The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


September 2002, Issue 199

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

Recapturing lost memories and bringing the past back to life. It isn't a hard thing to do, not really. We've all read the books and seen the movies. We know how it's done. Whether by use of magic, or machine, or maybe just the creative employment of meditation and directed will it can be done with different effect.

When working with all of the different activities I was involved with this summer, it struck me that we have a unique opportunity. We have people among us who can offer an interesting comparison of viewpoint. Some have been fans for a long time, some are just becoming involved in fandom -- if you really want to call it that -- and some just have interesting thoughts and they're all around the same age. I speak of the kids. Some have parents who have been going to conventions for as long as the kids can remember, some are getting involved for the first time and learning this all as they go along.

That said, I'd like to introduce our guest columnist; someone who has a kind of a weird situation. She has a father who is involved in all that stuff, but hasn't been involved for very long. She has among other things a unique viewpoint.

This is Nora Hayes, Kevin's daughter for those who don't know me, writing the column again this month. Yes, I'm back and in high demand.

My dad said that because this month's PARSEC meeting was about "second generation fans," having a "second generation fan" write the column would be a neat idea. I think he's just lazy. But he feeds and clothes me for at least three more years, so I'll humor him and do it anyway.

That's always an argument parents use. "As long as you're under my roof. . ." is often shouted in the heat of battle between parental units and offspring. Another favorite of mine is, ". . .You won't be living in this house very long if you do. . ." Nowadays, I'm sure that's heard often.

I don't understand why some parents don't understand their children. On TLC, a show called "Teen Species" was on. I saw part of it and was lead to believe it was some sort of study on what makes teenagers tick biologically and mentally. In the advertisements, "Teen Species" was always described in my mind as an encyclopedia of the younger generation. I don't understand why adults think we kids are such a mystery. You were there once, weren't you? Do you not remember what happened to you 15 years ago? What you were like in high school? Well, whatever you were like, your kids are probably like that now.

Let me break it down for you. There are usually two groups that teenagers sort themselves into. There are the kids who fit in, and the kids who don't. In bigger schools, these groups are more defined, with a very stiff and impenetrable line separating them. In small schools, those two groups are there, but everyone gets along anyway.

I've heard from people in big schools about the evil popular people and how shallow they are. In my school, where the biggest class in history is only 180 kids, the popular people are nice to pretty much everyone. My school's homecoming queens tend to be the over-achievers who never have an unkind word to say to anyone. They are always happy -- a sharp contrast in other schools. Thus the advantage of a small suburban school.

The social classes last until college when it doesn't matter where you stood in high school. It's a new environment with new social classes, but meanwhile, the high school social scene is one of the most troublesome issues in most teens' lives. Either they have to work hard to stay on top, work hard to get to the top or work hard to stay on the bottom. The bottom dwellers tend to be rebellious loners, writing creepy poetry in the corners and calling the popular people "sheep." But that's a gross exaggeration. They're just a little weird.

Those on top do the high school thing to its fullest, always looking good in public and always looking for the next significant other. And those in the middle are just your average Joe and Jane.

And that's it. That's what makes teens teens: friends, boyfriends, other's opinions. I won't lie, I care. I can't skip a shower every now and then, or just buy whatever clothes are comfiest. I have to go with what looks good on me, so others don't think I'm gross. And that's it, that's life, that's the way it is.

Now was that so hard? High school life hasn't changed much over the last 30 years. So the next time you wonder what some kid is thinking, remember what you'd have done in the same situation how ever many years ago.

Kevin again. If it's any consolation to the rest of you, I still have no clue to what kids are thinking sometimes, but I guess that's okay; they have no clue to my thoughts either. Hopefully this Saturday, we'll be able to get some insight into what their thoughts are. Some are experiencing conventions and fandom for the first time, some are old hands at this kind of goings on. Some write, some just read and enjoy, but they all have opinions and considerations. That's what it's all about. See you Saturday.

Cinemania in the Hall

Movie Review by Bill Hall


It's a funny phenomenon, which I've seen more in an audience for TV than for a movie. A woman can watch Third Rock from the Sun and marvel and gush over John Lithgow. Now, I take nothing away from John Lithgow, if only for his Dr. Lizardo in Buckaroo Banzia, but I begin to suspect that this fan is barely aware Lithgow owes much of his effectiveness to a staff of writers. It's almost as if she seems to believe that Lithgow is spontaneously improvising his entire script. In general, people may have calmer responses to their favorite performers, but this seems to be how they think.

If a writer is very lucky, a few people will recall that some guy named Chase has something to do with The Sopranos, or even that some guy named Straczynski has something to do with Babylon 5. For the most part, though, the writer is a secret that hides in plain sight. In this alleged Information Age, the frontal lobe of the conventional wisdom refuses to access his or her name.

It was probably inevitable that Star vs. Creator would lead to a comedy, and Simone is perhaps the definitive version. Just when you thought M. Night Shyamalan was monopolizing the Popular Outsider role in F&SF cinema, Andrew Niccol of Gattaca and The Truman Show comes back with a curiously light move which is simply a delight, not much more and certainly no less. For anyone who likes a dash of intelligence with their comedy, as compared to the Austin Powers stuff, Simone is a must-see.

I'm struck by the simply hateful review of this by Michael Batz in the indie paper Pulp. First, he goes nuts wondering what Winona Ryder is supposed to signify. So far as I can see, the bitchy prima donna she plays is little more than the excuse to get on with the movie. It worked for Singin' in the Rain, which was no serious analysis of prima donnas either, and it works for Simone. Al Pacino plays Viktor Taransky, a filmmaker twice nominated for an Oscar for his work in short subjects, who pines for the heyday of John Cassavetes and gives his movies overblown titles like SUNRISE SUNSET and ETERNITY FOREVER. We see him try to stuff a huge portrait of Greta Garbo into his car, and this is only a foretaste of the gallery of actresses he keeps in a computer. What if he could pick nuances at will from the files on Garbo, or Loren, or Streep, or Hepburn (either one), and create a synthespian to make Dr. Aki Ross of Final Fantasy look like ???

To read Batz, Simone strains for Postman-like pretentiousness, but in fact it simply doesn't. There's a surreal stageyness to it all, reminding us that this is pure fairy tale. Andrew Niccol, who wrote, produced, and directed this, is coming to a kind of humorous reconciliation with his invisibility, and he pokes at the vanity of his own ilk by creating in Winona Ryder a mirror ego named Nicola Anders. The message of the movie is simple: star power always wins and always will.

The only point where Simone derails is when Taransky pushes his ethereal star through a yucky project called I AM PIG. (I wonder if this is meant to refer to the humiliations of Catherine Deneuve in Belle du Jour.) The idea seems to be that the public will always forgive her, and I don't buy it. We live in the age of the E! True Hollywood Story, of what Neal Gabler calls in his book Life: The Movie the "lifie," in which a star is required to fall from grace for the simple hubris of daring to be a public figure, then finds his or her way back. If Harrison Ford could not make The Mosquito Coast a blockbuster, then I'd say Simone would have her own limits as well. A savvier script would have incorporated this fact of life.

Still, Simone is a worthy fairy tale, and seems to accidentally hit upon deeper issues, like the eerie transvestism of Taransky so fully realizing an ideal of an ultimate woman. Meanwhile, in reality, the movie has had a whole other fun effect. Model Rachel Roberts, the acutal Simone, has gotten to prove to Craig Kilborn that she's not all pixels after all, and Al Pacino, sitting down to a rare interview with Matt Lauer, cited Niccol as his main reason for getting involved. Watching Pacino, I could imagine him playing Simone, then replacing "Niccol" with "Mr. Taransky." This may be as much justice as the writer will ever win in this star-driven industry, and it has been sweet to watch.


The Turk
by Tom Standage
Review by Timons Esaias

This is non-fiction, but it has everything needed to appeal to the readers of SF/F, to wit: androids, technology, the question of Man versus Machine, gaming, magic, enough legends and mysteries to count as Alternate History, Napoleon Bonaparte, Edgar Allen Poe, P.T. Barnum, Catherine the Great, Beethoven, Philidor, Handel, fraud, a detective story, patent infringement, Deep Blue, Deeper Blue, Benjamin Franklin and Charles Babbage with his revolutionary mechanical computers. If it were fiction, it would be a steampunk masterpiece.

The author, who also wrote The Victorian Internet, subtitles this book "The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine", and that's a pretty fair description of the subject. What the subtitle doesn't tell you is how fascinating the tale will be. There's the root idea for a new SF story every couple of pages, because this book explores the interesting world of 18th and 19th century automata ("the forgotten ancestors of almost all modern technology"), where the technology of the Industrial Revolution got its initial tryout as an amusement for the Courts of Europe, and as stage show phenomena for the rest of the world.

Standage explains that as clockwork mechanisms became ever more complex and imaginative, jewelers and clock-makers began to invent the equivalent (in their specialties) of Faberge eggs. They created mechanical eagles, mechanical flies, mechanical harpsichord players, writers, draftsmen, and a whole range of mechanical pictures that are the video players of the time before electricity. And one of these artisans, Jacques de Vaucanson, set out to build a complete artificial man. All of these toys were only for the very rich, of course, who gave them as State gifts or used them as show-things at important parties.

It was one of these shows, put on by a visiting Frenchman for the court of Austrian Empress Marie Therese in 1769, that begins the course of events this book is about. The Empress invited an official of the Court, Wolfgang von Kempelen, who was interested in science and technology, to explain to her how the Frenchman's various illusions and machines probably worked. When the show was over he said he thought he could do better, and the Empress told him to prove it. Several months later, von Kempelen produced his answer to the challenge: the Automaton Chess-Player that would fascinate the world for almost a hundred years, spawning dozens of books in its own time, all attempting to penetrate the mystery the "Turk" generated: how did this machine play chess?

The Turk not only played chess, it played it quite well, beating almost everybody almost all of the time. The Turk itself consisted of a large cabinet containing the machinery, with drawers containing the chess pieces and other necessities for the performance, a chess board on top, and sitting on a chair at the back of the cabinet was the upper body of a figure draped in Oriental garb, wearing a turban, holding a long Turkish pipe in one hand and playing the game with the other. The cabinet was opened front and back at the beginning of the performance to prove the absence of a hidden human, and since it rolled around on casters it was clear that no-one could enter from a trap door after the doors were resealed.

Suffice it to say that this book is a quick read, a real page-turner, and much of the fascination is not with the Turk itself, but with its impact on popular imagination. The questions it raised spurred inventors - of everything from power looms to difference engines - to push the envelope of technology. The analysis of it caused Poe to begin the invention of the modern detective novel. The road show inspired P.T. Barnum. And, what is more, it didn't let Napoleon cheat.

Drinking Midnight Wine
Simon R. Green
Review by J. J. Walton

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Toby Dexter is a 30ish man sleepwalking through life. He has a dead end job in a bookstore, no ambitions and no pretensions to greatness. He lives alone in a modest house and seldom socializes. He can at best be described as innocuous. Dexter is aroused from his perpetual stupor by the sight of an extraordinarily beautiful woman who rides the same daily commuter train as he. Of course Dexter is too cowardly to say hello and spends several painful weeks worshipping the lady from afar. One day, on impulse, Dexter decides to follow the woman off the train, through the train station and into the pouring rain. The woman, upset at the precipitation, abruptly turns back toward the station and walks through a door Dexter had not seen before. He follows and emerges into a dry and sunny day.

Dexter has crossed from our mundane world into a land where gods and magic are common place. And the woman he followed, Gayle, is much more than she seems.

For better or worse, Dexter is no longer entirely "real" and must now make a place for himself in a world where he doesn't belong. Our world, the "real" world is called Veritie and the magical world is called Mysterie. For various reasons many beings of power make their homes in the town of Bradford on Avon which exists in both worlds. There is quite a bit of overlap and Dexter visits many places which are at once familar and inexplicably sinister.

Dexter himself really is a dullard. His only interesting quality is his love for Gayle and his willingness to fight (and die) for her. Fortunately Mysterie is populated with such characters Waking Beauty, Jimmy Thunder and Luna. Beauty never sleeps and sees everything which goes on in Bradford on Avon. Thunder is a private investigator and the last descendant of Thor, the Norse god of thunder. His godly powers are well diluted by too much mortal blood. Luna, Gayle's sister, is crazy but has the integrity to admit it.

Of course Somthing Is Wrong and Dexter is in a position to help make things right. (Which is the point of the whole book.) He is a Focal Point for coming events which can have deadly repercussions in both worlds. Most of the book consists of Dexter and Gayle wandering around searching for clues and asking for help.

While I found Drinking Midnight Wine to be entertaining in places, there are several awkward scenes, usually when Dexter is speaking, and there is nothing new here. It is very similar in subject matter and execution to the novel Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, which also was not terribly original.

By the way, I think the title Drinking Midnight Wine was an afterthought.

Last Meeting

by Ann Cecil

PARSEC gathered on August 10th in Bellevue, at the Bellevue Memorial Park for the annual memorable picnic. There were salads and chips and cookies and hot dogs and hamburgers and stuff to put on the hot dogs and hamburgers. Initially there weren't any buns to put the hot dogs and hamburgers on, but just as our resourceful President went running off to the nearby Giant Eagle, the buns arrived!

While several people we haven't seen in a while turned up for the picnic, by far the most notable was Matt Henkel, back from another year in Japan. What made his appearance really different was that he brought two young Japanese girls back with him! Chris Fundi, his mom, explained that they weren't really some esort of harem; they were students who had become so impressed with his Pittsburgh stories that they wanted to see it for themselves! This sounded good until, midway through the picnic, another very cute young Japanese girl turned up looking for Matt. We 're not sure about all this...

Besides the usual eating and, since it was hot, absorbing all the iced tea in sight, and game-playing (we had two back tables full of enthusiastic gamers for most of the time), there were also people exchanging opinions on Lord Of The Rings (was it as good as the books? should they have left in Tom Bombadil, or was it ok as is?), and on books (what else?) and various other hobbies.

Randy had talked on-line and elsewhere about having a filk session, but 1) no body brought instruments and 2) everybody was deeply involved in gaming. So we contented ourselves with playing various filk albums on a boom box (provided by Greg Armstrong, CDs by various people).

This year was a bit lower key and relaxed than last year (I think because we didn't have as many of the small future Parsecians running around), but it was thoroughly enjoyable. And somehow 10pm came before we were really ready to stop, but they threw us out anyway.


Tim Esaias's story "Pawn" appeared in Interzone #180. Despite the shame and humiliation of his recent Hemingway's reading, Tim has been selected to be one of six poets reading at the South Side Poetry Smorgasbord (which will be retitled the Triple Play) in October. This is Pittsburgh's major annual reading event, and will be his first paid poetry gig.

The big, important news is that Mary Soon Lee's second story collection, Ebb Tides and Other Tales, has been published by Dark Regions Press.

The magazine Waxing & Waning has also decided to reprint her story "The Mother".

Chris Ferrier's poem "Dragon Slaying" appeared in Weird Tales issue #328.

Ken Chiacchia sold the story "epidemic" to Ideomancer.

World Con

by Ann Cecil

ConJose was the name of this year's WorldCon (the 60th!). It was held in San Jose, which meant I was very tired of 'way to go' jokes by the time I got there. JJ and I turned up at registration on Wednesday noon, because we had been fast-talked into helping with program participant registration (in my case) and general program at-the-con functions (in JJ's case). This was fallout from having worked for Jim and Laurie Mann at MilPhil (last year's Worldcon in Philadelphia).

Programming was all ready for us, but registration was having some problems; the pocket programs hadn't arrived yet. Wednesday is early; Worldcon doesn't really start until Thursday, so we didn't worry about this, but it turned out to be kind of a theme: ConJose, rather than having all the program materials delivered from their printer at once, had opted to have materials delivered in batches each day. This meant that every day they ran out of pocket programs in the middle of the day, and then around 3pm there was a rush of people attacking the day's boxes. But eventually everybody got all the stuff due them.

Besides the pocket program books (which does in fact fit in a back jeans pocket), we got the big fancy official Program Book (which had lots of ads, program participant bios, articles on WorldCons, words from the Co-Chairs, articles on the Guests of Honor (Vernor Vinge, David Cherry, John & Bjo Trimble, and Ferdinand Feghoot) and the Toastmaster (Tad Williams), and a comic strip. Yes, I did mean Ferdinand Feghoot; he was the Imaginary Guest of Honor. Last time Worldcon was in California, (ConFrisco), they included a Dead Guest of Honor (Mark Twain). California being California, they feel they always have to do something a little -- uh -- different.

We also got a really classy looking separate publication entitled Restaurant Guide, done by the couple from Minneapolis who have garnered much acclaim for the guide they do for Minicon. It was certainly pretty, and highly opinionated. Out of the three places I ate, I agreed with their description in one case, and disagreed strongly in the other two cases. The cover art, by David Cherry, makes it a souvenir worth having, regardless of the contents.

The Worldcon program itself was the usual amazing melange of tracks, with panels on costuming, science, writing, books, fan stuff, media, etc, etc, etc. More panels than anyone could possibly see, and then of course there are movies; they show, theater style, all 5 of the Hugo nominees (as if there was anyone there who hadn't seen Lord of the Rings already). The Dealer's room is enormous (think the Confluence Dealer's room multipled about 16 times), and has an incredible amount of stuff. Given that I was flying home, I tried very hard not to go in there.

There is an Exhibit hall, a whole big room devoted to fan exhibits (though this year they seemed smaller than last year -- which may just have been because the San Jose convention center is mammoth) and tables for those making bids on future cons. And an Art Show of equally mammoth proportions - I didn't even go in. Program items were in one of two sets of meeting rooms, which were located about a city block apart. Fortunately ConJose ran panels for an hour and 15 minutes, and then left 15 minutes to get from where you were to the next item (which was always on the other side of the hall, of course!).

Since I can't possibly do justice to all the things at Worldcon (it goes on for 5 days, after all), I will concentrate on key events. The Hugos were on Sunday night, and I got to be in a special position. Don Kosak, for various reasons, couldn't come, so I went with Wendy into both the pre-Hugo special party and got to sit up front with the nominees. Wendy didn't win this year (she gets another chance next year - she can be nominated in her second year and win at Toronto, where many of us plan to attend, right?) (yes that was a hint). Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring was of course the winner for the dramatic presentation, and imagine our surprise when the two guys sitting in front of us jumped and ran on-stage: Sean Astin (Sam Gangee in the movie) and the Maori who plays Sauron were right in front of us. They had shoes on, so I guess it's no wonder we didn't recognize them.

While she didn't win the Hugo, Wen Spencer did ok at Worldcon; there was a decent line of people waiting at her Autographing session (she was late, due to that city block factor and being in the farther hotel), and one of her panel sessions inspired people to go buy copies of her books.

Paul Pence was at Worldcon as well, running their early morning writing exercises (a tradition started at MilPhil by Diane Turnshek and Bobby Nansel that seems to be continuing). It was popular - just as at MilPhil, close to thirty people got up every morning to be there. Paul had a number of fans by the end of the week; he's been asked to do a repeat of his sessions for a group in Texas! Those of us who were part of Alpha know about the enthusiasm and organizational skills Paul brings to every aspect of what he does; it's nice to see him recognized!

As part of the entertainment, on Friday night a talented cast put on a radio play, written by Terry Bisson, called 'Terror in Wolf Swamp.' Due to a slight scheduling snafu (the room got moved, the time got changed, both of which were in the official daily program changes sheet, but then the time got changed again, for some reason), so we only saw about half the show. What we saw was wry, witty, and fannish (to be expected from Bisson). And among the performers was Thomas Seay, one of our first Alpha grads!

Worldcon is always fun and exasperating (because there are always panels you want to see scheduled against each other) and exhausting (because you stay up too late at parties, talking to people, or at filking, listening to amazing filkers like Kathy Mar and Leslie Fish and Joey Shogi). And next year will be closer!

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Sept. 14, 200212:30 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.

TOPIC: Alpha Review

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

September 2002
Date : 14 September 2002
Discussion Topic : Alpha review
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

October 2002
Time & Date : 12 October 2002
Discussion Topic : Scott Perry on gaming
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

November 2002
Time & Date : 9 November 2002
Discussion Topic : book sale and Pods of Activity
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

December 2002
Time & Date : 14 December 2002
Discussion Topic : Xmas party
Location : Ann's house

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: Heidi Pilewski

Treasurer: Greg Armstrong

Editor: Don Cox

Secretary: Joan Fisher

Commentator: Ann Cecil

Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.

Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.

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