The Editor’s Rant: Issue #20

by Michael D. Pederson


Sorry, sorry, sorry. It’s been way too long since the last issue of the zine. When last I ranted here I was going on about the joys of a nice relaxing summer. You’d think that by now I would have learned that what we receive usually turns out to be the exact opposite of what we hope for.

I’ve moved three times since the last issue.

About a month after settling in to my new apartment in Richmond (yes, I am very very happy to be back in Richmond) I suffered a catastrophic hard drive crash. Nothing was salvageable. Ironically, I had just pulled a back-up drive out of storage the week before but was holding off on installation because I was too busy working on the next issue of the zine—I was OCRing Margaret Yang’s “The Last Word” when I heard a horrible clicking sound. Sigh. I am irony’s bitch.

I have now replaced my hard drive, reinstalled quite a bit of software and completely recreated my Nth Degree templates from scratch. Oh yeah, and there were a couple of serious time-killing holidays in there as well. At times it feels like the fates are conspiring to keep this issue from being posted online. Ha! I laugh in the face of doom! We’re back now and we’re better than ever. Or, at the very least, we’re back and we’re exactly the same as before!

(Note: Shortly after writing that last paragraph Central Virginia was hit with an earthquake, a series of severe thunderstorms, and a hurricane—all in the span of five days—causing a week-long power outage. Further note: Never laugh in the face of doom.)

I feel it’s important to point out that I had chosen the stories for this issue prior to the events of the last year. The fact that death and loss play an important role in all three stories really had nothing to do with my state of mind. It’s just a happy coincidence.

So… Yes, I’m very excited to be finishing this issue up. And there is some good news: I’ve been trying to swindle multiple-AnLab-winner Bud Webster into giving me a story for years. And I finally succeeded!


Con Review: MarsCon 2011

marscon2011by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2011
January 14­–16, 2011
Williamsburg, Virginia

I think I saw one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen at a science fiction convention this year. MarsCon’s Writer Guest of Honor, Jim Butcher (Dresden Files, Codex Alera) had the hotel bursting at its seams. Yep. MarsCon broke their hotel.

Over the past few years, MarsCon has been slowly transitioning from a relaxacon into a full-fledged convention with traditional programming. After this year, I think that it’s safe to say that they’ve arrived.

MarsCon is still running out their contract at the Holiday Inn Patriot that they’ve been booked in since their days as a much smaller convention (they broke 1000 this year!) and have found some very creative ways to make the most of what little space they had. Some of their ideas included running interactive panels and concerts in the hotel bar and doing mini-concerts and how-to’s in the con suite.

Other Guests of Honor this year included author Shannon Butcher (The Sentinel Wars), artist Ursula Vernon, and toastmaster Michael Jon Khandelwal. Next year’s GoHs will be author S.M. Stirling and artist Theresa Mather (January 13–15, 2012).


Con Review: Stellarcon 35

stellarcon2011 by Michael D. Pederson


Stellarcon 35
March 4–6, 2011
High Point, North Carolina

If I could give points for “Well, they tried” Stellarcon would get an A+. They’ve been having some staffing problems the last few years but this one brought them a little closer to a solid staff. They still have some work to do though.

Booking Guests of Honor Todd McCaffrey and Larry Elmore was a brilliant first step in revitalizing a con that seems to be having a midlife crisis. Todd and Larry are both friendly, out-going guests that give good programming. Bringing back Jackie Cassada and Nicky Rea as Gaming GoHs after a long period of involuntary GAFIAtion was another great idea as well. As usual, I got to run my Inside the Stellarcon Studio interviews—this year I interviewed Cassada and Rea as well as Fan GoH Bill Mann, who was nothing but fun. That’s always a real highlight for me and the interviews were all very well attended.

Great guests and creative programming were, without a doubt, this year’s high points. On the downside though… As good as the panels were, there could easily have been more. There were several major chunks of dead time scattered throughout the schedule. With six rooms for programming, and a total of 29 hours of programming time to fill my rusty math skills tell me that they could have slotted up to 174 hours of events. There were a mere 88 events on the program grid, roughly half of what they could have done (by comparison, MarsCon—in a smaller hotel and still building up from being a relaxacon—had 83 events). I greatly enjoyed everything I did at Stellar this year, I just wish there had been more.


Con Review: Balticon 45, pt. 1

 Balticon45by KT Pinto


Balticon 45
May 27–30, 2011
Hunt Valley, Maryland

A few months ago I received word from my publisher that my new book Beer with a Mutant Chaser was being premiered at Balticon, so I was asked to change my plans of going to Ohio. My editor got in touch with the head of literary programming to see if I could be given panels. She was told that I could be on panels, but that it was “too late” for me to get a guest pass. Already I started to feel bad vibes about going…

I sent an e-mail to the programming chair thanking her for letting me participate, and asked her if I could have a list of available panels.

No response.

A week before the con, my publisher sent me the list of panels that had space on them; I still hadn’t heard anything from the programming chair. I chose some panels and sent it to our contact.

No response.

So, I get to the con. I was not mentioned anywhere, I was not given any panels save the panel my publishing company hosted… I didn’t even have my name on my badge! It said something like “Darkon 2”; I was a non-entity.

Never one to blend into the woodwork, I went in search of panels that I could crash; I was rather disappointed as I went through the program. My author compatriots had little to no panels, and my favorite topics—sex, vampires, villains, and flirting—were non-existent… on the literary track.

That’s when I noticed that almost the entire con was overrun with “new media” panels. Anything relating to sex, taboos, or vampires was all put aside for “new media”. When I went to my first Balticon in 2007, I was on panels like “Romance, Love, Sex, and Erotica,” “How to Get Laid at a Con,” “Sexy Vampires?” and “Creating the Perfect Villain.” None of those panels existed in 2011. Now such topics had been reduced to things like “Erotica… Iron Chef” and “Alien Sex: What Could Go Wrong?”.

Author Michael A. Ventrella commented, “…many participants were willing to do more panels but the convention had no place to put them, and as such some panelists had decided it was not worth the trip and expense to show up only to be on one or two panels.”

On top of all that, there were no late-night social events. The couple of events that were planned were more dance classes than socials. There were no other parties, no gatherings… only a late-night hula-hooping event. This is why I spent most of my Memorial Day weekend in my publisher’s hotel room, reducing their alcohol supply.

Summing up the situation, author Stephanie Burke said, “As always, Balticon is a lovely four-day endurance trial… But it is the people, open, friendly, and beautiful, that makes this a con to remember.”


Con Review: Balticon 45, pt. 2

Balticon45by Rob Balder


Balticon 45
May 27–30, 2011
Hunt Valley, Maryland

I’ve been a frequent program participant at Balticon for a number of years running, and there was a time I was starting to get a bit worried about it. A few years ago, it looked like the more established literary cons were running out of steam. Attendance was falling, room parties were fewer, and there was a sense of less energy to them.

If that had been true, then this year’s Balticon was a definite uptick. Attendance seemed to be up, the program and night life were lively, and everyone seemed newly recharged.

My time focused on the music/filk track—put together with the usual care and brilliance of Gary Ehrlich. Concert space and sound tech were fantastic, and the combination of regular and new musical acts (particularly Norm Sherman and Filk GoHs Bill & Brenda Sutton) made the whole thing just a blast.

Part of Balticon’s energy has to come from their embrace of podcasters and new media, a track run by Balticon podcast host Paul Fischer. Some substantial and forward-looking panels and hands-on work with the pros and semi-pros in new media rewarded fans and creators alike.

But the big treat for me was my panel with Author GoH Ben Bova, about A Duel in the Somme, the comic that he and I put together with Bill Holbrook. The room was packed with happy and admiring readers, Ben was jovial and entertaining, and I just mainly tripped over my own tongue. But it was a wonderful moment in space and time, and afterwards people lined up for a signed copy. Balticon remains a literary con at its core, and their fantastic choices of author guests will always be a prime reason to attend.


Con Review: Origins Game Fair

Origins2011by Rob Balder


Origins Game Fair
June 22–26, 2011
Columbus, Ohio

This was my second Origins, and although it was a working con for me and I rarely left the Exhibitor Hall, I still got the impression that the event was kind of hollow.

Attendance was almost certainly down from my previous visit a couple of years ago (total attendance was 11,502, actually up from recent years–ed.), and the fact that they were not filling the spaces this time seemed impossible to ignore. The spirit of the event, though, seemed unbroken. The gamers were having a good time, the events were run well, and I have nothing but good things to say about the organization and execution of this con.

Impression: Maybe an off year? Still plan to return in 2012.


Con Review: Confluence 2011

by KT Pinto


Confluence 2011
July 22–23, 2011
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Getting to Confluence took me and my friend Matt a good six hours on one of the most boring strips of road in the country—from New Jersey all the way through Pennsylvania—but Confluence 2011 was most certainly worth the trip!

It was a much smaller convention than I’m used to, but it comes with that small-town friendliness and attention that sometimes gets unintentionally lost at the bigger cons. In their own words, “Confluence is about programming that lets fans of science fiction and fantasy hear about the views and visions of some of the leading authors, editors, and critics in the genre.” This is a very accurate statement. Lately I’ve noticed that many conventions let anyone who has a passing interest in a topic sit on a panel, minimizing the importance of a professional’s years of knowledge. Confluence didn’t do that.

Not only was the programming staff a pleasure to work with both before and during the con—thanks to the hard work of Karen Yun-Lutz and Kevin M. Hayes—but the panels were interesting, the hotel staff was polite and efficient (and we got an amazing shower in our room) and there was enough to keep me entertained without any alcohol involved!

One of the best parts of the weekend was that I finally got time to hang with Chris, Brian and Christine from Fortress Publishing. I’ve known them for a while, but usually only get a chance to say hi as I run past them in the vendors’ room. This time I got to be on panels with each of the guys and go to their meet and greet. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to drink with them… next time, I promise!

Am I going to Confluence again? Definitely, if they’ll have me back… hint hint.


Con Review: Gen Con Indy 2011

gen-con-logoby Rob Balder


Gen Con Indy 2011
August 4–7, 2011
Indianapolis, Indianapolis

Gen Con was booming this year. No shortage of attendees here, and all the game companies were going big. This is (and might always be) the event for tabletop gaming in North America.

The organizers did almost everything very well, despite the entire area around the convention center being under massive street construction. The City of Indianapolis screwed us all, but that was certainly not Gen Con’s fault.

One thing I really have to compliment them on was the way they handled artists and authors. The cheapest tables in the Exhibitor Hall were not shoved off into the corner (although the musicians’ tables were). They were right in the center. Way to treat the indie pros right.

But the one thing that I have to dock them major points for is the lack of a freebie table. This has to be the most fan-unfriendly decision they could make, considering that they use other events to promote Gen Con. Other major events like SDCC and Dragon*Con recognize this as a fan need and as the event’s responsibility to the community of people who actually travel to events. They actually tried to confiscate our flyers. Bad move, Gen Con. Just put out some damn folding tables. (Nth Degree has actually run into this in the past. I once spent an odd afternoon on the phone with Gen Con staff unsuccessfully trying to explain that I wanted to send them FREE magazines to give away if they just had a place to put them. –ed.)

Impression: This is the big one, don’t miss it. Wonderfully huge and exhausting.

Con Review: Wizard World Chicago

chicacoCCby Rob Balder


Wizard World Chicago
August 11–14, 2011
Chicago, Illinois

I did this very large, very expensive comics expo as an experiment. I’d have to call it a failure.

This con was four days of loud misery on the bare concrete floors of a warehouse. It’s attended well (20,000+), because they pay premiums for all the top media guests (Patrick Stewart, Bruce Campbell, and dozens more like that). They then make back their investment with $75 autograph sessions and special badges, and $9,000 nachos. Our table sales were barely enough to break even on expenses. Other exhibitors were blasting music and shouting at the top of their lungs just to get some attention from the shuffling crowd of freaked-out soccer moms with kids in Green Lantern tees and homemade Princess Peach outfits.

Impression: Predatory event. Exploiting the half-assed fandom of the suburban TV addict, with none of the fun of being a fan present anywhere. My four days would have been better spent volunteering in a soup kitchen, and I’d feel better about humanity afterward.


Con Review: Renovation/Worldcon

renovationby Rob Balder


Renovation, The 69th World Science Fiction Convention
August 17–21, 2011
Reno, Nevada 

My first Worldcon. May I never miss another.

I don’t know what I can say to do it justice. I was brought in as a last minute replacement musical guest, and got to perform for about a thousand appreciative people at Doctor Demento’s live show. That was only one highlight of the week. There were others that were just as good.

You go to Worldcon because the top minds and talents and personalities of the SF and Fantasy fields will be there, and they certainly are. I made more contacts and had a better time at this con than any I can recall, and it was all about the other guests.

Not that there was anything at all wrong with the programming, which was some of the most thoughtful and interesting I’ve ever seen. The fans there were also among the friendliest and most articulate I’ve ever met. The party scene was full of loud Klingons and happy people smooshed against bars and buffet tables. And the city of Reno was weird and wonderful and it charmed the hell out of me. I didn’t want it to end, but there is always next year in Chicago.

Impression: Magic. Made me feel better about fandom and what I do than any con in years.