The Editor’s Rant: Issue #22

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Last issue I discussed why we were classified as a semiprozine under the old classification system and why we were always just short of a Hugo nomination. And I promised to talk about the new and (hopefully) improved system this issue. So, here goes…

Here is the current definition of a semiprozine:

Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects 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, which does not qualify as a fancast, and which in the previous calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria: (1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

That goes a long way to clearing things up. We don’t generally pay contributors or staff (outside of ad trade) and the zine is available as a free download.

So, what is now considered a fanzine? Take a look:

Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects that 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, that does not qualify as a semiprozine or a fancast, and that in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria: (1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, (2) was generally available only for paid purchase.

Seems pretty straight forward; we are officially a fanzine again. Now I just have to get myself back onto a regular publishing schedule.

Let’s get to the fiction! Last time I had a lot of fun with our first themed issue so I decided to give it another go. This time… Robots!

 

Con Review: MystiCon 2013

Mysticon2013by James Fulbright

 

MystiCon 2013
February 22–24, 2013
Roanoke, Virginia
http://mysticon-va.com

Today I’m going to start my 2013 convention review series. First up this year is MystiCon… MystiCon was held February 22–24 in Roanoke, VA at the Holiday Inn–Tanglewood. Guests included Orson Scott Card, Larry Elmore and Peter Davison.

Let’s get this out of the way immediately, MystiCon was a fun convention. If you take a quick look below, you might notice that I have more negatives than positives. I highly suggest you not read anything into this fact. The convention is well run, professional and fun. Most of the issues they experienced came from some very astounding growth rates between 2012 and 2013. When you add about 450 people to an 850 person convention, bad things have a tendency to happen. The positive here is that most of those issues are fairly easy to solve prior to 2014.

The Good
• The programming was very well run; panel topics were interesting, and the panels were well attended.
• The guests that I dealt with were all personable and engaging. I never got the feeling I could not approach any of the guests.
• The staff were very friendly and professional. It seemed like they truly wanted to see people having a good time.
• The convention used the mobile app LiveCon to display their schedule. I know other cons have used this app, but I hadn’t had a chance to really use it myself. As a guest, I like it a lot. I didn’t have to carry a paper copy of my schedule around with me all weekend, which is a big plus.
• The Dealer’s Room was a decent size, with a nice selection of dealers and plenty of walking space (but see below).
• The hotel appeared to be extremely flexible in working with the convention. Check-in was very quick. And, while I had a few maintenance issues with my room, once I arrived the hotel resolved those immediately. Additionally, the hotel sold reasonably priced (not hotel-priced) concessions during all meal times.

Possible Areas of Improvement (The Bad)
• Pet peeve time: Name badges. Please, if you are a con organizer, make the names large enough on the badges so that they can easily be read from a distance of about six feet. I had at least ten people ask me my name, and then apologize for asking, stating they couldn’t read my badge. Additionally, I highly suggest MystiCon drop the watermark from behind the names. That just makes it even harder to read the badges.
• It is really not a good idea to have panel discussions going on in rooms that are next to concerts. The panelists should not have to shout at the audience, and vice versa. I experienced this at a couple of panels during the convention.
• The next one is really just a minor irritant, but someone took most of the paragraph breaks out of my bio when it was placed in the program book. I felt it made me seem like I didn’t understand basic grammar, which is bad because I was listed as a blogger on the guest list.
• There was a major bottleneck in the main hallway. The convention either needs to limit its attendance to about 900–1000 people, or find a way to get rid of the tables in that hallway (or possibly some of both). It also might be a good idea for Security to take a proactive role in organizing any long lines before they happen.
• I had a situation where one of my scheduled events was cancelled, but I was not informed. If the schedule changes during the con, it is mandatory that all guests involved be contacted. Also, the con might find it useful to request contact information from each guest, so they can be reached during the con.
• The Dealers’ Room was nice, but I do have one question: Where were the costume dealers? There was a good-sized Masquerade at this convention. It would have been nice to have a costume dealer or two.
• The stage in the main programing room was outright dangerous. The convention needs to either push the hotel to buy a new stage or rent one that meets basic safety standards.

Okay, that’s it. Like I said earlier, the con is very good, even with all my areas of improvement. MystiCon is definitely going on my list of cons to go back to next year. MystiCon 2014 will be held February 21–23, 2014.

Con Review: RavenCon 2013

RavenCon2013by KT Pinto

 

RavenCon 2013
April 5–7, 2013
Richmond, Virginia
http://www.ravencon.com

It took me a while to do a review of RavenCon, but one of the reasons was that I was trying to figure out a way to review the convention without sounding like a huge fangirl.

The problem is… I can’t do it! I absolutely love this convention.

I usually describe this convention as follows: The con is run by a bunch of geek-frat brothers (the cool, fun ones; not the ones I went to school with) who got together one day and decided to create an intellectual party-con.

And they succeeded.

There are a handful of people who are the main core of the concomm but—unlike many other cons—there is no clique feel.

The programming was intelligent, varied, and a lot of fun! What made it even better was that the process to choose panels and events to be a part of was a breeze and scheduling was done well in advance.

Guests of Honor this year were Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Jennie Breeden, and Bella Morte.

The parties and concerts were excellent, although the parties ended earlier than expected. But then we all met in the lobby, and the hotel staff wasn’t scared by geeks in the lobby (like a lot of hotels are).

My only complaint: it ended too quickly! Yes, it was the standard three days that a convention is, but we were all so sad to see it end! I hope to be invited back next year!

RavenCon will be held again on April 25–27, 2014.

 

Con Review: A-Kon 24

AKONby Rob Balder

 

A-Kon 24
May 31–June 2, 2013
Dallas, Texas
http://www.a-kon.com

A-Kon 24 was brilliant. Although it is focused on anime and the hallways teem with anime cosplay, this is very much an all-fandoms convention. Programming and performance tracks covered broad swaths of fannish interests from the literary to the bizarre. There was a ton of space for gaming (tabletop, PC, LARPing), and guests from all different media and genres were invited to talk in panel rooms packed with enthusiastic people.

Over the last few years, A-Kon has grown into one of those whale-class conventions. Attendance this year topped 25,000. Not every con takes a growth spurt like that in stride, but the staff did an absolutely stellar job of adapting to a new venue and accommodating guests and attendees alike.

It was A-Kon’s first year inhabiting the sprawling 1600-room Hilton Anatole, a beautiful site with LED kinetic scupltures in the halls and its own permanent art exhibit of mostly Asian antiquities (http://www.anatoleart.com/). There was a ton of walking involved, but aside from one bottleneck around the exhibitor hall badge check (which the staff and fire marshalls cleared up quickly) it was actually possible to get where you were going. The elevators were managed by volunteers during peak traffic times, so the wait was never longer than a few minutes.

The Texas heat and the lack of nearby dining were a little bit of a drawback, but an armada of food trucks rolled up to the parking lot and gourmet eats could be had in the grassy shade of mesquite trees.

This con had a fun, happy vibe to it at all times. The guests, volunteers, and attendees just seemed to be glad to be there, and that’s a very infectious feeling. As a guest/panelist, they treated me as warmly as any con I can recall, and I thank them tremendously for their hospitality.

All in all, I’d say A-Kon can take its place among the major destination cons like SDCC, Gen Con, Dragon*Con and Anime Expo. Consider making it part of your plans in future years, because you can’t help but enjoy yourself there. A-Kon 25 will be held June 6–8, 2014.

 

Comic Review: Shadoboxxer #1

Shadoboxerby KT Pinto

 

Shadoboxxer: The One Man Riot #001
by Victor Toro
Toro Comics

Shadoboxxer is an urban ninja hero with mysterious powers and an amazing physique who, with his hacker friend Kim and his ghost cat Phantom, saves those in trouble, defends the defenseless, and takes on a variety of bad guys—both human and non—who are out to cause havoc. In this issue Shado runs into a burning building to save two young children who are being surrounded by a fire that is clearly more than it seems to be.

I have been following Victor’s work, and the evolution of Shadoboxxer, for quite some time, which makes me think that someone new to Shado’s world may be confused by the storyline in this premier issue, and on a couple of pages the narration inadvertently rhymed. But putting that aside, this comic has amazing art, great characters, and some intense action. And there’s a cliffhanger ending that’s going to leave readers wanting more.

You can find out more about Victor Toro and the world of Shadoboxxer at theonemanriot.com. Issue #002 is available now as well.

 

Book Review: Unfriendly Persuasion

UnfriendlyPersuasionby Michael D. Pederson

 

Unfriendly Persuasion: A Tale From the Arbiter Chronicles
Steven H. Wilson
Firebringer Press, 428 pp.

Homage can be a very fine line to walk sometimes. Lean a little too much in one direction and you’re a cheap knockoff; too much in another direction and you run the risk of becoming a parody of the original. In Unfriendly Persuasion: A Tale From the Arbiter Chronicles, Steven H. Wilson toes that line in a mostly successful manner. If you’re not familiar with the Arbiter Chronicles (there’s also a long-running audio drama and a previous book, Taken Liberty), they’re set in a very Star Trek-like universe with a Confederation, a Confederate Navy, and an ongoing war with a hostile race of aliens from the Qraitian Empire. Anyone reading this book will clearly see the giant Roddenberryish blueprints underlying the structure of Wilson’s creation. Mostly what you’ll see though is a love for the type of stories that Roddenberry told, told by someone that brings their own personality and ideas into the mix, resulting in a loving homage to classic space opera (with a heaping dose of modern sexuality thrown in for good measure).

Unfriendly Persuasion does not follow directly on the heels of the previous book, instead it picks up shortly after the conclusion of an ongoing storyline from the audio drama. We get a nice quick-moving summary of events that brings the readers up to speed without making them feel that they’ve missed anything important. The early chapters that transition us from the events of the audio drama to the main plot of the book are well-paced and have some brilliantly funny bits in them (although the comedy feels just slightly out of place in comparison to the rest of the book) and in no time at all we’re well into the next crisis for the crew of the Titan.

The Titan and it’s crew are sent to the distant planet of Eleusis, a strategic military asset that has been settled by a colony of Quakers who have peacefully welcomed members of the Qraitian Empire to settle with them as well. Our heroes are tasked with the mission of sniffing out any Qraitian spies and to close off the border to Confederation Space. To complicate matters, a powerful entity that the Eleusians believe to be God is protecting the colony. Anyone even slightly familiar with classic Star Trek will figure out pretty quickly where the story is heading, but the interpersonal conflict amongst the crew of the Titan and the moral dilemmas that they struggle with (side with the pacifistic colonists or stay loyal to the bureaucracy that they work for) proves to be the real meat of the story.

It’s a fast-paced, exciting romp of a story that will be thoroughly enjoyed by anyone with a fondness for classic science fiction. My only real criticism is that Wilson clearly loves his characters, and seems to jump through a few too many hoops to ensure that nothing overly bad happens to any of them before the final curtain falls.

 

Movie Review: A Dance With Andrea

ADanceWithAndreaby KT Pinto

 

From the minds of award-winning director Lance J. Reha and screenwriter Christopher Mancuso, who created such thrillers as Bullet and Between Floors, comes A Dance with Andrea, a paranormal romance short (29 minutes) that made its world premiere at the Garden State Film Festival in 2012.

The movie is about Victor (played by Frank Albanese from The Sopranos), a man who for over sixty years has lamented the loss of his true love, and he finally makes a decision to get rid of the pain. Does a supernatural visit help him ease his suffering?

A Dance with Andrea takes you on a roller coaster of emotions using very little dialog and a lot of visual impact to drive the story home. Those who live in New York City will notice some familiar locations throughout the movie, but you don’t have to be from the area to appreciate the great characters and emotionally charged story. Definitely a must see!

You can preview the trailer on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/lakefilms.

 

Movie Review: The Wolverine

TheWolverineby Michael D. Pederson

 

It pains me to no end that some of Marvel’s biggest titles are still owned by other studios: Twentieth Century Fox has The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, and Sony has Spider-Man. Marvel’s single-universe continuity was always my favorite aspect of the comics and I’m enjoying the way that they’ve made that continuity work for them (so far) in the new Marvel Cinematic Universe, I just really wish they had all of their characters to play with. In the last year we’ve seen Punisher, Daredevil, and Blade all revert back to Marvel, so there’s hope that one day all the kids will return home (having big Disney cash and lawyers on hand will also help).

On the plus side, though, Fox has clearly learned a lesson from the way that Marvel Studios is handling the Avengers franchise. The X-Men started off strong out of the gate with two fantastic Bryan Singer-directed X-films and then fell on their face with X3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And you could see them start to put the pieces together with X-Men: First Class. With this summer’s The Wolverine it’s clear that Fox is trying to establish an X-Universe that’s as solid as Marvel’s Avengers films. And they seem to be succeeding.

The Wolverine uses the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller 1982 mini-series for it’s source material; a comic that many still consider to be the definitive Wolverine story. Wisely, they stay pretty close to the original, deviating only to update the story and to fit it into the movie continuity (i.e. since Fox doesn’t own Daredevil, they were unable to use the Hand as villains).

The movie starts with Logan living a solitary lifestyle in the Yukon, still haunted (literally) by his actions in the last X-Men film. When he’s summoned to Japan as the dying wish of a man whose life he saved in Nagaski at the end of WWII, Logan is offered the chance to give up his immortality. Thus begins the rollercoaster ride of ninja battles, street chases, an amazingly cool fight on a moving bullet train, and the inevitable CGI-heavy climax with an adamantium-clad Silver Samurai. The story arc begins with Logan giving up on the idea of being a hero and proceeds to ask the questions necessary to bring him back to that world. It’s neatly done and ties up with a teaser for the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past (another lesson learned from The Avengers).

Of the new characters added for this movie… Yukio: Japanese mutant who acts as Wolverine’s self-appointed bodyguard; an excellent performance and great chemistry with Hugh Jackman, I will be deeply disappointed if we don’t see more of her in future films. Mariko: Strong-willed and independent; a believable enough love-interest, however the actress seemed overshadowed by the other performers at times. Viper: Sinister, sexy, and creepy all at once; an excellent addition to the Rogues Gallery.

True believers will have already seen this movie, but if you’re just a casual fan I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well; the bullet train sequence alone makes it worth watching on the big screen.

 

Television Review: Under the Dome

UnderTheDomeby Michael D. Pederson

 

Under the Dome
CBS

Oh, look… Another “high-concept” science-fictiony television show. Goody.

I confess that I didn’t read the Stephen King novel when it originally came out. I jokingly said that I’d wait for the inevitable mini-series. Well, here it is and it’s pretty much what you expect it to be. There are a lot of pretty people running around panicking, trying to figure out how to deal with the crisis of the week.

For those of you that have been living under your own dome this summer, this is CBS’s surprise summer hit (based on the Stephen King novel) about a small town in Pennsylvania that gets cut off from the rest of the world when a mysterious energy dome is suddenly dropped over them. I credit CBS with two very smart decisions: 1. Hiring Eisner award-winner Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) to develop the show. 2. Limiting the run to thirteen episodes. We’ve seen mid-season burnout on high-concept SF shows plenty in the past, but at just thirteen episodes the viewers seem willing to commit, so far.

Is it worth watching all the way thru? Well, it’s summer. What else are you going to watch? I plan on sticking through to the end. The show does have it’s problems though. Like other apocalyptic shows before it (I’m talking about you, Jericho) there’s the problem of everybody in town doing nothing until the next crisis rears it’s ugly head and then once it’s resolved they go back to pretending that life is just fine. The characters are pasteboard cutouts that don’t interest me, and all the best actors have been killed off already. The dome dropped so early in the first episode that we didn’t have time to build interest in any of the characters before their lives became a melodrama. And the worst offense on my laundry list of complaints is the dome itself. I, for one, would be happy to accept the dome as it is but I know that Hollywood insists on having an explanation. And history has taught us (Lost, Battlestar Galactica) that the explanation is never as good as what we imagine ourselves.