It looks like I won't be able to make the Christmas party. My request for the day off has been officially disapproved, but if it suddenly looks like we have less mail than we're expecting, they may change their minds. Just in case, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Saturnalia, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
November was our election meeting. We had a fairly small turnout; we seriously thought of nominating everyone who wasn't there for President, but we relented at the last minute. Greg should be reporting our nominees elsewhere (I gave him the list, so I don't remember). We also had our book sale. Jim Whalen showed up with tons of books; unfortunately, I had to leave early, so I didn't get to see how many he returned home with. In other news, it pays to buy many raffle tickets. Nelson bought seven, and guess what--he won! Let this be a lesson for future meetings!
I have enjoyed being president this year, but I will have to run again later, when (if!) my husband spends more time in town. Don't worry, I'll warn everyone when I decide to run again so they have plenty of time to start their own club instead! Seriously, I hope everyone enjoyed the year, and I hope next year will be just as great (if not better). Enjoy yourselves at the party!
Eric Davin was recently announced as the winner of the 1997 Bryant Spann Memorial prize in literature for his essay, "The Last Hurrah? The Defeat of the Labor Party Idea, 1934-36," published in We are All Leaders.
Dear Sigma Editor and Readers:
My name is Dawn Martin, and I am a member of the Horror Writers Association. I have volunteered, along with another member from NYC, to create and maintain two comprehensive HWA databases of use to HWA members who are interested in promoting and publicizing their books. I understand that Parsec is primarily a science fiction club, but I believe many of you can possibly contribute information to this project and benefit from it. A free hard copy of the database will be available upon request to non-HWA people who contribute information to it, and the database will also be available to non-HWA individuals in electronic format for a small fee.
THE HORROR BOOKSTORES DATABASE includes names, addresses, and contact information for bookstores and comic book stores that carry or specialize in horror and dark fantasy. If you know of any horror specialty bookstores, please send me the names, addresses, and contact info.
THE HORROR REVIEWERS DATABASE includes names, addresses, and contact information for columnists and periodicals -- including online-only periodicals -- who regularly review horror and dark fantasy. We expect to concentrate mainly on reviewers of books and stories, but also want to include reviewers of other media, such as movies, comics, and games. So if you're a reviewer of horror or dark fantasy, or you know someone who is, please supply us that contact information, too.
I'm looking for contacts from all states and countries, so don't feel limited to sending information only for Pittsburgh venues and reviewers. All reviewers and bookstores in the database will be given a chance to update their entries annually. Please send information to me via post or e-mail (feel free to call me, too, but information will still need verified in writing). I'm looking forward to hearing from you!
Dawn Martin, Co-Chair
HWA Database Committee
406 N. Neville St. #305
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Tel: (412) 621-7718, after 3:00 p.m.
I met an elf man in the woods,
The wee-est little elf!
Sitting under a mushroom tall --
'Twas taller than himself!
"How do you do, little elf," I said,
"And what do you do all day?"
"I dance 'n fwolic about," said he,
"'N scuttle about and play..."
"'N then I play with baby chicks,
I call them, chick, chick, chick!
'N what do you think of that?" said he.
I said, "It makes me sick.
"It gives me sharp and shooting pains
To listen to such drool."
I lifted up my foot, and squashed
The God damn little fool.
|Vice President:||Don Turner|
Votes will be counted at the PARSEC Christmas Party. If you can't make it, send your ballots to PARSEC, PO Box 3681 Pittsburgh, PA, 15230.
Albacon '97, October 17-19, 1997, Ramada Inn, Schenectady NY, Guest of Honor Melissa Scott, LASTSFA, P. O. Box 2085, Albany NY 12220-0085
Albacon wants to be known as a serious (but fun) con. It runs programming until midnight, which is good since we arrived much later than I originally planned. After the shock of running into so many of our favorite dealers we bought memberships, put our bags in our room, then trooped off to a late panel.
"Girls Who Do Boys on Boys" was supposed to be the hows and whys of some female authors making their male characters homosexuals. I think moderator Billie Aul, GOH Melissa Scott, Pamela Sargent, and Deborah Wunder lost the topic rather early but they alerted me to the existence of fan fiction I'd missed entirely. They called it "Slash" fiction. Many fans like to write stories about their favorite TV characters and place them in homosexual relationships. While I am quite confused as to why anyone would want to write such fiction, I am fascinated at the amount of energy that goes into it.
The 11 PM panel on Friday was "Future Sex: What are the Possibilities?" Of course the panelists were embarrassed. Two of the panelists, Jeremy Bloom and David Honigsberg, were passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth so they were semi-drunk. Two of the other panelists, Pat York and Alexandra Honigsberg were sharing a bottle of wine so they were semi-semi-drunk. The fifth panelist, Don Sakers, looked like he could have used a drink to calm his nerves.
After the panels ended Ann and I decided to check out the two room parties. Neither party was heavily populated and all the males seemed to gravitate toward Ann. I am embarrassed to say that I can only remember the Boskone party and that is because we went through the trouble of checking the dates to see if we can attend.
Parties at Albacon are dry so we headed to the consuite hoping for some liquid refreshment. That is when we discovered that Albacon's idea of a consuite is a few bags of chips, a couple of bottles of pop and no one in charge. Too bad, it was a large comfortable room. Very few people were in the room, probably because there was no reason for them to stay. Since we paid $40 a head at the door, the Albacon consuite is a major disappointment. The consuite was across the hall from the hotel bar, so guess where we went?
Somewhere in here we passed a team of paramedics rushing up to the Boskone room party. We found out later that author Paul Zimmer had collapsed. (Editor's Note: Paul Zimmer suffered a massive heart attack and died at the party.)
It was about 2 AM when I found out how much I hated the hotel. Every sound from either of the adjoining rooms or the hallway seemed to be amplified as it found its way to my ears. The plumbing gurgled and rattled when someone on the floors above flushed a toilet. I suspect the concept of soundproofing did not exist when this Ramada was built.
Despite the lack of sleep we made it to the 10 AM Saturday panel on "World Building." The subject matter meandered back and forth quite a bit with Katya Reiman and Catherine Asaro complaining about the artwork on their latest fantasy novels. David Coe is also a fantasy novelist but he seemed a bit overwhelmed by the company he was in. Alexis Gilliland, a novelist and cartoonist, said "Build your world one room at a time." Ian Stock, the editor of Artemis Magazine wanted to talk about the commercial effort to place a laboratory/colony on the Moon, but the rest of the panel kept changing the subject.
At 11 AM I went to a presentation by Roc Science Fiction in the consuite. Laura Anne Gilman, the Executive Editor at Roc was there pushing her company's upcoming books. They mostly looked like standard fantasy titles but I found out that Kara Dalkey uses Pittsburgh as the setting of her latest book Steel Rose.
"Are Critics Necessary?" was the Noon panel. The panelists, Ernest Lilley, Susan Sturgis, Pamela Sargent, Steve Sawicki, and Andrew Porter arriving late, tried to define the differences between critics and reviewers. They all pretty much agreed that a reviewer tells us if we want to buy a book, while a critic tells us where a book fits within a genre.
After visiting the dealers, I took my purchases back to the room then hurried to Melissa Scott's GOH speech at 2 PM. I thought I was going to be late but Ms. Scott stepped into the elevator on the floor below mine. "I think you and I are going to the same place," I told her. My remark earned me a smile. Among the questions Ms. Scott raised was, "Which is more pleasurable, reading or writing?" The answer is, of course, "It depends."
The 3 PM panel was "Why is Fantasy So Medieval?" with George Zebrowski, J. F. Rivkin, and Catherine Asaro. Martha Adams was called in at the last minute to replace Paul Zimmer.
After dinner we went to the Saturday Evening Extravaganza. Along with the standard costume contest was an odd talent contest and a concert by the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players. The concert was much to loud for the room so we exited as discretely as possible.
The late panel, "Science Fiction Rock and Roll," was interesting even though it didn't seem to be on topic. The panelists compared writing Science Fiction with working in Rock and Roll. It turns out that Warren Lapine was the bassist for a rock band until he developed carpal tunnel syndrome, foul mouthed Deborah Wunder worked as a roady for a rock band for a while, and Melissa Scott has ties to the music industry.
The parties on Saturday night were a bit more interesting than the night before. Competing WorldCon bids, Philadelphia in 2001 and Boston in 2001, were represented.
The lack of sleep from the Friday caught up to me so I headed back to the room relatively early. Of course the room was even noisier on Saturday so I got even less sleep, which I didn't think was possible.
On Sunday morning I think everyone was suffering from lack of sleep. Half of the 10 AM panel did not show up until 10:30. Andrew Porter and Charles Ryan did there best to keep the audience entertained while expounding on the subject "Science Fiction vs. Sci-Fi." When Ernest Lilley and Steve Sawicki finally wandered in the panel shifted into high gear and got interesting. Ryan said that Sci-Fi exploits fear while Science Fiction tackles fear.
I never did get an idea of how many people attended Albacon. I hope the con did well. It will be an excellent con once the rough edges are smoothed away.
Conclusion: Albacon has lots of interesting ideas and guests but it does not often utilize either well. Many ofthe ideas were redundant and several of the guests complained that they were on too many panels. the hotel is a major mistake and the consuite is an abomination when you consider the high membership price. A quieter hotel and better con suite would have greatly increased my enjoyment of Albacon.
by Melissa Scott
Review by James Walton
Science Fiction as a genre is an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, it offers hope. Mankind will be able to overcome its petty problems, reach the stars and place viable colonies on other planets.
On the other hand, Science Fiction is very pessimistic. Most authors assume humanity won't be able to forget its internal squabbles and will take most of them along to the stars.
In Dreaming Metal, Ms. Scott gives us a planet, Persephone, which is far removed from Earth but still tied to it in terms of politics and sensibilities. There are still the Have-nots who resent the Haves, who are suspicious of the politicians, etc. Persephone is a hotbed of political strife and class struggles.
The politics are so strained that certain types of entertainment, such as illusionists or bands, can attract bomb threats. Killing anyone who disagrees with your doctrine is quite common.
Dreaming Metal is also about what makes us human, what makes us unique. Celinde Fortune is an entertainer who uses very powerful computers to help her in her Illusionist act. When she combines two computers in a new way the result is a very complicated program which may or may not be an artificial intelligence. Of course the very suggestion that a computer could be self aware is enough to cause a riot, so Fortune must hide the program, Celeste, who doesn't want to be hidden.
The various parts of Dreaming Metal are conveyed to us via the viewpoints of different characters. This way we can see how they understand the society they live in and react to the changes. The characters do not always see eye to eye as to what is important but they all agree that it is a very bad time politically for an artificial intelligence to be revealed.
Scott does not go into detail, but I infer from her use of language that one of the ethic groups on Persephone, the Coolies, are descendants of Oriental colonists and slaves.
Although there is nothing Earth shattering or "must read" about Dreaming Metal, it is competently written and is entertaining. There is no "happily forever after" ending because in real life humans put the difficulties behind them and try to be content until they run into a new set of problems. This book certainly smacks of real life. Some of the characters end the book in better circumstances than when it began, but who knows if they will be wise enough to hold onto the good.
Dreaming Metal is a continuance of characters and situations found in Ms. Scott's book Dreamships. Except for a few references to events in the previous book, Dreaming Metal stands alone.
The first chapter of The Sparrow is so beautifully and competently written that I found myself grinning in anticipation despite the somber subject matter.
Unfortunately, Ms. Russell soon had me grimacing in agony as I realized how pathetically foolish and naive her characters are. Perhaps this is true to life, but it was difficult for me to accept these people as the crew of a starship.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The Sparrow is the tale of Earth's first, ill-fated, interstellar mission. It is told in flashback form through the eyes of Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest whose hands, mind and soul were shattered by what befell him on the planet Rakhat.
Through an odd twist of fate Sandoz is among the first to be privy to the information that his best friend, an astronomer, has discovered a civilization on a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. Being a good Jesuit, Sandoz immediately decides he must go visit these people. Somehow he is able to convince the Catholic Church to spend billions of dollars building a starship out of an asteroid and crewing it with Sandoz's friends.
When Sandoz returns without his friends, the world has changed. Familiar young faces are now old men while Sandoz has barely aged due to relativity. What happened to him is still fresh in his mind despite 34 years passing on Earth.
Due to miscommunications Sandoz is labeled a pervert and murderer. He is still in shock but the world wants answers now.
The crew of the starship have much to offer such a mission. They are: Sandoz, the Jesuit priest, a 64 year old female physician, her husband a 64 year old engineer, a female computer expert who at one time worked as a child prostitute to survive, the awkward young male astronomer who stumbled onto the alien civilization and three other priests who performed various on board functions. I had difficulty in accepting them as the entire crew. I could not believe that there was no one aboard who knew anything about setting up and protecting a camp in a probably hostile territory. Despite all the preparation, the Jesuits never thought to add someone to the crew to take care of them. Someone not worried with linguistics or phylum. Someone whose job it was to make sure the crew survived.
Do not take these criticisms to mean that I didn't like The Sparrow. I loved parts of it. Though I cannot accept these characters as the sole crew of a starship, the book has some extremely well crafted sections. The characters are well drawn, hubristic, vulnerable and at times extremely irritating. I suspect that Ms. Russell originally wrote in a Command character but the other crew members mutinied.
(Totally as an aside, I kept wondering, if it was so easy to build a starship with existing technology, why hadn't someone built one long before? And if they did, what happened to it?)
I made the mistake of looking in the back of the book and seeing that a sequel to The Sparrow is planned for early 1998. (Actually, they call Children of God a "successor," which may be a separate storyline, but the cover art is very similar, etc.) The possibility of a sequel diminished my enjoyment of the first book because I hate to be left hanging. I am happy to report that The Sparrow is definitely a stand alone novel, as well as being outstanding.
I'm not sure why this book is promoted as Science Fiction. It has a thin, pseudo-Science Fiction veneer, but it is clearly a fantasy. Or maybe I should say "fancy."
Lethem fancies himself to be Lewis Carroll, retelling the tale of Alice crawling through the looking glass and what she saw there.
The Alice in this case is Alice Coombs, a research physicist who, along with her bizarre colleagues, create a "pocket universe" and try to shape it in their own image. Of course the experiment doesn't work as planned. The hole into the other universe, (which they call the Lack because it has no characteristics they can measure or understand) pretty much ignores the scientists. The Lack becomes Alice's obsession and ruins her life.
Alice's lover, Philip Engstrand, of course is upset with Alice's behavior. How can he compete with something that isn't there? Engstrand spends most of the book on a quest to win back Alice's affections while at the same time learning much about himself. On his journey he meets Lethem's versions of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (a pair of blind homosexuals who already live in a universe of their own), the Red Queen (a lady therapist who falls in love with him for no apparent reason), the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. Lethem was successful in blending these characters so I won't make individual assignments for the last three.
As mentioned above, the science in Climbed is thin at best. Lethem has his characters mouth metaphysical technobabble in an attempt to make themselves feel better about their failure to understand Lack.
I just looked at the cover of Climbed and nowhere do the words Science Fiction or Fantasy appear. I guess Doubleday is trying for a wider audience.
The book is enjoyable but much too short. At 212 pages, I found As She Climbed Across the Table to be very skimpy for the $22.95 price tag. I read it pretty much in one sitting and started another book.
(Editor's note: No, this isn't a reprint. Christina Schulman reviewed the same book in last months Sigma.)
I had trouble accepting the two main premises of Expendable.
The first of these is an all powerful, but unseen, master race which rules the lesser races of the galaxy. Said master race allows everyone to do pretty much as they want as long as they don't overtly cause trouble. No war, no crime, everyone negotiating peacefully. Right.
The second premise, the idea that the Earth government deliberately cultivates ugly and deformed men and women for use as expendable planet explorers is a bit easier to take, but the idea that such a program could remain a secret for hundreds of years is ludicrous.
Festima Ramos is a highly trained member of the Explorer Corps. Her job is to visit and explore new planets in First Contact situations. Ramos and her colleagues call themselves Expendable Crew Members (ECM) because First Contact situations are so dangerous and Explorers die with such regularity. All ECMs have some physical deformity which causes them to be shunned by the rest of human society. Ugly people are perfect for First Contact situations because no one cares if an Ugly person dies.
Ramos is successful as an ECM. She has come back intact from several missions and commands some (not much) respect.
She is surprised when her next assignment is to escort Admiral Chee to the planet Melaquin. Chee is an embarrassment to the Admiralty and Melaquin is the "Planet of No Return." Dozens of ECMs have disappeared onto Melaquin without a trace.
Of course when Ramos is assigned to this death planet she is upset. She is effectively being murdered for no other reason than she is Ugly.
There is much more to Melaquin than is in the record books. When Ramos survives her first moments on Melaquin she is faced with the twin tasks of finding out what is going on and finding a way back home. This makes up the bulk of Expendable.
Though not much is made of it, through an odd turn of events, Ramos, who is in tremendous physical shape and has a very beautiful body, is forced to wander across Melaquin dressed in a metal bustier and a ragged miniskirt.
During her journeys Ramos finds the remains of ancient civilizations and signs that Explorers who passed before her were not always very wise.
I read Expendable because I friend of mine raved about it. Unfortunately I didn't find it nearly as entertaining as she did. Perhaps my expectations were too high.
Expendable is a standard Science Fiction adventure. This Mr. Gardner's first novel, and it came across very well. I am more than willing to read more of his work.
Movie Review by William Hall
The cautionary tale has traditionally made great literature and lousy cinema. People may read 1984 or Brave New World over and over, but not necessarily want to see them dramatized. But then we come to Gattaca. It is a cool, calm, somber movie, somehow European in its tone and style, and yet it is poetically gripping. the title is a gene sequence, and the story is of a near future where society has gone so far overboard with genetic typing, assessing potential hazards and risks, that a new type of discrimination has silently but firmly taken power.
On some levels this has to be taken as fantasy, because some things don't make sense. What is Gattaca, anyway? A corporation? A government institute? Or just a big building? And why is an entity with a biochemical name devoted exclusively to a space program? And since when is there only a seven day launch window to Saturn's moon Titan only once every seventy years? And why would a space program have its astronauts perform sedentary desk jobs, rush them through physicals overseen by Gabriel Reece, and then send them off in their business suits? Gattaca is so heavily laden with fanciful metaphor, it might be considered the ultimate Twilight Zone episode.
Twelve years after Explorers, Ethan Hawke stars in SF once more, again yearning to explore the universe. But he is natural born, a "godchild," with flaws aplenty. His answer: to find a crippled Ubermensch and use his hair, blood, urine, fingernail clippings, presumably even his dandruff to keep assuring Gattaca that he is an Ubermensch himself. (A nifty conceit of the movie is that Hawk and his Ubermensch, Jude Law, are not identical, yet their differing ID photos always get overlooked in this genotype-obsessed world.) Then a mysterious murder, which Hawke had no part in, brings Gattaca under the scrutiny of detective Alan Arkin and Gattaca official Loren Dean, a missing eyelash of Hawke's leads them on Hawke's trail. Boosting the pressure even higher is Hawke's sudden relationship with Uma Thurman.
The P-G's Barry Paris made a big deal, three times, in his review about the moral being "there is no gene for the human spirit." Well, I don't remember hearing that in the movie even once, let alone thrice. Besides which, a deeper moral is brought out by Hawke's swimming contests with his Ubermensch brother, or the fact that he and Thurman have imperfect heart conditions. For me, the moral is "that which is best in humanity overcomes its predefined limits."
The good news is that between Gattaca and Smilla's Sense of Snow, SF this year has become quite classy and respectable. The bad news is, neither movie is especially cheery. (You may keep hearing Gattaca refered to as "brainy;" fact is, it's a decent tearjerker as well.) The extra good news, though is that with Mel Gibson producing Fahrenheit 451 (virtually anything has to be better than the Truffaut attempt), cautionary SF may finally be standing tall on the big screen. Not a moment too soon, I say. These are cautionary times.
Sadly, this thing may be the only F&SF movie of 1997 that is both fun and reasonably smart.
Rosemary's Firm? Well, it's not as good as Rosemary's Baby, but I did like it better than The Firm. Trouble is, I consider that faint praise. Without even seeing it, you probably already know the score. Keanu Reeves is an ambitious hotshot Florida lawyer, married to the beauteous Charlize Theron, who never looses a case and gets wooed by a New York law firm run by Al Pacino, a man who loves subways and roaring fireplaces and is conspicuously named John Milton. that Pacino is Satan is no big surprise; what is diverting is the movie's for an empire of evil existing just under the skin of our civilization.
The tone of this thing is all over the map. Serious scary and tragic stuff is going on for most of the movie, and then come the end we're supposed to take this as simply a black comedy, with Pacino hamming it up nicely in a rousing cynical rant. The ending is roughly the same as Emilio Estevez's 1986 pet project Wisdom, but Pacino is on hand to make sure that Advocate is as overrated as Wisdom was underrated. In the end, Advocate has style to burn (so to speak) and zero surprises. Lawyers are pawns of Satan -- hey, tell us something we don't already know.
I expect some of you will scream when you read this, but I found Starship Troopers was more faithful to the book than I expected it to be. Okay, the battle suits were completely absent, but other than that, it told a very similar story to the book.
In the book, Robert Heinlein wrote a series of episodes about John Rico, of the Mobile Infantry. In this, the movie was easier to follow than the book. Where the book started in the middle and then bounced between the middle and beginning of the tale, the movie had a "video clip" from the middle, jumped back to the beginning and told the entire story from that point, including a slightly different perspective on the clip. The movie added a love triangle, I suppose to show more angst in poor Johnny, and altered some other "facts" from the book, killing some people while sparing others; but this is minor details. The "meat" of Starship Troopers is there, buried under the fast pace and special effects which Hollywood seems to find necessary to sell tickets.
I speak of the social system Heinlein proposed in his book. The system where only those willing to sacrifice for the society have the right to take part in it's government. A system where corporal and capital punishments are the rule, rather than the idea of protecting the rights of the accused. One thing in this line that the movie lacked that Heinlein presented, was the proposal that this system would be better than our current one. Where RAH attacked our times, calling them the "Crazy Years," the movie simply presents the social system as what exists at the time of the movie. In some ways, the society of Starship Troopers is made more fascist in the movie. The symbolism was certainly there, with the straight-line eagle, and of course the uniforms of the officer corps.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but I have always been a fan of the fairtale endings, where they guy gets the girl (I won't say which one) and the good guys end up on top. There was less gore than I expected, but what was there was graphic and memorable. And I expect there will be a sequel coming out in a while, as well.
December 13th is the date of the Annual PARSEC Christmas Party which will be start at 3:00 P.M. at Ann Cecil's residence in Dormont.
From downtown: take the Liberty Bridge and the Liberty Tunnels and continue straight up West Liberty Avenue. After you pass Potomic Avenue on the right, take the next right (passing 3 lefts along the way) onto Hillsdale. Just across the trolley tracks, Voelkel is on the right. Ann's house is on the left, 2966 Voelkel Ave., 344-0456. Voelkel is one way back toward town, so if there is no parking there and you end up back on Potomic, make a right, and then another onto Belrose to get back to Hillsdale.
From south: Come up route 51 to Library Road (route 88) turn south and then make the right onto McNeilly (sign says Dormont this way). AT the end of McNeilly, turn left onto Pioneer, then left onto West Liberty Ave and follow as above.
From west: Coming in the Parkway, exit at Carnegie and come up the hill to Greentree Road, turn left and then make a right at McMonagle (or at Potomac). After crossing Banksville, go up the hill. If McMonagle, stay left when road splits, then make a right onto Hillsdale, and read directions above about parking on Voelkel. If Potomac, read directions above about going around the block to Voelkel.
Bus and trolley info: For the T [42 all], get off at Kelton stop, walk back half block to Hillsdale, across tracks and cross street to my house. Buses come up West Liberty: [41B, C, G]; get off at Hillsdale and walk over the hill, across tracks, again, as above.
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.
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
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.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.