The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


September 1997, Issue 140

Kontinuing Adventures of Kira

Well, now that ConFluence is over, it's time to relax and have a picnic! Hopefully, someone will be providing directions to our picnic in this very issue! If I can get them myself (I am as lost as anyone, probably more so), I'll try putting them on my answering machine like I did with the directions to the Monroeville library.

I have directories! A few of you managed to catch me at ConFluence and collect yours already; I will be bringing them to every meeting of PARSEC (barring emergencies and Kira-typical major lapses of memory), so you should have them soon. I will mail the ones to way-out-of-town people; I was going to do this with last year's directory, but I never did get a proper list of full PARSEC membership. (I will try harder this year.) I will also mail copies if I get a request to do so from someone I would have expected to see at meetings. I realize everyone's schedule gets strange sometimes. Anyway, I really want all the directories to be in members' hands this year, so I'll work something out. I'm also asking Greg (are you listening, Greg? [Huh? -ed]) to put in a running notice about giving me info for the directories so that next year I don't get that confused look I got this year whenever I mentioned them (yes, I REALLY DID make directories last year!). I know the notices have been sporadic in the past. I would like to make directories with even more pages in the future. Of course, no one's obligated to put anything at all in the directory, and we do have some stealth members who chose to stay out of it (as opposed to the ones who just didn't know about it or who forgot to get info to me). Give me a couple more years; I'll get better!

Which reminds me--VOTE FOR KIRA! Okay, got that out of my system for this month. Nominations for office are coming up along with the annual book sale in November; I could have some stiff competition if Diane lets Heidi talk her into running! While you're considering your write-ins and which books to bring, get ready to enjoy learning about computer art in October. It will be at Pitt, roughly in the same place as our meeting last year on the Internet (more detailed directions will show up next month). I don't know for sure yet who will be talking, but I'm working on a mix of talents. I'm hoping to provide a glimpse into some new forms art can take. See y'all soon!


If you want your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and web-page URLs in the PARSEC directory, send the applicable information to Kira Heston at 212 Hart Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15235, phone 829-1082, or e-mail, or see her at a PARSEC meeting!

Timons Esaias received a contract for his sale to the Sherwood anthology edited by Jane Yolen, and he sold a poem to star*line.

Paul Melko's excellent story "Light of Evil" appeared in Talebones #8.

Book Reviews

Remnant Population
by Elizabeth Moon
Review by James Walton

In general, novels about dull, boring people who spend most of their lives actively avoiding excitement, tend to be dull and boring in turn. Remnant Population is no exception.

It took me three tries to get through this novel. I read 4 or 5 other books and magazines before I was able to finish it.

Ofelia is the oldest member of a failing colony on a planet many light years from Earth. When the Company loses the colony charter, the colonists are told to prepare for reassignment on a new planet. After 40 years, Ofelia isn't interested in moving. In fact, the Company considers her a liability and probably intends to shut off her life support during Cold Sleep transit.

The elderly Ofelia is a survivor. She spent most of her life following orders and being told she was too stupid to do better. She is really very intelligent and resourceful but her life is much easier if no one expects much from her. She cultivates her helpless/stupid act to the point that she actually forgets she is smarter than most of the people around her. Which is just as well since the people leave her alone.

With very little planning or trouble, Ofelia is able to slip off into the woods and wait until all the colonists are gone. She guesses correctly that little effort would be put into searching for her.

With a planet to herself, Ofelia begins to live as she wishes, which is pretty much how she lived before, except now she does it on her own schedule, etc. More than enough supplies are left behind to insure that she won't live long enough to starve to death.

Moon shows us that Ofelia would recreate the colony to her own satisfaction, if she wasn't so old. It's very boring to watch.

Thank goodness for the Aliens.

Aliens is the wrong word since they are indigenous to the planet. They appear to be at once primitive and very sophisticated. Their civilization is complex and without question they are much smarter than humans.

The Indigenes discover Ofelia after the humans try and fail at establishing a second colony. The Indigenes suddenly realize "We are not alone!"

Because of her advanced age and apparent harmlessness, the Indigenes are quite taken with Ofelia. They adopt her and make her Official Spokesbeing. When Earth officials come calling Ofelia will be the official intermediate.

As someone pointed out to me, (thanks Ann!) Remnant Population is a standard wishfulfilment tale. No one appreciates the old woman and she is considered worthless until strangers come along and recognize her value. Never mind that the woman made little or no effort to prove her worth on her own.

I wish Ms. Moon had written a book totally about the intriguing Indigenes and left out all mention of humans. It would have been a lot more interesting.

Holy Fire
by Bruce Sterling
Review by James Walton

Dull and boring old women seem to be in vogue this year.

Sometime in our future, Life Extension treatments become the largest industry in the world. Choose the right series of treatments and become virtually immortal. Choose the wrong treatments and find yourself shut out of society. (Sort of like picking the wrong computer operating system.) These treatments work best on people who don't abuse their bodies or place themselves at risk. Such people are a bad investment. So naturally the Life Extension industry lobbies for laws making Risky People uninsurable. Eventually all the governments in the world are run by aging bureaucrats intent on keeping the world as dull as possible.

Mia Zeimann is one such bureaucrat. At 95 years of age she has spent her life avoiding anything and anyone that might jeopardize her life extension treatments. She alienated her husband and daughter when they became too emotionally taxing. Her sole enjoyment is collecting boxes from ancient computer games. (Not the games themselves, just the boxes. Space Invaders causes high blood pressure.)

Early on in the book Sterling takes us aside and tells us "This is a very dull person." He takes great care in showing us that this is a dull old woman who rejected every chance she had for some excitement. She may live a very long time, but who cares?

(Allow me to stress here that the character is boring. The book is quite enjoyable.)

Her sterile existence makes Mia a prime candidate for an experimental Life Extension treatment. If successful, Mia will be young and beautiful again, a 20 year old body with the money and experience of a 95 year old.

Another variation on the wishfulfillment tale. Starting life over, young, without worries or responsibilities.

Fortunately, for us, while recovering from the procedure, Mia suffers from one of the possible side effects, schizophrenia. The new personality, Maya, hates being watched and studied and on a very un-Mia like whim, escapes to Europe.

Unfortunately, the young woman is rather boring too. She knows absolutely nothing of the world she now inhabits. The gap between the gerontocracy and the young disenfranchised is enormous and very little of Mia's experience prepares Maya for her new life.

It is the society she moves through that is the most interesting character in the book. We experience it via the people who befriend/befuddle Maya during her wanderjahr through Europe. Maya is so hopelessly inexperienced and naive that criminals stop her to give advice. Each character has his own take on why society is the way it is and where it is going. Most of the people Maya meets are obviously as confused in their own way as Maya is, but that is part of the fun. One character is horrified to discover that some young people actually buy and read books.

I admit to being perplexed at how very benign Maya's world is. She never seems to be in any danger, except possibly from herself. Will a ruling class of immortals chance human nature that much?

I think Sterling means Holy Fire to be a Cautionary Tale. (Of course, all good Science Fiction is cautionary in nature.) The Holy Fire in question is the will to live, the creative spark, that which separates humans from horses and computers. He is asking us what good is a long life if we cannot enjoy it, as well as showing his disdain for our rules laden society.

by Lois McMaster Bujold
Review by James Walton

I have a minor disagreement with Ann. I think Memory is a competently written, dull book, while Ann thinks it's a poorly written, dull book. Ann also thinks the painting on the cover is horrible. I think the cover is pretty cool. It's much more interesting than the book.

Memory is the latest in Bujold's extremely popular Miles Vorkosigan series. In this one, Miles is suffering from medical problems as a result of an incident in a previous book. (He was dead and they brought him back. He's lucky his problems are so minuscule.) Said problems make Miles unfit for military duty but he hides them with disastrous results. Miles then lies to his superior officers about his problems and is, of course, caught and thrown out of the service.

Bujold shows us Miles' depression and self pity at being cashiered. He didn't know how to be anything except a soldier and Bujold has him contemplate suicide. Of course, at no time was I worried about Miles. Bujold never allowed him to do anything that seemed suicidal. He always picked nice safe places to be depressed and to get drunk. Miles is supposed to be a military man, used to dishing out death and destruction. Not once did Bujold have him put a gun to his head. Almost none of Miles' depression rang true.

Later, when Miles has come to his senses, Bujold shows us parts of high society on Miles home planet of Vor. Miles is some sort of Lord and has duties to perform. All this is good therapy but it doesn't make the book more interesting. Many of the scenes could have been lifted from the first part of War and Peace.

Which brings us to the question "What exactly is science fiction about this book?" Except for a few name changes and references to spaceships and such, Memory could be a period piece from any time in the last 300 years of Earth history.

Oh, did I mention that this is also a murder mystery? Bujold seems to have tacked it on as an afterthought, and no one really dies. People who have read all the Miles Vorkosigan novels say they knew who the "murderer" was as soon as he was introduced. I admit to being fooled for a few pages.

I was never particularly interested in reading any of the previous books in the Vorkosigan Saga, (they all seemed rather bland) and this installment doesn't change my mind.

by Robert J. Sawyer
Review by James Walton

I've never seen Starplex in its book form, so I must assume the book contained the same material as the serialized version with no additions or changes.

I will state for the record that I think Starplex is much more interesting than Sawyer's Terminal Experiment, which was nominated for the Hugo last year.

The Starplex of the books title is a huge starship. Thousands of Commonwealth citizens live and work aboard her as the ship flits about the Milky Way. The Commonwealth is made up of planets connected by "shortcuts." These shortcuts are 4 billion artificial and abandoned stargates located all through the galaxy. No one knows who built these gates or why, of course.

All is not well within the Commonwealth. The shortcuts made it possible for many alien races to meet, often before they were ready. There is conflict and intrigue all of which is reflected in Starplex, who crew is a miniature version of the Commonwealth.

Luckily, the shortcuts are inactive until something enters it locally. Whenever a new shortcut is turned on, Starplex is sent to investigate and perhaps make First Contact with a new race.

Keith Lansing, the director of Starplex is human and undergoing a midlife crisis. (At least that's what his wife, Clarissa thinks. He just seems overworked to me.) He is responsible for the thousands of beings on his ship, many of whom are hostile to humans. It is during a routine check of a recently activated shortcut that Lansing and crew discover that the universe is much stranger than any of them ever imagined.

Although most of the characters in Starplex are quite wooden and one dimensional, the hard science discussions were very well done.

And yes, I made the obligatory comparisons of the Starplex ship and crew to the starship Enterprise. (Original series of course.) Everyone of a certain age thinks of the Enterprise when someone says the word starship. Of the 3 or four Sawyer books I have read, I'd say this is his best.

Blue Mars
Kim Stanley Robinson
Review by James Walton

I wanted to like this book. I tried very hard to like it. In the end I hated it, but that is not Robinson's fault.

Blue Mars is the third in Robinson's Mars series which began with Red Mars and continued with Green Mars. It takes up where the previous book left off with no explanations of what went on before.

Which brings us to the problem I have with Blue Mars. I never read the previous two books, so I have no idea of what is going on, nor do I care. Blue Mars does not stand alone as a novel. To get anything out of it you must read the first two.

Blue Mars is very well written. It is filled with beautiful descriptions of scenery both on Mars and on Earth. I have no doubt in my mind that Robinson has visited every local he describes on both planets. I read some of the passages several times to insure I had taken in all the minute details.

But the pretty pictures did nothing for me without a story. Without knowledge of what went on in the first two books, I found myself becoming annoyed with the various characters. They all seemed to be wandering around for the sole purpose of wandering around.

This would be a good place to insert my yearly rant about Hugo nominated books standing on their own, but I've gone over that too many times.

I hope Robinson comes out with a stand alone novel as well written as Blue Mars.

Movie Review

Event Horizon
Review by Bob Hykes

I got this great hat at Confluence. So did my kids. It was from the people that made the movie Event Horizon. When I went out with the hat on people would ask me if I have seen the movie. I thought it would be nice to be able to say yes, so we went to see the movie. Not a good idea! My sixteen year old daughter hated it and my 15 year old son who likes blood and gore thought it was stupid.

I really like science fiction movies, this one was the exception. This was a horror film that was set in space. Very heavy on the blood and guts light on charactor and plot. It reminded me of the movie House of Blood shot on the set of Aliens. The opening scene is shot in a way that it gave me vertigo. Things didn't get better. There are very few new ideas in this movie, a space ship that bent space to travel faster the light is hardly a new idea. The only good thing I can say about this movie was that I had free passes so at least I didn't waste money seeing it.

Convention Reviews

LoneStarCon 2
Review by Jim Mann

Despite some pre-con disorganization and a few minor slip ups at the con, LoneStarCon2, the 1997 Worldcon, was successful and a lot of fun. The programming was by and large creative (though some of the administration of it left something to be desired), the hucksters room was huge and diverse, the art show included lots of good stuff (though it was not arranged all that well), and the big events came off well.


From all reports, opening ceremonies was spectacular. This was followed by the Meet-the-VIPs party (run by Ann and JJ). This was a very successful one. Typically, these parties attract a number of people early on, but they soon leave. The LoneStarCon Meet-the-VIPs was still crowded after 2 hours, and fans, authors, editors, and artists, were interacting well. I finally got to meet Mary Doria Russell (and though I didn't manage to get my copy of The Sparrow autographed, I later got to autograph her copy of The Sparrow).

The Hugo ceremony by and large worked well, despite Neil Barrett occasionally wandering away from his mike (and occasionally just wandering). I was quite enthused when Blue Mars won the Hugo, as I had spent an hour and 45 minutes with Stan Robinson, moderating his literary tea. I was also quite pleased to see Bob Eggleton win another Hugo (and accept it wearing his Boston in 2001 vest).

I didn't go to the Masquerade. It took 4 hours for everything (which is one reason I'd rather have a root canal than attend a Worldcon masquerade). However, from what I heard, some of the costumes were quite spectacular.


I hate to admit this, but I was too busy to attend any program but my own item. So, I'll report on my item, then comment on what I heard about the rest of program.

I lead the Literary Tea on Blue Mars. Typically, Literary Teas (and Coffee Klatches) involve a group of perhaps half a dozen fans having coffee or tea with a writer. At LoneStarCon, some featured up to 40 people. I was therefore very wary about this one. I didn't have to be. We had 25-30 people, all of whom were enthusiastic. Robinson and I sat at the front of the room in comfy chairs. I introduced him, said a few words about his books, then told the audience that my only job as moderator was going to be to step in if someone tried to monopolize things (nobody did); otherwise, I just acted as a member of the audience, as Stan chatted with them and answered their questions. It worked very well (and I heard the other literary teas also worked very well).

The rest of program seemed to work well, thanks to great work by program operations. It featured a number of good ideas, though sometimes they were in the wrong rooms, and in a number of cases, the schedule didn't quite match what was in the program.


LoneStarCon had about the best press coverage I have ever seen for a major convention (which probably explains why the convention had more at-the-door and one-day memberships that they had dreamed possible). The coverage by and large focused on what we want to tell people about conventions, not the quick shots of people in funny costumes so typical of such coverage a few years ago). Highlights included:

-- a long article in the paper the Sunday before the con, which featured quotes from Tor editor Patrick Neilsen Hayden and a list of the major Hugo nominees. It also featured a page of reviews of recent SF books.

-- TV spots, including a short interview with convention chair Karen Meschke

-- live radio from a room near the Hugo ballroom, including interviews with authors, editors, and fans, and essentially live reporting of the Hugos.

-- articles in the paper that even discussed some of the program items.

[I know so much of the details of Press Relations since Laurie was running it, and I was in and out of the press room most of the weekend whenever I wanted to say hi to her.]


The convention was mostly divided between three facilities:

-- the convention center, which was where most of the program was held. It was also the site of the Dealers Room, the Art Show, the exhibits (which included a bug from Starship Troopers), and other things. -- the Marriott River Center, which was the site of the big events, the con suite, and more parties than I can list. -- the Marriott River Walk, which was were gaming, dances, and literary teas were held. The facilities were pretty good. The convention center and Marriott River Center were about a block apart, though you could stay out of the heat most of the way by cutting through the Marriott River Walk, which was located between the two.


I didn't hit as many parties as some. I spent most of my time in the two Boston in 2001 parties, which placed 1st and 2nd in the party ratings on their respective nights (and the second place night was because the reviewer was so surprised by how good the Z'ha'dum bid party turned out). On one night, we had about 1000 or more helium filled balloons, filling the entire ceiling of the double suite and spreading out down the hall, helping give us out "under the sea" theme. The suite also had an impressive out door patio, which was a great place to sit.

I also attended the Philadelphia party (though I missed the cheese cake), the Cancun party, the Chicago victory party, and the San Francisco party. This means that there were at least 50 parties I didn't attend. I'm getting too old for party hopping, I guess.

There was much more, but I have limited time to report on this. Maybe someday...

Another Person's Opinion
LoneStarCon Review by Ann Cecil

This is a totally biased, specifically personal perspective on WorldCon, which was held this year in San Antonio, Texas over Labor Day weekend.

JJ and I came in on Tuesday night; Worldcon proper doesn't start until Thursday (Opening Ceremonies are at 7 pm), but Wednesday is always a busy day. People are doing setup all over the place (particularly in the Art show -- sort of like Confluence only 5 times larger, or in a well-organized WorldCon, 10 times larger). Normally you can get in gopher credits of 8 to 10 hours, enough to earn a free t-shirt or a prize of some sort. This year JJ and I got volunteered by Jim Mann to be Staff; this means, in exchange for Having Your Name in the official Program Book, you get to work twice as many hours and get no credits or prizes (the logic is that Having Your Name in the Program Book is the first step to becoming a BNF, and Being Important is what it's All About).

Fortunately, our Staff duties were pretty easy (go think up decorations for 50 tables, then find a store that sells them cheap in a town you've never been in before - piece of cake when you've done a whole con!). San Antonio is a pleasant western town -- the most distinctive feature is the Alamo, which is the remains of an old mission chapel, and had been the site of other armies' last stands before the Texans (everybody else just gave up). The next feature you notice is that all the streets are crooked. No, not the geographically imposed crookedness of Pittsburgh; the streets have definite curves, clearly planned on the basically flat plain (though I'm told in Texas terms, this is hill country).

The other neat local feature is the Riverwalk; somebody made a canal that goes in a circle (what else?) off the San Antonio River, and then organized little flagstone and cobbled walks, very touristy, (and uneven) with lots and lots of shops and restaurants bordering the canal. The Manns organized a group 'boat dinner' On Wednesday evening for 20 of their friends, including us; the canal is populated with flat-bottomed barges carrying people, and in our case, our group seated at a long table, merrily eating and drinking (you knew there would be beer, of course) and watching the sights (mainly other people from the con eating and drinking at restaurants on the walk).

The other point of background detail: Laurie Mann had a ribbon saying 'Temporary Holographic Texan'. It develops that the concom was supposed to be only Texans, but when they realized they needed 'outside' help, they made the helpers 'Texans'. Quite of few people had these ribbons. JJ and I, once our staff duties were done (Thursday night), turned outselves into 'Temporary Holographic Dorsai' and helped the Dorsai, who displayed volunteerism above and beyond the usual, at the Art Show. The Dorsai, not being as well funded as the concom, did not give out ribbons.

I tried really hard to stay out of the Dealer's Room, since I spent most of my discretionary income at Confluence. Unfortunately, I did stop in once or twice -- I found a British Book Dealer who had Paul McAuley's new novel - the 'First Book of Confluence' - which won't be out here until next July, so while I was buying that... There were lots of books, games, fannish stuff, jewelry, and even a table with fabrics, which seemed to be doing well.

Programs were interesting; there was a whole track of Mars-related panels, which were put in small rooms. Judging by the over-crowding, people are getting serious about Mars, not just in reading about it. Some other panel favorites: Meet the Campbell Nominees, which was poorly attended, but was interesting, since you get to see new writers be nervous and blurt out things they'll know better than to say later. There didn't seem to be as much 'literature' programming as usual, but that may have been because tracks were not marked in any way. Clearly the big emphasis for Texans was on fan programs -- they were in the closest rooms, and were number 1 in the program list for each hour. The science and literature programs were mixed in, alternating between small rooms upstairs and larger rooms downstairs with no apparent pattern. There were several panels in an 'Ethics' set; also several with 'Locale' in the title (they did our 'Setting as Character' panel, but the panelists didn't understand it, they talked about using the setting as part of the plot). Clearly there was a plan in regard who was on each panel -- the choices were often quite interesting -- but the room seleciton seemed to be random.

Every Worldcon has to have a Phillip Dick panel (if it doesn't, his fans will invent it). This one got added near the end; the Daily newspaper, which appeared somewhat less frequently than in most Worldcons (they got out 9 issues; most have 13 to 15), did manage to publish programs changes twice, which included this addition. I got to the room a little early, and notice a sign tacked up which advertised a 'Manuscript Preparation Workshop' to be held in the room at the same time as the Dick panel. Others gathering for the panel gave up, but I had faith. When the woman for the workshop turned up, I pointed out that we had prcedence; about that time, the moderator for our Dick panel came up, and started fuming. I got the workshop person to move to another area, changed the sign, calmed down the moderator, and moved the panel (now down to me and 6 guys) into the room. The moderator (Eric Van, of Readercon) proved interesting and informative (he had some nice handouts). He wanted to extend the panel into dinner, but I already had plans (JJ and I were meeting his brother).

Due to a minor accident involving spilling boiling chili on my ankle the week before Worldcon (when we were making the Pittsburgh entry, which unfortunately got eaten as someone else's entry in the Confused Chili Cook-Off), I did not go to parties at night. JJ held up Pittsburgh's honor in good fashion however (though the ubiquitious Jim Whalen was also doing his bit). I know Mark Paulk was there too, though I didn't see him until I got to the airport on Monday.

It wasn't the best WorldCon I've ever been to, but it wasn't the worst. And Blue Mars won!

Upcomming Meetings

September 13th will be the annual PARSEC picnic, noon-7 (or so). Eating, swimming, biking and no loud music. Yay! To be held up at Moraine State Park, South Shore Pavilion, Pleasant Valley Picnic area, pavilion 1. It seats about 80 people, and has picnic grills and water, but no electricity. The walkways to the pavilion are paved, and there is a playground nearby. Moraine State Park is off of Route 79 - follow the signs that say "South Shore" once you reach the park. The picnic starts around noon and lasts until people decide to leave (or go to the nearby Grove City Mall to shop).

Please note the rental rules:

The Manns will bring staples (charcoal, lighter fluid, ice, paper plates, plastic ware, napkins, and Diet Coke). Everyone else, just bring interesting food to share. The Manns promise to be up there by 11a.m. to get the signs up and set up the area.

October's meeting will be at the University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, Thaw Hall, Room 11, O'Hara Street, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland, PA 15260 - Meeting starts at 12:30 on October 11 (Hey, that's Yom Kippur). Thaw Hall is the center of three buildings. If you step out of the Pitt bookstore, it is one block straight up the hill in front of you. Metered parking in front of the building, nearby parking lots are at Soldiers and Sailors and Western Psych, free parking on side streets off O'Hara east of the building. The topic will be Computer Art.

Novermber's meeting will be the annual book trade/sale, and will be held at the new Mt. Lebanon Public Library on Castle Shannon Boulevard from 1-5. 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.

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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