!!Holy Smokes!! It's December again already! I can hardly believe the things we've done and the places we've been. Not to mention the number of words I've managed to commit to paper for this column without actually saying much.
Let's see, some of the places we've been . . . Let's get out the handy dandy time machine and take a look. First, we went to battlefields around the world (and through time) both when Tim Esaias examined how hard it can be for humans to actually kill each other and again when Scott Perry showed us what they armies doing the killing looked like -- at least in miniature.
Then there were the conventions. It's a tribute to the wide ranging tastes of PARSEC members to consider all the conventions our members attended. Those cons covered everything from the running of conventions to literary stuff -- like Confluence -- to music and filking. Oh, and of course we can't forget the World Convention in San Jose -- which covers just about everything.
We also went to visit the Parallax Gallery to view art from around the universes. We enjoyed the PARSEC picnic, and Confluence. Also out of this world, though not necessarily sponsored by PARSEC, were sundry filks and parties. We keep trying to organize an other-than-the- meeting Cinefan group, but that always seems to dwindle away depending on the time of year and the movies available. I feel like the biggest disappointment occurred when Heidi tried to organize a group (read "herd a bunch of cats") to see -- was it Fellowship of the Ring or was it Star Wars -- Attack of the Clones?
The greatest accomplishment occurred when Heidi organized our junket into space. She was the person primarily responsible for contacting and inviting Jay Apt for the April meeting. It isn't every day we're allowed such a vivid excursion with such a generous tour guide.
The places we've been tie so well into the things we've done, don't you think? (Can I segue or what?) Associated with Jay Apt's tour through space was Alpha -- the young writers' workshop. Diane Turnshek's brainchild benefited from the donations and ensuing raffle at that meeting as well as the time, energy and effort of a lot of very able people.
About the things we've done . . .I think it was at the July meeting we found out about some of the other things that members are involved with that go on in Pittsburgh. Some of what they do is SF/F oriented, like Kevin Geiselman's Klingon kadre and Nancy Janda's Pern platoon. The rest were just different: Savoyards, Hash House Harriers and Ferrets.
We weren't done with Alpha yet. Diane spoke about the fandom youth and where the next generation of writers would come from in February. We helped them out in April and we heard from some of the beneficiaries of the program in September. I believe we can rest easy in that there will be stories & books to read, and movies to try to organize ourselves to see for at least the next fifty years. And who knows, maybe we'll have a little to do with helping that along.
We also showed what we do at the November meeting. We sold and bought books, we participated in the electoral process by nominating officers for next year and we had the infamous pods of activity. I thought it was a good idea at the time it occurred. Areas set up through the room to do demonstrations or games or arm-wrestling or bird calls or whatever it was that someone wanted to do. One person asked to participate responded, ". . .no, I don't do craft-time for kids anymore. . ." Ah well, good intentions and all that.
Thank goodness for the time machine, we've been able to do the full circuit of the past year and now we finish up our last meeting by looking at next year. We still have to elect the officers for 2003 -- the culmination of the aforementioned electoral process -- and most importantly, the well known and very highly regarded December meeting. That meeting is one of the easiest to get members to attend: the Party at Ann's. (Yay!) It's certainly the easiest for the president to preside over and arguably one of the easiest to plan and write a column for.
In closing, I would like to thank all of you -- the members of PARSEC -- for the past two years. I have enjoyed the job, it was alternately challenging and amazingly easy. Everybody in the organization has certainly made it interesting. I enjoyed writing the columns (however much I may have complained). If you've enjoyed reading as much as I've enjoyed writing, then I would say it was time well spent on both our parts. I hope the meetings we've had have been worthwhile; I tried to make them different and special and at the same time keep them our meetings. Something that was accessible to all of us on different levels.
And now it's time for someone else to continue into the future, into the science fiction age. Whoever our new president will be, I wish you every bit of good luck, you'll do fine. Don't forget people, to quote Richard Daily, "vote early and vote often."
I don't mean to sound maudlin. See you Saturday!
It's official. James Bond is a science fiction hero.
True, he toyed with SF concepts in his Roger Moore days, but somehow those always felt apart from the "proper" Bond universe, in which the villains were recognizable geopolitical power players instead of deluded utopian zillionaires. But now we see North Korea in possession -- or nearly in possession, if you want to get technical -- of an SDI-type weapon which Rumsfeld and Cheney would sell their souls to possess, if in fact they have not already done so. The verdict seems to be that our real world has achieved all the wildness of a science fiction cartoon, so why not?
My favorite Brosnan Bond continues to be Goldeneye, with Tomorrow Never Dies a close second, but Die Another Day is easily the liveliest of the Brosnan Bonds. It gives us a nice shakeup in the beginning, when Bond is actually captured by the Koreans and imprisoned for 14 months. Say what? You mean to say that spying is genuinely dangerous after all? Yes, and I appreciated so dramatic a reminder. I rather enjoyed seeing a bearded Bond in wet pajamas walk into a Hong Kong hotel and get the Presidential Suite. Which seems convenient, but ahhh, the manager has a hidden agenda.
There are a couple of problems with this one. This may sound crazy, but I stand by it: there's not enough stunt work. I think of Goldeneye, of the bungee jump over the dam, or the sequence in which Bond tried to "outfall" the plane in order to board it. In fact, I just caught On Her Majesty's Secret Service (called OHMSS by fans for conversational sanity) and there's a magnificent avalanche sequence, all the more magnificent because it's clearly natural and non-digital. But here, Bond falls into the ocean alongside a million tons of ice one second, then is floating over the clearly computer-generated ice in a sudden yellow parachute harness the next second. It's a cheat, and the cheats keep coming. Bond drives an invisible car. How do you get the windows and the tires and the hubcaps to cooperate with such an arrangement, I wonder?
What I find interesting is the increasingly complex gyrations that a Bond flick has to go through to come off as contemporary AND Tory simultaneously. This movie directly takes on the issue of landmines, Princess Diana's own cause. The USA has been slow on this topic because we value our own landmines in Korea. Die Another Day manages to have it both ways, by having all those mines neutralized (yayyy!) by being blown up all at once so as to clear a path for invading North Korean troops (booooo!). Even diamonds, those enduring symbols of the Bond cosmos, get specified again and again in this movie as "African conflict diamonds." For those of us who love to deconstruct, this is fun.
I don't know if I'll see this again, but it's worth catching once. Halle Berry does fine as NSA agent Jinx, though I do wonder why an eavesdropping agency would train its people how to swordfight. I also noticed Witchblade alumnus Will Yun Lee in an unfairly short role as Colonel Moon. As for Toby Stephens, playing the villainous Gustav Graves -- he claims to have based himself on Bond, but he seems more a takeoff of Richard Branson -- he looks properly mean and gets in a very stirring swordfight himself. (You may want to catch Stephens in a British movie that's really been growing on me, Photographing Fairies.) Somehow he wound up a total insomniac, and needs a "dream machine" an hour a day to keep his sanity, but this is never really explored. That seems typical nowadays.
The franchise is safe, and with technology worthy of the 22nd Century, or crashlanding aliens, it counts as SF. So let's shake up those martinis and finally let the man in.
It's easy to moan "Everything sucks" and be more or less accurate all the time, but I am more fascinated by missed opportunities, by projects whose failure can not be handily summed up in the 20/20 hindsight of a conventional wisdom.
Witchblade is gone, and no one is really saying why. Its star, and indeed the gluonic force keeping so wild a show bound neatly together in one sympathetic performer, Yancy Butler, had her substance abuse issues, but those seemed to come and go swiftly right in the middle of the second season's shooting. So it would seem she's not the reason after all. Instead, we've been getting rather vague and abstract talk that TNT is simply no longer in the original series business anymore, which leads one to wonder: if 20 million fans were not enough, what would it have taken for TNT to STAY in the business? It's a mystery worthy of Witchblade itself.
Like any show, even the worthiest ones, it had its ups and downs, but in its ups it tried daring things and pulled them off. When she was slumming, Sara Pezzini was stuck in an episode obviously based on The Fight Club, but in her prime she was romanced by Cartophilos the Wandering Jew and visited by the spirit of John F. Kennedy. The show, so far as I could see, had sky-high potential -- and then vanished.
I've seen this before. A decade ago, right on the heels of launching Voyager, UPN created its greatest show to date, Nowhere Man, a weekly exploration of paranoia which matched and in some ways exceeded the classic Prisoner series. Yet that only lasted one year. At least its star, Bruce Greenwood, has found high profile work since then.
But now this seems to be happening repeatedly, and I've got to wonder: are we living in the days of a New Minimalism?
Originally, minimalism was bleakness, chintziness, doing everything with nothing. The movie The Prophesy, starring Christopher Walken as the Archangel Gabriel Gone Bad, is a prime example of this. Now we live in an age of lavish art, but we're seeing another kind of minimalism, the kind that holds back, that looks an opportunity in the eye and walks away.
This is certainly what happened with Enterprise. I admittedly got overexcited about the show in these pages, if only because it was an old concept of mine finally come true, but the show has been a washout. There is more excitement in a single ancient episode like "Amok Time" than in an entire season of Enterprise.
If you think about it, this really should not have happened. It's almost as if the creators decided "Here we have a situation similar to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. What now is the LEAST we can get out of this premise? What is the DUMBEST way we can portray this? We also have a fresh new start on a strange new Galaxy. What are the DULLEST things that we can do with it? How do we get as LITTLE as possible from this?"
Then I caught A&E's The Lathe of Heaven. To be fair, Lathe has problems from the get-go. I love it as a novel, but its demands upon drama are simply towering. Universes come and go, and hardly anyone gets to react to them. It would be a wonderful story to finally nail, probably with the same computer animation that was used in Final Fantasy. But the A&E version settled on a story of five characters, two of them originally minor but made larger, and was pretty well devoid of all sense of urgency. LeGuin's "eye of the nightmare" is little more than a small random mob. It wound up a mellow waste.
So why was it chosen in the first place? Again, I can imagine producers saying "Here's a good story with an obvious uphill battle to its dramatization. How can we FAIL that obvious uphill battle? Here's Dr. Haber, described as a bullying, falsely jovial man. How can we MISS LeGuin's take on Haber completely? Here we have a struggle for existence itself, as the only thread left to us is the dreams of a man lying in the rubble of a nuclear war. How can we LOSE so fascinating and evocative a premise?"
This isn't just "Those two Mars movies could have been better." Projects are misconceived constantly. But with Witchblade, or Lathe, or the premise of Enterprise, there was real material to work with, and it got betrayed. A million detractors will now say that "commercial" or "politically correct" forces "must always" make this happen, but I don't like to quit so easily. Whenever we see a good idea, we should recognize it as such, and stand up for it. That, after all, is why our first best entertainer has always been the book: because the book, in Harlan Ellison's words, is the perfect cassette. The day that dull video drives us away from bookworthy ideas, this New Minimalism will have won. So I keep in my imagination an Enterprise that explores human-Vulcan relations in real depth, and a worthy Lathe of Heaven, and a third season of Witchblade. In your imagination, they can't cancel your best shows. It is, has been, and always will be the ultimate channel.
Barton Paul Levenson's review of Stardust appeared in The New York Review of SF.
Flonet Biltgen and Tim Esaias had collaborative poems from the WorldCon workshop published in Star*Line 25.4: "Enchanted Sword" (Biltgen, Esaias & N. Depoy), "Urban Renewal" (Esaias, David Sklar & Scott Green), "Why it is" (Esaias, Depoy & Green).
Mary Soon Lee had two poems ("Soliloquy of a Nanotech Souffle", "Rush Hour") & Tim Esaias had one ("The Thing Is") in the literary magazine Mobius.
Mary Soon Lee sold the story "Immigrants" to The Third Alternative, and "Growing Pains" to MarsDust. Her story "Making Fields" appeared in the new British magazine 3SF; and "The Mother" reappeared in Waxing & Waning.
Last of all, the story "Fame", by Tim Esaias, appeared in Interzone #183.
Parsec met at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library on November 9th. The topic for the meeting was twofold: first there was the annual Books sale, and second there were 'Pods' of activity. The first 'Pod' was hosted by Nancy Janda with the activity of Origami. This particular 'Pod' was a big hit. The second 'Pod was hosted by Joan Fisher with the activity of Macrame. Last but not least was Randy Hoffman's 'Pod' consisting of gaming.
Kevin Hayes started the meeting off at 2:30. He introduced the 'Pods' and encouraged everyone to check the out. The raffle was held at this time, the winner was Doug Hackworth. The raffle earned the club $28.00.
As the activities continued and people chatted and wandered around looking at things that took their fancy, several announcements were made. Joy's Japanamation is having a sale on most of their VHS tapes- they are only $5.00, this sale will be going on for a while. Randy Hoffman will be on filk panels at Philcon - congratulations Randy! Nancy Janda has a print being sold in Dancing Dragon - a wonderful catalog. Way to go Nancy!
Saturday December 14th will be the annual Christmas party, your gracious hostess for the party is non other than Ann Cecil.
Now what you have all been waiting for- our candidates for office for 2003: vote in person at the Christmas party, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, if you've paid dues for 2002.
President: Doug Hackworth or Chris Ferrier
Vice-President:Stephen Turnschek, Henry Tjernlund, or Sarah Wade Smith
Treasurer: Greg Armstrong-nice going Greg, and you weren't even at the meeting.
Secretary: Joan Fisher or Sarah Wade Smith
Commentator:Ann Cecil- good job Ann!
Hope you all have a pleasant Holiday of choice!
Geoffrey Landis has been recognized as a master storyteller. He's won both a Nebula and Hugo for short stories, though the awards were for different stories, and in both cases the stories were contenders for both awards. His name has been on the ballot multiple times for novelettes as well, pretty much on a regular basis over the last twelve years.
Impact Parameter is his first story collection. While these are all stories that were published elsewhere, they are a selected group, containing resonances that enhance each other as you read through the book. I had never realized that Leah from "Ecopoiesis" is the same person whose dark memories are explored in "Winter Fire," and the tough-minded explorer we see diving "Into the Blue Abyss."
The science is these stories is superb, as you'd expect from someone who does the real thing for a living (Landis is a physicist working for NASA). The surprise is how much more he puts in the stories; these aren't just science made clear, these are real people with strong emotions and feelings. The jacket quotes Gardner Dozois: "While there's hard science content, there's also a rich emotionalism." That's a fancy way of saying that Landis' stories are about the people involved in them, reacting to the scientific background, but never retreating from the foreground of the story.
The book contains an afterward, the only new material in the book, in which Landis explains a number of things, including the genesis of the terms he made up: perimelasma is my favorite, and the story ("Approaching Perimelasma") won well-justified awards. The stories in this collection (16 carefully chosen out of the over 60 that Landis has published) are all such high quality that picking a favorite is almost impossible. Joe Haldeman, in the introduction, picks two as his favorites, but also notes how much the stories show off Landis' range: while some are traditional Analog problem stories (in format, if not in the unexpected depth of emotion and complexity of characterization), one is a light and very funny fantasy, another is a tale of horror that will send shivers up your spine, and there's even an extremely well-done Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Very highly recommended.
Hey! Wait! Don't turn your nose up and move onto the next review. TSR is known for churning out derivative novels in the various Advanced Dungeon and Dragons universe, but this one is pretty good, honest. Diane Duane is a very fine writer even if she has decided to go for the easy money by writing in shared universes. Her novel The Wounded Sky is one of the better Star Trek novels I've read, though it would have been better with different characters, but I digress.
Gabriel Conner is young, intelligent, handsome, and a decorated lieutenant in the Concord Marines. He is well liked by his fellow marines, respected by his superiors and has several choices of career path. Conner's life is forever changed when he follows the wrong orders and he is framed for the murder of several friends and co-workers. A civilian trial fails to establish his guilt or innocence so he is cast out on a planet where he knows no one with no prospects and no way of getting home. For some unknown reason an alien, a Fraal named Enda, offers him a job. Conner sees this offer as a chance to clear his name and he accepts. Soon he and Enda are traipsing about the galaxy in a used starship having adventures. In many ways the Star Drive universe is similar to that of TSR's Forgotten Realms.
The aliens of Star Drive are interchangeable with the races of Forgotten Realms, and the planets and various political groups are clones for their AD&D analogs. There is even an "Elminster" flitting about the galaxy, offering advice and rescuing the heroes when necessary. His authority and wisdom are unquestioned. The Star Drive universe is quite interesting and full of potential. There is nothing really new in Starrise at Corrivale, but Diane Duane is such a competent writer I really didn't mind. I hope all the books planned for the series are of such high quality. A starrise, by the way, is a phenomena resultant from the Star Drive method of faster than light travel. When a starship reaches its destination to an observer it appears to be rising out of a hole in a blaze of pure white light. This light is presumably the energy the starship is shedding as it returns to normal space. Hardly an original concept but the descriptions are very interesting.
Aaron Hudson is an operative with Contraband Unit aboard the huge starship Jersey. He has sworn to protect assets of the ship, but it is a very difficult job. Catching criminals is relatively easy. Keeping the corruption to a minimum is the hard part. Of course Hudson is corrupted. Everyone in the department skims from the materials they recover but Hudson isn't greedy. He takes just enough to make it look good.
Unfortunately his partners are greedier than is safe for any of them. Soon their avarice gains them attention of an internal affairs unit and Hudson is set up to take the blame for all the thefts. Hudson is offered help from an unlikely source: a meat puppet. The human body grown specifically to be controlled by one of the ship's AIs is an investigator trying to shut down the Contraband Unit. Gaunt, the puppet/computer, is totally incorruptible but is willing to make a deal. Hudson is forced to decide where his loyalties lie. As a backdrop to the noir goings on is the highly evolved (or is that mutated?) game of Chess. Hudson was highly ranked in the Tournaments before he joined the CU and the game still occupies much of his attention and colors much of his thinking. There is a lot of skulking about and hiding and chases and innocent people getting hurt, all of it expected. The fools even shoot at each other inside a starship. I much preferred the work of Dashiell Hammet or John D. MacDonald, both of which Checkmate draws from.
I had a few problems accepting the idea of contraband on a starship. Yes, the ships are incredibly huge with millions of passengers, but there is a finite amount of material on board. The AIs keep track of things down to the last gram yet new things are manufactured constantly which places the ship and its passengers in jeopardy. True there are other ships in the fleet, all within shuttle distance, all with large numbers of passengers, but the ships are millions of miles from any planet. The fleet is a closed system. Where is all this extra material coming from? Of course, with so many people with nothing to do except get into trouble it's possible the computers create the contraband to keep the passengers occupied. If they got too bored they might do some real damage. These incongruities tempered my enjoyment of Checkmate. Its Science Fictional elements aside, the story could take place in a large city with no loss of story. In fact, it may make a bit more sense. Why would you spend billions and billions of dollars to transport a group of people who will be useless when the ship reaches its designated world? Are these people actually pampered prisoners, no longer wanted on Earth? Are they to lead a comfortable exile with mechanical servants? Of course, it is always possible that I missed something.
Jon Hundred was a steel driving man. Well sort of. He looks and acts like a man and vaguely remembers being a man, but now he is a cyborg. He is man-shaped but 8 feet tall, 80 percent machinery covered with skin tinted a deep blue. Jon Hundred's Hammer is a tiny bit of extremely dense material taken from the heart of a star. He keeps it wrapped in a variable force field and leaves the package in orbit around the planet on which he lives and works.
Like all men, Jon has secrets which he keeps from his fellow workers. He is on the run the Interstellar Ops corporation, the company which imprisoned and cyborged him, and the true owners of the Hammer. He lives with the fear of discovery and probable death at the hands of corporate enforcers. Jon even has a secret which he keeps from himself. The memory of who and what he was before he became a cyborg is denied him.
Somewhere in his brain is his identity and the reason he was imprisoned. Jon decides to hide in plain sight, hiring on with a construction company and using his massive body to do the work of 10 ordinary men. He leads a team charged with digging a tunnel through a huge mountain on the planet Pellay. A chance remark leads to a challenge: can Jon and his crew dig through their half of the mountain before a crew lead by an Artificial Intelligence can dig through theirs? Soon bets are being placed by everyone in the colony in the battle of man versus machine. Even the very alien Toolies make a wager. They place everything they have on Jon in an attempt to make enough money to buy their way out of servitude and start a colony of their own. The Toolies are a very odd bunch. They are large, amorphous lumps of flesh with the ability to ingest foreign materials and use these materials to shape skeletons as necessary for the jobs they must perform.
Some of the Toolies even ingest video screens to communicate with their human masters. The Toolie colony is made up entirely of females. Male Toolies are so dangerous they are killed as they are born and Toolie mating is strictly regulated. (Toolie is a racial slur, by the way: they prefer the name Insussklik, but of course none of the humans bother to learn that name.) Of course Jon's work prowess is noticed by those who have more sinister interests.
Soon an enforcer from Interstellar Ops headquarters is dispatched with orders to retrieve company property. Jon is warned the enforcer is coming but he doesn't run. His sense of loyalty, honesty, responsibility and whatever else that makes him human will not allow him to abandon his friends. Of course Steeldriver is based on the legend of Jon Henry, the steel driver who raced against a machine to lay railroad tracks. DeBrandt takes the legend and extrapolates it to a new era and a new frontier. In Steeldriver, Jon Hundred spends much too much time feeling sorry for himself, a fact which does not go unnoticed by his fellow characters. I suppose this was DeBrandt's device to show us the depths of Hundred's despair. He feels he must prove himself human long after his friends have accepted him.
Okay, the big question: did I enjoy Steeldriver? Yes. Why? I found myself interested in Jon and just why someone might punish him by making him a cyborg. Although I knew the novel's probable outcome long before I reached the end, I kept hoping DeBrandt would give us a happy ending, which he does, of sorts. He resorts to a deus ex machina, but, to be fair, he hinted the mechanism was available. I think you will find Steeldriver to be an enjoyable novel.
NEXT MEETING: Dec. 14, 2002 2:00 PM to ?????
LOCATION: Ann Cecil's Home:
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.
TOPIC: Annual Christmas Party
Please Note: it is an open house, starting around 2pm and lasting til whenever.
From east, north, go thru Liberty tunnels to West Liberty Ave. From South, go north on Washington Road (rte 19) until it turns into West Liberty Ave. From West, come across rte 51 to West Liberty Ave, or come up Potomac (and up and up) and turn right on Belrose, just beyond Potomac T stop, and right on Hillsdale.
Off West Liberty Ave, turn onto Hillsdale Ave (coming from the south, turn left, from the city, turn right), go down 4 blocks, cross trolley tracks, turn right and park somewhere. 2966 is first house (not the apartment) on left side of Voelkel (one-way going towards Potomac Ave).
PAT: take any 42 (S or L) trolley from downtown, get off at Kelton, walk back to Hillsdale, cross tracks, etc.
For food planning purposes, the following information may be useful Ann expects to have available, at various times during the party:
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
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.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.