Gegenschein 58 August 1990


Conned Again

I think I'm supposed to go to a convention today, specifically Syncon. Since I'm sitting here typing this, it doesn't look as if I'm going to get there. Since I don't know precisely when it is on, nor precisely where it is on, and have no real idea how to get there anyway, the chances of going are declining rapidly. In fact, I don't even know if it is on, or was cancelled for lack of interest.

Welcome to Sydney fandom! Most cons manage to get out some sort of progress report before the con, especially to people who have paid for a membership on the basis of a flyer that specifically said there would be a later progress report. Apart from advertisements at other cons, I didn't see anything. Jean didn't get anything. Ken Ozanne didn't get anything. This treatment might help explain why recent Sydney cons have so few attendees, and none from interstate. I've had more details about Ditto, the fanzine con in Ilinois in October, than I have about the last two Sydney cons.

This sort of thing may also explain why I burst out laughing when I hear rumours about plans for a Worldcon bid from Sydney. It might explain why the rest of the world thinks it is a joke. I doubt Sydney could successfully bid one no trumps in a card game. I've seen more publicity for a hoax con than I've seen for the so-called Sydney Worldcon bid.

Don't let that stop you. Bid all you like, folks. Bidding, and bidding parties, can be great fun. But if you are serious about regarding current Sydney cons as training for a Worldcon, then you better wait until you can find another generation of fans. It appears the old fans are tired (I certainly am), and not bothering, and the new fans, if involved, are stuff ups and losers. For myself, I don't know that I'll bother to attempt to attend another Sydney convention. With the exception of a very few people, at the moment I wouldn't trust Sydney to run a booze-up in a brewery!

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This small con at the Diplomat in St Kilda, Melbourne in December 1989, had some wonderfully freaky giveaways in the con sample bag; I thought I'd taken a wrong turn, and ended up at the Easter Show (wrong season also). There were clown masks, and slot together cardboard models of the new VicRail trains. I took a bundle back to the University, so the engineering students had something to build when they visited the toy room.

Back to the giveaways. A list of St Kilda foreshores facilities, with a map. Fifty trivia quiz questions, for filling in while you waited for your meal in the wonderful Acland Street restaurants. A questionnaire. The St Kilda arts and crafts esplanade market. Two free postcard. A refresher towelette. A condom, and various booklets on std and aids, plus a booklet on sterilisation complete with gory drawings of where to stick the scalpel, and several other booklets from the family planning association. A single, thin rubber glove. A rock radio sticker. An Amnesty International pamphlet (I believe the con made a donation to this worthy organisation). Fanzines. In short, every freebee an enterprising con committee could get their hands on. It was a good idea; it was a fun idea; it was an idea other cons should emulate.

The thirty two page convention handbook was nicely informal, but sufficiently informative. Toga party, masquerade, sensible weapons policy (assume no one is stupid enough to haul round realistic looking weapons), no smoking in the con rooms, a policy of a plenitude of chocolate, especially for committee members (as a chocoholic, I loved that idea). Ian Gunn appears to be person to blame for many of the more amusing drawings in the handbook, with the con being run by Beky Tully, Danny Heap, Karen Pender, James Allen, Alan Stewart and Andrew Pam.

I made the mistake of taking the Thursday overnight bus down, after work, didn't sleep a wink, wandered miles round Melbourne bookshops and electronics shops all day Friday, and then tried to party all Friday night. This was not wise, and it lead to Terry Frost and Michelle Muijsert claiming (in numerous fanzines) I collapsed in a heap. Not true, I was just resting my eyes (for a few hours). I will admit that my days of all night fandom are now severely limited; I figure the problem is not keeping in training, rather than getting old and feeble. The following nights I did get some sleep, and was able to party till a more respectable hour. The con itself was low key, but good fun.

I was also delighted to see a post-con report, just before this issue went to photocopier. Great stuff.

Before returning to Sydney (again by overnight bus, groan) I was able to shop for some Xmas presents for Jean. Copies of a pictorial travelogue, a relatively complete set of Byron's poems, and a military dictionary (I wanted a space one, but this at least had several pages of rockets), all in dual English and Russian translation. Jean is in training for the day Australia gets the Cape York space port, and has Russian Energia rockets being launched. She figures someone will be needed to turn translated technical manuals into readable English, and she plans to be ready!

Danse Macabre

Any report I give of Danse Macabre at Easter is bound to be prejudiced by my being fan GoH. That said, I was particularly impressed by the pre-con publicity, and the appearance of planning. For example, I received numerous notes about which panels I was to be on. The con had at least six issues of Bizarre, the magazine of the 29th Australian Science Fiction Convention, edited by Dennis Callegari. The last three issues ran 8, 14 and 20 pages, and were followed at the con by a 34 page programme book; in short, good value even as fanzines. The progress reports even included con reports on Starwalking, a film review of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (which I haven't seen). As someone whose primary fannish focus is the written word, this con felt right even before I attended.

Events at the con included a teams Scrabble* event, the ASFF short story competition with several money awards, the Ditmar awards, the Threads (Handcraft and Design Society, for costume making), Art Show, Trivia Quiz, the auction. There were short improvised four person team games in the Theatre Sports event, where the topics include poems (each team member recites a line), slow motion commentary (two members move in slow motion while the other two members comment at high speed), opera and song (must be original, and must be sung), and much else. The film program appeared extensive (but since I'm not really much of a film goer, I couldn't comment on it).

Although the Diplomat worked as well as ever as a con hotel (the wonderful range of restaurants in Acland Street always help), block booking of the Spaceline across the street as a party hotel didn't work at all. The hotel was fine (our suite was wonderful for parties), however the outside doors were locked at an early hour, leaving non-guests with no easy access, and little incentive to wander over on the chance of a party. As a result, the parties were mostly at the Diplomat, as usual.

I particularly enjoyed the Business Session, since it provided yet another potential attempt to reduce Australian fandom to its natural state of anarchy. Although the attempt to remove the entire constitution did not work (and indeed, would actually be a mistake, since some idiot would then start up a new, complex one), we were able to head off the amendment to lop the end off the existing constitution. The end, no amendment will be in order if it has the effect of increasing the number of words in the Constitution has had a wonderfully salutary effect on the time wasted at Business Sessions. I had a great time speaking for one of the amendments, and then actually arguing against it. Luckily Michelle Muijsert twigged early about what was happening, and speaking against the motion, argued for it. This doubtless thoroughly confused some of the more serious minded attendees.

The real star of the convention was performance artist Stelarc, artist in residence at Ballarat College of Advanced Education. His collections of slides and videos of his own performances stunned his growing fannish audience, and assured interest in his talks on physical enhancement and artificial evolution via electronic and mechanical supplements to the body, and the possibility of re-building the body. He demonstrated a prosthetic third hand, and is currently building a complete artificial arm. These potential changes to the body will be familiar material for all well read science fiction fans.

From a review by Helen Thomson, in the Sunday Herald.

"Wearing more electrodes than an intensive care patient, Stelarc gradually builds up a display of the body's power through the medium of electronics. His body sets off sounds, activates a battery of globes and fluorescent tubes; all in a carefully orchestrated rhythm which begins with the heartbeat and pulse."

What was stunning, and disquietening for many in the audience, was the lengths to which Stelarc has gone in attempting to gain a distancing from his natural body. His performances have often involved him being suspended above the ground by means of (sterilised) meat hooks pushed through his skin. This intensely painful procedure would appear to indicate the man is certifiably mad. Perhaps this is so; or perhaps I only think so because I would not do it. On the other hand, my own habitual action of drinking 150 proof alcohol to excess during conventions may well have permanent harmful effects on me, whereas Stelarc's wounds heal in a few weeks. Who is to say which of us is mad? Talking with Stelarc was one of the most fascinating experiences of the convention.


Fanzine Schedules

With eighteen months between the past two issues of my fanzine Gegenschein, I felt relatively resigned from fandom. I was relatively resigned. However, Jean being GoH (well, actually Con Mascot) at Circulation in October 1989, as reported last issue, and being myself fan GoH in Melbourne during Easter 1990, reawakened the waning need to write ... something ... some letter substitute ... for my friends in fandom. I was pleased to find, today, that the something turned out to be the start of another issue of my fanzine.

Admittedly, typing up a few locs is hardly a whole zine, but, it is a start. It is much more of a start than I had last issue, when I had enormous trouble getting anything done, and indeed ended up with bits and pieces that didn't please me, simply to fill in the pages. There was far too much stuff merely pinched from the Net last issue, even if it was reasonably appropriate to the material on which I was commenting.

Now I have to rush to complete this, because the local post office has its mail count in a week, and I'd like to prepare 300 copies by then. See the cartoon on the front cover for excuses, if this seems late.

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General Natter

What an insipid title. Maybe I should call it General Electric? General Dynamics? General Products? Nah, someone has used them.

Copier Problems continue

Jean still has hopes of us getting the copier problem solved, although that now seems more a matter of a replacement copier rather than repairs. It has been perhaps two years since our Ricoh copier worked last, so the likelihood of repairs is fading. I've also been very slack about even trying to get it repaired. Partly I suppose because I've previously been allowed to make copies at work at highly favourable rates (basically at cost, which is really low on a million copies a year copier), so I haven't been hurting for getting copies done. Even now, the rate is only five cents a double sided sheet, which means the whole zine will cost at worst $120. Finding time in which to do them is entirely another thing however.

We aren't really thinking of going back to mimeo, despite having the equipment on hand here. It has been years since I've seen a reliable source of mimeo ink, and our former paper supplier went out of business ages ago. I should, I suppose, use up any remaining scraps of supplies in apas, but even that seems too much effort when copying is so easy.

Work Natter

As I mentioned in the previous issue, last year the School scraped some money up to network our student PC XT clone lab. This was mostly because the overstressed lecturers were about ready to revolt during the year due to the problems of running software consistently off the hard disks. They wanted our standard programs stored someplace safe, they wanted the PCs to actually work on demand. Of course, part of the problem was some of the students kept changing things, accidently or deliberately, thus breaking things for the next user. It got to the point where I even rewired some of the hard disk controllers to disable writing on some of the hard disks, but this trick won't work on all models.

The obvious solution was, and still is, to run everything on minicomputers, where you know what the hell is going on, and can stop most people from stuffing it up. For school use, mini computers have it all over PCs, and will continue to do so until students can each have an individual PC for their own, exclusive use. This highly desirable state doesn't seem likely in the near future. On the other hand, there are a lot of neat products available that only run on PCs, and they are obviously taking over vast swags of business computing. There really wasn't much of a choice, although I wish I'd resisted networks a bit more, or demanded more resources before looking at networks.

I wasted a hell of a lot of time trying out various vendor's network products. In some cases, I tried to try them out, but they just plain didn't work at all. There were several supplier organised `demonstrations' in which the product simply wouldn't work in our labs. This rapidly gave me the impression that networking was the biggest crock of shit to hit the computer scene in years. This impression has not altered over the past year of exposure to even more of these products. There are a lot of things out there that work, but there can also be a lot of agony in getting them working the way you want. And if the way you want doesn't coincide closely with some vendor's offering, then your problems simply multiply out of sight.

Eventually I gave up in disgust on the network vendors. Instead, I bought about 30 cheap Western Digital Ethernet cards for the PC clones from the lowest price source. There were cheaper methods (like Arcnet), but I liked the idea of a more versatile solution.

Since all the Universities in Australia were getting into extending communication links throughout the country, Martin and I `interpreted' the lecturer's demand for a PC network somewhat liberally. OK, very liberally. In fact, we treated it pretty much like all other requests. Like the song says: If you can't please everyone, well, you've got to please yourself.

I wired up most of the lecturer's offices, dropped lines from the 22nd floor (where some of our computers live in Electrical Engineering's air conditioned room) to our office on the 15th floor, as well as wiring the PC lab. Well, RG58 cable is basically cheap, provided you don't get it from a network vendor, and I'd bought two drums of it.

Martin and I managed to talk the University Computer Services centre (who had just acquired a large grant to install their own University wide network) into buying for us a second much more expensive VME bus Ethernet card for our MIPS minicomputer. We already had one card for our own network, obtained when we bought the computer. This second card was so we could connect our forthcoming network to their rapidly expanding network.

We had found a second hand Ethernet card for the Hewlett Packard 9000/550 a year or so before (when these ideas were barely a glimmer in our eyes). Then we persuaded the Computer Services people to buy the exceedingly expensive Wollongong TCP/IP software for that model computer (the Computer Services people were already used to spending large amounts on network gear by then).

Our more recent computers, the two Silicon Graphics and the little Sun Sparc workstation, already had Ethernet fitted as standard, and the appropriate NFS software to connect them came with them as part of the Unix package. This meant we could connect all our Unix minicomputers together without much further cost. A certain amount of head scratching, worrying, cursing configuration files, and a few transceivers, but not much cost.

I wired up all the minicomputers, and Martin read up on network software, and got the *telnet* and *ftp* programs going so they could talk to each other. We tested some commercial versions of the same programs for our lab full of PCs, without being all that impressed. Finally, we found on the Internet some free versions of *telnet* and *ftp* for the PCs. This let the PCs communicate with the minicomputers, but didn't exactly give us a transparent local area network, as demanded by our lecturers. On the other hand, we had spent about half the amount we had said it would cost, and didn't really look like getting more money to spare to complete the job.

We were lucky again. To the tune of a free copy of Netware 2.15, courtesy of Novell, who had just moved into Australia and were making special offers to Universities. To keep costs down, the server for that was one of the lecturer's damaged and discarded PC AT, with a replacement drive. Since Novell had about 70% of the PC network market, this seemed a nice, safe way to go.

Getting the Novell stuff working from scratch was a real pain, since it didn't want to work with our cards, even after I found how to make it use their drivers. Tried linking it several times before I finally got it working, and even then I couldn't force it to print using our serial printers. This kept me tearing my hair, but time to the next semester was getting tight so eventually I simply had to give up experimenting and run as it was.

The printing problems stayed unsolved for a semester. We continued to share a couple of HP Rugged Writer printers, using a little dumb serial printer sharer to allow eight PCs to talk to each printer. Over the break, I experimented, and found Novell objected to the brand of serial printer card we owned. In fact, it appeared to object to every serial card I tried. When I tried an antique, obsolete serial card, it worked. Don't ask me what I'm going to replace that card with if it dies, because I haven't a clue where to get another one.

Looks like doing the training course Novell offer would be a good idea, especially if you can get hints on nasty stuff like that, but it was too expensive. Now the network is going, the bits that are working seem reliable enough, except for unexplained crashes every now and then when things are busy. Since we can't afford to buy any test equipment or monitor software, the crashes look like remaining a mystery for a while longer.

The net result (sorry about that) is that these days you can get through to pretty much any of the 60,000 computers on the Internet from pretty much any PC or computer in the School. This may be considered a slight over reaction to the original request to `network the PC lab', but no-one has complained (we also haven't exactly explained anything we did). Martin and I are having great fun grabbing interesting files from all over the world. As indeed are some of the more inquisitive students. Mind you, all this is not before time. This sort of stuff has been commonplace elsewhere in the world for years.

Electronic mail is still a problem. The version of sendmail we had on our bridge machine didn't want to work. Martin has a new version (nabbed from elsewhere on the net) so mail should soon be working correctly on the Maths machines; I've listed several email addresses however, just in case things continue to bounce. However it is obvious that sometime soon I'll be able to get locs via email, direct on our own systems.

Jean's Home Update

As I mentioned last issue, Jean bought a deceased estate Federation house in Ryde, some 15 kilometres from the city, round Xmas. The seventy five year old four room (plus kitchen, bathroom and sunporch) house suffers from rising damp, so it was given a round of silicon injections. Jean has been sealing cracks and painting the front room so she can turn it into her office.

With her parents visiting this June, she wanted to have a wash basin in the bathroom (we had been using the kitchen sink). But before she could add a washbasin, she had to remove a cabinet that was in the way, and have a plumber install pipes. But before the plumber could install pipes, she had to remove the ancient wall boards. However replacing the wall after the pipes were installed meant a handyman, a plumber to change the toilet, plus a plasterer to do the ceiling, then Jean painted the new walls, and then a tiler to put in a new floor, and after all that (and numerous delays while waiting for each), she still didn't actually have the hand basin because now wall tiles were needed.

In the end, Jean did most of the remaining tiling, and plumbing, herself, and the result looks like it will work well. In fact, the result looks entirely too good for the rest of the house.


My place in the Mountains is not progressing at nearly the same rate. All this feverish activity at Jean's made me decide to clean out the garage, and turn it into something more workable. But first, I needed somewhere into which to empty the garage! Jean suggested the garbage bin, but I ignored that.

Took months to arrange to get a concrete slab in the yard for a garden shed. Took a fair while to get round to painting the slab. Took even longer to get a shed installed on it. Then it was time to extend the slab, because the shed was slightly larger than the original advertised shed size. Then the extensions had to be painted. Then some shelves had to go into the shed. And finally, I took some of the garbage in the garage out to the shed, thus allowing some small amount of working space.

Recently the Water Board visited, looking for a manhole (okay, despite the entire crew being men, we'll change that to an `access hole') cover. I have a bad feeling that their cover may be about three feet down, directly under my concrete slab.

Real Soon Now I'll actually get started in renovating the garage! But first, I need to rewire it, so I can install gadgets where I want. Lights would be next, maybe a half dozen big fluros. Then I need to install insulation any place I haven't already done so, and then fit ceiling tiles. I was thinking of the el cheapo polystyrene ones, since they would be easy to fit. On the other hand, they probably don't look the best. Sigh.

The preliminary to all this potential renovation involved painting the floor. Well, actually more accurately, painting those bits of the floor that were exposed to the light of day for the first time in a decade, by removal of some of the garbage. Paving paint comes in very bright colours. I picked the best of a bad range of colours, and with help from Mike Edge, did some painting. I have to admit that, what looked almost acceptable on a sample card, looked very, very vivid when seen by the square metre! Jean took one look, and went out and found another brand of paving paint, with at least one shade that looked better. I rapidly decided that the initial attempt at painting was just undercoat!

I suppose, eventually, I'll be able to report some sort of conclusion to all these efforts, but at the moment it simply seems to be the moving of piles of rubbish from one place to another place.

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Book Reviews

As always, my book reviews are intended as a buyer's guide, not as critical reviews. I enjoy space opera, especially if it is all techie Analog like stuff. I can't stand horror, fantasy, or sword and sorcery. If that doesn't suit you, go read reviews someplace else. I like my stories to be stories; to have action and adventure, a plot structure, beginning, a middle and a climax that resolves most of the situation. I understand life isn't like that; if I liked life, I wouldn't bother to read fiction. This means most new wave doesn't impress me. If an author can do all that groovy stuff, and still make me think about new ideas, then I'm real impressed. Character I can take or leave; nice to have it, especially if it is well and unintrusively done, but I can manage fine with just story, action and ideas. This is usually considered regressive by literary critics, but I don't care.

Allen, Roger McBride Farside Canon

Baen Books, August 1988, 406 pages, ISBN 0-671-65428-4

First point. Cover artists who don't read what the author says, and then do something totally inappropriate help neither the author nor the publisher. Laser beams from the moon are unlikely to look like badly done jagged lightning bolts. I expected better from Baen, but perhaps the cost accountants have taken over the art department (as well as everything else in the world).

Allen has done some excellent military adventure SF, and this is in the same style. Earth vs the planetary colonies, followed via an asteroid being redirected from its orbit so its mineral resources can be used by Earth. Meanwhile, Garrison Morrow, an obscure geologist working in Iceland, gets more deeply involved with his mysterious benefactors. And just who really will end up in control of the laser array on the far side of the moon, and what can they do with its enormous power?

Caidin, Martin, Beamriders

Pan, 1990, ISBN 0-330-30980-3, 411p, $10.99 Baen, June 1989, 0-671-69823-0, 411p, $7.95 US$3.95

Pretty much a straight forward high tech `boys own' adventure story, fast paced as one expects from the author of `Cyborg'. The technology isn't believable: lasers used to beam human beings from place to place, but provided you are willing to overlook this minor(?) point, the story moves smoothly enough, and is fast paced.

There are the usual development problems, deaths in the team, dire consequences of the work, and so on. Political complications are added because the development effort is in Venezuela, with some US funding. The novel opens with a nice side plot of the intrepid and beautiful woman reporter hot on the trail of a story.

Development done, various adventures follow, mostly in `Impossible Mission' style. In other words, Caidin is setting it up for a TV series, and doing a reasonable job of it.

One thing about the sale of this book does trouble me. The Baen edition was out in Australia six months before the UK version, which appears to be from the same plates, but Pan's UK version costs 30% more. I can't see any reason Australian readers should have to put up with that, and unless the UK publishers get their act together on both delivery dates and prices, I can't see how they expect to sell here.

Carver, Jeffrey A, From A Changling Star

Bantam, January 1989, 355 pages, ISBN 0-553-27639-5

An exciting action sf-detective novel that ranges from nanotechnology to supernovas, packed with inventive twists. Certainly the best from Jeffrey Carver that I've seen, and more than sufficient to stand alongside any of the better known hard sf writers.

The opening starts with a real bang, and the pace simply keeps rising from there on. Incidentally, Eric Drexler (the nanotechnology prophet) is one of the characters in the novel, despite it being set 300 years in the future. Logical enough, when you think about it. Carver has gone onto my must buy list with this one.

Edmondson, G. C. To Sail the Century Sea

Ace, July 1981, 194 pages, ISBN 0-441-81787-4

This hard to find classic is a continuation of "The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream", set ten years after the time travelling adventures of the yawl "Alice". The crew of the "Alice" had, naturally, not exactly been believed, and their careers were ruined as a result of their adventures in the past. However at this time, Imperial America (and it isn't precisely the one we know) needed a weapon, and decided that the crew of the "Alice" were their best chance. However, the experts who decided where the time stream could be best diverted, and how deadly the intervention needed to be, were totally out of touch with any reality (except that of Rambo movies). A wonderful satire, and delightful adventure, from an underrated and amusing author.

Frankowski, Leo, The High-Tech Knight

Ballantine, March 1989, 247 pages, ISBN 0-345-32763-2

Book Two in the adventures of Conrad Stargard, a 20th century Polish socialist who was accidently transported to 13th Century Poland, just ten years before the Mongol invasion. Like Martin Padway in the classic "Lest Darkness Fall", he decides to bring technology to his country, and try to stop the Mongols. One problem, from his socialist viewpoint, is that he gets many of his best results from introducing uncontrolled free enterprise in a feudal society, but pragmatism wins out over principles, at least in this.

In this book, his troubles stem from Teutonic Knights of Saint Mary's Hospital at Jerusalem, a bunch of murderous slave traders, but well armed, powerful, and very ready to have their champion fighter skewer Conrad. As with the first book, a nicely done adventure, bringing a more up to date viewpoint to the ideas depicted in the L Sprague de Camp classic.

Frankowski, Leo, The Radiant Warrior

Ballantine, July 1989, 281 pages, ISBN 0-345-32764-0

Book three in the Conrad Stargard series, in which the protagonist sets up a chain of Playboy clubs in Thirteenth Century Poland, equips his retainers with plate armour, invents the general staff, and a modern army, complete with Monitor style armour plated river boats. I'm not at all sure just how accurate some of Frankowski's descriptions of the times are, but his history of materials technology sounds fine. Unfortunately, some patches of the novel reduce to almost an outline of industrial history, almost as if Frankowski was growing bored with the idea.

Frankowski, Leo, The Flying Warlord

Ballantine, October 1989, 232 pages, ISBN 0-345-32765-9

The fourth Conrad Stargard novel puts Thirteenth Century Polish steam power and guns against the unlimited human resources of the Mongol horde. Even with radios, armoured river boats, and spotter planes, the Horde have a massive advantage.

It also places Conrad in a position where he might ride away from the country before the invasion ... and in another alternate history, he does exactly this, to the consternation of the time masters who are watching events unfold. Their consternation increases when their own history starts going wrong. The novel ends with no explanation of the framing story, of the time masters who have observed Conrad's `career'. Still, it will be interesting to see whether Frankowski writes another novel.

Ing, Dean, The Big Lifters

Tor, July 1989, 243 pages, ISBN 0-812-54105-7

When a boy's family is accidently killed in a trucking accident, the boy decides that he is going to do something about it. If I recall rightly, John Wesley was a religious fanatic who founded Methodism a century or so ago. John Wesley Peel grew up to be a fanatic, who built a business that was going to take the trucking industry off the road. Peel was on his way to kill the trucking industry economically, by replacing it with cheaper and safer transport. And no-one in America wants to see the trucking business die, so Peel must die first, and if the union doesn't put a contract out on him, the trucking industry will, and that is if the Middle East terrorists don't get there first.

Meanwhile, Peel's high tech research team are busy trying to get an even more advanced technology off the ground, despite funding problems, and trying to keep a multimillion dollar project out from under the notice of their own boss.

A nice, taut action novel, with lots of big scenes, as I've come to expect from Dean Ing.

McCollum, Michael, A Greater Infinity

Ballantine, 30167, Feb 1982, US$2.50

The first Michael McCollum novel, as far as I know. I bought it because I enjoyed his later novels, and then discovered I'd seen this when it was serialised.

Duncan MacElroy, engineering student, gets involved in a Paratime war, and ends up being the man on the spot. Because our Earth did not stumble upon Paratime, the energies that would have explored alternate Earths were directed towards space. Conversely, the Paratime Earth never did attempt to explore space, since they had so many fair to beautiful duplicate Earths to explore.

The enemy are Neanderthals, whose motives for being nasty, brutish and short (I'm sorry, I don't know what made me type that) are never explored. There is ample scope for a sequel, but as far as I know, it never appeared. The ease with which the protagonist beds attractive women from the Paratime forces seems to indicate that all partook of '60's and '70's hippy mores, which does touch credulity a tad. Probably suited the intended twelve year old audience well enough however.

The story has been written numerous times (mostly it seems by Keith Laumer), but McCollum's version is fast paced, well written, and generally agreeable.

The active pacing could be a consequence of it originally being three stories in Analog, printed over a period of a few years, starting in 1979.

McCollum, Michael, Thunder Strike!

Ballantine, June 1989, 403 p, ISBN 0-345-35352-8

Another nice near future high tech SF novel from an author who has produced a steady stream of similar hard sf works.

There have been early attempts at asteroid mining, the moon is colonised, and humans are expanding into space. A comet is discovered near Jupiter, and eventually it is discovered to be likely to hit the Earth.

The nice thing about this novel is that you don't just vaporise a large comet nucleus, nor do you easily divert its course, even when it is absolutely critical that you do manage to do so. Pulling off miracles takes sacrifices, and those who make them are more than a little unwilling to become victims, even for a greater good.

Despite the heavy engineering scenes, the majority of this book (like many of McCollum's earlier works) is about politics, and the conflicts between well meaning people with totally different aims. The protagonists get more than slightly involved in the discovery, and the engineering works, as well as trapped directly in the course of the comet, which should provide something for action freaks.

McDevitt, Jack, The Hercules Text

Sphere, 1988 (Ace 1986), ISBN 0-7474-0157-8, 307p, $10.99

First contact, but not your tacky invading aliens. A message, one that we may or may not be able to understand, and certainly not aimed at us. But a civilisation that modulates the energy output of pulsars as a messaging media may not even be understandable. There is no chance of influencing or even contacting such beings. Especially when it appears they had to build their own stars as light exercise.

Scraps of knowledge can be gathered, but even these scraps threaten all manner of empires, industrial, political, religious. For the scientists, it is knowledge at any cost. But even they can see and be influenced by the repercussions of their studies. The descriptions of the possible discoveries seem detailed and accurate. Obviously, such a novel has to be more concerned with the human relationships involved, and these are done in full. An excellent novel, from an obviously painstaking and skillful author.

McDevitt, Jack, A Talent for War

Ace, Feb 1989, ISBN 0-441-79553-6, $7.95 US$3.95

Not your average sci-fi war story. Christopher Sim was an interstellar hero with a talent for war, and his exploits were legend throughout human space. It was he who took a ragtag group of misfits and led them on to defeat the alien Ashiyyur.

However when antiquitarian Alex Benedict tracks down interesting new information about the dead hero, it leads to a trail of misinformation, deceit and suspicion. Two centuries aren't enough to remove all the passion from his acts, nor all the potential for harm.

What follows is a literate and enthralling detective story, highly commended to those who enjoyed the author's first book `The Hercules Text'.

Rowley, Christopher, The War For Eternity

Arrow, 1986, 337 pages, ISBN 0-09-948910-4

The independent bearlike aliens of Fenrille, and the even more stiffly independent human clans had been fighting limited territorial battles in the Highlands since settlement. However the fights were not between Man and Fein, but between clan and clan. Meanwhile, the Highlands became rich on the anti aging drugs that could only be gathered in the Highlands.

But if the Highlands were rich, the rulers of the decadent coastal port city were even richer, and they didn't want their income stopped. The rulers of Earth were more than nervous about their dependence on the drugs, and sent their bio-engineered, armoured spacefleet marines to seize the planet.

However no war ever goes the way everyone expects, and a fragile ecology can't always be forced into the patterns one wishes. Nor do all the protagonists act as expected.

An excellent, thoughtful first novel, that lead me to seek others by the same author.

Rowley, Christopher, Starhammer

Arrow, 1986, 297 pages, ISBN 0-09-949270-9

The Laowon Imperium have dominated the Worlds of Man for a thousand years. Although nominally independent after the war, the human race is being slowly crushed. There are more human slaves on Laowon planets than there are free humans. This is the story of one slave, who escapes, and attempts to make a life for himself as a detective on a declining human colony.

When a terrorist threatens a high ranking Laowan visitor, no human can stay neutral, for the Laowan response could be devastating. Rowley is an interesting author I hadn't encountered previously. I hope that does not remain the case.

Rowley, Christopher, The Vang. The Military Form.

Legend, 1989, 369 pages, ISBN 0-09-963090-7

For three thousand years, humans have been exploring the stars, establishing mining bases, and colonising. The Laowan threat was long over, thanks to the activation of the star destroying weapon of a peaceful but long dead race. However, that gentle and mighty advanced race was dead because they had encountered the spacefleets of the Vang a billion years before.

But even a weapon that destroys suns couldn't destroy every ship of another advanced race. And in orbit in the Saskatch star system is a small survival capsule which still contains the remains of a parasitic and biologically superior Vang. When a miner finds the drifting capsule, it rapidly becomes a close encounter of the fatal kind. Indeed, if the one Vang can find the resources to breed, it will be the end of more than one star system.

A very nicely done piece of rousing space opera, as the Vang try to take over an isolated solar system, and the humans who recognise the almost unlimited potential of the race facing them try to flee.

Schenck, Hilbert, Steam Bird

Tor, August 1988, 213 pages, ISBN 812-55400-0

Full steam ahead for the liftoff of a dream, when the US president is fooled into ordering the takeoff of the world's first, and only, atomic powered, steam driven aircraft. This is straight down the line hi-tech hi-jinks, and if some of the characters are a mite too convenient in their actions, it doesn't much matter.

Schenck worked on a steam turbine driven fan jet design at Pratt and Whitney in the 1950's, when the US Air Force was seriously considering just such a plane. His thorough knowledge of the possibilities of steam shine through the story, illuminating the nature of the steam enthusiasts at Moosefoot. In fact, his characters sound just like the engineering students who visit my office and enthuse about the trains they can see from the window. I loved this story when it first appeared in "Analog", and I'm delighted to have it in book form.

Zahn, Timothy, Deadman Switch

Baen, October 1988, 373 pages, ISBN 0-671-69784-6

This piece of drivel depicts a region of space where only the dead may guide a ship, so every ship entering carries two convicted felons, ready to be killed to act as pilots in and out. In this case, the protagonist becomes aware that one of the felons is not guilty.

There are a fair number of plot complications used to pad out things to novel length, but when you start with a stupid premise, it is hard to rescue a story. Not recommended.

Future Visions Software

SF Library, Version 2

This menu-driven science fiction, fantasy and horror personal library update program by Henry Schaffer, comes with over 6000 preloaded records, which can be displayed on screen, printed, or saved to disk. I got my copy from Future Visions Books, 10630 N.W. Freeway (US Hwy 290) Houston, Texas, 77092, USA, (713) 682-4212, who tell me they now also have a Macintosh version, as well as this IBM version. It cost me US$39.95 plus $3.20 postage.

The single 5.25 inch IBM disk comes in a zip lock bag (the traditional method of distributing low cost programs) with a twelve page manual. The distribution disk unpacks to occupy about 1.2 megabyte of your hard disk. The program is menu driven, and easy to use. You can add books to it, delete books, or update existing information.

Looks like it was written in one of the dBase like compilers, judging from the index files it creates. Whatever the method, indexed access is acceptably fast, when doing author or title searches. You can search for a particular author, or for any authors matching one or more letters of a name. You can also do partial searches on titles, so if you can only remember part of a title, you can enter what you recall and search for it. I'm sure it would suit a bookshop, for example. Searches on other fields are more restrictive. You can search for records that exactly match one, or more, of the fields. You can also search for four separate items in a field (e.g. Publisher Ace or Baen or DelRey).

The major restrictions on the program are the limited spaces available under each predefined field. The author's name includes only 8 letters, the book title only 30, the publisher 10 letters. You can classify by subject (3 letters), and have a single character ownership field. There are two optional user defined fields of two and six letters, plus a price field and a single character binding field. Finally, there is a remark field.

It is easy to imagine having a problem with authors such as Frank Herbert and Brian Herbert, or the various Smiths (EE, George E, George O).

The program requires an IBM PC (Mac version also available) with at least 512k of memory, and 1.2 megabyte room on a hard disk. It ran fine when tested on an AT clone with imitation Hercules monochrome display, however a colour display is supported.

My testing didn't provoke any crashes, although the author warns that you may have to rebuild the index files from time to time by reason of unspecified evil magic from the database. The rebuilding of the indexes is slow, taking up to a half hour or so. The manual includes a number of tips on using the library for generating want lists, recording condition of books, cataloguing anthologies, keeping insurance records, and the like. A twice yearly book data update service is available, for US$30 a year.

I personally thought the program was worthwhile, just to save typing 6000 entries; but I don't use IBM PCs for my records, and indeed bought it intending to move the book data to a different system. The fact that it all hangs together nicely and works as a search service or bookshop list is a decided bonus.


Iris Virtual Book Processor V1.27

This is a limited hypertext book display system, written in Turbo Pascal, available very cheaply from UserCopy, 4 Falcon Lane East, Fairport, NY 14450-3312, USA (716) 425-3463. You can get a number of science fiction oriented texts from them.

Iris viewers are distributed as Shareware. The updated author package, Prism, includes features to allow easier conversion of existing text files into Iris.

Iris is also suitable for writing text adventure games, since you have a `batch' like language available for controlling what displays where and when.

Readers can select screen and border colours, switch sound on and off, use bookmarks, view a list of books, send output to a speech synthesizer (if available) or shell out to DOS.

Authors can select colour, sound, make windows, set variables, use arithmetic and logical operators, call external programs, accept and test user input, link topics via menus or `hotwords', autoplay a virtual book, and even provide encrypted text.

The virtual books available include The Virtual Society by Harvey Wheeler (US$4), The Science Fiction Review Library, Thomas Easton's reviews for Analog in 1989 (US$4), The Hitchhiker's Guide to Science Fiction, a compendium of ideas from Hugo and Nebula award winners, by Husted and Rhodes (US$6), plus another half dozen or so, all at similar low prices.

My own opinion is that general software needs to go a little further before viewing on screen is convenient, but this style of thing goes a fair way towards what we need. The main problem is that, so far, computer displays are still far too pathetic to consider as a primary reading device. I'd guess that about 2000 by 2000 pixel displays, with anti-aliasing and at least 80 Hz refresh rates, would be needed. I look forward to the day they are readily and cheaply available, but can't see it in the next five years. Good displays are still a premium price item.

Drawing by Teddy Harvia

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Terry Jeeves

56 Red Scar Drive Scarborough, VO12 5RQ UK

Re your comment on `Violence in the Games Room' .. careful chum, you'll have the `TV doesn't breed violence' brigades down on your neck. Personally I agree with you * the latest shoot 'em up laser and paint pellet gun fight theatres just spread the violence even more. As for TV, if it can't influence people, why do advertisers spend so much on it?

Lloyd Penney

412-22 Riverwood Parkway Toronto, Ont. Canada M8Y 4E1

At this year's Worldcon in New Orleans, I did something I've never before done ... go to a film in the film program. I chose the mystery film scheduled for the end of the convention, and I wasn't disappointed ... it was Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

I recall a Canadian convention ... we were waiting to go downstairs, and we had pushed the button for the elevator. The elevator doors open, but what do we find inside but Mike Glicksohn and cronies inside the car, card table and chairs unfolded and in use, and a poker game going on. He simply looked at us, said "Sorry, you'll have to wait for the next one," and reached up to push a button as the doors closed on our amazed faces. {{Mike, what do you say to that? EL}}

Real maple syrup? Too many companies are peddling liquefied brown sugar with maple flavouring as maple syrup. If you paid an astounding amount of money {{we did}} then it's a good bet you got the real thing. Too often, when I'm in the USA, the menu advertises real maple syrup, when all it is liquid sugar. The increasing problem of acid rain is killing whole forests, and the sweet product is getting more and more expensive in Canada. In maple producing areas of the north eastern States, such as Vermont and New Hampshire, the problem is even worse.

Chester D Cuthbert

1104 Mulvey Avenue, Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada R3M 1J5

If in your wanderings you spy any hardcover books by A Merritt in collectable condition at reasonable prices, could you obtain them for me. Merritt is the only author I collect exhaustively, and his books are uncommon here, excepting in paperback. {{ Alas, I have none, and don't even recall seeing any, but I do travel in the wrong areas to locate them. Can any readers assist? EL}}

I have never attended a convention, and I know nothing about computers, but your notes suggest that both these things can become lifetime preoccupations in themselves.

Ours is a complex world; we can only try to simplify our requirements. {{Living in a cave is probably simple; I like complexity, and think the only way we can exploit our potential as humans is through complexity ... besides, there is a certain complexity even in taking technology to the point where books are possible. EL}}

Michael P Kube-McDowell

PO Box 506, Okemos MI 48805-0506 USA

With some embarrassment, I would like to publicly correct an unfortunate copyediting error which muddies the dedication to my (then) new novel Alternities. "Eleanor Mavor" is in fact "Elinor Mavor, who succeeded Ted White as editor of Amazing in the late 70's and kept the magazine alive until TSR and George Scithers took over a few years later. Under her editorial pseudonym of Omar Gohagen, Elinor bought my first three SF stories * including the debut of Merritt Thackery, a central figure in my Trigon Disunity books. Elinor and Melissa Singer (who, then a Berkley editor, bought my first three SF novels) were the midwives of my career, and the dedication was meant as a thank you for their encouragement and support.

I hope the error will be corrected for the second printing of Alternities. In the meanwhile, I'll be blue-pencilling (and blushing) every time I autograph a copy.

We Also Heard From (1988)

Alan Wilson Al Fitzpatrick

We also heard from (1990)

Chris Bates and Janice Murray re their Chili Fest and wedding (hmm, I think that my priorities there indicate I should have had lunch) Cathy Howard Damir Coklin LLoyd Penney Chester Cuthbert Ken Lake Harry Warner Jr David Palter, who says he has resigned from fandom {{death does not release you}}

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A Fanzine for my acquaintances in the SF world

Edited and published by Eric Lindsay

Gegenschein is published whenever the Editor has enough material and time to fill an issue. Comments are encouraged, and should be sent to: Eric Lindsay, 6 Hillcrest Avenue, Faulconbridge, NSW 2776 Australia.(Obsolete)

Telephone: BH, Mon-Thu (02) 2189651 (Uni Technology, Sydney), AH, Mon-Wed (02) 809 4610 AH, Thu and all day Fri, Sat, Sun, (047) 51 2258

Electronic Mail: eric at eric at and eric at utsmaths maths uts edu au

Ask Jean about trades, since she keeps the mailing lists.

Copyright * 1990. 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.