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.


Con Review: StellarCon 29

Stellarcon29by Michael D. Pederson


Stellarcon 29
March 11-13, 2005
Greensboro, North Carolina

I love this con. There are few cons that I have more fun at than Stellarcon. Maybe more cons should be run by pirates.

This year’s Guests of Honor included Lani Tupu (Media), Janny Wurts (Writer), Don Maitz (Artist) and J.D. Wiker (Gaming). And what a great bunch of guests. I know because I was asked to host an Inside the Actor’s Studio-style interview with them (with the exception of Don Maitz, who presented his own slide show instead). It was a great concept that the audience and the guests all seemed to enjoy. I know I had a blast!

Frankly, the rest of the con is a blur.

There were a few drinks in the bar Friday night with John Ringo and company. Then lots of prepping on Saturday to make sure the interviews went smoothly. I’m pretty sure that I did a panel or two somewhere in there. And, of course, I hosted our usual Nth Degree party on Saturday night. One of our best yet, I might add (thanks go out to Patrick Vanner for helping with that).

Other than that it was a typically exciting Stellarcon that is best recalled in snapshot images: Lots of pirates and stormtroopers. A HUGE number of familiar faces. A 2:00 panel on Friday afternoon that almost didn’t happen but turned into loads of fun. Great hall costumes (go to the website and check out the Dolls). Some scary activity at the room party. And lots of giggly Carolina Scapers at the Lani Tupu interview.

Next year’s Stellarcon is being moved from March to February. I’m giving everyone lots of notice on this. I don’t want to hear any lame excuses about not knowing that they changed dates. See you there!


Con Review: MidSouthCon 23

by Jack Jeffers


MidSouthCon 23
April 1-3, 2005
Memphis, TN

MidSouthCon 23 was a real success again this year. It was expected that attendance would be down significantly from last year—since DeepSouthCon 42 (a regional science fiction con that is hosted each year by a different convention) coexisted with MidSouthCon 22—however, attendance for MidSouthCon 23 exceeded 1000, as it did for MidSouthCon 22/DeepSouthCon 42. This is very healthy growth for a con that averaged 400 to 500 attendees for years. This year’s programming reflected the higher attendance with 120 hours of programming scheduled in up to six simultaneous tracks (and that’s not counting the Anime, Video or Gaming rooms).

MidSouth’s Artist Guest of Honor was Stephen Hickman. The Art Show featured several of his paintings and he hosted a slide show of his work. You may own some of his work without being aware of it—he has illustrated approximately 350 covers for Ace, Baen, Ballantine, Bantam, Berkeley, Dell, Del Rey, Doubleday, Phage Press, Tor, and Warren Publications as well as a lot of Tolkien and Lovecraft art.

The Science GoH this year was Gregory Benford. He was on the panel for “Using SF to Teach the Scientific Method”—a good match since he won a Nebula Award for his novel Timespace and is also a professor of Plasma Physics and Astrophysics at the University of California.

Of course any convention featuring Brinke Stevens, “The Queen of Scream,” is on my list of favorite places to be. Brinke was the Media GoH. Her panel, “Bad Movies and Why We Love Them,” turned out to be a real hoot. A little known fact about Brinke is that she has a Master’s Degree in Marine Biology from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla. And for a time she worked at the San Onofre Nuclear Power Station and National Marine Fisheries.

The Filk Guest of Honor was The Great Luke Ski (Luke Sienkowski). Luke has the energy of a dozen tribbles. His parodies, “Stealing Like a Hobbit,” based on Eminem’s “Cleaning out my Closet” and “Peter Parker,” a Spider-Man parody are two of the funniest songs I’ve heard.

Gaming was well represented. FORGE (Fellowship of Role Gaming Enthusiasts) set up a room with ten tables for running sanctioned RPGA games. I gamed with them and, as usual, really enjoyed it. MidSouthCon’s gaming schedule included over 150 role-playing, miniature, collectable card and board games as well as a LAN party, a LARP and lots of other fun stuff. The Memphis Strategy Board Gaming Community was also well represented. AEG kicked off its Warlord World Conquest at MidSouthCon and met with great success. Games Workshop was the Gaming GoH and gave a panel on their company that explained a lot about the gaming industry.

The Art Show had art ranging from hobby artists to consummate professionals. As usual, I could not keep my hands in my pockets and ended up bidding on several pieces and winning a few. The Dealer’s Room, in my humble opinion, did not have as good a selection of wares as in the past but I know that the con organizers cannot be blamed for that. There are so many cons now that it is impossible to avoid scheduling conflicts with other locations.

The hall costumes and the Masquerade were good, as was the Art Auction (I did sit on my hands during the auction). Private parties flourished. The Con Suite was always packed, but well run with a good selection of con survival nourishment. As usual I had a good time. Ah well, until next year!


Con Review: Balticon 39

Balticon39by James R. Stratton


Balticon 39
May 27-30, 2005
Baltimore, Maryland

Once again, me and mine attended the annual science-fiction convention of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society over Memorial Day weekend. The Writer Guests of Honor were Stephen Barnes and his spouse, Tananarive Due, the Artist Guest of Honor was Bob Eggleton and the Filk Guest of Honor was Jordan Kare. This was the fifth year that Balticon has been held over Memorial Day weekend with an expanded, four-day schedule, and I can truly say they have handled the transition beautifully after some initial growing pains.

My son and I arrived at the Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel midafternoon on Friday. Check-in was quick and painless. My son, a gamer, spent the bulk of the weekend running between the computer room (participating in networked online tournaments), the gaming room and the anime room. My interests on the other hand are focused on writing. I started off with a panel on fanzines moderated by Nth Degree’s own Michael Pederson with great visual aids and stories supplied by Steve Stiles, followed by a panel on “Creating Realistic Species,” and finished off the evening with a panel on “Humor In Science Fiction” moderated by Bud Sparhawk. I also managed to watch a few episodes of anime and visited the Dealer’s Room and Art Show. The topper for the night was a presentation by local TV personality Count Gore De Vol, dressed in full vampire regalia. The Count was in good form as he introduced a number of independent films.

Saturday started off early for me with the Writer’s Workshop at 9:00. This workshop, moderated by writer Steve Lubs, is a teaching workshop and this year he focused on creating believable characters. With a room full of aspiring writers, we had lively discussions on how to create compelling characters for our stories. The art show was in especially good form with a whole section devoted to Bob Eggleton’s work as well as dozens of other artists. My favorites were Moifa’s Chinese-style brushwork, and Mark Rogers’ fantasy artwork. I first saw Moifa’s work at Philcon several years ago and have watched as her sparse watercolors have gone from being a steal to the point where I can no longer afford them. The rest of the day was spent in various panels, including one on “Breaking Writer’s Block.” This panel was especially comforting as it helped me to appreciate that writer’s block among authors is as common as Klingons at a Trek convention. I just wish they had some magic bullet for curing it.

After dinner, my son and I attended the Masquerade. As usual, the competition was hosted by Marty Gear in his vampire persona, with roughly twenty entrants. My favorite was a humorous presentation ably assisted by Marty. He reminisced fondly about visits from the tooth fairy when he was a child. She removed the tooth painlessly and paid you lots of money. The lights then came up and out on the stage walked another fairy, wearing a white fright wig and carrying a three-foot hypodermic. Marty advised us that now that we’re adults, we will receive visits from this person, the root canal fairy. She will cause you great pain as she extracts teeth, and will leave only after you have paid her lots and lots of money. It was a scream! As lighthearted as this presentation was, it still managed to take two of the top prizes of the night.

After the last presentation, my son headed back to the gaming room and I headed to the room parties. Sadly, this year the number of parties was quite low. Nth Degree had the most popular party of the night, dispensing its own special brew of “tea” in the much-sought-after glow-in-the-dark cup. But aside from a party hosted by the Philcon con committee and another hosted by the Chicago in 2008 bid committee, that was it (at least that I could find). Understand, this is quite unusual for Balticon, as there are usually a dozen or more parties to choose from all weekend.

Sunday started for me at 10:00 with a panel on “Writing as a Second Career,” with a number of authors—including novelist Robert Chase—participating. This panel was the highlight of the weekend for me. As I am an attorney like Bob Chase, as well as a fledgling writer, I asked how he dealt with the ticklish ethical question on how to keep your legal career separate from your writing career. Attorneys have strict ethical requirements as members of the legal bar not to mix their legal careers with any other public endeavors. Our discussion continued after the panel was done, and he took me to the Green Room to continue our chat. We were joined shortly by Analog Mafia member and noted Heinlein historian Eric Kotani (Yoji Kondo) and by David Silver, also an attorney and the President of the Heinlein Society. Our talk covered a number of topics and lasted for the rest of the morning. Wonderful! Contact with important writers in the field is what I come to cons for.

Sunday was another busy day attending panels, watching videos, bidding at the art auction, participating in the voice auction that followed and then collecting my prizes. The day was capped off with the Second Annual Balticon Film Festival. Although still a new feature of the con, they received more films than they could schedule on Sunday. I understand that many of the films that Count Gore De Vol presented on Friday actually were submitted for the film festival, but could not be presented because of time constraints. As you would expect, they ranged from truly awful to quite good.

Monday was the final day of the con, but was still very active with panels, video presentations and of course the Dealer’s Room. I had visited several times throughout the con but was surprised to see the room still packed with dealers eager to do business. One dealer later explained: At most cons, you do little business on the last day so many dealers pack up and leave as soon as they can. For some reason, most of the dealers were doing better business Monday at Balticon than they had the rest of the weekend, and nobody was leaving.
After making my round of good byes, I packed my car and headed out. Next year will be yet another transition for Balticon. After over a decade located in Center City Baltimore, the con committee decided to relocate to the Hunt Valley Marriott outside the city. From its web page, it looks to be a beautiful facility, so I guess change is good. See you next year!


Con Review: ConCarolinas 2005

ConCarolinas2005by Michael D. Pederson


ConCarolinas 2005
June 3-5, 2005
Charlotte, North Carolina

I fought thunder storms and rush-hour traffic to make it to Charlotte by early evening. I arrived a little worse for wear.

My first stop—after checking into my room and cranking the AC to fight back the oppressive southern humidity—was the bar. I remembered from the previous year that they served Guinness in the nitro cans and that was just what I needed. On arriving I discovered that Tee Morris and Tony Ruggiero had already beaten me there. A couple of pints later I had gotten the scoop on Tee and Tony’s book tour and was ready to join the real world, or at least the con world. I sat in on Tony’s panel on “The Role of Modern Day Vampires” and then retreated to the bar for dinner. Tee introduced me to writer/podcaster Mur Lafferty and then it was off to my first panel, “Internet Publishing.” The turnout was pretty good for a Friday night panel and it was the only one I had scheduled, leaving me free for the rest of the night.

Apart from myself, what else was going on at the con? Guests of Honor included Greg Keyes (Writer), Farscape’s David Franklin (Media), and The Great Luke Ski (Filk). Horror movie icons Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Kane Hodder (Friday the 13th) were on hand for autograph sessions as well.

Saturday was my busy day. I was scheduled on panels from 10:00-4:00 and then for a signing from 4:00-5:00. Seven hours, no break. Now, I’m not one to complain and I do like being on as many panels as possible but a lunch break would have been nice in there. Just something for programmers to think about in the future. On the plus side though I got to have dinner with Ken Foree, so there was some karmic balance.

Saturday night started off back in the bar. The cliche really is true, many writers and editors do spend a lot of time at cons in the bar. Especially at ConCarolinas. The Marriott Executive Park has got a very nice bar with an excellent staff. The group gathered there that night included SMOFs, writers, actors, editors and fen. A real cross-section of fandom. Saturday night is also the best night for events at the con too though, so after a couple hours it was back to the con for Klingon karaoke. Also got to catch some of Luke’s concert—funny stuff, as always. We also made it to the Stellarcon pirate party for some pretty serious rum concoctions. Sadly, I missed the dueling Slave Leia costumes at the Masquerade. I hear that they were quite the hit.

After the traffic nightmare on Friday afternoon I had vowed never to return to Charlotte for another con but by Sunday morning I was making plans for next year. ConCarolinas does a fantastic job of mixing Literary and Media programming and also provides a large, well-attended Gaming Room—a great recipe for bringing in a younger generation of fans.

Here are a few photo highlights from the convention, courtesy of Peggy Cobb Gregory…


Con Review: Westercon 58

Westercon58by Tee Morris


Westercon 58
July 1-4, 2005
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

For people who have never attended a Westercon, this is a “floating” con sponsored by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society but hosted by various fan groups along the west coast, southwest and northwest regions.

Let’s get the unpleasantries out of the way first. Out of the three years that I’ve attended, programming has always proved a challenge. This year, I submitted my ideas for panels and didn’t heard anything in reply. After several e-mail requests I was finally told to check a programming grid online. The grid was awkward to read, not exactly printer-friendly, and color-coded with green for “open” panels and blue for “closed.”

There was a lot of blue staring back at me.

I attributed the awkward manner in which guests were supposed to check the programming grid for themselves to Westercon’s decision to have the Con Chair serve as head of Programming. This is a lot of responsibility for one person to shoulder and should have been delegated better. I did manage to get panels though—all of them solid, fun panels that I looked forward to.

The Westin Hotel of Calgary was our host, and with “early bird” programming commencing a day early the Dealer’s Room was open for setup. I was at the Dragon Moon table alongside The Sentry Box, one of the biggest and most popular Calgary-based gaming/book stores; Edge Publishing (another Calgary-based publisher); and OnSpec Magazine. The Dealer’s Room had a lot to offer in books, jewelry, clothing and other cool stuff.

My first panel was “The Independent Press: Myths and Mythconceptions,” featuring Dragon Moon author Valerie Grisworld-Ford and myself alongside Danita Maslan (launching her debut novel, Rogue Harvest) and independent comic book artist Andrew Foley. The questions from the house (and from the panelists) foreshadowed a great con as the curiosity level from the fans and panel participants was sincere and engaging.

Dragon Moon Press publisher Gwen Gades hosted “Just Tell Me What You Want,” a two-hour seminar on what to send publishers, for both art and manuscript proposals. Robert J. Sawyer (with special guest Edo Van Belkom) presented his own solo panel, “Ask a Professional Anything,” a chance to find out what really goes into making a professional writing career. “Making a Reading Work” was my own two-hour workshop where readings, character voices and foreign accents were explored.

With all the workshops and panels, you would think Canadians are a serious bunch. Hardly. They also know how to have fun with their SF/F, as was evident with “Chicks in Chain Mail,” a panel about the popularity of kick-ass women in the genre. This panel had everything going for it—it was recorded for broadcast on Canadian radio with seven panelists, and I was the only guy on the panel… and I had to go to the bathroom.

With the first question, “What are the panelists opinions of wearing chain mail bras and, if you have, how do you deal with the chafing?” I knew this was going to be one wacky ride. The microphone eventually reached me and I finally uttered, “I’m the only guy here, I’m feeling very insecure right now, and I have to pee. Hello, Canada!” With a standing-room-only attendance, this panel was a real hoot, reminding me why this topic is a favorite of mine at cons.

Canadian Scapers were a VERY strong presence at Westercon. I was invited to participate on “Farscape: Beyond the Miniseries,” provided I prepared materials for this panel. This lead-in presentation to a widescreen showing of Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars was run by Nicola Wood of I’m glad I invested time and funds in creating a sampler DVD of Farscape clips as Nicola gave a PowerPoint presentation of carefully constructed battle plans, ranging from donations to libraries to support for the upcoming Joss Whedon epic, Serenity.

Finally, Westercon 58 hosted the most book premieres I had ever seen at a weekend convention. On Friday, Danita Maslan launched her debut eco-thriller Rogue Harvest, the latest title from Robert J. Sawyer Books. EDGE Publishing launched two books on Sunday: Courtesan Prince, by Lynda Williams and Tesseracts Nine, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Geoff Ryman. It was on Saturday when Dragon Moon held the biggest launch: Legacy of Morevi, Not Your Father’s Horseman, and Dominion. Dragon Moon’s launch also had the largest number of authors in attendance, with the most collective miles travelled: Valerie Griswold-Ford (from New Hampshire), Lai Zhao (Hong Kong), Michael R. Mennenga (Arizona), Evo Terra (also Arizona), J.Y.T. Kennedy (Alberta) and me (Virginia). The Canadian fans exceeded my expectations in their turnout.

To celebrate this incredible launch, Dragon Moon authors had reserved a suite for the weekend, dubbing it “The Dragon’s Den.” We rearranged the furniture so we could feature a bar, plenty of space for guests and a direct route to the bathroom. In one corner of the room, we had our books for sale and along the wall we had on display the covers of Dragon Moon titles. The iTunes Party Shuffle was fired up with my eclectic Science Fiction/Fantasy mix (inspired by Nth Degree’s own party mix) and the party was underway. We only had one rule for this celebration: If you spew, you clean it up and you pay for any damages. That’s it. A beautiful Dragon Moon Press cake—that we forgot to serve at the book launch—was finally cut and served to the guests, many of whom had attended our premiere. By eleven o’clock (and as it was Calgary, the sun was just setting!) the suite was in full swing. Outside on the balcony, my roommates Val and Lai shot me narrow-eyed looks as Michael R. Mennenga and I indulged in cigars. I gave myself an hour tops for my energy as I had done three panels, manned the Dragon Moon booth and premiered a book. I was running on empty and was hoping to make it to midnight.

2 a.m. That was when the last guest left, the signs on the door came down, and the room was cleaned. All three of us were stunned at the amount of leftover alcohol, so we agreed that maybe another party was in order for the following night.

After another day of panels, we decided not to wait for a formal start to the party to break in our two OnSpec shot glasses. The Dragon’s Den beverage of choice: Captain Morgan’s 1680, the drink of pirates and privateers everywhere. These may have been double-shot glasses to the land-locked Calgarians, but we “maritime opportunists” regarded them as singles… all night long.

Now what made this particular—completely off-the-cuff—party crazy was not that we were encouraging people to drink our leftover alcohol, but that the Canadians were bringing contributions to a party that was supposed to rid us of all alcohol. Valerie and I did what only good pirates could do: we shot whatever people brought us. There was “Sour Puss,” a raspberry liquor. Then some peach schnapps. The rum. And finally, a pink tequila mix called Baja Rosa. After being caught by digital cameras performing the Tragically White Boy Dance, I retired to the balcony, again with the guys, enjoying a good Cuban stogie and a beer. I honestly didn’t think this party could get any odder after some party guests spontaneously began performing yoga…

…until two words passed from party guest to party guest: Pool Party. The Westin’s pool was still open after midnight and some of our Dragon Moon regulars were in the mood for a good soaking. The room cleared pretty quickly and I bravely slipped into my black Speedos [Ah! TMI—ed.] and headed out for some hot tub fun.

The post-con crash lasted about a week, and that was on account of Westercon being nothing less than incredible. An amazing time, beyond any other con experience I’ve known.


Con Review: Trinoc*CoN 2005

Trinoc2005by Cindy Hutchins


July 15-17, 2005
Durham, North Carolina

Trinoc is a con of polar opposites. There was really cool but poorly organized programming, and enthusiastic but small attendance and a friendly, but mostly invisible staff.

Programming was great, the panels I attended were interesting and the critter contest (create a costume for a plush bear and then enter it in the Masquerade) was too cute. They also had a lot of crafty stuff for people to do. The major problem was finding out where it was. There was no schedule in the programming book, just boards in front of each room announcing the schedule. This meant you had to run to each board to find out where any event was. Even guests seemed to have trouble figuring out where they were supposed to be.

Attendance was down, even the bartender for the hotel commented on this. I understand that they had some competition so maybe a new date is in order. Or maybe it’s still fallout from their last date change.

The staff, the ones I saw, were all very friendly. A couple of times when I asked where an event was held, I was referred to a board. Politely. But it wasn’t really the info I wanted. Moderators in the panels were knowledgeable and knew when to go with debate and when to move on and the people helping with the craft panels were very hands on and available. Unfortunately, there was no way to discern who was on staff and who wasn’t. I only saw three people all weekend that I could identify as staff members and this was mostly because they were standing behind the registration desk.

All this combined to cause a fair amount of frustration for people. I saw (and heard) many people searching frantically for where they needed to be.

The Gaming Room… Gaming was well attended, more so then the rest of the convention. Trinoc used to be a mostly literary con but is now drawing more gamers. Not a bad thing, but they may want to start billing themselves as a gaming convention. I walked through the room a couple of times and discovered that the Gaming Dealers were in the Gaming Room. Logical, right? I do game but not at cons and had I not been searching for the Dealer’s Room (which wasn’t to my mind very clearly marked) I would never have found them. Fortunately, it turned out that Gaming Dealers were the people who had what we wanted to buy.

I did get some face time with Joe Lansdale at the Nth Degree room party, one of my all time favorite writers and perhaps the coolest guy in the universe, so I had a great con.

No one was angry or disappointed, just… somber. Trinoc has so much going for it, a bright, creative staff, a good central location and great taste in guests. If they work out a couple of what are really minor bugs, this will be a wonderful little con.


Con Review: Fantasci 4

by Michael D. Pederson


Fantasci 4
July 23, 2005
Chesapeake, Virginia

Fantasci (a.k.a The Little Con That Could) is a small one-day con that’s open to the public. With many cons shrinking these days, this is something of a brilliant idea. Fantasci is held in the Chesapeake Public Library. “Public” of course translates to free. No attendance fees and free dealer’s tables. What you end up with is a wide spectrum of attendees. There were a lot of familiar faces from local fandom but there were even more people there had never been to a sci-fi con before. And the mundanes seemed to be having a great time!

There was a single track of programming, lots of authors (many of them local) and several fan groups (Star Trek, Star Wars and StarGate, among others). It turned out to be a really fun day.

There are rumors that they may go to two days next year.


Con Review: LibertyCon 18

LibertyCon18by Michael D. Pederson


LibertyCon 18
July 29-31, 2005
Chattanooga, Tennessee

This may have been one of the most confused (and confusing) cons I’ve ever attended. Personally, I suspect that there was a secret second con going on behind closed doors that nobody was telling me about. If not, then this was a seriously bi-polar convention.

For starters, we were unable to get a room in the convention hotel because it was already booked up (several weeks in advance). So I went in expecting a sizable event and instead found a small little relaxacon with maybe 200 people in attendance; they were only sold out because the hotel was so small—it didn’t even have a restaurant or bar. No problem there though… Some of my favorite cons are relaxacons and I’d heard people raving about Liberty in the past.

Second sign of trouble—$45 for a badge! Pretty steep for a small con. I quickly headed to the con suite to see what my $45 was paying for. This is where the extremes first raised their ugly head. Food pretty much consisted of a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and a bowl of chips. However, there were two kegs of beer. Bonus! Sadly, it was one Coors product and one Miller product—neither of which appealed to my inner beer snob. But I can’t blame them for that (or can I?).

Weirdness abounded on the guest list too: Fred Pohl, Timothy Zahn and Robert Asprin (great guests!). In contrast though, the Artist GoH was Beth Willinger who (despite some nice work in the Art Show) I had never heard of. I had been looking forward to hearing Pohl speak but he was only scheduled for two panels—one on Sunday (which I missed because of the long drive home) and one on Saturday. The Saturday panel was on writing a story outline. Frankly, I had enough of that lecture in high school, surely they could have come up with something better for one of science fiction’s Grand Masters.

There was a poolside cookout on Saturday afternoon that stayed pretty crowded but the menu of hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages, and chili didn’t appeal to my non-beef-eating diet. I was beginning to feel like someone had planned this con simply to snub me.

I was told that the Saturday night room parties would make up for my disillusionment. No such luck. The two room parties that I found were small and poorly attended and didn’t make much of an attempt to entertain. Even the Baen Barflies were slow that night.

It’s hard to say, bottom-line, that this was a bad con. Granted, I didn’t find much to entertain myself (a first) but everyone around me was having a blast. It felt like I had stumbled into a family reunion that I hadn’t been invited to. So, what’s the bottom-line? Great con for the regulars. Otherwise, bring LOTS of friends and plan your own room party.


Book Review: Crystal Soldier

CrystalSoldierby Michael D. Pederson


Crystal Soldier
by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
Meisha Merlin Publishing, 336 pp.

I’m always thrilled whenever I find myself at the same convention as Sharon and Steve. I was even more thrilled to receive a review copy of their new book, Crystal Soldier, from Meisha Merlin. And let me tell you, this book did not disappoint. Taking place in the vividly rich Liaden Universe of Lee and Miller (this is actually a prequel), Soldier puts our heroes in quite a sticky situation. The evil sheriekas (a self-evolved offshoot of humanity that are bent on destroying all traces of their human forbears) are collapsing (decrystallizing) entire solar systems out of existence. M. Jela Granthor’s Guard—a genetically enhanced soldier—is sent out to discover how the enemy is destroying planet after planet, and hopefully find a way to stop them. Accidentally thrown together with Cantra yos’Phelium—a pilot dealing in gray market goods with a shady past—along with a batch-grown servant and Jela’s telepathic potted plant (I’m new to this universe myself but gather that this race of trees play a larger part in the story) our heroes are chased across the war-torn Rim, trying to stay one-step ahead of the sheriekas. Sharply written, this sci-fi adventure is sure to please long-time Liaden fans and isn’t the least bit daunting to newcomers. Soldier is Book One of a two-part series and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see how things turn out.