The Editor’s Rant: Issue #1

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Hi there.

Welcome to the premiere issue of Nth Degree. You’re probably all wondering what to expect from us. We’ll have fiction from some of the genre’s hotest new writers (just as soon as we find them), hysterical new comics, and artwork from award-winning artists, plus filks, reviews, and constant convention coverage.

In addition to publishing a hot new ’zine, we’ll have one of those new-fangled web thingies at www.nthzine.com. I’ve heard they’re all the rage these days.

And don’t forget the con parties! Nth Degree will be distributed, free-of-charge, at major conventions nationwide. Stop in to your favorite con and join us for the fun!

And let’s not forget the staff. I’m very excited to have so many of my former collaborators working on this magazine with me. Maybe even a few recognizable names… Craig Enslin, my partner-in-crime from Renaissance Comic’s Raven. Brandon and Susan Blackmoor, creators of Black Gate Publishing’s Legacy: War of Ages, gaming system. Phill Ash, formerly of Doctors in the House and Luna-C. Lloyd Montgomery, writer for Escape Venture’s Gatewar gaming system. Plus, lots of new talent that will soon be recognizable names in the world of Fandom.

I hope everyone enjoys our new magazine, and we’ll see you all at the next con!

P.S.—I still like pie.

 

Game Review: Evernight

by Chris Tompkins

 

For all those folks still ducking the online-gaming phenomenon, VR1 Entertainment’s Evernight may be your entry drug. Evernight combines plenty of interesting human interactions with the leisurely chess-like pleasures of a solid turn-based fantasy-strategy game.

Evernight simply uses your internet browser as an interface. The game consists of maps, statistics tables, and email communications—all presented in a series of dynamically-generated web pages (interspersed with some high-quality graphic images).

You set your own pace for the game; taking as much (or as little) time as you need to manage your empire, study the maps, ponder the importance of emails, and to execute each phase of your strategy. When you are finished, click on “Done” and go about your business. Later on (usually in the wee hours of the morning), the system analyzes the maps and statistics, and the game advances by another “tick.”

Typically, each game begins with a land-grab rush, in which players deploy their non-magical units (called “Lessers”) to grab up as many provinces as they can reach. Different types of terrain confer varying amounts of treasure for every turn that you occupy them. Powerful supernatural entities (“Forms”) and lots of wacky spells are available in exchange for “Fury” points that you earn with your victories. You can also invest in fortresses and temples.

If Evernight was just another expand-and-upgrade contest, it would be pretty thin gruel; but after a few ticks the multi-player interaction kicks in. When you are fighting over a huge map with fifty or more competing players the possibilities heat up fast for deal-making, resource-swapping, alliances, double- and triple-crosses, and some really fine misdirection and duplicity.

Beginners can play a free game to see how they like it; registered users pay only five dollars a month, and can play up to eight games simultaneously (about as many as anyone could handle). I urge you to give it a try at http://evernight.vr1.com. After only three days of play, you’ll be hooked, even (or especially) if you’ve been skeptical about online games before now.

 

Evernight

A sample map from VR1 Entertainment’s Evernight.

 

Game Review: When Good Villagers Go Bad

villagers

Honey, company’s coming. Better put the tar on to boil!

by Chris Tompkins

 

Anyone who has ever played one of the classic-style role-playing games has been through the standard prototypical small village. You know the scenario… Adventurers casually stroll into a small idyllic village and do as they wish, while the villagers sit back and do little more than offer the occasionally useful rumor. In the miniatures microgame, When Good Villagers Go Bad (Inner City Games Designs), the happy-go-lucky villagers are not gonna take it any longer!

At the beginning of the game, players choose sides to play either the villagers or the adventurers. The goal of the game for the villagers is to convince the adventurers that their attitudes and actions are not appreciated in this town—the townspeople have the ever-popular tar-and-feathers option to fall back on if the adventurers happen to be particularly stubborn. On the flip-side, the goal of the adventurers is to teach the villagers a lesson in hospitality by cruelly murdering them, looting their homes, and burning the peaceful little village to the ground. The adventurers are—of course—much stronger, but the villagers have them outnumbered by six to one, so the game isn’t weighted to any one side.

As the adventurers proceed with their looting, burning, and killing they must constantly be aware of line-of-sight for all of the villagers. Every time that a villager witnesses a crime against anyone or anything in the village there is a chance that the town will collectively become increasingly angrier. The worse the crime, the greater the chance. And as the villagers get more and more irate, their stats increase until the adventurers find themselves facing an angry mob.

The game is played using Victory Points to determine the winner. Villagers earn points by removing Courage Points from the adventurers; scoring the big points by running the adventurers out of town. Adventurers earn their Victory Points simply by killing, burning, and looting their way through town. The game ends when the last adventurer has been run out of town or when the village is burned to the ground.

If this strikes your funny bone in a particularly sick and twisted way then go to www.fuzzyheroes.com. For other good beer-and-pretzel laugh-riots, check out My First LARP, (your name here) of the Jungle, and Who’s Your Daddy? the game of paternity battles.

 

Movie Review: Rollerball

Rollerballby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor

 

Remakes nearly always fall into one of two categories: bad remakes of classic movies, and bad remakes of crappy movies. John McTiernan’s Rollerball (2002, PG-13) is both: it’s a bad remake of a classic crappy movie.

In the original Rollerball (1975, R), James Caan is a star player of the eponymous roller-derby/demolition-derby sport. It’s not Brazil, but the dystopian vision of the film is a convincing one that still stands up reasonably well today. James Caan, a talented character actor who combines the meanness of James Coburn with James Garner’s easygoing charm, was perfectly cast as Jonathan E., and the endlessly imitated John Houseman does a stunning job as the vile corporate mouthpiece. It’s a bit talky by today’s standards, but the original Rollerball is still a fine evening’s entertainment.

In contrast, McTiernan’s Rollerball is far less talky, but what dialogue there is makes little sense. Creative subtitling would probably improve it, although that might rob it of some of its unintentional humor. The scenes of the Rollerball game itself are, incredibly, even more frenetic than those in the original, which means that the action is impossible to follow rather than merely difficult. Jonathan Cross, played with mayonnaisian blandness by the inexplicably popular Chris Klein, makes no impression at all. Even L.L. Cool J. (Deep Blue Sea), Rebecca Romijn-Stamos (X-Men), and Jean Reno (The Professional) can’t combine their powers to overcome the monumentally stupid script and choppy editing.

Don’t pay to see Rollerball in the theatre: wait for it to come to video, and then rent something else.

 

Movie Review: Queen of the Damned

Queen of the Damnedby Brandon & Susan Blackmoor

 

Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned (2002, R) is a movie that needs to be seen in a theatre to be fully appreciated. A loose film adaptation of a novel by Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned will doubtlessly be reviled by Anne Rice fans for daring to veer from the holy text of the matriarch (the same sort of people who decried the treatment of Farmer Maggot in Lord of the Rings). Film aficionados will be more concerned with the huge, gaping plot holes. But let’s be frank: it’s a vampire movie, of course there are plot holes (Blade, anyone?). We don’t go to a vampire movie for intricate plots or a complex emotional landscape, we go to a vampire movie for cool costumes, sexy protagonists, and some spooky cinematography. Queen of the Damned delivers these in spades.

The late R&B singer Aaliyah plays the title role of Akasha, who is awakened by a disturbingly Crow-like Lestat (played by Stuart Townsend) and proceeds to run amok. Arrayed against her are a number of fashion-plate vampires who happen to like the status quo. For the next couple of hours, they pose and stare with a pleasantly goth-pop soundtrack. Aaliyah is simply delicious as Akasha, and Stuart Townsend does as good a job as the infamous Lestat as any mortal man is likely to. Classic cinema? No: it’s a vampire movie, with all of the silliness and melodrama that entails. But Queen of the Damned is a fun “date movie” (if your date isn’t a film student or an obsessed Anne Rice fan), and the costumes and cinematography are good enough to warrant repeat viewings.

Pay to see Queen of the Damned in the theatre. When it comes to video, see it again with Blade and really treat yourself.

 

Con Review: MarsCon 2002

colormartshipby Michael D. Pederson

 

MarsCon 2002
January 11-13, 2002

Williamsburg, Virginia

MarsCon promotes themselves as Southeastern Virginia’s premier Science Fiction/Fantasy/Gaming Relax-a-Con. That’s a pretty narrow field of competition, but it’s still a fun con.

This year’s con had approximately five-hundred members; counting staff, guests, and dealers.

For a quiet little Relax-a-Con, MarsCon had a pretty solid schedule of events. Sci-Fi Win, Lose or Draw; four LARPs, ranging from Machiavellian Madness to Vampire and Werewolf themes; filking by White Plectrum; a skit and improv show by Luna-C, a local comedy troupe; a charity auction (more on that later); and their main event, a performance by the Women of Whimsey (teachout.net/WoW). WoW have been performing at MarsCon for six years now and they’re a constant favorite with con-goers.

Like all good cons, MarsCon had a well-stocked Dealer’s Room. The usual run of vendors were there selling jewelry, music, comics, books, gaming supplies, and the various oddities that go over well with con crowds.

This year’s charity was the Heritage Humane Society of Williamsburg, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for dozens of dogs and cats each year. The animals are not put to sleep, but are kept until they all find homes. The auction proceeds ($1800) went toward purchasing food, kitty litter, chew toys, and upkeep of the facility. As an added bonus, the HHS brought in four cats and three puppies on Saturday afternoon to show con-goers what the HHS was all about. The animals were a smashing hit with everyone present, and the animals that were brought to the con found homes in the days afterward.

Next year’s MarsCon is already scheduled for January 24-26, 2003. For more info, visit www.marscon.net.

 

Technobabble World

Technobabble World

Illustration by Dan Fahs

by Rob Balder

To the tune of “Top of the World,” performed by The Carpenters, written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis

 

I can boost a sensor signal gain.
I can even fix a positronic brain.
I know a core from a coil,
From a phytophillic foil,
But I hate it when they ask me to explain.

I was never good at being clear.
So I thought I’d be a Starfleet engineer.
Now when they ask me what’s wrong,
I give them a dance and song,
And I tell them I can fix it in a year.

I’m on the top of a pylon lookin’
Down on the station
And the only explanation I can find,
Is that the tachyon tube
Needs a hyperstatic lube,
’Cause I’m, living in a technobabble world.

I was testing quantum gravity,
When I opened up a subspace cavity.
And then I let loose a gas
That turned half the crew to bass,
So I guess the captain’s pretty torqued at me.

I installed a plasmatropic node,
But I think it
caused a cascade overload.
And now the crew on seven decks
Has had a sudden change of sex,
But I bet it makes a darn good episode!

I’m on the top of a pylon lookin’
Down on the station
And the only explanation I can find,
Is that the warp unit fits,
But the coupling’s on the fritz,
’Cause I’m living in a technobabble world.

I’m on the top of a pylon lookin’
Down on the station
And the only explanation I can find,
Is that the conduit we used
Blew a monatomic fuse…

[pause]

I mean the sensor array
Caused our leptons to decay…

[pause]

No, the
electro-
phonic…
sink
Turned the pseudo…
dampers…
pink?

[pause, covering face]

They’re all just lousy machines,
I don’t know WHAT the hell it means!
I’m just living in a technobabble world.
Help!

 

Beatles

by Kevin Ginsberg

 

I haven’t been able to find my “thing” in life, although I know for a fact that is doesn’t involve poultry. Not the biggest revelation in the world, but it’s nice to rule things out nonetheless. For a long time I thought I might become a musician. I read Paul McCartney’s autobiography to find out how he did it and tried to follow the same path. I met a fella by the name of John, then met a guy named George, and then a man named Raul. That was the closest I could get to Ringo. None of these men could play an instrument, but George did a very interesting interpretive dance to the song “Lady Madonna.”

John and I would sit around writing songs, some good, some not so good. Our best song was one about John’s sister Martha who only had one ear. The song was called “One-eared Martha,” and it’s chorus consisted of Martha repeating the lines, “Talk to my left side, left side, left side.” We couldn’t have been more pleased with the song, but like all great works of art, it went primarily misunderstood.

Raul suggested that we make a pilgrimage to visit the Maharishi. The entire group agreed that such a trip would truly be following the blueprint laid out by the Beatles. The difference between us and the Beatles was our income. We were only able to come up with enough money to visit The Spectacular Kirk, a self proclaimed prophet and taxidermist. There was a lot of talk about The Spectacular Kirk not actually having a taxidermy license, but to us he was the closest thing we were going to get to the Maharishi. We set up an appointment with him and invited Mia Farrow, who declined. We were able to bring along an agoraphobe named Prusella, giving us much of the same effect. We wrote a song about her too.

When we arrived at The Spectacular Kirk’s apartment he was in the middle of drying out a bald eagle. We asked him if it were not illegal to hunt bald eagles. He slowly turned his head to us and winked. That told us all that we needed to know, we were in the presence of greatness. The Spectacular Kirk asked us to remove our shoes. George commented on how similar that was to the great Maharishi; Kirk let us know that he just happened to notice that Raul had stepped in dog shit.

Kirk excused himself to go to the bathroom and we couldn’t help but to snoop around a bit. We found pictures of Kirk with many celebrities, including the musical groups Winger and Stryper, and Danny Bonaducci. We all agreed that we were on the right path.

The Spectacular Kirk came from the bathroom and invited us to meditate. We sat in a circle and hummed as Prusella sat alone in a bedroom. When the meditation was over Raul and John admitted to feeling very relaxed, while George and I were looking for something more. We couldn’t quite put our finger on what it was until The Spectacular Kirk mentioned something about drugs. Then the light bulb lit. The Beatles did a lot of drugs, and it was said to have expanded their minds. Kirk apologized for not having any drugs himself, but suggested that we put on some coffee and drink “a LOT” of caffeine.

We began drinking the coffee, and we were bouncing off the walls in no time. This prompted us to write our most intriguing song to date, “We Like Coffee a Lot.” We left The Spectacular Kirk and all agreed later that he was a fool. We couldn’t think of a good song to write about him though, I doubt anyone could.

The band eventually broke up after John adopted a Shar-pai. Most people think that they are ugly, but John loved it. It was probably best that we broke up. We had accumulated one hundred and nineteen songs and performed none of them. We were fortunate enough to have one of our songs performed by a local bar band called The Sofas. They did an outstanding job on our song, “Don’t Waste Your Socks.”

To make a long story short, I’ve now ruled out being a rock star. Currently I’m scooping ice-cream at a local dairy shop, but I’m about two thirds into President Nixon’s book, so look out Washington!

abbey road

Illustration by Michael D. Pederson