LOC: Pyrotechnics #38

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Andrew Plotkin

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Sep 10, 2003, 1:27:00 AM9/10/03
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Pyrotechnics #38: August 1986

Editors: Gail and Jamie Hanrahan

(Please pardon the extreme lateness of my letter of comment. I am posting
this to RASFF, on the theory that the editors' address is no longer valid,
but if someone can give me a current pointer I'll be happy to forward it. Or
post it to your LiveJournal, or whatever you're using. Kids these days.
Sheesh.)

(Also, and more seriously, I apologize in advance for any social gaffes I
may make in this post. I am ignorant of pre-RASFF fan circles; I don't know
who, among the people I am about to respond to, is still alive, or still
married, or still speaking to whomever, or still employed, or still whatever
else they were in 1986. I approach this zine with the delight and naivete of
the complete cluebag.)

So....

A month ago, I found this fanzine in my basement.

My father's basement, actually. It was my basement too, but then I went to
college and got a job and my own place and stuff, so it was just my father's
basement. Then he moved -- twice -- but he took his stuff with him, so it
was still in his basement. Twice. Then I went to visit, and picked up some
stuff. Including Pyrotechnics #38.

I don't think I ever read the zine. I must have got it at... my first
Balticon? No, that was 1985. Must have been an Evecon or Castlecon.
Probably. This stapled, xeroxed thing. (I didn't know from duplicators back
then, and still don't.) I may have tried to read it. I must not have been
very interested.

Now it's 2003, and it's *fascinating*. Cultural artifact exhibit 00001. I'm
an East-Coast person (as you can tell from my early con resume). I've just
barely heard of General Technics. I recognize a few of the contributors'
names from rec.arts.sf.fandom, but most of this is brand-new ancient history
to me.

Let the analysis commence.

Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.

Back in The Day, of course, the letters "H", "T", "T", and "P" were rarely
seen in such close company. Pyro#38 gleefully advertises that submissions
can be sent "electronically via Usenet" (sic?) to
{decvax,ucbvax,ihnp4}!sdcsvax!calmasd!gail. Or by 5.25" floppy in IBM
format, Kaypro, etc.

Set in finest Courier. I *love* technology.


Articles of note:


* Why Times Are Hard for Hard SF (James Brunet)

"Today, I find very little hard SF that is *really* good, Sturgeon's Law not
withstanding. The demand for hard SF is strong; yet editors and publishers
complain that not enough saleable hard SF is being presented to them. And as
the quantity of hard SF has fallen, so has the quality. The Bears, Brins,
Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges are all too few."

An eyebrow-raising lead from this vantage. For a start, the number of Bears,
Brins, Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges publishing SF has not fallen an iota
since 1986. On the other hand, the recent quality of these authors has come
under considerable question -- with the exception of Vernor Vinge, who some
would say didn't even hit his stride until 1991.

(To be fair, I don't know whether Joan D. Vinge is regarded as having jumped
the shark. But I don't think Brunet meant her.)

Anyhow, Brunet goes on to make three points:

Point one:

Science has gotten too complicated to follow. "Twenty years ago, SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN[*] was for the most part accessible to the knowledgeable lay
reader... In 1960, it was possible for the educated layman to have a
moderately decent comprehension of what was happening at the boundaries of
physics, astronomy, and biochemistry...."

...and, in the inconceivably modern world of 1986, nobody can know much
about everything. (Especially not authors, who are probably trying to hold
down a day job and write on top of it.) Research costs time. You can only
spend so much time researching if you want to get to the writing part.
Therefore, hard SF writers bungle stuff. QED.

I'm not convinced.

That is, yes, it's true that fields of science got really specialized. I
don't think they're *more* so in 2003 than in 1986.

(Interestingly, I heard very much this discussion at Confluence 2003 -- a
panel discussion on the lag between science and science fiction. (Hal
Clement, Stephen C. Fisher, Geoff Landis, Diane Turnshek, Sarah Zettel.)
Same point: it's hard to keep up. The panelists didn't put forth the 80s as
the Good Old Days when it was easy; that's still the 50s and 60s. So I guess
we all agree there.)

(One point that *did* get made is that the *big* advances in physics were
all in the 20s and 30s! The first half of the 20th century turned science
upside down and inside out. Everything has *slowed down* since then. All
these varied, specialized, detailed fields of study is what science looks
like when there *aren't* revolutions every half-hour.)

(And the 21st century? We could be teetering towards a revolution in biology
and genetics. The same kind of revolution as quantum theory and relativity?
Will we open up enough half-understood new principles -- enough *ignorance*
at the cutting edge -- to make hard SF easy, once again? Beats me. Patent
lawyers may make all that irrelevant, says the cynic.)

In any case: is cutting-edge really the point? If I write a story based on
really well-researched 1986 science, is that not hard SF? It's not like a
whole lot has been proved *wrong* since then. Some things, yes. Bujold gets
twitted about making stress-induced stomach ulcers a plot point in her 1986
novel. But nobody claims that the existence of helicobacter pylori lowers
the quality of her *book*.

Really, when I see readers getting pissy about science in "hard SF" -- when
*I* get pissy about the science -- it's never the boundaries of physics and
biochemistry. It's usually thermodynamics. It's mistakes that were obvious
*in* 1986, and in 1960 too. Blatant failures of conservation laws, or of
common sense.

I'd argue that you don't need in-depth research to write solid SF. You need
broad, *shallow* research -- that "moderately decent comprehension". Just
read the headlines. Make sure you understand the headlines. (You don't have
to memorize them.) Then you do the research on whatever topic is germane to
your story; just like authors did in The Good Old Days.

(Disclosure of bias: I, as a reader, don't do in-depth research. I just read
the headlines, and try to understand them. Naturally, I claim this is
adequate.)

Point two:

"SF comes of age." Literary standards have risen. You can't get by on a
clever science gimmick any more. Hard SF, whatever that is, is competing
with *good books*. The group of people who are well-read in science is
small; the group of people who are great writers is small; "the intersection
set of these two groups is smaller still."

This, I think, is perfectly accurate. Every art form goes through a phase
when merely thinking up a new idea, a new angle, makes you notable. That's
the Golden Age. SF's Golden Age ended a lot earlier than 1986. (Well, I mean
written SF. Movies and TV -- those strange, stunted, over-moneyed arenas --
have never achieved the critical mass of innovators to reach maturity.
Probably never will, unless home computer production takes off... but I
digress. Magnificently, I'm sure.)

Now, it's also true that SF has gotten *really big*. It was growing in 1986,
and it's grown enormously since then. We've got N-thousand titles a year
now. Surely we shouldn't be starved for writers who are both skilled and
science-literate? Well, we have Wil McCarthy and Karl Schroeder and Ken
McLeod floating around, Asher and Westerfield and Stross. You may disagree
whether one or another of these people is a great writer, or a hard SF
writer. But it's a *debate*. I think things are looking up.

Perhaps the mid-80s were a nadir... pardon me, a local minimum... for hard
SF. Debatable, but I'll let Brunet have the point.

Point three:

Readers are too goddamn picky. "A final part of the responsibility [for hard
times] rests squarely with readers of hard SF who expect too much of the
genre."

Yeah, I guess we are a picky -- nitpicky -- bunch. When I posted comments on
a Karl Schroeder book, it was the thermodynamics argument that dragged out
over RASFW for days, not anything I said about the book's quality.

However, I can't see that this was ever a problem for the *genre*. Were
there really enough picky readers to depress the sales of hard SF books?
Seems to me like strict scientific accuracy has *always* been a red herring;
and most readers have always known it. I can't think of any careers that
have been blighted by science mistakes. Bad stories, yes; total ignorance of
science, maybe; but not mere errors. If the books are good, the readers will
come.

(If the books are bad, the readers will flee screaming, no matter how hard
the science. Why, yes, I *am* thinking of Forward's _Timemaster_. Weren't
you?)

Brunet's conclusion:

He's optimistic. "Traditional hard SF survived the New Wave, becoming
stronger and more resilient.... Now, the Cyberpunk Wave is simultaneously
challenging traditional hard SF while infusing a new vitality into the
field. Thesis-antithesis-synthesis...." Hard to argue with that.
Scientifically-literate SF now treats computers, AI, and hardware-brain
linkage as topics to play with -- right alongside physics, chemistry, and
biology. Stross, and earlier Egan, have poked at the idea of SF where the
science is algorithmic computer theory, or pure mathematics....

"...Good hard SF will continue to be written," finished Brunet, "if not in
the quantity we might like."

So it has been. And so it ever was. When have we ever had *enough* good SF?
Of any type?


* Book reviews by Barry Gehm

_Blood Music_: Rated as scientifically flawless, but shaky plotwise;
nonetheless highly recommended. I can't add much to that, since I -- erm --
never got around to reading the novel. I read the original short story,
which doesn't have the strange and meandering bits that got stuck in to
bring it up to book length. From what Gehm says, he would have been happier
reading the short story himself.

_Bridge of Birds_: Gehm says this is "an amazing piece of work," and then
spends the next paragraph apologizing for recommending a fantasy novel.
Humph. Let's pretend we've all learned a lot since then. He *does* end by
saying it deserves a Hugo nomination, without any mealy-mouthing on genre.
Interesting. (Unfortunately, 1986 was past the book's period of Hugo
eligibility -- the earlier hardback made no splash -- so no luck there.)

A parenthetical note: "The paperback is published by Del Rey Books, which
goes some way towards expiating the shameful matter of _Return to Oz_,
referred to in the last issue." I wonder what *that* was about... weren't
ignorable movie novelizations already standard practice by 1986?


* See Spot Float: A Dirigible Design Primer (Sam Paris)

This seems to be the dirigible issue of Pyrotechnics, as everyone is all hot
to fly a blimp around at ConFederation (1986 Worldcon, Atlanta). Paris gives
the standard physical parameters, PV=nRT, volume and moles, hydrogen and
helium.

The only comment that caught my eye was this: "Hydrogen is a slightly better
lifting gas than helium, but if you thought con committees got upset about a
few He-Ne lasers, wait until you tell them you want to deploy half a dozen
flying firebombs in the con hotel."

Lasers were an issue? Before my time, I guess. I remember a few 1990-ish
East Coast cons that had "Coherent Central", a trance/lasershow room for
people to veg out in. Come to think of it, that kind of faded away. Irate
committees, or just gafiation of the people who owned lasers?

Mind you, it was only 1996-ish when diode lasers turned quantum physics into
an executive office toy, and 1997 when the price began to drop
precipitously. In 2001, I bought a keychain laser for $8.95 at a hardware
store.[**] One assumes that con committees have mellowed out on the subject.

* Buoyant Spirits: A Survey of Lifting Gases (Barry Gehm)

Proves, in more detail than we really needed to know, that blimps should use
helium. "...The folks in Atlanta are mighty touchy about Yankees and fire,
for some reason...." It's nice to have the lifting-power of hydrogen
cyanide[***] but I don't think it'll displace "speed of sound in liver" for
the treasured position of Most Useless Science Fact I Bother To
Remember.[*#]

* Up Ship: Progress Report on Dirigible Construction (Tullio Proni)

Practice is always more interesting than theory, and process is the best
part of practice. This article documents six vehicles made by Tullio and
Donna Proni (with help from a cavalcade of friends and minions -- Bill
Higgins, Barry Gehm, Todd Johnson, Tom Snoblen, others). These were dubbed
Ishercraft 1 through 6, for reasons which no doubt bring a nostalgic tear to
the eye of people who are older than me.

We have diagrams, specs, graphs of helium leakage over time, and discussions
of technique. I am well pleased. This article would be a valuable resource
for anyone interested in home blimpation.

Historical notes: Ishercraft #1 was a test article, "built on the spur of
the moment using... garbage bags." They then spent a long time testing the
assembly and sealing of larger bags. Ishercraft #2 and #3 flew at Capricon
(Feb 1985); #3 (the "Hindenbag") apparently managed to impale itself on a
chandelier. #4 introduced true dirigibility via two independently
wire-controlled motors. #5 went to radio control, and flew at Windycon '85,
with some success. #6, flown at Conclave, was larger but underpowered.

So, how *did* the Worldcon Blimp Project turn out? I'm curious.


* Cap'n Al's Stuffed Deep Dish Pizza Recipe (Al Duester)

This here is a pizza recipe, and I just made it. Ha! We call that two-fisted
comment-lettering, we do.

(Letter-commenting? Commenting-letter? Gerund? Help?)

Note: What follows is the original recipe. As I live alone, I halved my
implementation.

Crust: 1 cup water, yeast, 1 tsp sugar, 4 tsp ground dill seed, 1 tsp salt,
1/3 cup olive oil, 4 cups flour.

Make the crust. I'm not going to describe the process; it's easy, find a
book[#] and read up. This is a standard pizza crust, with the addition of
the dill, which is a nice aromatic flavor. I recently bought a nifty new
mortar and pestle, so I used whole dill seeds and went all Baba Yaga on
them.

I like to knead the dough and then let it rise overnight, in the
refrigerator. You don't get super gas production that way, but that's fine.
It's for pizza crust, not bread. You *do* get super gluten development --
the dough is extremely elastic. This is good. It does (sadly) turn pizza
into a two-day production, thus demonstrating the value of planning in
engineering projects.

Sauce: 56 oz canned crushed tomatoes, 12 oz tomato paste, 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2
tsp salt, rosemary, other herbs.

Duester has a complicated sauce procedure, where you throw half the crushed
tomatoes into a pot with the spices, simmer it down, and then dump in the
rest of the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste. Cook until it just starts
to boil, then remove from heat. "The idea is to leave some of the tomatoes
unsundered by long boiling." Not sure how much this really gets you, but the
sauce did come out tasty.

(I played a bit with the sauce -- I added a small finely minced red pepper,
a splash of wine, garlic. It's pizza sauce. You add garlic. If you skip the
garlic, you get a permanent mark on your passport, and then they won't let
you into Italy or New York City.)

(If you skip the garlic *in* NYC, they hit you over the head and sink you in
the East River. I don't know what happens in Italy. I think nobody's ever
tried.)

Cheese stuffing: 2 lb fresh mozzarella, 1 lb provolone, 1 cup grated
parmesan.

Divide the dough about sixty-forty. Roll out the larger portion, and slap it
into a large deep-dish pizza pan (14-16 inches). Put in the mozzarella, the
provolone, and half the parmesan. Unlike with standard pizza, you here want
to slice the cheese and lay it in neatly -- excess air inside the crust
isn't a bonus. Roll out the rest of the crust and drop it on top. Seal it to
the bottom crust, all around the edge. Dump on the sauce. Yes, all of it.
Sprinkle on the remaining half-cup of parmesan.

Bake at 425 F for 30 min, reduce heat to 350 F, continue another 15 minutes.
Duester recommends poking holes in the top after the first 15 minutes, to
let steam escape. I just did that before baking. Sharp knife, not fork.

Now, by any sensible standard this isn't a pizza; it's a calzone baked with
sauce. And it came out pretty soggy. Maybe I was screwed over by the
square-cube law -- as I said, I halved the recipe, and built it in a square
9-inch baking pan. Rather less surface area per unit cheese than the recipe
called for.

So, no crust to speak of. There is no conceivable way I could have eaten the
result like pizza. Would have been like holding a slice of lasagna. I used a
spatula and fork. Probably it would have worked better -- given my pan -- if
I'd baked it for a bit *before* adding the sauce.

This is not to say it was *bad*. Oh, it was good. Nice fresh mozzarella
oozing out, caramelized tomato sauce, browned parmesan on top. Good. I ate
two chunks. If you're wondering why my fingers are a bit giddy in this
section, now you know.

My only regret (aside from not having a deep-dish pizza pan or a housemate
to split the full recipe with) is that I didn't add pepperoni. Some
pepperoni inside the crust with the mozzarella; some on top, right under the
parmesan. I realize a lot of people in fandom are vegetarian or kosher or
whatnot. That's okay. For me, it isn't pizza without the flesh of the pig.


* Movie Reviews

George Ewing hated _Highlander_. He has no taste.

Greg Ruffa liked _Brazil_. "I found it interesting in its conception and
would like to see it again, but it is disturbing as well, which doesn't give
it much commercial potential in 'this happy land' of ours." I don't know how
_Brazil_ did in the theaters (and we all know the story of the Absurd Cable
Edit), but it seems to have staying power. *You've* all seen it, right?

Ruffa also comments on _F/X_ and _Short Circuit_, two movies I don't care
about.


* The Urban Eyeball (Greg Ruffa)

Part 4 of a sub-zine (also available separately, if it's still 1986 for
you). The series seems to be a survey of the visible sky, throughout the
year, with lots of stuff about the stars you're looking at. I wonder if it's
worth making this available on the Web, these days? There are a thousand
sky-guides out there, but this one is slanted towards SF readers, and I
assume it was worth reading the first time around. (Not my thing, however. I
am deplorably uninterested in looking at the neat things above my head. I'll
stick with astronomical photographs. Yes, Mars was nice this month.)


* The lettercol

We heard from: Harry Warner, Bill Higgins, Mike Glicksohn, Greg Ruffa, Harry
Warner... sorry, already mentioned him... Alex McKale, Lee Hart, Walt
Willis, Bill Stoddard, Brian Earl Brown, George Ewing, Garth Spencer, Harry
Andruschak, Robert Coulson, P. L. Caruthers-Montgomery... if that *is* your
name... Cathy Doyle, Janet Fox, Richard Gilliam, Ben Indick, Wendell M.
Joost, Paul Tortobici, Laurraine Tutihasi, Franz Zrilich.

(Commenters' names are highlighted in C comment format: /* ... */ Was this
cool in 1986? Were the Hanrahans in the programming business? Subtext begs
for explication... okay, it doesn't beg very hard.)

- Lee Hart nominates the TV show "MacGyver" for "most obviously bogus
pseudo-science". Hmm. I never watched it -- that was my sister's show -- but
"Stargate SG1" is doing pretty well, scientifically. Even given its premise
of nigh-magical alien technology. Blame not Richard Dean Anderson for the
sins of others.

- Bill Stoddard says that while the novelization of _Return to Oz_ may have
sucked, the *film* was excellent. I guess the previous issue got pretty
bitter on the subject. I still can't figure out why anyone cares.

He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.

Aha, *here* it is: Brian Earl Brown gives enough context to make clear that
the novelization of _Return to Oz_ didn't have L. Frank Baum's name anywhere
on it! Okay, that's pretty appalling.

- Grug Ruffa (the prolific) comments on computers in SF: "So little
contemporary SF deals with computers as anything more than an adjunct to
human activity." Now *that's* a change of perspective. "It's as if the
closer we get to something like real AI, the less interest there is in
dealing with it as a fictional theme." Yowza.

Here in the inconceivably (-ish) modern (-ish) world of 2003, computers have
transformed industrialized society... by being an adjunct to human activity.
The model of "computers are artificial brains" was the cliche of computers
*before we had computers*. The Last Question, Mycroft Holmes, R. Daneel,
"[ZAP] *Now* there is a God." That *old* stuff.

The cliche has slipped away so quietly, you might not have seen it go. But
do you think of your computer as an "artificial brain"? No, I peremptorily
insist, you do not. Artificial memory, yes. Artificial postman, artificial
notebook and sketchpad. Artificial talisman of the creation of worlds. *A
computer is a tool for accepting information from a human brain, and
returning it to a human brain -- the same brain or a different one.* In a
smooth and well-organized way. Data transformations optional. Yes, a few
people here and there use computers as super-calculators -- simulations,
optimizations, data analysis. That's the exception to the rule, and it's
*still* not artificial thought; it's a lever-arm for human thought.

Modern science fiction takes this for granted, because the Internet Holy
Crap of the mid-90s rubbed our noses in it. Cyberpunk was starting to get it
in the 80s, but... not quite. I think. (My view may be biased; I didn't read
all that much of the cyberpunk canon.)

Not that there's anything wrong with AI, and there's plenty of AI still in
SF. (There was plenty in 1986, too. Did Ruffa miss _Neuromancer_? Wasn't
Gibson's biggest plot point the revelation of a manipulative AI? Or Varley's
"Press Enter_", or....) But the genie-in-the-bottle is now interesting for
what it can do *in association with humans*.

- And then, many letters about the loss of the shuttle Challenger. (This
issue appeared six months after the disaster, and two months after the
official investigation commission released its report.)

Greg Ruffa: "...our present state of rocket technology is standing in the
way of our good intentions for reaching into space. We have gotten too
comfortable with a system that has an average five percent failure rate.
That's not good enough for space development... and it certainly isn't good
enough for manned flight (we're about where aviation was in, say, 1910)."

Hey, I still hear that refrain today. Lesson one: The US space program has
learned *exactly nothing* in the past fifteen years.

Okay, that's not true. I retract it. DC-X happened, and even though it
didn't get into orbit, it got off the ground, for cheap. Scaled Composites
and Armadillo and those folks are in gear.

What's certain is that *NASA* hasn't budged an inch since 1986.

Also, I notice that Ruffa says "technology" is the problem. He goes on to
say we should sink money into "research into improving the reliability of
rocket propulsion". Well, we're down another shuttle now, and it wasn't the
rocket propulsion this time. The Columbia disaster was completely different;
and yet it was the same.

I don't know whether this is the blinders of the mid-80s, or the bias of
hard-SF fandom, or the General Technics crowd, or just Greg Ruffa. But what
we understand these days is that technology isn't the problem -- nor the
solution either. Technology is what comes out when you run your development
program sensibly. Sensibly means testing -- I'm quoting a panel I just went
to, at the Toronto Worldcon, on space flight -- testing designs iteratively,
and testing each piece of actual hardware repeatedly. I went to that
Worldcon on a turboprop airplane which must have flown thousands of times
before I got on. Its *design* had flown probably hundreds of times before
the first paying passenger got on the first commercial instance. Nobody set
out to research *more reliable* airplane technology. They set out to build a
more efficient airplane, and *demonstrated* that it was reliable, because
what the hell good is an unreliable vehicle?

The Columbia investigation board came back last week and said NASA's
management process was the problem. Check. Then Hal Gehman (chairman of the
investigation board) said "Separate the cargo from the people as soon as
possible." Develop a vehicle which doesn't try to be efficient, doesn't try
to be reusable, doesn't try to carry cargo -- its sole mandate is to *be
safe*.

What a crock. No vehicle in use on the *planet* accords to that
specification, and I'm including kiddie tricycles.

Harry Andruschak: "I do not think we should buy another shuttle." (That was
never on the table -- even in 1986, restarting the production process was
implausible[#*].) "...because it is a total 100% failure. The shuttle was
supposed to launch cargoes into orbit at one-tenth the cost of Expendable
Launch Vehicles...." (Yep, no kidding.) "...Bring back the ELVs as a
stop-gap measure, and concentrate on some sort of heavy-lift vehicle to get
into orbit cheaply."

Well, the ELVs never went away. Anyone who wants to get mass into space (as
opposed to wanting to get stuff onto the International Space Station, or
onto the temporary space station that is a shuttle flight) buys a launch on
a Proton or a Delta or whatever.

However, ELVs don't guarantee you cheap, any more than RLVs guarantee you
safe. Right now (and even, I suppose, in 1986) heavy lift has all the
disadvantages of existing rockets, *plus* the problem that it's inefficient
for all the cargoes that are actually on the launch market.

Keep watching Burt Rutan, I guess.


* Backnatter

"Production of this Pyro has been greatly facilitated by our acquisition of
a *second* Kaypro.... Both machines have been upgraded to be Kaypro 8's (an
unofficial designation for a machine with a new monitor ROM that'll let it
use 760Kbyte floppy drives)...." I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. I've already made
fun of 1986 technology, and it's so unfair. (*I* lived in a household with
an Apple //e, which I worshipped.)

The semi-humble editors apologize for how late the issue is; they were busy
running Westercon. They seem pretty pleased with themselves about how that
went. Since I've never been to a Westercon, I'll take their words for it.

The words "stencil cutter" and "photomultiplier tube" keep cropping up in
this epilogue.

"Bill Higgins informs us that Todd Johnson has 'enslaved Teddy Ruxpin'."
Furby hacking lives, retroactively!

And, invaluably for us modern retrospectors, a bunch of quotes from
contemporary fanzines *about* Pyrotechnics. Two-point perspective allows us
to see in depth....

"Best of the clubzines... near-pro quality, 'fannish'... in fact it IS an
old fashioned 1965 genzine reincarnated by accident...." (Hm, so everything
I thought I'd learned about mid-80s fan writing is wrong. Okay.)

"...Under the auspices of General Technics, a group of fans who still
goshwowoboyoboy about technology and space shuttles and stuff... crazy ideas
float around...." (Yes, because they're *pumped full of helium.*)

"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)


* My own colophon -- me, Andrew Plotkin, I mean

I hope you have enjoyed this free-fall down the memory hole. This will not
be a regular feature; I've had great fun, but I need to get back to other
projects. And I've got 5/6th of a pizza still in the fridge.

And now, my recipe for pickled Twinkies.

2 medium canning jars (or any glass jars, really)
2 Twinkies
2 red plums, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
a bunch of fresh mint leaves
1 cup water
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup sugar

Place a Twinkie end-down in each jar. Carefully surround it with the sliced
fruit, the ginger, and the mint leaves. Save two large slices of lemon to
put on top of each Twinkie.

Put the water, vinegar, and sugar in a non-reactive pot. Heat to a simmer,
and stir to dissolve the sugar.

Slowly pour the hot liquid into the jars. You're pouring onto the two slices
of lemon. (Because if you poured directly onto the Twinkies, they'd
dissolve, that's why.)

Let the jars cool, then put on the lids and put them in the fridge
overnight.

The next day, you are faced with the problem of getting the swollen,
waterlogged Twinkies out of the jars without causing them to disintegrate.
Good luck. I drained as much of the liquid as I could into a bowl, then got
a long spoon and sort of scooped the Twinkie out with the jar held sideways.
This mostly worked, but there was some cake sludge and some half-dissolved
"creme filling" left floating around, and that really was unappetizing.

The Twinkies themselves were... questionable.

My *hope*, in this alien experiment which no doubt seeped down from the
stars long before the scurrying of Man and mortal dessert upon our ancient
globe, was to combine the oversweetness and blandness of Twinkies with the
very fresh, yin, herbal, sweet-and-sour tang of the pickled plums.

This failed. I think it failed more from consistency than from taste. A
Twinkie that turns to sludge in your mouth is nobody's good time. I suspect
that a more effective approach would be to make the pickled plums[#**] and
let them chill overnight; then place a Twinkie in a bowl, pour the
fruit-and-juice over it, and eat it immediately. It's not technically a
*pickled* Twinkie, but you could eat it without involuntarily thinking the
phrase "emulsified 'creme filling'".

I may even test this. Someday.

...Oh, just make the pickled plums. They're good. Use more fruit. Pears,
apricots also good.

(This recipe is *not* a sterilizing procedure, so don't try putting a jar of
the stuff in the cellar for a year. Keep it in the fridge, let it infuse for
a couple of days, and then eat it. You'll have lots of leftover juice, which
is really good over ice, or as a granita.)

PS: You know that nice golden surface on the Twinkie, which is toasted a
little darker on the flat base? That's food coloring. Hot vinegar takes it
right off.

"That is not toasted which is a pallid lie; and in strange pickles...." No,
perhaps not.

Enjoy. Thanks for listening.


[*: SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN apparently came to the same conclusion, as it was
around 1990 that they changed over to dumbed-down stodge articles and
political hype. Stick to AMERICAN SCIENTIST, children; it'll make you
strong.]

[**: Hey, ThinkGeek has *green* lasers for $120. The price drop has begun
for the 532 nm toys! Excellent!]

[***: 0.082 grams/liter. "Take a deep breath, Rocky -- maybe you can float
clear!"]

[*#: 1540 meters/sec.]

[#: Katzen's _Enchanted Broccoli Forest_ has nice documentation, repeated in
prose and sequential-graphical.]

[#*: Yes, the shuttle Endeavour was built after Challenger's loss. It was
made from the "structural spares" produced during the original shuttle
program. I don't really know enough to judge whether this was a worthwhile
decision. If they hadn't been turned into a new shuttle, they'd be sitting
in storage today. The process obviously cost money, but I don't know how
much it was, compared to the cost of a complete orbiter. On the third hand,
the economics of the STS program are funny; most of the cost is overhead.
Having one more shuttle doesn't cost much; even having more shuttle
*flights* costs less (per flight) than you might think, compared to the
overall cost of the program. On the fourth hand, the shuttles are barely
used as it is; it's not like Columbia's loss leaves the shuttle fleet
overburdened. On the fifth hand, this is turning into a hell of a footnote,
isn't it? Let's have that statistic again: the speed of sound in liver[*#],
ladies and gentlemen!]

[#**: Same procedure minus the Twinkies, you fool.]


--Z

"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*
* Make your vote count. Get your vote counted.

David Dyer-Bennet

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 2:10:16 AM9/10/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:

> Now it's 2003, and it's *fascinating*. Cultural artifact exhibit 00001. I'm
> an East-Coast person (as you can tell from my early con resume). I've just
> barely heard of General Technics. I recognize a few of the contributors'
> names from rec.arts.sf.fandom, but most of this is brand-new ancient history
> to me.

> Let the analysis commence.
>
> Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
> club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
> reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
> Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.

Paging Bill Higgins....

> Back in The Day, of course, the letters "H", "T", "T", and "P" were rarely
> seen in such close company. Pyro#38 gleefully advertises that submissions
> can be sent "electronically via Usenet" (sic?) to
> {decvax,ucbvax,ihnp4}!sdcsvax!calmasd!gail. Or by 5.25" floppy in IBM
> format, Kaypro, etc.

Well, email moved via UUCP. We tended to refer to the set of
connected computers as "usenet", and this matches that usage.

> * Up Ship: Progress Report on Dirigible Construction (Tullio Proni)
>
> Practice is always more interesting than theory, and process is the best
> part of practice. This article documents six vehicles made by Tullio and
> Donna Proni (with help from a cavalcade of friends and minions -- Bill
> Higgins, Barry Gehm, Todd Johnson, Tom Snoblen, others). These were dubbed
> Ishercraft 1 through 6, for reasons which no doubt bring a nostalgic tear to
> the eye of people who are older than me.

In addition to the direct reference to Van Vogt's _Weaponshops of
Isher_, that's the name of Tulio Proni's company.

> He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
> editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
> don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
> a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.

And now we're doing it again. For the last time this time. Really.

> I hope you have enjoyed this free-fall down the memory hole. This will not
> be a regular feature; I've had great fun, but I need to get back to other
> projects. And I've got 5/6th of a pizza still in the fridge.

Yes, I enjoyed it a lot, even if my comments seem to have been rather
limited.
--
David Dyer-Bennet, <dd...@dd-b.net>, <www.dd-b.net/dd-b/>
RKBA: <noguns-nomoney.com> <www.dd-b.net/carry/>
Photos: <dd-b.lighthunters.net> Snapshots: <www.dd-b.net/dd-b/SnapshotAlbum/>
Dragaera mailing lists: <dragaera.info/>

Niall McAuley

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 6:30:09 AM9/10/03
to
"Andrew Plotkin" <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in message news:bjmcn4$ga5$1...@reader2.panix.com...

> * The Urban Eyeball (Greg Ruffa)
>
> Part 4 of a sub-zine (also available separately, if it's still 1986 for
> you). The series seems to be a survey of the visible sky, throughout the
> year, with lots of stuff about the stars you're looking at. I wonder if it's
> worth making this available on the Web, these days? There are a thousand
> sky-guides out there, but this one is slanted towards SF readers, and I
> assume it was worth reading the first time around.

I'd buy that for a dollar!
--
Niall [real address ends in com, not moc.invalid]


Nancy Lebovitz

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 6:33:05 AM9/10/03
to
In article <bjmcn4$ga5$1...@reader2.panix.com>,
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:

>"Today, I find very little hard SF that is *really* good, Sturgeon's Law not
>withstanding. The demand for hard SF is strong; yet editors and publishers
>complain that not enough saleable hard SF is being presented to them. And as
>the quantity of hard SF has fallen, so has the quality. The Bears, Brins,
>Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges are all too few."
>
>An eyebrow-raising lead from this vantage. For a start, the number of Bears,
>Brins, Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges publishing SF has not fallen an iota
>since 1986. On the other hand, the recent quality of these authors has come
>under considerable question -- with the exception of Vernor Vinge, who some
>would say didn't even hit his stride until 1991.

Are there new notable hard sf writers? The one who comes to mind is Egan,
and I haven't been blown away by his more recent work. I haven't given
up hope of seeing another _Diaspora_, though.
>
(.....)


>
>Really, when I see readers getting pissy about science in "hard SF" -- when
>*I* get pissy about the science -- it's never the boundaries of physics and
>biochemistry. It's usually thermodynamics. It's mistakes that were obvious
>*in* 1986, and in 1960 too. Blatant failures of conservation laws, or of
>common sense.
>
>I'd argue that you don't need in-depth research to write solid SF. You need
>broad, *shallow* research -- that "moderately decent comprehension". Just
>read the headlines. Make sure you understand the headlines. (You don't have
>to memorize them.) Then you do the research on whatever topic is germane to
>your story; just like authors did in The Good Old Days.

Maybe two sorts of hard sf should be distinguished--one is simply based
on solid science and the other is based on cutting edge speculation.

>
>* Book reviews by Barry Gehm
>
>_Blood Music_: Rated as scientifically flawless, but shaky plotwise;
>nonetheless highly recommended. I can't add much to that, since I -- erm --
>never got around to reading the novel. I read the original short story,
>which doesn't have the strange and meandering bits that got stuck in to
>bring it up to book length. From what Gehm says, he would have been happier
>reading the short story himself.

I'm not sure what scientifically flawless might mean to Gehm--iirc the
novel invokes an arbitrary "only so much information-handling per unit
volume" law so that the human race can survive.

(....)


>
>My *hope*, in this alien experiment which no doubt seeped down from the
>stars long before the scurrying of Man and mortal dessert upon our ancient
>globe, was to combine the oversweetness and blandness of Twinkies with the
>very fresh, yin, herbal, sweet-and-sour tang of the pickled plums.

Not to mention being able to offer pickled Twinkies.

>This failed. I think it failed more from consistency than from taste. A
>Twinkie that turns to sludge in your mouth is nobody's good time. I suspect
>that a more effective approach would be to make the pickled plums[#**] and
>let them chill overnight; then place a Twinkie in a bowl, pour the
>fruit-and-juice over it, and eat it immediately. It's not technically a
>*pickled* Twinkie, but you could eat it without involuntarily thinking the
>phrase "emulsified 'creme filling'".

--
Nancy Lebovitz na...@netaxs.com www.nancybuttons.com
Now, with bumper stickers

Using your turn signal is not "giving information to the enemy"

Jenn Ridley

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 8:17:14 AM9/10/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
>> Now it's 2003, and it's *fascinating*. Cultural artifact exhibit 00001. I'm
>> an East-Coast person (as you can tell from my early con resume). I've just
>> barely heard of General Technics. I recognize a few of the contributors'
>> names from rec.arts.sf.fandom, but most of this is brand-new ancient history
>> to me.
>
>> Let the analysis commence.
>>
>> Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
>> club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
>> reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
>> Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.
I remember reading a copy of that Pyro at a PFRC meeting.... (PFRC is
the science fiction club at Michigan Tech. Many of its members
graduated into GT).

Pyro has ceased printing, largely because the stuff that used to go
into it now goes on in a private mailing list. (no submissions, no
'zine.) There have been occasional comments to the effect that we
need to do a Pyro, but they've all withered for lack of interest.

>> * Up Ship: Progress Report on Dirigible Construction (Tullio Proni)
>>
>> Practice is always more interesting than theory, and process is the best
>> part of practice. This article documents six vehicles made by Tullio and
>> Donna Proni (with help from a cavalcade of friends and minions -- Bill
>> Higgins, Barry Gehm, Todd Johnson, Tom Snoblen, others). These were dubbed
>> Ishercraft 1 through 6, for reasons which no doubt bring a nostalgic tear to
>> the eye of people who are older than me.

WeaponShop of Isher. The finest energy weapons in the known universe.
Owned and operated (on this world, at least) by Tullio Proni and his
current wife, Amy.

The next year (1987) there was an attempt at a dirigible in the wilds
of the UP by readers of Pyro (including, but not limited to, the
people who helped with IsherCraft). After less than stellar results
the first year, people actually went up in 1989 (I know, I was one of
them).


>_Bridge of Birds_: Gehm says this is "an amazing piece of work," and then
>spends the next paragraph apologizing for recommending a fantasy novel.
>Humph. Let's pretend we've all learned a lot since then.

Back in the day, GT was less...ummm...tolerant of fantasy than today.
Rather like fandom in general, afaict.

...


>The only comment that caught my eye was this: "Hydrogen is a slightly better
>lifting gas than helium, but if you thought con committees got upset about a
>few He-Ne lasers, wait until you tell them you want to deploy half a dozen
>flying firebombs in the con hotel."

>Lasers were an issue?
Yep. Much consternation from mundanes and hotels when lasers first
became portable. Not so much about the laser shows, but the
portable, aim-able 'small' ones (that could be built into other
things...a friend has one built into a briefcase). Much concern about
starting fires, and shining lights in people's eyes, etc, etc, etc....

>(Commenters' names are highlighted in C comment format: /* ... */ Was this
>cool in 1986? Were the Hanrahans in the programming business? Subtext begs
>for explication... okay, it doesn't beg very hard.)

GT is a bunch of (self professed) geeks. Many are/were programmers,
either for fun or business. The mailing list is *still* peppered with
programming conventions, although now they're often html.

>"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
>don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)

Genzine is "fanzine" for genre-zine, implying something somewhat more
focussed than a general fanzine.


jenn (PFRC-ASAKCA(*), GT)

(*) All Seeing, All Knowing Council of the Ancients. The PFRC alumni
award, given to those who -graduated- from Tech.

James Nicoll

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 10:34:39 AM9/10/03
to
In article <m2wuchb...@gw.dd-b.net>,

David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:
>
>> He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
>> editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
>> don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
>> a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.
>
>And now we're doing it again. For the last time this time. Really.

Until the development of the crosstime engine allows us to
harvest alternate timelines for more RAH, all the post-1970 Piper books
and the children's stories of "Uncle" Eddie Teller.

James Nicoll

--
It's amazing how the waterdrops form: a ball of water with an air bubble
inside it and inside of that one more bubble of water. It looks so beautiful
[...]. I realized something: the world is interesting for the man who can
be surprised. -Valentin Lebedev-

James Nicoll

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 10:39:39 AM9/10/03
to
In article <B5D7b.1546$qJ6.1...@monger.newsread.com>,

Nancy Lebovitz <na...@unix1.netaxs.com> wrote:
>
>Are there new notable hard sf writers? The one who comes to mind is Egan,
>and I haven't been blown away by his more recent work. I haven't given
>up hope of seeing another _Diaspora_, though.

Wil McCarthy, Linda Nagata, Geoffrey Landis all come to mind.
Landis is sadly distracted by real world concerns but I am sure a cancellation
of the American space program could fix this. Failing that, his website
make a rich area to steal ideas from^H^H^H^H use for research.

Does Charlie Stross count? I am somewhat hampered by the fact that
I think I am about three books ahead of actual publication for his material
but even the Eldric Horror stuffs seems to be handled in a HSF manner.

David Dyer-Bennet

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 11:32:49 AM9/10/03
to
Jenn Ridley <jri...@chartermi.net> writes:

> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
> >"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
> >don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)

> Genzine is "fanzine" for genre-zine, implying something somewhat more
> focussed than a general fanzine.

Backwards; "genzine" is "general fanzine", one which is about all of
sf and fandom and so forth, rather than more specialized or focused
variants (sercon, clubzine, personalzine, etc.).

Bill Higgins

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 12:18:03 PM9/10/03
to
On 10 Sep 2003, David Dyer-Bennet wrote:

> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
>
> > Now it's 2003, and it's *fascinating*. Cultural artifact exhibit 00001. I'm
> > an East-Coast person (as you can tell from my early con resume). I've just
> > barely heard of General Technics. I recognize a few of the contributors'
> > names from rec.arts.sf.fandom, but most of this is brand-new ancient history
> > to me.
>
> > Let the analysis commence.
> >
> > Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
> > club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
> > reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
> > Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.
>
> Paging Bill Higgins....

I'm the remaining Mismanaging Editor. Will post more when I've read
Andrew's review in detail.

--
___ O~~* /_) ' / / /_/ ' , , ' ,_ _ \|/
/ / - ~ -~~~~~~~~/_) / / / / / / (_) (_) / / / _\~~~~~~~~~~~zap!
/__// \ (_) (_) / | \
| | Bill Higgins Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
\ /
- - Internet: hig...@fnal.gov
~ New! Improved! Now with THREE great neutrino flavors!

Jenn Ridley

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 4:20:18 PM9/10/03
to
David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:

>Jenn Ridley <jri...@chartermi.net> writes:
>
>> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
>> >"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
>> >don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)
>
>> Genzine is "fanzine" for genre-zine, implying something somewhat more
>> focussed than a general fanzine.
>
>Backwards; "genzine" is "general fanzine", one which is about all of
>sf and fandom and so forth, rather than more specialized or focused
>variants (sercon, clubzine, personalzine, etc.).

Blargh. I knew that. Brain cramp......

jenn
--
Jenn Ridley
jri...@chartermi.net

Bill Higgins

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 6:34:39 PM9/10/03
to
On Wed, 10 Sep 2003, Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> Pyrotechnics #38: August 1986
>
> Editors: Gail and Jamie Hanrahan

[...]


> A month ago, I found this fanzine in my basement.
>

[...]


> I don't think I ever read the zine. I must have got it at... my first
> Balticon? No, that was 1985. Must have been an Evecon or Castlecon.
> Probably. This stapled, xeroxed thing. (I didn't know from duplicators back
> then, and still don't.)

I think the Hanrahan issues of *Pyro* were all meticulously mimeographed.
This was a throwback, since the founding editor, Jeff Duntemann, worked as a
Xerox repairman-- at a time when photocopied fanzines were still uncommon--
and could run off issues as "test copies," supplying his own paper.

> Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
> club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
> reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
> Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.

I've got about half an issue's worth of articles for the next one. They're
getting a little stale, I suppose.

> Back in The Day, of course, the letters "H", "T", "T", and "P" were rarely
> seen in such close company. Pyro#38 gleefully advertises that submissions
> can be sent "electronically via Usenet" (sic?) to
> {decvax,ucbvax,ihnp4}!sdcsvax!calmasd!gail. Or by 5.25" floppy in IBM
> format, Kaypro, etc.
>
> Set in finest Courier. I *love* technology.

Jamie also resisted the new fad of doing fanzines with bitmapped graphics
and fonts on the Macintosh. Daisywheels cut Courier nicely into mimeo
stencils, and he put a lot of effort into refurbishing old electrostencil
machines so he could insert illustrations. I thought it looked rather nice,
but I loved the Macintosh too, having waited many years for Xerox-PARC-style
interfaces to come to home computers.

The Hanrahan era produced handsome and thick issues of *Pyro*.
In my years, we did thinner offset-printed issues.

> (Commenters' names are highlighted in C comment format: /* ... */ Was this
> cool in 1986? Were the Hanrahans in the programming business? Subtext begs
> for explication... okay, it doesn't beg very hard.)

Yes, they were in the programming business. Haven't heard from Gail in many
years, but Jamie can teach you how to write drivers for Windows NT and W2000
<http://www.cmkrnl.com/index.html>. At the time, he was a Vax guy, and
published a book on VMS internals. We still correspond, at lengthy
intervals.

--
"I showed *Dark Star* to a date once. | Bill Higgins
Surprisingly, she forgave me, | Fermilab
but the really amazing thing |
is that she later consented to marry me. :-)" | Internet:
-- Kent Budge, Sandia | hig...@fnal.gov

Cally Soukup

unread,
Sep 10, 2003, 6:55:59 PM9/10/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote in article <bjmcn4$ga5$1...@reader2.panix.com>:
> Pyrotechnics #38: August 1986

> Editors: Gail and Jamie Hanrahan

> (Please pardon the extreme lateness of my letter of comment. I am posting
> this to RASFF, on the theory that the editors' address is no longer valid,
> but if someone can give me a current pointer I'll be happy to forward it. Or
> post it to your LiveJournal, or whatever you're using. Kids these days.
> Sheesh.)

As a former sometime reader of Pyrotechnics, I just want to say that
was an excellent LOC. And now I feel slightly more guilty about not
having gotten around to LOCcing several other fanzines. I really have
to get around to it one of these days....

--
"I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend
to the death your right to say it." -- Beatrice Hall

Cally Soukup sou...@pobox.com

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 12:01:28 AM9/11/03
to
Here, Nancy Lebovitz <na...@unix1.netaxs.com> wrote:
>
> Are there new notable hard sf writers? The one who comes to mind is Egan,
> and I haven't been blown away by his more recent work. I haven't given
> up hope of seeing another _Diaspora_, though.

"For certain values of 'new'... for certain values of 'hard'..."

I think of "hard SF" as anything that both pays attention to
interesting real science, and has science or technology as a
significant plot element. (It's a loose definition -- I don't require
that it be *strict* about using only real science, or that science is
the *most important* plot element. Some from column A, some from
column B.)

I'd say that MacLeod, Stross, Doctorow, Schroeder, McCarthy, and so on
are orbiting in that area. Except for MacLeod, all those are people I
started reading in the past three years.

> Maybe two sorts of hard sf should be distinguished--one is simply based
> on solid science and the other is based on cutting edge speculation.

Maybe, but it seems like a thin distinction.

Andrew Plotkin

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 12:15:19 AM9/11/03
to
Here, Jenn Ridley <jri...@chartermi.net> wrote:
> WeaponShop of Isher. The finest energy weapons in the known
> universe. Owned and operated (on this world, at least) by Tullio
> Proni and his current wife, Amy.

Is *that* them?

Now I feel bad. I've seen them at cons forever -- well, since I
started going to cons. I saw them at Torcon. As usual, I walked past
their table, gazed upon the beautiful things, sighed, looked at the
price tags, sighed, and continued sadly on.

If I'd recognized the name from the Pyro issue, I would have said
something. Unfortunately I was only up to the "hard SF" article by
Worldcon weekend.

Here, Cally Soukup <sou...@pobox.com> wrote:
>
> As a former sometime reader of Pyrotechnics, I just want to say that
> was an excellent LOC.

Thank you!

And thanks to everyone else who commented on my comments on the... etc.

Thomas Yan

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 2:06:04 AM9/11/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:

-snip-


> I hope you have enjoyed this free-fall down the memory hole. This will not
> be a regular feature; I've had great fun, but I need to get back to other
> projects. And I've got 5/6th of a pizza still in the fridge.

-snip-

Yes, it was a lot of fun to read. Thanks!

Nancy Lebovitz

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 10:15:21 AM9/11/03
to
In article <bjos2o$aos$2...@reader2.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>Here, Nancy Lebovitz <na...@unix1.netaxs.com> wrote:
>>
>> Are there new notable hard sf writers? The one who comes to mind is Egan,
>> and I haven't been blown away by his more recent work. I haven't given
>> up hope of seeing another _Diaspora_, though.
>
>"For certain values of 'new'... for certain values of 'hard'..."
>
>I think of "hard SF" as anything that both pays attention to
>interesting real science, and has science or technology as a
>significant plot element. (It's a loose definition -- I don't require
>that it be *strict* about using only real science, or that science is
>the *most important* plot element. Some from column A, some from
>column B.)
>
>I'd say that MacLeod, Stross, Doctorow, Schroeder, McCarthy, and so on
>are orbiting in that area. Except for MacLeod, all those are people I
>started reading in the past three years.
>
>> Maybe two sorts of hard sf should be distinguished--one is simply based
>> on solid science and the other is based on cutting edge speculation.
>
>Maybe, but it seems like a thin distinction.

I think there's a qualitative difference between say, Clement and Egan.

On the other hand, there's so little hard sf of any kind that there
may be no point in splitting the sub-genre.

Bill Higgins

unread,
Sep 11, 2003, 1:46:15 PM9/11/03
to

Now, if you were to publish a Jennzine, I would contribute an article.
Or some fillos.

--
"I told him that this is | Bill Higgins
what scientists do at a party." | Fermilab
--M. Alschuler, explaining |
the explosions and magnesium bonfires | Internet:
to the representative of the Sheriff's Department | hig...@fnal.gov

Beth Friedman

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Sep 11, 2003, 2:31:17 PM9/11/03
to
On 10 Sep 2003 10:32:49 -0500, David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net>,
<m265k0a...@gw.dd-b.net>, wrote:

>Jenn Ridley <jri...@chartermi.net> writes:
>
>> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
>> >"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
>> >don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)
>
>> Genzine is "fanzine" for genre-zine, implying something somewhat more
>> focussed than a general fanzine.
>
>Backwards; "genzine" is "general fanzine", one which is about all of
>sf and fandom and so forth, rather than more specialized or focused
>variants (sercon, clubzine, personalzine, etc.).

In SF fandom parlance, at least. In the interests of cross-cultural
communication, I point out that in media fanzine, a genzine means a
zine containing media-based fan fiction that doesn't contain writing
of an overt sexual nature.

--
Beth Friedman
b...@wavefront.com

Jenn Ridley

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Sep 11, 2003, 2:28:57 PM9/11/03
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Bill Higgins <hig...@fnal.gov> wrote:

>On Wed, 10 Sep 2003, Jenn Ridley wrote:
>
>> David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:
>>
>> >Jenn Ridley <jri...@chartermi.net> writes:
>> >
>> >> Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
>> >> >"A very good SF genzine, with emphasis on technology." (Great, but now I
>> >> >don't know what a genzine is. Or what a non-SF genzine would be.)
>> >
>> >> Genzine is "fanzine" for genre-zine, implying something somewhat more
>> >> focussed than a general fanzine.
>> >
>> >Backwards; "genzine" is "general fanzine", one which is about all of
>> >sf and fandom and so forth, rather than more specialized or focused
>> >variants (sercon, clubzine, personalzine, etc.).
>>
>> Blargh. I knew that. Brain cramp......
>>
>> jenn
>
>Now, if you were to publish a Jennzine, I would contribute an article.
>Or some fillos.

No, thank you; but thanks for the offer.

I did the Riot Act for a year. No more......

Bill Higgins

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Sep 11, 2003, 7:39:51 PM9/11/03
to
On Wed, 10 Sep 2003, Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> Pyrotechnics is, it seems, the fanzine and newsletter of the "organization
> club mob of tech-minded fen known as General Technics". A prayer to Google
> reveals that GT still exists (http://www.mystery.com/gt/), although
> Pyrotechnics appears to have been inactive since 1997.

[...]


> * Why Times Are Hard for Hard SF (James Brunet)
>
> "Today, I find very little hard SF that is *really* good, Sturgeon's Law not
> withstanding. The demand for hard SF is strong; yet editors and publishers
> complain that not enough saleable hard SF is being presented to them. And as
> the quantity of hard SF has fallen, so has the quality. The Bears, Brins,
> Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges are all too few."
>
> An eyebrow-raising lead from this vantage. For a start, the number of Bears,
> Brins, Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges publishing SF has not fallen an iota
> since 1986. On the other hand, the recent quality of these authors has come
> under considerable question -- with the exception of Vernor Vinge, who some
> would say didn't even hit his stride until 1991.
>
> (To be fair, I don't know whether Joan D. Vinge is regarded as having jumped
> the shark. But I don't think Brunet meant her.)

General observation: General Technics tends to attract the sort of people
who prefer hard SF. Though most of us have more catholic tastes, "Where's
the good hard SF?" is a perennial topic of conversation among us. In fact,
*PyroTechnics* number 1 (1975?) contained a rant by Jeff Duntemann on this
subject, and it's clear that the Floundering Fathers of GT considered it an
important issue.

On the other hand, just because one is a techie, it does not necessarily
follow that one considers hard science fiction the be-all and end-all of
fantastic literature.

--
"We don't want to rule the world, | Bill Higgins
we just want to | Fermilab
make it more... interesting." | Internet:
--Chris Tucker (c...@gis.net) | hig...@fnal.gov

Bill Higgins

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Sep 11, 2003, 7:57:15 PM9/11/03
to
On Wed, 10 Sep 2003, Andrew Plotkin wrote:

> Pyrotechnics #38: August 1986
[...]


> "Bill Higgins informs us that Todd Johnson has 'enslaved Teddy Ruxpin'."
> Furby hacking lives, retroactively!

I wrote about this, somewhere. Time to rummage...

========

Creating a Robot Bill Higgins

The Teddy Ruxpin Adventure


This is part of a conversation that took place in the Usenet newsgroup
sci.space.policy in December of 1993. Somehow, we got to talking about my
retirement.

Bill Higgins: Eventually I will retire and a robot simulation of me will
handle my wisecracks.

Kieran Carroll: Bill, the day you decide to stop posting original
"wisecracks" to sci.space.whatever would be a dark one indeed...

Josh Hopkins: Oh I dunno. There have been several times when I've read
Bill's posts and thought "I was about to say that!"

Still, there are other places to unleash my humor. Don't retire just yet
Bill.

Bill Higgins: I appreciate the nice remarks from Kieran and Josh. But...

Josh Hopkins: At least wait until the state of the art is advanced enough to
make a very good simulation of you.

Bill Higgins: This has already been attempted.

In 1986 Todd R. Johnson built a device to create animation tracks on
cassette tapes after reverse-engineering a toy called "Teddy Ruxpin." Teddy
has a two-track tape player inside him; one track is his voice, the other is
pulse-width-modulated control signals which move his mouth and eyes
(hopefully) in sync with the sounds.

After trying out his gadget on a recording of Leon Redbone singing "I Want
to Be Seduced," Todd asked me to bring my ukulele over and record some
music. Then he added a motion track so Teddy could lip-sync my singing. So
my personality animated the bear for a few minutes.

Later, Todd and his wife Mary Lynn acquired a giant furry caterpillar named
Grubby, Teddy's "best friend" (actually Teddy's slave, as a cable ran
Grubby's solenoids off control signals from Teddy's cassette deck). Barry
Gehm and I wrote and performed a comedy script for the two of them. It ran
six minutes. Having lost a coin toss, I had to be Grubby and Barry got to be
Teddy. After sound editing, the Johnsons spent a lot of time adding
animation tracks, a job for two people working joysticks and buttons
simultaneously.

We took it to a science fiction convention where Barry and I were scheduled
to appear, and sat in the audience (to the surprise of some spectators)
while Mary Lynn parked the robots in front of the microphone. At the
appointed time, she switched them on.

It went over pretty well. People laughed at the jokes and songs, so I guess
they were enjoying themselves. We had been careful, though, not to use our
very best material, lest the robots be invited back in lieu of the real Bill
and Barry.

It took over twelve person-hours of work to create twelve puppet-minutes of
comedy, so simulating me still requires an awful lot of effort.

I can't think of any reason at all that this discussion is relevant to
spaceflight. But guess what? This newsgroup is still unmoderated-- for now!
Muwahahahahaha!!

[End of quote from sci.space.policy]

========

In 1987, Barry and I were invited to be fan guests of honor at Conquistador
in San Diego, and we brought the toys, so the Hanrahans got to see this for
themselves.

If you are curious to see what we looked like, google on "teddy ruxpin
grubby" and you can probably find some pictures.

--
Bill Higgins | "Get the dinosaurs in, Martha,
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory | they're predicting comets."
Internet: hig...@fnal.gov | --Dr. Barry D. Gehm


Lowell Gilbert

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Sep 14, 2003, 10:59:02 AM9/14/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:

> An eyebrow-raising lead from this vantage. For a start, the number of Bears,
> Brins, Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges publishing SF has not fallen an iota
> since 1986. On the other hand, the recent quality of these authors has come
> under considerable question -- with the exception of Vernor Vinge, who some
> would say didn't even hit his stride until 1991.

I'm currently going through the recent anthology that David Hartwell
and Kathryn Cramer put out ("The Hard SF Renaissance"); they make a
decent argument that hard SF is the core and future of science
fiction, although they include a lot of material that I suspect you
wouldn't consider to *be* hard SF...

Andrew Plotkin

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Sep 14, 2003, 11:36:18 AM9/14/03
to

As I posted later, *my* definition of hard SF is quite broad. Whether
it fits James Brunet's definition, you'd have to ask him.

Dan Goodman

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Sep 14, 2003, 1:49:35 PM9/14/03
to
Lowell Gilbert <low...@world.std.com> wrote in
news:4465jvb...@be-well.ilk.org:

About half isn't by my standards, and that's a generous estimate.


--
Dan Goodman
Journal http://dsgood.blogspot.com or
http://www.livejournal.com/users/dsgood/
Whatever you wish for me, may you have twice as much.

Lowell Gilbert

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Sep 14, 2003, 1:59:56 PM9/14/03
to
Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:

> Here, Lowell Gilbert <low...@world.std.com> wrote:
> > Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> writes:
> >
> > > An eyebrow-raising lead from this vantage. For a start, the number of Bears,
> > > Brins, Benfords, Nivens, and Vinges publishing SF has not fallen an iota
> > > since 1986. On the other hand, the recent quality of these authors has come
> > > under considerable question -- with the exception of Vernor Vinge, who some
> > > would say didn't even hit his stride until 1991.
> >
> > I'm currently going through the recent anthology that David Hartwell
> > and Kathryn Cramer put out ("The Hard SF Renaissance"); they make a
> > decent argument that hard SF is the core and future of science
> > fiction, although they include a lot of material that I suspect you
> > wouldn't consider to *be* hard SF...
>
> As I posted later, *my* definition of hard SF is quite broad. Whether
> it fits James Brunet's definition, you'd have to ask him.

Not to mention whether his definition has *changed* since '86, which
may be a more interesting question.

Also note that I was very careful *not* to be the one to introduce the
term "definition" of hard SF into this discussion. :-)

Martin Wisse

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Sep 17, 2003, 2:52:26 PM9/17/03
to
On 10 Sep 2003 10:34:39 -0400, jdni...@panix.com (James Nicoll) wrote:

>In article <m2wuchb...@gw.dd-b.net>,
>David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:
>>
>>> He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
>>> editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
>>> don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
>>> a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.
>>
>>And now we're doing it again. For the last time this time. Really.
>
> Until the development of the crosstime engine allows us to
>harvest alternate timelines for more RAH, all the post-1970 Piper books
>and the children's stories of "Uncle" Eddie Teller.

ehhh. All it takes for more Heinlein to become available is one fan
obsessed enough to do a Christopher Tolkien...

Martin Wisse
--
There's a special word for people who set up recorded messages
telling you that "your call is important to us" every five minutes
for two hours. That special word is "liar."
-Patrick Nielsen Hayden, rasseff

James Nicoll

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Sep 17, 2003, 3:17:17 PM9/17/03
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In article <3f6d38b9....@news.demon.nl>,

Martin Wisse <mwi...@ad-astra.demon.nl> wrote:
>On 10 Sep 2003 10:34:39 -0400, jdni...@panix.com (James Nicoll) wrote:
>
>>In article <m2wuchb...@gw.dd-b.net>,
>>David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:
>>>
>>>> He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
>>>> editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
>>>> don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
>>>> a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.
>>>
>>>And now we're doing it again. For the last time this time. Really.
>>
>> Until the development of the crosstime engine allows us to
>>harvest alternate timelines for more RAH, all the post-1970 Piper books
>>and the children's stories of "Uncle" Eddie Teller.
>
>ehhh. All it takes for more Heinlein to become available is one fan
>obsessed enough to do a Christopher Tolkien...
>
Christopher Tolkien has a special relationship with JRRT that
the average fan does not have with RAH. I suspect that someone who put
together an unauthorized collection of previously uncollected RAH works
would find out how vigilent the RAH estate lawyers are [Very. Trust me
on this].

On the other hand, nothing is stopping people from producing
books in the manner they think RAH might have, had he been them, to
RAH as _Psychohistorical Crisis_ is to Asimov or _Rite of Passage_ to
RAH.

David Dyer-Bennet

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Sep 17, 2003, 6:19:18 PM9/17/03
to
mwi...@ad-astra.demon.nl (Martin Wisse) writes:

> On 10 Sep 2003 10:34:39 -0400, jdni...@panix.com (James Nicoll) wrote:
>
> >In article <m2wuchb...@gw.dd-b.net>,
> >David Dyer-Bennet <dd...@dd-b.net> wrote:
> >>
> >>> He also objects to Chuq von Rospach's objections to Heinlein's _Job_. The
> >>> editor (Gail Hanrahan) then objects "on the basis that it's a bad book." I
> >>> don't think I have anything to add, except that it must be nice to remember
> >>> a time when people looked forward wholeheartedly to new Heinlein books.
> >>
> >>And now we're doing it again. For the last time this time. Really.
> >
> > Until the development of the crosstime engine allows us to
> >harvest alternate timelines for more RAH, all the post-1970 Piper books
> >and the children's stories of "Uncle" Eddie Teller.
>
> ehhh. All it takes for more Heinlein to become available is one fan
> obsessed enough to do a Christopher Tolkien...

I think at this point the contents of the papers are well enough known
to say that this can't happen. Christopher Tolkien had something to
*work from*.

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