The Editor’s Rant: Issue #21

by Michael D. Pederson

 

The identity crisis continues. Or, just possibly, it’s finally been laid to rest. Since, the beginning of the zine—ten years now!—we’ve been plagued with the question of what type of publication we should be classified as.

My intention from the start was to publish a fanzine. The first issue of Nth Degree was sixteen pages with a beautiful four-color, glossy cover. People immediately said, “This doesn’t look like a fanzine.” I spent about a year insisting that modern design tools and cheap print co-ops meant that it was possible to print a professional looking zine for around the same costs as photocopying. Besides, I was a professional graphic designer, I wanted my zine to reflect that. Eventually, I caved and took a closer look at the Hugo rules concerning zines.

At the time, the definition of a semiprozine was:

Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) of the following criteria: (1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue, (2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (3) provided at least half the income of any one person, (4) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising, (5) announced itself to be a semiprozine.

We published four issues a year, had a minimum print run of 1000 copies, did not pay in other than copies, provided no income, and had around 15% advertising (much of it, though, in trade). We just barely qualified. The definition of a fanzine was basically, “Does not qualify as a semiprozine.” So we announced ourselves to be a semiprozine.

As a result, we ended missing out on the Hugo ballot year after year because our nominations were always split between semiprozine and fanzine. If you added them up, we usually had enough nominations to get on the ballot.

But that’s where we were. Next issue I’ll talk more about where we are now. Now, sit back and enjoy our very first themed issue… Superheroes!

 

Con Review: Capclave 2011

capclave2011by Michael D. Pederson

 

Capclave 2011
October 14­–16, 2011
Gaithersburg, Maryland
http://www.capclave.org/capclave/capclave11

I’ve become so accustomed to sharing con space with anime fans, cosplayers, video gamers, LARPers, and every other sub-genre that’s come along in the last twenty years that I’ve almost forgotten how refreshing it can be to attend a convention that is all about straight up science fiction. That is very much Capclave’s niche, and they do it very well.

Programming was pretty light (just over 60 events) but of the highest quality and always well attended. I was delighted at the amount of coverage the small press received on the program and particularly enjoyed the panel I did with Neil Clarke, Ed Schubert, and Anne Sheldon on the future of small press magazines.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the convention (and SRO) was a surprise visit from Terry Pratchett who stopped by on the tail end of his North American publicity tour for Snuff. He spoke for an hour before having to rush off to catch a flight home. Despite suffering from Alzheimer’s and having just finished a fast-paced touring schedule, he’s still one of the wittiest speakers out there. Getting to see him again was priceless.

Nth Degree’s Saturday night Halloween party was fantastically successful as well. I may have to make that a new tradition.

 

Con Review: Nanocon 9

Nanocon9by Rob Balder

 

Nanocon 9
November 4–6, 2011
Madison, South Dakota
http://www.nanocon.us/

Nanocon is a rare hybrid convention: an academic gaming con! Dakota State University offers a bachelors program in Computer Game Design, and combines a weekend of standard tabletop and LAN gaming with an excellent array of professional speakers from the game industry and academia.

I was honored to be the keynote speaker. The topic of my talk was “Choosing Independent Creator as a Career Path,” though most of the other presentations were more in line with the “Horror Gaming” theme of this year’s event. Programmers, developers and publishers spoke on a number of ludological topics such as how to classify horror games, building a narrative through gameplay, and creating valid female characters in video games.

At 436 attendees, the event was a major success for the DSU Gaming Club—blowing by their targeted attendance of 350. Most of the convention events took place in the Gaming and Dealer’s Room and the auditorium of the Dakota Prairie Playhouse. To anyone who has been to a large gaming con, that may not sound huge, but consider that Madison is out in the middle of the prairie. It was a 45-minute drive (as 40 MPH winds blew over the fallow cornfields) to the nearest Walmart. This was a fun event for students and participants, and I was glad to be a part of it.

 

Con Review: Philcon 2011

Philcon2011by KT Pinto

 

Philcon 2011
November 18–20, 2011
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

For many years, there have been three reasons why I always liked going to Philcon:

1. The location. Originally in Philly, which was easy enough to get to from NYC, but now it’s in a hotel in the more easily accessible Cherry Hill, NJ.
2. The panels. A lot of literature panels, a lot of professionals, a lot of different topics, a lot of intellectual conversations. What more can one want?
3. The people. Three generations of fandom walk the halls of Philcon, and it’s safe to say that they are some of the friendliest geeks on the convention circuit.

All of these things are great if you are an attendee of the con. But when you are going to the convention for business reasons, that isn’t enough to make the grade. There were a few issues this year…

Programming. The programming for many of the professionals was not only finalized with very little time to spare, but the individual schedules were also very sparse. Panels are many authors’ and artists’ bread and butter; it gets them noticed, and gives them a chance to promote their work. Two panels for some—which is nothing for a three-day convention—while others had eight or nine panels left the sour taste of favoritism in the air. There was also a disregard for requests such as time restrictions and moderator requests. For example, Dr. James Prego asked to not have any panels before 11am, and did not want to moderate. Out of his three panels, he had 10 am panels on both Saturday and Sunday, and was slated to moderate on Sunday’s panel.

The Dealers’ Room. Along with programming, professionals have to have a good experience in the Dealers’ Room to make a convention worthwhile. Although the convention cannot be held responsible for the lack of buyers, they do have to consider how the attitudes of the staff members in the Dealers’ Room may affect the professionals (making one feel like they’re a bother is not the way to go when dealing with people), and from an author’s perspective, having the room saturated with used-book dealers makes it that much more difficult for small press authors to sell their wares. It doesn’t seem like the convention—which is supposed to be pro-literature—took this into consideration at all when planning out who was going to be vending.

Would I go back to Philcon again? Definitely.

As a panelist? Maybe. Minor changes need to happen for that.

As a vendor? Not unless there is a complete overhaul…

 

Book Review: Scary Tales of Scariness

scarytalesby KT Pinto

 

Scary Tales of Scariness
by Brian Koscienski & Chris Pisano
Fortress Publishing, Inc., 246 pp.

It’s great when you are an author with a huge publishing company that can get your books reviewed and get the word out there about your talent and creativity.

This review column is for the other authors and their work: the ones who write for small publishing companies and need to network and promote themselves. Their novels may not be hot off the presses, but many are worth adding to your book collection.

There are some horror novels out there that are serious, dark and scary. That look into the inner workings of man and the evil inside as they fight their inner demons.

This is not one of those novels.

Scary Tales of Scariness is a collection of stories about a pair of drunken reprobates who find themselves face-to-face with some of the best B-horror movie monsters ever! Werewolves, zombies, vampires, ghosts, la chupacabra, and ten other horror staples torment our heroes as they stumble their way through fifteen different hilarious tales of insanely hysterical horror.

The two main characters—whose names and visages are those of the authors—have this great back and forth conversational style that takes the reader quickly through a roller coaster of bantering, insults, action and insanity that leaves you happily breathless (and sometimes a little giggly) at the end of each story.

But be forewarned: you will be craving a few pitchers of beer by the time you reach the end of the book (“The 64 oz kind; Not the wussy 48 oz kind.”)!

 

Movie Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

girl_with_the_dragon_tattooby Michael D. Pederson

 

Every once in a while you luck out and get the perfect marriage of artist and material. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as directed by David Fincher is that perfect marriage. Fincher has made a career out of dark subject matter (Zodiac, Fight Club, Se7en, Alien3) and things don’t get much darker than Stieg Larsson’s novel that the movie was based on.

At it’s heart, Dragon Tattoo is a classic locked-door mystery—a girl disappears from an island that has been closed off from the mainland, setting off a forty-year search for her murderer. Investigating the murder is disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (a very solid Daniel Craig) with the help of the socially dysfunctional Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

Almost immediately the investigation hurls the viewer into a whirlwind of Nazis, rape, abuse of power, corruption, incest, torture and murder; it plays like a David Fincher greatest hits album. In addition to his dark materials, Fincher has a reputation for drawing strong, intense performances from some of Hollywood’s best actors. Mara’s performance as Salander should put her on the short list for an Academy Award this season. She is nothing short of electrifying and totally owns the screen every time she’s on.

Go see it in the theaters and then buy it as soon as it hits video, you won’t regret it.

 

Television Review: Grimm

Grimmby Michael D. Pederson

 

Grimm
NBC

Could someone please tell me who exactly is watching this show and how I can make them stop? Grimm (although currently on hiatus during the new winter rollouts) has recently been given the green light for a full season of episodes.

Grimm is (in our genre’s language) an urban fantasy; in tv-speak it’s a “procedural with fantasy elements”. In my opinion, it fails miserably as both a cop show and as a fantasy show. The premise: Grimms serve as protectors that keep normal people safe from fairytale monsters that pervade our world. Admittedly, not a bad premise. Sadly, the show completely fails to deliver on the promise of the setup.

Seven episodes in to the season, and I have yet to find something to compliment them on. I do have lots of problems to discuss though. Let’s start with bad police work. In the very first episode the Portland police department fails to investigate a block of woods near where a girl disappeared simply because she told her mom she would stay on the sidewalk. In the same episode our hero goes to great lengths to sneak up on the suspect’s house and then knocks on his door (sneak, sneak, sneak… Here I am!). At this point I’ve lost track of the number of illegal searches our hero has performed. And how come every single case he is assigned has a supernatural twist? What a coincidence! Secondary characters (partner, boss, girlfriend) have all been presented as two-dimensional cliches so far. Stories simply insult the viewers intelligence. And the digitally superimposed effects are clumsy at best. Someone please make this show go away.

 

Television Review: Once Upon A Time

OnceUponATimeby Michael D. Pederson

 

Once Upon a Time
ABC

Fortunately, I’ve held off until mid-season to review ABC’s entry in the fantasy game, Once Upon a Time. When the show debuted I initially wrote it off as cloying Disney sweetness. It’s really grown on me though.

In a nutshell, imagine all the fairytale characters you know and love living in a classic storybook setting. Then transport them all to a small town in Maine via an evil queen’s curse. The queen is now mayor of the town of Storybrooke and none of the residents can remember their mythic pasts (except for the mayor and maybe Rumpelstiltskin). At first, the show seemed simplistic and overly saccharin. Throughout the first half of the season though we’ve been able to explore some of the backstories and seen how we got to where we are. The main focus of the story is on Snow White (adorably played by Ginnifer Goodwin of Big Love) and her rivalry with the Evil Queen (Lana Parilla, gleefully stealing every scene she has).

Two characters are immune to the curse: Emma Swan (the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming) and her son Henry (who she gave up for adoption); both grew up outside of Storybrooke, where time had stopped for 28 years. Yes, this show layers the mythology fairly densely but with a quirky whimsical touch—sort of a cross between Lost and Pushing Daisies.

I’m glad to see that Once Upon a Time has been well received but we have a tragic history of genre shows starting off strong and then losing ratings (and focus) after the holidays (FlashForward, Life on Mars). Keep watching!

 

View From Nowhere: Poly Styrene, R.I.P.

An alien perspective on the human race
by Peter Huston

 

For the last several issues, I’ve shared my thoughts on how humanity might appear to total strangers, say aliens from space. This time I’m going to take a break and write about something a little closer to home: writing, reading, art and the purpose of it all.

I’m a bit emotionally worked up. I just received word that Poly Styrene died in April. Now, who’s Poly Styrene? some of you might ask. And, should you not know, it’s good to ask because better to learn late than to never learn at all. Poly Styrene was the stage-name of British performing artist Marianne Joan Elliot-Said, best known as the lead singer of the early punk band X-Ray Spex. Inspired by a Sex Pistols show, Poly Styrene put out an ad, collected some like-minded people and began recording songs.

Not yet eighteen years old at the time, half Somali-half English, dressed in bizarre clothes and with a strange hair cut, at times performing with dental braces, Poly Styrene did not look like someone who should be the lead singer of a band. Nor did she sound like one, alternately introducing songs with a little girl voice and then shouting out lyrics—often unintelligible lyrics—as loud as she could. Yet Poly Styrene was, indeed, lead singer of a band. And, should anyone care, that band and their most popular song, “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” is in my CD collection four times. Once on the band’s classic album, Germ-Free Adolescents and three times on various compilation discs. It is with shame, regret and a feeling of being a poseur that I confess the group to be absent from my much older vinyl collection.

Poly Styrene had somehow managed to reach the age of 53 at the time of her death, a mind-boggling feat for anyone who has seen videos of the early X-Ray Spex, videos that froze a certain image of the band in time.

Is the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” great art? Obscure, perhaps, but it has clearly had an inspirational impact on many people, and, now, perhaps sadly, has outlived one of its key creators.

These are both goals that I aspire to as a writer, and like many people connected with this publication, I am a writer. What that means is that just as teenage Poly Styrene once saw a punk show and cried “I want to do that too,” at some point in my life I finished a favorite book and shouted “Hey, could I, too, write one of these things?” In other words, I embraced the punk slogan, D.I.Y., Do It Yourself.

There is, as far as I know, no way to become a professional writer that does not at some point involve announcing oneself as a writer to the world and then seeing how seriously people take your claim. And it’s a strange feeling when you first do it, a feeling of perhaps being an imposter.

Like the punk singers, I wanted the world to notice me, and react, but, let me tell you, it ain’t easy. And, like many punk rock singers those same demons that drive one to cry “notice me” and drive you to seek attention hoping that in some small way you can change the world for the better, are often the same demons that get in the way of one’s production as an artist. Drugs, violence, alcohol, behavioral problems and addictive, damaging relationships can all provide life experience, ideas for stories, and an interesting perspective and outlook on life which make for better writing, but at some point the resulting mental, physical and emotional problems start to hinder your ability to actually write, finish and market anything. Remember, if you want to be a writer, you must be physically and mentally able to focus yourself on projects long enough and regularly enough in order to string out long sequences of words that make sense to other people. And then you must be able to put these passages together into an article or a story and send it somewhere where people will show it to each other.

Think of all those artists—punk singers, as well as writers—who destroyed themselves. Sure, some died young and stayed pretty, becoming icons, but most just wound up forgotten.

So, if you want to write, take care of yourself, at least well enough that you can actually produce writing that makes sense to other people and get it to a market.

And don’t expect to start at the top. Yeah, it’s happened, and, yeah, I just might marry Jennifer Lopez now that she’s single again, but it’s never a good bet. If you want to write and you want to change the world consider contributing to forums like your local paper’s Op-Ed page. You’ll gain valuable experience working with editors, writing on a deadline and with limited space, and, like the punks, if you do it right, you can comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, always a good rule of thumb when deciding how to act.

Which brings me to two ongoing writing debates I’ve recently faced.

Should writers read and should writers include messages in their writing?

Some writers read and some don’t. But I believe great writers read and they read extensively. Writing is their art. How can they grow as a writer if they don’t have a love of this art that manifests itself through a strong desire to experience the writing that already exists? What sort of visual artist, if given the chance, does not visit art galleries and art museums? What sort of musician does not listen to music? Do you think Poly Styrene listened to other people’s bands or not?

Those who disagree with me, argue that they read when they were younger but are just too busy at this point in their life. A friend of mine likes to quote a widely published pulp writer he knows as saying, “Why should I read? I can write a book faster than I can read one.”

I think in a case like this it comes down to motivation to write. If you write for money and are able to get paid to churn out content to fill voids in publishing catalogs, you probably don’t need to read. But don’t expect many people to read what you write after you’re gone if you do. After all, you’ve virtually admitted to yourself and others that you don’t care what you write so long as you are paid to do it. And if you don’t care what you write, why should I care what you write?

Other writers write for other motivations. Some of us are looking for attention. We want others to see how intelligent, insightful, knowledgeable, important, or outrageous and crazy we are. I’ve been there and done that. But I think that once we reach a certain point, achieved certain goals, then we’ve got to focus again on what we are doing—creating art. And what sort of artist says, “I don’t need to see any more art. I saw all I needed years ago.” What sort of musician stops listening to music because they have heard enough to last a lifetime?

Similarly, some writers debate if fiction should be written to share a message. Yet they generally seem to think that it’s essential to have a theme and character growth. How can one include theme and character growth without even considering the possibility that this growth and change in the character might produce growth and change in the reader? Sure, a lot of stories have been destroyed through heavy-handed attempts at selling a message. But a lot of stories have been destroyed through poor characterization, wooden action sequences, clumsy dialogue, and laughable portrayals of sex and romance, but no one uses this fact to argue that fiction is better off without these things.

Recently I stumbled across a list of 25 highly rated novels chosen by the Cincinnati library. (Why Cincinnati? They were high on a Google search.) It’s astonishing how many of these great classics had clearly defined messages and this is certainly a part of why they have lived on beyond their time.

So, in conclusion, if you are going to use writing to express yourself, then stand tall, speak out, speak clearly, say what you want to say, look to other writers for inspiration in not just technique but also the power of your chosen art and, above all, say something that makes the effort to write and read your pieces worthwhile.

If you do, Poly Styrene would be proud.