Editor: Keith Lynch. Assistant editor: Wade Lynch.
Please direct all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please put either “for publication” or “not for publication” on the subject line. (It MUST contain one or the other, or else your email may be deleted unread by spam filters.) I can also be reached by snail mail at 220 Cedar Lane #62, Vienna VA 22180-6623 USA.
Capclave has been shrinking. Each one has been smaller than the previous. It has also, not coincidentally, been losing money. Our windfall from last year's World Fantasy Convention gives us some ability to absorb losses, but not for many years. Also, it appears to be increasingly difficult to find hotels willing to offer reasonable facilities for a reasonable price.
The low turnout at the first Capclave could be blamed on the 9/11 attacks of less than two weeks previously. And on a tornado that came close to the hotel shortly before the con. The even lower turnout at the second Capclave could be blamed on the snipers who started their career a few blocks from our hotel, and who were still at large. But there was no obvious explanation for the lower turnout of the last two Capclaves.
It is tempting to blame it on the Internet and the DVD player. As Sam pointed out, people no longer need go to cons to communicate in realtime with other SF fans, to watch obscure movies, or to buy unusual books. However, this wouldn't explain why other cons are thriving.
A look at the history of Disclave (http://www.wsfa.org/disclist.htm) gives one hint. When the con has stayed in one location on one weekend, it has grown. When the con has changed hotels or weekends, it has shrunk. I'm not sure why that should be. I wouldn't think it would be that hard to find where we have moved to. But that's the only obvious pattern I can see. It would be instructive to look at similar tables for other conventions. Of course this doesn't help us much if no hotel is willing to let us return the following year for a reasonable price.
DragonCon is held each year in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend with over twenty thousand people. Much of it is peripheral to written SF, but there are certainly large numbers of people there who would prefer something like Capclave, if they only knew about it. Perhaps we should invest some of our wealth into papering DragonCon with fliers especially designed for that con.
At the 11/19 meeting, it was mentioned that the Sheraton Premiere (our 1994 Disclave hotel) was full up for October and November. I suspect that one of the things it is full with is the Anime USA convention, which has been held there each fall for the past few years. Perhaps we should talk to them. If they're not filling the hotel, maybe we could host a shared convention. We wouldn't need as much space as when we're a stand-alone con, since we can share the con suite, green room, and art show. Perhaps all we'd need is one function room for our literary program, in return for which our people would help fill their room block.
At the 10/15 meeting, Walter Miles was asked to ask everyone who approaches him about being on next year's Capclave program how they heard about Capclave. I suggest this is a good question to ask of everyone who registers for Capclave, unless we're sure they've been to Capclave or WSFA meetings before. Also, we might ask people who had been to prior Capclaves but not the last one why they decided not to come.
Does anyone else have any thoughts on Capclave? Why not submit them to the WSFA Journal?
Note that there's a brief summary at the end.
The regular First Friday meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association was called to order by President Samuel Lubell at 9:12 pm on November 5th, 2004 in the basement of the Gillilands' in Arlington, Virginia, the usual First Friday location.
In attendance were President Samuel Lubell, Secretary Keith Lynch, Treasurer Bob MacIntosh, Trustees Barry Newton and Steven Smith, Capclave Past Lee Gilliland, Capclave Present Michael Walsh, Capclave Future Elspeth Kovar, Drew Bittner, Mark Fischer, Alexis Gilliland, Paul Haggerty, Scott Hofmann, Eric Jablow, Bill Lawhorn, Ernest Lilley, Nicki and Richard Lynch, Cat Meier, Michael Pederson, Larry Pfeffer, Rebecca Prather, Anna Reed, Judy and Sam Scheiner, George Shaner, Victoria Smith, Gayle Surrette, Michael Taylor, and Madeleine Yeh. 30 people. Wade Lynch and Keith Marshall remained upstairs, Ivy Yap remained overseas, and Ted White arrived after the meeting ended.
The president asked the secretary what business had been done at the previous meeting. The secretary replied:
TREASURY: $17,563.55 in our main account, about $20,000 in the World Fantasy '03 account, and about $10,000 pending from World Fantasy advertisers.
CAPCLAVE '04: The con is over. Lee is waiting for financial information from Elizabeth, who is out sick with the flu. We got a letter from the Marriott thanking us, and inviting us back next year. We got a letter from Guest of Honor Nick Pollotta, saying:
I just wanted to thank you and the concom for having me as a guest of honor this year. I had a wonderful time. It was grand meeting all of the lunatics. Thankfully my flu held off arriving until early Monday morning. Certainly I hope I didn't get the rest of the fans ill. But looking forward to meeting everyone at another convention soon. The drinks will be on me. Nick Pollotta.
We have ten to twelve white Capclave t-shirts left, which cost $16 each. Lee asks if we should sell them, auction them, or give them away. The consensus seemed to be that they should be sold, so she gave them to the treasurer to sell. Alexis said we had 129 paid members, and about 250 total people present. Lee has seven anime DVDs available for free -- they had been intended for Capclave's film program, but weren't shown. Talk to her after the meeting if you're interested. Sam Lubell thanked Lee, the programming person, and the whole committee. Lee said “Thank you for the best ride I ever had.”
SMOFCON: Bob said there's a hotel walkthrough on Thursday the 11th, Veterans' Day, and a programming meeting on Saturday the 13th at the Sapienzas' at 10 am.
DC in '11: Bob denied all knowledge. He elaborated that there will apparently be delays in building the necessary hotels adjacent to the new DC Convention Center. [Fortunately, '11 is distant enough that we can tolerate some delay.]
ENTERTAINMENT: Alexis mentioned an oversexed Metro train on the Red Line, and its failure to use a condom. Eric pointed out that Metro has since supplied a condom, but people have been poking holes in it. Someone said that's where new subway trains come from. The president said that since he lives by the Red Line, he finds it scary.
ACTIVITIES: Lee had everyone sit absolutely still while she chased away a spider. She will be going to a showing of The Incredibles at Ballston tomorrow at 4:45 pm. People are welcome to buy tickets online using her laptop computer. She doesn't want to buy tickets for people since in the past people have failed to show up and then refused to pay. She will talk to AFI soon.
AUSTERITY: Eric said it's time to disband the committee. We will await word from Erica.
PUBLICATIONS: The November WSFA Journal is available on the table. It's also online, as are the past 300 issues.
BOOK: Ernest will have a report on the Future Washington anthology in December.
The president asked how much of our money had we discussed setting aside. The secretary replied that $10,000 was the number being tossed around, but there's nothing official about it. Sam pointed out that the “lockbox” would be purely symbolic, since a simple majority can undo the supermajority requirement at any time unless we make this a bylaw amendment. He asked if anyone wanted to make a motion. Rebecca proposed that we set aside enough for one Capclave plus five years of regular meetings, which she said would total $15,000. Eric said he thought we'd have to change our bylaws to do this, and he doesn't think we should do so. Lee estimated that a Capclave costs about $10,000. Alexis suggested putting the money into treasury bonds, as those would pay interest, and can only be taken out in a lump sum, not “whittled away”. Sam Schneider asked where our money is now. Bob replied that it is in a bank account which neither charges us nor pays interest. Barry Newton said we're already obligated for $10,000 for the anthology project, plus $1000 for the Capclave publicity at this year's World Fantasy Con. Bob clarified that this year's World Fantasy Con is over, and the $1000 has already been spent. Mike Taylor said he'd research treasury bonds. Scott proposed we form a committee. It was decided that the investment committee would consist of Barry Newton, Mike Taylor, Sam Schneider and Elspeth Kovar [who had just arrived]. [After the meeting, Rebecca Prather was added to the committee.] Someone suggested they need to consult with Judy Kindell about the tax consequences.
Due to the arrival of Mike Walsh and Elspeth Kovar, old business was temporarily set aside, for:
The Sheraton Premiere is interested in us. [They're at the north end of Tysons, on Route 7 near the the Dulles Access Road. They hosted Disclave in 1994, and the Anime USA convention for the past several years.] On the Internet they're offering a room rate of $89. Mike doesn't know if they remember us from 1994, but he suspects there are no hotel employees left from that long ago. The Silver Spring Hilton, where Capclave was in 2002 and 2003, also wants us back. They're under new management. Elspeth said “we [she, Michael Walsh, and Ben Yalow] did a walkthrough” of a newly built Marriott near White Flint [The Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, which opened November 1st], and checked out two other Marriotts. Lee again mentioned the letter we got from this year's hotel [the Tysons Marriott], and said we'll write them a letter. The president asked Mike to get a staff list to Keith Lynch for the website.
Mike showed us a large poster from Leprecon, this year's World Fantasy Convention, thanking WSFA for hosting the autograph reception. It was placed on the mantelpiece. He also showed us a large cloth bag half full of books from Leprecon that he was giving away. The bag is almost identical to last year's World Fantasy Convention bags, except the white bag has blue trim instead of orange. Elspeth said that pros had to gather in one place to get their drink chits, and that once they were gathered, they heard “The 2004 World Fantasy Convention would like to thank the Washington Science Fiction Association for helping underwrite the autograph session this year. Since they're recovering from hosting World Fantasy Convention last year, and are preparing to host Howard Waldrop at Capclave next year, we thought it appropriate that we use their contribution to pay for your drinks.” Mike said that the poster had been mounted next to the place pros went to get their name tents. He said that Leprecon's chair wrote:
We at WFC2004/Leprecon Inc. would like to thank your organization for the gracious contribution of $1000 toward our autograph reception on Friday night. Thanks to your generosity we were able to supply all event participants with drinks from the hotel as a way to thank them for participating. For without them and without your financial support we would not have had the success we had with this function. Once again thank you for your assistance.
Mike added that several people came up to him and told him last year's [WSFA's] was better.
Richard asked if we can expect Leprecon to pay a similar amount on Capclave. Elspeth said no, it's a “pay it forward” system, and that we should treat it as an advertising expense.
Mike Walsh said he's been forced to go to London. He will do the final WFC2003 billing before he goes.
CAPCLAVE '06: Elspeth reported she's dealing with hotel issues, and that she had canvassed authors at Leprecon about possible guests of honor.
OLD BUSINESS (continued):
Sam Schneider reported that we got a card from Leslie Turek, thanking us for our participation in Noreascon's First Night activity. He gave it to the secretary. It says:
14 Oct 04
I want to thank you & the WSFA team for participating in First Night & doing such a great job with your booth. In spite of my pre-con jitters, you guys really pulled it together & hit one out of the park. I hope you enjoyed doing it, too.
The card contains a printed insert, which says:
I hope you had a great time working on the Noreascon 4 First Night event. We did something that had never been done before, and it was a big success, thanks to your help. Here is some assorted follow-up information you may find useful.
I have started work on a First Night debriefing report to be passed on to following Worldcons. You can view a draft of this report at http://www.leslie-turek.com/FirstNight.html. If you have any suggested additions or changes to this report before I turn it in, please send them to me at email@example.com.
First Night got a really nice review in Cheryl Morgan's Hugo-winning fanzine, Emerald City. You can find it at http://www.emcit.com/emcit109.shtml#Lobsters (scroll down about 8 pages to the second half of the section entitled “getting started”.)
The FIRST Night TIMES, the First Night one-shot fanzine, was completed on Monday night. If you didn't get a copy, you can download the PDF from http://www.noreascon4.org/firstnight/firstnighttimes.pdf, or you can get a printed copy by writing to Bob Devney (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I have some remaining First Night buttons, so if you or any of your staff would like one, let me know at email@example.com.
Thanks again for your work to make First Night a success!
-- Leslie Turek
The president said Dick Roepke is ill and unable to leave his house, and that Peggy Rae said we should visit him.
The secretary said that there had been concern about discourtesy on the email chat list. He directed everyone's attention to his editorial on the subject at the top of November's WSFA Journal, and suggested that everyone keep in mind that tone of voice and body language are missing from email, hence that messages should be written as if they are likely to be read in the most negative light possible, and incoming messages should be treated as if they were written in the most positive light possible. Also, that personal attacks on list members should be strictly forbidden. But that these rules would be self-policing, since people chiding other people, or worse yet being empowered to kick them off the list, would only throw gasoline on the fire. He moved that this be made official WSFA policy.
Someone said that Lee Strong had already been driven out of WSFA by hostility on the list. Elspeth said that Lee Strong had left the club last spring, for reasons unrelated to the list. Keith agreed, and added that he had recently attempted to talk Lee Strong into returning, but had failed.
Lee Gilliland said she had left the list two years ago, and would not return until it was moderated.
Elspeth said that we had been stressed by Capclave and by the election, both of which were now over. She also said that certain people's messages should be taken with a grain of salt. Trying to moderate for tone is extremely difficult.
Bob said you can't moderate for civility, and that non-civil people have to be thrown off.
Cat said that people new to WSFA don't know who to take with a grain of salt.
Someone said that he thought the arguments about the program book, while they could have been phrased more politely, had a net positive effect once everyone involved had apologized. Lee agreed. He went on to say that if the list had been moderated, these comments never would have appeared, and improvements in next year's program book wouldn't have happened.
Keith clarified that in an email list context “moderation” means that all messages are held for review by someone, instead of going directly to the list as soon as someone posts them, and that this wasn't necessarily what people were talking about. He recommended against turning the list moderated in this sense, since it slows down discussions, and since it privileges one member over others. He pointed out that we already have a moderated list: The WSFA Journal. Letters have seldom been submitted, but have always been welcome there. Of course the turnaround is kind of slow. He moved that we adopt a “no attacks” rule, and that he add something like the editorial at the top of the current WSFA Journal to the message posted to the list once each month.
Steve Smith agreed, but said he thinks the reason email often comes out much more blunt than intended is more the lack of immediate feedback than lack of tone of voice or body language. Steve apologized for any bluntness in his email messages.
Eric suggested Keith write answers to Frequently Asked Questions about WSFA. He also suggested a digest mode for the list.
Keith replied that a digest mode might be a good idea for other reasons, but wouldn't help promote courtesy.
Lee said that the list is a lot of people's introduction to WSFA. Keith responded that the list is only for past and present WSFA members, so it shouldn't be anyone's introduction to the club.
Ernest amended the motion that the proposed monthly message be vetted by the publications committee. Keith accepted this as a friendly amendment.
Larry suggested that people should reply, off the list, to send a one line heads-up anyone who they think is getting out of line.
Mark said that in his experience such a heads-up was likely to be forwarded to the list by the recipient, along with an angry reply. He suggested a “grandmother test”: Before posting, act as if your grandmother was reading the list.
Elspeth suggested that if the heads-up was phrased as a very polite request for clarification, that that would avoid the problem Mark mentioned.
Ernest said the motion is an excellent first step.
The motion passed.
The secretary made the usual first announcement: Announcements should be submitted in writing, or by email, or by email to the chat list.
Lee made the usual second announcements: Use toilet paper, not paper towels, in the toilet. The cats should remain indoors.
Bob said we still have black WSFA t-shirts for sale, $15 each.
Madeleine is studying naginata [a martial art], and is now a beginner of second rank.
Rebecca had slides from the Torcon and Noreascon masquerades she hoped people could identify.
Cat announced that she and her roommate Elizabeth are hosting a party at their home on Saturday the 13th at 7:30 pm to which all WSFA members are invited.
Keith asked if this was anyone's first, second, or third meeting. Mark Fischer said it was his third. Mark was invited to join. Keith also asked everyone to be sure to check their name off on the sign-in sheet.
Elspeth has adopted a new Seal Point Birman cat.
Keith showed a blue spiral-bound notebook containing poli-sci notes that had been left just outside the con suite at Capclave. Nobody knew whose it was. The President is holding onto it. Keith also asked if anyone had his map of Tysons which he had mounted on the dealer room door. Someone suggested that Colleen might have it.
Ernest said he's covering the SFWA annual authors and editors reception in New York City for Locus on Monday.
Steve Smith said he has a new cat, a twenty-pound Maine Coon named Simba.
Madeleine had a cake.
Mike Walsh had a box of books, including “Thrilling Zeppelin Stories”. Ernest said one of its stories will be in our Future Washington anthology. Sam Lubell objected that it was full of hot air.
Lee made the usual last announcement: Chairs should be moved to the sides of the room after adjournment.
The meeting was adjourned at 10:22 pm. 70 minutes.
The last people left at about 12:30 am.
It was clear, dry, and cold (but not quite freezing), with little wind.
Summary of 11/5/04 meeting:
December 1994: Lee Strong attempted once again to resign from being club secretary. Treasury $2184. “Gingrich is writing a book. It will be the baen of the literary world.” Richard Lynch's car hit a deer. Lance Oszko observed that Jules Verne is eligible for a Hugo, having just published a new novel. Mike Zipser requested $300 for distribution of Fast Forward. A tape will be provided for the WSFA Archives. Harsh Mistress is now known as Absolute Magnitude. Madeleine Yeh moved to Arizona.
December 1984: Both meetings at the Gillilands'. Jack Chalker announced that his latest book, Masters of Flux and Anchor comes out this week. Also, it was his 40th birthday. Treasury $6,475. The club purchased a Jack Vance novel as a gift for Mike Dirda, and a super-8 movie projector as a gift for Secretary Beverly Brandt.
December 1974: I can't find any minutes from this month. Two double issues of The Son of the WSFA Journal were published by Don Miller: 169-170 and 170-171, each with 22 pages. Also, WSFA Journal #84, with 130 pages (the first issue since April, whose issue #83 had 140.) A total of 174 new pages this month.
December 1964: Treasury $118.15. 16 members present on Third Friday. Banks Mebane and Bob Madle were appointed to run a Disclave in May, the first Disclave in three years.
December 1954: Treasury $21.65. Bob Briggs suggested the club buy $1.00 worth of uranium stock, so that members won't have to pay dues, which should increase our attendance, but Nelson Griggs nixed the idea. Ted White explained that Magnus didn't get to Baltimore over Thanksgiving, so no party was held. Bridges reported that radio station WEAM would interview Warren Felkel about WSFA at 10:30 am on Saturday, January 8th. [It didn't happen, since he overslept.] Betty Anne Berg, age 7 months, was made an honorary member. [She became club secretary twenty years later.] Phyllis Berg read a series of clippings on the effects of atomic radiation on heredity. The two meetings had ten and nine people, respectively. Ted White was at both meetings, but no other current WSFAns were at either.
Was Robert Heinlein, the Dean of Science Fiction, the first to write an SF novel deliberately focused on the juvenile market? One might argue that, from 1926 onward, much of the SF published in magazines was aimed at teenage boys; the ghetto of Gernsback's “Scientifiction” and its descendants was not considered adult enough to be judged as literature -- thus the official audience was, by definition, juvenile. But looking solely at novels, you'd be hard-pressed to name any novel deliberately aimed at the juvenile market, intended for sale to school and public libraries, before 1947, when Heinlein published Rocket Ship Galileo and the subgenre of SF juvenile novels was born.
Some characteristics distinguish SF juvenile novels. Authors seek to instill a sense of wonder in youngsters. They also try to educate, to provide practical life lessons and perhaps a glimpse into the realm of math, science, or engineering. Why? I believe the authors are seeking to inspire the young readers, to create future engineers, scientists, and mathematicians. If life choices can be made from reading books, then maybe reading the right SF novel at a young age might inspire a reader to choose one of the “scientific” professions. And if the youngsters become life-long Science-Fictionados, purchasing SF for the rest of their lives, so much the better. It's a win-win!
So the juvenile SF market has a long and distinguished history and is still going strong today, as typified by John Varley's latest novel, Red Thunder.
John Varley is at least a titan -- if not a minor deity in the pantheon of modern SF writers. Those of us who've read his prior efforts, whether his many novels, the inspired Titan trilogy, or his nearly perfect shorter pieces, snap up whatever he writes as soon as it hits the shelves. If you're one of us, you're nodding your head about now; others may be wondering what all the hype is about.
Mr. Varley was IT in the late seventies and early eighties. It seemed like whatever he wrote was destined to win an award. A search reveals: two Nebulas, three Hugos, a James Tiptree, Jr. award, a Prometheus award, an Apollo award, an Analog award, two SF Chronicle awards, and no less than nine Locus Awards! Hollywood even made a movie from Millennium, the novel-sized expansion of his tautly paced short story, “Air Raid.” If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Varley himself scripted the screenplay from which the movie was filmed -- in which case let's not blame him too much for that, shall we? Mr. Varley's sun shone brightly through the mid-eighties, then faded. Production of new works declined precipitously. From 1987 to 1997, only four short stories and one new novel were published. As far as I can tell, he essentially disappeared from the SF scene for a decade. It's only recently -- since 1999 or thereabouts -- that Mr. Varley has started producing on a consistent basis again.
His two most recent novels, The Golden Globe and Red Thunder, have no connection to the complex future history (the “Eight Worlds” setting) that formed the background for many of his best early stories, almost as if he's deliberately chosen to leave the old stuff behind him. Red Thunder is itself a singular departure, in that it appears targeted squarely at the young adult market -- Varley's first attempt at a juvenile. The novel clearly has roots in the Heinlein juvenile tradition of Rocket Ship Galileo and Have Space Suit Will Travel. But this is not a novel for pre-teens, as were some of the Heinlein juveniles. I would say -- or hope -- that it's been aimed at mid- to late-teens. At least, I wouldn't want my pre-pubescent son or daughter reading the book, since the protagonists enjoy frequent sex and underage drinking, and their backgrounds are rather -- difficult. But if I did have a teenager in high school, I would definitely want him or her to read this book.
The key takeaway here is that, for every choice and decision that the characters make, Mr. Varley presents the consequences. And not all of the end results are predictably happy. To contrast the underage consumption of beer that makes us (as parents) cringe, there is an alcoholic struggling with recovery. The decision to avoid hard classes and skate through school results in denied admission to college. To contrast the open but rather discreetly written sex scenes, child abuse is handled with a brutal reality. I think teens need more of this sort of life-lesson didacticism hidden inside a classic's build our own spaceship adventure story. Mike Flynn has done it. Jerry Pournelle has done it. David Gerrold has done it. We can now add Red Thunder to that tradition. I urge high school librarians and concerned parents of teens to go get this book and see if said teens might somehow be coaxed to read it.
Now let's talk about the book.
The near future in which Red Thunder is set isn't too far removed from our own. In my view, this is done deliberately in order to attract the desired readership. Hip hop music is still played, Britney Spears is still a celebrity babe in the mature Madonna tradition, and Mercedes, Ferraris, and Corvettes are still the hottest cars. DVDs are the standard entertainment medium and the Internet is the primary information conduit.
But because it's SF, there are some differences as well. For instance, computer-controlled roads, where manual control of automobiles is prohibited, are in use. In addition, NASA has resuscitated its manned space program in response to China's threat to become the first country to successfully land astronauts on Mars. The Space Race is back on!
Our protagonists' mission is to build a spaceship in order to beat both China and the United States to Mars, using propulsion based on a heretofore unknown source of limitless energy -- and they have sixty days to pull it off. This is not a hard science story; we have to accept that such an energy source has been accidentally discovered and can be safely harnessed without thinking too hard about the physics of it all. (I wouldn't expect newer SF readers to have a problem with this.) Once we've crossed that river of disbelief, the rest of the story is a straightforward adventure yarn -- and even appears relatively feasible. Mr. Varley spends considerable time taking us through the myriad problems that need to be solved to make the mission happen, and shows us how such problems can be solved using our current technology. I am convinced that Mr. Varley is consciously seeking to educate his readers within the storytelling, which is definitely in keeping with the tradition of SF juvenilia. All that is missing is a detailed ship layout as an illustration, to create a more tangible reality.
This is a character-driven story, as are all of Mr. Varley's efforts. We meet interesting -- and flawed -- characters who are driven to accomplish their mission for often good and sometimes imperfect reasons. Manny, the first-person narrator, is likeable and has quite a bit more on the ball than the typical naïve Heinlein protagonist. His buddy, Dak, is a black American who would rather work on his pickup truck or study engineering than play basketball. There are two female characters, both smart and strong and capable (and beautiful, of course). Kelly, in particular, is a Girl-in-Charge right out of the Heinlein tradition. There is also a wonderful Cajun family and a larger-than-life unlikely genius who has made the accidental discovery of the century. There's a retired NASA astronaut with skeletons in his closet and booze on his breath. We care about these people and we want them to succeed.
A theme emerges: Family is important. Family comes together in times of difficulty to support and defend. Those characters that lack strong family ties feel their lack; other characters struggle with the problems caused by parental neglect -- or outright abuse. But ultimately Mr. Varley shows us that relationships are important and worth forging in spite of the struggles caused by life's dramas. This is also a lesson worth trying to pass on to teens.
Within the novel are several nods to, and outright borrowings from, the history of juvenile SF -- and especially from The Dean of SF. We have a character named Jubal (who is nothing at all like Jubal Harshaw of Stranger in a Strange Land). A minor character fractures his arm and declares that he played a whole quarter of football with worse (lifted straight from an early scene in Starship Troopers). Our universe can be twisted -- 90 degrees -- to link with somewhen else, and that twisting can create and destroy (not unlike what happens toward the end of Have Spacesuit Will Travel). The advantages of a constant one-G acceleration in a Hohmann orbit are utilized (from Halfway to Anywhere).
Even without the open acknowledgement to Heinlein and Spider Robinson for the inspiration, we SF devotees would get the inside references. What I found to be totally unexpected were the little winks to John MacDonald and his character, Travis McGee. It was a very sad day indeed when Trav's permanent retirement was announced, and so I loved the subtle references to Miss Agnes (Trav's blue Rolls Royce pickup truck) and to the Bahia Mar marina where the Busted Flush was moored. But why? Nobody would argue that the Travis McGee mysteries are aimed at juveniles. But only true MacDonald fans would pick up on the references -- they stand out from the story not at all. I may never know the answer but it was great to see the subtle references in Mr. Varley's novel.
So what's the bottom line here? We have a straightforward adventure story, with life lessons thrown in for free. It's right smack in the middle of the Heinlein juvenile tradition, only updated a bit to lose the pre-Beatles, mid-Western naïveté. I think it was written thoughtfully, with the intended audience always in mind. And I think Heinlein would be proud to see the work that he inspired. If subtle nods and winks to certain other works were thrown into the mix, there is certainly no harm done, and some warm smiles of appreciative memories were the result.
But is it an important work of SF, equal to the timeless works of genius created when Mr. Varley was “the man”? Does it deserve to beat out other current year stuff for the big awards? Sadly, the answer has to be “no”. It is not a tour de force but, instead, is a novel with limited ambition and scope. On that limited level, though, it succeeds admirably.
If you want to purchase the book described herein, go right ahead -- especially if you know of a teen who would read it. You (and/or the teen) won't be disappointed. But it's not making any of my “must read” or “must use to turn-on people to SF” booklists -- as have other Varley works. If you really want to experience the wonderment of SF at its best, then I advise you to go to a used bookstore and find some of the early Varley. Read the Titan trilogy (especially Book 2, Wizard) and be amazed at the audacious scope of his world-building and incredible depth of detail. Find an anthology of Hugo or Nebula winners, or a year-end collection, with anything by Mr. Varley in it. Read them; you too will become a Varley fan. This is an author whose works are worth digging for, and you will not be disappointed by what you find.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Rocket Ship Galileo was Heinlein's first actual novel. All his prior works were first published in magazines.
But where are the digital music downloads? The book makes a point of discussing the trade-off between weight and necessary thrust; at one point a character is told to bring along all the music she wants, because weight will no longer be a problem. Reminds me of that Dilbert cartoon where the woman is complaining about the weight of her laptop and asks the men why they aren't complaining as well. “Because we lightened ours by deleting unnecessary files” they tell her.
It was such a diagram in the now-forgotten Starship Through Space that first gave me a sense of the power of Science Fiction and hooked me forever. I remember when the librarian said, “If you liked that one so much, you might try something by Robert Heinlein, over here in this section.” And that was it. Thank you, Harry Stine, writing as Lee Correy.
Halfway to Anywhere is a non-fiction book by G. Harry Stine aimed at showing the advantages of constant acceleration. (Harry Stine is the Dean of hobby rocketships and aimed much of his work at juveniles.) A search reveals that one of Jerry Pournelle's A Step Farther Out collections also had the em dash subtitle of Halfway to Anywhere. I bet Mr. Varley read one or both of the two works.
In case you're not familiar with MacDonald's Travis McGee mysteries, they are all “must read” non-SF books. One day, let's have a John MacDonald appreciation party where all we do is sit around and discuss his stuff. No SF -- just Trav and Meyer and their adventures. I'll bring the jazz CDs; you bring the list of boats named after celebrity economists.
[ Editor's note: Golden Globe is an Eight Worlds novel. ]
This is excerpted from our online calendar of upcoming events, at http://www.wsfa.org/calendar.htm. I recommend you check it frequently, in case of last minute additions or corrections. This is a regular feature of The WSFA Journal.
If you plan to take Metro's Red Line to any of these events, please allow extra time due to chronic delays on that line.
Note that there's a brief summary at the end.
The regular Third Friday meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association was called to order by President Samuel Lubell at 9:14 pm on November 19th, 2004 in the upstairs of the Madigans' in Greenbelt, Maryland, the new usual Third Friday location.
In attendance were President Samuel Lubell, Secretary Keith Lynch, Treasurer Bob MacIntosh, all three trustees (Adrienne Ertman, Barry Newton, and Steven Smith), 2005 Capclave Chair Michael Walsh, 2006 Capclave Chair Elspeth Kovar, Colleen Cahill, Carolyn Frank, Erica and Lydia Ginter, Kindra Gresham, Chris and Shirl Hayes, Bill and Karey Herriman, Eric Jablow, Ernest Lilley and his wife EJ McClure, Nicki and Richard Lynch, Candy and John Madigan, Tom McCabe, Abner and Sara Mintz, Judy Newton, Evan Phillips, and Michael Taylor. 30 people, 12 of whom had been at First Friday.
TREASURY: $17,515.59 in our regular checking account, plus $20,600 in our World Fantasy account, with more still to come from World Fantasy advertisers.
CAPCLAVE '04: Lee wasn't present. Bob said the convention had lost money. We don't know exactly how much yet. Sam suggested we not mention this at SMOFcon.
CAPCLAVE '05 & '06: The Tysons Premiere [the 1994 Disclave hotel] is booked solid for October and November of next year. The Tysons Marriott [this year's Capclave hotel] will have a proposal for us by next Friday. If they want to reuse this year's contract, that would be more money than we're willing to spend. Elspeth is negotiating with the Silver Spring Hilton [the Capclave '02 & '03 hotel]. Elspeth is no longer working on any other projects.
SMOFCON: Bob said the con begins in two weeks. It's at the Wyndham Washington at Thomas Circle near the McPherson Square Metro station. Sam said our next meeting will be held at the con, and will be open to everyone, not just SMOFcon members. There is no dealer room. Mike Walsh said we'll be able to gawk at smofs in their natural habitat. Elspeth said it will be good to get our people who are interested in conventions to attend. Sam said it's a learning experience. Someone said we don't want them to learn, since they'll run away.
WORLD FANTASY '03: Michael Walsh said $7475 of the billing for advertising has been sent out, including Tor and Simon & Schuster. Another $3000 or $4000 remain to be billed. He waved the WFC '03 souvenir book, and the WFC '04 souvenir book, and pointed out that ours was 128 pages, but theirs was only 64 pages.
PUBLICATIONS: The secretary said the October and November WSFA Journals were on the piano keyboard behind Colleen and Carolyn. He had saved the last few October issues for this meeting, since they hadn't previously been to Maryland. [By the end of the evening 6 Octobers and 5 Novembers had been taken.]
BOOK: Ernest will have a report at the next meeting. Eric asked if we can really afford the project, and asked the secretary to read back the financial report. The secretary did so.
ENTERTAINMENT: Alexis wasn't present.
ACTIVITIES: Lee wasn't present.
INVESTMENT: The president had the secretary read the names of the members: Elspeth Kovar, Barry Newton, Rebecca Prather, Sam Scheiner, and Michael Taylor. Elspeth then resigned from the committee, since it wasn't the committee she thought it was.
AUSTERITY: The president said the committee had been disbanded at the last meeting. The secretary said no, the disbanding was pending Erica's approval, as she hadn't been present. Erica then approved, so the committee is disbanded.
OLD BUSINESS: The president asked the secretary if there was any old business we hadn't already covered. He replied that the publications committee is supposed to vet the regular monthly message on the email chat list. And that Dick Roepke was reported to be ill, and should be visited at his home.
Colleen moved that we give a restaurant gift certificate to the Gillilands for hosting First Fridays for 37 years. Bob moved the amount be $100. Motion passed. Colleen will take care of it.
Bob moved getting the same for the Ginters. Eric suggested we add reimbursement for any babysitting expenses. Motion passed.
Elspeth wants people who are interested in hotel negotiations, and on oversight over hotel contracts, budgets, and expenses for Capclave. She asked if we have the final financial numbers for Capclave yet. Bob said no, he hasn't even heard from all the staff yet. Sam said we shouldn't discuss this at the meeting during SMOFcon. He'll ask Lee to have all the Capclave '04 financial information available at December's Third Friday meeting.
Colleen asked if changing the power of the con chair would require a change to the WSFA constitution. Bob said yes.
Sam said this should be part of a larger discussion on Capclave, and what Capclave is and how we do it. Elspeth said that it's two different discussions: What Capclave is, and how its finances should be handled. Colleen asked if we need to form a committee. Elspeth said she's not making a motion, but just raising the subject, and wants people think about it. Sam said John Pomeranz had once held a special meeting on the future of our con, and perhaps it's time to do so again. [It was on August 11, 1996. See http://www.wsfa.org/journal/j96/9/index.htm#d] Elspeth agreed.
Sam said we do need to consider the issue, not just in terms of money, but if we want the con to be in the same place in multiple years. Elspeth said she did want that, but that the money is a separate issue. She also said we need better record keeping and reporting. Bob took exception to this. He said detailed records had been presented to the secretary.
Keith said that in 1998, there had been talk of forming a facilities committee, which would have the power to coordinate multi-year hotel contracts.
Sam said we should have a special meeting just for discussing Capclave, but not until January, so that the holidays won't interfere.
Candy said the white Bunny bites, the dog can be fed anything but chocolate, she still doesn't have a locking door on the bathroom, and the other bathroom is completed, so people can use either one.
John said there is hot cider in the crockpot, there's a fire in the fireplace downstairs, there are games downstairs, and the downstairs bathroom is slow, so it shouldn't be used very often.
Keith asked if it was anyone's first meeting. It wasn't. He also said that announcements should be submitted in writing, or better yet by email, or best of all by email to the chat list.
Colleen is once again updating her list of members' names, street addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers. Everyone should make sure she has the correct information on them.
Shirl had a bag of paperback books, for sale for 50¢ each, or $2 for five.
Elspeth finally had the new cat she had adopted. The cat did not yet have a name.
Barry said that Meridel had a cat that needed adopting.
Nicki asked if anyone knew who had her review copy of a Charlene Harris book. Sam said he had it, and will return it at the next meeting.
Keith asked if anyone knew what had become of his big map of Tysons Corner, which he had left on the dealer room door at Capclave. Colleen said she had it at home.
Richard commented that the WSFA Lost & Found was working well. Sam asked if there were any other entries for the WSFA Lost & Found. Adrienne said she lost her student ID somewhere on the U of M campus, or possibly in her room.
Keith asked if it was anyone's second or third meeting. Nobody admitted to it, but Ernest alluded to the fact that it was his wife's second meeting.
Eric asked about the WSFA FAQ (answers to frequently asked questions about WSFA). Keith said he thought that's what the WSFA web site was. Eric disagreed. Keith said he recalled that someone who had only been to a couple WSFA meetings had been given this task. [He was thinking of Emily Richter, who in February agreed to write a handout for new members. She has been to a total of five meetings, starting April of last year, ending June of this year.] Sam asked Eric to do it. Eric said he didn't have the depth of historical knowledge. Keith said he'd do it, and Ted White can critique. [People should ask more questions about WSFA, so that he'll know which ones are frequent.]
Meeting adjourned at 9:52 pm. 38 minutes.
After the meeting, many cookies were baked and promptly consumed. There was a lot of informal smoffing about the future of Capclave.
A few people were still present when the secretary left at about 1 am.
It was cool and damp outdoors. It had rained in the afternoon, and rained again after midnight.
Summary of 11/19/04 meeting:
Daydreaming is something we all do at one time or another. Good authors take their dreams and share them with us, as Stephen L. Antczak has done in the first collection of his short stories, Daydreams Undertaken. These fifteen tales are a mix of science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction (for want of a better term) that take you to inner space, outer space and all places between.
Antczak starts with a story set in Random, Oregon, a town that is dominated by an interactive sculpture. This story and the sculpture in the town are called “Reality,” and the art work seems to be a model of the universe. If anyone pulls a lever or pushes a button, the world changes unpredictably. After three such changes, the town wants no more alterations, but Osgood Kramer is sure he can set things back to where they started. “Reality”sets the tone for the rest of the book: a sense of wonder, haunting events and glimmers of joy. Combine this with a bit of playfulness and you have some great tales.
Two of the more playful are “Captain Asimov” and “Captain Asimov Saves the Day,” where a slightly mixed-up robot named Jeevs fights the forces of evil in a ski mask and hot pink cape. These two delightful stories not only combine super heroes and I, Robot, but include a main character who is a bit of Don Quixote. For more fun, try “Space Aliens Ate My Head”. A biker gang terrorizing a small town in Georgia discovers you don't mess with the guys in flying sauces.
In “Way Down,” Antczak shows a darker side. Janny is living in a post-apocalyptic world where women huddle together for protection, as they are replaced by “domesticated clones of the most beautiful women in history.” Scavenging on the edge of civilization, she finds a dead man with a strange helmet. Soon Janny will have to choose between a horrible physical existence and a heavenly virtual world. This is similar to the choice that Henri has to make in “Reed John-Paul Forever.” Antczak builds a gritty and real world where Henri is the ultimate effigy (or wannabe) of Reed John-Paul, the most super of the superstars. Henri's talent for mimicry leads to an interesting choice, one that some of us might not have taken.
Many of these stories are centered around belief: in a god, in an idea or in oneself. “Virtual Day” is a vampire story that hinges on Katya longing to see the sun that would destroy her and her search for Sol through virtual reality. Mistaken belief is a central theme in “The Monster Lab,” where a mad scientist makes a bargain with his daughter, but at whose cost? The wonderfully weird story, “The Deity Effect,” joins a dying ringworld with a virus-ridden artificial intelligence who finds love is the answer. And my favorite story is “Be My Hero,” a tale of an older female adventurer who decides she just cannot face one more challenger and asks for her own champion. There is a bit of a twist in this one and that gives an edge to the story, an aspect many of Antczak's works have to their advantage.
A bit of dark, bit of light, music, wonder, and fun are in this collection, all written with an artist's eye for scenery, atmosphere and imagination. When you are in the need of a daydream, try these; they won't disappoint you.
[ Editor's note: Lee Strong has resigned from WSFA, and prefers that no WSFA member except Sam Lubell contact him for any reason. However, he has not rescinded his permission to print the material he had previously submitted to the WSFA Journal. ]
Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 “Warhammer 40K” are miniatures war games published by Games Workshop. The former is a medieval fantasy game set on a thinly disguised version of mythical Earth while the latter is a science fictional game set in the year 40,000. The Warhammer 40K Universe is a future history scenario designed to add flavor to otherwise sterile military campaigns. It is also a common history for several novels published by Games Workshop's house imprint, the Black Library.
As a future history, Warhammer 40K is a grim gothic nightmare in which unlovely factions struggle endlessly for transient military success. The primary faction is the Emperor-worshipping Imperium of Mankind, which somewhat successfully opposes the forces of Chaos, tyrannids, eldar, orks, skaven, squats, and other foes that are star travelling versions of familiar medieval fantasy monsters. None of them are more than minimally appealing. The technology is a grotesque blend of medieval weapons, demonic power, and futuristic science, all designed to create a huge body count. Warhammer 40K is a cyberpunk grossout strictly for the dedicated militarist. More sensitive or sensible beings need not bother.
This is the story of Inquisitor Jaq Draco, who is assigned to uncover conspiracies against the throne of the God Emperor of Mankind only to discover that the ultimate conspirator may be the God Emperor himself.
Things start out straightforwardly enough with Jaq and his odd companions investigating why an Imperial planet is undergoing mass hysteria and revolt. The trail seems to lead to the obvious -- planets controlled by the Emperor's chaotic enemies. However, Jaq then discovers that his secret inner order within his secret outer order of secret inquisitors is secretly controlled by an even more secret inner-inner order. All clear? Jaq's investigation leads to the Imperial Throne Room and a confrontation with the Emperor that clears up nothing.
I rate Draco ** on the five star scale because it has a plot and some incident, but not much of either. -- LS
The Eye of Terror is a region of space within the Warhammer 40K Milky Way Galaxy where realspace and warpspace overlap, and strange things materialize. Unfortunately, a worthwhile plot is not one of them.
There are three stories within this novel, each an exploration of a portion of the Eye of Terror nebula as seen by a merchant, a Space Marine, and a naval officer. Along the way, there's some interesting scenery, but not much reason to follow these losers around. Towards the end of the book, the author drags them together apropos of nothing that I could see. Perhaps he is hoping that they can accomplish something together that they haven't been able to accomplish separately. This is a legitimate plot device, but Mr. Bayley hasn't set up a common problem for them to solve or a logical reason for them to unite. While Mr. Bayley's writing contains hints of unrealized potential, it appears that this leaden effort is rather a black eye for the author.
I rate Eye of Terror as *½ on the five star scale. -- LS
Since Warhammer 40,000 is a military game, it's not surprising that the most military novel of the three that I read was the best of the lot. That's still not saying much.
The eponymous Storm of Iron is a clumsy, heavily telegraphed siege of a medieval fortress on a desolate planet with both sides having gothic futuristic variations on medieval weapons. The most deadly personal weapon is a government issue chainsaw, and the strategy and tactics aren't even that advanced. The well organized forces of Chaos land and beat the crap out of the Imperial forces in a series of set piece battles. The author cranks in some minimal realistic strategies and worthwhile characters -- both of which are novelties in this repulsive universe. However, the relatively good guys and gals are cruelly betrayed for no logical reason, and the hand of the puppet master jerking his toys around is all too apparent. Anyone looking for interesting characters or credible military adventures would be well advised to avoid this storm of lead.
I rate Storm of Iron as **½ on the five star scale because some of the character development is worth reading. -- LS
The deadline for January's issue is the end of 2004. Earlier if possible. As always, I eagerly solicit material. Especially entries for our very own fan gallery. If you missed seeing the fan gallery on the third floor of the Hynes at Noreascon, it's available online at http://scifiinc.net/scifiinc/gallery/list/. I'm looking for material similar to that. Ernest Lilley is willing to take pictures, but I'll accept entries without pictures if you prefer. Or just pictures with no text if you like. I'll never print anything about anyone without their permission. Can anyone explain why after several months of my asking, NOBODY has written one of these yet? Not one person? WSFA is a team effort, people.
Also in the January issue I'll have another review by Lee Strong, more Alexis cartoons, and of course the regular features: meeting minutes, January '4 in history, upcoming events, and what to look forward to in the February issue. Possibly a report of mine on a recent talk on the climate on Mars. And a report on the WSFA web site for sure this time.