November 2000, Issue 178
Sleep deprivation has as many strange side effects on the Human psyche as drugs. And it's much cheaper. I assume it's not addictive, either, which is another advantage over drugs, though a number of people I hang out with seem to do it over and over, so maybe that assumption is false.
Sleep deprivation comes in two forms. The well-known form is the weekend I haven't gone to bed for well over 24 hours - or was that 48? - form, which the Chinese Communists first made famous as step 1 in brain-washing. At the point where you no longer know how long you've been without sleep, it is scary how many impossible things you can agree to. Many concom members have been enlisted in this fashion.
The lesser known form is the equivalent of the Chinese water torture: not quite enough sleep every night (say only 4 hours) for a week or so. It's sort of dripping away your sense of connection to the world. Most software developers are intimately familiar with this sort of deprivation. I suspect it to be responsible for irritations like Microsoft's decision to hide all the functions in different places with each operating system release, making it a kind of "Where's Explorer?" or "Where's Services?" adventure game. I'm sure that seemed really hilarious to the sleep-deprived team doing development. As a member of a sleep deprived team of developers, I didn't find it even mildly funny, myself.
Sleep deprivation, in either form, like drugs, affects different people in vastly different ways. The first (no sleep at all for an extended period of time - OK, my personal record is only about 40 hours, with only caffeine enhancements) just makes me very slow. It feels as if my brain is struggling to produce ideas - struggling through sheer mud. Someone asks me a question and about three minutes after they've gone away unhappy, the answer crawls to the front of my brain and I can now form words. This is not terribly helpful when the question was something like "Can you think of any reason why I shouldnt turn off the computer now?" and the answer was, "Not until the job is finished."
I have been known to stare stupidly for 10 or 15 minutes at screens, paper, etc., waiting for the brain to catch up and tell me what to do next. Fortunately most things I do are easy, repetitive, and do not require thought; for instance, restoring databases, driving long distances, and running conventions are all things that can be done on no sleep at all.
The more insidious form is far more dangerous. I have a great deal more experience with this, particularly due to having to sit up with sick databases and mismanaged software projects. It's sort of an occupational hazard. This form of deprivation makes me exceedingly short-tempered - after only a week of this kind of thing. After a month of this, I should be kept away from knives and guns, particularly when I'm near the people whose lack of planning is responsible for my lack of sleep.
In all fairness, part of my repeated exposure to this problem is that I can continue to function effectively while in this state. I have repaired broken databases (while muttering hideous curses upon the progeny of the idiot who broke them), and written complex programs that ran the first time (not something that happens normally) while in an emotionally fragile and very sleep-deprived state. Part of this is because this kind of sleep deprivation affects me like amphetamines; my focus narrows down, I tend to single-track (or pretty close to that), but I get exceedingly precise. I only get the immediate task done, but I get it done, so I can finally go home and go to bed (or at least, that's what I tell myself). I've often thought, when reading descriptions of futuristic, drug-based cultures, that the author ought first to experience what the body can do to itself, without the aid of any drugs, but just with the aid of sleep deprivation. The results are impressive and quite often very, very scary.
And what, do you ask, does sleep deprivation have to do with Kate Elliot, who is our guest speaker at the next PARSEC meeting? She is responsible for a special kind of sleep deprivation. Ms. Elliot writes novels, very long (500-1000 page) novels. Page-turning, you want to know how it's going to turn out novels. Novels you do not want to start reading the week before your big product crunch is going to happen, so that you start a work-related spate of sleep deprivation by staying up until 3 for several nights in a row finishing her books. They do have intriguing characters, fascinating aliens, convoluted plots, and lots of action (people die all over the place). I want to read more about the Chapalli, I want to know what the significance of the females speaking a second language is, and whether my guesses on what the old revolt was about are right.
But I'll wait to start that novel until I'm on vacation, or (realistically), don't need to be particularly bright at work. In the meantime, I'll be trying to get hints out of her at the meeting, about what she's writing next and how she does it.
See you all there!
Review by Ann Cecil
Held October 27-29, 2000 at the Wyndham Hotel in Dublin, Ohio (a Columbus suburb)
Synthesizers are large. Larger than I had realized. Larger than artist's portfolios. Larger than dressmaker's racks. Not the largest thing I've ever transported in the van (that honor still belongs to Phil Klass's monster bookcases), but much larger than the average luggage.
Besides the synthesizer (Randy Hoffman's new pride and joy), we had two guitars, an air mattress, and a bunch of luggage to work around the five people (me, Randy, Mia Sherman, Greg Armstrong, Ben Bachman) going to OVFF. It's a short ride (3 hours), so we didn't worry about people not having room to stretch.
Friday night there was music. I didn't get to hear much of it, but I kept seeing people I hadn't seen for several years. And new little people I had never seen before. I know the official line is that fandom is graying, but most noticable at OVFF was that fandom is reproducing. There were a sizable number of babies this year (mostly well-behaved - only one which threatened to drown out the music at awkward moments).
Saturday I did get to hear a lot of music. The choral session that Ed Stauff and Mary Ellen Wessels (MEW) ran was lovely. The concerts were good, solid entertainment, starting with Mark Bernstein and ending with a rousing set by Talis Kimberly. One-shots were well above average (I really liked a song called Dragon Mountain by Andrea Yaeger - it was mis-introduced as Short Dragon Dreams, and I have plans for that title). The midnight jam session wavered between being a rock-based filk and a filk-like rock session, all enjoyable. We even did the Time Warp (at the appropriate time), and then turned our watches back. It was interesting to note the influences creeping in from pop music; we're starting to hear filk reminiscent of Alanis, as well as hard rock. Randy Hoffman won second place for his original song "You Take Your Life in Your Hands" in the song writing contest. The theme was "License to Drive."
Sunday was more laid back, possibly because most of the performers and audience had been up making music until 5am,.
The drive home seemed a little longer (it always does), but it was enlivened by all the new tapes. Since my car has a cassette deck built in, we played my new bargain tape (not a loss, not a win), two tapes that Randy bought, and one that Mia bought. It was fun and relaxing; OVFF deserves its reputation as the class act of filk cons. I'll probably go again next year.
PARSEC met on October 14, 2000 at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library. The primary purpose of the meeting was a book sale - or more precisely, book exchange, since most people use their profits to buy books from others. Ann Cecil had the most to sell with two tables full, the remains of her brother's collection (referred to in an earlier SIGMA editorial). Henry had more non-sf (mostly computer books), and Cap'n John had older computer games. Barton and Elizabeth had the most off-beat books.
An actual meeting was held in the midst of the sale. Various announcements were made: A consensus vote was to try for a group attendance at the U of Pitt play, 'Flow my Tears The Policeman Said' (based on the Philip K. Dick sf novel) on Friday November 10th. Send an email to Ann or call (344-0456) if you are interested in going. If another time would work out better, let Ann know - only a few people have signed up so far, and it would be easy to change.
Tom Morrow announced that he is trying to arrange a group trip to Rocky Horror; contact him, those who are interested.
Sasha Riley is trying to start a web newsletter (to be called Consumer Punks and Cyber Sluts); she is looking for submissions and suggestions. Contact her at email@example.com.
Bridget Spitznagel spoke about the new CMU sf club, which will meet on the 2nd Tuesday of each month, and hold filking on the 4th Wednesday of each month.
Henry Tjernlund announced the PARSEC Video Consortium, for which he had nifty flyers made up (see more detailed announcement elsewhere). Henry also asked if anyone was holding a Halloween party, and would mind Henry's coming and taking photos, to build up his photographic portfolio. This inspired Cap'n John Cope to announce a party, to be held Friday November 3rd, at EPOC I (his house - spell EPOC backwards, guys), which features some really classy backgrounds.
Erich Summers was introduced, as the guest of the meeting.
Ann Cecil disussed the proposed 2001 meeting schedule (science talk in January, Hugo panel in February, and, with the group's approval, a March meeting on topics - for the coming Worldcon!
Diane Turnshek had four topics to bring up: 1) Write or Die is looking for more active members 2) she is organizing a group trip for Worldcon (she talked about a bus, but has since been seduced by Cap'n John into checking out a train) 3) she is organizing interviews with authors at Worldcon to be done and written up by high school students, which will then be published by local newspapers and 4) she interested in setting up a group visit to the House of Blood. Contact her for more information on any of these topics.
Greg Armstrong mentioned that a new used book store, 3 Penny Books, has opened down the street.
Nelson Tatham won the raffle and took a piece of artwork.
Ann Cecil then conducted a long session, going over the by-laws and detailing changes (see following article for results). These changes are being made in preparation for applying for non-profit status (Federal non-profit, as in cheap mail rates and no sales tax!)
The meeting was forcibly adjourned out of the library at 4:45, as usual.
Proposed changes to the BY-LAWS
ARTICLE 2 - OBJECTIVE
SECTION 1 The objective of PARSEC shall be to offer a social environment in which people interested in various media of science fiction and fantasy may gather to trade information and enjoy themselves.
ARTICLE 2 - OBJECTIVE
SECTION 1 The objective of PARSEC shall be to offer a social environment in which people interested in various media of science fiction and fantasy may gather to trade information and enjoy themselves, and to promote literacy and interest in science throughout the community.
ARTICLE 3 - MEMBERSHIP
SECTION 4 Any member whose dues remain past due for two months shall be considered not in good standing with PARSEC, and their name shall be removed from the membership rolls.
ARTICLE 3 - MEMBERSHIP
SECTION 4 Any member whose dues remain past due for two months shall be considered not in good standing with PARSEC. His/her voting rights and privileges shall be rescinded.
ARTICLE 5 - OFFICERS
SECTION 6 The duties of the Commentator shall be: * Defined at a later point in time
ARTICLE 5 - OFFICERS
SECTION 6 The duties of the Commentator shall be: consistent with the duties of a corresponding secretary: to produce a regular column for SIGMA, the monthly newsletter
ARTICLE 6 - ADMINISTRATION
SECTION 2 All checks written in the name of the club shall bear both the signature of the President and the Treasurer.
ARTICLE 6 - ADMINISTRATION
SECTION 2 All checks written in the name of the club shall bear either the signature of the President or the Treasurer, so long as the amount is under $750. For amounts over $750, both signatures shall be required.
ARTICLE 6 - ADMINISTRATION
SECTION 6 The Treasurer shall submit all accounts to the Executive Board at the end of the fiscal year for final audit. This annual financial report shall be reproduced and copies of such submitted to the general membership of PARSEC. Upon installation of a successor, the Treasurer shall transmit to the successor all funds and records of the group.
ARTICLE 6 - ADMINISTRATION
SECTION 6 The Treasurer shall submit all accounts to the Executive Board at the end of the fiscal year for final audit. This annual financial report shall be made available on request to the general membership of PARSEC. Upon installation of a successor, the Treasurer shall transmit to the successor all funds and records of the group.
ARTICLE 9 - DISBANDING
SECTION 1 If membership is less than 10 persons, or upon a vote of the majority of the paid members, the club can be declared defunct and disbanded.
SECTION 2 In the event of the club being disbanded, all funds remaining shall be donated to the Carnegie Free Library of Pittsburgh, without restriction.
SECTION 3 In the event of the club being disbanded, the PARSEC library shall be offered to the Carnegie Free Library of Pittsburgh; any books not accepted shall be donated to a recognized charitable institution.
SECTION 4 In the even of the club being disbanded, all archives of the club (fanzines, back issues of SIGMA, etc.) shall be offered to Hillman Library of the University of Pittsburgh; material reamining can be disposed of at the discretion of the club officers.
Edison's Conquest of Mars
by Garrett Serviss
Review by Kevin Geiselman
Six weeks after the final chapter of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in late 1897, Serviss's "sequel" began, serialized in the NY Evening Journal.
The Earth, still reeling from the Martian invasion, learns of eruptions on the Red Planet that portends another invasion. Despair turns to hope as the famed genius Thomas Edison announces that not only has he discovered how to make disintegration guns more terrible than the Martian weapons, but he has also devised electric ships that will carry Earth's vengeance across space to Mars itself.
It took me five years to finally find a copy of this rare book and now I can tell you its value is purely historical rather than literary.
The first disappointment is the prominent use of the word "American" as it is invariably followed by the words "of course." The Americans, of course, will lead the expedition. The Americans, of course, will provide the bulk of the funding. The ships and weapons will be built in American factories by, of course, American workers.
As the story unfolds, the impression is that Serviss is writing a sequel to a story someone told him about but that he himself did not actually read. His Martians are merely large humans. The horror that Wells was able to evoke by his truly alien creatures is lost completely.
Wells's Martians executed their invasion of Earth out of a passionless necessity. Their world was dying and there was a world full of life next door. The Earthling savages were of no consequence. Wells made no secret of the parallels he was drawing between Martian imperialism towards Earth and Anglo imperialism towards Africa and the Far East.
To make Serviss's heroes all the more heroic, his Martians must be demonized. Malevolent and evil. Their malformed heads are the result of the war-like parts of their brains having been stimulated to enhance their martial qualities. A little phrenology is thrown in just to prove the point.
It's not that Serviss doesn't have an innovation or two. This is the first literary appearance of a "space suit" and the magnetic propulsion he uses to move his ships through interplanetary space is more plausible and founded in science than the gigantic canon that the Martians use to hurl their cylinders towards the Earth. But, in the end, they don't seem like space ships and Edison's other technological marvels, more because of their overwhelming power than any lack of scientific explanation, take on an aspect of magic.
Throw in a beautiful Ayrian captive, the descendant of Human slaves taken from the Garden of Eden and forced to build the pyramids of Egypt and you have a plot holes big enough to drive a Martian war machine through. What about those germs that stopped the Martian invasion this time? Wouldn't importing essentially plague-infested slaves to your homeworld have been a bad thing? And, if they got burned by that fiasco 10,000 years ago and survived, why didn't they learn their lesson?
In the end, the American-lead Earthmen are (of course) able to finally defeat the Martians by. . . get this. . . flooding them out. If they had that much water to flood the entire planet, why did they bother invading Earth in the first place? Oh, yea. . . because they're evil.
Serviss's Conquest is much more a precursor of the pulp adventure fiction of H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs than it is the inheritor of the scientific romances of H.G. Wells or Jules Verne. Maybe if he had actually read War of the Worlds he might have better blended the important elements.
by Robert Silverberg
Review by James J. Walton
I closed Starborne and asked myself "What exactly was that book about?"
The population of Earth is old and stagnant. Longevity treatments are common and barring accidents most people expect to live long into their second century. But as mankind's lifespan increased its spirit withered. Earth is a paradise but few people are really happy and even fewer have the will to something about their ennui.
The Wotan project, a plan to send a space ship to find and colonize an extra-solar planet via "nospace", seems just the thing to awaken a dying society. The planet pours its resources and its enthusiasm into building the ship which will carry mankind's dreams.
Fifty of Earth's finest young people (well, relatively young: they are all less that 100 years old) are selected and sent in search of a suitable new world.
We are constantly told there are 50 people aboard the Wotan, 25 men and 25 women. But by the end of the book we learn the names of only a few of the crew members. Except for 2 "crowd scenes" most of the crew is never "on stage."
The characters we do meet are cardboard stiff. Silverberg gives them first names, describes their looks, a few of their habits and some of their sexual preferences, but for all practical purposes they are interchangeable. Is this clumsiness on Silverberg's part or his subtle way of showing us how well matched the crew is?
In the beginning we meet the year-captain, a quiet, brooding man who takes his duties seriously, and Noelle, a blind telepath who serves the Wotan as the only form of communications which can reach Earth.
We never learn the year-captain's name at all, which is odd since we get to know him best via his personal log and the crew's speculations about him. He is always just "the year-captain" when the rest of the crew speak to and of him. Silverberg conveniently makes him so good at his job that the rest of the crew re-elect him to the office twice. This makes it unnecessary for Silverberg to name his main character.
We do know that the year-captain is Nordic. After finishing his education he abandoned the sciences and became a well known stage actor. Abruptly he left acting and returned to science as an explorer seeking and finding life forms on the other planets and moons in our solar system. Equally as abruptly he left science and entered a monastery inside the Arctic circle only to return to science when he learned of the Wotan project.
Noelle is the most important person aboard the Wotan. Blind, her telepathic connection to her twin sister Yvonne on Earth is the only thing which keeps moral high among the crew. Radio waves take ten years at least to reach the Earth, whereas telepathy is instantaneous. Noelle relays the daily ship's report to a news starved human race and helps maintain a sense of usefulness and connectedness among the crew.
But is Noelle's talent real? Does she actually speak to her sister daily or is Noelle making up news to keep the ship's crew happy? It is an act of faith but the Wotan's crew seems happy to believe, anything to keep the "we are all alone" feeling at bay.
It is when Noelle's mind link with her Earthbound sister is broken that the crew of the Wotan begins to despair. Are they doomed to wandernospace for the rest of their lives?
There seems to be nothing for most of the crew to do besides have sex in as many variations as possible and to play the game of Go. Most of the action in the novel takes place in either the communal baths with the conveniently placed sex chambers or in the recreation center with its multitude of Go boards. The only ones who seem to have any regular duties beside the year-captain and Noelle are Hesper who's job it is to find suitable planets to explore and Julia who is allegedly in charge of steering the ship.
The ending of Starborne seems rushed. The exploration of a couple of planets actually slows the book down somewhat. What little danger the crew faced was from possible madness and/or boredom. Any fear is generated by active imaginations with too little to occupy them.
Starborne is not one of Silverberg's best works. There is a purely mechanical feel to it, functional and usable but completely lacking art. Indeed, Mr. Silverberg made part of his reputation for being able to dash of useable and readable work to order in a very short time. Perhaps He wrote Starborne to hastily fulfill a contract?
But what is this book about? The voyage of the Wotan and the adventures of its crew? Well, sort of. Mainly it is about the reactions of certain members of the crew to shipboard life and to each other. The Wotan project is as much about isolation and boredom as it is about space exploration.
Each of the elements Silverberg put in his novel would have been interesting if explored more fully on their own. (And he does in other books.) As it is, Starborne is not bad, it's just not especially memorable.
About 12 pages into Starborne I realized that I was detecting bits and pieces of plots and characters from other authors. A little Star Trek here, a bit of Heinlein there, a touch of Niven and just a hint of Zelazny. Which just proves that no matter how good the author, he is influenced by others in his field.
NEXT MEETING: Nov. 11, 2000 1:00 PM to 4:45 PM
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.
SPEAKER: Kate Elliot
TOPIC: writing long fantasy - hard and easy
Time & Date : 9 December 2000
Discussion Topic : Holiday Party
Location : Ann's House
Mary Soon Lee's story "Cause and Consequence" appeared in issue #136 of Interzone.
Judy Friedl has sold her first short story, a fantasy story "The Cottage", to the e-zine Anotherealm.
Timons Esaias sold the poem "The New, Improved, Gene-Spliced Purple Cow" to Star*Line.
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
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
The Pittsburgh Area Realtime Scientifiction Enthusiasts Club
President: Ann Cecil
Vice President: Sasha Riley
Treasurer: Mia Sherman
Editor: Don Cox
Secretary: Tom Morrow
Snide Commentator: Chris Ferrier
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
Return to the Sigma mainpage.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.