Gegenschein 67 March 1993


Just general natter this time, no attacks on cons or economics.

Household Excesses

Ever since I realised I wasn't going to be able to make a second overseas trip in 1992, I've been wasting my money and time in doing minor house renovations. This is slightly different from attending parties and drinking too much, but provides just as many headaches.

The Xmas and New Year period was a good example. Jean had tiled the floor of much of her house, done an excellent job of it, but had some tiles left over. I bought these remnants, and set about putting tiles in my foyer.

Now, in a house like mine, you don't just start on a task like that. First you have to clear up whatever is in the way. This was something like one of the labours of Hercules (cleaning the stables is the task I'm thinking of), and made more difficult by needing to find some place to store everything that couldn't be thrown out. Solving that problem was like manipulating a 15 puzzle that had 16 pieces in it.

It turns out that I'm not all that good at tiling. I had a nice flat concrete floor. Now I have a not so flat tile floor. On the other hand, Jean had an irregular concrete floor, and ended up with a nice flat tile floor. I think there is some law of nature to be derived from this.

I never did figure out any good way to handle the grouting. Did too much at any one time, and then couldn't clean up properly before the concrete set. I still have the last of the grouting to do, and lots and lots of messy concrete spills to clean up. I've decided I don't like doing tiling.

Never did figure out any easy way to get out the front door past the recently done tiles. Jean suggested that I abseil off the balcony. I don't think she was entirely serious.

One day I'll figure out what can be returned to the foyer; until then, that stuff (whatever it was) can clutter up the rest of the house.

Another home renovation involved lighting up my day. I've long been annoyed at the poor lighting in most hotel rooms, so I added lots of fluorescent lights at home. In more recent times, a certain percentage of these have been under remote control via X10 controllers (no longer on the market in Australia, to my considerable disgust). However, artificial light is for night, and the small windowed south facing rooms at the back of my house were not the brightest during the day.

Jean had some nice skylights, so I'd been considering this for some time. However, I didn't like the domed ones. I wanted the transparent tiles that replaced ordinary concrete roof tiles. I'd found one place that sold them, but hadn't done anything about it. During the Xmas break, I found a flyer in my letter box from a local company that installed skylights using the transparent tiles.

The company phoned back during the weekend, gave me a quote the same day, and we arranged the work for Friday two weeks ahead. That turned out to be the hottest day in the past 350 odd days, and the hottest day for that day of the year since the 19th century. But the one person company got the job done in a day and a half regardless; I was impressed. I got three skylights; in Jean's office, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen. It made a dramatic difference, and I'm very pleased I went ahead with that.*

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Working Class Man

Things have been interesting (Chinese) at the University of late. Last year they arranged that consultants do a survey of the use of space. We did a lot of work pushing our needs, and the final results said we needed heaps more room on the floor above us. True, there was some luck involved, such as having a class totally overflowing our lecture room and spilling onto tables in the hall when they came round doing a survey one evening. We also tended to suspect they may have taken the easy option, and incorporated what we said about our needs without a totally critical assessment - but we had basically said what we needed without embellishing it, so it was hard to tell.

The actual space involved was to become available because Humanities were moving from their three floors to the newly renovated building alongside the Tower building. We have all the fifteenth floor, plus four offices and two laboratories on the sixteenth. We were hoping to get a substantial portion of the whole sixteenth floor.

These renovations were specially funded by DEET (Department of Employment, Education and Training), and seemed to fall in with current government policy of (somehow) getting more people through the University. The building we use had originally been designed from somewhat different purposes, and has a lot of internal spaces that can not be readily used. The funding helps do things like pull out walls, turn hallways into rooms, and generally reclaim a lot of otherwise open or underused space. Naturally, it isn't always easy to see just how some of the spaces could be used more effectively.*

Our plans were to consolidate staff on the fifteenth floor, by moving four people from the sixteenth floor. That would put our 24 academic staff there, plus the Head and Deputy Head of School, and the three staff who run the School office. We hoped to have room for the part time tutors, the combined library, common room, lunch room, and still be able to get the photocopiers and staff printers off into a (soundproof) room. If that worked, each full time staff member would have a twelve square metre room, and would no longer have to share rooms. Space for visitors (currently we have no space) and for graduate students was somewhat more vague, but we wanted some room. We were also hoping to make the staff rooms somewhat more convenient in shape. The current ones are basically two metres by a bit over five metres, and that is a fairly awkward shape for most furniture and most uses.

We wanted to move our lecture room and a computer laboratory to the sixteenth floor. We wanted to move our maths tutorial centre also. And make another computer laboratory for some donated X terminals. We also wanted our actual computer room and workshop up there. In general, we wanted most of our student services on the one floor, where they would also be served by six elevators, rather than the two elevators that serve the odd floors (four of our six elevators stop only on even floors - they don't even have doors on odd floors - the elevator exit areas on odd floors are taken over by toilets - I said it wasn't designed as a University building).

Somewhat later we heard that the survey was being discarded, and the University was doing their own one. Our Head of School continued to campaign despite a poor response from the administration, and after many setbacks, they decided we did indeed need pretty much exactly what we had originally said we needed.

I rather expect to spend my next several months doing mystic and occult things involving moving working laboratories elsewhere, and still keeping the same number working at all times (whether space is available or not).*

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Good Times

Looking back upon the good old days is a favourite pastime of fantasy writers, and of newspapers trying to fill a few pages. As the baby boomers bulge passes through the population age distribution, on the way to a future of inadequate old age pensions, and soaring social costs for medicine, we can expect more of this heavy nostalgia for sale. Doubtless the Clinton-Gore gang will spark an even heavier bout of nostalgia in the USA, before the honeymoon is over.

In Australia this nostalgia has shown up in 1950's musicals being revived. This causes me much amusement, since I never thought the originals were worthwhile, and hearing an imitation strikes me as a total waste of time. Indeed, I'm not sure any decent music has appeared since Respighi. Not that I'd know - I'm still using LPs (for the benefit of younger fans, I'll mention that LPs are large black plastic disks of music, came out before cassettes ... ask Harry Warner Jr. about it), and have no intention of upgrading to CD until I can record on them myself.

Newspaper reports of the good old days tend to concentrate on economic comparisons, listing costs then and now in terms of working time based on average wages.

For instance, the average weekly wage at the start of 1992 was $623.90, while the cost of an average home in metropolitan Sydney was $180,000, so you need 289 weeks of work to pay for a home. In 1960 a $9000 home took 188 weeks pay, at the under $50 average wage. In short, wages went up by a factor of about 12, while house prices went up by a factor closer to 20.

Even this doesn't totally explain why home ownership in Australia peaked at 70% in 1961, and has slowly declined ever since. Taxes have increased greatly, of course, by inflation driven bracket creep in income taxes, by new taxes, and by an increased ability for companies to avoid paying taxes, leaving a greater proportion of taxes gathered from individuals lacking both the ability to dodge, and a unified voice of protest.

The other major factor is interest rates in an inflationary economy. The consumer's borrowing power has increased only by a factor of five since 1960, due to high interest rates. It will be interesting to see if the current lull in interest rates sparks increased home ownership. And, of course, homes now tend to be far more elaborate when constructed than the simpler homes of the 1950's.

Much of the wealth of Australia is in home property. Residential properties run round $740 billion, four times the value of the stock market, and three times the value of the commercial property market. Over 40% of the population own their homes outright, against 30% with mortgages averaging $39,000. Household borrowings in Australia are about half of disposable income, much like England in the early 1980's. However, by 1990, British, USA and Japanese household borrowings all exceeded annual disposable income. Housing debt in Australia was only 12% of the value, against 30% in Britain.

Homes in Australia are hardly excessively priced by comparison with other countries, and have been fairly stable for some time, however another property boom could hardly be justified if past norms are indicative. Consider the changed proportions of low cost homes (under $40,000) dropping from 62% to a mere 4% over the past decade (of course, ridiculous inflation rates make any direct comparison pointless). With the decline in traditional families, maybe all the fancy homes will end up inhabited by a single person.

Many new home buyers will end up with high mortgages, and high value homes, if there is a speculative boom. When it ends, they may be in the unfortunate position of buyers in the UK and Japan. In the UK, when housing prices collapsed 30%, 2 million families ended up with negative net equity in their homes. Not a happy position for them, or for the lending bodies.

I rather fear that, with Australian banks so badly burnt by their stupid excesses on entreprenerial finance in the 1980's, and the subsequent collapse and massive losses, they will really plunge on the housing market. If a boom eventuates, I suspect the banks will overlend badly in "safe" houses, and precipitate yet another money crisis in the event of a real estate crash. In short, if banks are not going to be sensible, then individuals will need to be conservative in their borrowings.

Finally, in terms of real goods, almost everything else is cheaper. Cars take 38 weeks (54 in 1960), petrol is about half the time cost, as is beer. Milk and bread, both government price controlled, have only decreased slightly. Airfares and consumer electronics are both much, much cheaper now, with computers dropping at over 20% a year while increasing in performance. Interestingly, most government controlled costs have either increased, or not decreased as rapidly. Examples are health charges, and buses and trains. Possibly this says something about the merit of the idea of price control ... or maybe the government just picks the wrong (labour intensive?) things to control.*

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Music Downgrade

Did you convert from records to tape recorders in the distant past? Or decide a cassette recorder was the way to go? Or were you unlucky enough to get an eight track cartridge, or a laser disk player? Are you happy with a CD player, or do you want something that can record also? Or are you rich enough or enthusiastic enough to buy a DAT tape?

Philips are launching a new digital cassette tape, able to play all your old cassettes. Sony are launching a new miniature CD player, able to record on special disks. Both use special complicated compression techniques to fit more sound on the small recording capacities of their media. Both lose some information as a consequence, and neither could be used to do totally accurate digital to digital recording, nor for computer storage.

As with VHS and Beta, in which the technically superior Beta lost to the better marketing of VHS, industry opinion is that only one of these two competing audio formats can survive.

I hope they wither on the vine. I hope they both shrivel up and die. I hope that consumers ignore both of them. I hope they fail to sell even one player.

There already is a superior system, namely CD. It merely requires a cheaper way of doing recording (a problem mostly solved by the Sony mini-disks). To the consumer, it has the advantage that it can make absolutely perfect recordings from generation to generation (manufacturers and recording companies naturally see this as a total disaster). For technophiles like me, it has the advantage that it is good enough to use as a large capacity storage media for computers.

The real problems are how to invoke consumer resistance to the new systems, and force the manufacturers to start selling a CD recorder suitable for home use, at a reasonable price. All this despite the total opposition of the music distributors to a perfectly accurate recording system.

Let us be very clear. These new systems are not for the benefit of the consumer. They are solely for the benefit of the recording manufacturers, who have consistently blocked compatible digital recording techniques (indeed, the only reason DAT isn't compatible with CD is that the recording companies refused to allow it).

Consumer resistance eventually destroyed copy protection in computer software; the same resistance should occur in audio. Meanwhile, as my own little personal gesture, I'm boycotting the whole damn industry. Saves a lot of money also.

Last Post

I visited the post office and got $432.50 of stamps for the previous issue. It occurs to me that four lots of stamps in a year would more than cover a return airfare to a bunch of overseas conventions. Well, this does somewhat assume the Australian dollar doesn't drop even further off the ends of the earth, as at present. I sent out a number of last issue notes with the previous issue, to people I hadn't heard from during 1992. Since the trade-off may be more convention trips, I'll be sending out more last issue notices in future.*

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Book Reviews

We have a lot of books to skim this time, due to the larger than anticipated gap between issues, so I'll get straight into it. Note that I do "buyer's guide" reviews, not literary criticism, and I like science fiction, and dislike fantasy.

Adams, Douglas, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Pan, November 1992, 590 pages, A$24.95

This is a lot to pay for the paperback of the book of the TV series of the radio show ... but it does include the entire trilogy, in four parts. I sort of assume that everyone has already encountered the crazy British humour of Douglas Adams, and thus already has a copy. If not, this is a convenient edition. Of course, for all I know, the trilogy may have five parts? A classic piece of humorous popular culture.

Asimov, Isaac, The Edge of Tomorrow

Tor (Pan), July 1986 (Aust Dec 1992), 463 pages, US$5.99 A$10.95

Some of Asimov's excellent science essays from FandSF, together with a number of well known short stories. As always, entertaining and delightful. There is no way to summarise these, short of an article almost as long as the book. If you enjoyed Asimov's articles in FandSF, you will be familiar with these reprints. The stories are equally well known. Good to see them in a collection.

Asimov, Isaac and Robert Silverberg, Child of Time

Pan, Oct 1992, 342 pages, A$12.95

I'm really not sure it was a good idea for Silverberg to extend Asimov's short stories to novel length. The originals stood up well with Asimov's deceptively simple style, and one-idea treatment. Silverberg can hold the characters up (he has proved that in book after book), and does so again.

The story. A Neandertal child is brought to our time, using a power intensive technology that demands the child be forever kept in a statis chamber. A nurse is hired, and becomes the interpreter and substitute mother to the child, while human rights campaigners wish to use the child as a symbol of business oppression. And the only thing Statis Technologies can do with the child when money for study runs out is to turn off the field and let the contents of his chamber snap back randomly to the past. But this is the story of the child, his nurse, and a few others.

Barnes, John, Orbital Resonance

Tor, Oct 1992, 218 pages, US$3.99

Heinlein did a juvenile with a teenage female protagonist, and did an excellent job of it. Alexei Panshin put another face on it with Rite of Passage, and David Palmer's protagonist in Emergence was even smarter than Heinlein's character. I'm not sure that John Barnes' attempt isn't the best of the lot.

The children of the asteroid colony Flying Dutchman are educated beyond anything we think normal, as their colony transits between Earth orbit and Mars orbit. But the colony can survive only if it can end up paying its way. And the planners have realised that they can't live the orbital life, only the 90% of the colony population born in space can run it. So they grow up, and are manipulated into accepting and responding to responsibility. But, they are still children, growing up.

Bova, Ben, Mars

New English Library, March 1993, 567 pages, A$14.95

A strange mixture this. A realistic Mars mission, peopled by the results of worldwide political compromise. Bova concentrates all his effort on the people and the politics, and hardly mentions the technology. In terms of literary effort, it is one of his best books ... but as a technophile, I miss the gadgets.

Brown, Eric, Meridian Days

Pan trade pb, Oct 1992, 165 pages, A$19.95

A nicely evoked artistic island world, an addicted, broken down ex-pilot, several crazed artists, an oppressed daughter of one, and a possible murder plot. Nicely done, if slighter than expected, character study, not at all like your typical adventure. Probably comes from the Interzone tradition.*

Bujold, Lois McMaster, Borders of Infinity

Pan, Feb 1992, 311 pages, A$12.95

Three stories from the pages of Analog, with Miles Vorkosigan as the (highly intelligent) protagonist. The other two stories are The Mountains of Mourning, and Labyrinth. I'm of two minds about the stories from this award winning and deservedly popular author. On one hand, many of the situations could be (and sometimes are) set in any non-technological society, which to me negates any feeling that they are science fiction. On the other hand, the protagonist is so smart, and the rewards of being smart are so well presented, that it forms a wonderful role model. I guess I'll look forward to future stories with continued interest and enthusiasm, despite my misgivings.

Bull, Emma, Bone Dance

Ace, May 1991, 278 pages, US$4.99

Bull by name, and bull by ... Blurbed as a fantasy for technophiles, with tarot crap as chapter interleaving, this is indeed a fantasy. Well, I didn't like the artist doing a cover that included flying machines (the author explicitly says they are exceedingly rare in her post cataclysm future). I didn't like the Horsemen idea of mind possession (the biggest fantasy item). I didn't like the mysticism. I didn't like the conspiracy ideas, nor the continual co-incidences. There was even a spot where the grammar appeared patchy.

But ... damn, she writes a really fine fast paced adventure.*

Clarke, Arthur C and Gentry Lee, The Garden of Rama

Bantam, Oct 1992, 518 pages, US$5.99

Sequel to Rama II, this covers the lives of the three astonauts still stranded on Rama II, and their children, as Rama II travels to another star. There they find partial answers (and more wonders), before the return trip (this time in suspended animation) to Earth ... and yet another sequel to come. I thought it was better than Rama II, but I'm getting very tired of sequels. (I didn't buy this one; Jean did. I'm not buying the sequel either.)

Eddison, E R, Zimiamvia: A Trilogy

Dell fantasy in trade paperback, Dec 1992, 985 pages, A$18.95 US$16.00

You certainly appear to get enough pages in this series of classic reprints. This one includes "Mistress of Mistresses", "A Fish Dinner in Memison", and "The Mezentian Gate", dating from 1935 to 1958. Those interested in fantasy could well find this a convenient way to obtain copies of these novels.

Egan, Greg, Quarantine

Legend, 1992, 219 pages, trade PB

Very nicely done blend of hard boiled detective mystery and 21st century science fiction, in an Australian setting, by one of the best recent Australian SF authors.

The stars went out, and all manner of crackpot sects took this as a sign and expanded their influence. Thirty or so years later, private eyes routinely use nanotechnology, computer enhancements, data base hackers, but this private eye ends up well out of his depth when a missing person trail leads him to New Hong Kong (formerly Arnhem Land), and into quantum uncertainty.

I thought that parts of the novel got away from the author, but overall, it stands up exceedingly well. Grab this one.

Greenberg, Martin, editor, After the King - Stories in honour of J R R Tolkien

Pan trade PB, Feb 1992, 534 pages, A$14.95

Trade paperback of the hardcover reviewed about a year ago. Stories by a wide range of well known authors, and all appear to be specially written for this book.

Hogan, James P, Entroverse

Del Rey, Oct 1992, 411 pages, US$4.99

The Jevlenese society was falling apart, rapidly, so Garuth asks Hunt if the Earthman can come up with some ideas. This leads to a visit to Jevlen, since the virtual reality computer Jevex has been switched off ... or has it? Or does Jevex contain an alternate universe? Lots of intrigue, and some nicely understated humor, as Hunt tries to understand what is happening.

It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd been lead to believe, but it is certainly the slightest of the Giant's novels.*

Jones, Raymond F, This Island Earth

Grafton, 1991, 191 pages, A$9.95

I couldn't resist this variation on the stories originally published in Thrilling Wonder Stories in 1952. The story upon which the classic movie This Island Earth was based. Remember the interocitor? The building of it is here. Remember the flight to Metaluna? That was in the movie alone. It is still great (1950's) fun sf, although not what you could call heavy philosophy.

Knight, Damon, Rule Golden and Double Meaning

Tor Double, May 1991 (local Oct 1992), 188 pages, US$3.95 A$7.95

These two short novels originally appeared in the early 1950s. The introduction is new, and as usual with Knight's essays, interesting. Rule Golden has a crash landed alien grabbed by the government, and a reporter who aids the alien. But the alien can ensure that you yourself feel in full any pain you cause another person. In short, about tolerance.

Double Meaning has the perfect bureaucrat searching for a deadly alien that is a master of disguise. So why does the off-planet bumpkin keep coming up with the best ideas, apparently at random? Lots of sub-plots.*

Martin, Michael, A Year Near Proxima Centauri

Corgi, 1992 (Aust Feb 1993), 157 pages, A$12.95

This slim satire is a diary set on a planet devoted to good eating. I knew the end before I'd read a half dozen pages. The writing was rather fine, but I really thought that (despite many little digs that I must have missed) the entire thing was too slight to drag out to book length.

McCollum, Michael, The Sails of Tau Ceta

Del Rey, August 1992, 261 pages, US$4.99

The twenty third century, and the normal course of human progress had finally made a robot interstellar probe possible, despite the enormous resources needed to produce the anti-matter for the engines for a century long flight. The implants that enabled a small percentage of uniquely capable humans to interact directly with computers had also left these people uniquely qualified to manage complex projects.

In 2001 Tau Ceti went nova, an unexpected event. Now telescopes detect doppler shifted sunlight from two light months outside our solar system. A solar sail. We were about to have visitors, refugees from the Tau Ceti nova.

However, despite their knowledge of Earth culture, the refugees and their superior technology may be hiding a deadly secret.

Superior hard science fiction from one of the best recent authors (although not, I think, his personal best).

McCaffrey, Anne, Damia

Bantam trade PB, Dec 1992, 364 pages, A$18.95

I mentioned the hardcover of this sequel to The Rowan in Gegenschein 64. I wasn't impressed by it being a different viewpoint rewrite of a Woman's Weekly romance novel then, and time has not improved my opinion. I'm sure McCaffrey fans will buy it regardless of what I say, and I say they shouldn't encourage this sort of trite sentimental garbage.

McCaffrey, Anne, All the Weyrs of Pern

Corgi, Jan 1993, 478 pages, A$11.95

I reviewed the hardcover about half a dozen issues ago. The Pern people find the AI intended for the colony at the Landing site, thus regaining much of their lost history and technology, and a chance to end the threat of Thread. I thought it was a lot of fun.

Michaels, Melisa C, Floater Factor

Tor, Nov 1988 Aust release Nov 1992, 281 pages, US$3.50 A$7.95

Mercenary shuttle pilot Skyrider finds her base under attack, someone dumps an infant on her, and her boyfriend disappears. An action adventure, in which I never did work out all the little plot twists (indeed, many of them appeared plain silly). Lots of fanatics running round killing people; should suit the "shoot 'em up" brigade well enough.*

Pratchett, Terry, Witches Abroad

Corgi, Feb 1993, 286 pages, A$10.95

Granny Weatherwax and company return, apparently to prevent a servant girl from marrying a price (despite the story requiring that she does marry the prince and Live Happily Ever After). You can't fight a Happy Ending ... until this book. I'd do a review, but the book only arrived today ... tomorrow I'll know the ending myself. On the basis of a 30 page sample, I'd predict it will be at least as much fun as any other Discworld novel.

Rankin, Robert, The Brentford Triangle

Corgi, Nov 1992, 237 pages, A$10.95

Second novel in the now legendary Brentford Trilogy (which I'd never heard of prior to getting the first unreadable volume for review). British humour, repeating the sort of thing that Douglas Adams did well. I couldn't finish any of Rankin's books, and this was no exception.

Ransom, Daniel, Nightmare Child

StMartin's Press (Pan), Aug 1990 (Aust Dec 1992), 163 pages, US$3.95 A$8.95

Horror. Child returns from the grave to haunt the parents who killed her.

Rawn, Melanie, the Dragon Queen

Pan fantasy, Feb 1993, 574 pages, A$12.95 (U.K version of Daw)

Book 2 of Dragon Star, yet more dragons, knights with swords and demure damsels, all of whom seem to know the nobility, in a time of invasion by a faceless army. I'm tired of fantasy.

Shatner, William, TekLab

Pan, Nov 1992, 223 pages, trade PB $A19.95

Third in this series of private eye pieces set in the 23rd century. Typical Ron Goulart dialogue and scenes, but it really is pretty light weight entertainment. I'm not at all sure why it exists, except perhaps that the Shatner and Star Trek association helps sell the books.*

Sheffield, Charles, Brother of Dragons

Baen, Nov 1992, 261 pages, US$4.99

A nasty brutal future, with a story that follows one poor slob through his continued battles to survive in a society that either didn't care or was actively hostile. The blurb writers try to make it out as an heroic struggle, but it is really Sheffield showing he can write against the genre images and still make an interesting story. He does manage it.

Shillitoe, Terry, Kingmaker

Pan, Jan 1993, 385 pages, A$12.95

Book Two of Andrakis, a fantasy with Dragon lords, evil sorcerers and plotting Royal advisors, plus a magic sword. Adelaide based Australian author, for those collecting Australian written fantasy. Seems well written, but I'd be a bit disappointed with an English teacher who couldn't string a sentence or two together.

Stableford, Brian, The Werewolves of London

Pan, May 1992, 467 pages, A$12.95

Scientific romance, not unlike The Empire of Fear, set in Egypt and London round 1870, with secret societies, mysterious powers and some wonderful writing.

Stasheff, Christopher, A Company of Stars

Pan, Sept 1992, 309 pages, A$11.95

26th century theatre company in trouble with a political party. Lots of sly (and often funny) digs in the first few pages. Certainly different to the Warlock series.*

Sucharitkul, Somtow, V Symphony of Terror

Tor, May 1988 Aust release Nov 1992, 244 pages, US$3.50 A$7.95

Remember that badly acted, worse written TV propaganda series V, in which reptile invaders took over the world? Yes, that crap. Somtow must have needed the money, as he has written a couple of novels set in the TV series. Internal evidence, and a number of puns, jokes and dedications indicate he didn't take the job all that seriously. But he is too good a writer to do a bad job of anything. Read it for fun (unless you are so serious as to regard this stuff as Real Drama).

Dark Voices 4 - The Pan Book of Horror, edited by David Sutton and Stephen Jones.

Pan, Dec 1992, 317 pages, A$12.95

Short horror stories. The first I looked at starred a dentist, and I read no further.

Warrington, Freda, A Taste of Blood Wine

Pan fantasy, Dec 1992, 446 pages, A$19.95 trade paper

Vampires, romance, terror. I don't bother with vampire stories.

Weber, David, Path of the Fury

Baen, Dec 1992, 423 pages, US$4.99

Pirates raid a sparsely settled planet in a sector of the Imperial empire. One pirate landing craft kills off the family of an ex-commando. She catches them before they can ship out, and should have died in the firefight that follows. No-one can understand how she survived, and her own explanation, that she has been taken over by the Greek Fury Tisiphone, is obviously the delusion of a mind cracked under stress.

Then Alicia DeVries escapes from a military hospital, steals an impossibly secure AI start ship, and takes off after the pirates.

Very fast paced adventure, in a style I have seen previously from this author.

Weinstein, Howard, V Path to Conquest

Tor, Sept 1987 (Aust Dec 1992), 209 pages, US$2.95 A$8.95

It was a very bad TV series. The books are so-so adventures. This time the reptile invaders are trying to change the climate, and destroy all the oil. The resistance has to stop them.

Wells, H G, The Invisible Man

Tor, Sept 1992 (Aust release Nov 1992), 178 pages, US$2.50 A$7.95

Reprint of the classic Edwardian scientific thriller, with brief essays by Greg Benford. The original is a hell of a lot more thoughtful than the idiocy done to this theme in films.

Wilson, F Paul, The LaNague Chronicles

Baen, Oct 1992, 649 pages, US$5.99

Reprint of several novels, sequenced by the author. Some excellent adventure. Some excellent Libertarian and economic propaganda, not getting (much) in the way of the story. I'm pleased to have this version.

Contains An Enemy of the State, Wheels Within Wheels, and most of the Healer stories.

Wilson, Robert Charles, A Bridge of Years

Bantam, Oct 1992, 333 pages, US$4.99

A spectacularly well done time travel adventure, with most of the potential paradoxes very well taken care of. Much of the writing reminds me of the pastoral style of Simak, but there is tension enough as well.

The opening is reminiscent of Simak's Way Station. The custodian keeping low key watch from a country cottage. Then the attack by a fearsomely armed future soldier. Later, the native protagonist buys the cottage, and discovers some of the mysteries it shelters.

Wrede, Patricia C, Mairelon the Magician

Tor/Pan, July 1992 (local Sept 1992), 280 pages, US$3.99 A$7.95

A Regency historical fantasy and mystery. Well written frivolity, and an entertaining read. Not my sort of item, but it is done well.

Wylie, Jonathan, Shadow Maze

Corgi, Jan 1993, 384 pages, A$11.95

Two boys grow up when their fellow villagers are killed off by raiders. Hunter gatherer violence. Seems well enough written, however the expository lumps are large and not particularly well hidden.* *

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Lots of letters this time.

R Coulson

2677W-500N Hartford City IN 47348 USA 6 August 1992

I still have my Aussie military hat, though offhand I don't recall how many years it's been since you gave it to me. Still wear it to cons now and then, here and there, off and on and other such phrases. Hmm. I wore it to England in 1979, so I had to have it before then. {{1972, '76, '78? EL}}

[re watch] It does show the days of the week, which comes in handy for retirees. Telling days apart when you don't go to work on any of them becomes difficult sometimes. Sunday is pretty effortless; that's the day the mail doesn't come. But the other 6 sort of run together.

Chester Cuthbert goes back to the old science fictional idea that machines will mean a future of increasing plenty for everyone. It used to be believed by most people in the industrial nations -- and it worked, for a good many years. Nowadays it doesn't work, and the push for realism in science fiction has resulted in a plethora of dystopias featuring worldwide slums and wars. Most science fiction writers are liberals, so police must be depicted as brutal. (I suspect that science fiction writers actually know less about police than they do about any other segment of our community.) The problem of utopias is that they're much more complicated than anyone realised, back at the turn of the century. With machines doing more of the work, there is less need for people to operate them, and world population has been steadily rising. Socialism was supposed to correct this imbalance and spread the wealth, and it looked very good on paper. Now it's been shown that it doesn't work in the real world. The early 19th Century idea that idle hands do the Devil's work turns out to be much more accurate than the "progressives" thought. So how do we manage to "employ less human labor" when the unemployed tend toward riots and criminal activities just to keep busy? Rome's idea of bread and circuses worked for a time, but the circuses had to become more and more brutal to attract people -- and television has started on the same road. Better schooling would help, but it can't solve the whole problem. Humans are competitive, and if they can't compete in their work, they'll compete in being murderous. Some people -- me, for one -- are content in idleness, but the majority aren't.

Chester Cuthbert

1104 Mulvey Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba M3M 1J5 Canada

2 August 1992 Of the 86 books you purchased during your trip, I have only five. Considering that I may have the largest collection in Western Canada of science fiction and fantasy material, this is a pretty good indication that I am hopelessly out of the running; and space limitations forbid a major purchase to correct the situation. Institutions cannot be trusted to preserve material, so private collections must be maintained, but Forry Ackerman's experience indicates the problems involved; and Harry Price in England had to beg a University to accept his marvelous collection of books on magic and psychical research as a donation. The cost of public library service resulted here in Winnipeg in cutbacks such as restricted hours and limited purchases of books and serials. The volume of publishing in any field of literary interest is more than any individual can assimilate; and the criteria governing decisions to discard material from institutional libraries baffles me. I have purchased wonderful books as library discards.

{{I thought libraries discarded books that weren't borrowed. I sort of assumed that trashy books were more popular, and that good books were thus discarded. Any librarians care to comment on library policies? EL}}

Cathy Howard

3600 Parker Ave, Louisville, KY 40212 USA

It is your fault I haven't written this letter quicker. I read your review of Frank M Robinson's The Dark Beyond the Stars. The idea of a starship captain who was accidently immortal was irresistable. I read the review on my first break at work. At lunch I went to Waldenbooks and got a copy. Got hooked on it the moment I read the first paragraph.

I do not read much sf, going mostly for fantasy and adventure. After reading The Dark Beyond the Stars makes me wonder what else I might have missed that was good. Went to a second-hand book store and picked up an interesting looking selection of sf.

I appreciated the cost breakdown on your trip. I often wonder when I'm reading trip reports how much it cost. Don't believe anyone would be able to afford such a trip often.*

Ben Schilling

PO Box 548, Minocqua, WI 54548 USA 11 August 1992

I believe Roger Sims was FGoH at NolaCon II in 1988. It does connect with the infamous Room 770 at NolaCon in 1951. Andy Porter was FGoH in 1990 which lead some people to believe his politicking for Holland over Los Angeles was a bit self serving.

Janice Murray

PO Box 75684, Seattle WA 98125 USA 11 August 1992

[Re] the Oz99 party in November. I've already been promised support from Jerry and Suzle, Stu and Andi and Steve and Shelley. I haven't even polled the Portland area fans yet.

The one thing I will need the most is information. I will more than likely get buttonholed by Ben Yalow et al. This is the city that hosted SMOFcon last year and some say they're taking themselves very seriously. These guys are going to want hotel information and a list of committee members even though the bid is for a con seven years hence.

{{Probably is time to do some sort of additional information flyer, so we will see what we can put out. City and committee information seven years ahead is unrealistic however. All will be revealed in 1996, before the voting. EL}}*

Ruth Berman

2809 Drew Avenue South, Minneapolis MN 55416 USA 11 August 1992

Just think how the colonisation of other planets (assuming these developments occur) will change wrist-watches. They'll have to be adjustable not only for time-zone, but for number of hours per day, and length of hour .... Do you feel a lack of appropriateness in celebrating (for instance) a Christmas and Easter evolved to be winter and "surely the sun is going to come back sometime soon" and "hooray it's spring" feasts in summer and autumn, or do the local observances ignore the seasonal side of them (or perhaps redo some of the customs to make them more seasonally appropriate)?

{{Many Xmas icons here depict inappropriate winter scenes, which annoys me. However, it is mainly a season of increased commercial hype. Being neither religious, nor a happy consumer, I'd prefer to ignore both. EL}}

Pamela Boal

4 Westfield Way, Charlton Heights, Wantage, Oxon, OX12 7EW UK 18 August 1992

.... Derek and I decided we are beyond the age of prudence and well into the age of irresponsible fun.

We have realised a long held dream and bought a river cruiser.... This venture has taken all my time and energy for the past couple of months.

Ian Gunn

22 August 1992

I can appreciate your fears that huge, active "Media" fandom might overwhelm tiny, withering "Lit" fandom at Constantinople, but I don't think you need to worry too much. Strange thing is, a few of the more conservative Media fans have, apparently, been worrying that it'll be too Lit oriented.

What's your beef with the staff at the Southern Cross? Aussiecon II was my first con so I was probably being too amazed to notice any undercurrents. {{Despite block bookings, and being informed of the expected partying, they closed down parties, and threw con members staying at other con hotels out of the Southern Cross. These activities included seeking out con members in lifts and lobbies. This happened to numerous people, including such overseas fans as Ted White. As I said, as a result, I will not attend or support any convention involving Southern Cross Holdings. EL}}

Michael P Kube-McDowell

PO Box 22066, Lansing, MI 48909-2066 USA 7 September 1992

Just a quick note to thank you for sending the ... USA trip reports, which I enjoyed reading. I wish Confusion hadn't been so hectic for us (we were only in for a day-plus, and Gwen took ill Saturday night) -- it would have been nice to have a little beer-drinking get-to-know-you time. As it was, I had to settle for hanging out with that voluntuous blonde in the boots and royal blue lingerie....

Noteable events of the year since: a memorable GoH gig at Conquest in Kansas City (the best time I've had at a con in years), the publication of Exile in May by Ace and June by SFBC (probably my last hardcover for a while) .... I'm working on an SF reincarnation novel called Vectors (due in Bantam's hands this fall).

Lloyd Penney

412-4 Lisa St, Brampton, Ont Canada L6T 4B6 13 September 1992

I've only been to three or four Confusions because ... the highway ... is treacherous in the winter. The poker game in the elevator remains a mystery, because all the people I could see doing it have denied it! The Niagara Falls Worldcon bid is one I support ... I'll support any Worldcon I can drive to! The parties they held in Orlando were dull, and I hope this doesn't damage their chances of success. I'll be going to their annual con in the Niagara Falls area, Contradiction, in a few weeks.

... in discussing fanzine fandom at various conventions I've attended this year, some people have broached the idea of telling some fans in fanzine fandom to disappear, since they have not published in eons. I know the particular person discussed more than once, and he no longer participates in fanzine fandom other than to go to the fanzine cons and party ... I can see why some fans would like to see this person disappear. However, I have complained enough about the exclusivity of fanzine fandom I ran into when I got involved in this, and I will not take part in asking some people to leave because some have found them lacking. (I hope this has nothing to do with Ned Brooks' tongue-in-cheek idea of encouraging people to gafiate.

(Note to you and Jean ... good on yer for putting your photos on the cover of WWW 42, you hoopy froods ... now I know what you look like!) {{That was all Jean's idea and doing. I don't like the idea of having my photo anywhere ... too many cracked mirrors. EL}}

Ron Salomon

1014 Concord St, Framingham NA 01701 USA 30 September 1992

In my one foreign adventure I wasn't up to coping with foreign phones either. The British variety really intimidated me. Why on earth would one want to reseal a bottle of beer? {{The idea is not to reseal the beer, but to reseal the bottle ... after refilling it with homebrew beer. EL}}

How do I get back on Denise Parsley Leigh's mailing list? I always enjoyed her zines. {{First we have to persuade her to return to doing fanzines - when I visited, she said in two years, which would be 1994. Send her a letter - the old address is right - and tell her how much you used to enjoy her zines and that you want to see another. EL}}

Barb DeLaHunty

PO Box 312, Fyshwick, ACT 2609 16 November 1992

Not long after Joe and Gay and you were here this year, I bought a (signed) copy of Joe's latest novel, The Long Habit of Living. There I was, reading happily along in my quiet, darkened bedroom, with Griffin suckling himself contentedly to sleep - effectively pinning me to the bed via the left nipple (they do have teeth, you know) - when this Eric Lumley character suddenly appears in the book.

When it all connected in my brain, I gave a great shout of delight, and sat up suddenly.

You owe me one, Eric. Or maybe Joe owes me one. Why wasn't I warned? I still have two nipples and they are both still attached to my chest in more or less the right place, but it was touch and go there for a while. Maybe the book should feature a small health warning on the jacket; this book contains In Jokes.

Then, Joe goes and takes this character and kills him off! I was pretty disturbed by this, how about you? Did you know about it before the book came out? It still gave me chills to read. I had that feeling of dumb disbelief, where I had to read the again several times, certain I'd overlooked something or totally misread it.

{{Joe asked long ago how I wanted to be killed. Never being one to give an author an easy break, I said hang gliding off the Harbour Bridge. Later he told me that wasn't going to work out, so it was a surprise to me. Mind you, Buck Coulson killed me off in one of his books, so I'm getting used to it. EL}}

We are happy to support the Worldcon in 1999 bid, although I'm not sure that my brief and frustrating experience as Chair of one of the legion of failed Australian Worldcon bids gives me any sort of unique perception or in any way qualifies me as someone to have on a Concom. There's a lot of us around, you know. You could probably gather up a half-a-dozen or ten of us or so at any Natcon and do a panel on Aussie Worldcon Bids: Where We Went Wrong.

{{Good idea. An Ain99 panel at every Natcon, with all ex-bid members, would be a great idea. EL}}

Alan Stewart

Alan=Stewart%Chem_Eng2%UNIMELB at muwaye unimelb edu au 16 November 1992

It does appear as if 1999 is the best `window of opportunity' for an overseas bid (Australia?) to secure a Worldcon in the near future. The MSFC receives `Voice of the Clam' from Westercon 46, and some of the things said in it, along with other rumours and comments in the fannish press, indicate they seem to have put quite a few people off-side. Of course a very successful Westercon in 1993 will boost their chances of leap-frogging onto a 1999 Worldcon bid.

Glasgow has shown that a non-USA bid can win, even with the `voting in your home territory' problem inherent in the current three zone rotation / three year bid system.

Diane Fox

PO Box 9, Hazelbrook, NSW 2779

Linda Lounsbury's comment on children resenting being taken to the museum was the opposite of my own experience ... Of course, the resentful child might well have wanted to go to something different, but more expensive or considered unsuitable for children; what is worse, the adult might well drag the child to the museum because it was supposed to be "educational" or good for it, and the adult might hate and detest having to drag the child around the museum -- the adult would be miserably bored having to walk around anything educational on its own, and having a very resentful child in tow makes the experience measurably unpleasant; probably the kid gets sworn at or whacked. What should be an utterly delightful experience is turned into a punishment that somehow one is supposed to be ungrateful for not appreciating. When that child grows up, it will loath museums, and the loathing will probably colour its views on the entire range of the arts and sciences and everything considered intellectual.

{{School was the killer for me. To this day, I loath poetry, French and mathematics ... the latter is a bit of a problem, considering I work for a School of Mathematical Sciences. EL}}

Gerald Smith

Defender of the Fannish Purity of Sydney Fandom GPO Box 429, Sydney NSW 2001

The Corflu photos came out extremely well. A report like this means so much more to the reader when they can see some of what the author is talking about (which makes reports in places like Locus so much more fun to read). In particular, you can describe all you like about the Bill Rotsler plates but, in this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

{{Geri Sullivan's photos were a great addition. The local newspaper did the half tone screening, which helped when photocopying them. EL}}

Lyn McConchie

Farside Farm, R.D. Norsewood, New Zealand 5 December 1992

Re Barbara Hambley's book Ishmael (in Geg 65). I understand the story is thus. The book is based not upon the TV series Here Come The Brides, but upon historical fact. The series was based upon the same facts. This is why the attempt initially by the studio that made HCTB to sue, failed.

If two different people write a book based wholly on the life of some historical figure, they cannot copyright the facts or the names. Only the form of words. I understand that the HCTB facts and names were those of the actual people and events during the early days of Seattle. Hence, Miss Hambly was fully within her rights to use them in her book also. (As a footnote I was once told that the funny thing about this was that the makers of the series had never realised this. Which was why the initial howls of outrage when they ran across a copy of Ishmael and believed themselves plagarised. However they were swiftly told the facts, and the intention to sue dropped smartly.)

Terry Jeeves

56 Red Scar Drive, Scarborough, N Yorkshire England YO12 5RQ

... my own tricks include making a huge dummy spider and putting inside a bloke's mosquito net -- and when another bloke annoyed us by having an alarm set for 6:30 a.m., I kept surreptitiously re-setting it to 4 a.m. -- the resultant general aggro soon cured him.

You say that 90% of the world's computers are Intel based - I don't think mine is, does that make me part of a 10% elite? {{Certainly does. EL}}

News here is that we're having Mexicon V here in Scarborough.

Craig B Hilton

PO Box 430, Collie WA 6225 21 January 1993

... moving house (again!) I've just managed to get my little study in order, clear my desk, and now here I am.

How much spare time I have from now on is going to depend largely on when and whether I can find an assistant doctor for my practice. As hard as jobs may be to come by for doctors in the centre of Sydney, finding applicants for this very desirable post in a country town is proving extremely frustrating ... Australia apparently has too many doctors. Where are they all.

{{I suspect when a government department says there are too many doctors, what they mean is that they intend to keep medical expenses down by using the queue, rather than say, there are enough that anyone can get any treatment anytime anywhere (or some approximation of that). I have been avoiding the medical profession almost entirely (except socially) since 1986, as my health has been excellent, so I've no idea whether queueing is still standard when visiting a doctor. EL}}


"Live from the Magicon Fan Lounge cartoonist's jam," Teddy Harvia, Alexis Gilliland, and James White contibuted to the card I had from Mpls.

Mervyn Beamish sent a contribution towards the Ain99 bid to Sue Clarke, and mentions he publishes Out of the Ashes, a writer's newsletter. mervb at assip csasyd oz au

Sheryl Birkhead sent a Xmas card.

Peter, Yoko and Frances Burns send a Xmas card, and a CoA to 72 Bogong Avenue, Glen Waverley Vic 3150. Complains about the problems of running dual Japanese/ English on computers and word processors. {{Plan 9 from Bell Labs by default can handle Unicode (although there are complications, such as the display of right to left alphabets such as Hebrew and Arabic, some common search algorithms such as Boyer-Moore break, sorting where some languages such as Japanese don't even have a unique dictionary order, etc., etc.) Thus using say Russian or Greek from the (English) keyboard is straightforward, but ideographic languages like Chinese or Japanese require a convoluted hybrid phonetic keyboard input, followed by menu selection of the required idiograph. EL}}

Susan Clarke drags additional media fans into Ain99 activities. Good stuff.

Jane and Scott Denis send a Xmas card, want to know what's up about 1999 - they have it wrong, it is Down Under. Al Fitzpatrick sends his usual Xmas card and letter ... and says he will be better soon.

Leanne Frahm sent a Xmas card "It's a delight to know there's a fan in Australia still capable of a trip report."

Teddy Harvia

Lynette Horne sends her CompuServe address 75300,2074 and a (shared) name NZPCA, and suggests I try to get an email note through (but all email to CompuServe has bounced since we changed over to Sun computers).

New Era (L Ron Hubbard) appear to have moved to Level 3, Ballarat House, 68-72 Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills NSW 2010. They advise Disaster (vol 8 of Mission Earth) is now out in paperback.

Gay Haldeman managed to get email through from their GEnie account. I love email.

Andrew Pam apx at mirama cec edu au asks "isn't Niagara Fall usually written in the plural?"

Bob and Margaret Riep sent a Xmas card and care package of wine (a story that has a long history).

Dave Rowe sent a thank-you for a book, and comments on Greymalkin (a ten year defunct fanzine from Denise Parsley Leigh, due for revival soon).

John Snowdon's Xmas card complains he hardly gets time to read fiction! New house and moving in.

R Laurraine Tutihasi (several times, once about Casio watches, and several mentions of new computers).

Alan Wilson sends excuses. "Does the `New Economics' still idolize growth? Currently, if an economy or business is not growing it is seen as a failure. But, there must be a limit somewhere. If a business is providing a product or service and it is responding to change, but not necessarily growing or expanding it should be seen as succesful. The important word is change, I think, not growth." mt_wilson at zodiac dsto gov au

David Wixon sends (missing) zines, and a bibliography of Gordon R Dickson (to help me work out which books I'm still missing).

Delphyne Joan Woods (minor CoA to 1557 W. Fargo #1, Chicago, IL. 60626 USA)

Judy Lindgren wrote that her father Harry Lindgren (Spelling Reform One) died on 1 July 1992, aged 80. Her mother died suddenly but peacefully aged 75 on 6 November 1992. I am saddened by this news, as Harry contributed greatly to early issues of Gegenschein, yet I didn't manage to see him much in recent years.

DUFF winner Roger Weddall died on Wednesday 2nd December. The immediate cause was pneumonia, while Roger was in a weakened condition from chemotherapy for treatment of secondary spread of cancer. Roger had to cut short his DUFF trip due to his health problems, which I believe were discovered after he won DUFF. Living in another city, I did not see Roger often, but will remember him as a cheerful, enthusiastic attendee at conventions, and as an active fan in many areas. He will be missed.

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I am Australian agent for Niagara Falls in 1998

A personal journal and science fiction fanzine * Written and published by Eric Lindsay

Gegenschein is published when I have enough material and time to do an issue. Comments should be sent to: Eric Lindsay, 7 Nicoll Avenue, Ryde, NSW 2112 Australia. (Obsolete)

Telephone: BH, Mon-Thu (02) 330 2254 (Uni Technology, Sydney), AH, Mon-Wed (02) 809 4610 AH, Thu and all day Fri, Sat, Sun, (Insulting messages on answering machine at) (047) 51 2258

Electronic Mail: eric at zen maths uts edu au ISSN #0310-9968 Ask Jean about trades, since she keeps the mailing lists.

Copyright * 1993. All rights returned to the contributors upon publication.

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.