The Official Newsletter of PARSEC


March 2002, Issue 194

Kevin's Comments

By Kevin Hayes

Extending the run, like theaters do, that's what it's all about. It only makes sense; when you have something that works, something that's popular, you try to make it run for as long as you can. That's why "Cats" ran for so long, that's why "The Fantasticks" ran longer than some third world governments. That's why we have so many Rocky films, so many Rambos, Jaws and Back to the Futures and -- oh yeah, Star Trek and Star Wars. That's why there are so many sequels to books that were intended as stand alone novels. And that's why we have Confluence, successfully, year after year.

Considering where this column (commentary?) is going to eventually lead, I had thought to start it all with a quote from a Bob Fosse song, "Everything old is new again. . ." but the thought of starting with one thing and by extension leading into something else was too tempting.

We are still at the relative beginning of the year. Only starting the third month, less than a quarter of the way through, I am amazed at how far ahead and for what, I am already planning. Since the beginning of February, I have fretted, at work, about whether I was going to get my vacation -- in June -- the week I want. Especially since I requested it last December. I imagine a lot of people have similar situations.

In January, I proudly made the announcement that we had meeting topics for over half the year. We can still use ideas for topics for the remaining months: June, July, September, October and November and if anyone has ideas, I would certainly entertain suggestions. The point is, though, that we have already planned for the rest.

Maybe it's a sign of my own mortality, or maybe it's a sign that I'm finally growing up, but I have never been quite so conscious of how far into the future I am trying to plan my life and the things I directly affect.

We had a con-com meeting this week -- last week by the time you read this. And it struck me at the meeting how all of this planning comes together. (Not at all like the way I write these columns, I assure you) Randy proudly reported he has all the filk slots filled and is just doing some fine tuning in the expectation of having everything run so smoothly that... well, I don't want to jinx it, but he happily reported that he was basically done with planning the filk track. You are all invited to view the wondrous results of his planning at the Confluence web site. Of course, some smart-alec (was that me?) asked what he was planning to do with all his free time now. In all honesty, Randy and a number of others have worked extremely hard to bring a strong filk element to Confluence and year after year it has gotten stronger and better. It has extended its run because of its success. Timons Esais has done the same kind of thing with the SF/F poetry track. Confluence, itself is an example of something that has extended its run because of past success. So much so that the committee has received requests for invitations and unsolicited positive reviews. Not just reviews from attendees, but reviews and positive feedback from the invited guests, people who receive invitations to more cons and attend more cons than just Confluence.

All of this leads to two parts of the reasons for Confluence's extended run. The first part is what I've already stated. The second is the balancing of that particular equation: everything new is old again. As readers of science fiction (I apologize for giving short shrift to fantasy and horror here) we have read about almost all of the wonders of what constitutes our post-modern world and we've been familiar with them for years. We've had cloning and communicators, space flight and cyber-surgery, robots and rocketships. New to everybody else, old hat to us -- still exciting to see for real, but not as outre as it might seem to the uninitiated.

Looking at all the wonders of our twenty-first century world, we have already done the things television commentators are trying to do to catch up. We have asked the questions, discussed them, and come to our own conclusions as to what all of it means and how it will affect us.

Everything old is new again and everything new is old.

We've done it by, year after year, putting our brains together and coming up with stimulating topics and mind bending panel discussions. Of course we also came up with the Sexual Harassment Trial of James T. Kirk and important thought experiments like that. It's time to do it all again. Ann Cecil will be moderating once again and picking, prodding and otherwise motivating us to develop topics and panels for the coming Confluence. So I would advise everyone to get those nagging questions, tantalizing ideas, and bothersome thoughts together and bring them to the meeting. We can seamlessly combine a look at the old and the new and again extend the successful run. See you Saturday.

Last Meeting

Meeting Minutes by Joan Fisher
(Edited by Diane Turnshek)
February 9, 2002

Kevin brought the meeting to order at 2:27 pm. John Schmid was kind enough to handle the selling of the raffle tickets, we made $27.00. Again Kevin H. won the raffle, and he let Dan Radkovitch choose. Dan chose a picture.

Kevin made a public apology to Mary Soon Lee for misremembering the name of her anthology. It is Winter Shadows and Other Tales. Ann made two announcements - Those that had gone to Millennium Philcon are allowed to nominate Wen Spencer for Campbell award. You can go on line and vote, or fill out the ballot you will need the code number from the postcard that they are sending out. Please check out the WEB and see the wonderful job that Kevin Giesleman is doing. SIGMA is also linked to the page, so if for some reason you do not receive your SIGMA, you can simply read it on line. There is no treasurer's report this month. Our treasure and his lovely wife have gone off to the Olympics.

While there are meetings for the next few months, there are none for June, July, September, October, and November we are taking suggestions.

Diane mentioned that there is going to be a review in the Tribune Review on Sunday the 10th of Alien Taste by Wen Spencer.

We received 75 qualifying stories for the short story contest, a surprising amount coming from around the world. They have been paired down to 15, and those have been sent on to the Judges.

Kevin introduced Diane Turnshek who was the guest speaker for the meeting; the topic is called Mentoring Young Writers.

In the beginning, there was Inkspot, the only Internet site a writer needed. Inkspot was a writing resource, begun by editor and filker Debbie Ridpath Ohi.

Diane's involvement with helping teen writers began on Sept 9, 1999, when she opened the doors of the Inkspot Young Writers: Speculative Fiction Forum (now, co-hosted with Ben White). Hit counts run high (for a non-porn site): 57,000 in our highest month; the average ~30,000). took over all the writing discussion forums last February, when Inkspot was killed by XLibris, a self-publishing firm that bought Inkspot from Debbie, just to shut it down shortly thereafter.

Hundreds of young writers have come into the forum for a few posts or have stayed for years. It's a place for them to swap their stories for critiquing, share writing tips, post new markets, and discuss their favorite SF and fantasy writers. The teens have sold poetry and stories to anthologies and magazines, been invited to cons as program participants, won contests and published in their school literary magazines. Friendships have developed to a high level -- even serious romantic involvement.

Paul Levinson (PARSEC's speaker for the October 2001 meeting) created a new category of membership in the ranks of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Because of her Inkspot forum, Diane was an original member of the Jr. Membership Committee which was overseen by such wonderful writers as Harry Turtledove and Leslie What. If an under-21 writer won a contest with their genre fiction, or published a science fiction or fantasy story, they would've been able to join SFWA for $20 a year, received the SFWA Bulletin and been assigned a pro writer mentor. The mentors emailed encouragement and answered the young writer's questions. Some critiquing of manuscripts occurred.

The SFWA Jr. Membership was disbanded in October of last year. Discussion in the SFWA Lounge, a private Internet forum for SFWA business, was heated this past year. The major complaints with the Jr. Membership program were that it was not legally founded within the bylaws of the organization and that the screening of mentors could not be guaranteed to be foolproof. Most active, voting SFWA members, including those on the Jr. Membership Committee, didn't like the original set-up, which promised associate membership for those Jr. Members who aged to 21 (and still wanted to remain members). That potential upgrade was done away with.

Another bone of contention? Liquor served in the SFWA suite is not monitored closely (the hard liquor is, the beer is not). It was questioned whether a Jr. Member's status should allow him or her access to the suite, unescorted. Gainsayers wouldn't discuss how this SFWA lounge staffing problem affected active SFWA members who happen to be underage (like Catherine McMullen who is 12). Not an insurmountable problem in Diane's opinion. Certainly not enough to bring the whole Jr. Membership program crashing down. In contrast, the Horror Writers of America have a wonderful mentoring program for young writers.

Lucienne Diver (Spectrum Literary Agency) is still taking author and student names for an official mentoring program, once we've found one that is acceptable to a majority of SFWA voting members. The committee still is involved with helping teen writers: they call themselves the Ghost committee and are committed to finding a way to help, even outside the framework of SFWA.

Several teen writers, including Catherine McMullen, were invited to Millennium Philcon as program participants. MilPhil, like Bucky and Chicon before it, hosted the Student Science Fiction Contest. Each year, hundreds of young entrants sign away all rights to their submitted work, whether their stories win or not. Diane tried to change that one evil line on the entry form, but the fan administrators wouldn't change it, because they see themselves as protecting the pro author judges against possible lawsuits (entrants accusing the authors of stealing ideas). If the students no longer have any rights to their own work, they can't sue.

Moving to non-traditional student mentoring, Diane gave a three-hour lab on how to add astronomy to your science fiction or fantasy story for the Seton Hill College Master's Degree Program in Writing Popular Fiction. The talk was given to the students in the College's computer lab with hypertext notes posted online. Her webpage has a link to the online notes. She is now mentoring two English graduate students at Seton Hill who are writing genre novels. The Popular Writing program has spread over the last five years to include over sixty students (also in romance, mystery and horror). SF and fantasy instructors include Nancy Springer, James Morrow, William H. Keith, Jr. and Nalo Hopkinson (who will be earning her Master's degree this spring).

Being a young writer is different from being a new writer. Young writers generally can't draw deeply on personal experience. They don't have a network of knowledgeable people to talk to (most don't know fandom exists). Sometimes, their families are not at all understanding of their writing habit. For the most part, they don't have in-depth science backgrounds, so a lot of teens write fantasy, which is easier for them. Also, they don't have a backlog of hundreds or thousands of stories under their belts, so that they know what's been done before (done to death). On the positive side, they have lots of enthusiasm, a good bit of free time and computer experience; they have grown up electronically, which makes typing and word processing seem natural to them. Occasionally, editors go way out of their way to help young writers with kind response letters to encourage them.

Diane looked around for what else to do for teen SF writers. The ALPHA workshop was formed.

Alpha is a five-day, residency workshop for young writers interested in SF/F/H to be held at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, PA, July 22-26 (running into the Confluence weekend). Ten pro authors will be present. Student works will be critiqued and a public reading at Carnegie Science Center's Buhl Planetarium is scheduled. A tour of CMU's Robotics Institute is on the slate, too. Deadline for submission of stories is April 19, 2002. Sixteen young writers will be accepted by May 1. eBay charity auctions for the Alpha scholarship fund will take place on the first of April through July (donations cheerfully accepted). For more information write or visit the webpage at:

A good many PARSEC people have offered to help, including Kevin Hayes, Dan Bloch, Ann Cecil, John Branch, Eric Davin, Tamela Viglione, Barb Carlson, Sasha Riley, Tom Morrow, John Schmid, Laurie Mann, Wendy Kosak (Wen Spencer), Chris Hudson, Alan Irvine, Bobby Nansel, Timons Esaias and William Tenn. Others involved include local horror writers Larry Connolly and Mike Arnzen, Robert Morris University English professor Linda Runyon, as well as out of state writers Paul Pence and Tamora Pierce. Linda has assigned her graduate English class to critique Alpha stories. If anyone else is interested in volunteering their time, please contact Diane. Contact info for ALPHA: or write to: Flyers can be downloaded from the web page to pass out (please do, if you know of any potentially interested parties).

The next PARSEC meeting will be held at 102 Thaw Hall at the University of Pittsburgh at 12:30 Saturday, the 13th of April; the guest speaker will be former astronaut and museum director Jay Apt speaking on, "What's It Like Up There?" A Chinese auction will take place during the PARSEC meeting, proceeds going towards the Alpha scholarship fund. Ann made the suggestion that PARSEC donate about a third of the PARSEC auction items that have been around for a while, for the Alpha Chinese auction and the Alpha auctions on eBay ( the first of April, May, June and July). The motion was seconded and then carried.

Confluence News

Confluence promises to be more inviting than ever for new writers. We have now received acceptances from two well-known sf editors new to our conference: Ginjer Buchanan and John Douglas. Ginjer, who went to CMU, was one of the threesome that started the Western Pennsylvania Science Fiction Association (WPSFA, pronounced "wupsfa"). WPSFA produced a series of 10 Pghlanges, a traditional SF small con. Ginjer is well known as an executive editor at Ace in their SF group, and has also written books of her own. John Douglas has had an equally prominent career, except that he moved from being a published writer first into being a notable and succesful sf editor.

Since David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer have also sent in acceptances, this year's Confluence has the potential for some solid panels on both editorial topics and good insights into what is going on in the field.


There and Back Again
by Pat Murphy
Review by Ann Cecil

This is a strange and intriguing book, successful and simultaneously unsuccessful on a variety of levels. To start with, there's the cover; on my copy, we have a beautiful girl, with one side of her face tattooed, the eye covered. She looks exotic, glamorous, and seductive.

Now in the book, there is a very explicit description of this character and her tattoos, as well as the eye patch. "From the left, she looked exotic and sinister, touched with shadow. Powerful. Not necessarily evil, but not necessarily good. Tricky and confusing. Her beautiful face was patterned in darkness."

You can understand and sympathize with the artist; that's a tall order, hard to draw. OK, he got the exotic part. And the short hair. The tattoo is clearly some kind of dragon, eating at her mouth. Not even vaguely matching the book's description, which talks about "A pattern of fine lines radiated from the eye cap, as if a spider had been spinning a gossamer web of black against her pale skin." That's a very cool and fitting image; it's a shame the artist didn't want to use it. And of course, the girl on the cover has a nice healthy blush in her cheeks - no paleness here.

But many books have covers that seem not to match the details in the book; why am I making a big deal out of this one? Perhaps because that disparity between the visuals seems to reflect my feelings about a lot of the story itself.

It is obvious very quickly (and you are supposed to recognize) that this is The Hobbit retold as an sf adventure. Instead of a short halfling living in an English village, we get a norbit named Bailey, who lives in the Restless Rest, a hollowed-out, cozy asteroid. We get a cute explanation that "norbit" is the term for humans who are asteroid miners, where being short and a bit stout is a Good Thing.

The tattooed lady of the cover is Gitana, a Gandolf stand-in, who involves Bailey in a fantastic adventure with the Farr clones, in search of an alien artifact that could be a map unraveling the Wormhole system, which is used for travel to the heart of the galaxy - and if Bailey's lucky, back again.

Much of the fun in this book is recognizing the original characters and objects redone in science-fiction tropes. Even if you've never read The Hobbit, this is an enjoyable tale, if lightweight. And I suppose that is my problem, why I find it both successful and not: Murphy constrains herself to the level of the original, so Bailey is oddly childlike throughout, and never really changes much.

There are fascinating creations here. For example, the Resurrectionists, who believe that cloned humans are really just spare parts; but we see them primarily as obstacles, since Bailey's companions are the Farr clones (dwarf stand-ins). I guess I wish she'd abandoned the hobbitry and explored her own creations in more depth; but then that's not the point of this book. And it accomplishes what Murphy wanted, with a good deal of artistry, in a highly readable fashion.

Winter Shadows and Other Tales
by Mary Lee (Dark Regions Press)
Review by Shoshana Kaminsky
Full disclosure: Mary is a good friend of mine. So now you know.

I loved reading this book. One reason I really appreciated it is that I have two very young children, and by the time I climb into bed, I have almost no power of concentration left. The longest of the twenty stories in this collection is ten pages, and most are under eight pages. Which means that even one whose brain has mostly leaked out after a day of sippy cups and poopy diapers can still read at least one satisfyingly-woven tale before bed.

What is surprising about these stories is not how short they are, but how complete. The characters are real, the settings are believable, and the plots are well-crafted. Mary draws from the tremendous variety of worlds that make up the fantasy genre, so that the reader is spun from a contemporary setting in one story to high fantasy in the next. Such short stories do not allow for long descriptions of the setting, but each story contains just enough choice details to give the reader a satisfying sense of place.

All of these stories are dark to a greater or lesser degree. There are some happy endings, but there are no unearned happy endings (or "easy grace" as we say in the religious field). Fantasy cliches are often turned on their heads in Mary's stories: the dragon slayer may well be ashamed of the work he does, and the handsome prince seeking a beautiful princess may discover that the process is more complex and treacherous than he had imagined. I enjoyed the stories that ended happily (I'm a sucker that way), but I was equally satisfied by some of the blackest tales in the book. My favorite was the dark, sinister "The Winter of the RatsÓ" -- a retelling of the Fable of the Pied Piper of Hamelin with all of its pieces wonderfully brought to life: the rats, the townspeople, and - amost magically - the piper's music.

Another, very different story, that I enjoyed was "Conversation Pieces", about a woman trying to live a normal life in a rundown Boston apartment as the inanimate objects around her attempt to engage her in conversation. And then, there was the deliciously creepy "Roadside Stop" about a man just looking for a bite to eat in the middle of the night.

There were some stories I didn't care for as much. "Dragonslayer" was perhaps the one story in the collection whose plot and characters did not quite win me over. "Gift" to me lacked the life and excitment of the other stories, and I found the ending unsurprising. At the same time, I can easily imagine that someone whose tastes were different from mine would be pleased by those same tales I found a little disappointing.

I would love to see what Mary could accomplish in longer stories. If she can achieve this degree of depth in stories of 3000 words or less, just think what she could do in 7000 words, or 10,000, or even 20,000! In the meantime, her anthology of science fiction stories will be published shortly, by Dark Regions as well. I'll look forward to diving in!

Happy Easter

The Eggplants and I: Confluence's Featured Filk Guests

by Randy Hoffman

I was very happy a couple of years ago when several of the funnier songs by my college buddies in the filk band Ookla the Mok were played on the nationally syndicated Dr. Demento Show. I was even happier when "Stop Talking About Comic Books or I'll Kill You," was on the seventh Basement Tapes CD published for purchase by Dr. Demento's fan club, the Demento Society. When I was given one of those CDs, my happiness was complete, even though I was sure that Ookla's song was going to be the best one on it.

Imagine my surprise when I disovered that several of the songs on that album were, well, better. Even *a lot* better. "Toxic Swamp" by Kenny Young and the Eggplants struck me as being almost the perfect three-minute filk-rock number. The song begins, "Gilly was an engineer who had a job in Jersey/Working very near a toxic swamp...". After receiving a mysterious psychic summons from the swamp, Gilly becomes the hero of overgrown lizards in toxic swamps everywhere. A classic, I tell you!

Eventually I picked up more of the Basement Tapes CDs, one of which contained the Eggplants song "Eddie's Apartment," about a lump of cheese in the kitchen sink of a filthy bachelor pad that reaches sentience and plots world domination. At this point I knew these guys could make a huge splash in the filk scene, and I began emailing them to see if they might be interested in coming to filk conventions or sending their albums to filk dealers. At first they weren't, but after a year of persuasion, they've finally agreed to be the Featured Filk Guests at Confluence!

The band is based in Brooklyn, NY, and consists of Kenny Young on guitar and lead vocals, Gil Shuster on bass and vocals, and Ed Logue on percussion and vocals. Kenny writes the songs and the band arranges them. They've performed together for about a dozen years, (they're a staple at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival) and organize occasional AIDS-benefit shows. They've released two albums so far on Coney Island Records: "Even One Is Quite a Few" (1996), and "Toxic Swamp and Other Love Songs" (1998). Their third album, "The Search for Eggplantis," should be out later this spring. The albums aren't in most stores, but can be ordered from the band. Details and contact info are available at both or

The New York Times descibed their music as "giving eloquent voice to the multifaceted neuroses of prolonged adolescence." Now is your chance to hear it too. If all goes according to plan, Kenny Young and the Eggplants will be performing the Featured Filk Guest concert at Confluence on Saturday, July 27, following the evening entertainment.

News & Announcements

Since the other area writing groups have been heating up lately, the Worldwrights decided to turn it up a notch this month.

Barton Paul Levenson's story "Scrunched Up" appeared in Future Orbits #3.

Ken Chiacchia's story "A Technical Fix" appeared in Cicada.

Tom Byers sold the story "Echoes" to the anthology Why I Hate Aliens, where Tim Esaias also sold "Sally and the Dead-Heads".

Two Worldwright poems were nominated for the Rhysling: Mary Soon Lee's "Insignificant Others" and Tim Esaias' "It's A Disaster, Really".

Mary Soon Lee has become required reading, having sold an extract from her story "The Day Before They Came" to the Holt Language Arts series of textbooks. Her story "Homecoming" sold to Best of the Rest #3. There's an interview of her on SFSite, and glowing reviews of her first story collection in all the trades.

Tim Esaias' poem "Nudge Toward Libration" is in the current (April) Asimov's. He also had his first translations of his poems into other languages: one poem in the Spanish version of Asimov's, and 4 in Chinese in the Huaguang Newspaper. Two non-genre poems appeared in the local literary magazine yawp.

Line-up change: William Hall decided to go on the reserve list for a while in order recharge his batteries and work on some solo projects, so James Thomas was reactivated and brought up from our Los Angeles farm team. Though still unpublished, management looks on him as a hot prospect.

He's Back...

One of our local favorites,
author John DeChancie,
is coming to Confluence!

William Tenn will be signing his books at the South Hills Borders on Saturday May 4, at 2 pm. Copies of the books will be available for sale (for all those who can't wait until Confluence!)

Note: extremely favorable reviews of Immodest Proposals, the first volume, have run in Locus, Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, SF Chronicle, as well as Kirkus Reviews and other non-sf publications. This month's New York Review of Science Fiction has a rave by Brian Stableford. The second volume, Here Comes Civilization, has also been reviewed in glowing terms by Locus (which seems to get everything first) and Analog, with more to come. As Stableford points out, the afterwords (all new material by William Tenn) make this a collector's prize, worth buying even if you have the original paperback collections of the (terrific) stories (Stableford calls them brilliant).

There will be a house filk this Saturday following the PARSEC meeting at the home of Ann Cecil, Greg Armstrong, and Mia Sherman. Both performers and listeners are welcome (though it could get really boring if you performers don't show up!). Any songs you perform don't have to be about science fiction or fantasy -- we're an eclectic and tolerant group. Because the deadline for Pegasus Award nominations is approaching, we'll fill in dead spaces by playing some suggested nominees for this year's award categories.

The filk will get started at about 5:30 p.m. and run until:

If we are lucky, Mia will make some food for us, and we will probably order in some pizza, Chinese, etc. at some point (please be prepared to chip in). A limited amount of crash space might be available. To ask about this, or if you need directions, please call the house at (412) 344-0456.

Next Meeting

NEXT MEETING: Mar 9, 2002 12:30 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of the Carnegie Library

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

TOPIC: annual "Topics" meeting led by Ann Cecil

PARSEC Tentative Meeting Schedule

April 2002
Time & Date : 13 April 2002
Discussion Topic : astronaut Jay Apt on "What it's like up there"
Location : 102 Thaw Hall at the University of Pittsburgh

May 2002
Time & Date : 11 May 2002
Discussion Topic : Art Show and Tell
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library

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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This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.