Gegenschein 53 - 1987


Although it probably appears to the casual reader that I haven't done any fanzines of late, this isn't so ... they have just been a mite specialised. For example, I've maintained a regular flow of zines to apas, including ANZAPA, FLAP, and FAPA. Of course, having joint membership with Jean in two of those did help somewhat when deadlines were near. The major publishing chore however has been the monthly publication of The Jackintosh Gazette. Commenced in December 1985, I ended this Atari ST user magazine in December 1987 after 25 sixteen page issues (I still have some back issues if anyone would like a sample).

The quality of my printing (but perhaps not the contents) have been greatly improved by having access to a photocopier at home (alas, at present faulty) and at work, rather than having to rely upon the Rex Rotary M4 stencil duplicator I've used for these past 15 years. Even more important has been access at work to an Apple Laser Writer Plus (like many tertiary institutions, UTS makes laser printing available at 25 cents a page, if you have a Macintosh). Since I never did like the Mac, I use a technical document processor, Lotus Manuscript, on an IBM PC AT compatible, to produce my laser printed originals.

Bicentennial and Other Crap

In these gay days, it would probably be safer to call it heterocentennial crap, but crap certainly appears to be the theme, as various not sufficiently popular but opportunistic politicians erupt in a frenzy of platitudes on the topic of the 200th anniversary of the invasion of Australia by British convicts. On one evening recently, four of the six TV channels carried only that (I didn't watch any of them). Of course, monopolising of the media is not unusual. Recently five of the six stations were showing group violence, in the form of some form of sporting event. The other station was also showing violence, but since that was The Muppet Show, I watched it!


This was commenced in December 1987, upon having it pointed out that the previous issue under this title was in October 1986. Yes, I do agree, a bit infrequent for a regular publication. But I've been busy. It will probably appear in January, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if another issue follows soon thereafter (since I've already started the reviews).

Those Were The Days

Somewhere in the debris of my desk is a copy of Gegenschein 52, in which I brought my diary notes up to mid 1986. Numerous changes have taken place since then, particularly for Jean, and to a lesser extent for me. Many of the changes are chronicled in Jean's fanzine Weber Woman's Wrevenge. In a two week period in January 1987, Jean left her Canberra job, sold her house, bought and moved into an apartment in Sydney, and started a new job, writing technical manuals for laser printers.

Not surprisingly, both of us find having dual domiciles very handy. We tend to spend the middle of the work week at Jean's apartment near Kings Cross, and long weekends at Faulconbridge. Not having vast amounts of travel time cuts down the junk reading I do, and in theory, provides vast amounts of free time for other more meaningful pursuits ... I did say it was in theory.

My previous half hearted attempts at making a living writing for computer magazines ended when I added up how much work I needed to do to make a decent wage. Although I sold over 50 articles (and even managed to collect the payment for the majority of them), I earned only what my part time job at the New South Wales Institute of Technology was paying for six months part time work. I think serious writing for a living is only suited to people with real talent. Likewise, although my turnover as a somewhat less than official computer dealer and importer was around $30,000 a year, at least in the long ago better years, the amount that stuck to my fingers was small. Even the taxation department regarded it as a hobby, rather than a business! I did manage to recover some of my two decades of extorted taxes by being unemployed, but that scene tended to be somewhat restrictive in the long run.

After a year of part time work (originally two days a week, and later, under protest, three days a week) at the School of Mathematical Sciences at the New South Wales Institute of Technology (soon to be the University of Technology, Sydney), I was asked in mid 1987 to work full time. Although I protested, and hesitated, there really wasn't a lot of choice, from either side. The School would have had fund allocation problems in retaining me part time (although they did offer to do so), whereas full time employment was easier for administrative reasons. I thoroughly enjoyed my job (basically, being paid to muck round with computers), but also valued my free time. I was also well aware that, although full time in Australian terms is something between 35 and 40 hours a week (I'm not actually certain what my official hours really are), if I were there five days a week, I'd probably work closer to 50 to 60 hours. The compromise is I work full time, but not every day. Some day I'll have to publish extracts from my position description, a document I had to produce when the full time job was to be advertised. That piece of fiction was apparently so effective in scaring off competition that no-one else even applied. Of course, there might also be a genuine shortage of computer hackers willing to work for what educational institutions can pay. I could certainly make substantially more money were I working for a business, but I suspect I wouldn't be able to have as much fun.

Of late, I have been enjoying life sufficiently to give up some delusions about what I wanted to do with it. No longer do I feel a need to find a deserted island on which I could become a hermit ... vonulife now seems a silly dream. Likewise, I've stopped even glancing at advertisements for small sailing boats, as necessary transport to an island paradise.

At a time when I was expecting to move to Canberra, we arranged that Valma Brown and Leigh Edmonds use my Faulconbridge home, when they made their planned move from Canberra. That event was about a year later than expected, and so they will be here only from October until sometime in February 1988. Since Jean and I are both withdrawn in our habits (we two do a good hermit impression), we haven't seen as much of Leigh and Valma as might be expected. They use Jean's Sydney flat during the weekends, so we have only managed perhaps three meals out together during the past few months. Certainly not the hectic social life that perhaps could be expected. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we hadn't all gone out together more when they were living in Canberra.

Computer Alert

Of late, both Jean and I have bought IBM PC AT compatible computers; that is what we have to use at work, and thus what we need at home, if we are to do some of our work from home. And working from home, albeit part time, is something we both desire. I have also found that, between the long ago time when I first read an assembler manual on the 8086, and swore I'd never use one, some changes have occurred. The present Intel 80286 and 80386 are mostly fast enough not to require resorting to assembler. There are also sufficient programs available to make writing your own a mostly pointless exercise. Finally, in the years since I first saw MS-DOS, and dismissed it as a poor CP/M clone, it has matured into a very decent, albeit not consistent, operating system.

This has left me in a quandry as to what to do about the various Atari ST computers I own. While the Motorola 68000 chip is a pleasure to use, it lacks mathematical support in home computers, unlike the Intel based PC range. Also, the quality of the Atari range is only acceptable, rather than outstanding. More important, there is little provision for expansion, and some serious design weaknesses (as must be the case in computers designed for the cheap home market). I can see myself selling off all the Ataris.

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Scifi Book Reviews

Is there any difference between scifi and sf? I believe there is. It is like the difference between an afternoon newspaper (complete with page 3 pin up photos) and a quality periodical or magazine. Paperback books all basically compete for your beer money, as Poul Anderson pointed out. Writing books doesn't pay all that well, except for a relatively few authors. If the rent is due, and times are tight, pot boilers are called for, and delivered in great haste. I see nothing wrong with that. Good story tellers deliver value for your beer money even when they write pot boilers.

Ursula LeGuin once pointed out that, if you set out to deliver quality, you may produce junk. If you set out to deliver trash, you will almost certainly succeed in doing just that. A good story teller can involve you with a bad book. However they still have to consider plot, and character, and pace, and most of all, story. The people who generally succeed in producing readable junk stories are the professionals, who have been writing for years. The amateurs don't have much chance.

Many people would like to be writers, but just can't get a story out. They are like the singers who can't hold a note, the dancers with flat feet, the accountants who can't add up, the tone deaf buskers in the subways. It is basically embarrassing to read their efforts. For reviewers, they are sitting ducks ... so unless I'm feeling unkind, I won't bother mentioning really bad scifi books.

I suspect the major problem for intending writers comes from the increased specialisation seen throughout the world. With so many billions of people, the standards for the best in any field tends to increase. In a community of 100, you can excell in a number of things. In a community that includes billions, where the best can be circulated, mere ordinary giftedness or talent or application is unlikely to be enough. You basically have to already be great!

There are also a number of writers who attempt to bring real quality to their work. Sometimes they are the same writers who, the book before, were attempting only scifi. Such writers often fail; it is probably harder to successfully write an involving serious sf book than to write an enjoyable, fast paced scifi adventure. Failure is also almost certainly more obvious. A serious novel that fails is generally a real disaster ... but when it succeeds, it is a true delight. The rate of failure in serious sf is such that I almost always prefer to read scifi; I'm less likely to be disappointed. Scifi is also less likely to attract the dead hand of academic criticism, that lead Dena Brown to suggest we should "put science fiction back in the gutter, where it belongs."

If scifi is the afternoon paper, is there any quality sf being attempted? There are a lot of attempts, however since my preference is hard science fiction, you are unlikely to find any fantasy mentioned here. Hard science fiction tends to require that the author be well founded in some (mixture) of sciences, and such people are often making a much better living doing the things they might otherwise write about. Luckily, at least some of them try to combine the two careers.

Good writing requires good readers. In my youth, my idea of a good book correlated almost exactly with the inverse of the time it took me to read it. Good books were devoured immediately; bad books dragged. I no longer use exactly the same methods of evaluating books, but old habits die hard. I still read fiction as fast as I can. This probably does tend to make it more difficult to appreciate the subtleties of some authors' work. It certainly makes me impatient with, and critical of, literary writing.

The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted by Harry Harrison

Transworld Publishers (Bantam Press), 1987, 256 pages, A$24.95

When I was a lad I served a term reading the first books of the adventures of Slippery Jim diGriz. I first encountered James Bolivar diGriz in a 40 cent Pyramid paperback (which shows the way inflation is running) published in 1961, and that was an expanded version of a 1957 Astounding story, and a 1960 Analog story. As a 14 year old, I really enjoyed The Stainless Steel Rat. What I didn't realise was that Harrison was probably deliberately sending up the juvenile formula adventure fiction of the time, drawing on his comic background. These sendups tended to be accepted as normal, everyday scifi, so Harrison made the satire broader, ending up with titles such as Bill the Galactic Hero, and Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers. However The Stainless Steel Rat was earlier.

The result was a genuine criminal as a hero. Slippery Jim, moving from robbery to robbery, but never actually killing. And what made him a hero? Being recruited, much against his will, to find the deadly Angelina. However in that early book, Slippery Jim was in his mid thirties, and most planets overly orderly and civilised, with few criminal elements. To fit in the stories of the later novels, Harrison has rung up a large number of contradictions.

Of late, Harrison has been filling in the biography of his hero. One recent novel told of his homeworld, first crimes, and mentor. This time, Jim is 18 years old, and going through a series of adventures on a rather improbable mostly agricultural planet where one government has delusions about invading another. As always, the tale is improbably, but told with such pace and good humour that it would be unkind to look at it too harshly. I look forward to the next piece of Slippery Jim's biography.t

An Alien Affair by L Ron Hubbard (Mission Earth #4)

New Era Publications UK Ltd, 1987, 323 pages, E#10.95, about A$25

Broad outrageous satire, breakneck pace, and terrible dialog rush the fourth volume along. To date, the Voltan Empire plot to invade Earth, but only at their own scheduled time. This is complicated because the stupid Earthlings are rapidly polluting the planet to the point of making it uninhabitable. Therefore Earth must be investigated, and the pollution stopped. Lombar Hisst, head of the dreaded Voltan secret police (the black hats) can't have this, because Earth is the source of many of their best narcotics, and how can they control and take over the Empire without such aids? Therefore, when Royal combat engineer Jettero Heller (the white hat) is sent on a secret mission to Earth, with instructions to stop the pollution, Soltan Gris (grey hat), the incompetent secret police agent, is assigned to stop him, by any means whatsoever.

Volume 2 finds Heller making friends with New York gangsters, while Volume 3 has him making a home in a brothel across the street from the United Nations. Madison Avenue cops a bucket here, while in the present volume, Heller continues with his plans to demonstrate his pollution free hydrogen car, by trying to win a car race. One major problem is the 47 assassins sent by Soltan Gris to prevent this thing, but since Heller still has his spiked tennis shoes, they don't prove a major problem.

Fortune of Fear by L Ron Hubbard (Mission Earth #5)

New Era Publications UK Ltd, 1987, 360 pages, round A$25

Heller again outgadgets Doc Smith's heros, blithly foiling all of Gris' nefarious plots (usually by killing all the assassins), while continuing to be seemingly totally unaware of the evil plots around him. Gris continues his murderous schemes, but although totally bloodthirsty, usually fails to actually get his victims. Even his attempts to bribe and blackmail his subordinates always backfire, while as a leader of business, he is an utter disaster.

As always, Hubbard takes slapstick side swipes at almost every aspect of modern life. The humour is unsubtle for the most part, but effective. As I've mentioned, the dialog is terrible (it makes Doc Smith's stuff look sophisticated), and often the grammar not much better. In his early pulp days, Hubbard was reputed to roll out his stories straight from the typewriter at 3,000 words an hour. These read like it. However, Hubbard has not lost his sense of timing, pace and storytelling. The books are fun, and funny.

One sidelight is the effectiveness of the publicity machine that has pushed the series into the best seller lists here and elsewhere. A decent publicity machine can do wonders for book sales. I've been enormously impressed by the professionalism with which the series has been pushed. Perhaps the people who lament the way New Era and Bridge get publicity should consider trying the same methods for their own favourite books. That would be a more effective reaction than merely slamming people for doing a professional publicity job.

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Across the Sea of Suns by Gregory Benford

Bantam Spectra, August 1987, 353 pages, US$3.95.

This continues the story started with In the Ocean of Night, and follows Nigel Walmsley as the starship Lancer explores nearby suns. The conflict between the aging, and often quarrelsome Nigel, and others on the ship is handled particularly well. These are real characters, with real motives, and real concerns, set in a world of believable technology. They face a machine civilisation that has apparently knocked hundreds of biological civilisations back into the dirt. They also leave behind an Earth under attack by some remnant of the ancient machines. There is mystery here, conflicts without any solution, and grand sweeping themes. I look forward, as always, to Benford's next book.

Heart of the Comet by Gregory Benford and David Brin

Bantam Spectra, March 1987, 477 pages, US$4.50

This is perhaps slighter than the work above, but no less convincing and realistic. It may even be slightly the more imaginative of the two, as it follows an expedition that intends to tunnel into Halley's Comet as it sweeps out of the solar system on its next pass. Complications include the discovery of life forms in the comet (Hoyle rides again), artificial intelligence, prejudice against gene manipulated persons, mutiny, and the fearful reactions of Earth to the discoveries made. It is impossible to summarise all that takes place, but if you enjoy hard sf, with more than cardboard characters, this should be on your reading shelves.

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Letters of Comment

Brian Earl Brown

11675 Beaconsfield, Detroit MI 48224 USA

The photocopier breaking down just as you want to use it is one reason I haven't seriously considered getting one. Photocopiers seem to need continuous service support, uses expensive supplies, and are plain worn out after 5 years use. A mimeo, by comparison, is forever. --tho it's hard to believe that it's that hard to get ink for your machine. Mimeo supplies here still remain available, both from Gestetner and A B Dick which have offices here ...

{{Alas, the copier died again, while Jean was using it at Xmas. We hope it can be repaired. Gestetner ink is still available, however my mimeo is a Rex Rotary, and ink for that was scarce a year ago ... I have no idea if it is available now.}}

Buck and Juanita Coulson

2677W -500N, Hartford City IN 47348 USA

Sure, you do book reviews. You don't do criticism, and neither do I, but all the review does is tell the reader enough about the book so the reader can tell if it's worth reading.

Juanita finally got her word processor repaired, by a former co-worker of Gene's ... All this has convinced me that I'm smart to keep the manual typewriters.

Richard Faulder

PO Box 136, Yanco NSW 2703

The argument that working for a living is a necessary evil is a favorite theme of yours, also, but I think that this reflects misfortune on the part of those who who feel this way, in that they haven't moved into a job which they enjoy. While my present job isn't necessarily perfect, it has so many elements that I enjoy that I tend to put up with the negative aspects for the sake of the self indulgence of the things I like, since I couldn't afford these on my own.

John and Diane Fox

PO Box 1194, North Sydney NSW 2060

I read Shipwreck and thought very highly of it. The realistic downbeat ending is of a kind unusual in SF, in that the hero fails, not because of weakness or self destructiveness, but simply because he's in a situation that he isn't quite strong / competent intelligent etc enough to cope with (the not quite element is what provides the element of suspense). This sort of set up is not unusual in murder fiction, but rare in SF, where the hero usually has overwhelming forces arrayed against him, and either triumphs (the usual SF plot) or is destroyed dramatically (1984, Brave New World and other dystopias).

Diane sent lots of long letters ... the year before last ... can it really be that long?

Craig Hilton

28 Sucess Cres, Manning WA 6152

I recognised only one of the books you reviewed: The Best of Harry Harrison, but I agree fully with your opinion. There was not one story in it which didn't strike a resonant chord in me. Although many did not carry their themes to any great depth (disappointingly so at times), and although many were hack, but unashamed and very good hack, there was something in each and every one to delight me. Some, such as Roommates, were powerful and moving.

And for one more thing - you can play "spot the gun". A gun appears in every story, whether as a main "character" or in a Hitchcock style cameo. When I spoke to Harry once he denied this was deliberate, but it's there all the same. Try it.

Michael P Kube-McDowell

PO Box 506, Okemos, MI 48864-0506 USA April 2 1987

Thank you for your thoughtfulness in sending me a copy of Gegenschein 52, in which my Emprise is not-reviewed. I didn't know the book was available in Australia, so I was not only pleased but surprised by the mention.

Curiously enough, the issue has a loc from my acquaintance (better play it safe) Buck Coulson, who until recently lived less than 100 miles away. Talk about taking the long way around ...

Looking back through your comments about other books, I think our tastes are at least moderately congruent -- I thought Threshold and Santiago were both strong books (particularly the latter, which is the best work I've seen from Mike) and the Eros books a lot of fun (although I would guess you know by now that they're not a trilogy but a quartet, with Eros at Nadir.

{{ Thank you for continuing the trilogy. I recently obtained the third, thoroughly enjoyed it, and hope to give my usual plot summary this or next issue. Does Buck still have a Go Away mat at his front door? He sent a Xmas card.}}

Yvonne Rousseau

PO Box 8, North Carlton Vic 3054

A faint psychic alarm bell sounded when I read your book reviews in Gegenschein 52; wasn't there a hint of protesting too much in the comments (with 11 reviews separating them) that `it has shape changing which I hate' and `I actively dislike stories involving shape changers'? My suspicions were confirmed when crossed telephone wires forced me to overhear the strictures of two members of SCUM (Shape Changers Unobtrusiveness ComMittee) who were not planning actually to tell you that this kind of going too far attracted the attention of vigilantes from SCWELCH (Shape Changers Winkled-Out, Eradicated, Letterbombed and Chivvied Horribly); they insisted that fellow Shape Changers such as yourself ought instinctively to confine themselves to `it has shape changing which many readers find rather more interesting than I do' or (at most) `stories about shape changers don't seem frarfly triffic'. If you would only write like that (said the SCUM) SCWELCH would never even bother to read you.

Joy Hibbert

11 Rutland St, Hanley, Stroke-on-Trent, Staff ST1 5JG UK

We don't have lift parties at British cons anymore, since 1983 when a lift (maximum capacity 16 full of about 26 people crashed. Fortunately everyone was pissed, so the only injuries were to one person's ankle and several people's bottles. It cost the con #500 to have it repaired so lift parties have been discouraged since.

Thomas M Lesser

19947 Vintage Street, Chatsworth CA 91311 USA

sends an Australian paperback want list, for Carter Brown digests, and Lion Books. Can anyone help?

Harry Andruschak

946 W 220th Street, #106, Torrance CA 90502 USA

Happy Sir Isaac Newton's Birthday *

We Also Heard From:

many with Xmas cards, despite the lack of any such things from me.

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A (southern) summer of 1987/88 fanzine from Eric Lindsay, who obtains irregular fixes of mail at (obsolete address), Faulconbridge NSW 2776 Australia. Please note that this is the only address for fanzines. Those into phones might note that the home number is (047) 512258, however this is best tried at weekends and some evenings. The number during the day, most days, is (02) 2189651. This is my office number at the University of Technology, Sydney, however anyone who actually expects to find me at the office might be disappointed (best times are round 8 a.m. before everyone arrives). You might also catch me by phone three evenings a week (usually Monday to Wednesday) at Jean's home number, however late calls will not be accepted (late tends to mean after about 9.30 or so to me ... I get up early). I also check the electronic mail on ACSNET at the nswit (but that name will change soon) on the gould using the login name eric, and I login at least twice a week there. Real Soon Now I hope to have somewhat more direct access (if the code will compile, and if we ever get a modem), as that system is four computers away from the system I normally use. All illos this issue by William Rotsler.