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.

 

Con Review: Noreascon 4

Noreascon4by Catherine E. Twohill

 

Noreascon 4: The 62nd
World Science Fiction Convention
September 2-6, 2004
Boston, Massachusetts
http://www.noreascon.org/

Labor Day weekend in Beantown! The Unions are on overtime! Dock Workers unite! Oh, wait… that would matter if we actually were Dock Workers. While some of those who attended Boston’s Noreascon 4—the 62nd World Science Fiction Convention—may have been members of a collective bargaining unit, collectively, that’s not why roughly 6,000 bodies filled the Hynes Convention Center. Why? How about a chance to chat with Terry Pratchett (GOH)? Hand a pen to William Tenn (GOH)? Peer at Jack Speer (Fan GOH)? Or simply celebrate, as science fiction Fandom does annually, that which makes the community unique.

The Noreascon 4 team, comprised of Massachusetts Convention Fandom, Inc.-ers, have much to be proud of. They were organized, efficient, smart and, above all, helpful. We arrived on Thursday, September 2nd and wound our way to the Hynes loading dock to off-load our stuff (we had a Dealer’s Table). Even though we were officially late (the gleefully over-paid dockworkers were gleeful), Elaine Brennan met us with a smile and set the tone for the remainder of our Noreascon experience. The folks in Press Relations went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure we had our credentials and then we were off to the Marriott to complete the check-in routine. A top-notch experience all the way around. Mind you, this detail is provided as a stark contrast to our experience just twelve months prior in Toronto. While I shan’t bore you with the horrific T.O. details, suffice it to say, we may bury our zines for safe-keeping if we smell a Customs Agent within fifty miles.

Anyway, back to the good stuff. There’s almost too much—it’s difficult to focus! The weekend was kicked off by a First Night event (mirroring Boston’s famed New Year’s Eve celebration) at which teams of people devised games and audience participation festivities. Clever and just plain fun. The Convention’s programming was rock-solid—but when has it not been for a Worldcon? (oh, wait… Toronto…) The Art Show was one of the best we’ve seen with an excellent variety of styles and media. The Masquerade was enjoyable with Susan de Guardiola doing an excellent job of MC-ing, however, (and here’s where the T.O. event gets its only nod) none of the entries were of the caliber of last year’s award-winning Amber series-clad group. With Boston’s reputation for abundant creativity, that was a slight disappointment.

And, finally, to our favorite event—the Hugo Awards. Let’s face it—it’s the Oscars for the geek-literati. Neil Gaiman was tapped to host and didn’t disappoint. With his wry wit and quick delivery, he kept the event moving along and the audience “in” on the joke. In the end, Lois McMaster Bujold grabbed the top honor (Best Novel) for Paladin of Souls. The event’s illustrious host won his own gleaming phallus… I mean rocket… for Best Short Story, “A Study in Emerald.” Our friend and contributor, Frank Wu, was nominated for Fan Artist and was up against some pretty tough competition. Wu prevailed and took home his first Hugo. The after-Hugo Award parties with a first-time winner—not to mention an all-around bon vivant—are an experience everyone should have. The stories we could tell… Speaking of the after-Hugo Award parties, we must acknowledge SFWA for hosting a lovely, ethereal (dare we say celestial?) event. White floating balloons tied to white Mardi Gras masks, alabaster-draped furniture and literary projections on the walls created such a fantastic atmosphere. We almost forgot that the event is traditionally called “The Losers Party”. Not a loser in the room, to be sure.

2005’s WorldCon is off to Glasgow, Scotland (eek… Customs Agents!) from August 4th – 8th. For more info: http://www.interaction.worldcon.org.uk/

 

Con Review: Dragon*Con 2004

by DragonCon2004Rob Balder

 

Dragon*Con 2004
September 3-6, 2004
Atlanta, Georgia
http://www.dragoncon.org/

It’s probably time to stop wondering how Dragon*Con manages to exist, how it can flawlessly function with the complexity of an aircraft carrier (and the population of five), while still reverberating with indulgent, joyful chaos. A hundred explanatory backstories could certainly be written. Perhaps it enjoys the protection of ancient gods, or shadowy present-day immortals, or secret keepers of True Magicks, or benevolent time travelers, or the Galactic Council. Whoever they are, they stopped a hurricane in its tracks for this one.

If we do accept Dragon*Con as a beautiful impossibility, as the blessed event that it is, then we’re still left with the near impossibility of describing it. Numbers are not adequate, but this one was roughly a match for last year’s 30,000+ attendance. The record twenty-seven tracks, each like a con unto itself, boasted a total approaching 500 guests, panelists, speakers and performers. You could be a happy Trekkie or Buffista or pervy hobbit-fancier and wallow in your favorite fandom from dusk to dawn for four days straight.

But you’d miss some of the outside-the-box offerings, such as a pro wrestling show (featuring midget wrestling), Robot Battles (featuring an antweight division), or the Independent Film Festival (featuring many short films). Don’t ever say there’s nothing small about Dragon*Con. A really interesting and fun addition this year was Dr. Demento, who hosted several concerts featuring filk and fandom parodies from Tom Smith, Tony Goldmark, The Great Luke Ski and the omnipresent goth-magnet Voltaire.

But honestly, it would be possible to come to Dragon*Con, never get an autograph, never see a show, never attend a workshop, never watch a video, never play a game, never buy a shirt, never listen to a panel… and still have the best weekend of your year. That’s because the greatest attraction of Dragon*Con is the other con-goers. The costumes are incomparable, as is the camaraderie.

So go in a group, a big one. Have a base room to work from. Have booze, snacks, and a well-stocked medicine cabinet in your base room. Get your garb on, and go mingle. Wander the halls, the bars, the restaurants surrounding the hotels. Talk to everybody about everything. The sheer mass of people in meatspace can get a little nerve-racking, even if you’re not agoraphobic. All you have to do is just keep in mind that all of these people are your friends: your weird-ass, wonderful friends.

And if you have never been to Dragon*Con, you must put it on your “Things To Do Before I Die” list. Move “have a threesome” off of there to make room if you have to. It was never gonna happen anyway.

Once again, Nth Degree would like to salute the hard-working, seamlessly competent staff of Dragon*Con, particularly Star Roberts in Media Relations. If there are ancient, secret, advanced, alien, or magical forces involved, she is certainly one of them.

 

Con Review: Capclave 2004

by Michael D, Pederson

 

Capclave 2004
October 15-17, 2004
Vienna, Virginia
http://www.capclave.org/capclave05/index.php

I suppose that “intimate” would be the best word to sum up this year’s Capclave. Attendance was down this year, with roughly 250 people in attendance (counting guests and dealers). The lower numbers didn’t hurt the atmosphere in any way though.

Space constraints in a new hotel kept the programming down to a single track but this gave the guests—Guests of Honor Nick Pollotta (Author), Butch Honeck (Artist) and Dennis McCunney (Fan) included—more time to mix and mingle with the attendees. The very relaxed and open-to-all Kaffeeklatches were well attended and I spent most of Saturday afternoon in a chat circle by the pool while other guests and attendees came and went, joining in the conversation. It was one of those great con moments that couldn’t have been planned by anyone.

For a literary con the programming was a bit short on literary programming but the one panel I was on, “New Writers,” drew a good crowd and could have easily gone into a second hour. I just would have liked there to have been at least one panel on Sunday devoted to something literary instead of the three self-obsessed (and redundant) panels on “How to Run the Perfect Con,” “If I Ran the Zoo [Con],” and the “Gripe Session.”

My gripes are minor though. I had a fun weekend with a lot of people that I only get to see a couple of times a year. Next year is bound to be as much fun too; Howard Waldrop is the scheduled Guest of Honor.

 

Con Review: Ubercon IV

by Rob Balder

 

Ubercon IV
October 15-17, 2004
Meadowlands, New Jersey
http://www.ubercon.com

This is going to be an unfair report. Accept that right now.

Ubercon, among the most aggressive and ambitious young cons running right now, held its fourth installment in a twenty-month span. Ubercon has set its sights very high. From the con name to its mission statement (“our objective is to provide world class facilities as a global entity for the purpose of ushering in a new era of unsurpassed excellence in the game convention industry”), they’re clearly out for blood. They want very much to build the biggest name in gaming cons. Which, with just four cons under their belt, is somewhat reminiscent of a high schooler with serious ambitions for the White House. Ubercon’s certainly not a bad bet to achieve their lofty aims (maybe more like a high schooler who is also captain of the football and forensics teams), but there’s a lot of ground to cover between them and say, Origins or Gen-Con.

Ubercon was loaded with activities, events and facilities for gamers of all stripes. They had tournaments, and a massive LAN set up, and giveaways, and raffles, and free energy drinks… But the reason this report is unfair is that as the only representative from Nth Degree in attendance, I didn’t give a gluteus rattus about any of that. I was there for the webcomics.

Ubercon rolled out a big red carpet to the webcomics world. They brought in over a dozen creators, including several of the most popular on the web (rock star names included Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, Tim Buckley of Ctrl-Alt-Del, Brian Clevinger of 8-bit Theatre and Randy Milholland of Something Positive). The rest of us were well above the chopped-liver level.

This particular Uber suffered a bit at the hands of the venue, as a wedding was booked in the ballroom on Saturday and attendees were forced to walk through the drizzle outside to get between halves of the con. This will apparently not be a problem at the next one. Ubercon did one rather innovative thing by combining the dealers’, gaming, and LAN rooms into a single space. This definitely did encourage more walk-by traffic, but raised some security concerns for the dealers. The reaction from dealers was therefore mixed, though the attendees gave it a thumbs-up.

The con gave a decent nod to programming variety with things like a big medieval festival on the grass outside, a costume contest, a filk concert (mine) and music circle, and readings by C.J. Henderson. There was also a blood drive and a worship service for Christian gamers (“give us this day our daily treasure allotment…”). The Saturday night party became a thing of legend, occurring in the con’s own suite, building to a crescendo and climaxing with the arrival of the cops. But that is a story for another day.

Overall, this is a con you need to catch while it’s on its meteoric climb. The staff is so charged with enthusiasm and energy that if you come to an Ubercon and fail to have a good time, you have only yourself to blame.

Or.… possibly the cops.

 

Con Review: GalaxyCon 2

by Tee Morris

 

GalaxyCon 2
November 13-14, 2004
Greenbelt, Maryland

Media con. Two words that strike terror in the hearts of writers everywhere.

While all media cons are not created equal, there is a consistent thread between them all: Authors Approach At Your Own Risk. It’s not the fault of the con organizers (sometimes). On a whole, the people who attend media cons think authors are nice but are a far cry from James Marsters, Virginia Hey, Nana Visitor, or George Takei. The bottom line is that media cons are for television and movie stars. Authors are invited to take a place on the second tier unless they are media tie-in authors. Only then is there a bit of elevation in your class status, but not by much. That being said, I got an invitation to attend GalaxyCon 2, a new media con held in the Beltsville/College Park, Maryland area. I was invited because a friend of mine was organizing the weekend and thought the con needed more authors. The other reason I got the invite was because I am a raging fan of Farscape and Gigi Edgely was on the guest list.

Now, as I have painted media cons with this rather dark brush, I should say there are exceptions to this rule of media cons and their regard of authors, Toronto Trek was one such exception. I now add GalaxyCon 2 to that list of exceptional conventions. For such a young event, the atmosphere was pleasant and its operations (and their security… kudos to the security!) were professionally run. There was also a hint of down-to-earth camaraderie. While media guests usually remain sequestered from the rest of the guests, all the GalaxyCon guests shared the same room for autographs. There was just something cool about Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch and Farscape’s Gigi Edgely stopping by your table to say “Hi” and even talk geek with us working SF stiffs. Not only were these two a lot of fun to chat with, but both of them were jumping into the spirit of the con, feet first. I found it refreshing that these two actors, one who is fresh off the success of a mini-series and the other a pop icon of 70s SF, refused to bite the hands that fed them and made a conscious effort to meet and greet the fans.

I also need to give props to Jewel (Firefly) Staite’s husband, Matt, and Gigi’s traveling companion, Marcos. Instead of trying to remain invisible, the guests’ Significant Others were also taking part in the fun; and when offered a CD of just Matt and Jewel singing karaoke together, Matt said “Well, what about pictures of everyone else? I want memories of the people we meet.” Pretty classy.

And speaking of karaoke, that was an unexpected bonus of the weekend. I have attended cons that invite celebrities to grab the mic and stumble their way through the classics. At GalaxyCon, Gigi, Richard, Marcos, and Matt (who did encourage wife Jewel to join her in a duet) all took the stage. Sadly, Angel’s Mark Lutz doesn’t do karaoke. Perhaps he was afraid of coming across looking foolish. Buffy’s Robia LaMorte was also quite hesitant until a gauntlet was thrown… by me. In response to the audience’s coaxing, Robia cried out “But I don’t know the words!” to which I came back with “Well, you could try acting.” Yes, when in doubt, aim for the ego, and actors jump like beans from Mexico.

The overall con attendance was low (which I can only attribute to a lack of advertising and promotion); but what GalaxyCon lacked in numbers, it compensated with a sense of fun and genuine sincerity. I was impressed with the attendees, all of whom were warm, enthusiastic, and having a great time. I was also a little disappointed in the lack of programming, the bulk of panels were reserved more for the media stars, but this did offer plenty of time for autographs, workshops, and a few eye-popping multimedia presentations that included the Richard Hatch-financed proposal video for Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming. (In a word… WOW! Too bad Universal and Skiffy’s Bonnie Hammer didn’t share the sentiment.) Still with its light programming schedule and two-day run, Sunday afternoon rolled around, guests and activity began winding down, and goodbyes were exchanged between staff and guests, goodbyes that were quite heartfelt. “This is one of the best times I’ve had,” Hatch admitted. That is something con organizers really appreciate hearing.

Did I sell a lot of books? No. Did I make any contacts? No. So what did I get out of GalaxyCon? Quite a lot. I made some new friends with the I-Maniacs, the GC Staff, and a few young fans of SF/F. I sang Sinatra’s “My Way,” arm-in-arm with Richard Hatch, Marcos, Matt, and a score of guys. I talked web design with Gigi Edgely, and I also got a gem of a story concerning The DaVinci Code that will be providing a lot of laughs in future talks. This was a con that I walked away with many wonderful memories, and a con that reminded me of exactly why I genuinely enjoy this weird and wacky genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

 

Book Review: Angels In Iron

AngelsInIronby Michael D. Pederson

 

Angels in Iron
Nicholas C. Prata
Arx Publishing, 292 pp.

Set in 1565, this historical drama takes a significant battle between the forces of Islam and Christianity (the Siege of Malta) and brings it intensely to life. I’ve always been an avid student of history but have never found myself particularly drawn to the Ottoman Empire. Prata, however, caught my interest immediately with his outstanding depiction of the Siege of Malta. He fully captures the reality of the situation and has no problems with portraying the bravery, sacrifice, loss, anguish, and frustration of both sides. Prata’s ability to clearly portray characters in the midst of chaotic battles is strongly reminiscent of Jeff Shaara’s series of American wars (Gone For Soldiers, Gods and Generals, et al). It’s neither science fiction nor fantasy, it’s just real history told in an entertaining fashion. I couldn’t put it down.

 

Book Review: The Best of Xero

Xeroby rich brown

 

The Best of Xero
Pat and Dick Lupoff (introduction by Roger Ebert)

with illustrations by Larry Ivie, Steve Stiles, Andy Reiss, Lin Carter, Ajay Budrys, Dan Adkins, Arthur Thompson (ATom), Cathy Bell, bhob stewart, Sylvia White, Eddie Jones and Roy Krenkel
Tachyon Publications, 255 pp.

Modern comics fandom effectively began in 1960 with two SF fanzines, Don and Maggie Thompson’s Comic Art and Dick and Pat Lupoff’s Hugo-winning Xero. This book reprints some excellent pieces from Xero but its title is a bit of a misnomer since the heart of the fanzine was a series of essays that were picked up and published in book form in the 1970s under the catch-all title they shared in its pages, All in Color for a Dime. But this collection, 30+ years later, is the second shoe dropping—and it demonstrates that the fanzine’s excellence was not limited to those essays. Rog Ebert, in his introduction, writes of his teen years when he was a fan who wrote poetry for Xero, before he went on to become a film critic. This is followed by more than a dozen pieces, some humorous, some not, all excellent, interspersed with the commentary of notables which originally appeared in Xero’s letter column. Perhaps most worthy of mention are Harlan Ellison on the Bloch-Hitchcock Psycho, the late James Blish with two offerings (his days as a writer for Captain Video and his take on Kingsley Amis’ New Maps of Hell), Bob Tucker conducting an imaginary interview with his old friend Robert Bloch, Donald E. Westlake detailing why he found it necessary to move from writing SF to writing mysteries (not to mention various editors’ responses, and Westlake’s devastating rejoinders), Don Thompson on why he preferred the Spectre to Superman, Roy Thomas on Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and, last but far from least, Lin Carter’s delightful pastiche of Sax Rohmer. The book is not without error—I can imagine Westlake bridling, e.g., over his two best-known caper mystery characters being mislabeled in his credits (Dortmunder as an “incompetent mobster” and Parker as a “hit man”; Dortmunder is an incompetent thief whose exploits have reached the silver screen in The Hot Rock and Bank Shot, while the first novel in the Parker series—where Parker does kill a few people, just never for hire—has twice been made into a movie, first as Point Blank with Lee Marvin and more recently as Payback with Mel Gibson). But, that said, this is also a handsomely produced book, a fascinating read for anyone interested in SF, comics, fanzines and/or all three, and well worth the $29.95 cover price.

 

Book Review: Counterfeit Kings

CounterfeitKingsby Michael D. Pederson

 

Counterfeit Kings
Adam Connell
Phobos Books, 382 pp.

If you like your stories on the dark side, filled with anti-heroes and despicable villains, you’re going to love this one. In the far-future, a mining operation on Io has birthed an unstable technocracy. When the King goes missing after a failed assassination attempt that mistakenly kills his son instead the search begins… Find the King before he is pronounced dead or else either his bastard heirs or business rivals will seize the throne. To complicate matters, the King’s lookalike bodyguards (Ringers) have fled to save their own lives and to keep from being used as pawns. The Queen hires one of the King’s pre-Ringer bodyguards and his wife to find the King while the Bastards hire their own thug to search for the missing King and as many of the missing Ringers as he can find. The heroes are a former drug runner and ex-prostitute, the villains are even dirtier. Nobody in this story has a clean past and the plot takes some truly grisly turns. It is one hell of a rollercoaster ride… No, I take that back. Rollercoasters have ups and downs; this is pure acceleration, an adrenaline-injected, pulse-pounding, no holds-barred, all-out adventure. Is there redemption for our heroes? Will the King be found? Can a civil war be averted? Some of the answers will surprise you.

 

Book Review: Daydreams Undertaken

DaydreamsUndertakenby Michael D. Pederson

 

Daydreams Undertaken
Stephen L. Antczak
Marietta Publishing, 188 pp.

I attend many many cons each year as a programming guest and am frequently asked to sit on panels on “Best New Writers”. I’m adding Antczak’s name to my list for future cons. For starters, I’m thrilled that he started out sending stories and LoCs to fanzines. In this day and age of small press publishing too many new writers start right off with a mediocre novel and never really work at honing their craft on short stories, which most people will agree are considerably harder to write than novels. Daydreams Undertaken presents fifteen of these carefully plotted and well-honed gems. Highlights include: “Reality,” a story about a kinetic sculpture that may affect the nature of the universe; “Pop Goes Weasel,” about a punk band trying to capture a fleeting moment in space/time; and “Captain Asimov,” in which a robot latches on to the Three Laws in an attempt to become a Hero. The stories are quirky, amusing, and sometimes disturbing. They’re full of believably flawed characters trying to grasp the fantastic. I look forward to seeing where this master craftsman’s career takes him.