The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction
Association -- ISSN 0894-5411
Edited by Joe Mayhew
WSFA Minutes July 7, 1995 at Gilliland's
Disclave and Me
The Fluid Nature of Reality
SF Con Dress Code
Colonizing Space at the Library of Congress
Edited by Joe Mayhew
Attending: Pres.Covert Beach, VP. Terilee Edwards-Hewitt, Sec. Joe Mayhew, Treas. & 96 Chair Bob MacIntosh, Trust. Jim Edwards-Hewitt, Trust. John Pomeranz, 97 Chair Mike Nelson, Eric Baker, Dan Burgess, Elspeth Burgess, Steven desJardins, F L Ettlin, Alexis Gilliland, Lee Gilliland, Erica Ginter, Dan Hoey, Eric Jablow, Judy Kindell, Samuel Lubell, Dick Lynch, Keith Marshall, Ginny McNitt, Walter Miles, Lance Oszko, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Sam Pierce, Rebecca Prather, Dave Rudgers, Rachel Russell, John Sapienza, Tom Schaad, George R. Shaner, Debbie Smith, Steven Smith, William Squire, Michael J. Taylor, James Uba, Michael J. Walsh, Michael Watkins, Miles Weissman, Mike Zipser, Beth Zipser, Ben Zuhl
President Beach called the meeting to order at 9:15. Secretary Mayhew announced that he had a WSFA photo album for inspection after the meeting; that Brian Lewis had sent him his own revision of the WSFA mailing list which Brian claims has more complete zip-codes. As the Secretary spotted several false corrections and other errors, he is circulating Brian's list to the membership for verification.
Treasurer MacIntosh reported a balance of $4,311.21.
DISCLAVE 95: Chair Emeritus Hoey said there would be a mailing party on Sunday July 30th to mail out, among other things, the pubs to convention members who did not attend. (A first?)
DISCLAVE 96: As indicated by the correspondence published in the July 7th Journal from Bob MacIntosh and the Renaissance TechWorld Hotel, Disclave will not be held there next year. No reason was given by the Hotel. However, Covert Beach has lined up yet another Hotel, this time the Renaissance Concourse (Formerly the Crystal city Stouffer's. A tentative rate of $90.00 was bandied about.
CHANGE IN MEETING SITES: The first Friday meeting in August will be at Ginter's: the third Friday meeting will be at Gilliland's. This is the annual WorldCon Shuffle.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:43.
I can link this year's Disclave to my first experiences in two types of fandom, almost. I decided to start a fanzine a couple of weeks after attending the fan history panel, but I can't remember if that was what started me thinking about it. (I put the first issue of my fanzine out a couple of weeks ago, with nine pages of material, including a version of this essay.) Disclave was also the first convention where I volunteered to help out. I was afraid of doing everything wrong, naturally, so I made my plans carefully in advance. (This was my first mistake. I would have done better if I'd simply shown up and found the volunteer desk.)
I decided the easiest way to cope was to volunteer to work in one department, the Art Show, because I knew the person running it and a good friend of mine was also volunteering to help out there. I started out by walking up to the hotel after work on Thursday to help out setting up the art show. It turned out this involved holding pieces of wood and pegboard while other volunteers with power screwdrivers fastened them together. Not a bad job, well within my abilities, but there were a few more volunteers than they needed and I'm shy enough in such situations that I ended up letting other people do most of the work. I did help out a bit, but not really enough to be worth the three slices of pizza I ate there.
Friday I dropped by and asked Judy if she needed any help, which she didn't. Saturday I showed up bright and early at 10:00, having promised in advance to work from then until 2:00. I did some useful work then, watching the door, but I was rotated out in favor of another volunteer after a couple of hours. (It disconcerted me at the time, but in hindsight it seems perfectly natural that they'd try to give work to everyone who wanted to help. Just a case where my preconceptions didn't match the practical realities.)
That was the end of my volunteering. I showed up at the art auction, but they seemed to have enough volunteers and I couldn't figure out who (if anyone) was in charge, so I wimped out and left without doing anything. Still, even though I wasn't much of a success at helping out, I did have fun and I achieved my main objective, which was to learn how to do a better job next year. (I don't expect to get anything right the first time.)
I was afflicted by a strange gravitational anomaly in the huckster's room, which made my tote bag heavier every time I walked through. I bought ten used paperbacks the first time I went in, including James H. Schmitz's AGENT OF VEGA, and it was downhill from there. (Several people commented on AGENT OF VEGA as I carried it around the convention. I think Schmitz is an author that many people are secretly proud of having discovered.) I also picked up a few hardcovers, including ISLANDIA (a cult Utopian novel by Austin Tappan Wright) and 2/3 of what looks like a definitive edition of Lovecraft's fiction. Most of the used paperbacks I bought were from the '60's or earlier, with authors like Philip K. Dick, James Blish, and Fletcher Pratt. I finally found a copy of DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? which was not called BLADE RUNNER, so now I can read it. I was surprised, and pleased, to discover how articulate artists were in their panel discussions. I think it must be a selection effect. Writers feel that they ought to be on panels, so they volunteer even if they have nothing in particular to say, and con programmers put them on topics they have no qualifications to discuss. Whereas artists only volunteer if they feel comfortable talking, and they're generally assigned to topics they know something about.
Finally I note that this year's Disclave had the second-best con suite I've ever seen. (The Minneapolis WFC had the best con suite imaginable.) One complaint I've heard many times is that pros and fans don't mingle the way they used to. The solution, as far as I can tell, is to give them a place to come together. If you have an enormous, well-stocked con suite the pros will spend plenty of time there and they'll be delighted to talk to whoever happens to be around. It's expensive to have a really good con suite, of course, but the payoff in terms of attendee satisfaction is enormous.
Neal Stephenson's SNOW CRASH is superb. It starts with cyberpunk and virtual reality, adds a very developed background world, an exciting plot, and even characters that are not quite cardboard (I'll admit the characters are the weakest part of his writing.) The main character, called Hiro Protagonist just so the reader isn't confused for a second who the book is about, loses his job delivering pizza for the Godfather literally in the first chapter, which must be the most exciting pizza delivery in print. Fortunately the pizza is actually delivered, by a skateboarding Kourier named YT (for Yours' Truly) and the two form a partnership to discover some of the weird things that are going on.
One of these is a mysterious drug, Snow Crash, that affects people even in the virtual reality world for which Hiro programmed the sword fighting routines. Another is the mysterious motorcycle rider / killer called Raven who is protected by the police for a very rational reason. And then there is the Godfather's special interest in YT, a link back to the tower of Babel, Babylonian mythology, the notion of religion as a virus spread by temple prostitutes and the possibility that humans themselves can be programmed biologically.
Equally fascinating is the background world. The united States is essentially dead, defeated by the libertarians who have allowed different regions to be virtually independent from each other. So there are lots of borders and separate jurisdictions for police and even the courts. Similarly, the virtually reality world is not an anything goes place but has rigid rules and limitations.
The language is loose and colloquial; not quite Hemingway but close in spirit. The entire book is written in the present tense:
"Well, since you put it that way," YT says, and grabs the mask. It's a big rubber-and-canvas number that covers her whole head and neck. Feels heavy and awkward at first, but whoever designed it had the right idea, all the weight rests in the right places. There's also a pair of heavy gloves that she hauls on. They are way too big. Like the people at the glove factory never dreamed that an actual female could wear gloves.
Critics have charged that Stephenson has problems ending his novel. However, while the ending section is not quite as good as the preceding 400 pages, it ties up everything and ends with a bang. I did find that the sections with the electronic librarian summarizing Sumerian/Babylonian culture to be wearing and wish the author had not summarized his research so blatantly. Still, this is a small quibble in an excellent book. This is one you will re-read and discover more in it.
REPLAY by Ken Grimwood is a very intriguing twist on the time travel story. The central character dies in the opening sentence and then finds himself back in college, as a young man with all his memories of his older self, but no idea where this younger self left his car. He does the sort of thing a sf reader expects a time traveler to do, try to prevent the assassination of JFK, place bets at sporting events, buy stock in the right companies to become a multi-millionaire. But the woman he loves, his wife in his past life, refuses to have anything to do with him and he ends up marrying unhappily and having a daughter. Then, at exactly the same age as before, he dies again and wakes up back in college. He is literally a replayer and nothing he does can have any meaning since, come October 1988 he dies again and reverts back to square one.
The author manages to vary these lives considerably, and shows Jeff's anger at the meaninglessness of it all. Then, midway through the book, after several of these repeating lifetimes, he sees a blockbuster movie which he had never even heard existed-- because it hadn't. There is another replayer, a woman, who can also remember these repeating existences, allowing a continuing relationship. There is also a new threat, the two realize that they don't go back to the same day. When they die and restart their life each time, they restart their life a little closer to the day they die. The remainder of the book is their efforts to find other replayers, to find a cause/cure for their repeating, and to find a way of ending their slow loops towards a final death.
There are several philosophical points that are brought up as to what happens with these worlds the replayers have changed once they die and return back to their earlier lives, making new changes in the world. There is also the question as to the responsibility that comes from knowing about future disasters, serial killers etc.
The author does a successful job with the non-linear nature of the book's central idea and throws in enough surprises that the reader doesn't think he is reading the same story over and over. There is a slight flaw, at one point it appears that Jeff cannot make major changes in history (the idea that history corrects itself) but in another life he radically alters the future of the world. There's also the unanswered question as to why this is happening, although the characters do meet someone with his own, unusual, theories.
This book is highly recommended to anyone who likes time-travel books and does not insist on strict plausibility and hard science fiction.
Back in the 1970s, the production management people at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) took a look at the future of currency and postage stamps. They predicted that within ten years the world would have mostly switched over to electronic forms of financial transactions and communication. So they decided to save the government some money by not buying any new major printing equipment for the next decade.
Funny thing happened. The demand for currency and stamps kept raising every year. Automatic teller machine increased the demand for cash and computers made it easy for people to churn out junk that needed to be mailed.
In 1994, we printed a record 9.3 billion Federal Reserve Notes, with a total value exceeding $130 billion. The Postal Service is handling nearly one billion pieces of mail every day. More than $380 billion in U.S. currency is estimated to be circulating worldwide. For the past ten years, the BEP has been scrambling to upgrade our equipment to meet this demand.
New color reprographic technologies allow people to counterfeit small amounts of currency with considerably less effort and expense than traditional printing methods. While the Secret Service manages to seize ninety percent of the notes counterfeited each year before they can be circulated, the amount of counterfeiting is increasing. In the past six months, a record $148 million in counterfeit bills were intercepted; sixty-two percent of it overseas.
For the past year, the BEP's new currency design task force has been designing the next generation of U.S. currency. The new series of bills, starting with the $100 bill in 1996, will be fundamentally different. To minimize the impact of this change, the new bills will remain the same size and will retain the same portrait subjects, vignettes, and colors as the present bills. We are in the process of hiring the ad agency that will be building public acceptance for the new currency. Hopefully it wouldn't be the same agency that handled the new Coke account.
The major changes will likely be the addition of a portrait watermark and the enlargement and off-center placement of the portrait. On each note, the portrait and watermark would be adjacent and will depict the same subject. Another possible feature would be the addition of small microprinted iridescent plastic planchettes (small disks) embedded randomly in the paper or in localized bands. I'm pleased to say that we dropped the radioactive tracer idea.
The current mylar security thread may also be relocated to different parts of the notes, depending on the note's denomination. The thread may also be redesigned to be machine detectable for use in vending machines.
Other features under consideration include special line print designs that produce moire <e with an accent> patterns in images of the bills generated by digital scanning devices or small holographic images. Small images (about two square centimeters) printed with a special ink containing small thin-film interference filters that change color under different lighting conditions may also be added to each bill.
Of course (Naa, naa!- I know some secrets!), I can't tell you about the cool covert (nothing to do with Mr. Beach) features being added (and it wasn't me who told The X-Files about the top secret Citizen Tracking Device built into every bill).
If you are interested in obtaining more information on the
new currency design, I direct you to the article entitled,
"Protecting the Greenback," published in the July 1995
issue of Scientific American. I certainly
researched enough of it for this article.
Eric Jablow asked that the following letter from THE WASHINGTON POST's MISS MANNERS column from Sunday, June 18, 1995 be reprinted in the WSFA JOURNAL:
Dear Miss Manners:
I am a writer, and I've been attending science fiction conventions as a guest, speaking on panels, reading my work, giving autographs, etc. since the people who attend the conventions pay to do so, I feel I should respect that and wear clothes that are dressier and suitable for a professional appearance.
My Husband disagrees. He argues that since the people attending usually dress in jeans, as to may of the professional guests, I'm being needlessly formal. The conventions are exhausting, and I would prefer more comfortable clothes, but as you've pointed out, sometimes it is better to be uncomfortable and feel appropriate. What do you suggest.
(Miss Manner's reply) GENTLE READER: Miss Manners suggests there is a big difference between being a performer and being a member of the audience -- between those who pay to see someone and those who are paid. Movie audiences dress for comfort, too, but they expect to see performers who are properly costumed for whatever they are there to represent.
From your description, you wish to appear as a professional author and lecturer who considers the occasion and the audience to be significant. Others who appear at a science fiction convention may wish to appear as something more, shall we say, unusual; Miss manners is grateful they are not asking her for suggestions on how to do so.
At the Library of Congress they have this little group that invites interesting people in to deliver a lunch hour lecture of some sort. They asked me over--no honorarium, but we'll buy you lunch--and they were local so I agreed to come. Naturally, this led to questions, like: "What is the title of your talk?" Sigh. I said I'd talk about space colonization, which has been a hobby horse of mine for awhile.
My take on space colonization is a little different than most people's in that I feel that a colony ought to be self-sufficient with respect to food, air, and water. The idea of building cities in space is romantic, yes, but those cities need to be equipped with their own hinterlands. Which means they need their own farmland, so you don't ship food up from earth, and their own wetlands to purify their wastes, and probably other stuff that nobody has thought of, yet. Our space city will be the urban part of self-contained colony performing all of the roles, physical and biological, so ably played by Mother Earth.
An under-appreciated point is that humans can't live in space without bringing along their food, air and water. In New York or Los Angeles, the air is just part of the weather, water is piped in via great aqueducts, and food comes in by truck and rail and boat. The urban eye sees the urban skyline, and the flash of urban culture while ignoring the agricultural support systems which make the city possible. Imagining New York at the L-5 point, the urban mind sees glass and metal, graced here and there with the greenery of a park. This is beautiful but seriously incomplete.
If humans plan to go into space for the long term, they also have to bring along their biological support systems. we are, like it or not, part of the biosphere, and cannot survive very long if we are set apart from it. It follows that if we are to colonize space, we must somehow build envelopes that will hold the biospheres we choose to be part of, necessarily building them before we can occupy them.
The technical details of this construction program are conceptually very simple. All the necessary work will have to be done by robots, or by remotely controlled devices. It was Gerard K. O'Neill's hope that when we went into space, we would make so much money in the process that cities in space would come almost of themselves. This idea remains appealing, but the thrust of technology since then suggests that capitalists will make more and more money using less and less labor, and especially in space where the cost of human labor is increased by the human need for a substantial investment in life support. If our communications satellites required a few thousand switchboard operators each, for instance, they would not be economically feasible. It will be the same for other prospective uses; drugs, alloys, whatever, all will made cheaper by robots. Eventually, even the occasional troubleshooter will be a robot, guided perhaps, by teams of experts back at mission control.
When O'Neill wrote The High Frontier in 1976, envisioning thriving metropoli at the LaGrangian points of cis-Lunar space, he was interested in colonizing space with humans rather than cruching Lunar rocks with sophisticated machinery. We'll use the machinery, of course, but it is the people involved that fire our imagination. Machinery may inspire the dreams of engineers, but it is the people involved that gave O'Neill's dream its universal appeal, and it is the people involved who made O'Neill's dream impossibly expensive, and therefore impossible.
How do we figure? Consider that an acre foot of water is required to grow the food that will support two men for a year, and assume that the water will be efficiently recycled. A city of 10,000 will require 5,000 acre feet of water, or about 6.5 million tons, minimum. O'Neill was sure that everything we needed was on the Moon, where it could be mined, refined and shot into Lunar orbit, water included.
This was not an unreasonable idea at the time. However, an analysis of the Apollo Moon rocks shows that they are not only dry as the proverbial bone, but--relative to Earth--depleted in volatile elements and enriched in refractories. Eventually this dry and unpoetic fact lent support to the idea that the Earth-Moon system was formed out of a glancing collision between the proto-Earth and a body about the size of Mars. Following that collision, the Moon formed out of the rocky stuff that went into orbit, where it remained in a molten state for a hundred million years, boiling off its portion of water in the process. There may be traces of water around the Lunar South Pole; some craters there are so deep that the sun never shines, and in such a cosmic cold trap, water from comets might have accumulated over geologic time. However, I suspect that scraping the frost off rocks close to absolute zero will not produce the acre-feet of water needed for farming.
The Russian space station suggests that humans, no matter how bold, no matter how tough, will not be able to thrive in space; in that hostile environment they will have the greatest difficulty merely enduring. To conceive, bear, and raise a child, the sine qua non of colonization is beyond our present abilities. So our human colonists must arrive with the second wave, travelling to destinations prepared for them by their loyal and diligent machines. This is already a considerable departure from conventional adventure fiction. We are not going to a place that is hostile, but to one that is as safe and friendly as our engineers can contrive. Worse, we will not be going for high adventure or profit but because our governments have sent us as a manifestation of national pride.
The memory of the European conquest of the New World imposes a powerful model upon us. The model? A rich and fertile land that was seized by strong and ruthless men who fought bitterly with each other for the biggest share of the riches. We are not going to conquer space as the New World was conquered. Rather than going into the wilderness with axe and gun, shooting bears and felling trees to create a farm, our machines are going to have to create the farm, complete with air, water, gravity and sunlight before we humans ever set foot upon it. It makes a real difference in terms of the adventures possible.
In an unforgiving environment, an inside fool is a bigger threat than the most dedicated enemy on the outside. Conscientious bureaucrats, meticulously following the procedures on their check lists, turn out to be the role models that children born in space will be taught to emulate. How utterly boring! How truly pathetic! We will not be conquering space with cross and sword like the Conquistadores, but going forth, after our machines have done the heavy lifting, as part of a bureaucracy charged with spreading the seeds of life into the universe.
Cities, like plants, thrive where they find water. On earth we build our cities with access to water; in space it should be no different. Yes, our machines will go to the Moon to mine and refine stuff, and yes, they will shoot it into orbit where other machines will collect and fabricate it, but no, those machines will not build a city without the millions or billions of tons of water needed for its agriculture. They will have to go where the water is, just as here on Earth.
Where can we find that needed water? Some on Mars, probably, but the outer asteroid belt is cold enough to retain water over the life of the Solar System, and it is there that we must send our machines. Probably sending out robot probes will be the first step; pictures and maps and analysis of likely asteroids will come pouring in. Then, with the skills learned working on Luna we will devise bigger machines, building them in Lunar orbit, possibly, and send them off to a thoroughly researched destination. Once there, they will build an envelope to contain a biosphere; a farm, 40 acres, perhaps, with another 40 acres of pasture shading into 40 acres of wetland, and a 100 acre pond for fish.
Meanwhile, back in cis-Lunar space, our machines will be busy constructing space ships to transport humans across millions of miles of space. Perhaps the machines out in the asteroid belt will even send back a few thousand acre-feet of water to speed us on our way.
The discussion after the talk was quite lively. One person observed that my habitats looked definitely middle class, and what about sending up a population on the equivalent of slave ships? I asked what economic purpose those slaves would serving? In space, cheap labor simply does not exist. A related question concerned refugees. My answer was that after space was well and truly inhabited, and suitable transportation systems were in place, then refugees might very well be moved around the Solar System. However, if we were talking about a few tiny islands in space, which is all you would have in the very early stages, then of course they would be unable to accept refugees. At lunch, one of my side comments provoked a reaction. I had remarked, thinking of how we humans are destroying species after species by converting their habitats to our use, that perhaps we had a theological imperative to colonize space. That it was God's will that we create a myriad of habitats. I was sternly chid for presuming to know God's will, and I meekly allowed that it was a bit tongue in cheek. But I'll bet Gaia would approve; the proliferation of habitats, eventually having an area thousands or millions of times that of earth would surely be adequate compensation for mankind's destruction of innumerable species by converting their habitats to human use.