The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction Association -- ISSN 0894-5411
The new reign of President John Pomeranz began on June 7th at the Gillilands' with the meeting being called to order at 9:15 despite an attempted hijaking of the WSFA officers for a dinner party. Secretary Joe Mayhew announced that the celebrated WSFA Journal will be appearing monthly starting with this issue. Treasurer Bob MacIntosh cited the treasury balance at $5,412.92. No one suggested throwing another Disclave.
Speaking of which, Disclave '96 thanked all who worked on the convention but sadly reported that we had not made our hotel block and therefore are once again homeless. Bob said that some damage seems to have been done to the hotel's loading dock door by our rental truck.
There was some actual new business started with this meeting. Joe Mayhew made the following motion which was seconded: "That WSFA hold the election for the 1999 Disclave Chairman on the first Friday meeting in this coming October." Intense debate followed in which tempers flamed, personal attacks were uttered, and the following points were made :
· Chair has time to find hotel, be involved in setting up multi-year hotel contract.
· Chair has two Disclaves to see what works and think about changes. One for watching-thinking, one as chair-in-waiting.
· Needed time for thinking, planning, organizing.
· Multi-year contracts save money
· Adds cohesiveness
· Change originally made because of Worldcon, no longer needed.
· Having three active Con-Chairs is confusing and districting
· More time to lose a Chair (if we can lose a big hotel...)
· Is simply unnecessary
· Return to the Constitution.
After this fracas err- lively debate the motion was tabled for discussion at the next meeting and the meeting adjourned at 9:44.
Since Disclave has lost its hotel Disclave '96 chair Mike Nelson recently suggested that WSFA hold Disclave at CostumeCon to provide their audience. In that spirit here are the top ten alternate Disclave solutions:
10.If we're homeless in D.C. we could each get a cup and make a sign out of a paper bag...
9. Borrow the Republicans' "big tent" and sleep outside.
8. Each WSFA member could pledge to house at least two out of town fans.
7. Hold a Virtual Con on the Internet.
6. Take over an "open 24 hours" restaurant for the weekend
5. Pretend its a third Friday, Erica really doesn't care how late we stay...
4. Rent RVs and go "on the road" literally.
3. I hear the Senate is empty Memorial Weekend.
2. Chelsea Clinton is a sf fan and her father has this big white house centrally located in DC.
1. Get a hotel for 1998 and then time travel one year ahead (doubles our attendance and solves the problem of two events you want to see happening at once.)
The WSFA Journal would like to suggest the installation of motion detector devices during future WSFA meetings. Such devices would forestall such unpleasantness as that of the June 21st meeting.
It began shortly after the meeting was called to order at 9:16 and after Bob MacIntosh reported a treasury balance of $4,268.55. Instantly the waiting WSFAns pounced on the unsuspecting tabled motion (electing the 1999 Disclave chair three years in which doubtless had thought the two-week respite had become permament. (Actually the points summarized in the above "New Reign" article. After some debate Alexis suggested that we split the difference and elect the DisChair two and half years early instead of two. Despite Alexis' pleas that this was just a suggestion, it was immediately seized upon as a motion, seconded and even debated before it was finally dropped because it wasn't a motion. Then after more debate Joe's original motion carried a voice vote.
Then in the middle of ordinary announcements, the president himself announced that he would be hosting a meeting about the future of Disclave for club members and wanted the club to think about paying for some eats and drinks. This was declared a motion (John didn't protest as much as Alexis) and quickly passed.
Also, John announced the club had tickets to the launching of the Sci-Fi channel in D.C.
According to recent reports from the Sci-Fi Channel, the White House requested that the cable channel be provided to both the White House and Camp David. While it is possible that this could be the work of just an aide deprived by Congressional investigation of his usual entertainment reading, the staff at Camp David is limited and presumably, such a request could only come from the Big Guy himself. A recent stakeout in front of the White House garnered the following comments.
"I was going to announce that now that I'm no longer Majority Leader I have more time to watch the Sci-Fi channel," said an anonymous presidential candidate. "But as usual the White House had to pre-empt me."
"I wondered who the chubby guy with the bodyguards at the last meeting was," said WSFA president John Pomeranz. "I thought he looked familiar."
"He paid especially close attention to `Planet of the Apes Week' replied an aide. "He said it showed him you how to control a situation when people go ape so that they don't make a monkey out of you."
"It keeps him current on the latest scientific advances," said a military briefer. "Warp drive, quantum leaps, bionics etc."
"Actually, it was the Big Guy's wife," claimed a man with travel office stickers all over his briefcase. "She heard they had shows on ghosts and time travel and signed right up."
"It was the Kid who wanted it," contested a passerby. "Once her mom found out the Sci-Fi channel didn't show X or any other Files she approved it."
So if the next State of the Union Address refers to the twilight zone of American politics or demands trade barriers to protect America from a monster Japanese invasion, you'll know exactly who at the White House does not have his TV tuned to CNN.
Speaking of the Sci-Fi channel.. There will be a special presentation of the expanded version of Dune on Saturday July 27th at 2PM
WSFAn Joe Mayhew has announced that he has survived last Thursday's operation and will be recuperating at his brother's house for the next few weeks. But, to be totally safe, we won't send him this issue until he's sure he is OK.
Themed Science Fiction Reviews by Samuel Lubell
One of the more common forms of science fiction and fantasy is to take a character from our reality and drop him or her into a fantasy/sf environment. You can see this in books ranging from The Wizard of Oz and Pamela Dean's The Secret Country to Heinlein's Number of the Beast, Rebecca Ore's Becoming Alien, or even John Slith's Manhattan Transfer. This gives the reader characters they can identify with, since the fictional world will be as strange to them as to the reader. It also gives the author an excuse to explain anything unusual about the created world without having to sneak it uncomfortably into dialogue between characters who grew up in this world. But of course any technique can be used poorly or well. In the right hands these invaders from reality can be used to question the nature of reality itself. Usually, however, there is a sense that both worlds are equally real and the characters know how they got from one world to the other.
However the boundaries are not always so clear cut. Sometimes the invaders from reality don't know what is going on or the worlds become confused. That is the case for the following books. In Steven Gould's Wildside, recent high school graduates find another Earth on the other side of a tunnel; how it got there and why they are able to reach it is not made clear until near the end of this adventure novel. In Mona Clee's Branch Point travelers from the future create our world as an alternate world in the middle of the novel but can as easily destroy it. And the plot of the philosophical Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder revolves around strange letters and beings whose nature could only be understood through the philosophy lectures that make up most of the book.
Steven Gould's Wildside like his previous novel, Jumper could easily be a somewhat long Young Adult novel. While it is fun for readers of all ages, teenagers will appreciate this tale of teenagers having adventures and outwitting the federal government. The opening brilliantly defines both character and mystery. On prom night, the overweight Charlie chauffeurs his friends to the prom and waits for them outside before bringing them to his house to see his formerly extinct passenger pigeons. But when they ask for explanations (and start looking for a time machine), Charlie instead offers them a job, exploring the wildside. In the barn of Charlie's uncle's ranch there is a tunnel that starts here and ends up on an Earth that has never known man. And that Earth is full not only of formerly extinct animals, but also all the gold that has ever been mined on our Earth. His scheme is to train his friends to fly airplanes, build a landing strip, and then fly off to areas known to be rich in gold.
Unfortunately, the best way to raise capital to fund this expedition is sell the passenger pigeons to zoos, which eventually comes to the attention of the federal government. This leads to the conflict in the second half of the book. However, the first half, as the characters begin exploring is not any less exciting. The story of building something, of being the first to see a strange land, is presented here fresh and new. I'm no pilot but all the details - and the author includes a lot of them - seem right. What could be the boring story of planning an expedition, buying guns, and mining gold becomes an exciting story, even without the wild animals.
Of course, Gould gets lots of mileage out of the gimmick that allows travel to the parallel world coming up with several surprises. Even at the very end, when the origin is revealed, I was caught by surprise although, on re-reading, there were definite clues in the writing.
One major problem I had was with the characters. Most of the five main characters are likable, they grasp the idea of parallel universes immediately, "I've seen Star Trek" and they sometimes squabble and make mistakes. However, at times the author goes a bit to far with their personal problems and turns the novel into the afterschool movie of the week - this character realizes he has an alcohol problem, that one's mother is too overprotective, this other character realizes he is bisexual etc.
This is a fun adventure novel that doesn't try to be anything more. It is a fun read and a good way to get adventure/mystery fans reading science fiction. Buy a copy for any teenager/twentysomething who liked Jurassic Park but doesn't think he likes science fiction.
I want to criticize the author having the government swoop in guns blazing to capture the hero and his friends instead of sending in a quiet agent to capture them while sleeping, but I have the exact same complaint about why the government shot up Waco instead of trying to capture David Koresh while jogging. And, last time I checked, that was real life which doesn't have an author to critique.
Speaking of which, should Jostein Gaarder, author of Sophie's World, ever read this review, I'm sure he will be surprised to be included as an author of fantasy. He intended Sophie's World to be, according to the subtitle, "a novel about the history of philosophy." In that, he succeeded admirably, providing interesting mini-lectures about philosophers starting with Thales about 580 BCE and going up through Sarte. But these lectures/discussion are mixed in with a very engrossing plot. The main character, Sophie, a girl in Norway, gets two sets of mysterious mail. One is a personalized course in philosophy directed at her, the other is mail from a father to his daughter Hilde for which she is to be the intermediary. But no one signed her up for a course in philosophy and she knows no one named Hilde. Gradually both her philosopher friend and Hilde's father reveal strange powers and Sophie must use insights from the philosophy lectures to learn what is really going on and to escape her true status in the world. There is a sudden twist about half-way through the book that radically transforms everything in the previous pages without invalidating a single word.
The author manages to combine Freud and Disney, a debate between Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge and Hans Christian Anderson's little match girl (who turns out to be a communist) as a prologue to a discussion of Marx. Alice from Wonderland shows up too. Saying how this book involves an invader from reality will ruin the plot. Let's just say things are not what they seem.
The characterization of the children here is very well done as are (to a lesser extent) the philosopher and Sophie's mother. Hilde's parents are less well defined. As you read through the book, you may be tempted to skip the philosophy sections and read for the plot. But if you do, you will be missing some of the rationale for the plot sequences since the philosophy is well integrated into the fiction. This book can serve as a wonderful introduction to philosophy as well as an interesting fantasy novel in its own right.
Real life can be as tricky in philosophy. In the real world, of course, John F. Kennedy misplayed the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, leading to a nuclear war that destroyed all life on Earth save for an odd mix of Russian and American scientists outside San Francisco. Or at least that was the real world in Mona Clee's novel Branch Point until the grandchildren of the few survivors invented time travel and sent three young travelers to alter history and prevent nuclear disaster. They do, on page 50. So what many other authors would draw out as a suspenseful thriller, Clee uses as just the opening:
I shook my head. "We've saved this friggin world, Mr. President not the one we came from... If we'd changed the history of our world," I spoke up, "we'd all be dead now. We'd have disappeared in a puff of smoke. If there was no war and no settlement in the Bunker, we could no longer exist."
"But you're still here!" said Robert. "So you didn't"
"... Well, what happened to the old world? The original world? Where is it?" John Kennedy cried.
"Somewhere. In that world, you and your family will soon be dead . . . as will everyone except for our ancestors in Livermore..."
"...Then everything we do here is futile."
"Oh, I don't know," said Daria, surveying the room. "This World Number Two, it looks pretty real to me. Copy or not, I can't wait to see Hollywood."
The author is very consistent in portraying the three main characters from the future as bewildered and lost in the richness of America (compared to the bomb shelter that was all they'd ever known. Seeing the world familiar to us through these alien eyes is one of the best parts of the book. But the characters are not just tourists. Their time machine is only good for three more trips which must be used carefully to prevent further nuclear war. And as new nuclear wars force them to use the time machine again and again, the narrator becomes convinced the only way to stop nuclear war is to go far back in time before nuclear bombs or even the United States and totally change the entire course of history. (I'm not giving anything away, the novel opens in April 1836 in "a great city stirring to life around me which will not be called San Francisco."
I have some quibbles with the politics involved and suspect a conservative would have even more but my biggest problem is that as long as science remains the same, sooner or later someone will discover the atom bomb. And there have been enough wars throughout history to show that just getting rid of the United States or changing the tragedy that is Russian history will not alter the violence in human character.
There is some humor in the book, especially about their cover story "working as part of the peace corps with the Morlock tribe in Africa" and their fascination with pop culture and movie stars. And the situations and characters are very intriguing. Unfortunately, the book doesn't quite hold together. In part it may be simply too ambitious for a first novel. Also, most of the book has the characters passing time while waiting for the bombs to fall so they can stop them. Still, the book is well worth reading and I will certainly look forward to Mona Clee's future books.
The day they landed everyone took it calmly except the science fiction fans. The President and UN Secretary General met the aliens right off the gangplank of their silver flying saucer. And yes, they really were little green men whose first words were "Take me to your leader" although, being polite LGM they then added "please."
"That's a cliché!" roared out a famed scientist/sf writer as he rested from designing a sensing system for a fictional species from non-terrian evolution.
"What do you know about aliens?" replied the LGM. "You just make them up. We are aliens." This seemed to settle the matter for everyone, except for science fiction fans.
At a science fiction convention held just outside Washington, all the scheduled panels were scrapped and everyone just talked about the aliens.
"Where's the panic?" grumbled one fan. "We were supposed to be the ones who explained the aliens to a confused world."
"This is the death of science fiction." one author said. "How can I create a landscape for a planet when the LGM can just say they've been to the world and didn't see anything remotely resembling what I write?"
"My publisher was about to print my novel but just sent the manuscript back," said a bestselling author. "They said no one would pay $25 to read about aliens when they get that in their newspaper for a quarter."
"We're not exclusive anymore," complained a fan. "It was bad enough when they started showing alternate realities on beer commercials, now they're hosting aliens on Nightline."
"Something must be done!" the convention concluded.
What was done was a secret midnight raid by science fiction fans returning from a meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association. They diverted the guards by shaking six soda cans and then opening them with a piece of string tied to the tab. While the guards were investigating, the fans sneaked aboard the flying saucer to overhear a mysterious stranger addressing the aliens.
"And da other thing," the figure said. "Ya gotta tell da president not to be so nice to them Ruskies. Tough talk makes better copy."
"It's the editor of the Weekly What News," whispered one fan, a regular reader of that publication (strictly for research in human gullibility she says.) "But what hold does he have on the aliens?"
"Yes boss," said the greenest of the aliens. "Anything you say."
To be continued...