Starting out this month proved to be a little harder and a little more frustrating than usual. I'm sure there will be those among us who will point out my column from last month as the likely low point in my 24 month meander. And I wanted to have something to hold up with at least a little pride before the whole shebang is over. After all, me blaming that last foray on my dog -- what a despicable thing to do! (Now if only I had a cat . . .)
To get to the point: this is a month of great and varied activities. As far as the club is concerned, the two main ones are the nomination of new officers and (of course!) the annual book sale.
I realize these are just two of the many things we do through the year. As I know I have commented before, (probably to the exasperation of more than a few) I am often surprised at the number of different aspects of SF/F and fandom.
First, there is the wide variety of styles contained within the genres themselves. In Science Fiction, we have hard and soft SF, military, romance, space opera, near future and speculative. We have cyberpunk, steampunk and alternative universe.
Fantasy holds almost the same variety. Light and dark, high fantasy, low fantasy (though not necessarily low as in in-the-gutter-like-my-mind-sometimes) and urban fantasy are a few that readily spring to mind.
New forms and new visions pop up all the time and add themselves to the list. And I think this is a good thing, regardless of how some people may feel that it unnecessarily encumbers a genre with oddments.
Every time something new and different in SF/F hits the shelves; every time a new vision is established, it shows what viable and vibrant genres we align ourselves with. I think it is that novelty that helps to keep us interested and active.
Secondly, there are the multitudes of aspects of fandom itself. Not only do we have fans of the different media -- literary and film -- there are also the filk fans, costumers, gamers, artists and crafters. There are even the fans who consider putting on conventions to be an important part of their particular ideas of what a fan is.
So many different things to keep us active and interested. Another item of interest in all this mess is the fact that there are conventions for whatever specific part of SF/F fandom interests you. Some of our members are recently returned from one of those special interest conventions: OVFF (Ohio Valley Filk Fest) in Columbus.
I happen to think it's wonderful how many different things are available in the genres to keep things new and fresh. It is almost a reflection of the old Star Trek bromide about infinite variety and infinite diversity.
November is, in a sense, our month to celebrate the diversity. As mentioned before, we always have at least two structured (if you really want to call them that) activities going on: book sale and nominations. This is in addition to the usual undirected, unanticipated fits of fun and social interaction.
Myriad questions have been asked about what the intentions are for the upcoming meeting. I hope I can explain it as I have it envisioned. Because of the nature of the November meeting, I figured, rather than have a principle speaker or presenter, we would try a bunch of different things. I termed them "Pods of Activity."
Each pod is (in my limited mind) to be a . . . um . . . an activity designed to last a short time-fifteen minutes to half an hour. Whether a game, a trivia match, or a demo, the idea is that people can participate in one, then walk to the next and indulge themselves in a variety of different genre related items through the course of the meeting. All this is designed to take advantage of the infinite variety and infinite diversity. And it doesn't even have to be Star Trek. I have some pods lined up, but if anyone would like to arrange one on their own, I would certainly welcome any volunteers.
See you on Saturday.
The irregularly scheduled House Filk, featuring PARSEC members and those loosely affiliated (Friends of PARSEC?) was held on October 26, 2002, and a very good time was had by all. The location this time was at the home of Jolayne and Tom White, deep in the woods of Murrysville. As with many places only 20 minutes from Pittsburgh, the White home is on a dark narrow road where you expect deer or raccoons or other wildlife to spring out at you. Once inside, you discover a comfortable, modern home filled with various sizes and shapes of chairs.
Pennsylvania's own Pete Grubbs and Canadian Graham Leathers chose to perch on stools so they could strum up serious music from their guitars. Robert (Robin) Stockton was ensconced in the large comfy chair, so he had full scope for coaxing beautiful music from the Big harp. On the couch were Dan and Melissa Glaser, come up from Parkersburg, West Virginia, with guitars and various stacks of sheet music. Randy Hoffman sat on a straight chair, balancing his stack of lyrics on his lap. Jolayne White wore her guitar on her back, when she wasn't playing, or acting as hostess.
Audience included Kevin Hayes, John Cope, Jill Grubbs, Martha Underwood, Skip and Denny Arnold, Colette Garmer, Kass Siegel, Tom and Andrew White, Dan Radakovich, Kira Heston, Henry and Irene Tjernlund, and Ann Cecil. I am including Kevin and Kira and Dan in the audience, though each of them did sing one or more numbers at points during the evening.
Not only was the music varied and well-played, the filkers also traded guesses on 'who wrote that song'? Names like Christopher Guest and Robert Pyne (sp approx) were bandied about. Songs included [titles approx] Dr. Jekyll's Cola, Colorado Rockies [NOT the John Denver lyrics], Vampires, MisExpedition, City of New Orleans, All the Way Home, Autumn on the Prairies [Canadian ones], Dr. Freud, Plastic Jesus, Shadow Harper, When I was a Boy [the Steve MacDonald version], Dinosaur Petting Zoo, Walking Away from Caroline, Filkers Never Sleep [original by Jolayne], Brain Dead [original by Randy], I'm a Fan [original by Kevin Hayes], Welcome to Texas Underground, Ontario, Dear Abby, Gun-metal Eye, A Thousand Songs [original by Dan Glaser], Don't Know Much about InterNet [original by Kira Heston], Lies and Fairy Tales. And Dan Radakovich sang his own parody of the G&S MajorGeneral Song. This is only a sampling of all the songs - there were lots I didn't write down, or didn't recognize.
The singing started around 6pm; there was a dinner break for salad and spaghetti and garlic bread (you had your choice of garlic bread, very very garlic bread or just bread). At about 10pm, Pete and Graham had to leave; the rest of us stayed until around 11:30, when we reluctantly put on coats and trailed off to cars, having had a great time.
The October 12 PARSEC Meeting convened at about 2:00 pm with 20 members and friends in attendance.
Sasha Riley won the raffle and chose the book Narcissus in Chains by Laurel K. Hamilton.
The following announcements were made:
The House Filk will not be held after the meeting on October 12th but in two weeks on October 26th at Jolene White's house.
Ann made a preliminary announcement of a new project for publication which is slated to debut at the next Confluence: a volume of SF&F poetry. Mary Soon Lee, Chris Ferrier and Ann Cecil will be judges. Ann expects that 15 to 20 poems of modest length be published in the volume. Ann Cecil will provide more information on the criteria for submission of poems in the next (November) Sigma.
Randy would like to move the Christmas Party back a week from December 14th to December 21st. If you have an opinion on which date would be better, please let Ann know before the November PARSEC meeting.
Kira is once again compiling the PARSEC directory. Please get any information to her that you want included in the directory as well as any changes from the last directory, which was last published a couple of years ago.
Henry has two female kittens which are ready to have a loving home. If you can provide a home for a kitten, please let Henry know.
Welcome to D.C. -- a first time meeting attendee.
Bill let us know that there were flyers available with contact information to save/revive the SciFi Channel's Farscape.
Sasha is now working at Walden Books in the South Hills Village Mall under the alias Alexandra. She encourages PARSEC members to buy books there.
Anyone who is interested in running for a PARSEC office is encouraged to step forward. There will also be nominations/discussions online. Nominations will be made formal at the November meeting with the election being held in December.
Henry has pictures from the August picnic.
Kevin introduced Scott Perry from Pictors Studio. Pictors Studio, which is located in Ligonier, sells painted miniatures for table top war gaming. The SF & F table top war gaming miniatures they sell are for Warhammer 40k, which is also the biggest fantasy table top game. Table top war games are played against two opponents or two teams of opponents with armies of a certain size or point value picked from the rule books produced by the gaming company. People take turns moving and fighting armies which consist of many miniature soldiers. The figures are 28 mm high for Warhammer 40k but can vary for other games based on scale preference. Sometimes there are objectives as in real battles. Warhammer 40k is turn based gaming where one side moves all its units during their turn, as opposed to activation phase gaming where one unit at a time is moved in turn. (Activation phase gaming is thought to be more realistic while turn based gaming is simpler). Warhammer 40k is set in a post apocalyptic world where the technology in use is not understood but just used with a religiousity ascribed to the technology (certain things are recited while using a technology or fixing it, etc). The armies can include space orcs and space elves. An important part of gaming is the story line. In Warhammer 40k, humans are attempting to take over the entire world in order to rule with a fascist government. Games can include land, water, air, and space battles. Ann asked how people demark crippled space ships. Scott described how some people depict crippled equipment with washers and painted cotton balls. And some people put rings or other easily attached hardware on damaged equipment. The problems of actually depicting three dimensional movement were discussed as well.
Scott was born in Nottingham, England which is also where Games Workshop is headquartered. This apparently doomed Scott to getting involved in gaming and he started with Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) in 8th grade.
Getting a startup set for Warhammer 40k can cost as little as $75.00. Games Workshop prices its models, not on demand, but on how powerful they are in the game. A nice sized army for a reasonable game can cost $150.00, the softbound rule book is $30.00, and the codex for the armies (which change) is an additional cost. The hobby can be fairly expensive. Battletech was a popular table top war game but has now gone collectible. The difference is that with Warhammer 40k you can decide what armies and capabilities you have, where as with a collectible game you are at the mercy of the draw.
Games Workshop is a huge SF& F gaming company which has Warhammer as its sole product right now. However, they will be coming out with a Lord of the Rings game which will be available in other retail outlets besides stores dedicated to gaming and war gaming.
Historical gaming is a smaller industry than SF & F gaming. One of the largest manufacturer's is located in Calumet, PA which is 30 minutes away from Pittsburgh. Most historical war gaming products are made by people who do this as a hobby and are engaged in other professions. The other difference is scope. SF & F games are relatively small in scope. Historical games will recreate huge battles with larger numbers of soldiers in the armies and the games take several days, rather than hours, to decide. Historical gamers may have detailed knowledge of the history behind the battles.
Scott brought different examples of terrain. These included flexible rubber, foam insulating board, foam core board, and resin cast pieces. Pictors deals primarily in painted figures and custom painting of figures for games and gamers.
Bill asked about taking historic events and adding an SF or alternate history twist. Scott answered that there was a game that took the Napoleonic wars gave them the twist that the French were Elves, British were Orcs, Russians were Undead. He also mentioned that people do fight battles with Roman Legions versus Zombies, etc.
Kevin asked if there is gaming at the Pictors studio. Scott said they do game in their basement. (The studio is at Scott's house.) The problem with gaming at establishments such as Phantom of the Attic in Oakland is that they close whether or not the game is done.
Next Scott described how Pictors Studios paint miniatures for table top war games. The Games Workshop figures for Warhammer 40k come as pieces in plastic frames. Scott assembles and paints the figures with a base coat of cheap black paint because it doesn't cover as well and this is a desired effect. He then paints the details in acrylic paint. To paint volumes of miniatures, the studio uses paint stir sticks with several figures glued or attached with poster putty. They can paint many figures using one color at a time this way. Scott paints flesh tones and then uses a wash on the figures. Paint the figures and wash again or highlighting edges with lighter tones. The figures are then sprayed with a sealant coat and sold.
Chris asked how long it takes. Scott answered that simpler figures can be done faster. For simpler figures they can complete 75 in day to 40 in a day for more complex figures. Scott will do custom orders and also does figures for sale. He also sells painted figures online at http://www.pictorsstudio.com. More are sold at conventions than online.
Scott warned that online there are unscrupulous "companies" that will take money and figures and close up shop and many people have been hurt by these "companies."
Kevin asked if people game in the same room or online/by mail. Scott said that gaming online or by mail is not very common because it is expensive to maintain two armies and coordinating placement and movement are more difficult.
Chris wanted to know if there is competition from online games. Scott said that there is some competition but not really because the audience is very specific. Table top war gaming is a different pursuit than a computer game.
Kira asked if there was any future in D&D figures. Scott replied that mostly the profit is in historical figures. There is a small amount of money in D&D figures. People will buy armies of painted figures but only one or two D&D at a time.
The best way to get started playing is to go some where and watch a game. You can improvise figures for games using bottle caps, etc. to see if you'd like to get involved.
Scott invited attendees to come up and view the miniatures he'd brought along.
Meeting ended at 4:45 pm.
Chris Ferrier sold the poem "Robot Love" to Fantasy Commentator.
Mary Soon Lee's story "Homecoming" appeared in the anthology Best Of The Rest 3. She sold the poems "Soliloquy of a Nanotech Souffle" and "RushHour" to the literary magazine Mobius.
Tim Esaias's story "Loss of a Treasured National Symbol" appeared in the Mensa publication Calliope; he sold a story to "Fading Shadows" and a poem to The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. His story "Pawn" was a Locus Recommended Reading selection, and he discovered that his story "The Mars Convention", originally written for the PARSEC story contest, was listed as the fifth best short story published in Czech in 1999. PARSEC's international impact is clearly considerable.
I've attributed my reluctance to go to the movies for the past year or so to my own idiosyncrasies (and to financial considerations), but now that I have seen one of the top-reviewed movies of the summer, I realize my behavior was totally justified: Minority Report is a stinker. If this is the best Hollywood's best director can turn out, and the critics can praise it to the skies, then I am missing very little.
The premise of Minority Report is that a beneficial side effect of "neuroin" addiction is that some children of addicted mothers develop the ability precognition, to see murders that are about to take place. The movie starts with a suspenseful race to stop one of these murders. The situation is totally contrived, just like the visions that Cordelia gets in
Angel, and any two-bit director can generate suspense out of imperfect information that he completely controls. But, OK, let's say that the opening sequence does build a dramatic case for using precognition. Who could argue that harnessing it to stopping murders before they happen is a bad thing?
One assumes that a movie entitled Minority Report would be arguing just that. After all, science fiction is supposed to be a literature of ideas. Unfortunately, the movie is not interested in ideas, although critics seem to think it is. Maybe they all read the Philip K. Dick short story and imported Dick's thinking into the movie, but I didn't read the story and I don't see it in the movie.
The term "Minority Report" turns out to be a red herring in the movie -- a "minority report," as explained by the "founding mother" of precognition, is a view of the future seen by one of the three "precogs" that is different from the other two, a fact that might cast doubt on the whole notion that the "visions" of the precogs are reliable. Tom Cruise's character, cop John Anderton, is a true believer in infallibility of the pre-crime system (dumb name -- it would be called "preventive arrest" or something like), and is stunned to find out that this flaw has been kept from him, the highest-ranking enforcement officer in the department. When the precogs see him as committing a murder himself, he believes that there must be a "minority report" that will "prove" his innocence. After chasing for half the movie to find it, he finds there is none, that the killing is going to take place exactly the way the precogs saw it. (And it is not at all clear to me why Anderton does shoot the victim, as the precogs foretold, when Anderton had learned that he had been set up, that he had determined he was not going to shoot, and the victim struggled with the gun to get himself shot. "The gun just went off?" Or was he arrested for "pre-crime" and the gun didn't go off? Did I miss something?)
I don't know what kind of movie this is: If it's science fiction, it's pretty bad. There's no more "science" in pre-cognition than in ESP. All right, suppose we accept the premise of the fortuitous arrival of a gift. How did we use it, and what was our mistake? Beats the hell out of me, as the flaw the movie shows was that the man in charge (Max von Sydow, playing Lamar Burgess, director of the program) was willing to murder to protect his bureaucracy and manipulate a system he created to cover up the murder. It wasn't that the precogs were unreliable augurers, nor was it that John Anderton was innocent.
Was there any discussion that pre-crime did away with a trial? That despite what the precogs saw, that even if they were reliable eye-witnesses, they couldn't disclose the legal character of the act? Presumably that was what should have exonerated John Anderton -- he had been manipulated into a crime of passion, and/or the gun going off was not intentional. (As I said, I couldn't figure out exactly why Anderton ends up shooting "Leo Crowe.") There was one line about the ACLU's misgivings (unexplained) and that was it as far as a critiquing of the "legal" end of pre-crime convictions.
Nothing, also, about the legal doctrine that requires the prosecution to disclose exculpatory evidence, which is what the "minority reports" would supposedly be.
Nothing, also, about the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures -- the police search an entire apartment building with "spiders" that do retinal scans only. Is this supposedly an extrapolation of the right of the police to use bomb- or drug-sniffing dogs to investigate only one very specific aspect of your being -- i.e., your true identity via a retinal scan (like the smell of your luggage to a dog), so the fact that they can do a "restricted search" (even while you're engaged in sexual intercourse) is not an "unreasonable search or seizure"? The genuine philosophical dilemma of precognition/preventive detention gets one-line, a defense from Burgess as he's being uncovered as a murderer: if you found a technique that would save thousands of lives, with a negligible but non-zero error rate, wouldn't you fight for it? But did Burgess murder to protect a highly utilitarian system, or did he do it because he was a power-mad bureaucrat? Presumably the latter, since he set up Anderton and murdered the new FBI supervisor. Apparently there is no one to advocate for a system which we saw at the outset was saving lives. At the end of the movie, we have the Department of Precrime totally dismantled, the precogs sent off to a sheltered retreat, and presumably the murder rate going through the roof again. Are we living happily ever after here?
There was some philosophical discussion in the movie -- banal stuff about free will, when Anderton was about to murder Crowe, and when Burgess was about to murder Anderton. As I said, it's hard to figure out what free will had to do with the Crowe murder, since Anderton did exercise his free will not to kill Crowe, yet Crowe got killed anyway. Burgess' death was, perhaps, the lesson of the movie. (Maybe I did get it, after all.) He was foreseen as killing Anderton, but ends up killing himself. This, Burgess proved that intervening events can avert the precogs' predictions, and thus those predictions should not be presumed to be the immutable future. So, throwing out the entire department and the gifts of the precogs is how we live happily ever after?
I am not sure why I am so hostile to this movie. I know it did not leave me with any emotion upon leaving the theater except irritation. If I analyze its premise, it's not much different from other science fiction movies I have liked -- Total Recall, The Terminator. That is, you take a scientific leap -- memory implantation in the former, time travel in the latter -- which you treat as a "given," and you craft a mystery or adventure around it. Maybe it's because Minority Report makes so many leaps for the "given" that I was unwilling to suspend my disbelief. Why were murders going up so explosively in the country? Why were there only three precogs, and those limited to D.C., that were available for the pilot program? What about the psychics in the rest of the country? Wasn't there a spectrum of precognitives' abilities, if most didn't survive or went insane? How could you rely on them, given their obvious mental problems? And would you have them floating in sensory deprivation tanks for their entire lives?
As for the Mission: Impossible escapes in the movie, well, I guess I'm just too old to be impressed or even persuaded by them. I also wondered at the mayhem that a dedicated law enforcement officer like Anderton inflicted on innocent bystanders when he rode some jetpack through numerous apartments. I also wondered at how he escaped in a car that we last saw him getting bolted into. I wondered why he wasn't rendered blind, in at least one eye, when he did not elude the search spiders (some resourceful hero!) and was told he could not take off the blindfold for 12 hours. Why didn't the Precrime Department immediately change the entry code on all doors once Anderton had been "fingered" as a murderer so that he couldn't use his old eyes to get back inside? (Companies routinely change all the locks today when they fire a high-level employee.) Why did the guard release Anderton at the end when Anderton's wife held him at gunpoint? The precogs foresaw every upcoming murder and yet the alarms which routinely warned of a killing weren't going off, so he knew she wouldn't shoot.
Did I consider it implausible that Burgess could get not one but two people, strangers, neuroin addicts, presumably, to do his bidding, and do so reliably, with one to be willingly sentenced for a precrime, the other to get himself killed to give his family money? Did I consider it implausible that Burgess would kill Ann Lively immediately after the Precrime Department had rescued her from his proxy murderer when the precogs are shown to identify the time of the murder down to the second, and the Precrime Department had obviously arrived early? (Come to think about it, precogs don't just give the time of the murder, they give the name of the victim and the perp!) All the investigative skills of the homicide division must have quickly atrophied with the advent of pre-crime, since Ann Lively's murder was not actually prevented, despite having been foreseen, and it happened just the way the precogs had foretold -- and yet the pre-crime people had what looked like the prime suspect already in custody. You think maybe somebody had access to that precog? You don't need the recorded precog (which we are told was missing) to draw that inference! The police were also unable to ascertain that she was the mother of Agatha, the prime precog, despite having retinal IDs of everyone in the country (but not DNA profiles?) and that she was in a remote area to meet someone by pre-arrangement, even if she didn't tell them it was Burgess. And why wouldn't she have told them it was Burgess -- who else would have known she was out there? Did this look like a crime of opportunity -- remote area, yes, but carrying a ski mask, and for no motive? If you were a police officer with an unsolved crime and you've just arrested somebody who tried and failed to commit the identical crime moments before, wouldn't you ask him some questions?
As for the social satire, it was minimal (using retinal scans the way websites identify visiting surfers), and probably overwhelmed by the product placement.
Skip this when released on tape and DVD.
NEXT MEETING: Nov. 9, 2002 12:30 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.
TOPIC: book sale and Pods of Activity
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Kevin Hayes
Vice President: Heidi Pilewski
Treasurer: Greg Armstrong
Editor: Don Cox
Secretary: Joan Fisher
Commentator: Ann Cecil
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.