There are some interesting problems posed by science fiction. At least that's the way I've always felt about it. The problems I refer to aren't problems in the sense of what effect technological developments, or social changes will have on humans and their environment, but rather what exactly constitutes an exploration of the worlds of sf/f.
There are so many different variations on a single theme in terms of the genre itself, it can be a little intimidating. First, a close examination of the literature provides the basic hard sf and soft sf. Then, to further break it down, there is (at least) space opera, military, romance and humor. All of these can also be found in multiple combinations as well. I'm sure I have left some major form or other out of this list, if it happens to be one of your favorites, I apologize. And all of this doesn't even begin to touch on the different tropes and formulas of the genre. Of course I can't forget the forms: short story, poem and novel.
So far all of this has only been applied to the written tradition of sf/f. It can be applied equally to the visual in the form of movies and television. Except with them, you can go the extra step by adapting something from the literature to something for the screen -- large or small. Or, if there is nothing worthy of adaptation, you can write something specifically for movies, or TV. Add to that all the other forms I already mentioned and the choices grow exponentially. Whew.
None of this yet takes into account the fantasy element of the proposition. Dark fantasy, light fantasy, fantasy masquerading as science fiction, science fiction masquerading as fantasy, all of it comes into play with the same kind of interaction and intermixing as the so-called straight science fiction.
There is also the radio element: a kind of combination of electronic and verbal media. It allows the listener to absorb the oral interpretation of a script, on the same order as movies and TV, but also indulge in the active use of imagination, as one would in reading a story.
Let us not forget the other side of this particular coin; if radio is the audio of the genre, then certainly, painting and illustration have to be specifically the visual. Publishers look for accomplished artists to provide the covers which helps to sell books, magazines, even movies. If a person can translate the imagination of a writer into something both stimulating and identifiable, and do it well, they could become the next Rowena, or Eggleston, or Vallejo. And of course, with all the imagery and sweep of imagination to draw from, the style can be anything from surrealism -- particularly appropriate for some sf/f -- to abstract impressionism, to photographically realistic pieces available to the artist/computer programmer.
And then there's filk. I have been peripherally aware of filk for a long time, but as I am a late comer to fandom, I come to an appreciation of the form late as well. I have read anthologies of individual writers and seen some of the songs, or at least the lyrics, they have written. Some major talents such as Dickson and Niven spring to mind. One of the amazing things about filk is that it encompasses almost all of the preceding ideas (granted it can't be very visual) and adds to them. It does this by incorporating a fan-fic type of element in both the verbal and the musical. In other words, you can write a song about a story or movie, using the characters and plot and put it to original music, or you can write an original lyric to an old musical favorite. Or you can do both; witness Weird Al's interpretation of Episode One of Star Wars set to the music of Don McLean's "American Pie". Of course, you can also have original lyrics and music all the way across the board, not reflective of anyone else's ideas. That's the beauty of all the different forms: one can be comepletely original.
Since we are combining different forms and synthesizing new and original ideas, November's meeting promises to provide challenges. Randy Hoffman will enlarge our experience and help us all to gain a wider appreciation for filk. I realize some among us already have an appreciation of filk, but some of us (I meekly raise my hand) can use a little more education in the form.
November is also the traditional book sale. If you have books you want to give to good homes or just need to get rid of to make room for new ones, bring'em in and we'll see if we can find a good owner for them.
Also -- last but not least -- new officers for next year need to be nominated. If you think you might make a good candidate for anything from president to commentator to anything else that contributes to the confusion, self-nomination is not frowned on. If you think someone else might do a better job than the one being done now, bring in your new choices. I won't mind, I'm a big boy, I can deal with it. Hope to see you Saturday.
ENTERPRISE: THE ART OF EXPLORING EVERYWHERE EXCEPT THE TWO BEST PLANETS
Second, I wondered if the thing to do might be to go back in Trek history to a time, as I described it, "between Neil Armstrong and Christopher Pike."
Now, several years and one appearance by The Rock later, they've done that.
Tom Wolfe is right. You can't go home again.
I was wondering how to draft this column, when by pure chance I and Eric Davin and Anita Alverio attended the same showing of FROM HELL, one of the best (though "mundane") movies of 2001 and an improvement upon much the same material as MURDER BY DECREE. I said that I was concerned for ENTERPRISE, that I wanted to see it succeed, and Eric asked "Why?" Always a great question, to shock you out of yourself, to put your ideas in perspective.
Why? First, the simple fact is that the Trek cosmos is as close as a global popular culture has come to a "future memory." Stephen Hawking once asked "Why can't we remember the future?", and it's an interesting handicap.
Once we had little more than THE JETSONS to look to for a relatively optimistic future; now, for good or ill, it's Trek. Love it or hate it, there Trek is, far more an exercise in futurism than, say, the open fairy tale of STAR WARS.
Second, it has a potential to be a good show. Whatever else I think of it, I recommend the opening credits to one and all. It's a montage of the history of exploration: across the seas, through and beyond the atmosphere, finally on to the stars. With this montage is a song, with words. You may be surprised to learn that, technically, the theme of ST:TOS had words -- though they were quite sappy, and we may count ourselves fortunate never to have heard them. With ENTERPRISE comes an efficient and serviceable folk rock fragment called "Faith of the Heart," and it goes something like this:
It's been a long road
Getting from there to here
It's been a long time
But my time is finally near
I will see my dream come alive at last
I will touch the sky
And they're not gonna hold me down no more
No, they're not gonna change my mind
'Cause I've got faith of the heart
I'm going where my heart will take me
I've got faith to believe
I can do anything
I've got strength of the soul
No one's gonna bend or break me
I can reach any star
I've got faith
I've got faith
Faith of the heart
The "feel" of the show thus far is rather quiet, even eerie. It is as if we have already concluded that Mars or Europa will yield no radical thrills, and so we are looking to the planets of other star systems as a kind of extension of our own, a kind of Solar System Plus, to finally give us those moments of fear and wonder we once hoped to experience out among our own. Watching the show, you feel that thread connecting these (for once) literal "astronauts" to those who will be on, say, the first manned mission to Mars (hopefully by 2020).
So much potential ... and so much could go wrong. Perhaps the only sane option is for me to just shut up and let it fail, but I don't care, I'm going to speak up anyway, for the record. Who knows, maybe someone will listen this time, instead of wasting seven years like they did before.
Over the decades the Trek cosmos has been sneakily taken over, reflecting Rick Berman far more than Gene Roddenberry. Setting a new series before the original is a kind of ultimate move, perhaps even a checkmate, by which Berman may push Roddenberry into permanent retreat. It is almost too ironic, not only that ENTERPRISE confronts us with a Suliban enemy just as reality confronts us with a Taliban enemy, but that the Taliban are attacking from the far future, to rewrite history -- much like Berman himself.
Even I must confess that ST:TOS has aged quaintly. It is the awkward centerpiece that seems too cheap and sentimental to be the focus of the whole. Like the Voyager probe amidst the vastness of the V'ger cloud (a prophetic image, that) in the first movie, ST:TOS is, aesthetically, almost exactly as embarrassing to refer directly back to as Trek's Saturday morning cartoon version. (Which, by the way, had occasional neat stuff, like one episode featuring Larry Niven's Kzinti.) The ingenuity of DEEP SPACE NINE's "Tribbles and Tribulations" was both noble and sweet, but it only demonstrated the problem.
Take Klingons. ENTERPRISE confirms that Klingons always had heads like ruptured footballs. Yet for some old fogies like myself, the best (sorry, Worf) remain the ST:TOS Klingons, from Michael Ansara's cool brooding Kang in "Day of the Dove" to the first and greatest of them all, John Colicos's shrewd Kor in "Errand of Mercy." In fact, the whole Klingon concept was better, more genuinely vicious: Stalinists From the Stars, rather than these overdramatic female-chauvinist caricatures of Malekind.
ST:TOS grew out of a very particular mindset, the same which gave us Project Apollo. Roddenberry had been working on a show about the U.S. Navy when he created characters which were later recycled as Captain Pike, Dr. Boyce, and Number One, then later as Kirk, McCoy, and Spock. That military background came through in ST:TOS: its Commodores, its insistence on discipline and ceremony, its constant combat readiness. The Romulans were creatures of duty, but so was Jim Kirk, in his duties to border protection, colonization, industrial safety, diplomacy, philanthropy, emergency services, scientific inquiry, and even law enforcement. Harlan Ellison called ST:TOS a cop show, and he was right. Yet if ST:TOS looked, to put it very politely, Spartan, that only reflected the military functionalism behind it.
It may sound odd, to praise a militant show, but such a show conveyed a sense of SERVICE. We began to lose that functionalism come ST:TNG. Klingons became all bark but little bite. We also got the holodeck, the Riker-Troi courtship, the tauntings of Q, Wesley's precociousness, Guinan's bar, and plots that Kirk could have taken care of during a coffee break. Quite simply, the externalized sense of service, of duty to others, became inverted, as journeying out into the Galaxy became a great wallow of self-discovery.
In the case of ST:TNG, this was not without some benefits. I like "Tapestry." "Conspiracy" was creepy. A lot of people swear by "Skin of Evil" as a good "coming to terms with death" show. And, yes, the ST:TOS tradition of Blatant Metaphor kept paying off from time to time, and it was sometimes even good to play with Evil Twins like Tom Riker or Lore, or new contenders like Ro Laren (technically who Kira Nerys was originally).
My point, however, is that to properly return to Star Trek's roots, you must be willing to say goodbye to all this accumulated coziness and get gritty again. There is no indication of this happening -- and we've seen this before.
ST:TNG simply expanded upon the original formula. Then, taking a cue from ST:TOS's "Western" concept, they tried to create GUNSMOKE, STAR TREK STYLE by offering the Deep Space Nine station as a kind of Dodge City. I can not help but imagine that Berman wanted a somewhat "outlaw" feel. When he didn't get it, he took characters "out" altogether, into the Delta Quadrant come VOYAGER.
The Berman attitude to space, as near as I can figure, is a variant of the popular Forrest Gump vulgarism -- namely, Space Happens. It's all just individuals reacting to wild random stimuli. Whereas ST:TOS was fascinated with some Big Picture, which was always stressing Kirk out. "We must get this grain to that strategically situated planet!" "There are people in another star system who need your medicine in less than a hundred hours!" "That thing has eaten a dozen planetary systems and is heading into Federation space!" On and on. It got silly, heaping on so many crises, but you appreciated the effort. Not so in Berman's Trek. I find it telling that, in his cutely muffed first shot at the This is Captain James T. Kirk speech, Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula, star of QUANTUM LEAP -- also rather telling) forgets to identify that fact that his starship COMES FROM THE PLANET EARTH. Why am I not surprised?
To isolate a starship, you need only do two things: cut it off from A, its point of departure, and B, its point of arrival. When it comes to Trek, arrival at B means that you begin to get genuinely involved in an alien culture, as happened when we visited Vulcan in the classic ST:TOS episode "Amok Time," or when we got involved in the Bajoran, Cardassian, Ferengi, Klingon and even Dominion cultures as we did in ST:DS9, or when Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine invited us to take a second look at the Borg (or at least Jeri Ryan). This principle has worked elsewhere, as in BABYLON 5, and though I've never really gotten "into" it, I can even appreciate this from afar in FARSCAPE. The antithesis of such respect for point B is a kind of Casanova attitude, a rack-'em-and-stack-'em tallying-up of contacted peoples, along with playing established peoples as mere clowns: Klingons as WWF wrestlers, Vulcans as huffy prissy snots. It's a cheapjack kind of humanism, one won at the Universe's expense. This seems to be Berman's goal. Nowadays we chuckle at how publisher John W. Campbell insisted that no alien race could be superior to Humanity -- but we carry much of that same prejudice ourselves, and Berman's Trek has been indulging it.
Overstatement? Let's take a look.
We begin with a ruptured-football Klingon running through an Oklahoma cornfield. It feels more like a Stephen King rip-off than anything else: KLINGONS OF THE CORN. Of all places in the Galaxy for a Klingon to run to, why an Oklahoma cornfield? Oh, who knows. The point being: oh, looky, it's a ruptured-football Klingon to be instantly charmed by, oh goody! Next, Archer elects to take him back (to heap insult upon this poor farmer-blasted Klingon's injury, his name is Klang) to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Why should an Earthman do this? Shucks -- because it was our own (inexplicably chosen) cornfield! Never mind that the Vulcans, who have managed to remain unconquered by the Klingons for untold centuries, are willing to take care of Klang in a manner that would -- to judge from Klang's own words to Archer come show's end -- have been far more to Klang's liking. (Oh, and by the way: is Kronos really so close!? It sounds like they can travel at 100 c, the literal translation of "three million kilometers per second," and it takes five days -- is the heart of the Klingon Empire really only two light-years away!?)
But oh, who knows. Then the mission is complicated by the Suliban. What is their vile wicked plot? To dissolve the Klingon Empire. Call me old-fashioned, but my first knee-jerk reaction is "Please! Be my guest!"
But oh, who knows. Klingons, Suliban, butterfly-eating nekkid women on the tenth planet of The Star Only Called Rigel By Pure Phonetic Coincidence -- it's the maiden voyage of the first independent Human starship, and already it is a crowded, even claustrophobic, Galaxy. The setup is in one sense too neat a fit with ST:TOS, too readily reducing the potentialities of Infinity to weird curvy starships with latex-faced captains dealing directly with Archer via giant-screened picturephone. No actual peoples need apply; no, Space flings various moral tests at Archer ... much as Time did, back in QUANTUM LEAP. Hmmm!
ENTERPRISE can coast along like this for a few years, if only by sheer good will. It is already off to a better start than VOYAGER. In fact, given the sappiness of the "Farpoint" two-parter, I will even rank it about ST:TNG. It has one decent cast, and there is fun, at least for the moment, to treating everything as strange and new. Plus there is charm aplenty, from Archer's beagle to Ensign Mayweather's ceiling-squatting "sweet spot" of the ship (the one inspired touch, helping the technobabble to feel oddly more real).
Yet I worry about the long term. It may seem unfair to ask for ENTERPRISE to feel more Humanity-bound, as there's no Federation or Starfleet yet -- but I must say, "Just wander around for a while" is a rather nonsensical way to conduct a space program! Are there no scientists, or entrepreneurs, or universities, or government agencies that want ANY piece of this action!? Even LOST IN SPACE, both as TV show and one-shot movie, there was a REASON -- namely, the inability of Earth to sustain human life -- to build that dadblamed saucer. Besides, it doesn't even fit the internal logic, what with "boomers" like Mayweather already having glimpsed dozens of worlds. How much of an advantage can "Proceed at Warp 5 with Sol as your starting point" possibly be?
It's a cinch that Earth will only get referred to as personal histories: communications officer Hoshi Sato looking back at her teaching position in the Amazon, stuff like that. Oh, and I forgot the capper -- Jonathan Archer is no less than THE SON OF THE CO-INVENTOR OF THE WARP DRIVE (yup, alongside Zefrem Cochran) WHO WAS BARRED FROM EVER GETTING TO SEE HIS STARSHIP FLY IN HIS LIFETIME. Yes, folks, it is VENGEFUL FAMILY PRIDE -- something I'd expect more from a Klingon -- that is making this bloke OUR ambassador to Infinity!
So much for Earth, Point A. And it would seem that any Point B can be avoided indefinitely. Thus Selfhood triumphs over Duty, Service, and Universe.
Ah, but wait, this future history HAS stuck itself with a Point B.
Previously in this column, I speculated that 2001 Our War made an eerie wreck of 2001 The Movie Imagery. So perhaps it is fortuitous that one Arthur C. Clarke property, "The Sentinel," vanishes just as a new one ascends. A race of devilish appearance swoops down to provide our First Contact just as we develop a starship drive and begin a new era ending war, poverty, and hunger -- hmmm, where have we seen THIS before? Even the enigmatic Star Child at the end of the movie seems a tribute, an allusion, to That Other Work. Now, as September 11 forces us to a "childhood's end" of our own, ENTERPRISE comes along to tease us with a hope of CHILDHOOD'S END: THE SERIES.
It is a vain hope, so far. The station break image for ENTERPRISE is Earth, and that is a great irony, for this is a show about getting away from Earth and forgetting it. Therefore, we will not be permitted to know how, out of post-apocalyptic chaos, Earth overcame millennia of war, poverty, and hunger -- nor will we be permitted any inkling of any impact from ninety years of exposure to the Vulcans. I grant you, Vulcans are inadequate stand-ins for Clarke's Overlords ... but surely we could take one or two cues from Clarke anyway.
Nothin' doin'. As the Klingons have been made clowns of their former selves, so now, it seems, have the Vulcans.
In the premiere episode, we are asked to believe that Vulcans would not do everything to save a life, even a Klingon's. Not only is this most unVulcan, so far as I can tell, but it's done purely to give Archer a chance to look good. So now I'm REALLY confused. Was Spock LYING to us all this time? Are Vulcan resourcefulness and concern for all life purely "half-breed" inventions of his, which he invented to suit his own tastes?
It's an important point, crucial to the history and the dynamic of the whole show -- and it all rests squarely on the shoulders of Jolene Blalock, who already has several counts against her, regardless of however brilliant she may in fact be. What you have to understand about the Vulcans is that much of what they are came directly from Leonard Nimoy. I recommend I AM NOT SPOCK; despite the easy jokes about the title, it is one delightfully witty book, about how Nimoy had to fight, fight, fight every step of the way for any integrity or dignity of his Vulcan character. The neck pinch, the salute, not to mention his mastery of a delivery that pushed Spock into TV Guide's Top Ten All-Time Favorite Characters -- those were Nimoy's. But Blalock is younger than Nimoy was, less experienced, and is confronting a 35-year-old aura of sanctity which Nimoy never had to worry about. Also, it was left to the fanzines, long after the show aired, to sexually exploit Spock; even before ENTERPRISE aired, Blalock was half-naked on the cover of MAXIM, and the premiere episode threw her into a blatantly pointless scene (with close-ups!) involving skin lotion.
Luckily, she's got a good attitude. She grew up on Spock as "Da Man," and says that it's T'Pau (from that crucial episode "Amok Time") who she keeps in mind as she plays T'Pol, the Vulcan observer of this mission. Yet her T'Pol still demands and seethes, more than she does observe and argue.
It would be easy to be aesthetically prejudiced against Blalock, but I think I've gotten beyond that. Yes, she doesn't have Nimoy's flinty face or marvelous rich voice. Yet she achieves a whole other effect entirely, an aloof nebulous placidity, brought into sharp focus by her beauty and by eyes brimming over with secret knowledge. Seeing her hold her own against Archer or Chief Engineer Tucker (Calvin Trinneer), I am reminded of how cool Denzel Washington kept in the "mundane" CRIMSON TIDE, while Gene Hackman ranted away at him.
But, oh ... if the Vulcans are to be creatures of reason, then can't they at least be GIVEN reasons? The Vulcans never get involved in anything. Why? They won't say. They left most of their local space unexplored. Why? They won't say. They keep saying that we should never do anything. Why? They won't say -- and they won't say, it seems to me, because it is this Berman-Braga regime which is denying them the dignity of a tongue! Honestly, is it already so easy to forget how ready Spock was to elaborate upon some position of his?
I am incensed over this portrayal. I want to found a Vulcan Anti-Defamation League. I want to send the Tony Soprano of the Vulcan Mafia down to the UPN studios to pay a little visit. I want SOMETHING to happen.
Personally, I like to think that the Vulcans took one look at this Galaxy of picturephoning battleships and decided "On second thought, maybe we would be better off simply looking to ourselves in our quest for Ultimate Truth." It is only a couple of centuries yet before we get the war-torn Galaxy presented to us by DEEP SPACE NINE -- for that reason alone, I would say a little Vulcan-style cynicism is in order! Personally I am fascinated by the prospect of trying to learn as much science as possible from "merely" the resources of one's own solar system, and I like to think that may have been the Vulcan path.
And why can't T'Pol be permitted one crucial reaction by which she more or less holds her own? I would love to see Archer say "See there, T'Pol, you dogmatic ice queen -- we made a new friend!" To which she could reply "Ah, yes, the Axanar -- a species we will probably never meet again in the entire Trek future history, who will probably double-cross us anyway. Yes, we Vulcans have ONLY been down THIS path 23,795 times in our ancient history ... "
In closing, I dare to confess that I keep try to keep apace with GENE RODDENBERRY'S ANDROMEDA. One of the greater secrets about ST:TOS is about how much Roddenberry owed to the input of his life partner and personal counsel, Majel Barrett. While EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT continues to do zip for me, I note that ANDROMEDA is a Barrett -- not a Berman! -- property. Perhaps it's that simple: having the right producer, who has the proper understanding of a heritage. ANDROMEDA is very Galactic Empire in tone, but it has much the same sort of humor and love of metaphor as ST:TOS. Dylan Hunt's self-assigned mission to restore a far-flung democratic union of worlds is an interesting and worthy one. The apocalyptically christened Magog are a most annoying plague of flesh upon the Universe, a bristly cousin to the Borg. Tyr Anisazi, as a so-called "Nietzschean," is a better sub rosa Klingon than Worf ever was. The characters each have more distance to cover, but I confess: I am engaged.
So I will flip over from ANDROMEDA from time to time to ENTERPRISE, to see if anyone has bothered to give the one lone extraterrestrial on the bridge a scrap of dignity, or Earth society any tantalizing features. If ENTERPRISE fails in those two respects, and remains uninspired in its random encounters, then Star Trek is already dead, and that would be all the more shameful with this show rather than VOYAGER, because Star Trek did not have to die after all. From where I sit, the compass that will point ENTERPRISE towards excellence has two poles, one pointing back to Earth, the other ahead to Vulcan. May this show yet find that compass. I too have faith of the heart.
PARSEC met at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Free Library, starting at the usual time (around 12:30), when members gather to munch, trade books and opinions, munch, discuss current SF and Pittsburgh topics, munch, and so on.
At around 2:30 PM, the meeting was called to (something resembling) order by presiding President Kevin Hayes. He began by reminding everyone that next meeting (November) is when the following year's nominations for officers are made; miss it at your own risk. He also announced that next year's meeting schedule is firming up:
* January will be Tim Esaias' lecture 'On Killing'
* February will be Diane Turnshek on 'Mentoring Young People'
* March will be the annual 'Confluence Topics' meeting led by Ann Cecil
* April will either be 'Robots' or a famous speaker
* May will be a reprise of the 'Art Show and Tell' featuring artwork by PARSEC members.
Various announcements were made. Laurie Mann noted that Boskone's Guest of Honor next year is Neil Gaiman, announced that she was selling copies of Volume II of the collected SF stories of William Tenn, and that she has placed two original stories of her own in journals at Pitt. Ann Cecil mentioned that she still has copies of Six From Parsec for sale, at only $6 each.
Diane Turnshek put forth a shameless plug for the Sapphire awards (you can join and vote on-line free! Just ask Diane), since she again has a story eligible. Diane also talked about her newest exciting plan, a possible teen writing camp, to be run in conjunction with Robert Morris College the week before Confluence. PARSEC, if this comes about, would be involved in sponsoring an evening reception (and of course could be more involved if members wish).
Randy Hoffman described the concerts he has already lined up for next year's Confluence (4 to-date, and more invited). He also announced that after next month's meeting, a house filk will be held at Ann Cecil's house, open to all interested (singers and listeners). He asked that anyone with filk-themed ideas for the next meeting topic (to be held in conjunction with the annual PARSEC book sale) contact him.
Henry Tjernlund announced that he has more kittens to give away (4 kittens, 3 weeks old, which he described as 1 mostly black, 1 mostly gray, 2 tiger-striped).
The raffle was held and won by new member Shang Shan Chong.
The main business of the meeting was an entertaining talk by noted author Paul Levinson on 'Taking Science-fiction Seriously.'
Levinson began by noting that he has a long and interesting relationship with the Pittsburgh area. In 1969, his record was a hit in Wilkes-Barre and in Beaver; in the late 1980's he was invited to Slippery Rock to give a talk on On-line Education. In 1998, while he was President of SFWA, he okayed Laurie Mann's bid to have the Nebula weekend run (by her with PARSEC support) in Pittsburgh - the only time a fan group has ever run it. He considers that it was a highly successful and enjoyable weekend.
In his opinion, SF is the quintessential literature. He has held this high opinion of the genre for a long time. Levinson related an incident from his grade school days (7th), when the school librarian called him on the carpet for only reading SF! She considered SF sub-standard; he considered then, and continues to consider it superior. He lost his access to the school library, but gained by being forced to go the public library where there was a much larger SF collection.
Levinson talked about his non-fiction book, "Mind at Large: Knowing in the Technological Age", which tries to answer the question, 'why are men superior to other species?' Levinson summarized his 3 major points: 1) men have the ability to move things; 2) men reproduce and also design species (Darwin's 'artificial selection'); and 3) men are aware of our own intelligence, and try to build 'artificial intelligence.' Levinson holds that SF is superior as literature because it also deals with these 'profound' subjects.
Levinson cited the NY Times Book Review's difference in treatment between mainstream literature and genre work. He noted that romance, the most popular genre, is never reviewed; mysteries and SF are given a page, with multiple short reviews, on an infrequent basis. He wrote a letter to them suggesting that they change and 'every week review what people really read, and then once in a while publish a little column on mainstream literature.' He described the best of mainstream fiction as being about relationships, which don't deal with questions of change, genetics, etc.
Levinson feels SF is more realistic. When he was doing his doctoral dissertation, he had to give up writing his first novel, because it was more fun and he wasn't getting the dissertation done. He told people as a joke that working on the novel was more fun because in SF 'you can make stuff up; you don't have to get citations.' The deeper reason, he feels, is that SF is more real and more profound than his doctoral dissertation. He thinks that writers of mainstream see SF as a threat because it's so exciting and so real.
This leads to a question for which he has no answer: if SF was 'accepted' by authorities such as the NY Times Book Review, would it lose its edge? Levinson discussed the popularity of SF in movies, particularly movies such as "12 Monkeys", which he considers a classic time-travel story. He proceeded to defend the lapses; he threw out the proposition that 'SF is not about projecting engineering details' but about what is known and what that could mean.
In sum, he feels that SF's purposes are exploring the ideas of 'knowing who we are, getting into space, changing who we are, changing the net aggregate of intelligence.' And 'this generation may be the last to experience SF as an illicit thrill' because he feels SF is being recognized for its superior qualities.
Levinson answered various questions from the audience, about specific authors and trends. In response to questions on his claim that SF is being recognized, he noted that 'Flowers for Algernon' is no longer considered SF, since it is being used in high school curricula. He also left the group with two more impressive sayings, a joke and a quote. The joke: 'if you cross a Mafioso with a semiotician, you get someone who makes you and offer and you can't understand it.' The quote was from Albert Schweitzer: 'When you lie about something important and get away with it, you commit treason against the cosmos.'
The meeting ended early (about 4:20), but many members went on to the Chinese dinner afterward.
After last month's meeting guest Paul Levinson and about 36 Parsec members and friends traveled a couple of blocks down Murray Avenue to Sichuan House for a sumptuous Chinese dinner. We filled three tables in a small banquet room just off the main dining area, and spent several hours in good conversation and good eating. The entrees were served family style, and everybody shared tidbits back and forth. Some of the entrees shared at our table were honey chicken with ginger and sesame seeds, sizzled beef and scallions, and fiery General Tso's chicken, as well as those good old standbys, shrimp lo mein and pork fried rice. A fine time was had by all.
Be sure to stop by for the house filk at Ann's after this month's meeting.
See you there.
LOCATION: Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library
PLEASE: We encourage people to bring a munchie or drink contribution ... pop, chips, cookies, etc.
TOPIC: Filking with Randy Hoffman & Book Sale
Ken Chiacchia's story "Apology for a Red Planet" appeared online in Neverworlds.
Mary Soon Lee had the poem "Trees" in the Post-Gazette (8/25), and her story "Clever People" is out in the SFF.net anthology Bones Of The World. She sold the story "The Stranger" to Future Orbits, and the poem "If They Come" to Fantastic Stories.
Time & Date : 9 February 2002
Discussion Topic : Diane Turnshek on 'Mentoring Young People'
Location : Squirrel Hill Branch of Carnegie Library
To Contact PARSEC
mail: PO Box 3681, Pittsburgh, PA, 15230
President: Kevin Hayes
Vice President: "Cap'n" John Cope
Treasurer: Greg Armstrong
Editor: Don Cox
Secretary: Tom Morrow
Commentator: Ann Cecil
Meetings: The second Saturday in each month.
Dues: $10 full, $2 supporting.
This page maintained by Greg Armstrong.