Gegenschein 68 September 1993


As I sit here at home in Faulconbridge, watching the colour remake of James Hilton's Lost Horizon (with Charles Boyer at the High Lama - the version that starts well and sort of dies off as Hollywood lost the horizon), it seems a perfect time to bring this file up to date, ready to print.

Jean tells me we will be travelling to the USA towards the end of 1993. We will be visiting the Washington state area early in December, for a family reunion. While I haven't yet organised leave or made bookings, I am looking for advice on convention, parties and other fannish events in the USA during December (and possibly January).

This is the gadgets issue of Gegenschein. It is often devoted to devoted to technobabble about gadgets I have known and loathed. If you read past here, and are a humanities type, don't bother complaining that you weren't warned, because I won't listen (I probably wouldn't listen in any case ... no-one has accused me of being a sensitive new age guy ... at least, not lately).

This issue is at least partly Jose Luis Regueiro's fault. He sent from Uruguay the cartoon that makes up the cover, and I instantly knew that I couldn't avoid writing up the gadget issue any longer. Despite which, I did not manage to start this issue until several years after getting the cover.

Young Training

I think I'd have done better as a child had I been interested in traditional things like toy trains. Instead, I seemed to muck around with chemicals. Unlike one of my friends who was into homemade rocket fuels, I never managed to blow myself up. I can only ascribe this to the ghods of chance - I certainly didn't deserve to be that lucky.

Then came gadgets. The local tip was a wonderful source of old radios, and I'm amazed that I didn't manage to electrocute myself. I made the usual crystal sets, and valve (tubes for USA readers) radios. Then my first transistor radio, built on a piece of perf board, but with new components. It wasn't very good, with only two transistors, but I didn't really care what I could hear, it was the gadget that was important. A year or so later the first of the cheap (as distinct from expensive) Japanese transistors radios filtered into Australia, and they were far superior.

Unfortunately, none of the Japanese technology improved the contents of the airwaves. Indeed, in nearly forty years, the program content of most communication channels has hardly improved, despite the wonders of modern technology.

This pattern, of having fun with gadgets, and ignoring the use to which it was put, was to be repeated frequently.

Gadgets kicking round

Looking round the house, there are little bits and pieces of gadgets all over the place. Many are of ... dubious use. Take the microwave oven leakage sensor. I was unhappy about the commercial ones, because it was obvious that these would give a false "safe" reading if either the light failed, or if the leakage was so high that it fried some of the components. I made mine so that the meter sensitivity could be switched. On the most sensitive setting, it would show output from even a well sealed microwave oven, thus proving the meter was working. On the less sensitive setting, it showed whether you had enough leakage to worry about. Naturally, within a year or so of my making it, equivalent ones became available commercially.

Because I was not being able to control the speed of my power drill, as a kid I built up a box to do zero crossing switching using the silicon controlled rectifiers and triacs then becoming available. It worked fine. Indeed, it would even turn down an electric bar radiator. Naturally, almost every new electric drill I've seen of late has a built in speed control ... and even a lot of the radiators have a level control.

My first standard working modem, a gadget to let computers communicate with other computers over telephone lines. Very common (and cheap now). I built two earlier modems - one worked, the other didn't. The working one was exceedingly non-standard ... in fact it used Kansas City standard cassette frequencies, so only its mate ever worked with it ... the standard frequency one never did get close enough to the correct frequencies to work with any other modem.

My first standard modem that worked only did 300 baud. I rigged a modification to do the 1200/75 baud standard used by Telecom's Viatel service. It worked, but by the time I got round to using it, Viatel was known to be a dog and no-one else used it.

None of my commercial multimeters (tools for reading voltage, current flow, resistance and so on) would read capacitance or temperature. Maybe it is just my eyesight, or maybe capacitors are getting so small that you can no longer print the values on them, but I've been having trouble reading the values on some capacitors. So I built a little box that plugged into the multimeter, and converted a capacitance value into a voltage. It worked, although having yet another battery powered gadget to go flat is a bit of a pain. Naturally, within a year, cheapish multimeters that also did capacitance appeared in the shops to tempt me.

While building add-ons for the multimeter, I also built a temperature probe. Like it seems almost everything else in electronics, this relies on the almost miraculous (to an old foggy like me) properties of the operational amplifier (usually referred to an an opamp).

In one of Hal Celment's novels, a perfect self powered electric motor was described. I feel Hal described it after reading of opamps. They are perfect amplifiers. They have infinite input resistance (so they don't change the nature of what you feed into them); they can handle any frequency; their amplification factor can be altered through any range by just two external resistors. Well, opamps like that are a theoretical gadget. The real ones merely have a high input resistance, and a fairly reasonable frequency range, and high amplification can cause problems. In general, the quality is pretty much proportional to the price ... but, for a surprising number of purposes, the 25 cent versions work just fine.

For a temperature probe, we need a sensor. Luckily for people wanting temperature readings (and unluckily for virtually every other possible purpose), the physics of every P-N junction ensure that the voltage across such a junction decreases in a linear fashion with increased temperature. P-N junctions exist in every semiconductor, so you can use essentially any diode or transistor as a sensor. For 5 cent silicon diodes, the voltage changes from about 0.75 volts at 0 degrees, to round 0.55 volts at 100 degrees centigrade, or about 2 mV per degree Kelvin. Silicon diodes easily take a 0 to 100 degree Centigrade temperature range without damage. There are a few little gotchas, like the effect only works with a constant current (easily supplied). The opamp is used to amplify the effect to a decently high and easily understandable voltage change (10 mV per degree), and also to adjust the starting point so that zero degrees produces no output at all, while 100 degrees produces 1 volt.

Naturally enough, temperature probes for cheap multimeters became common soon after I built my first sensor. And within the past year, cheap Taiwanese electronic thermometers with digital readouts have become an almost throwaway item at electronics shops.

Undoubtedly the silliest gadget I ever built was a low frequency magnetic field detector. This checks out the 50 Hz field from other gadgets such as TVs, electric blankets, fluro lights and the like. Just a coil, and the everpresent opamps. The output also goes to a VCO (voltage controlled oscillator), which clicks a speaker at a rate proportional to the field, sort of like a magnetic geiger counter. Unfortunately for theories of ill health round magnetic fields, nothing in this place produces any significant changes except the picture tube in the TV, and electric motors.*

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West Australia Trip for Swancon at Easter

Jean and I set out early Monday for Sydney's Kingsford Smith Airport. Unfortunately, in carrying our bags onto the bus to the city, I managed to twist a muscle in my back, and spent the rest of the trip in something approximating agony. I wasn't in a good mood as we went from bus to bus, to Qantas flight, to bus to the Regatta Hotel in the heart of Perth. Indeed, after five hours in the air, I was in a decidedly poor mood about life, the Universe and everything.

Instead of organising tourist trips, we sought out a physiotherapist, and I spent most of an hour having heat treatments, ultrasonics and being pounded and having my back twisted. It wasn't enough, nor did the hot water bottle I bought help much. I eventually resorted to Panadine and rum (not perhaps in that order) to get some sleep.

I talked on the phone with the ever helpful Tara Smith, who filled me in on all the events in Perth, but I wasn't feeling well enough to attend any. Leigh Edmonds reported on his six months of teaching, and about the paper he was preparing for the convention.

Jean went off to present her talk to the local Society of Editors, and ended up back at the hotel round 9:30 p.m. clutching the bottle of W.A. wine they had presented to her.

Tuesday we sampled the cuisine at the Regatta Hotel, and decided that in quantity, it was more than adequate. We wandered off to the jetty, so that Jean could join her pier group ... actually, so she could catch the fast ferry to Rottnest Island and do tourist things. I'd already worked out that about an hour of walking was all my back could take. I did manage to find a disproportionate number of bookshops, and spend an excessive amount of money buying books. A half dozen here and a half dozen there are nothing much, but if you add a few computer books, you are talking real money. Why does the word `computer' in the title of a book add $50 to the cover price?

I picked up various bits of fannish gossip at Supernova Books, when some Eidolon folk turned up and talked about Swancon 17. Pity John Foyster and his scandal sheet aren't round when you need them. Only got 7 books, all cheap, as I didn't have my booklist with me.

Rellim's technical book shop was the expensive store, since they had computer books I hadn't spotted elsewhere. Add to that a place selling 3 for $8 SF and my bag runneth over.

All this bookshopping was between returning to the hotel to collapse every hour or so, and yet another visit to the physiotherapist. Even the second visit wasn't enough to fix my back, although it did help.

Buying Panadine was decidedly strange. The chemist shop wanted identification, and noted my name on a list. I haven't bought the stuff in years, so I was taken by surprise. I wonder if it is like that back in NSW? Jean subsequently confirmed that it was not.

In subsequent short walks I also collected books at Boffin Books, Down to Earth, and a variety of discount book places. Perth is great for books.

Round 6 p.m. I headed off to the jetty to meet the returning boat from Rottnest, however it turned out that it arrived at 6, not a half hour later, so I came upon Jean only a block from the hotel. Her main interest by then was food, so we soon headed off to Pizza Hut, and missed out on the autographing party at A Touch of Strange in Subiaco. I don't believe I'd have had much fun, with my back distracting me.

We set out late on Wednesday for an involuntary exploration of the W.A. rail system. Luckily, it was relatively easy to find the train to Freemantle, although the vending machines for tickets slowed us down a little. I imagine we should get used to them, since the Sydney train stations are scheduled to follow the same automated path.

The tourist maps listed a two hour walking tour of Freemantle, which seemed a reasonable start to the day. Two hours later, we had looked at numerous museums, and historical exhibits, and did not seem to have reached the start. Mind you, seeing actual pieces of the wreck of the Batavia was pretty neat, after all I had heard of the discovery and recovery of it a decade or so ago. Definitely too much walking, and too much sun, for me, but a most pleasant day for all that. Couldn't ask for better tourist weather.

I was struck by how few people were running round the streets. At times, Freemantle seemed almost a ghost town. The narrow sidewalks were uncrowded and more than adequate, despite my initial impression of lack of walking space. It seems a far cry from what is was like before the tourist clean up a decade ago ready for the America Cup.

We returned mid afternoon, and indulged our tendency to collapse. I wandered out once more to mail some books home (only a dozen or so), and collect some W.A. chocolate, and some orange juice. Jean's anti-social tendancies overcame her, and I was too tired to attempt to visit A Touch of Strange, or the El Gringo Mexican restaurant for the fan party. We found a small cafe exceedingly nearby and snacked instead.

On Thursday we wandered up to the Perth mint, and marvelled at the numerous coins, and about how, now gold and silver have little instrinsic value, people are selling them as if they do. It was an impressive old building.

Back at the hotel for check out, after wandering round much of the gardens below the Supreme Court. We left our bags, and headed down Hay Street, seeing as much as possible before we tired too much to continue.

The con was reported to be isolated, so I collected some snack food before we took a taxi to the Bel Eyre motel where we were to stay during the convention. After unpacking, we walked to the Ascot motel where the convention was actually held. While only a ten minute or so walk, it was far enough to discourage lightly returning to one's room to collect things, so we perforce had to carry our collection of fanzines and other giveaways with us. That was a pain. The vast number of horses visible round the houses leading to the Ascot gave a good idea of the neighbourhood. There was indeed a racetrack nearby.

Very few people there. I got lazy and grabbed a departing taxi back to our hotel to collapse. Back to the Ascot just before evening, to find many more people had arrived. I recall seeing Cath McDonnell and Jack Herman, Lucy Sussex and Julian Warner, and a large number of the West Australian fans. My attempts to persuade them to go for the Worldcon bid failed.

I ate the first of what was to become my staple diet for the con, a $5 steak sandwich from the Ascot hotel bistro. I considered the rest of their food (and often their prices) highly suspect, and they seemed to want 24 hour notice of your choice in food. Luckily, our hotel, the Bel Eyre, provided a breakfast, because there was essentially nothing else round within reasonable walking distance, as far as I could see. The convention PR mentioned other eating places, but as far as I could tell, they were only accessible by car. I did notice that some of the video enthusiasts seemed to be living on the popcorn from the machine the con had organised outside the video door.

I gave up early on the Friday evening, having spent a little at the fan auction, but I'd grown bored, and couldn't see any obvious parties. Justin Ackroyd later told me the aution raised $2300 for the fan funds, which was very gratifying.

Perth conventions tend to cater for a wide range of fandoms, and this was no exception. I liked the idea of the Ice Cream Social, as I believe it is a more socially responsible event than a cocktail party (unless you happen to be in Weight Watchers). I mean, relatively few people have trouble driving a car home with an ice cream headache, whereas a hangover is something else. The Space Ship building seemed to occupy many people also.

However, if you are not into masquerades, or videos, or gaming, then you tend to check out the panels, to see if someone has come up with something new. I have many fond memories of the quality of panels at past Swancons. Perhaps it is these memories that leave me so very disappointed with the panels this time. I thought they were very limited in content, poorly organised and tired. This is not new at NatCons, but I didn't expect to feel that way about the panels at a Perth convention.

The fanzine panel worked well, despite starting a little late and running to full time. We had brought fanzines each and were able to hand them out to most of the audience who wanted examples. Karen Pender-Gunn, Dick Smith, Leah Smith, Terry Frost and Roman Orszanski were on the panel.

Leigh Edmonds did a wonderful piece (reprinted in Eidolon) on The Five Bike Riders of the Apocalyse. Both thoughtful and amusing, although Leigh did seem at little nervous in his presentation.

Another panel that impressed me was by Lucy Sussex, who amongst other things was trying to introduce fandom to some of material in Stephen Jay Gould's books on paleontology.

Jean located Van Ikin (not easily), and organised New Zealand sf stuff and future articles with him.

Saw DUFF winners Dick and Leah Smith, with whom I'd exchanged much email prior to the convention. They arranged for me to collect Isaac, the sheep skin Lyn McConchie had given them, from Sydney airport for them, since they would be staying with us in Sydney in any case. Dick and Leah had helped enormously on my last trip to the USA, including helping me send back an enormous package of books.

Had a chance for a long talk with the talented Craig Hilton during one meal break. Luckily we were able to distract Craig when one person at the table started on topics that could have lead to medical horror stories over the meal. I know from my own experience with another friend who is a doctor that some of the stories doctors can come up with will almost certainly prevent some people finishing their meal. Luckily Craig seems not the sort to deliberately lead a conversation that way.

My plan was to write up my notes of the convention as I went along, using my palmtop computer. This worked well for the travel portions of the trip, but as usual at a convention, I forgot to take sufficient notes during the panels, parties and conversation. Regardless, I still think in the long run that I can perfect the technique of taking notes on the run.

Terry Pratchett fell into unfortunate circumstances; the hotel bistro had just refused him lunch, since he didn't have his hotel key with him. While he seemed happy enough with the committee, he was not the only person to be more than a little disgruntled with the hotel. The Perth fans assured me that, last year, it had been wonderful. The change of management was to blame, and they capped it all off by killing off the dead dog parties. I was very unimpressed by both the location (in terms of access) and by the management. The facilities were fine, and I can see why previous cons had liked the site.

On the last day of the convention, Terry Pratchett approached regarding the merits or otherwise of the Sharp PC-3100 palmtop computer I was using, by comparison with his A5 size Olivetti Quaderno. We concluded they both used too many annoyingly non-standard connectors, and weren't yet good enough.

Generally I had a good time at the convention, due to the number of interesting people there, rather than the scheduled events (much as at the previous National Convention in Sydney). I believe we need a real rethink about just what panels go into a convention. In particular, I believe we should treat panels like seminars - that is, you invite a person or group of people who have prepared at length for the panel in question. I do not think the current method used in many panels, of gathering anyone with a bit of experience, and letting them wing it, is serving us well.

After the con, Ann and Don Griffiths took us to their home for lunch, and a look at their efforts in setting up a permaculture garden in their backyard. They have moved a lot further than me, having taken the appropriate permaculture courses. I rather fear I am too lazy to even start doing the right thing.*

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DUFF Visit

A few weeks after the convention, DUFF winners Dick and Leah Smith stayed with us for a few days. Leah had fallen to one of the assorted travellers perils, and had to spend a lot of her time wondering whether she could manage another deep breath, although she was starting to mend by the time their flight left. Despite this, Leah bravely sat up and talked on the evening when they arrived.

Unfortunately, Jean and I are most decidedly not automobile people, while it quickly became apparent that Dick and Leah are (I suppose being from Detroit might help explain that). Jean rarely voluntarily uses her small car, while I don't own a car, and borrow hers once every month (and would avoid that, were I able to figure a reasonable way to travel to my computer meeting by train). Dick and Leah did notice our reluctance to go anywhere by car (mind you, we claim we do warn people). They went touring in their hire car, with me acting as local guide. While I knew how to get places by public transport, I was a lot more vague about how to get a car to the same place, and as for finding parking spaces, I was simply convinced they didn't exist. Dick did a much better job of finding places to park than I could ever manage.

On Saturday we tried to find post cards and stamps for Leah. The GPO was open until midday; traffic prevented us getting there until slightly after. We had some adventures with a stamp vending machine, but didn't manage many stamps. We did find some cheap tourist postcards in some nearby arcades, so I didn't feel my tourist guide activities were a total loss. This feeling was slightly modified as I tried to find a way across the harbour by tunnel during the search for Stephen Boucher's hotel. We ended up using the coathanger (the Harbour Bridge), by chance ... and finding the hotel, more by luck than otherwise.

Stephen suggested food could be obtained in Manly (a place I go to only by catching a ferry) and we set off. There were lots of tourist traps there, but little easily found good food. Despite this, we were slightly late back to the party that Jean had organised for that afternoon and evening. Did get a good roll up of Sydney fans, and we are now in a position to blackmail the participants, as Ron Clarke took videotapes of much of the events.*

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New Zealand Convention Trip

Despite bad experiences on previous trips, we used the regular bus to reach the airport. This time we were not overloaded with luggage, and I didn't put my back at risk moving luggage down a narrow bus aisle. I noticed that Jean sprang to the rescue with the bags rather frequently, just in case.

At the airport, we scouted the duty free, decided it was too much trouble ... then we thought we had better check up a price on something we were familiar with ... like rum. $17.50 a 1.25 litre bottle of Bundaberg Overproof, vs $34 a 750 ml bottle back at Faulconbridge. We'd have taken more, had we been able to figure out how to carry them.

By then, we had only to saunter to the gate, as boarding had commenced. A good start for the trip, I thought. This was reinforced by an inflight meal containing absolutely nothing that Jean couldn't eat!

No trouble collecting the Avis car at Auckland airport, although the Corolla they supplied was considerably larger than we expected. We even found the Whittaker Lodge in downtown Auckland without problems. Rush hour was mild, by Sydney standards, and despite some navigation problems, we made good time on the drive to central Auckland. By five we were walking down Queen Street, the main drag, seeking sustenance and tourist things. Most of these disappeared in the evening when they rolled up the sidewalks, but we found enough to encourage us to return for breakfast the next morning, assuming we awoke in time.

Tuesday morning, and our plans to arise and attack the hill again fell into disarray when we realised that 6 a.m. was the same to us as 4 a.m. We were still sitting in the motel room at 7.45! We did manage to walk around the University area, and get down to the waterfront area again to collect breakfast food for Jean.

We used the car to get to Mt Eden, and to One Tree Hill, for the views of Auckland. Funiest sight was in the extinct volcano, where someone had used the large rocks to spell out messages on the grass. Be Happy was prominent. We were, despite the overcast weather (change for the better predicted), we were, as we set off towards the east coast.

We passed through Paeroa where we lunched, and Waihi where we diverted off the tourist road to look at Waihi beach. It was a pretty nice beach, marred only by howling winds which brought a chill even the sunny weather could not dispell. Most enjoyable sign was in a bank at Paeroa, which said: "Please remove gumboots before entering the bank."

When we approached Tauranga, Jean diverted through the industrial area and over the toll bridge to Mt Maunganui, an impressive lump rising at the end of a long low peninsula. The land was only a few hundred metres wide here.

We soon reached Maketu, and after some disagreement with the map, decided we could reach Jean's friend Iona and her husband Stewart. They were not home, but had warned us to expect them late. What they didn't expect was their tractor running out of fuel. We saw them walking across the fields a few minutes after we arrived.

A exceedingly convivial evening was spent over rum and mixers, and a wide range of fine New Zealand wines I wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to sample. Jean later said she handed me her glass after sampling a small quantity of each wine. Iona prepared a wonderful meal, smoked salmon entree and a selection of beef and fish dishes for the main course. I was impressed. I rather fear Iona needed the Panadol next morning - perhaps she didn't pass along the wine to Stewart. One interesting thing about the New Zealand wines was that they were substantially sweeter than equivalent varieties were in Australia. This was much to my liking, less so for Jean.

We arose round eight on Wednesday, and after breakfast conversation (incidently home made Kiwi Fruit marmalade is wonderful) set out a little before ten. We decided to follow the Eastern Coast all the way round, some 300 km of twisty, winding road, with wonderful views of ocean, cliffs, and even offshore an active volcano. We perforce travelled rather slow, taking until six that evening to reach Gisborne, where we took a motel room.

Best sign in Gisborne, in a T shirt shop. "I got this T shirt for my boyfriend: and it was a good deal!"

Thursday morning we left Gisborne, and travelled the coast road towards Wairoa, in exceedingly fine weather, and an exceedingly twisty road, considering we went down the `straight' road rather than the mountain road. It was a very pleasant drive overall (if any drive of a thousand or so kilometers can be considered pleasant).

We arrived at Lyn McConchie's farm at Norsewood at 5 p.m. FFANZ folks Ian Gunn and Karen Pender-Gunn were already there, so we were able to pass out fanzines (all this trouble to save a dollar postage). I survived the watch geese when bringing in firewood, although it was touch and go for a while. I forget who we were eating for dinner; possibly an unnamed sheep this time. Jean made her own contribution to dinner, in the form of her famous banana cake, the ingredients for which we had shopped for while on the way.

Next morning, Ian and Karen set off for Wellington by bus, while we packed Lyn into what no longer seemed such an oversized car, and headed off for Wellington. On the way, we collected boxes of Starsongs, the anthology of New Zealand science fiction that Lyn organised and Jean Weber edited. We also collected a box of Farming Daze, by Elizabeth Underwood (aka Lyn McConchie), humourous stories about Lyn's farming life that has been a bestseller in New Zealand (Jean is Australian agent for both books).

Finding parking at the George Hotel was an interesting experience. Jean pulled into the car park, I collected parking stickers, but there were no parking spaces available in any case. While Jean stayed behind the wheel, I unpacked Lyn's boxes, and over about a dozen trips, bundled all our stuff into the hotel lobby. By then we had decided driving in Wellington was hopeless, so Jean took the car off to the nearby Avis office and turned it in early. I managed to take all of our luggage up to the room in one move, thanks to our usual overloaded luggage trolley. When I finally got back to the lobby, half an hour later, Lyn was still waiting for a porter. We snagged passing fan Tim Jones, and between the three of us, managed to haul everything to Lyn's room. Thank Ghu for helpful fans.

After much research, I finally located a home made chocolate store, and gathered some samples. Dinner however was very mundane; we gave up and simply went to the Pizza Hut down the street (Jean actually likes Pizza Hut). Given the generally good prices encountered in New Zealand, I was somewhat surprised at how expensive the Pizza Hut stuff was.

During the afternoon, I wandered round Wellington at length, finding a surprising (and very welcome) number of bookstores given the population. There were even several within a block of the hotel. This later proved an overwhelming temptation, to the detriment of my wallet.

As Defcon was the 14th NZ National, and the 11th Australasian SF Media convention, I wasn't expecting a lot of literary material from the panels. The media orientation of the con handbook cover reinforced that suspicion. One interesting point, to me, was the amount of effort media conventions make to do pre-con fund raising, to help bring out their numerous overseas guests.

Defcon had Julian May, Larry Niven, D C Fontana, and Dennis Skotak. I liked the idea of having Fontana, one of the better US TV scriptwriters, who has done an excellent job of transcending some of the idiocies that get into TV programs by coming up with fast moving and thoughtful scripts. I didn't know of her husband, special effects cinematographer Dennis Skotak, but he gave a fascinating talk on special effects to a capacity audience during the convention.

While I didn't see a lot of Larry Niven's panels (except for the GoH speech), I did manage to talk with Marilyn Niven several times, particularly at Larry's Irish Coffee Party (great idea). I've always found her friendly and an interesting conversationalist. We did get to talk at some length with Larry when he came searching for lunch in the hotel restaurant, so we invited him to join us. Of course, the penalty for all this is that I am now anxiously awaiting a copy of the sequel to A Mote in God's Eye ... in paperback.

One interesting feature was that the speeches in the main room were piped through to the hucksters room, so you could potentially listen and shop at the same time. Cute touch.

Defcon had an ice cream social on the opening night, and although the chocolate ran out too early, it otherwise went well.

Lynette Horne asked me to attend an electronic fandom panel (the shape of fandom in the future?) I also attended the CompuServe panel she had arranged, and tried to ask leading questions, which may not have been properly appreciated by the presenter.

The party floors were on the 7th floor, while room 611 also managed a lot of activity. We were one floor further down, and got a lot of practice wandering up and down the stairs. Being old and lazy, it was more often down the stairs, and wait for an elevator when ascending. I didn't attend too many parties, as the noise level from the "music" one was playing exceeded my tolerance level. If you can't talk at a party, what in the hell is the point of it?

I was suprised to see Adrienne Losin at the con; she had been wandering round the country. Another local from Faulconbridge I didn't expect was Sue Clarke, who had been huckstering in the USA, and returning home via New Zealand.

It was good to see pretty much all the fanzine producers I knew of in New Zealand, and we managed at least a short talk with all of them eventually. Overall, I had a fine time on this holiday, and nine days was just about the perfect time to be away.

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Book Reviews

This is a science fiction fanzine, so what I review is science fiction (you all know the old saying that science fiction is what I mean when I point to it). I don't generally bother to read or review fantasy, horror, mystery, westerns or other genre fiction. Over the years I've found that the average quality of science fiction is low enough (and Ghod knows, when on the train to work at 7 a.m. I'm as tolerant a reader as they come) that I don't want to start on genres with even lower standards, or even ones with higher standards that are not of the type I like.

Asimov, Isaac, Forward the Foundation

Doubleday Transworld, May 1993, 415 pages, A$29.95

Hari Seldon is established on Trantor, under Cleon 1, but Eto Demerzel is pushing forward the development of psychohistory. These four stories cover the disappearance of Eto and the Joranum revolt, the death of Cleon, the military takeover, and the talents of Wanda Seldon, Hari's grandaughter.

I'm sorry to say it, but Asimov whaffled through this, and his last several books. But we will all end up buying them regardless, just to have as much as possible of the story of the Foundation.

Baxter, Stephen, Timelike Infinity

ROC, May 1993, 304 pages, US$4.99

The Qax took over the solar system two centuries ago. However, over a thousand years before, a human time tunnel project moved into space, and the "future" end was now, unexpectedly, approaching the solar system. A band of rebels escape into the "past", persued by a Qax ship. Will the rebels be able to chage the future of the entire Universe? Will the Qax destroy the rebels. Or will the fanatical rebels destroy the Universe in their efforts? Second novel from a fast paced writer. Not convinced by his grasp of physics, but it generally reads like science fiction, rather than science fantasy.

Budrys, Algis, Hard landing

Questar, March 1993, 199 pages, US$4.99

Four humanoid aliens are stranded on Earth when their scoutship fails. As per standing orders, they destroy all evidence of the crash, and attempt to blend into our society. Until one of them is accidently killed, and the autopsy results attract the attention of a group investigating biological abnormalities. Written from multiple viewpoints, this is an unusual novel, and not as predictable as one might think.

Constantine, Storm, Sign for the Sacred

Headline - Hodder and Stroughton, July 1993, 373 pages, A$24.95

Close type trade paperback medieval world quest for a heretic who may bring down the Church.

Forward, Robert L, Timemaster

Tor, March 1993, 306 pages, US$5.99

Yet another go at Heinlein's All You Zombies, much as Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself was. Forward changes only the technology really. I enjoyed it, and the timeline complexity was such that the diagrams in the back were a help, but it is a pretty minor work for Forward.

Forward, Robert L and Julie Forward Fuller, Return to Rocheworld

Baen, February 1993, 306 pages, US$4.99

Further exploration of Rocheworld, and its dry twin, when life is discovered on the dry twin. Continues to be one of the best "exploration" novel series I've had the pleasure of reading.

Hart, John, Jizz

Black Swan, August 1992, 285 pages, A$12.95

A comic novel of ideas. I didn't actually get past page 17, but this is set in the 21st Century (with what appear to me to be 19th Century characters), and has the usual English virtues of situational comedy, fine prose, and some exceedingly amusing dialogue. I sampled various scenes through the novel, and most were funny, but I have no idea what it all means.*

Leigh, Stephen, Dinosaur Planet

AvoNova, Feb 1993, 280 pages, US$4.99, ISBN 0-380-76278-1

Second in a series of juveniles based on Ray Bradbury's Time Safari story. The package was put together by Byron Preiss, and has the usual graphics touch of a set of illustrations by John Paul Genzo. Stephen is a good writer, trapped by a need to provide excessive plot compilation over what may even be an open ended series of books, by the lack of any real aim in these novels. Face it, Bradbury's short story was complete. Stephen does a good job with what he has (cliffhangers abound), but there is a limit to how far even a good writer can take such a series. On the other hand, the Doc Savage books and the Perry Rodent books ran hundreds of novels, and they were not nearly as well done.

Maddox, Tom, Halo

Legend, 1992, 216 pages, A$14.95

Another addition to the sf tradition of novels about AI, partly from the viewpoint of the emerging machine intelligence. Set in the middle of a fast paced, cyberpunk style mid 21st century business civilisation, it throws together computer technology, bioengineering and action from a thriller. Well done, fast paced.

McCaffrey, Anne, Damia

Corgi, May 1993, 380 pages, A$12.95

Sequel to The Rowan. I've reviewed the hardcover and trade paperback editions of this in earlier issues (Geg 67). I don't think it is any longer a secret that I'm not impressed with this particular series.*

Middleton, Michael, Fortalice

Pan fantasy, March 1993, 272 pages, A$11.95

Four young people receive training at Fortalice, and set out on a quest against an evil force that will attempt to change the past. Australian author, published and printed in Australia, which I think is a nice idea. The book is a readable adventure, but not being a fantasy reader, I don't know how it stands up to current fantasy.

Niven, Larry and Steven Barnes, Achilles' Choice

Pan Trade Paperback, March 1993, 214 pages, A$22.95

Large type trade paperback, with many illustrations by Boris Vallejo. To win in the Olympiads, you needed The Boost, an operation that gave you the endurance, strength and intellect to win ... but burnout followed within a few years, followed by a rapid decline and death.

Do you take the path to possible glory, or play safe. Moreover, just what plots are going on under the surface?

Nicely done adventure, relatively short, and possibly of greater interest to those who actually like sporting competition (I don't follow any sport at all).

Niven, Larry and Steven Barnes, Dream Park: The Voodoo Game

Pan, March 1993, 346 pages, A$12.95

About three versions of this have passed through my hands and been mentioned in these pages. There was certainly a hardcover and a trade paperback, and I may have also encountered the US paperback. So, I assume someone is buying them. They are set in a DandD type role playing game, nearly a hundred years in the future, so virtual reality makes the game exceedingly realistic. At the same time, the top gamers gather an exceedingly large viewing audience (the same way commercial ball games killed amateur sports and produced a large audience of "sports followers" who never actually play the game, nor even attend it in person).

So, in the book (which provides an illusionary world), we have a murder mystery, and a quest for cash by fouling up the betting syndicates, while the gamers (in their illusion within an illusion) seek to find the purpose of the game, and defeat the black magic worshippers. It is one way to get plot complication into a novel, but risks leaving the cynical reader thinking the whole thing is illusion, rather than suspending their disbelief.

Norton, Andre, Wraiths of Time

Tor, March 1993, 248 pages, A$8.95

Back to a futuristic past, and a struggle between the old reactionary families and their psi magic, and a new, more powerful stranger from outside. The protagonist is a woman from today, thrust unsupecting from a museum into the past, where she replaces her identical "twin". Well written adventure, in typical Norton fashion.* *

Pratchett, Terry, The Carpet People

Corgi (Transworld), July 1993, 190 pages, A$9.95 (says A$8.95 on the cover)

Children's fantasy, based on a story Pratchett started when he was 17 years old (plot seems to be the early Pratchett, the style and moral tone, the current Pratchett). The tribes of the Carpet are under attack by the creatures of Fray. Cute and funny, more in the traditional (and silly) "quest" style of the usual boring fantasies than the more mature and inventive Disc World stories.

Pratchett, Terry, The Colour of Magic

Corgi, 1991, unnumbered

Colour graphics adaption of the novel, done in Italy. Seems accurate enough, although it naturally loses much of the humour of the writing.

Pratchett, Terry, Johnny and the Dead

Doubleday, 1993, 173 pages, E#9.99

Ghosts on the phone, disturbed about their final resting place being very temporary, when the town council wants to sell the space for progress.

Rosenblum, Mary, The Drylands

Ballantine Del Rey Discovery, April 1993, 271 pages, US$4.50

Dying, dried out lands in the USA, refugees all over, and the Army Corp of Engineers in charge of rationing water. Follow an army officer through various crisis, and throws in some characters with strange and unexplained psi talents. This would have been a much better book, with much stronger characters, without the psi elements.

Sawyer, Robert J, Fossil Hunter

Ace, May 1993, 290 pages, US$4.99

Return to the dinosaur civilisation of Far-Seer!. Toroca, son of astronomer Afsan the Far-Seer, gropes his way to an understanding of biological evolution as he searches for geological samples, and unwittingly promotes a revolution when the truth of the birth of the Emperor becomes known. Add a wonderfully actioned packed Great Hunt, and a murder mystery. Makes a fine addition to this line of novels, while being self contained. I look forward to the next book set in this world.

Shatner, William, TekLab

Pan, Nov 1992, 223 pages, PB $A12.95

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 Shatnet and Star Trek association helps sell the books.

Reviewed in issue 67, this is precisely the same as the trade paperback (same plates) but reduced in size (and $7 cheaper).

Sheffield, Charles, Cold as Ice

Tor, June 1993, 372 pages, US$4.99

Progress continues throughout the solar system, despite reconstruction after a disasterous interplanetary war 25 years in the past, in which nine billion people died. The rivalries remain, and some of the deadly weapons are still preserved, or floating undiscovered in wreckage.

Fusion engine inventor Cyrus Mobarak plans to develop the seas of Europa whatever the consequences. Hilda Brandt intends to protect Europa, whatever the cost. Jon Perry is pulled from his deep sea research exploration to check the 100 kilometer depths of Europa for life round thermal plumes. Camille Hamilton is pulled from developing the software for deep space observing into the politics of Europa, while composer Wilsa Sheer also falls in with the same group. And in the Bat Cave, Rustum Battachariya, passenger transport scheduler, continues his quest for relics of the Belt War, in a manner reminding one irresistably of Nero Wolfe.

This is a wonderfully plotted and detailed novel. One of Sheffield's best to date.

Sheffield, Charles, The Mind Pool

Baen, April 1993, 420 pages, US$4.99

Revised, expanded and corrected version of the 1986 novel The Nimrod Hunt in which artificially breed constructs get loose after being created by humans. There is a fear they may be too tough to handle, and search teams are sent after them. Lots of subtext, lots of subplots, lots of background.

Sheffield, Charles, Transcendence

Ballantine Del Rey, April 1993, 293 pages, US$4.99

Third in the Heritage Universe series. In volume 2, the Zardalu were released from statis in a Builder artifact, and were transported elsewhere in the galaxy. The team that accidently discovered them were not believed, and so set out to find where the Zardalu had gone, and gather proof that the Zardalu slavers were not extinct. Reads a lot like The Nimrod Hunt.* *

Shwartz, Susan, The Grail of Hearts

Tor, 9 April 1993, 340 pages, A$9.95 US$4.99

Dark fantasy, love, betrayal, redemption, Grail legend, based on the Wagner opera.

Stableford, Brian, The Angel of Pain

Pan fantasy, 9 April 1993, 396 pages, A$12.95

One of the most literary fantasy authors, with a sequel to The Werewolves of London, set near the turn of the last Century.

Stephenson, Neal, Snow Crash

Bantam, May 1993, 470 pages, US$5.99

A warped and twisted California a decade or so hence, where America leads the world in only four area; movies, music, software, and high speed pizza delivery. Even the CIA has been privatised, and sells freelance intelligence. Hiero Protagonist is the Deliverator, so Uncle Enzo's CosaNostra Pizzas get delivered on time ... or else. Hiero is the last of the freelance hackers, and didn't sell out the old hacker ethic. Thus he can only afford to live in a storage locker. His elementary school report card in reality would read "Heiro is so bright and creative but needs to work harder on his cooperative side."

In Virtual Reality, Heiro is the greatest swordfighter who ever lived; it helps a little that he also wrote the swordfight software.

Throw in Y.T, skateboard Kourier, doing her deliveries unknown to her mother. Throw in a villain who is a one man thermonuclear power (you don't mess with this character!) Throw in snow crash, a computer virus based on Chomsky's ideas, Summurian myths, neuroliguistic programming and Julian Jaynes wonderfully controversial book The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind; it attacks both computers and machine language programmers.

This fast paced book should have been on the Hugo nominations.

Strasser, Dirk, Zenith

Pan, July 1993, 394 pages, A$12.95

Editor of Aurealis provides a fantasy quest novel, based upon Zen traditions. As always with such stories, what you make of them depends both upon the skill of the writer, and the perceptions the reader brings to the book. I thought the author did his part, but dragged it on at far too great a length, and failed to bring it to a valid conclusion. But I think that of most fantasies.

Vinge, Joan D, The Summer Queen

Pan, 9 April 1993, 1091 pages, A$22.95

A massive trade paperback, sequel to Vinge's Hugo winning The Snow Queen. I've only dipped into part of this, but I get the distinct impression that Vinge's writing skills have, if anything, increased since the earlier novel. But not, I feel, her sense of pacing.

Vinge, Vernor, A Fire Upon The Deep

Tor, February 1993, 613 pages, US$5.99

Hugo nominee. Wonderful background. The technologies that work in different parts of the galaxy depend largely on how far you are from the centre. Far distant areas permit technologies (and transcendent creatures) whose operations are the equivalent of magic. In the centre (the Dark) these technologies fail (you are limited to light speed travel, etc.) All civilised areas are connected by the nets, with archives of all knowledge. And sometimes an adventurous species will find an archive overlooked from some fall of a long dead civilisation. The humans find and activate a five billion year old archive, taking all precautions against any transcendent AI being created.

A few human children escape, their ship crashing on a world without any connection with the net, inhabited by a very strange multiple race just approaching medieval technology.

The tale covers the children, trying to survive on a strange and primitive world, despite being separated by local conflict. Meanwhile, a rescue attempt sees them as unwittingly having access to a counter to the new and deadly trancendent being. One ship must elude multiple warring fleets and try to get to the Tines world and find what weapon might be available. This is indeed a fine novel, and justly aclaimed.

Weber, David, Honor Harrington On Basilisk Station

Baen, April 1993, 422 pages, US$4.99

Horatio Hornblower in Space ... but Weber has done several decent SF action adventures, and this is no exception. Forty year old Honor Harrington is promoted from command of a destroyer, to command of her first cruiser. But the hasty command was to a heavily modified ship intended to test a foolish new weapon tactic, a crew that blames her for the resulting problems, and a posting to an undefendable outpost, normally the final destination of incompetants, or those who had offended the masters of the fleet.* *

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I'm exceedingly lazy, so I tend to type up letters as they arrive ... until I fall behind, and end up not typing any. (I would love to have a scanner and OCR software, so I didn't have to type them up).

Par Nilsson

Dr Bex gata 2-222, 413 24 Goteborg Sweden 17 January 1993

... a few illos to lighten up the appearance of the fanzine would not have been out of place. But I suppose that their absence simplifies production. {{Sure does simplify things. If I had a large file of available art, I might use more fillos, but it is unfair to ask artists for contributions when I can't guarantee use within a reasonable span of time ... thank ghod for folks like Bill Rotsler and his odd envelopes full of drawings. EL}}

John Berry's Photographic Memory was excellent and entertaining; the man is phenomenal.

[what] caught my eye was the Corflu photos by Geri Sullivan. The relatively high average age of the participants was a bit amazing. Is this representative of US fanzine fandom, or was thids a gathering of a certain group or generation. If all of US fandom has this age profile, it's not surprising that they're worried about getting new blood.

Steve George

642 Ingersoll Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3G 2J4 Canada 21 January 1993

I'm still riding high on a New Year's resolution to LoC all the fanzines I receive. I guess you cut me off after #61 ... actually I did respond ... I just didn't mail the letters. Most fascinating, and disturbing, of all ... the photographs. I was 17 when I published my first fanzine back in 1977, and now ... like everyone else, I'm headed rapidly toward the state of old fartdom depicted in the gruesome fan-gallery. The horror. The horror.

Pamela Boal

Westfield Way, Charlton Heights, Wantage Oxon OX12 7EW U.K. 27 January 1993

Of all the topics raised and information given my mind has to get stuck on the hop tub! There was much mention of the hot tub and its installation in WWW. Here a bath (which I assume is the same thing) is a fairly standard fitting. Of course it wasn't always thus. It was once a Music Hall joke that working class families going up in the world and obtaining a house with a bath room, used said facility for storing their coal. Nowadays the installation of a shower marks the middle classes from the working class. {{It seems we still have a cultural gap between US and UK expectations. Jean's hot tub is a California hot tub. Imagine an upright wooden wine barrel large enough for two to four people to sit or stand in. Add a high power hot water heater, a water pump, multiple water jets inside the barrel, add also an air pump to produce bubbles, and put the whole thing in a large pleasant room. In essence, a variation on a spa bath. Jean's bathroom is elsewhere and has a conventional bath and combined shower. This was almost certainly a later addition to the interior of the early 20th Century home she has, which probably originally did have an outside bathroom. No-one here that I know uses coal (although Jean's house still has three fireplaces, one of which contains a slow combustion heater that Jean has used). My place has a bath and two showers, but I can't figure out how to add a hot tub - the doors aren't sufficiently large. No fireplaces however, not untypical for homes built in the past twenty or so years. EL}}

The photographs in Geg 66 came out very well indeed. As I'm unlikely to meet the vast majority of fans I have have corresponded with over so many years I greatly appreciate photos in zines. Is it just that particular photograph or os Tom Digby (at least physically) a somewhat rounded version of Dave Rowe? {{I think that is a fair description. EL}}

TASH inc (Technical Aids and Systems for the Handicapped) 70 Gibson Drive, Unit 12, Markham, ONT, L3R 4C2 Canada, make all the gadgets you are looking for. Their systems link together and can be run from a computer which can be operated by a single digit, suck blow or eye blink. I helped Pedro Battle (an Argentinian living here in Britain) to modify (to make it easy for severely disabled people to use) a gadget he calls a magic wand. The wand, when pointed even vaguely in the right direction, can turn on or off switches to any appliance, including a small device he developed for opening and closing curtains. Unfortunately Pedro had put everything he owned into developing the wand and could not afford to manufacture it himself, no interest in Britain and the contract he had with an American firm fell through.

I hope if you do develop a system for yourself you will interest some compnay or other in producing and marketing the components. I'm particularly keen on such systems being developed for the general market, because if labelled as such for disabled people the market is limited and the goods accordingly priced up.


Sheryl Birkhead was one of numerous people to report on Bill Bowers' health. "Well, you found one sure way to avoid incorrect spellings of fanartist names - don't use art!" {{It wasn't the intention ... but now that you mention it ... EL}}

Ned Brooks says "for a change I actually knew all the [DUFF] candidates well. I would be glad to put Australia in 1999 flyers in It Goes on the Shelf if I can print it in US quarto. Funny about the fake Italian stamps. The US has so many silly stamps now I wouldn't be surprised if someone did fake stamps here and got away with it. I will stick on one of the new `fantasy space stamps' - Sheryl Birkhead says Steve Hickman is the artist."

Susan Clarke names more Australia in '99 supporters.

Peter Edick says he didn't check his mail box for over a month, and missed my visit to LA. He also mentions being out of town for seven months a while ago "most of my friends never knew I'd left". {{You must get a faster writing set of friends. EL}}

Cathy Howard says drop her as she has gone gafia.

Denny Lien found me pretty much all the Gordy Dickson books I was missing, and gave full notes on many versions. (My tech level has been creeping up slowly, as my tech fondness continues to slide downward. But then I never even warmed up to electric typewriters; if a manual typewriter was good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for us say I.)

Alan and Sue Sandercock (ex Adelaide fan) say they would like to see fanzines. 612 Clairmont Cir, Decatur, Georgia, 30033 USA. Email to acsander at csat gatech edu, and they would like to know of other fans on the Internet.

Ben Schilling mentions Filthy Pierre no longer lists Canberra as the Australia in '99 site (in 1997?) He mentions using converter transformers to use 120 volt power controllers here - unfortunately, the signals don't go through iron core transformers used in converters all that well. Good try however.

Dale Speirs mentions Zombies of the Gene Pool also. "Re the loccer comments on economics, I suggest that the basic question of economics is "Who finances surplus production?" ("And why?")."

Delphyne Joan Woods sent out her Xmas drawing and poem in February {{and I missed entirely this year. EL}}

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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.