be awarded $200. At the judges' discretion, second and third place prizes will be awarded in the amounts of $100 and $50 respectively. The second and third place stories will be published in the "Out of James' Attic" fanzine.

This year the topic, feature, subject, source of inspiration, etc. is "Reality Forbidden."

The stories should in some way show why and how known reality would be forbidden, or show a new reality that could be forbidden, or some fantastic reality that we might want to forbid. Stories may emphasize either the "forbidden" or the "reality" part of the theme.

The ConFluence Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story contest is open to writers who have not met the requirements for membership in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (three professional short fiction sales or one novel sale.)

Please send all manuscripts to the address below:

ConFluence '98 Short Story Contest
P. O. Box 59537
Pittsburgh PA 15210

Start writing and good luck!

Upcoming Meetings

October's meeting time and place has changed. It will now be at the University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Thaw Hall, Room 104, O'Hara Street, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland, PA 15260 - Meeting starts at 1 PM on October 11 (Hey, that's still Yom Kippur). The topic will be Computer Art.

A helpful web site is the parking guide to Pitt campus is Pitt's Parking Map
By car, from East: If coming via the PA Turnpike (I-76), you should take Exit 6 to I-376 West. From 376 take exit 7A, Oakland, onto Bates Street. Stay on Bates Street until the second light, then turn left onto Atwood. Travel to Forbes Ave. and turn right at the light. Move into the left lane and turn left at the first light, onto Oakland Ave, which becomes DeSoto as you cross Fifth Avenue. This isn't marked, but there is a newsstand with a green awning on the corner. Go up the hill to the next light, and turn right onto O'Hara Street. The Department of Physics and Astronomy is on your left, four buildings down. There is an indoor parking garage on the left just after you turn onto O'Hara. Allen Hall, Old Engineering Hall, Thaw Hall, and SRCC are all connected. There will be signs posted to lead you to Thaw 104.
From the North, West, or South, take I-79 (from I-76 if necessary) to I-279 into the city. Follow the signs to I-376 Monroeville, but don't go all the way to Monroeville, of course. Take the Forbes Ave. / Oakland exit, which puts you onto Forbes Avenue going into the Pitt Campus. Turn left onto DeSoto Street / Oakland Avenue and follow the above directions.

November's meeting on November 8th will be the annual book trade/sale, and will be held at the new Mt. Lebanon Public Library on Castle Shannon Boulevard from 1 PM to 5 PM. It's an easy walk from the trolley and from at least two bus lines. There's also ample parking. However, as it is a new facility, there's a strict no food rule, so please leave the snacks home. This place is very attractive and has 48 computers available for public use and plenty of printers.

December 13th will be at Ann Cecil's residence in Dormont for the Annual PARSEC Christmas Party.

January 10th's meeting will be at the Allegheny Branch of the Carnegie Library, and the meetings for February through May will be at the Squirrel Hill library. Topics are TBA.

The Editor is a Dunce!

In last August's Sigma, I mistakenly put in that Tim wrote out what he felt he Palmer should have said in the movie Contact. It was Bill Hall that wrote the reviews and what Palmer should have said.

I am sorry, Bill, and all the rest of you, for the confusion.

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: Kira Heston

Vice President: Wendy Kosak

Treasurer: Joan Fisher

Editor: G. D. Armstrong

Sigma Art and Layout Editor: Nancy Janda

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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