Telling people that you belong to a science fiction and fantasy club is a risky proposition. Most of the time you get polite nods and glazed eyes, some times you get outright contempt ("you read that trash?", "you haven't outgrown that?"), and once in a while you encourage another aficionado to come out of the closet. It's bad enough dealing with those who think you're just talking about reading the stuff; when they really understand that you put in time and effort to run a club, go to conventions, maybe even try to write it, most reactions border on nominating you for the next free psychiatric exam.
Some people deal with all this by staying firmly in the closet. Even their parents don't know about their hobby. Personally, I volunteer the information and take my chances (wincing inwardly at some of the results). Taking chances is a matter of calculating the risk statistics, for me. I look at most of the things I do, and plan for the things that will happen, in terms of the statistical risk, or calculated chance.
What are the chances that a meteor will fall out of the sky and crush you? Really, really small, verging on statistically insignificant. And when it does happen, there is no way to prevent it. And it is totally, utterly devastating (at least in the large size meteor range).
But it has happened, so being crushed by a meteor has always been my personal metaphor for things that are just not worth worrying about. The speaker for the May PARSEC meeting took a different approach, to the point of being so concerned about meteors that he wrote a book about them. His concern with these large falling rocks focuses on a different approach; he's not concerned with the fall, so much as what's falling, what's in the meteor.
All of this goes to prove that it's your approach to events that counts in life: what some people view as a disaster, or a statistical anomaly, others can find a rewarding pursuit. Tell that one to the next person who tells you science fiction and fantasy is a waste of time and effort!
Various announcements were made: Bob and Sandy Melick are now starting plans to move to Florida (in approximately 18 months), and gave us notice to let us plan for moving the library. Elizabeth Penrose agreed to be on the library committee, along with Ann Cecil. Other volunteers are requested!
Elizabeth noted that the Goodwill book sale at Station Square is on May 7th. Greg Armstrong announced that the SIGMA deadline has been moved back to 3 weeks before the meeting, in the hope of getting around current problems with the copier and general schedule disruptions.
The raffle was held, bringing in $16, and Kira Heston won it and claimed a piece of artwork. Kira, who does the PARSEC member directory, agreed to expand it and add a section for local associates - such as the local chapter of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), as well as bookstores like ELJAYs on the South Side (East Carson St) which give PARSEC members discounts.
The main meeting business was a panel discussing Horror Writing, featuring our local pro, Lawrence C. Connolly. He was joined by Lee Howard, a member of the writers group Write Or Die (aka Diane's group), Robert Martin, a self-described Dark Fantasy writer, and Dawn Martin, a more traditional Horror writer who is also an active HWA representative.
Dawn began the presentation by describing the two databases being built by the HWA, one involving reviews of Horror works, and the other focused on stores specializing in selling the material. The panel then became a lively and entertaining discussion, with PARSEC members quizzing the writers about their reasons for writing Horror, their definitions of the genre, and their inspirations.
Dawn began by describing the Horror Writers Association (HWA) databases: one is by reviewers of (horror) works; one is of the bookstores that specialize in selling the genre.
John Schmid asked the panelists to answer the question "What sort of stores do you gravitate toward writing?"
Larry Connolly started off by saying that he finds horror a way of bringing the sense of wonder closest to the reader. He thinks SF and Horror have this [sense of wonder] in common. He finds that he also focuses on a sense of brooding loss - perhaps because he is always losing things. He had a family when he came into the library...
Connolly explained that he does two kinds of writing: for a specific anthology, and for himself. In his career, covering 18 years of selling short fiction, he has found that both kinds sell to editors in the horror genre, even when stories written for himself are ones he thought were sf.
Examples of the variety of his current work are 'Echoes' in the anthology '100 Fiendish Little Frightmares', a story in the current 'Borderlands' anthology, an elf horror story in the 'Castle Fantastic' anthology, and a story in 'Elf Fantastic'. In the anthology, 'The Fortune Teller', his story is intentionally blood and guts, a departure for him.
Robert Martin prefaced his answer with the note that he really aims to write dark fantasy, as distinct from horror. He cited as major elements a sense of exploration, dark fascination, magic ("always magic"), and redeemable evil. Martin described horror as about unredeemable evil, and saw this as the difference from dark fantasy.
Dawn Martin described herself as drawn to the idea of being the outsider. She had a dual major in anthropology and English, and this led her to define horror as 'something that should be familiar is not familiar.' She related childhood experiences with telling scary stories to cousins who begged for more. Today she sees her writing as attempting to combine scary stores with the outsider theme.
Lee Howard considers his perspective conservative. He is trying to capture the results of sin on human psyche and people that harm is done against. His stories deal with horrifying and fantastic results for mistakes. In particular, he writes about strange dysfunctions in families.
Connolly noted that he is not sure what ingredient in his fiction makes editors decide it is horror. He quoted Douglas Winter's definition, that horror is not a genre but an ingredient. According to Winter, if there is something in your story that horrifies people, even just one sentence, then it's horror.
Christina Schulman asked the panelists: "What author inspired you?"
Connolly lauded Pittsburgh writer Bob Leman, whose 'Bait', one of the few cannibal stories ever to appear in Fantasy & Science Fiction, according to Connolly, "changed my life". Connolly went on to list other Leman stories, such as 'Window' and 'Instructions', that were influential pieces of writing, writing that he felt achieved the goal: placement of the bizarre, surreal, unknown right in your living room.
Connolly and Eric Davin proceeded to discuss Leman's classic story 'Window' at some length. Davin suggested that incongruity characterizes much of Leman's work, and Connolly agreed, but pointed out that this device is particularly effective. As Connolly cited, it takes darkness before you appreciate the light, silence before you appreciate the thunder. He agreed that Leman's story worked better because it was in F&SF and not in a horror anthology, thus having more impact because the reader was unsuspecting.
Lee Howard listed several key influences: Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and Shirley Jackson first. He also mentioned Thomas Tryon, particularly the novel The Other, and now Ramsey Campbell. He finds there "a terrible anxiety, surreal."
Dawn Martin cited Steven King first and foremost; then Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Rice. She also mentioned the stories 'The Hook' and 'The Golden Arm', from her childhood retelling.
Robert Martin listed David Eddings as his primary inspiration, and for the transition to darker work, Christie Golden ('Vampire of the Mists'), and Jim Lauder, with the dark fantasy mainstay, 'Cyric'.
Eric Davin asked the panel: "Do you think horror fiction tells a certain bit of truth about human existence that isn't in other genres?"
Connolly agreed. He feels some problems you can't come at except in an oblique angle. There is a lot about our daily lives that is fragile, that we don't see or admit. Horror is a way of expressing this, forcing us to see and then deal with it. He gave examples from some of his own stories, particularly one with a woman confronting the death of her children.
Howard agreed as well, but saw horror as the ultimate effects of wrong being supreme; "where evil triumphs, how wrong that is."
Barton Levenson asked "Is a lot of horror being published now immoral fiction in John Gardners terms? that is, serial killer chic?"
Connolly admitted Serial killer stories are out there. He mentioned 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris (a story starring Hannibal Lector).
Barton suggested that some of the vampire and werewolf stories are serial killer chic in disguise.
Connoly agreed, citing the White Wolf series.
Dawn Martin defended this type of story, calling them entertainment, not a serious message about life. In her view, 'the cheesy stuff, the negative stuff, serves a purpose.'
Howard claimed that values are different today; we are veering away from Judeo-Christian values.
Larry Connolly argued that there is no horror without the (moral) contrast. He has seen horror in trouble for the last 10 years. He also recommended Barton Fink, his favorite horror movie.
Mia Sherman suggested that horror is more popular because of the current feeling of sense of futility. She talked about how alienated her friends felt.
Lee Howard repeated his claim that attitudes towards things (evils) that have always been there have changed.
Chris Ferrier agreed that perceptions are different. "We see it and are desensitized to violence."
Panelist were asked to give a wrap-up line to end the panel, having run out of time.
Robert Martin: Horror is the ingredient, not the genre.
Dawn Martin: It'll be interesting to see where the genre goes in 10 years.
Lee Howard: Horror is just a way of looking at things that we value in life, thought provoking in a different way; there is something redeeming in horror, a value in looking at darkness in order to see light.
Larry Connolly: It's a frightening world, and we can show it to you, but bring hope as well.
When I read the back cover of this book in the library and the first sentence said "In the Age of the Mazonians, women rule through magic - and men suffer what they must." I thought this would have more of the feel of a Xanth novel. It didn't turn out quite that way. In short, this is the story of a powerful young women named Xylina, who doesn't realize that she is quite so powerful. She doesn't realize this because her mother was killed when she was very young and she has been beset by trouble ever since. Because she is supposedly cursed. She does seem to have a string of good luck with the people she is thrown into situations with. This is truly fantasy. I can see Piers Anthony's touch and, since I haven't read any Mercedes Lackey, I'm wondering what portions she is responsible for.
This book is better than any of the Xanth novels I have read, but it isn't and was never meant to be a vessel for puns. I can say that better fantasy books do exist, but I did enjoy this book nonetheless. It is semi-light reading. I would not recommend it for anyone under 21 mainly because it deals with adult subject matter (sex).
I was searching around the web a short while ago, looking for references to my band, the Don't Quit Your Day Job Players, when I came across the December, 1997, Sigma and this excerpt from a Con Review by J. J. Walton:
"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."
I'd not only like to correct this mis-conception but would also like Mr. Walton to retract that comment. While I don't deny that Jeremy and I were sipping malt whisky, we certainly were not "passing a bottle of whiskey back and forth," nor were either of us drunk. Similaly, neither Pat nor Alexandra was drunk on the half a glass of wine they had during the course of the panel. From the tone of Mr. Walton's remarks, a reader would think that we were swigging directly out of the bottle!
After a long day of travelling, we all might have been a bit punchy from being tired; and the topic of the panel was certainly conducive to a certain giddy atmosphere. Mr. Walton, who, so far as I'm aware, doesn't know any of us nearly well enough to make that sort of statement (if he knows us at all), is out of line here. We were happy, maybe. But semi-drunk (or semi-semi drunk)? Far, far from it.
Mr. Walton's other comment, regarding the band's concert, "The concert was much to loud for the room so we exited as discretely as possible," I agree with 100%. At the 1998 Albacon, the band will be permitted to play in the bar, where there's a good amount of dance space and systems in place so that the sound won't be bouncing off of walls and ceiling the way it was in 1997.
David M. Honigsberg
(A copy of this letter was also sent to James Walton, who responded directly. He reports that Mr. Honigsberg is a very reasonable man. -ed.)
Timons Esaias sold French rights for his story "Norbert and the System" to Galaxies magazine.
Only 2 more months to the Deadline! The short Story Contest deadline is July 15th! This year the topic, feature, subject, source of inspiration, etc. is Reality Forbidden. The stories should in some way show why and how known reality would be forbidden, or show a new reality that could be forbidden, or some fantastic reality that we might want to forbid. Stories may emphasize either the 'forbidden' or the 'reality' part of the theme. The ConFluence Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story contest is open to writers who have not met the requirements for membership in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (three professional short fiction sales or one novel sale.) the winning story will be published in the ConFluence '98 program book, and the writer will receive a prize of $200. Talk to James Walton for further details.
Mary Soon Lee's short story "Monstrosity" (F&SF, Aug.97) has made the Nebula Preliminary Ballot. Also, a paper titled "Q2: memory-based active learning for optimizing noisy continuous functions" co-written with Andrew Moore (her husband), Jeff Schneider, and Justin Boyan has been accepted for this year's Fifteenth International Conference on Machine Learning.
Dr. Fred Bortz will be bringing some of his books to the May PARSEC meeting to sell at discounted prices. Martian Meteorites on Earth? will now be $18.00, others as low as $7.50.
Eric Davin has received a preface for his book Pioneers in Wonder. Also, University of South Carolina Press has expressed interest in publishing one third of his interviews which are compatable with a series they are launching. As Eric wants to publish his entire manuscript, this presents him with a dilema: the bird in the hand or several birds in the bush? Eric welcomes advice from PARSEC members.
We get lost right away, in a Star Wars ripoff battle sequence that could be rousing and involving were it not utterly incoherent. But the title blazes by and the story begins.
One idly fascinating thing about Lost is how it bothers to nail down the internal logic of the series. The Jupiter, we learn, could just use it's hyperdrive -- if it wanted to travel randomly, like Dr. Who. Instead, is will settle for a steady ten year trip involving suspended animation, to build the second of a pair of hypergates creating a kind of expressway to a destination known simply as Alpha Prime. It is rare to see premises worked out this far, particularly in movies that are so joyously schlocky.
Of course, this nice, safe plan will get chucked aside. The ready chucking aside of anything sensible is a running gag in Lost. Is Penny Robinson thrilled to explore the galaxy? No, it's just a big pain. (Though her "Penny Vision" excerpts are at once very modern and rather charming.) Is Will thrilled? No, he's sore because Dad is snubbing his WesleyCrusherlike ingenuity. Is Major Don West thrilled? No, and I don't think he has a reason why not! Later, we'll hear lines like "There's no time for flights of fancy!" and "Forget logic!" Way too late: this is already a flight of fancy and actually, logic would be a nice change of pace.
Earth is tottering near ecological ruin. Plus, it's deeply divided. Symbol of the division: the spy, stowaway, and saboteur, Dr. Smith. The casting of Gary Oldman -- none other than Lee Harvey Oswald, Count Dracula, Sid Vicious, and the weapons dealer Zorg from The Fifth Element in one package -- is a tipoff of what we'll be facing. We're beyond evil; Smith is Eee-ville. All that's left is for him to curl his wax mustache. As such, he is perfectly suited to Space, because according to Lost, the look and design of the universe lies somewhere between Disney's The Black Hole and the land of Oz.
As it turns out, Space only serves to be extremely claustrophobic. this movie is far more about Time, rather like a horrific Batman-style addition to the Back to the Future series, and uses time to pile a mountain of paternal guilt on William Hurt, a man whose performances are fast approaching critical mass of grogginess. the ultimate plot is Space Opera in the most literal sense imaginable, the "We had to destroy the planet to provide therapy for the father and son" mentality.
There are diversions aplenty. Yes, there's a Robot. The Robot works best as an original creation, fusing the authority of the original voice, Dick Tufeld, with the words of Jack Johnson, the new Will; once we get the bubbleheaded milking of the line "Danger, Will Robinson!" it's actually pretty annoying. There's a computer animated that is not nearly as likeable as the chimp-with-donkey-ears of the original show. Unfortunately, the Chariot gets dismissed in a single line, but I was pleasantly amazed to see them keep the careening-past-high-alien-crags sequence from the premier episode.
Vulgarisms are few and far between, but you really notice them when they hit. And a classic Bad Science line from an old episode -- "this crack extends to the very core of the planet!" -- gets its homage when the Jupiter must -- get this -- travel through a disintegrating planet in order to escape it. With physics like this, I suppose I can look forward to rocketships rolling down one mountain on railroad tracks, then blasting off as they swoop up a neighboring mountain.
In fact, that points out how this really should be called "Lost in Time," because it's easy to imagine moviemakers in the Fifties, fighting just to make Rocket Ship X-M and its like, daydreaming of making almost precisely this very movie. The theme is retro. Retro TV, retro SF, retro futurology, retro time; even the monkeyoid and some of the sets are Forties SF magazine covers brought to life. And personally, I don't mind retro. If we could take retro SF and concentrate it into movies as unabashed and overboard as this, as compared to the too-subtly distributed ubiquitous retro SF we're stuck with -- the namby-pambiness of any message behind Contact, or the cartoon cutesiness of the aliens in Men in Black -- we might have more room left over for _proper_ SF! Till then, Lost in Space is no more harmful than a Planet of the Apes movie -- and I saw all those suckers as a kid.
God-obsession and sex-obsession are perhaps the two most surefire themes for cinema sci-fi -- not SF, sci-fi -- to self-destruct on. God obsession gave us 1952's Red Planet Mars and the howler ending to 1955's Conquest of Space, resurfacing from time to time in such varied ventures as The Black Hole, Brainstorm, Event Horizon, and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
City of Angels likewise works. I dreaded it a lot at first. An American version of the (still) one-of-a-kind German flick Wings of Desire? Named for La-La Land, where pop angelism is dirt cheap? Staring Meg Ryan? I had serious doubts. But then, as it unspooled minute by minute, I kept asking myself "When is this going to screw up?" and was relieved as it kept on working.
As in the German original, Seth (originally Damiel) and Cassiel are multipurpose angels: recorders, death guides, general subtle helpmates to the Great Plan. Seth (Nicolas Cage) finds his heart yearning for a mortal woman. this time, it's not Solveig Dommartin as a circus performer, but Meg Ryan as a dedicated surgeon, wondering at the limits of her powers. "We're always fighting in there ... but _who_ are we fighting?" she asks her lover and colleague, as Cage looks on from his nether dimension with Valentino eyes. Cage literally falls for Ryan. It's a love story, and it's sweet. If you're sappy and you know it, clap your hands, then duck the scrutiny of your jaded friends and check out this movie.
Angels suffers in some ways. It retains touches from the original, such as angels filling a library, but it still comes nowhere near the weird wisdom of Desire. Also, this has a too-French ending that you may see barreling down the road from a mile away. (As one outraged moviegoer said upon leaving: "Without a helmet!?") Up until then it is a good escape, though I still recommend the original, despite it's sluggish pace.
Now, for sex-obsession. Has sci-fi ever _not_ been sex-obsessed? I've read only one dandy Freudian interpretation of King Kong! From Z-grade silliness of Mars Needs Women and Invasion of the Star Creatures to decent fare ranging from I Married a Monster From Outer Space (jokey title, good movie) to Starman, sex-obsession is that other theme that feircely tries to defy any attempt at excellence -- and here's a case in point.
Species was made slickly and patiently enough to be an okay diversion. But Species 2? It's bad. It is really, really bad. It is Ed Wood bad. No, scratch that. It's worse than Ed Wood bad, because the masochistic fun of trashing Ed Wood is easy and obvious. Here, the badness is relentless and overwhelming.
Tipoff #1: it sounds like a Mars ship's radio conversation involving none of the intervening light-minutes for transmission. #2: the ship looks like Space Shuttle model parts melded with 2001 Discovery model parts. #3: the Mars ship prominently features plugs for for Sprint and Reebok. (In space, no one can see you advertise.) #4: the Mars lander arrives on a planet with a sky of deep red, not the pale blue we know it to be. #5: the lander has only one astronaut. #6: an infection from Mars thaws out a cryogenic container from the inside.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Sil (Natasha Henstridge), the femme fatale of the original Species, has been cloned for biological warfare research. Tipoff #7: they don't want her to breed, and they name her Eve. meanwhile, the hero of the Mars mission has sex with two astrogroupies. Tipoff #8: no one mentions these gruesome murders ever havng taken place.
And it goes _on_ like this. What's this stuff doing on Mars? If I understand Peter Boyle's explanation, there was a plague on a planet (How can Boyle know this?) in the Megellanic Galaxy (which one?) one hundred million lightyears away (oh, yeah. That Megellanic Galaxy.) and a Mars fossil found in Antarctica revealed the exact same plague. See? So Eve has a telepathic link with astronaut Patrick. This leads to a hectic manhunt in -- get this -- a supermarket. But wait! They have to help bring out Eve's latent telepathy. How? By bombarding her genes with radiation. "Put her in a cyclatron!" barks George Dzundza as a military poobah with a weird eye. And, of course, she wants to breed with Patrick; of course, Patrick just happens to be brought to her facility. But wait! A door keeps her from going to him. But wait! A little later she shatters the transperancy anyway.
And it goes _on_ like this. And the cinematography is of home movie quality half the time. And the sound is severly muted for several stretches. (If Robyn gives Sphere a 2 just for the music being overloud, which is pretty typical, I'd give Species 2 a 1.) And the role of President is given to Richard Belzer doing a Reagan imitation. And the acting and direction is so leaden and wooden and forced that I seriously begin to wonder if this was some foriegn movie, perhaps Japanese or Italian, dubbed in English. This MGM movie looks more like Troma (of Toxic Avenger and Surf Nazis Must Die infamy).
Nothing can save this movie -- nor should it be saved. A usually decent cast, such as Marg Helgenberger or James Cromwell, can't save this movie. A wickedly two-edged line about the heroic astronaut turned alien superstud -- "The spirit of Jack Kennedy lives on in my son" -- can't save this movie. Not even shots of Henstridge running in slow motion can save this movie.
And it ends with the same lame gimmick as Fallen! Fallen and Species 2 should be rated K, meaning "This screenplay is so desparate that it holds out a vain hope for a sequel by having something really evil happen to a kitty-cat."
It's annoying, this whole subgenre of "What would it be like to make it with...?" hey, fill in the blank. Alien. Angel. Vampire. Julia Depley as a werewolf. And a big problem is that neither movie has any strong, nice, lasting, challenging answer. Because if they did, then the Other would quit being a threat or a fantasy and be made _real_, and that would defeat the dreaminess which spawned the original question! Yet the original Wings of Desire made the marriage work. I'm rather depressed.
Oh, and speaking of sex with aliens: not only am I volunteering to defend Kirk, but Eric Leif Davin is interested as well. (Right, Eric?) I do wonder, though: is this a posthumous trial? Is Kirk's estate at stake? Or is this a trial in the real world, treating Kirk as a fictional character? We need to establish some ground rules pronto!
Finally: I hope Robyn Herrington now appreciates why I usually consider it pointless to break a movie down into its technical points. As I always say: c'mon people, this is a medium that has thunder and lightning occuring simultaneously, and that's in mundane movies. On a technical level, there is basically two kinds of SF movies: 2001, and everything else. You want to see a change, go bug Kubrick.
On May 9th,in the Sqirrel Hill Library, Dr. Fred Bortz will be talking about his book, Martian Fossils on Earth? The Story of Meteorite ALH84001. Check out his very informative Web page at http://www.cherryvalleybooks.com/DrFred.
Our June 13th topic will be Women in SF, a panel discussion led by Anita Alverio. It also is at the Squirrel Hill Library.
And July 11th we will learn How to write Filk - Randy Hoffman, Barb Carlson, Ann Cecil with group participation encouraged at the Monroeville Public Library. Watch the June and July Sigma's for directions.
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Ann Cecil
Vice President: Don Turner
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.