Gegenschein 70 May 1994


Travel to the USA has again reached the top of our agenda, after many, many recent false alarms. I will be at Midwestcon, and Jean and I will both be at Westercon. Having had so many tentative plans fall through, I didn't sit down to write up this until we had the airline tickets booked, and the itinerary on hand. This trip is actually intended more as a family reunion than a convention trip, but two conventions in three weeks isn't too bad. I'll probably mail this issue airmail to the USA, so as to get this itinerary into fannish hands before I leave ... rather than after I return.

Jean had frequent flyer points accumulated, so that dictated us using United for flights. I have to admit, they are not my favourite airline, but I can live with using them. At least we have 747-400s for the non-stop international flights, and one internal flight. To my great delight, I didn't get stuck with a DC10 for any internal flight.

We leave Sydney on Wednesday June 15 at 11 a.m. on UA862 (a 747-400) for San Francisco, arriving at 7:20. We will probably hire a car, and hope to catch up with fans during what remains of the week. Alyson Abramowitz, who expects to be moving to the Santa Clara area about a week before we arrive, offered crash space - Jean is organising that, and reminded me that last time she visited Alyson, she also helped Alyson move ... do I see a trend here? On the weekend, we will be visiting with Jean's sister.

On Monday 20th June, Jean flies to Seattle. Her parents live near Olympia, a few hours away.

Meanwhile, on Monday 20th, I fly to Chicago at 1.10 p.m. on UA808, arriving at 7.21 p.m. I was amazed at how many flights between Chicago and the East Coast were already totally booked out. This certainly wasn't my first choice for arrival times. I'm organising things in Chicago by email with Dick and Leah Smith. Actually, I suppose it is morte accurate to say that Dick and Leah are organising things, and I'm communicating with them by email.

I want to get to Cincinnati well before Midwestcon, so I can catch up with as many fans there as possible, so on Wednesday 22nd June I'm booked on UA772 at 1.55 p.m., arriving in Cincinnati at 4.04 p.m. Don't think I have any email contacts here in this bastion of fannish fans.

After Midwestcon I have to get to Seattle to meet up with Jean as soon as possible, so I'm off first thing in the morning on Monday 27th June. Again, flights via Chicago are a real problem on United, so I'm off from Cincinnati at 8.39 a.m. on UA467, then to UA215, arriving at Seattle just after midday. I don't know whether Jean will be in Seattle and meet me then, or whether I'll head straight off to Olympia. We will be seeing fans in Seattle, probably staying with Marilyn Holt and Cliff Wind, but dates still seem a little vague.

Jean and I both head for Los Angeles and Westercon on Friday 1st July, on UA877 just after midday, arriving at 2.39 p.m. Given our likely reactions to LA traffic, etc., we plan on going straight to the convention hotel, and not leaving it!

After Westercon, well rested from the dead dog parties and all that, we leave on UA815 at 10 p.m. on Monday 4th July, and arrive in Sydney at the crack of dawn on Wednesday 6th July. I don't know about Jean (given that she is a contractor, she doesn't know either), but I am scheduled to go back to work the next day.

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Com, the gadget I'm not sure I want.

When I was a child, I wanted to live in a science fiction world. Like Peter Pan, I never really grew up, so I still think it is a great idea to live in a science fiction world.

My image of a science fiction world tends to come from the "gadget" style of novel of the 1950's and even earlier, thus confirming the old adage that the "golden age of science fiction" is twelve years old. In short, I don't give a damn about literary merit, but I do demand interesting gadgets. If not interesting gadgets, then at a pinch almost any sort of gadget will do.

Many of these gadgets are rather hard to organise. I mean, skyscrapers are all very well, albeit not sufficiently 1930's art deco science fictional in appearance, but where are Buck Roger's personal flying belts (themselves first appearing in a 1929 novel) and the flying cars? I mean, corporate helicopters just don't cut it, and are noisy and unsightly as well.

For one brief shining moment I thought Camelot had arrived, when McDonnell-Douglas tested their quarter scale DC-X. I mean, a rocket ship that hovers, and lands on its tail fins ... but then reality intervened, they ran out of funding, and we don't know if there will ever be a DC-Y or a Delta Clipper single stage to orbit ship.

Of late, I've rather feared that, if I want some of these gadgets from the books, I may have to start providing them for myself.

Obviously there are a sufficient number of like minded people to allow chains of toy stores. One instance of this was obvious last time I visited Melbourne, and discovered an executive toy store called "The Sharper Image". Gadget heaven (spoiled only by being aimed more at yuppies than straight out gadget freaks). This is the first (and so far only) such store I've seen in Australia.

A gadget I would particularly like is an everything box. This is the "comp" in "The Mote In God's Eye", the communicator in the original "Star Trek", the lapel badge in "Star Trek TNG". An everything box does any sort of communicating or computing task, and is also generally of use.

Of use for what? Well, to replace whatever you normally carry in your pockets or bag. Or whatever you might possibly want to carry in your pocket or bag. It is your watch, the key to your car and garage, your calendar, diary, appointment scheduler, credit card, your map, your compass, your calculator, your telephone and a lot else besides.

Let me enumerate how many of these bits and pieces are already here, what they can do, what they don't (as yet) do, with special attention to the things that can only be provided by a large customer base.

Keys are an obvious item. Car keys these days often also remotely open the doors and do things to the car alarm. Doubtless similar gadgets are available for garage door openers, and there seems little reason to me not to run a normal door the same way. After all, electric strikers cost about the same as normal locks ($37 to $200, from what I can see, depending upon how reliable you want them, and their duty cycle).

One major problem with some present systems is that they are not very secure. At one of the Applix meetings an electronic car key was the victim of a semi destructive inspection. It proved to include a trinary encoder with only round 17,000 combinations. The group worked out a suitable "lockpick" circuit within minutes.

Almost everyone wears a time piece, often with alarm, and perhaps appointment calendars and reminders. I have never seen a sufficiently flexible reminder alarm. One that, for example, can cope with things like reminding you of something on the third Saturday of each month, except January. Some computers have alarm systems that approach the correct flexibility, so combining the two in a smaller package is the right approach.

When attending meetings, some people take a pocket tape recorder. I notice that an Olivetti palmtop computer includes voice recording facilities. I further notice reports of some interesting voice greeting cards from Hallmark that indicate some very cheap solutions to the problems of digitising voice. Mind you, as owners of some workstations have discovered, mischievous people can sometimes remotely turn on the microphone, and listen in to your office.

Credit cards are exceedingly common, but very annoying. I mean, you use one, and it doesn't even bother to keep track of all the transactions for you. An area in obvious need of improvement.

Since it is unlikely that you would want to use a pocket device for all your records, you probably want it to communicate with a larger system at times. Updating should be automatic, and transparent. That means you shouldn't need to plug things in. Using the phone system is one way to go, but on privacy grounds, I rather like the idea of using an infra red system. Obviously if you do this, the everything box might as well also handle all the remote controls round the home. I can never find the right remote control anyway. Interestingly, you can program the infra red communication port on a Hewlett Packard LX100 palmtop computer to imitate most household infra red controllers.

One possibly more draconian function is that of identification badge in businesses. A badge should be able to remotely identify you to scanners, at which point the building computer would do things like ensure that when someone wants to find you, they are pointed at the room you are in, rather than the room you normally use. Likewise, all phone and other messages would be redirected to where you were. If you and several other people are in a room, and have been there for some time, the computer would report you are in a meeting, etc. The possibilities for helpful features are endless, as are the possibilities for monitoring whether people are actually getting on with their jobs.

It ill behoves me to mention telephones, as I generally loath these inventions of the devil, and think Alexander Graham Bell should have stuck to music. However, I hear that a million Australian have been suckered into buying cellular telephones, which indicates a lot of Australians think the bulge in their pants should be a phone. I find this behaviour exceedingly strange, but then I rarely voluntarily make (or even answer) telephone calls. The telephone makes sense only with a bulk audience, however there are probably some places round the fringes where individual actions can provide personalized gadgets.

Many people are also cursed by a beeper, which depending on type may provide longer or shorter messages. These are generally used in place of a phone, and I gather they require a human in some centralised organisation to type in the messages (other countries may have organised them better). I know of several people who seem to carry one of these, and a phone. Obviously any decently devised phone system should also be able to handle the functions of a beeper, but I have no idea whether they do. In addition, there should be no need for a human operator - the person placing the call should be able to type in their own message. Since this does not appear the case, I suspect the providers of these services have been asleep at the switch, or are hoping no-one notices. In this area, it is almost certainly possible to arrange message delivery on an individual basis, by sending DTMF touch tones through the phone lines.

Personally, as I never want to answer phones, I'd find a decent portable email system essential. Provided that your phone can use a modem, you could always use a remote computer system for collecting and storing messages. This can be provided by a centralised system, such as Compu$erve, GEnie or similar mostly USA based mainframe systems, most of which are not readily accessible in the rest of the world. Luckily for my philosophical bias, it can also be provided by almost totally anarchistic systems such as the Internet, which although available in 60 or so countries, is concentrated in educational and research areas. Finally, any sufficiently motivated individual can set up a bulletin board system, from home, using any type of computer, and can connect these to a worldwide individual message passing system such as Fidonet.

There are many unfortunate people who don't actually have access to email, so being able to send a fax to them would be a nice addition. I suppose, also, that being able to receive a fax would be an obvious attraction for people who send them. Fax-modems are now commonplace and relatively cheap. There are a number of battery or phone line powered pocket modems, some of which can operate independent of a computer system (they print the fax on a standard laser or bubble jet printer, if available, or store it until it can be printed or loaded into a computer). Naturally, they can also turn any text or picture in a computer into a fax for sending elsewhere.

I have found voice mail at work at least as handy as an answering machine (which is actually to say, not very, but not everyone uses email), since it does the same time shifting as an answering machine, and generally adds a few extra features (like voice mailing replies to other voice mailboxes). As with email, this can be provided centrally (by the telephone company), or by the switchboard (as is done where I work) or an individually owned remote computer system (preferably not an "industry standard" computer, as they tend to be too brain dead to cope), or locally in the actual phone (although I haven't seen the latter done as yet).

Calling line identification seems a really handy feature, for businesses. Indeed, I suspect having pizza joints identify you, and your standard order, before you even get through to them is probably already standard in many countries. For individuals, it means the death of privacy in yet another area. Calling line identification depends upon a simple ASCII coded signal from the telephone company sent at low speed modem rates down the phone line between the first and second ring tones. If you already have a modem, adding this feature essentially costs little. In the USA, you can get add-on gadgets, and kits*. In these days of $100 CD-ROM disks containing the phone numbers and addresses of everyone in a country, it is easy to see possibilities for add-on features provided whenever anyone phones.

Provision of calling line identification is up to the telephone company. What you can do with it is up to the individual (although I'd expect the phone company would probably provide added value services).

There are a number of social implications of calling line identification (CLID) that, in Australia at least, don't appear to have been widely considered. Or, if considered, implicitly already settled in favour of business use. Obviously, any business that has repeat calls will want universal CLID. It makes it delightfully easy to collect a complete and detailed list of customers, and their preferences. Private users may however want to keep their call off a database. I think people making calls should be able to turn CLID on or off easily and free, if they want to. I also think they should have the option of easily altering the default state of CLID. Those receiving calls should also have the option of easily refusing calls that don't provide CLID, as this may help cut down on nuisance calls.

The merit of CLID and a database of addresses in without dispute when calling, say, an emergency police or fire service number. For a battered wife calling home from a women's refuge, it has entirely different implications. I personally think the default state of CLID should be off, except for being passed through on calls to emergency services. I take it everyone is aware that the phone company always knows which phone is making calls, and that in any modern exchange can keep track of every single call you make?

Not having CLID in Australia yet (although technically it is almost certainly only as far away as a change in the software at modern phone exchanges) means there is an opportunity to get it right. Interestingly, if you work in a company using a private ISDN exchange, you may well already have a (different) system of CLID. Moreover, in Australia, ISDN company exchanges in the same area tend to send CLID information with phone calls, so you can sometimes tell who is calling before picking up the phone. At the moment, this is an undocumented side effect of the provision of private company ISDN exchanges.

Not that I have one, but touch tone phones are also operating on a standard set of frequencies through the world. At least, the ones in the UK run the same frequencies as the ones in the USA, and the ones here are identical. Controlling gadgets remotely by touch tone seems a handy feature to me. I like the idea of ET calling home and turning the dinner on, or the lights off, or whatever.

Despite not having a touch tone phone, I did go to the trouble of building up a little experimental touch tone decoder. This responds nicely to beeps from a hand held audible touch tone signaller, and if I ever figure out why some of my relay outputs trigger at the wrong time, I'll probably take this experiment a lot further.

I've mentioned cellular phones, however the whole point of the POTS (plain old telephone system) is that phones work the same no matter whether it is a cellular, or a handpiece in the home, or any of the other variations. If you get some gadgetry working on one, it should (mostly) work on the others.

Cellular phones are really common, but not exactly cheap, something I feel forced to ascribe to them being under the control of the various phone companies. Further, they are rather limited in the land area they cover. After all, you only install base stations where you expect lots of users. In very high density areas, there are also cheaper alternatives to cellular, such as CT2 (ugh) and CT3 systems. CT2 lets you make calls, but not receive them. CT3 is more like a very small area cellular system, usually covering only a few hundred meters range. Using low power equipment like this can however do wonders for your phone size and especially for your battery life. Like cellular, you need a big phone company. If a cellular phone worked on CT3 as well, you would presumably cut your fees somewhat. Since cellular doesn't cover everywhere, it would be nice to also be able to link up with an orbital system like Motorola's planned Iridium satellites. However all these fancy add ons depend entirely upon the actions of the phone company, and how much you are willing to spend on gadgetry.

You could use an ordinary mobile phone at home or work, and then have the option of adding whatever gadgetry yourself, but are then restricted to a small area round your own home or business. For some uses, this may be enough, and costs you nothing in fees.

Perhaps I should mention encryption. Tapping ordinary phones is easy (although a minor study of the dress habits of phone company technicians may be in order). Any clown with a scanner can pick up analog cellular or mobile phones, as several local politicians have discovered. Many brands of cellular phone can be programmed from the keypad to do scanning over all phone channels (always get a copy of the service manuals if buying a phone). Newer spread spectrum digital phones are a whole new thing, and likely to be much tougher. I suppose the USA will eventually start using their ridiculous Clipper encryption chip; if you want to keep something private, provide your own encryption method instead (a wide range of alternatives are available, not necessarily licitly in all countries).

However I hate the prospect of actually having to answer a phone, so even if all the systems above were available, and cheap, I still wouldn't want to answer it. So it would be nice to optionally switch the phone to either voice mail or beeper message or email, and have the option of using calling line identification to redirect calls to the appropriate destination depending upon who appears to be calling*. I don't think the Australian phone companies are likely to be interested in my desires about this, so I suspect I will add it on myself.

That probably disposes of the major functions of the telephone, and as I've mentioned, I have little interest in most of them ... but I still like the idea of more gadgets.

Ok, we now have a rough outline of what an everything box should do, except for the computing functions. How far away are these various functions?

Not very far, I suspect, given sufficient demand for them. Having written up some background, I plan to return to this topic in a later issue.

  1. Australia in 1999
  2. This is a typo, but I'm leaving it in!
  3. Many reasonable people agree (and shake their head).
  4. Well, not much of a damn.
  5. As anyone who has seen my home will realise.
  6. And I really would like to visit a Sharper Image store while visiting the USA.
  7. Except possible the handkerchief.
  8. I grant you they are more than average devious!

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Book Reviews

I had a note here to write about the idiocy of some fantasy and the plot similarities from trilogy to trilogy. However, I found I didn't really need to write anything about these stories. All I needed to do was use the same review for each of them. You can work easily work out which ones I mean.

Asimov and Silverberg, The Positronic Man

Pan, Sept 1993, 223pp, A$11.95

Novel length expansion of Asimov's The Bicentennial Man. I have no idea why Robert Silverberg has been doing these expansions of Asimov's short stories, as his own reputation is surely unquestioned. OK, Asimov comes up with some good short story ideas, however in my opinion he is not a spectacularly fine writer. (Parenthetically, I'll add that I don't object to Asimov's unadorned style ... and he has certainly sold enough material that even if I thought his style was wrong, the sales figures prove otherwise.) Silverberg, on the other hand, is a particularly fine stylist. The combination works well in all these "joint" novels.

Barnes, John, A Million Open Doors

Tor, Nov 1993, 309pp, US$4.99

The 1992 Nebula nominated novel, selected as best sf novel in 1992 by Science Fiction Chronicle. This is about the most impressive novel of its type I've seen since Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed, way back in 1975. The most impressive thing is how easy Barnes makes it look, with what seems a simple enough adventure novel.

Giraut is a swordsman, troubadour and lover on Nou Occitan, one of more than a thousand splinter cultures, spun from Old Earth, and set on a path to the liking of its founders. We see through his eyes the youthful Jovent subculture, a deliberate throwback to the troubadours, silently supported by an impressive technical and economic society to which he may one day contribute as an adult. One of Giraut's friends is asked to help integrate his home planet (formerly a long lightspeed trip away) into the instantaneous transport system that is increasing rejoining the widely separated human cultures. In a fit of pique after a lover's quarrel, Giraut goes along to assist. Thus, we have a stranger in a strange new land, a land where a religious preoccupation with money and payment for everything is both the law and the culture. A land about to open up to the economic might of the other thousand cultures, and the inevitable disruption that will bring. Read it as an adventure, as anthropological sf, or as a cautionary tale about 20th Century economic blind spots, but read it.

Bova, Ben and A J Austin, To Save The Sun

Tor, Dec 1993, 410pp, US$4.99

The sun will expand and destroy the Earth within a few hundred years. Although sparsely settled by traditionalists, the Earth is still important to the culture of the Empire, and as a baseline for the genetic stability of the far flung human race. A young scientist makes a plea to the Emperor to apply an untried theory to attempt to save the Earth, at enormous cost. This is the story of the attempt. Nicely done story, with relatively simplistic political plots, and some mid story action.

Busby, F M, The Singularity Project

Tor, Feb 1994, 349pp, US$4.99

Tough guy prose, as freelance gadgeteer and part time writer checks up a con job aimed at a local business. But is it a con job, or will it really result in a teleportation system. Nicely tight background material makes this great fun, but only marginally science fiction for much of the story. Possibly a bit too much nuts and volts material at times.

DeChancie, John and David Bischoff, Dr Dimension

Roc, June 1993, 284pp, US$4.99

A lunatic send up of `Doc' Smith, John W Campbell, Edmund `World Wrecker' Hamilton, and Jack Williamson, and much other pulp sf of the thirties. Dr Demitrios Demopoulos had a dream ... and lots of burnt out parts for his time-space machine ... and his arch-rival on campus, Dr Vivian Vernon was out to stop him, or steal his invention if it did look like working.* *Campus politics are enough of a problem, but when it turns out that all the aliens in a galaxy have super dreadnoughts, and keep shooting them at anything that moves, it makes a hero wonder why he ever invented a space ship. There is a sequel (like all traditional super science stories).

Dickson, Gordon R, Lost Dorsai

Tor, June 1993, 278pp, US$4.99

This is a reprint of the 1980 Nebula nominee, originally published by Ace with 50 illustrations by Fernando. Like that edition, it includes Warrior. If you haven't read these two excellent stories, you have a treat ahead of you. The Ace edition included Sandra Miesel's article The Plume and the Sword, while in this edition, the article has been replaced by what I feel is the much handier

A Childe Cycle Concordance by David Wixon.

Publisher not noted.

Now I am prejudiced by knowing both Gordy and Dave (and awaiting this concordance for some time) but I thought this was a great idea (especially when I got to bits that I didn't know or had forgotten).

Flynn, Michael, In The Country Of The Blind

Pan, Dec 1993, 527pp, A$12.95

Reprinted from the plates of the Baen Books US paperback edition of 1990, this fine novel was serialised in Analog. There is a conspiracy running things, and they are out to get anyone who discovers the truth. Babbage had the right idea, and unknowingly influenced a group into making working models of the mechanical computer. They used these computers for sociological prediction, just as in Asimov's sociohistory. What is more, they are still doing it today (with upgraded machinery). And, as conspiracies go, they are really incompetent. This was a lovely tale, told with both humour and action. One of my favourites (but it helps to be both a conspiracy and a computer enthusiast).

Forward, Robert L and Margaret Dodson, Marooned on Eden

Baen, August 1993, 371pp, US$4.99

Some of the characters from Rocheworld and Return to Rocheworld land on an anonymously Earthlike moon of Gargantua. There they are accidently marooned, with all their technology lost. As always in Forward stories, there are wonders in the world. I mention that it is "to be continued".

Gibson, William, Virtual Light

Penguin, 1993, 333pp, A$12.95

Why have a vegetable as a protagonist? The ex-cop security guard who doesn't know how to control his moods, thereby getting sacked, is as sad a character as you would expect, as grubby little criminal events move him from escapade to escapade. The young courier is better, I grant you. Overall, why bother with this gloomy piece when you could read Snowcrash instead.

Hill, Douglas, The Lightless Dome

Pan fantasy, Oct 1993, 304pp, A$19.95 trade PB

Book one in the usual "brilliant new series", the Apotheosis Trilogy. Better written than most of the fantasy I see. The story is the usual hero thrown by circumstances beyond his control into a world where (assisted by the usual white magic) he fights against the minions of evil magic to save the kingdom.

Luceno, James, The Big Empty

Del Rey Ballantine, Dec 1993, 291pp, US$4.99

Nicely done part cyberpunk, part adventure, with wild and woolly writing style. I've enjoyed Lucenos' fast paced writing.

Mason, Robert, Solo

Berkley, July 1993, 309pp, A$10.95 US$4.99

Sequel to Weapon, in which an almost invulnerable humanoid AI robot seeks to escape the Pentagon, and develops a philosophy about its own nature, and the nature of war. Did Solo die? Or was its disappearance yet another trick. And can the brutally trained and programmed replacement killing machine track it down? Fine adventure story.

McCaffrey, Anne, Damia's Children

Corgi, April 1994, 335pp, A$11.95

Damia's children grow up (in detail) and get sent off to help find the attacking Hive beings of previous books. After various thrilling events (somewhat akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle), the books ends just before the conclusion. Pathetic cutting job, if done by the publisher, and damn unfair if done by the author.

McGirt, Dan, Dirty Work

Pan fantasy, Sept 1993, 286pp, A$10.95

A frivolous fantasy, like many UK works, with Jason Cosmo, turnip farmer and ex Champion. The author didn't take it serious; neither would I. Did include some good lines that prevent it being a total dead loss.

Middleton, Martin, The New Age

Pan fantasy, Dec 1993, 314pp, A$11.95

Book four of The Chronicles of the Custodians, for those into fantasy from this Australian author. Two hundred years after the defeat of the forces of evil, darkness again spreads through the land. The last of the Usare leads a quest, and eventually you get the usual battle between Light and Dark, etc. I haven't read it, but some things never change.

Murphy-Gibb, Dwina, Cormack: The Seers

Pan, March 1994, 328pp, A$11.95

Cormac mac Art was to become the mightiest of Ireland's High Kings, according to the Druid prophecy, but first he had to survive childhood.

Murphy-Gibb, Dwina, Cormack: The King Making

Pan, March 1994, 275pp, A$19.95 TPB

In Book 2, Cormac must learn to become both leader and killer as he fights for his throne. I think I'd prefer an anarcho-syndicalist commune, but it takes all types.

Niven, Larry and Jerry Pournelle, The Moat Around Murchison's Eye

Harper Collins, 1993, 480pp, A$12.95

This is a splendid sequel to The Mote In God's Eye, taking the same characters (or their children) back to the Motie system, when changed circumstances indicate the Moties are about to by-pass the blockade. Horace Bury and Kevin Renner are the major protagonists this time. It takes up the previous book, and faithfully builds seemlessly upon it, like a good sequel should. Unfortunately, in all this revisit, all is old and well known, and the sense of wonder of the first novel seems entirely lost.

Pratchett, Terry, Lords and Ladies

Corgi, Feb 1994, 382pp, A$10.95

Midsummer Night, but no dreams, for the real elves are a real pain for Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven of witches, and the wannabe witches are not making it easier. However the wizards and the librarian are helping (helpful orang-utans are a good thing), and I'm not sure about the Morris dancers, but they seem to get into everything.

Briggs, Stephen and Terry Pratchett, The Streets of Ankh-Morpork

Corgi, Feb 1994, A$14.95

A concise, and possibly even accurate map of the great city of the Discworld. On rather nice quality cardboard, and about as large as an armspan can comfortably accommodate. It does not appear to be proof against spilled liquids, so care should be taken not to spill blood and similar substances on it while using it within the city.

Rankin, Robert East of Ealing, 3rd novel in the Brentford Trilogy

(Transworld, April 1993, 284pp, A$10.95)

The Suburban Book of the Dead, Armageddon III, the remake (Transworld, Sept 1993, 314pp, A$11.95)

Rankin, Robert, The Book of Ultimate Truths

(Transworld, Sept 1993, 272pp, A$32.95)

I disliked the absurdity of Rankin's first book; by the third I no longer read them at all. However, more arrived. I hope these are the last.*

Resnick, Mike, Pugatory

Tor, Feb 1994, 320pp, US$4.99

The humans had come to Karimon, and the stone age natives would be subject to change, and the introduction of modern weapons and a money economy, whether they wanted it or not. Many of them, including their greatest tribal chief, did not (reasonable enough, how many kings do you have in modern market economies?) This follows the conflict over several generations of natives. The space ships on the cover have absolutely nothing to do with the story. I'm not even sure it is reasonable to call it science fiction. If I knew more about African history and current politics, I would undoubtedly see far more of the parallels Resnick is drawing, and be better able to identify the characters with the equivalent African figures. Unfortunately, Resnick appears to predict a very negative result from this clash of cultures. Now I admit that I personally don't believe the results of the current experiment in South Africa will result in anything except another impoverished and fragmented area of tribal conflict. My opinion is based only upon a dribble of half forgotten history, and general pessimism regarding human nature, but I fear Resnick has the background knowledge to make his opinion worth listening to.

Rickman, Phil, Crybbe

Pan, Dec 1993, 664pp, A$11.95

"A masterpiece of the supernatural" according to the cover. Seems more concerned with the characters than most horror novels.

Sawyer, Robert J, Foreigner

Ace, March 1994, 285pp, US$4.99

Third and final about the doomed planet where dinosaurs evolved to civilisation, and discovered that they had little time (on a stellar scale) to survive on their planet. Their nature was nicely explored in the first two books (recapitulating Copernicus, and astronomy through Newton, and then biology through Darwin). In this one, Freud's insights take the centre stage, and they discover they share the planet with a related but different species, who lack their own enormous need for territorial area. I've thoroughly enjoyed the set of books, which seem to me to epitomise what sf is all about.

Shatner, William, Tek Vengeance

Pan, July 1993, 224pp, A$19.95 trade PB

Another in the continuing series of future crime private eye novels. Apart from a few Ron Goulart robots, and drug substitutes, there is little feel of a future society here. It is just another cops and robbers show. I have no idea why it is popular.

Sheffield, Charles, One Man's Universe

Tor, Dec 1993, 308pp, US$9.99

Parts of this book were previously published by the same publisher in 1983 as The McAndrew Chronicles. This fraudulent rip off is on what feel Like pulp paper, and looks like newspaper. The stories are a delight to re-read, but I'm not at all happy about retitles like this. The stories are Killing Vector, Moment of inertia, All the Colors of the 8Vacuum, The Manna Hunt, Shadow World, The Invariants of Nature, Rogueworld, plus an appendix on the science in science fiction.

Shillitoe, Tony, Dragon Lords

Pan fantasy, Oct 1993, 519pp, A$12.95

Book 3 of Andrakis. Only the King can wield the dragon slaying sword and prevent a power takeover by evil magic.

Stine, G. Harry, Second Contact

RoC, March 1994, 301pp, US$4.99

I really enjoy G Harry Stine's fact (or mostly fact) articles in Analog, and thus always check out his fiction. Now, I've never seen a dud novel from him, but I must admit that sometimes the plotting leaves a hell of a lot to be desired in terms of complication and belief. This book (possibly the second in a series) is about a submarine trying to capture alien invaders, assisted by a team of specialists who report that there are 70 species of aliens visiting, dating back to 1950.

Turner, George, The Destiny Makers

Avon, Feb 1994 (Nov 1993), 321pp, US$4.99 A$10.95

Perhaps our most thoughtful and literate writer. Twelve billion people, most living on the edge of poverty, while rumours of a population `cull' were part of childhood games. Wasting medical resources on a terminally ill person is unthinkable, however Premier Beltane is facing an impossible political decision that is driving him to the brink of insane behaviour. His solution is to attempt to pass the problem along to his father, his former mentor, the previous Premier. One problem is that his father has been senile for decades. However, a sufficient technology can reverse even that. Another is that his opponents may find out. Detective Sergeant Harry Ostrov has to guard the mysterious patient, and cope with much, much more. Intelligent dialogue adds much to this rich novel.

Warrington, Freda, A Taste of Blood Wine

Pan, Sept 1993, 581pp, A$12.95

A vampire novel, set in England, with very old fashioned characters, even for 1923. Plot is slight, the writing overwraught, and mostly a Woman's Weekly romance type. The conclusion is totally out of keeping with all that has taken place before, and is simply there to leave open a sequel.

Weber, David, The Honor Of The Queen

Baen, June 1993, 422pp, US$5.99

Second in the Honor Harrington space warfare series, a sort of Hornblower in Space. I think Weber does fast paced, well plotted military adventures. These are not going to win awards, or stand out as outstanding examples of sf, but in terms of what they attempt, they are well done.

Weis, Margaret and Tracy Hickman, The Hand of Chaos

Transworld, July 1993, 463pp, A$29.95 Transworld, Feb 1994, 463pp, A$11.95

Another fantasy (probably the fifth) in the seven book Death Gate series. Starts with a monster summary of the first four books, then skips to a prologue. I skipped to the end ... and decided there must be more novels to follow.

Weis, Margaret, Ghost Legion

Bantam via Transworld, Oct 1993 (July 1993), 534pp, A$11.95 US$5.99

Listed as science fiction, but the cover has two gents in thigh boots duelling with light sabres, plus the usual quest for power over an empire, and royals all over the place.

Wylie, Jonathan, Dark Fire

Corgi Transworld, Aug 1993, 332pp, A$11.95

Book 1 of Island and Empire, a fantasy series with the usual quest for power in the empire, evil magic, and royals all over the place.

Wylie, Jonathan, Echos of Flame

Corgi Transworld, April 1994, 332pp, A$11.95

Book 2 of Island and Empire, a fantasy series with the usual quest for power in the empire, evil magic, and royals all over the place. Fine if you like power politics.

Zahn, Timothy, The Last

Command Bantam, April 1994, 467pp, A$10.95 Third and last book of Zahn's

continuation of the Star Wars story, set some five years after the films. Having set up an alien, Grand Admiral Thrawn, as the matchless strategist who is rapidly defeating the new Republic and well on the way to re-establishing the evil Empire, Zahn now has to pull the grand threats of his novels together. How can the republic defeat the cloned soldiers? Will the mad cloned Dark Jedi get Luke and Leia? All has to be wrapped up in this volume ... and while the first two were grand adventure and fun, in this one the plotting gets just a little too obvious. Still lots of fun, and if you liked the first two, you will still enjoy this.

Zelazny, Roger and Robert Sheckley, Bring Me The Head of Prince Charming

Pan fantasy, April 1994, 279pp, A$12.95

An exceedingly light, very unserious fairy tale, of what goes wrong when the demon Azzie Elbub makes a fractured fairy tale, with bits of bodies to create his characters. Some very funny lines, for those who don't take their fiction seriously.

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Chester D Cuthbert

1104 Mulvey Avenue, Winnipeg Manitoba R3M 1J5 Canada 31 January 1993

John Newman (#65) and Buck Coulson (#66) object to my allegedly outworn views about the advantages of technology. In Canada we have officially about 1,600,000 unemployed with the number growing as firms "downsize". In addition, an ageing population is increasing the number of unproductive people, supported by our universal Old Age Security Pension; and we have millions living on unemployment insurance and welfare. Is it not obvious that labor by these millions is unnecessary?

Before we had efficient machines and technology, these millions would have been forced to work for food , clothing and shelter. My view is that the practical utopia of leisure is already here. Only the outworn work ethic and the attempt to maintain an economic system designed to deal with scarcity prevent the elimination of poverty. Everywhere I see abundance of real wealth: stores bursting with goods, thousands of cars in showrooms and on lots, vacant stores and offices and apartments, and newspapers full of advertisements begging people to buy the wealth that is bankrupting their owners because that wealth must be financed and the people who could use it do not have sufficient income to purchase it. If you have money, is there a shortage of anything? There may be individual items out of stock, but technology can remedy that expeditiously.

The immediate implementation of an adequate guaranteed annual income would place that necessary purchasing power in the hands of the people who could use these surpluses. Since it would be universal, and taxed back from those who don't need it, nobody would be deprived. And the machine, whose sole reason for existing is to do our work for us, would be kept operating, instead of being shut down in the current recession.

Have I made it clear that the fault is not with technology, but with the economic system? We actually have Utopia, but must change our thinking if we are to enjoy its benefits.

Eric Mayer

PO Box 17143, Rochester NY, 14617 USA

The standard of living in the United States has been plunging all during my adult years. You cite "average wage" figures for comparisons between eras. Here in the US the government (or whoever ...) has pretty much obscured such comparisons by abandoning "average wage" for "average household income". If you compare the "average wage" which is what we heard about circa 1970 with the "average household income" we are given today, the two are comparable. (Which is bad enough ...) But, of course, that "average household income" almost always includes more than the one income previous figures alluded too. I recall reading once that, in fact, the average wage - not obscured by household income comparisons, had declined, in real terms, by 20% since 1970. So things have declined a lot more than people seem willing to admit. ...

Of course there are more and more mandated expenses, from taxes to required insurances of various types. I will mention that as we look toward making health care more accessible in the US, health costs in this country have risen faster than almost anything else - and without any government control. To my mind government gets somewhat of a bum rap. OK, we know there are plenty of scoundrels in government, but it is unfair to compare government to business. Government tends to get stuck with the dirty work. (See the mail ... If UPS doesn't think it can turn a profit delivering mail someplace it just won't deliver it there.) Private industry can "down size", for example. But can the US government solve its budget problems by "downsizing"? (The President announced he was laying off New York City indefinitely ...) Anyway, the fact that the government hasn't done an efficient job at one thing or another doesn't prove it couldn't.

Ben Schilling

2615 Madrid Apt 1, Madison WI 53713 USA 17 October 1993

My new address is above. This area is part of the Town of Madison as opposed to the City of Madison. This is the area that the city didn't want when it was incorporated about 1850. Among other things the population of the city is just over 190,000 while the town has only about 6000 people.

Brian Forte

41 Elizabeth Street Evandale 5069 SA 22 October 1993

If there is one thing freelancing does it's diminish your desire to write (long locs) in your spare (?) time as well.

Your book reviews always leave me breathless. I'm lucky if I get through a novel a month these days. Freelancing can take some of the blame * I do book reviews for Australian Mac User and (occasionally) Australian PC User amongst others * but part of the problem is a lack of interest.

Finally what's being non-religious got to do with ignoring Christmas? I've always presumed it was a matter of whether you were a believer in a particular religion (i.e. Christianity) rather than a person of a general persuasion (i.e. religion) which dictated what notice you took of various religious festivals.

{{But I do ignore all other religious festivals, so it seemed only proper to also ignore the most hyped and most commercialised one in our society also. EL}}

Lloyd Penney

4 Lisa St #412, Brampton ONT Canada L6T 4B6 5 November 1993

The Silverberg/Asimov book, Child of Time ... wasn't that based on the Asimov short story The Ugly Little Boy? The short film version was filmed here, a great short film. I wonder what a film of one of Asimov's extended short stories would look like?

I've been distributing Ain99 flyers wherever I'm going. Yvonne and I will be running the fanzine lounge at the Winnipeg Worldcon. Any tips or advice?

Jeanne Mealy

4157 Lyndale Ave S Minneapolis MN 55409 USA 6 January 1994

#62. John Newman is a humorous writer! His idea of a central point for fanzine printing and distribution point is excellent. Friends here have discussed the thought of a fannish copy shop where they understand what you need and turn out good quality repro for criminally cheap rates.

#63. You mention Neil Rest's wild-haired look. I've seen him with short hair, which was quite a shock.

Hee, hee, hee about your wanting a really bright shirt to shock people where you work. Did you find one? {{Dave Rike found me some Hawaiian shirts, and then a local mall briefly had a store that sold nicely bright surf shirts at $15. Jean got me the brightest one for Xmas, and I was so impressed that I went back and got another 5 of them for work. They were ... dazzled. EL}}

We saw a preview for the Doors series that George R R Martin was involved with. It was good, and he answered questions after the showings. No sign of it on TV, though.

#64. The Boskone panel Preserving Fannish Whatnots reminds me that someone is considering putting zines on CD-ROM. Have you heard about that. {{Not a word. Altho Lawrie Brown showed me the Hugo CD (that I failed to get) on his laptop BSD386, and that looked nice. EL}}

#65. I'm amazed Dick and Leah (DUFF) survived everything they went through (mostly involved with having to move, getting sick, etc.) I saw them at Corflu and they were still smiling about the fun they'd had Down Under. {{Indeed, and they didn't even mention having to survive my navigating when driving round Sydney ... cars and I don't mix well. EL}}

I've put the 1999 bid flyer through one or two apas. How's the bid coming along? {{The committee all seem to be busy this year organising the Australian SF and the Australian Media national cons. Back on track doing publicity as the year continues, I imagine. EL}} Excellent idea to combine the 1999 bidding parties with the Minneapolis in '73 parties! Any official response to this? {{I went off this idea a little, when the seriousness of the bid increased ... might not be the right message ... on the other hand, it would be fun. I'll talk with Mpls fans at Midwestcon. EL}}

You saw The Wizard of Speed and Time at Capricon ... was that the short or the movie? {{The movie. EL}} Have you heard of the way Mike Jittlov was ripped off by his business partner?

You mentioned having trouble with foreign phones. Do you have long distance phone cards there yet? I use them when out of town to save digging for change. {{You can buy phone cards ... people are encouraged to collect them, like stamps ... weird. I've never used one, and haven't seen a local phone that could use them. But, I also haven't used a phone other than at home, at Jean's place, and at work, since the last time I was in the USA. Spent the entire Easter weekend at home without using the phone, in or out. I don't like phones. EL}}

I was amused by your comment that you couldn't afford your trips without help from other fans -- nor would you NEED to make such trips. Some may call it a vicious circle; the rest of us get acquainted, get involved, have fun.

#67. I've forgotten to mention something I really enjoy in your zines -- the quality and range of illos. Thanks to you and the artists. {{The artists deserve all the credit - the number of times something that matches the text comes in at the last moment is astounding. EL}}

Such variety in the book reviews! In which book did Buck Coulson kill you off? {{To Renew The Ages. EL}}

Diane Fox

PO Box 9 Hazelbrook NSW 2779 Australia 18 Feb 1994

Liked the cover on [Geg 68]. I've had this experience more than once. It is the reason that many people become hoarders, unable to throw away anything that might become even remotely useful. (It makes sense in the country, where there are fewer shops and usually a good deal of space, but if you're living under cramped conditions it carries its own problems.)

Probably the wide gap between the advances in communication technology and the value of what is communicated is an example of the 90% crud law in action.

Being just a fraction ahead of the existing technology sounds frustrating in the extreme. You seem to have been not quite far enough ahead to be able to get a patent in. {{No way. Everything I've done has been obvious to anyone working in the field. The fact that some legal assholes in some countries allow patents for such things simply means there are too many lawyers round. EL}}

Agreed with Hal Hardenbergh's comments on drugs and prohibition. From what i gather, sections of the United States Government security (i.e. the CIA) were for a long time the biggest drug dealers, using massive government funding for growing and distributing the stuff. I think private enterprise may be catching up. Probably the main purpose of prohibition is to keep prices high and safeguard profits. I wonder what side effects the collapse of the USSR will have here * will Russia and its former satellite states be seen as a whole new market? {{I think our old system was easier * the Vice Squad ran vice, the Drug Squad sold drugs, robbery detail did the robberies. Now there was a system you could understand. EL}}

Mike McInerney

23 Shakespeare St Daly City, CA 94014 USA 20 Feb 1994

I was drifting into gafia by the middle '70's so I don't remember if I ever sent you any fanzines then, but I do recognise your name ... During the 60's and 70's I published more than 100 issues but under many different formats and names. Hklplod, Hydra (APA F), Number One (SAPS), Niapa, Ouija, Focal Point.

Corflu 9 seems like a Worldcon the way you report it. So many fans, so little time. I was at Corflu 1 and took photos there so it was good to see pictures of old friends still active.

I'd recognize Bruce Pelz, Don Fitch, Bill Bowers, Ted White and Bill Rotsler instantly, but Arnie Katz looked so different than I remember him from our Fanoclast /Fistfa days in '60's NYC! I'm glad to see that he is still in fandom. I've noticed his name in video game magazines as editor in chief along with my old buddy Ross Chamberlain (who I recruited into fandom when we worked together in NYC at Bookazine distributors).

As for new formats of music or TV, I'm still mad about quadraphonic (circa 1973, 1974) where the manufacturers tried to hype everyone into buying four speakers, two amps and spending a lot of money. Even then there were at least two versions of it.

Good to see Bob Coulson still active in fandom. He was one of the first faneds to send me a zine back in 1959 or 1960. Does he still pub Yandro? {{Finally gave up a few years ago. EL}}

I appeared in a Ted Johnstone Man from Uncle book as a singing trio at a night club "Mike, Mack and Ernie," also was a Pinkerton agent in Lee Hoffman's Legend of Black Jack Sam and an FBI agent in Ted White's Great Gold Steal Captain America book. I don't think any of them killed me off.


Andy Andruschak says he already knew that of "the total lack of support of Las Vegas fandom for this (1999 Worldcon) bid from out-of-town."

Chris Brimacombe sends a strange fanzine.

Peter Edick sends a card.

Al Fitzpatrick sends a card and his annual letter.

Gay Haldeman lets me know that the Ain99 flyers arrived and will be disseminated.

Teddy Harvia says he hasn't done ceramic tiles in his bathroom for a year. Complains about his work "the correct head count in the department does not automatically produce quality publications on time."

Alex.Heatley at vuw ac nz supports the Australian worldcon bid as it is almost as cheap as going to one in New Zealand.

John L Ingham (41 Rosemary Avenue, Lower Earley, Reading RG6 2YQ Berkshire England) writes he is looking for fine or better condition copies of an Australian S.F. Monthly #1 Sep 1955 and S.F. Monthly #5 Jan 1956, containing Eric Frank Russell stories. If any collector or dealer can help, please contact John.

Karen Herkes notes my report on hidden agendas at a Brisbane convention. She is associated with the very active Canberra group, and their newsletter.

Denny Lien and Terry Gary send email saying no time to send cards ... and send a card anyway.

Nick Shears (nshears at cix compulink co uk) emails that Entropion 9 is now five years late.

Sue Thomason finds the short book reviews useful.

Laurie Yates diverts a couple of Bill Kunkel's cartoons my way (see last issue), and says another issue of Doodlebug is out.

Joel Zakem sent a note.

About the Cover, by Ian Gunn

Ian Gunn offered a page of artwork for sale in the Swancon 18 Fan Fund auction, and Eric was the winning bidder. He chose an idea that Ian had already discussed with him: a library filled with fictional books * books that never existed.

There are almost 200 books depicted (plus three fanzines) and even the most widely read person would be hard-pressed to recognize them all. Consequently, Ian is offering a modest prize to the person who can correctly name the most real-life sources of these fictional works. Write to him at PO Box 567, Blackburn, 3130, Australia.

Ian would like to thank Marc Ortlieb, Alan Stewart and Sean-Paul Smith for their invaluable help in researching the titles.

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Cover by Ian Gunn (see back page for details) (paper version). Illustrations by Teddy Harvia and Bill Rotsler

A personal and science fiction fanzine 1 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, 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 * 1994. 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.