The Editor’s Rant: Issue #15

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Well, here we are again with another Issue #1. It’s actually kinda exciting. When I launched Nth Degree (way back in 2002) I didn’t have a space for the Rant so I wasn’t able to bubble and gush all warm and fuzzy about starting a new magazine. I wasn’t able to tell everyone that we were creating a magazine that was specifically for the talented writers and artists that were struggling to launch their careers.

Most people figured that out pretty quickly though. Now, fourteen issues later, we’re starting a new monthly e-zine. This isn’t intended to replace Nth Degree and you can easily read one without the other. Our goal is for Nth Zine to complement the print zine.

Nth Zine will probably never look quite as nice as Nth Degree, there simply won’t be as much artwork. The monthly schedule makes it too difficult to maintain the more intensive design that goes into Nth Degree, so I’ve streamlined the design. Now, text can be easily dropped in place and each issue can then be either viewed directly on your computer or printed up and read on bits of dead trees.

As for content, the new monthly format will allow us to run reviews that we simply can’t use for the quarterly print zine. When the summer issue of Nth Degree comes out at the end of May, it stays in circulation until the end of August. The content ends up being mostly written in April and, face it, a movie review written in April won’t make much difference in the heat of August.

I’m hoping to be able to use this new more-timely format to be able to put together special issues as well. I really want to do a Halloween issue but I suspect that will have to wait until next year.

Finally, I debated with myself for quite a while on whether or not to include ads. As you can see, I decided in favor of keeping them. These guys paid good money to be in the print zine and I want to give them the most bang for their buck. I hope you like it!

(The contents of this Rant may seem confusing now that I’ve done away with Nth Zine and converted all the old issues to the Nth Degree format. My apologies. MDP, Sept. 2014.)

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #14

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Time for another update on how things are going here at the bustling offices of Nth Degree. For starters, we have more projects going on than ever before. And by we, I mostly mean me. Sigh.

The biggest news involves the website. After letting it slide for way too long, I’ve finally gotten the entire site up-to-date. All of the fiction, poetry, filks, comics and con reviews that have appeared in the magazine have finally been loaded onto the website. I’ll keep this current from here on out if it kills me.

Brandon has added a neat new section to the website for us to start uploading exclusive new “web only” content. This is going to be for fiction that I enjoyed but didn’t think was quite right for the magazine. I frequently receive good stories that are too long or are too similar to something I’ve just published, now I’ll have a place to put them. And I have enough material that I’ll be able to post new stories on a daily basis.

I’ve also got several stories that I wanted to run in the zine but simply didn’t have room for. That’s one of the downsides to being quarterly. My output just can’t keep up with the volume of submissions I receive. One of these days we’ll be able to go bi-monthly but until then I’ll be putting out a monthly e-zine to go with the print magazine. NthZine will feature the fiction that couldn’t fit into the print zine. Also, being monthly, we’ll be able to run more timely reviews for things like television, movies, CDs and comics. The e-zine will be available as a PDF download. In theory it will be very similar to Nth Degree, only distributed in an electronic format.

Nth Degree has also taken on the task of hosting a science fiction literary convention in Richmond, Virginia. RavenCon is my own little brainchild but I’m being ably assisted by authors Tee Morris and Tony Ruggiero. Tee, Tony and myself attend quite a few conventions and decided that our insider’s perspective would help us in organizing Richmond’s first SF con in over twenty years. We’ve seen quite a bit of what works and what doesn’t work and are not ashamed to liberally borrow ideas from other cons. We’ve already got a crack staff of volunteers. If the amount of fun we have at our meetings is any indication then RavenCon will surely be a success.

Creatively, I’m having a banner year. Unfortunately, quantum instabilities in my personal life are still an issue. The big move last January threw my print schedule off a bit. Now I find myself forced to move again in September. And again in October. Then I’ll stay put for a while. I promise. The downside is that I’ll probably only get three issues out this year. This won’t affect subscriptions any since I’ve always measured subscriptions by number of issues rather than by the calendar. And conventions won’t suffer since I’m increasing my print runs to accommodate longer distribution periods.

By the time you read this, the monthly e-zine (NthZine) and daily web updates should be going strong though. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone buy lots and lots of back issues. The money’s always nice to have and less stuff to move is less stuff to move.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #13

by Michael D. Pederson

 

What does it mean to be a semiprozine? According to the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society, a semiprozine must meet at least two of the following criteria: 1) have an average press run of at least one thousand copies per issue; 2) pay its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication; 3) provide at least half the income of any one person; 4) have at least fifteen percent of its total space occupied by advertising; 5) announce itself to be a semiprozine. Nth Degree meets criteria numbers 1, 4 and 5, so we are technically a semiprozine.

But what does that mean?

That’s a question that I frequently ask myself. Particularly in regards to how I handle my Rants. In a professional magazine, the editorial is a forum for the editor to pontificate on issues that are important to him/her and might spark reader interest. In a traditional fanzine, the editorial tends to be more of an open letter from the editor to his/her friends and readers, usually filling them in on what he/she has been up to lately. I generally try to take a middle ground—whimsical updates on how the zine is doing or mildly amusing opinions on things that I notice going on in fandom.

Like a professional publication, I have thousands of readers that I’ve never met and probably never will. Like a fan publication, I have hundreds of readers that I have met and partied with and gotten to know pretty well.

So, how to handle personal news? For those of you who consider this to be more of a professional publication, look away. For the rest of you, let me fill you in on what’s been going on in the Old Dominion for the last few months.

In November, Cate and I decided to separate and will be getting a divorce. It was a reasonably amicable breakup and she may still occasionally contribute to the zine. She probably won’t be attending any more conventions though.

In January, I moved back to Richmond. I lived here for sixteen years before moving in with Cate and I am very happy to be back. However, it is just a temporary move while I look for a job (anyone looking to hire a magazine editor?) and a new house. That means that there will be yet another move in my near future. You can check out my Rant way back in Issue #4 for my feelings on moving. I haven’t grown any fonder of it in the past two years.

In March, we sold the house in Stafford. I miss it already, although I couldn’t be happier about being out of Stafford. We were far too close to the traffic nightmares of Northern Virginia for my tastes. And there were no good Thai restaurants nearby.

Which brings me to the present. All of this personal business has made me adjust the schedule for the zine a bit. Normally we’d have an issue out in March, another out in May and then the next one in September. Instead, I’ll put one out in April and then adjust the rest of the year accordingly.

Thanks to everyone for their support and patience.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #12

by Michael D. Pederson

 

I’ve received more comments on my last editorial than on any of the other editorials that I’ve written in the past three years. For those of you who missed it, I pointed out many of the similarities between my two favorite hobbies—poker and Fandom. Since I seem to have struck a chord with the fans, I’d like to pursue this a little further.

Fellow fan writer rich (yes, the lowercase is intentional) brown pointed out that the similarities probably extend to include zines as well. A quick search turned up a Canadian poker zine called Deal Five and several dozen e-zines that were all devoted to the game. No surprise there, the world of zinedom has grown to include every hobby imaginable. That’s something that Fandom can be truly proud of. Most of the comments that I received though were directed at my comments about the so-called Sci Fi Channel. The one thing that I heard most was a loud cheer of support for a show that I alluded to but didn’t actually mention—Sci-Fi Buzz. I was slightly surprised to discover that a long-dead news program could have such a strong fan following. But when I think back on the debut of the Sci Fi Channel (September 24, 1992), Sci-Fi Buzz is the one program that I most associate with the fledgling network. It was the show that stood out from the classic science fiction reruns to give Sci Fi its identity. When we the fans cry out for a return of science fiction to the Sci Fi Channel we’re all thinking about Sci-Fi Buzz.

Over the years (though not so many in recent years) the Sci Fi Channel has had a number of great original programs that could easily be brought back to help re-establish their science fiction identity: Sci-Fi Buzz, FTL NewsFeeds, Inside Space, SF Vortex, and The Anti-Gravity Room all had strong fan followings and would be welcomed back with open arms. Heck, I’d even settle for the well-meaning but poorly executed Sciography.

All of our complaining about the state of the Sci Fi Channel will likely fall on deaf ears though. With the unqualified success (both in ratings and awards) of Steven Spielberg’s typically saccharin Taken the station appears to be focusing on making itself the home for bad movies. Sure, they did a pretty good job on Dune but their plans for a two-part Amber mini-series fill me with nothing short of utter dread. Allowing time for commercials they’ll only be able to dedicate a half an hour to each book. Hmmm… Better make some cuts… How does Three Princes in Amber sound?

The biggest obstacle that we fans face in getting science fiction programming back on the Sci Fi Channel though is the tunnel vision of its president, Bonnie Hammer. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly she stated, “Sci Fi is the little engine that could. Every plateau we get to, someone says, ‘They’re doing great, but they ain’t gonna get any further.’ And every year, we prove everybody wrong.” And, sadly, she seems to be right. The channel is the eighth most viewed cable channel in the critical 18- to 49-year-old market. As long as this bastardized version of the Sci Fi Channel is doing well I’m afraid that our voice isn’t going to matter much. I hope that everyone enjoyed Python Versus Boa, we’ll probably have plenty of sequels to look forward to.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #11

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Lately, I’ve been noticing a recurring theme in my weekends. I seem to spend most weekends surrounded by gamers. Lots of guys (many on the heavy side) and a few women (more every year); several of them will hardly leave the room all weekend and quite a few forget to acquaint themselves with soap. Now, I know what you’re thinking—plenty of ink has already been spilled describing the habits of the American Role-Player—but they’re not the gamers that I’m talking about here.

I’m a poker player. I’ve been a fanatic about the game since the early Nineties so it’s interesting to see the new boom in the poker world. One of the things that I keep noticing is the similarities between poker players and Fandom. This really hit home for me this summer while Cate and I were on an Alaskan poker cruise. At the beginning of the week-long cruise it was obvious that most of the people there already knew each other. Many of them either played at the same local casino or knew each other from previous cruises or major tournaments that they had played in. Substitute “local science fiction club” for “casino” and “convention” for “tournament” and we could just as easily be talking about Fandom. The organizers of the cruise reminded me of some the best con committees that I’ve worked with; they were friendly, well organized, and loved talking about past events. The dealers seemed to fill the role that I (and other programming guests) usually take at cons—the professional that was there to work but who also wanted to have as much fun as possible.

By the end of the week we had made several new friends and a little money. I have been noticing the surface similarities between poker rooms and gaming rooms for a while now but at week’s end I was absolutely floored to discover how deep the similarities ran. The poker world is as much of a community as Fandom is.

Right now, poker is enjoying its highest popularity ever. Television shows like The World Poker Tour, Celebrity Poker, and The World Series of Poker have broadened the horizons of poker in ways that old-time players never thought possible. The main event ($10,000 buy-in) in The World Series of Poker has gone from 512 entrants in 2000 to a staggering 2,576 entrants this year. That’s an over 500% increase in four years and it’s directly attributable to television.

Which brings me back to science fiction. Or, more specifically, SciFi. As in the SciFi Channel. If poker players aren’t that different from Fandom and television can grow the poker field by such a large amount then why can’t we experience a similar growth spurt in Fandom? Would a letter writing campaign be successful in bringing science fiction back to the SciFi Channel? I, for one, would love to see con reports on television. They used to run them back when the network was still young. As much as I hate reality television I would even be happy to see a convention-based reality show. Or why not bring back the science fiction interview show that they used to run?

I’m greedy. I want both of my hobbies to be big. Write the SciFi Channel and let them know what you want to see.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #10

by Michael D. Pederson

 

It’s good to be small. It seems that every issue brings a new landmark. The milepost that we’re crossing this month reads “Respectability.” You should see the gleam in my eyes every time I tell people what I’ve lined up for this issue.

Our first double-digit issue. A cover by Frank Wu. A story from Steven Johnson.

A lot of people don’t recognize these names yet, but to me they practically scream cachet.

Frank Wu recently received his third Hugo nomination for best fan artist. I met him at last year’s Philcon and he made an indelible impression. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with Frank and I truly believe that this year will be his lucky year at Worldcon.

Steven Johnson is a great writer of classic-style science fiction who has had two stories printed in Analog. I think this is our first cross-over from someone that’s appeared in one of the “big” magazines. I’m hoping for many more.

To further cement the theme of new-found respectability… Mere days before sending this issue to the printers I received a phone call from Del Rey Books asking if I would like to interview Bruce Sterling. Sure, I understand that they’re merely using me to promote their own interests but, darn it, this is the first time that any of the major publishers have paid us any attention. To me that’s a landmark.

And that’s not all that’s been going on around here. Exactly one year ago I printed a story by C.J. Henderson (“Wezleski to the Rescue”) that I thought had the potential to to be an ongoing series. When I requested another story in the series C.J. informed me that “Wezleski” had been intended as a stand-alone story but he’d think about doing another one. I’m pleased to say that not only will we be running the sequel, “Wezleski in Love,” in our next issue but C.J. has discovered that he has enough new ideas for the character to turn it into a full collection of stories that will be printed by Marietta Publishing. I’m proud to say that Nth Degree had a tiny part in that.

What’s in the near-future for the ’zine? We have now officially overflowed our banks. I have more fiction coming in than I could possibly hope to fit into a 32-page quarterly magazine. The solution? One: We will be featuring new weekly fiction on our website (www.nthzine.com). In addition to new fiction we are lining up some previews from upcoming novels as well. Two: We will finally be expanding to 48 pages. I know I’ve been threatening to do this for a while but it’s finally upon us. So, please send us your Letters of Comment to be included in our new Feedback page. We’d love to hear what you think.

As a final note, for everyone that’s wondering what happened to “The Annals of Volusius,” I’m afraid that I have to write that off as a failed experiment; the failure being mine and not the authors. Claudio Salvucci and Paolo Belzoni have created a brilliantly witty piece of science fiction humor that I’ve enjoyed since they sent me the first chapter but a small quarterly magazine just isn’t the place for a long serialization. After two years it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. Don’t be alarmed though, we’ll conclude the story on our website.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for us at your local conventions!

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #9

by Michael D. Pederson

 

It might be time to change the name of this column. I had originally thought up the idea of giving myself a page to rant about little things that were irking me when I was in my late-twenties and publishing a local entertainment magazine. Now here I am in my mid-thirties and I don’t seem to be in much of a ranting kind of mood. This scares me a little. Am I no longer an “angry young man”? And if not, can I at least gracefully slide into the status of “crotchety old man”?

Now that I think about it though, I have much nicer toys now than I had then. It’s hard to be too angry when you have a really bitchin’ home entertainment system. We live next door to a major military installation, and I’m pretty sure that there have been a couple of times when I’ve had The Lord of the Rings cranked up so loud that the Marines have started mobilizing to prevent an Uruk-hai invasion of central Virginia. Not that an Uruk-hai invasion of central Virginia would be a bad thing. I can’t imagine it would make the traffic any worse. It might even improve things. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been stuck behind a driver who could be out-smarted by your average orc.

Oooh! That’s it! I do have a rant in me.

If ninety percent of everything is crap—and I’m pretty sure that this applies to people too—then it follows that a rapidly increasing population should make it more difficult for one to sort out the worthwhile ten percent. I suppose that this is yet another advantage of Fandom. It’s been my experience that the average fan is more intelligent and creative than the average man-on-the-street (take a bow, you know I’m right). Of course, the average fan’s social skills are generally sub-par too (yes, sadly, you know I’m right again) but that’s not a problem because we’re such a forgiving lot as well.

In fact, I’m beginning to suspect that the mundanes—straights, norms, muggles, proles, plebes—might be a little jealous of fandom. That would explain the ongoing conspiracy to shut down conventions on the east coast. “Conspiracy?” you ask. Yes, it all seems innocent at first glance but when you start to put the pieces together you see a pattern…

Disclave ’97. A New York cop (not a registered member of the con) handcuffs the “M” half of his S&M couple to a sprinkler head. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens when you bust the head off an emergency sprinkler. Or maybe it does. Result: no more Disclave.

JerseyDevilCon ’03. A girl’s high school basketball team is staying at the same hotel. After being told they can’t drink at the Nth Degree party they wander down to the lobby where they decide to lift the kilt of a man dressed as the Jersey Devil. Oddly, the man who had his personal space violated was the one taken to jail that night after the kids’ coach filed a complaint. No more JerseyDevilCon (that’s not the reason the con closed, but it didn’t help).

Philcon ’03. At 5:00 AM, the fire alarm goes off. We later discover that another group staying at the hotel (I think it was a wedding party, but don’t quote me on that) had accidentally started a trashcan fire. Fortunately Philcon is a well-established convention and can shrug off a little event like that. It was still irritating though.

We’re taught when we’re young that police officers, teachers, and married people are respectable and that we should be just like them. Thank goodness we aren’t.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #8

by Michael D. Pederson

 

The truth is out. I’m a fraud. A sham, fake, and poseur. No, I did not just get a new thesaurus. I’ve just came from a convention where I was scheduled for an open autograph session with all of the other guests. There I was sitting between Darrell Schweitzer and Bud Sparhawk, feeling quite overwhelmed. Also at the table were William Tenn, Alexis Gilliland, John G. Hemry, David Hartwell, and Nancy Jane Moore. All major talents. All very nice people. I could tell that they were nice because not one of them spit in my direction and asked, “Hey, who’s the hack with the ’zine?” Bless them. And thanks to all the fans that stopped to talk while they waited in line for William Tenn’s autograph. The hour wasn’t a total loss though. I did sign a magazine or two and I learned that Darrell Schweitzer has a talent for forging celebrity autographs (his Asimov is fantastic). By the end of the hour he had nearly added mine to his repertoire.

The convention is over now; my dignity is still intact and the hangover has faded. It’s time to move on to other business…

Looking at the calendar I notice two things: 1) I’m WAY behind schedule getting this issue out and 2) Today is almost exactly two years to the day since I started putting this ’zine together. The first item is the result of a rather time-consuming wedding and honeymoon (note that there is a new Pederson in the masthead now) so please forgive my tardiness. The second item is cause for celebration (Cate would argue that the first is also). Two years! It feels like it’s only been 24 months.

What’s changed in two years? We’ve doubled our page count, increased our fandom coverage, and cleaned up our cover design. But I think that the biggest change has been in how we’re greeted at conventions. Last year the first question people would ask was, “So, what’s Nth Degree?” Now it’s, “When’s the next issue coming out?” Name recognition has picked up wonderfully in the last six months or so—the magazines’, not mine. (I’ve added extra facial hair in the last two years to help protect my anonymity. Oops, shouldn’t have said that, now I have to shave.) I suspect that’s the result of our getting to more conventions than I had thought humanly possible.

What hasn’t changed in two years? The fall issue is still late (last year’s was slowed down by the purchase of a new house). People outside of fandom still mistake our title for North Degree or sometimes Ninth Degree. George Lucas is still making really bad movies. And I still have a hard time coming up with good topics for my Rant.

What’s in store for the future? Plans are afoot to expand to 48 pages. When that happens we’ll be bringing in guest columnists and adding a letters page. I’m also planning a major illness for fall 2004 just to keep up the trend of late fall issues. I haven’t decided on the ailment yet though… Perhaps a nice bout of malaria or maybe a good old fashioned case of consumption. Until then… Stay away from me, I may be contagious.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #7

by Michael D. Pederson

 

When I first conceived of Nth Degree I wanted to create a fanzine that would serve as a place for up-and-coming writers and artists to get their first publication. My biggest concern at the time was that I would have to look at a lot of marginal material and end up publishing second-rate authors that would never grace the pages of the big-name magazines. People still ask me at conventions just how many stories I have to reject before I see a quality piece. The answer is: Surprisingly few.

I’m as shocked as you are. I was actually looking forward to having a slush pile of real stinkers. When it comes to finding the discipline to sit down and work on a short story, I’m hopeless. It would have been a nice boost to my ego to be able to sit back and laugh at the lame attempts that these so-called disciplined writers churn out. But, alas, it was not to be. I’ve been receiving quality stories. Now, let’s not get carried away and assume that I mean to say that every story has been a work of art and would win a Hugo if it could only be nominated. But, in my opinion, many of our contributors do have the potential to go on to become major names in the field.

I was prompted to write this rant because at a recent convention a reader said to me, “It’s a great looking magazine, but you should get rid of the fiction.” His complaint was that he didn’t think the fiction was as good as what you can find in the major genre magazines. And he was right. But does that mean that these stories should never be published anywhere? I don’t expect to publish the next Hugo-winning novella but I do expect that one day a Hugo winner will stand before the podium and thank Nth Degree for helping to start their career. At least that’s what I hope for.

Right now, there are a handful of major magazines publishing fiction by recognizable names in the industry. There are also some very good smaller magazines that pride themselves on being able to get fiction from some of the big names in our field. And who can blame them? A recognizable name on your cover sells magazines. Perhaps, if a name appears on our cover often enough it will be considered recognizable enough to be picked up by a major publisher.

I think that we have already published some great new writers and artists that are well on their way to a solid career in the field. I find it unbelievably exciting that I could already be working with the next Vernor Vinge or Lois McMaster Bujold. It thrills me that the next Michael Whelan may donate a piece of cover art to this humble little ’zine in exchange for a small amount of publicity.

The final arbiter on quality though, is you the reader. We will soon be expanding to a greater number of pages and will finally be able to include a Letters column. So, please, write in and let us know what you think. The contributors are used to hearing me say that their work is great—they expect me to say that so that they’ll keep sending me stuff—but I think they deserve to hear it from the readers as well.

 

The Editor’s Rant: Issue #6

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Amazingly, some would even say miraculously, we are now well into our second year of publishing. “You’re giving it away?! What are you, crazy?” We just might be, but we’re having a great time. From the first appearance of our four-page promotional flyer to the release of Issue #5 at this year’s I-Con, we managed to get the ’zine distributed at an astounding forty-three conventions—with staff members putting in personal appearances at twenty-eight of those cons. Yes, it was hectic. Yes, it was tiring. It was also a lot of fun.

It’s been an educational experience as well. We have attended straight-up science fiction conventions, media-oriented SF cons, anime cons, gaming cons, relaxa-cons, party cons, comic cons, and one Worldcon. Some of these cons we attended as programming guests, others we merely attended as registered con-goers. We have thrown parties, hobnobbed with celebrities, schmoozed with dealers, and helped with staff functions. Most importantly, we’ve been able to spend plenty of time with other attendees—the people that make it possible for this crazy world of fandom to exist.

What have we learned? Mostly, that organizing a convention is an unbelievably difficult task that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Con chairs and their support staff are a very under-appreciated group. Take a minute at your next con to pass on a word or two of appreciation to the staff. If you’re really appreciative, volunteer to help out; cons are always looking for people to help with the registration table, to work security, or to hand out sodas in the con suite.

Possibly the most critical part in running a successful convention is the hotel. I’ve seen too many conventions crumble because of difficulties with the hotel. The biggest difficulty, of course, being other bookings. Face it, most mundanes don’t understand our wacky little conventions. Larger conventions can get around this by reserving sizable chunks of hotel real estate (if not the entire hotel), but many smaller cons are often forced to share their space with little Suzie’s wedding party or a high school field trip to the big city. This is why you paradoxically tend to see a greater security presence at smaller cons than at larger ones. What can we as con-goers do to help with this? Face it, we’re at a convention to have a good time—telling people to be on their “best behavior” is pointless at best. Just remember not to cross the line from loud and silly to downright irresponsible. And always wear your con badge.

Some quick suggestions to convention organizers: My previous point works in reverse—loud and silly is not the same as irresponsible, allow some leeway for fun. A well-stocked con suite is always a mark in the plus column for any convention. Don’t end your programming at midnight, if there’s something to do people will stay interested and keep out of trouble. Double-check your schedule for conflicts—don’t put the writing seminar opposite the Writer GOH’s keynote speech. Encourage room parties prior to the convention (on your website and in your flyers)—fans enjoy them and with advance notice they can be grouped in an area of the hotel where they won’t disturb other guests. If you want more suggestions, drop by my next room party and I’ll be happy to share them with you.