Gegenschein 54 March 1988



One fun event of the past few months was attending the book launch for Death Quest, Volume 6 of the late L Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth series. Amongst the bleary eyed freeloaders appearing early at the Sydney Hilton for a champagne breakfast was the dapper and active Ron Clarke, editor of "The Mentor", one of the longest running Australian fanzines. Jean Weber was there, luckily not in her capacity as a professional editor, until the demands of work sent her scurrying away. Marilyn brought a Pride of dinosaur drawings, while Valma Brown was giving an excellent demonstration of the times fanzine editors expect breakfast, by falling asleep in the orange juice. Leigh Edmonds seemed more than a little bemused by the entire event, and doubtless managed to plan out his entire review for The Notional during the short introduction by publicist Julie Jones.

I've been greatly impressed by the effectiveness of the publicity for the L Ron Hubbard books. They have managed to get every volume on to both US and Australian fiction best seller lists. The gimmicks were corny, but, if you were in the right mood, fun. Miss Pinch and Torpedo Fiaccola, two of the more outlandish Hubbard characters, were both overplayed by dancers. Well known entertainer Barry Crocker (last seen by me in "The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie", and no, it hasn't been 20 years since I went to the movies ... only two years) did the jokes and launched the book, backed up by a motorcycle on stage, and the total destruction of the stage props. I'm not sure exactly who this stuff impresses; although TV crews were there, I didn't see any coverage in the news that night. However, the sales prove that something is being done right.

Could it be the books themselves? Doubts have been expressed that L Ron Hubbard wrote them; I believe they fit right in with his well known pulp style, particularly in terms of pace and story line. The satire is so broad that it brings to mind the type of humour prevalent in early comedy films; slapstick and pratfalls. The language is vigorous and crude. No sentence longer than a line. At least a dozen paragraphs a page. Short and simple words throughout. If you read some of Hubbard's pulp fiction, such as Final Blackout or Return to Tomorrow, you will know his writing was usually somewhat more complex. I believe the entire Mission Earth series was dictated by Hubbard, and underwent minimal editing. The result, by the standards of literary writing, is pathetic. The books read like one of the worse examples of the gutter press, with an unrelenting emphasis on sex, violence and paranoia (all the things that make life worthwhile, in fact).

In short, they fit right in with an audience raised on Kung Fu and Rambo movies. They tend not to appeal to traditional sf readers, who may in any case be an elitist and rapidly reducing breed. They do appear to appeal to new readers, who may otherwise be spending their beer money on snuff movies and video clips. This is probably a Good Thing. Without a new audience, the sf novel will eventually die, at least commercially. You have to get people reading, before you can convince them that more interesting reading matter exists. Bridge and New Era are managing to find a new audience. And with their Writers of the Future series, they are also finding and publishing some worthwhile new authors. Overall, this should be a good thing for sf writing.

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Future Conventions

Jean and I are hoping to have our fanzines out in time for distribution at the convention in Melbourne at Easter. Since there is a convention over the Queen's Birthday weekend in June in Sydney, that seems a good time to distribute another issue. I think I'll aim for that date. Jean may be more efficient however.

Fan Feuds

I get the distinct impression that largish groups of fans in both Sydney and Melbourne are feuding with others in the same and other cities. Fan feuds can be a wonderful thing, if some inventive invective, or spectacular success comes from them. When they appear to consist of cold shoulders, and even more tightly oriented cliques, they become a real bore. Traditional fandom is becoming increasingly irrelevant to authors, publishers, and even conventions. It no longer really acts as a breeding ground for future authors, and is commercially of far less relevance than are the media oriented groups, with their far larger audiences. This being the case, it seems a pity to see the remnants continue to splinter. It seems even more of a pity that there are few attempts to recruit new fans, and no organised means of doing so.

Change of Address

Leigh Edmonds and Valma Brown are moving. I mentioned last issue that Leigh and Valma were staying at Faulconbridge for an extended period after leaving Canberra. They plan a leisurely trip (it is the way they normally drive) to Perth, to arrive before April 1 (no joke), and will have left here by the time this rag is complete. In fact, Jean and I are arranging our farewell dinner for them for this evening. This undoubtedly means a hiatus in publication of "The Notional", while the Roneo and operator travel cross country. It also means a new address, which none of us will know until they settle in Perth. I'd imagine care of Grant Stone at Murdoch University would eventually reach them.

University of Technology, Sydney

Mention of University reminds me that I haven't said much about what my job actually involves. I'm employed as a TO2 (I think), which means Technical Officer, Grade 2, for salary purposes. Last year it was as a Programmer, an equally vague designation, the way things actually work. I have a self devised job title, the grandiose Computer Systems Support Officer, however that was only devised to give the job a name for the administrative people, who want everything to have a title in its position description. Luckily, no-one here actually expects me to be qualified to do the things I'm doing.

What I actually do is play with computers. The School of Mathematical Sciences needed a hacker (old sense), and ended up with two, myself and Martin, our programmer. Martin graduated at the end of the year, taking the Mathematics medal. He also had the job during the course of his final year, as he had proved himself the most adept programmer, and by far the best hacker in the student body. Lecturers using a projection monitor to demonstrate use of the computers to a beginning class were highly likely to find their material replaced by a graphic display of little relevance, to the amusement of new students.

A Tale of Two Chairs, and Everything

One of the pleasure of home is the proverbial (and Pythonesque) comfy chair. Jean introduced me to the merits of the Jason Recliner long ago. Her chair moved to her city flat, however since we spend the weekends at Faulconbridge, the need for an equivalent recliner here existed, and was eventually filled. But when two people both want the same chair, the only solution is yet another one. Since we anticipated rain keeping shoppers at home, we went out chair hunting this weekend. Several shops later, we had tested a number of less than satisfactory recliners, and discovered that Jason brand were decidedly at the high end of the market. The salesman said they were mainly selling the name. But Jean correctly pointed out that, if the other chairs weren't comfortable, buying the name made sense. We eventually did find a Jason, on special. One was enough, since we couldn't fit more in the car. In another fortnight we can go searching for another Jason recliner for Jean's flat.

This is by no means the first time we have duplicated furniture or fittings. We carefully searched out gas lift office typing chairs, and got two at once. When we went searching for microwave ovens, we thoroughly surprised the salesman by taking two. There are two waterbeds, and two TVs. Two Atari ST computers, and at one time, two IBM AT clone computers. It can get to be a big expense, and a thorough pain, but it is still better than having to move stuff back and forth between the two homes.

Computer Alert

Last issue I reported that I'd bought an IBM PC AT clone, to be compatible with those used by both Jean and me at work. All that has changed. Well, most of it has changed. At work, Jean's AT was replaced by an IBM PS/2 Model 30. After some experimenting and lots of grumping, I managed to fit her AT in Sydney with a three and a half inch disk drive, so she could take disks between the flat and work.

At Faulconbridge, things were less successful. In the course of adding Microport Unix to my AT clone, I'd had to change from an XT style hard disk controller to a full featured Western Digital version. That one didn't work at all well with the three and a half inch drive with which I was experimenting. I had a non standard hard disk as well, so as to have room for Unix. And of course, while Unix was installed as the boot partition, you couldn't run anything from MS-DOS. In short, my AT clone didn't exactly suit Jean, and she used it a lot less than either of us planned or expected. While I used it a lot for word processing, I wasn't all that thrilled by the other software obtainable in the IBM world; it was generally pretty boring. I eventually sold it, restored to standard MS-DOS and hard disk, to Terry Frost, who has been producing his fanzine The Big Sleaze on it.

I was also going to sell the Atari ST's, in a fit of fury due to the idiocy of the wimpy Digital Research GEM interface. However I may have found a command line substitute for GEM, finally! If so, I'll probably keep them.

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SciFi Reviews

The Architects of Hyperspace by Thomas R McDonough

Avon ISBN 0-380-75144-5 December 1987 260 pages US$2.95

This one is a delight. Humorous hard science fiction from the Coordinator of SETI at the Planetary Society. An explorer finds a large alien artifact, and before the last of the crew is killed by accidental encounters with it, sends a radio message back. Twenty years later, the message is delivered to his obsessive, and somewhat dippy, daughter who immediately tries to organise an expedition to find her father. Conflicts arise because a government official finds out about the artifact, and decides he can make lots of profit by getting there first. Luckily, a pair of unlikely hard drinking, government hating freebooters allow themselves to be persuaded to assist the damsel in distress, but not before a classic scene with a Jewish bartender running a Scottish bar.

The story degenerates into a classical Ringworld "quest through unknown dangers" adventure, but nicely paced for all that, and with some absolutely priceless dialog provided by the reporter robot that accompanies the dynamic duo and the dippy daughter. This is a serious story, told with good humour, and some snappy, if not precisely realistic, dialog.

One minor quibble. I wonder if perhaps the author is being a little too cautious. Humour, in writing, is often a way of distancing yourself from your creation. A way of saying that you are only joking in what you do, and that people shouldn't associate your ideas in fiction with your serious writing.

The Silent Warrior by L E Modesitt, Jr

Tor ISBN 0-812-54589-5 December 1987 280 pages US$3.50

While somewhat disjointed by quickly changing scenes, this is basically a story of one obsessive superman working against an Empire to promote the biological advances needed to restore a radioactive Earth to a habitable planet. One problem with this is just how believable a hundred year old hero can be, in a future empire - why don't more people notice the protagonist is simply too old? Another problem is whether a person with the aims and understated ability of the protagonist would use the low key methods suggested. Despite these quibbles, and the difficulty of empathy with a truly superior hero, the book does have good pace, a reasonable degree of conflict, and imagination.

Probe by Carole Nelson Douglas

Tor ISBN 0-812-53587-1 December 1986 383 pages US$3.50

A amnesic woman is found, and a psychoanalyst obsessively tries to uncover the personality beneath. The sf elements (is the woman an alien?) are handled as mysteries or magic, while the entire novel tries for realism and slice of life. I thought it was utterly boring.

A Matter of Metalaw by Lee Correy

DAW 687 ISBN 0-88677-155-2 Oct 1986 256 pages US$2.95

Lee Correy usually writes near future high tech sf. This time he tries semi superheros heading off problems. The problems weren't believable, nor were the characters, and there wasn't enough story to carry things along. The concept of metalaw is about as silly and trite as you would expect. Give this a miss.

Wild Cards 1 by George R R Martin

Bantam ISBN 0-553-26190-8 Jan 1987 410 pages US$3.95

Series of stories by diverse authors, set in an alternate universe with common characters. An alien virus gives some humans comic book hero powers. The resultant stories probably appeal more to comics readers than to hard sf people, but the concept worked reasonably well in the first book, despite some unevenness.

Wild Cards II - Aces High by George R R Martin

Bantam ISBN 0-553-26464-8 April 1987 390 pages US$3.95

Nine more stories from the Wild Cards universe. Unfortunately, by the time I'd finished them, I had tired of this comic book fantasy, despite the generally reasonable writing.

The Cross Time Engineer by Leo Frankowski

Ballentine Del Rey, ISBN 0-345-32762-4 Feb 1986 259 pages A$6.50 US$2.95

Conrad Schwartz, a engineer, is accidentally stranded in Poland in 1231 A.D., just ten years before the Mongol horde is scheduled to destroy the country. The idea is not new, and there are excellent examples of similar tales, including the classic Lest Darkness Fall. This version is particularly well done, and the problems, solutions, and actions of the characters all seem realistic. The blurb mentions another three books, with the same protagonist. I look forward to finding them, or anything else by the same author.

Copernick's Revolution by Leo A Frankowski

Ballantine Del Rey ISBN 0-345-34033-7 April 1987 202 pages A$6.50 US$2.95

At the turn of the 20th Century, two eccentric European refugees launch the genetic revolution. And when governments and businesses find that homes that grow on trees, that produce free food, and much else, are hard on the established order, they strike back. However gene engineers can also produce whole armies ... While not precisely realistic, this is a very enjoyable tale, which makes some good points about how advancing technology can change the established order.

Exit Earth by Martin Caiden

Baen ISBN 0-671-65630-9 April 1987 638 pages US$4.50

Caiden always writes well done block busters, with lots of characters and decent plots. This rehash of When Worlds Collide is no exception. If you like lengthy end of the world novels, it is a good example.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Tor ISBN 0-812-53355-0 Jan 1986 357 pages S$3.95

The novel based on the award winning story that was Card's first published story. While intense, I thought the novel a lot weaker than the original story. Basically, the secondary plots distracted from the story, were never resolved to my satisfaction, and seemed to me to weaken the whole thing. I won't give a plot summary, since that would probably destroy the pleasure of reading it.

Firefight 2000 by Dean Ing

Baen ISBN 0-671-65650-3 June 1987 247 pages US$2.95

Heaps of he-man short stories, often militaristic. I think Dean does it better than Jerry Pournelle, or David Drake, but you still have to enjoy that sort of thing before you buy.

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Letters of Comment

To the delight of Jean and I, at least some of our previous issue went overseas by airmail, despite having only had seamail (three months to port style stuff, since it appears they send it by sailing ship normally) postage paid. Thus, we both have unexpected early locs.

Buck Coulson

2677 W - 500 N Hartford City IN 47348 USA

Juanita's word processor is up for sale ... Partly this is because of Juanita's method of working; if it's too easy to make revisions, she spends her time doing that instead of creating something new. Cutting out sections of typing and taping them in somewhere else is enough work that she keeps it to the minimum. Some people aren't designed for the computer age, and we're among them.

The US is producing an Australian bicentennial stamp, in collaboration with the Australian postal department. Isn't that sweet of us? And if you check the envelope this issue, you are likely to find the Australian version of that very stamp. I recently read most of The Fatal Shore, by Robert Hughes; large amounts of dull prose enlivened by occasional absolutely fascinating tidbits of information. It's designed as a reference book rather than for popular reading.. And I've a clipping about current Australian racism that I was going to send you ... An unnamed Australian High Court judge compared Australia to South Africa. (Just what I've always suspected ...) Michael Mansell got quoted; I'd never heard of him before, but I suppose you have.

{{What nonsense. Whites outnumber everyone else here by such a large number that a South African situation isn't needed; we can legitimately and democratically outvote all the oppressed and downtrodden darkies in any case. EL}}

The Go Away doormat -- which was at the back door, because in rural Indiana everyone from guests to salesmen to deliverymen come to the back door -- wore out. It's still there, but unreadable. And we had to leave the End Discrimination - Hate Everybody decal on the back door of our rented home when we moved. I haven't found replacements for either one, yet.

Mike Kube-McDowell exchanged Christmas cards with us, so I guess we're at least friendly acquaintances ... (Ever since I did that favorable biography of him -- funny about that. Of course, if it doesn't get published pretty soon, things may cool off ...) Well, not really; I did the bio partly because we were already friendly.

One problem with writing for a living is that I have one songbook, two biographical articles, and 9 encyclopedia entries accepted, but unpublished and unpaid for, as well as two short stories as yet unaccepted. And Juanita just had a proposal for a series shot down by the company sales department after the editor asked her to submit it. Oh yes, I have an article on fandom still unpublished after a couple of years, though it's for an academic publisher and will be paid for only in free copies when it is published. A freelancer's life is not an 'appy one.

Cathy Kerrigan

P O Box 437, Camberwell, Vic, 3124

I hope to have an issue of Cathseye out by Easter. (I need to have an issue out by Easter). Part of the delay has been occasioned by my trip overseas for Conspiracy. Another part is due to my buying a computer. Ghod yes! After (wo)manfully resisting it for many years, the incipient death of my typewriter in close proximity to a very good deal on an Amstrad resulted in my becoming the proud owner of an Amstrad PCW8256. I'm rather pleased with it and spend a lot of time with it - though I'm not at programming stage yet.

Sheryl Birkhead

23629 Woodfield Road, Gaithersburg, MD 20760, USA

SciFi (ugh). My sister, knowing that I like sf did some thinking (?) and bought me a book for Christmas -- I knew that before I unwrapped it -- you know paperbacks, even wrapped, have a tendency to look like paperbacks. My thought before opening it was that she should have known better than to get me a book without asking -- and it was doubly justified when the book turned out to be a Star Trek book. She assured me that she had gotten me the latest one - but I wouldn't have known since I have never read any of them. So much for good intentions.

{{Some of the Star Trek novels have been OK, usually because name SF authors wrote them. However I suspect the formula nature of continuing characters are a real constraint. EL}}

In several zines lately I've read that 87 was a good year for sf. Now, I know that is true for the publishers and distributors, I'm not so sure for myself. Part of it is that I simply do not go anywhere near book sources now and refuse to buy a book without having eyetracked the blurb. I took a chance on a handful of suggested readings from LOCUS and found them to be very nice - but I played it more-or-less safe and stayed with collections rather than novels.

{{We tend to buy sight unseen direct from US discount mail order places. Australian bookshops are simply too expensive to consider except for the odd book. There are also major problems with the very limited shelf life of books; by the time we hear of a book, it is often out of stock. I attribute this to the cost accounting takeover of most major publishers. Despite this, I found 87 a good year for hard sf. EL}}

Richard J Faulder

PO Box 136, Yanco, NSW 2703

Welcome back to the ranks of the wage slaves. No, that's not true. Slavery is when you are doing something you don't want to do. At long last you are being paid to do, most of the time, anyway, something that you enjoy doing. I am moved to wonder how many people through the millennia have lived unfulfilled lives because the job they were temperamentally suited to do hadn't been invented yet. Given the things that have taken your interest, I suspect that you would probably have found a life alone on a tropical island unsatisfying.

I would have thought that it was a bit awkward living part of the week in one house and part in another. You'd either have to duplicate a lot of stuff, or haul it between domiciles. While you wouldn't have as much travelling time as you used to, at least it is all by public transport. I'd estimate that it takes me as long to get home from work as it would take you to travel from Kings Bloody Cross to the UTS, but I have to drive myself the whole way, which leaves only breakfast and the evening for reading. Given my menecentric metabolism I'm usually too tired in the evening to do more than collapse in front of the TV.

Perhaps part of the reason that many green authors produce rubbish is that they are not trying to produce a potboiler, but a Great Work. This usually means that they tend to imitate the style of someone they think of as a Great Author, since, in a sense, style is the most visible aspect of an author's work on a minute by minute (basis). (Of course, some people eventually solved this problem by convincing enough people for enough of the time that nothing but style was important. While people remained convinced the New Wave movement survived and even flourished.) However a good author is like a good chess player. They can keep a vision of where they are going well into the future. This enables the author to use style to build up characters and plot, at an appropriate pace, into a story. Looked at in this light, it seems to me that the potential for good authorship is established very early on, and that training can only hone it.

We Also Heard From:

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

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[obsolete] A March 1988 fanzine from Eric Lindsay, whose address for mail is 6 Hillcrest Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776 Australia. Phone at weekends is (047)512258. The best time to get me at work (University of Technology, Sydney) on (02)2189651 is round 8 to 9 in the morning, although other times (as late as 6 pm) have been known to work. Or you could try Jean's place, up to about 9.30, Monday through Wednesday, but expect to be brief. Those into electronic mail could try (obsolete) eric at nswitgould.oz on ACSNET, or try finding a path that gets them to Australia (it has been known to work, but probably isn't very reliable - and as an update, I'd better mention that it has been out of action two weeks in the past three ... having the roof leak doesn't help, especially when it leaves two levels of the building flooded ... and I'm only a guest on that system in any case)

Andy Porter's Hugo winning Science Fiction Chronicle is a monthly newsmagazine, essential reading for those interested in the USA and UK SF and fantasy fields.