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.

 

Con Review: Philcon 2004

Philcon2004by James R. Stratton

 

Philcon 2004
December 10-12, 2004
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
http://www.philcon.org/2004/

Until recently, Philcon’s attendance ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 paid attendees. A few years ago Philcon moved its location and date, and seems to be suffering from being too close to Christmas. Last year attendance dropped to just over 1,000 paid memberships. It is my understanding that this year attendance dropped again, to between 700 and 800 paid memberships. It is my hope that the con committee has taken note and will be taking steps to remedy this.

Despite the drop in numbers, those in attendance still had a wonderful time. This year, the Artist Guest of Honor was Joe Devito. The scheduled Writer GoH, Brian Aldiss, was unable to attend due to health problems, but the con was able to book Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski in his place. As every year, the merry Nth Degree Crew was in attendance as well, running a table in the Dealer’s Room and dispensing the much-sought-after glow-in-the-dark drink cup at their room party.

The venue—the Marriott Center City Hotel—is worthy of mention. Philcon obtained this venue when they hosted the World Science Fiction Convention in 2001. It is a four-star hotel in the heart of Philadelphia and is a beautiful facility. My family had reserved two rooms, but found when we arrived that the hotel had mistakenly given away one of our rooms. They promptly upgraded our reservations to two adjoining suites at the Marriott Concierge Deluxe Hotel next door, at no extra charge. The staff at this hotel is nothing if not professional and discrete. With no fuss, we spent the weekend in rooms that were easily double the size of the standard room at the con hotel.

As in previous years, Philcon had enough activities to satisfy just about anyone. There was an Art Show with auction, along with a full weekend of panels discussing various aspects of artistic endeavors; a Dealer’s Room with dozens of merchants; a Masquerade competition; a gaming room with competitions running around-the-clock; an anime room with showings running from late Friday until late Sunday; a movie room with a similar schedule; Filk performances; readings by various authors; and of course, seven or eight panel discussions running simultaneously on such topics as graphic novels, sex toys of the future, the business of writing, space exploration and Internet fraud. In addition, the con committee added a new activity, a networked computer gaming room separate from the main gaming room, running such popular games as Unreal Tournament and 1942. And, of course, they had the Philcon Writers Workshop, my favorite activity each year.

This year Philcon was different for me. In the past, my family and I scattered once we arrived. My son and I would help with the Art Show set-up (and earn our badges for the next year), while my wife and daughter took advantage of the wonderful shopping to be found in Center City. My son would then focus his time on gaming and anime, my daughter on anime and shopping, my wife on shopping and jewelry design, and me on various panels on writing with some videos thrown in when I could find time. But the past year has seen changes and growth in my writing career, and Philcon marked the release of a collection of my short stories published by Big Blind Productions. This was a happy occasion, allowing me the unique experience of spending most of my weekend autographing my chapbook for purchasers. Is this really how authors spend their time at cons?

The rest of my time on Saturday was spent at the Writers Workshops, where my story and nine others received the close, critical attentions of editors George Scithers and Darryl Schweitzer, and professional writers Carl Frederick, P.D. Cacek and Roman Ranieri. I’m happy to report that my story received mostly positive comments. Still, I had the chilly experience of watching as Hugo and Nebula award-winning editor George Scithers, in his kindest and most sincere tones, advised several authors, “This is a bad story! Don’t do it again. Now that it’s out of your system, go write something better.”

Sadly, I had to pass on my annual visit to the Masquerade, but I understand it was well attended with thirteen entrants displaying their works.

The weekend ended with the Art Show auction, where we won a half-dozen items ranging from a limited-edition print to fantasy-themed Christmas balls for our tree. When we were ready to go, the hotel staff literally whisked our bags from our rooms to our car with a minimum of fuss, and we were on the road home, tired but well pleased with our weekend. We already have our memberships for next year, and I can heartily recommend that you consider doing the same.

 

Con Review: MarsCon 2005

MarsCon2005by Michael D. Pederson

 

MarsCon 2005
January 21-23, 2005
Williamsburg, Virginia
http://www.marscon.net/

I’ve been attending MarsCon for a long time now and, frankly, have begun to feel that I’m only attending out of loyalty (they were the first con to have me as a guest way back when). This year though, they made some sweeping changes that have gone a long way to revitalizing this little ol’ relaxacon.

But before I get to the good, I’m sorry to say that there was a lot of bad mojo this year—all of it completely out of the con’s control. First off there was Arisia’s decision to change their date to the same weekend as MarsCon. I’m sure that there weren’t many central Virginia fans that changed their plans because of the earlier Boston con but I know that there were a handful of pros that skipped MarsCon for Arisia. Then there was the inclement weather. A mix of ice and snow that stretched from North Carolina to New England kept a lot of people home that weekend. Worst of all though was the hotel’s last-minute cancellation of the con’s room block. One month before MarsCon, it was announced that the hotel was needed as barracks for troops that were preparing to be sent overseas. All of the convention space was still usable but room reservations were moved to a Super 8, half a mile away.

But despite all of the problems, this was the most enjoyable MarsCon in years. Not being able to crawl back to your room to take a break made it look like a very active con (even though attendance was down to 300 from it’s usual 500). Plus, there was a lot more to do this year. MarsCon’s old “fans are just here to relax” policy has given way to a new “let’s keep them entertained” policy. As in the past, they favor interactive workshops over panels and lectures and added some new ones. This year’s workshops included Mendhi, doll making, writing, poetry, art, photography, armor crafting, filking, makeup, salsa dancing, and swing dancing.

One of the best changes to MarsCon this year was the addition of Coyote Run, a local Celtic band. For two hours people forgot the sleet coming down outside and boogied in the aisles of a packed ballroom. Two thumbs up, I hope to see them again next year.

And, of course, it isn’t a proper convention without room parties. Not having a room in the hotel slowed things down at first but we were able to “borrow” the con suite from 9:00 to 3:00 Saturday night to host our usual bash. Two other groups that had planned on throwing parties, but had no space, also joined in and kept the party SRO all night long.

A final word to the 200 people that were unable to attend this year… You missed the best MarsCon in years. The convention is already negotiating with a new hotel for next year, so I expect things to be even better in ’06.

 

Con Review: Arisia ’05

Arisiaby Tee Morris

 

Arisia ‘05
January 21-23, 2005
Boston, Massachusetts
http://2006.arisia.org/

With fellow author and con-hopper Tony Ruggiero grudgingly meeting up with me at the Plaza Hotel, I was returning to Beantown after two years. In 2003, I visited Arisia and was impressed by the convention. I skipped a year just to give other January cons a try, but the return to Boston reminded me of just how good Arisia is and how I should make the trek north more often.

The weekend began with a smooth check-in at the Plaza Hotel, something I will say was a huge improvement from the last visit. In 2003, Arisia had a “hotel liaison.” Guests and con-goers needed to contact the convention, Arisia would then make the reservation via the liaison, then the liaison would confirm the reservation with the con, and then the con would confirm with the guest. It was chaos with many attendees sitting by their luggage wondering, “What the frel happened to my room?” This year, the reservations were handled directly by the Plaza. No frack-ups. Well done, Arisia.

This year’s Arisia appeared busier than 2003. With such a busy con, I salute the Boston fans running this weekend without incident or mishap. All my best to Sheila Oranch and her staff for creating tracks with great topics, easy to meet schedules and plenty of items to keep attendees busy. And extra bonus points to the con staff for commandeering the Plaza Hotel’s private channel for showing favorite SF/F/H television series and movies during the con.

The panels themselves were extremely well attended, two of the most impressive turnouts on my schedule being “The SciFi Superiority Complex: Elitism in SF/F/H” and “The George Lucas Bash-a-Thon.” The Elitism panel was a bullet-sweating moment, as one of the panelists and half the audience had read my article on this very topic appearing on StrangeHorizons.com. The discussion was passionate, spirited, and still talked about hours later. As far as “The George Lucas Bash-a-Thon,” I think the last time I had that much fun on a panel was at Balticon 38 with Mike Pederson, the Lamplighter-Wrights, and other panelists talking about Harry Potter with a ballroom filled to capacity. The jokes flew, left and right, along with the frustrations, and this panel was—much to my elation—captured and “enhanced” (with clips from Star Wars and credits) for posterity by Astronomicon’s Con Chair, Wayne Brown. I had two more panels planned for Sunday…

…but it is here where Arisia took a wild, wacky and windy turn.

Saturday afternoon, Tony and I were enjoying some downtime in the bar and watching TV. What was on, you ask? Not the New England Patriots. Not a replay of the Red Sox’s winning game. Not even a repeat of Battlestar Galactica, featuring Richard Hatch’s return to the series.

No, the TV was tuned to The Weather Channel.

We were all watching as a Nor’easter (one of the biggest and baddest in the past century) was heading our way. The lucky ones on the fringes of this storm would get six inches of snow. At the least. And the fringes of this storm were places like Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Washington, D.C. The more beer we drank, the closer the storm came, and around us attendees and local guests all said the same thing: “Eh, we’ll just ride it out. It’s not going to be that bad.” Tony and I, on the other hand, decided the best course of action was to call Amtrak and brave the storm before it hit Boston full force. Saying our goodbyes, Tony and I managed to grab one of the last cabs available in the city. The storm, it appeared, was moving faster than The Weather Channel predicted. The Plaza charged us for only one night’s stay—again, another pleasant surprise—and Amtrak was apparently having a very good day. By the time we boarded the train, Logan Airport had officially shut down. When we left Boston, the Nor’easter was on top of us. Fourteen hours later, I stepped off the train in Quantico.

I was told by guests who rode out the storm that Arisia extended itself an extra day. The Plaza was hospitable, trying not to fleece those guests unexpectedly forced to stay. Things were getting a little tense when the hotel kitchen reported that supplies were getting low, but in the end there were no “missing guests” followed by a “Dahmer Party Special” from Room Service. Logan reopened two days later and everyone made it home safely, with a few fun stories to swap with friends, post on blogs and write about for premier magazines.

In 2003, Arisia was a bumpy ride with illness, reservation mixups and a longer than usual train ride. In 2005, it was a mad dash to Amtrak through a nasty Nor’easter. You would think I would read the signs and say, “Maybe I shouldn’t do Arisia. MarsCon is closer, and Chattacon in Tennessee is less northern.” So what are my plans for January, 2006?

After a weekend like this, what can I say other than, “See you in Beantown, baby!”

 

Con Review: Genericon 2005

by J. Andrew World

 

Genericon 2005
January 28-30, 2005
Troy, New York

There is nothing more invigorating then Albany in January, except going there with someone from Virginia who didn’t bring a hat or gloves. “Eight,” he said, “Eight is not a temperature. It’s a date or a time or something.”

This year’s Genericon was held, as always, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and run by their sci-fi club with a focus on webcomics and Anime. This year saw a few changes. First, they moved to the last weekend of January to make sure they weren’t overshadowed by Arisia. Attendance was higher this year then in previous years.

Also this year was their most successful Art Show. Nick Jones, who has been running the show for the past three years worked hard to make it great. Sadly, this will be Nick’s last year running the Art Show.

I arrived Friday night with fellow Nth Degree-er Rob Balder to a warm Genericon welcome. This was my third Genericon and Rob’s first. As usual, Friday night didn’t have much happening other then gaming and movies. I went to set up in the Art Show while Rob went exploring.

Saturday was spent at a two-hour webcomics panel which featured Rob, Chris Battey of Scatterplot and Josh Phillips of Avalon. Rob dominated the panel, although he tried not to. We had lunch after the panel and I went to the Art Show to move some swag. I missed the guest dinner, but made it to Rob’s Filk concert.

The concert was a lot of fun. Originally, Worm Quartet was scheduled to play as well. However, they couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict. So Rob did his set and then lead the audience in a sing-a-long.

Sunday, Rob wanted to immediately hit the road, but I made him stay until the Art Show closed. The show was a big success as I watched an overwhelmed Nick take in more money in twenty minutes then the previous two years of Genericon.

Thanks to Nick and the rest of the Genericon staff that made this convention a success once again.

 

Con Review: SheVaCon 13

Shevacon13by Brandon Blackmoor

 

SheVaCon 13
February 25-27, 2005
Roanoke, Virginia

SheVaCon was great, as always. Here are some high spots:

Registration was a breeze. There was no line at all at 5:00 when we arrived. We got our badges and then checked into the hotel. The Holiday Inn Roanoke Tanglewood is a terrific hotel. The room was large and included frills like a refrigerator, microwave, and Wi-Fi.

We didn’t do much Friday night but roam around and go to a few panels. I attended a sparsely-attended workshop on miniature painting by Bob Snare. I learned quite a bit, to my surprise. Turns out I have been doing washes and dry-brushing wrong all this time. Well, maybe not wrong, but his figures definitely look better than most of mine. I’m going to try his technique on the next few I paint.

Lots going on Saturday. In the morning to early afternoon, I ran a Champions game, “The Testament of Dr. Destroyer.” Five people played: only one had ever played Hero System before. To say the game was lively would be an understatement. I am sure the other people in the room would have liked us to be quieter. Fortunately, I don’t think any of them were actually gaming. SheVaCon isn’t really a gaming convention, alas. Maybe they’d attract more gamers if the game listing on the website was kept up to date. The SheVaCon website is under new management this year, so hopefully, it will be better for 2006. Another thing they could do better is post the game schedule on-site in a legible format. What was posted near the game room was like a tenth-generation Xerox copy of a Gantt chart. It also did not help that the RPGA games were in the convention area, and anything else was hidden away on the fifth floor, without any indication of its being there. All in all, the con could do much better in the gaming arena.

After the game, I visited the Con Suite, which was terrific, as always. I do wish people would let the hot dogs finish cooking before grabbing them, though.

SheVaCon seems to attract a literary crowd, at least in terms of guests. Most of the panels that I attended were concerned with the art and science of science fiction writing and publishing. Interesting stuff. I did not get into the Masquerade itself, because it was standing-room-only by the time I got there. Still, they all had to walk by me in the hallway to leave, so I got a good long gawk at the costumes. The ones which stand out in my memory were Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations, the evil fairy Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and the character Rayne from the Bloodrayne computer game. These were all good, but the one that really impressed me was Rayne. She pegged the costume exactly, and she matched it physically, right down to the hair.

There was an unusual event on Saturday: the world premiere of a movie called Apocalypse. Wow, was it bad: real Mystery Science Theater material. But the people who put on the show, which included the director and a few of the actors, were all good sports, and treated us to a terrific catered dinner.

The high point of Saturday, of course, was the Nth Degree party. SheVaCon’s schedule for Saturday night didn’t amount to much more than various people reading their own stories out loud, which has never thrilled me. I’d much rather talk to them one-on-one at the party. Various folks associated with Meisha Merlin Publishing were in attendance, and were a pleasure to chat with, as always. The Writer GoH, L.E. Modesitt, was there as well. And I had the opportunity to pick up a book for a friend: A Million Shades of Gray, by John C. Hertel. How many parties have you gone to where you can get a book signed by the author right in front of you?

Sunday is the day to browse the Dealer’s Room and spend any leftover cash that somehow hid in the bottom of your pockets all weekend. I came really close to buying some Reaper miniatures, but didn’t, since I’ve been spending way too much on stupid, ugly, plastic HeroClix to use as figures in our Champions games, and I need to take a break from spending money on gaming crap for a while. My wife picked up a book on writing, The Complete Guide To Writing Fantasy.

After that was saying good-bye and feeling bummed because the convention was over: that post-convention malaise.

 

Book Review: Bride of the Fat White Vampire

BrideoftheFatWhiteVampireby Michael D. Pederson

 

Bride of the Fat White Vampire
Andrew Fox
Ballantine Books, 429 pp.

Bride is the sequel to Fox’s well-received Fat White Vampire Blues and picks up eight months after the title character, Jules Duchon, transformed himself into a pack of 187 fat white rats. Now, his protégé, Doodlebug, is being coerced by New Orleans’ vampire elite (the High Krewe of Vlad Tepes) to reform Jules in order to help them solve a mystery that threatens to tear apart the city’s already unstable vampire society. When Jules is reconstituted one rat short of a fat vampire he finds he has to team up with an old enemy to find out who is behind the bizarre mutilations of pretty young vampires. At the same time he has his own personal missions of finding his missing rat-part and searching for a way to revive his dead girlfriend. What Fox pulls off here is nothing short of miraculous—Bride is an exciting vampire novel that manages to be funny without compromising the dark gothic mood that we’ve come to expect from vampire novels. The characters—a 450-pound vampiric cab driver, his transsexual sidekick, a young girl obsessed with rats and, to a degree, the city of New Orleans itself—are unique, amusing, and personable without coming across as wacky caricatures. Most importantly, Fox manages all of this without ever falling into the shadow of Lestat. This one’s definitely worth picking up, as well as the first book and any subsequent books in the series.

 

Book Review: Shadow of the Wolf

ShadowoftheWolfby Michael D. Pederson

 

Murphy’s Lore: Shadow of the Wolf
Patrick Thomas
Padwolf Publishing, 168 pp.

In the mood for something light and whimsical? Padwolf Publishing’s Murphy’s Lore series is a sort of mythological version of Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. Greek gods, vampyres, satyrs, Arthurian knights, leprechauns and an assortment of other fantasy mainstays are all common barflies in Bullfinches’ Pub—the center of action for this series. This particular tale focuses on Ted Brand, one of the bar’s regulars who just happens to be a werewolf. With the help of several of Bullfinches’ patrons, Ted must rescue his wife (an honest-to-god wolf) and his two kids (werehumans—they’re wolves all month until the full moon hits) from a rogue member of the government’s Department of Mystic Affairs—a fellow werewolf. Thomas keeps his tongue planted firmly in cheek for most of the story but still manages to generate an exciting tale. The scenes where Brand undergoes training in how to fully understand his werewolf abilities manage to be simultaneously hysterical and downright creepy. Like the Callahan’s series, the Murphy’s tales generally work better as short stories than novels but this is still a fun read for anyone that likes their fantasy evenly mixed with puns, quips and one-liners.

 

Book Review: The Occult Detectives of C.J. Henderson

OccultDetectivesby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Occult Detectives of C.J. Henderson
C.J. Henderson
Marietta Publishing, 259 pp.

I confess that prior to starting this zine I only had a passing familiarity with the works of H.P. Lovecraft. However, the Mythos-tainted stories of Henderson (a frequent contributor to this zine) have been one of the major factors that have dragged me kicking and screaming into the realm of the Great Old Ones. Henderson is perhaps best known for his stories about psychic detective Teddy London and fans will be happy to know that several of those stories are collected in this volume. In addition to the London stories there are sequels to some classic Lovecraft stories; a couple of tales using Lin Carter’s popular detective, Anton Zarnak; a Blakely and Boles story; and tributes to Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley. Horror is a tough subject to tackle well, but Henderson makes it frighteningly believable with his unique blend of terror, pathos, and humor. Some highlights include “Patiently Waiting,” a sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Tale of Inspector Legrasse” that perfectly captures the hazy horror of the original; “A Forty Share In Innsmouth,” which gives us the inevitable combination of Lovecraft and reality television; and “The Door,” a brief but powerful meeting between Teddy London and Anton Zarnak. If you haven’t discovered C.J. Henderson yet, this is a great place to start.

 

Book Review: Return to Thrae

ReturnToThraeby Krisi Pederson

 

Return to Thrae
Judith Galardi
1st Books Library, 142 pp.

Once there was a girl named Laney. She was sent to Earth from the planet Thrae when she was five. Laney’s Earth parents found her in a stream, but Laney was in a mermaid form. When it was time for Laney to go to high school her Earth parents told her that because she was a mermaid with special powers, like the ability to disintegrate things, she needed to go to a special school. Then someone named Dr. Bucci came in and watched her disintegrate things. He also explained to Laney that she would be going to a high school that he worked at, and how the school was only for people that had powers. When Laney went to the school she met all her teachers and saw where she would stay. One of her teachers hypnotized her to see if she could remember anything from the world Thrae. When she started remembering things she saw her mother, Darcy Lou. When Laney saw her she was scared and wanted to go have lunch, where she met Kertar. Kertar told Laney that the Garnots were evil people in a battle with the Thraeans. He also told her that her parents sent her to Earth for protection.

Later that day Laney went for a swim in the pool. As she suspected, she grew fins and her hair got longer and lighter and she started swimming very fast. Then the water turned a peach color and a large merman swam close to her and told her she was in Thrae and he was an old friend. Laney realized that some people were starting to freeze, and noticed other people helping to get them in sleeping bag-like things in an attempt to unfreeze them. Ostagus (the large merman) told Laney that was the work of the Garnots’ freezing weapon. Then both Laney and Ostagus sat at a long table with some other people and in that room she saw Kertar again. They all began to talk about how Laney was going to save Thrae. There were three caves, one held the real freezing weapon and the other two held fake devices. Laney had to disintegrate all three of them while the other people at the table destroyed the files on them and erased the Garnots’ memory. The Plan worked perfectly, but when Laney was in the caves she was caught by a Garnot. Fortunately, Laney was able to escape and disintegrate the other two weapons. When all of that was done, two people from the table told her they were Laney’s mom and dad. Laney’s dad was Ostagus. They also told Laney they would bring her back if they needed her to help their planet. Everybody said goodbye and Laney went back to Earth.

I think that this is a great book. I would recommend it to people who like adventure and lots of surprises. Return to Thrae is my most favorite book that I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of books!). I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.