The Editor’s Rant: Issue #25

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Sometimes I feel that I (and the rest of fandom) spend too much time looking back and not enough time looking forward. It’s easy to forget that science fiction should have us looking forward; instead we get lured into the warm embrace of the past. We speak longingly of conventions and fanzines past and sometimes forget that we’re carrying the torch forward for the next generation.

I’m often critical of fandom doing this but I know that I’m equally as guilty—we hate first in others that which we hate most in ourselves. Twelve years ago, I was in the foreground trying to persuade MarsCon to expand beyond its small, cozy relaxacon status and grow so that it didn’t shrink and go under the way many other conventions had in the late nineties and early oughts. Now that it’s grown, I find myself nostalgically missing the comfortable camaraderie of the early days. My own RavenCon has tripled in size in the last ten years and I find myself missing the days when I knew almost every attendee by name.

It’s comforting to look back, but as a community let’s all vow to save the fond recollections and minor regrets for the days when we’re no longer active participants and have passed the torch to another generation. We are currently experiencing an enormous growth spurt in fandom and, true, it might not be the fandom that we grew up with but darn it, let’s embrace it and make it the best new fandom that we can. Superhero movies, cosplay, anime, and video games have brought a whole new type of geek into fandom. I choose to believe that this is a good thing. It’s hard not to believe it when you see the energy and creativity that is bursting from this new generation.

And it swings both ways. I’m excited to see numerical gender equality and racial diversity at conventions now but in no way should we be ashamed of the “old white guys” that started fandom. I’m happy that so many of them are still active. Hell, I’m quickly becoming one of them myself. We’re fandom—we shouldn’t be breaking into competing camps of old versus young. We may look competitive in the online news feeds, but in the real world, I’m happy to say, that fandom is still a very welcoming entity. I can’t wait to see what we look like in another ten years!

 

Con Review: ConGregate 2014

congregate2014 by Michael D. Pederson

 

ConGregate 2014
July 11–13, 2014
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
http://www.con-gregate.com

Apart from it’s size (about 420 people), you’d never know that ConGregate was a first-year convention. That’s probably because they had a staff of con veterans running the show; literally decades of experience on the staff, and it showed. Their core staff has worked with StellarCon, ConCarolinas, Trinoc*CoN, MACE, RavenCon, and DragonCon—quite the resume.

Let’s start with programming… Five full tracks of programming! Even more significant than the number of panels though, was the quality of the programming. ConGregate went out of their way to make their guest experience more interactive, with several audience participation panels like Fandom Feud; Building the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug (followed immediately by Killing the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug); and Debate Club. I moderated Debate Club and had an absolute blast with it. I got to split the audience and the panel into two sides and make them debate classic science fiction arguments (Millenium Falcon vs. Enterprise, better vampire hunter: Buffy or Blade, New Who vs. Classic Who, etc.). Lots of fun!

As per usual, I also had the privilege of interviewing the Guests of Honor: Larry Correia and Mark Poole. I was a little nervous about interviewing Larry due to his internet reputation, but he turned out to be one of the friendliest, most down-to-earth writers I’ve had the honor to work with. Mark was equally entertaining; he had some fantastic stories about the early days of Magic: The Gathering and what it was like working for Wizards of the Coast before they hit it big. The other two Guests of Honor were Toni Weisskopf and Jennifer McCollom, two amazing women that I’m lucky to know. Toni and I did one panel together, Con-Going 101, that was very well attended and highly informative. We actually had a good turnout of people for whom ConGregate was their very first convention experience. I bet they had a great time.

I should probably mention the game room. As is frequently the case I didn’t have enough time to sit down and play anything but I did poke my head in every time that I walked past. It looked to me to be pretty busy most of the time. And they certainly had enough tables and weren’t crowding the gamers together. Again, this was one of the areas where they had decades of experience working for them.

Also, something that’s hard to come by at a first-year convention: Good room parties. I had some tasty scotch the first night but hear that I missed out on a couple of good parties Saturday night as I was busy hosting my own RavenCon party.

This was the first North Carolina convention that I’ve attended since moving back to Virginia in 2010 and I had a great time seeing old friends and making a few new ones. I’m already looking forward to returning next year.

 

Con Review: Gen Con Indy 2014

GenCon2014by Rob Balder

 

Gen Con Indy 2014
August 14–17, 2014
Indianapolis, Indiana
http://www.gencon.com

The best gaming convention in North America had another booming year.

Gen Con manages to offer the spectacular mega-con experience of a DragonCon or San Diego Comic Con (top-name guests, amazing cosplay everywhere you look, endless exhibitor space with everything a geek could want to buy or ogle, and the feeling of taking over the downtown area of a major metropolis) without losing their soul.

If it weren’t for Internationale Spieltage (Spiel) every October in Essen, Germany, Gen Con Indy would be the biggest tabletop games convention in the world, and this year’s crowd was the largest ever (56,614 attendees, topping last year’s attendance of 49,530). Among attendees and exhibitors alike, the whole vibe was upbeat and fun. Beautiful weather all weekend and excellent management by Gen Con’s experienced staff helped make it something special in 2014.

If you’re heading to Gen Con next year, book early and plan to go with friends. You’ll be spending hours with them in tournaments, or trying out the new games you’ve grabbed from independent developers on the exhibit floor. In the middle of 57,000 people, Gen Con will always be about sitting down in a group of 4 or 5 and having fun with your imagination and your friends.

 

Con Review: Intervention 5

Intervention5by Rob Balder

 

Intervention 5
August 22–24, 2014
Rockville, Maryland
http://interventioncon.com

In the 2000s, the traditional science fiction convention scene in the D.C. area was all but dead. Big, raucous, party conventions like EveCon and CastleCon were gone, Capclave continued like the small, dense core left after Disclave went supernova, and even those occasional Star Trek conventions of the 1990s and 1-day autograph expos had gone away. Only Katsucon was really thriving, riding the ever-rising popularity of anime.

But in the 2010s, a set of bright new convention “stars” have been born in the Washington area. 2014 saw the explosive birth of AwesomeCon, a big red-giant of a downtown expo in the vein of a NYCC or a C2E2. The music and gaming relaxacon MAGFest also grew so fast it split into two events (a binary star, to continue the analogy).

But in its fifth year, Intervention remains the happy yellow Sol-class star of the D.C. con scene. With its broad range of guests (musicians, webcomics creators, bloggers, authors, podcasters, game designers, publishers, filmmakers and more), and its refreshing and practical program/workshop track (with workshops on making a business plan, tutorials for using some of the latest creative software, and core topics in various creative fields), there was something there for every area of fannish interest.

This year, they added a full arcade room of classic video games, and the lively party scene continued in the Rockville Hilton’s lounges, lofts, and suites. Intervention does an excellent job of bringing in guests who really want to be around fans and share what they do. D.C. fans couldn’t ask for a nicer, friendlier place to geek out and learn something cool.

 

Con Review: Garden State Comic Fest 2014

ComicFestby KT Pinto

 

Garden State Comic Fest
August 23, 2014
Morristown, New Jersey
http://www.gardenstatecomicfest.com

Here’s a quick bullet review of the show (with the knowledge that this is only the second GSCF ever, and in the same year):

  • The layout of the festival was pretty bad. I know a lot of the logistics is based on the availability of the hotel, but the wandering maze to get from one part of the festival to the other was a little tedious.
  • It was very wise of GSCF to put the Mandalorians in the first room attendees see when they arrive. Their presence not only let people know they were in the right place, but also set the fun, creative tone for the Festival.
  • No map/schedule. This is a mistake I notice that many new conventions/shows make. A schedule and map—even for a small event—is vital so attendees can plan their day and participate in favored events.
  • Great security! They were obviously present, but unobtrusive. There were big, burly guys, for obvious reasons, as well as wiry young men, which for a festival whose big concern would be snatch-and-runs are logical people to have on the security team. There were also two young women at the door to the vendors’ room, who made sure that everyone had an attendee badge before they were allowed in.
  • Great vendors’ room layout. The layout was convenient for people to find one particular vendor or to browse all the tables. Again though, a map of the room would have been a big help.
  • The programming was sparse, but for such a newly established show, not that bad.
  • The autograph table was in an odd location. Again, logistics tend to develop over time.
  • Pre-show promotions were very impressive!
  • They gave out goodie bags with your badge! I haven’t seen a goodie bag in AGES!
  • They validated your parking! It would be nice if some established shows I could mention followed their lead.

Overall, I think this event has done a lot in a very short time, and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future!

 

Comic Review: Batwoman, vol. 1

Batwomanby KT Pinto

 

Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology
by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
DC Comics

A friend bought me this graphic novel; he bought it from my wish list on Amazon, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I had requested it. Then I remembered that this was DC Comic’s lesbian superhero, and I had wanted to see how the fan-characterized straight-laced company was going to handle this type of character.

I had high hopes for this book because it was put out in Batman’s little corner of the DC ’verse. Never much a fan of DC in general, I always liked everything about Gotham: the villains, the heroes, the story lines, the artwork, the darkness… it was always the nice, twisted dark that I like. So I was all set for Kate Kane to wow me.

Sadly, she didn’t. Putting the amazing artwork aside—and the artwork was amazing—the story line and character were both lacking. Here’s a quick list of the “meh”:

  • What color is her skin? That bothered me throughout the book. Was she actually white like paper, as shown in some panels, or does she have a pale Irish skin tone like other panels showed? If she was really white-white, then why was it so difficult for Batman to figure out who the very pale woman with red hair (there were times she wasn’t in costume but still that albino white) and with enough money to be Batwoman was? And why did she keep changing skin tone throughout the book?
  • Where’s the bad guy? One of the things that I really like about the “Gotham-verse” is the twistedly insane bad guys that constantly spill out of Arkham Asylum. This story had a supernatural water-demon character that made no sense, especially since this is supposed to be part of the “New 52” reboot to make the plots and characters more understandable to fans. And then there was a super-organization that is either out to take Batwoman down, or use her as a hook to get Batman… I couldn’t tell which. But either way, none if it seemed to fit into the Gotham-verse that I was used to and liked.
  • Why is Kate Kane such a bitch? Of all the characters I’ve read and disliked, I think Kate Kane takes the cake. Spoiled, bitter, nasty… this wealthy party girl lives in a penthouse apartment (and I see so many things wrong with that gigantic tree…) and is angry with her father about the death of her mother and sister. She seems to be horrid with everyone unless she’s trying to hook up with them, and the nasty way she treated her cousin Bette—burning her Flamebird costume, calling her Plebe, dropping her without any explanation—was so blatant a set up to make Bette a victim for the bad guys. Kate even calls herself a bitch in one panel, and I can’t work up any sympathy for her at all.
  • Finally, what did she have against Batman? If you don’t want to be a part of his world, then come up with your own alternate personality instead of mooching off of his fame.

My friend had bought me Volume 2: To Drown the World as well. I will probably read it, but I’m not looking forward to it.

 

Book Review: Forever the Road

smashwords_koboby Michael D. Pederson

 

Forever the Road
Anthony St. Clair
Rucksack Press, 459 pp.

Over the years I’ve built a certain level of expectation for small press and self-published books: A good chunk of them are just flat-out bad; most of them are entertaining stories, if you can just overlook a couple of flaws; and a very very few of them are highly enjoyable reads that surprise the crap out of me.

Forever the Road left me completely gobsmacked. Great concept, fun characters, and beautiful writing.

This is the third book in St. Clair’s Rucksack Universe; part alternate history and part travel adventure with a bit of fantasy and a lot of alcohol. In Forever the Road a bartender, a world traveler, a fatherless child with an ailing mother, and an ancient man of mystery have to save the world from a long-dormant evil.

The traveler, Jay, arrives in Agamuskara, India, with a strange item hidden in his backpack, which is (of course) stolen from him as soon as he arrives in town. Recovering the backpack brings him in contact with Jigme, a teen that’s trying to care for his sick mother; Faddah Rucksack, a man who loves stout; and Jade Agamuskara Bluegold, a talented destiny-dealing bartender who quickly steals his heart. He also learns that the MacGuffin hidden in his backpack has brought him to Agamuskara to fulfill his destiny—destroying an ancient evil that has been resting in the heart of the city but will awaken during an oncoming eclipse and exterminate all life on the planet. Our hero goes kicking and screaming the whole way, believing that he is in control of his own destiny—and he’s correct.

It’s a high-stakes story, told with wit and compassion. My only nitpick is that as a long-time beer snob—and with beer playing an important part of the story—I would have enjoyed things more if the beer info had been more esoteric, rather than the Brewing 101 course of “stout is thick and lager is watery.” But that’s just me. In the end, Forever the Road’s Everest Base Camp is a pub that ranks right up there with Callahan’s and the White Hart as classic science fiction bars.

 

Book Review: The Golden Princess

GoldenPrincessGoldenPrincessby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Golden Princess
by S.M. Stirling
Roc, 420 pp.

Even though this is book number fourteen in the Emberverse series and picks up a few hours after the events of A Given Sacrifice, The Golden Princess is the beginning of a new story arc. We’re now following the third generation of people that populate the world after the Change stopped all technology and firearms from working. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, this is a fine starting point; new and established characters, as well as the setting are all clearly introduced in the opening chapters.

Almost immediately, we learn one thing—the world is getting bigger. In previous installments we had seen the Kingdom of Montival spread to cover about half of North America and we had learned the fate of the British Isles. Now Stirling moves to the other side of the globe, introducing characters from Japan, Korea, and Australia and even briefly mentions how things are looking in India.

Sadly though, the story is greatly lacking in plot developments. Right away we learn that the same evil forces that had driven the Cutters in previous books are also controlling Korea and that the Japanese Emperor and his daughter have come to Montival in search of an ancient sword that they’ve seen in their dreams. And then Stirling spends 420 pages in planning an expedition to retrieve the sword—it’s in Death Valley and our heroes will have to travel through the cannibal-infested remains of Los Angeles to get there.

It’s fascinating to watch post-Change Japanese interacting with the Kingdom of Montival, and as a fan of the series I found this to be an enjoyable read, but I really wish that something could have actually happened. That said, I’m sure the next book will be freaking amazing.

 

Television Review: Z Nation

ZNationby Michael D. Pederson

 

Z Nation
Syfy

I love zombies. I love how they’re such metaphorical blank slates; a good writer or director can use them as allegory for all sorts of things. And even when they aren’t being used to convey a deeper point we still have the enjoyment of seeing people driven to new heights of terror, despair, and inhumanity. Zombie movies are fun. Even bad zombie movies are fun because you know that nobody will get out alive, and these actors that are chewing up the scenery will themselves be chewed up in turn. In comics and on television, The Walking Dead has subverted this paradigm by giving us the unending zombie saga.

And now we have Z Nation. Syfy seems to run three types of shows: Critically acclaimed (Battlestar Galactica), fan-friendly (Eureka, Warehouse 13), and cheesy (any of their movies). Z Nation is produced by The Asylum, the same people responsible for Sharknado, Transmorphers, and the Mega Shark movies; want to guess which category Z Nation falls into? That’s right—extra cheesy. If this were a bad movie you would be rooting for everyone to die, but since it’s an ongoing show we’re stuck with characters that we simply don’t care about.

Still, the show has it’s good points… Harold Perrineau (Lost) brings good gravitas to the show’s intro. The concept—our heroes must transport a former prisoner across the country because he was the only person injected with the cure to the zombie virus before the research lab got overrun—is a good open-ended way to keep the show moving and keep things interesting over multiple seasons. And fast zombies.

Unfortunately, all of this potential is buried under disposable characters, bad dialogue, weak performances, generic kills, and (worst of all) the complete lack of self awareness that cheesy zombie shows can be fun. Other weak spots: A zombie baby that really makes no sense (an infant that can suddenly move lightning fast around the room as soon as it becomes a zombie) and D.J. Quall’s NSA communications expert who, for no discernible reason, at the last minute turns into a Ray Ban-wearing DJ who spouts the worst dialogue in the entire show.

Syfy has produced 13 episodes of this. Let’s see how many of them make it to air.

 

Fancestral Recall: The Fan Gallery

Bruce Pelz

The original curator of the Fan Gallery, Bruce Pelz. Photo courtesy of the Fan Gallery.

by Chaz Boston Baden & Warren Buff

 

Warren Buff recently sat down with Chaz Boston Baden to discuss the history of the Fan Gallery. The Gallery currently has around 450 fan portraits in it and continues to grow. Most of the photos date from 1997 on, with a few archival photos that have made their way into the collection. The Gallery is frequently exhibited at Worldcons (when held in the United States) and NASFiC.

Chaz Boston Baden: I’m Chaz Baden, I’m one of the custodians of the Fan Gallery which was originated under the care of Bruce Pelz; he turned it over to me before he passed away. The way Bruce Pelz explained [the origin of the Gallery] is that for many years a bunch of fans had been talking about the Christine Velada Pro Photo Gallery which, at the time, was a bunch of black-and-white portraits of professional science fiction writers which had been exhibited at Worldcon for quite a few years. From time to time at various bull sessions at Worldcons and SMOFcons and so forth some of the prominent fans would talk about how there should be a Fan Gallery and people would agree. Bruce Pelz was one of them, Geri Sullivan was another.

It stayed as “this is a good idea somebody should do someday” for quite some time until Geri Sullivan was invited to be the Loscon XXIV Fan Guest of Honor [in 1997]—Bruce Pelz was her GoH liaison from the L.A. side—and Bruce asked, “What can we do to make your experience in L.A. the best we can?” Geri said, and I quote, “I like surprises,” which for me ranks right up there with “Here, watch this… hold my beer…” as famous last words. But that’s what she said, “I like surprises.”

So Bruce Pelz got ahold of Mark Olson in Boston and David Dyer-Bennet in Minneapolis and Stan Burns, the usual photographer at many LA cons, to round up a bunch of pictures of big-name fans and whoever turns up at club meetings—which, there’s a lot of overlap—and said, “David, make sure you get a shot of Geri Sullivan,” because she was in Minneapolis at the time. So these three photographers and a couple other sources collected a bunch of photos and we presented this at Loscon when Geri was Guest of Honor and she came and there was a surprise because the Fan Gallery had become a dream given form. Since then it’s settled down into a general aspirational goal of [recognizing] fans that should be known outside of their region for their contributions to fandom.

We have a couple of categories we call the “Core Collection”. We want to include the Worldcon and NASFiC chairs, the Worldcon and NASFiC Fan Guests of Honor, fannish Hugo winners, and Fan Fund winners. Related to that, we may want to look at fan nominees and other prominent things but what we’re looking for is a contribution to fandom that is consistent, sustained, and long-term and preferably wide in scope. The point to the Core Collection is [fandom has] already selected [individuals] by giving them the Fan Fund, by giving them the chairmanship—a number of people already said, “Yes, these are some of our prominent fans.”

What remains is figuring out who else to put in. So over time we want to get more of the Pegasus winners for filk music, we want to get more of the Fan Hugo nominees, we want to figure out who are the people who have not just been keeping a seat warm for twenty years but have been making things happen, have been contributing to fandom, writing letters, fan artists, all of the people that help make fandom what it is in ways that you probably want to hear about.

Now, our selection [process] for [choosing] photos is we try to make this a collection of color photos in contrast with the black and white exhibit that Christine Velada did of all the professionals. It tends towards the candids as opposed to hers [which] are more [like] portrait studio [photographs]. But the key is that we want these to be photos you can recognize people by, sort of a rogue’s gallery. In the case of our more inactive fans, the dead ones mostly, we’re looking for photos that you would recognize them if they rose from the dead and talked to you or [capture] how we want to remember them. What they looked like in their prime or how we last saw them, are both fair candidates for the passed-on members.

Lee Hoffman

Lee Hoffman. Photo by George Young. Courtesy of the Fan Gallery.

An example would be Lee Hoffman, who was a great fanzine fan and she was active right up till the end. She was participating in Science-Fiction-Five-Yearly for example. But for her photo we have an old black-and-white photo [from] when she was a young woman in fandom, shaking things up and writing fanzines.

That’s basically the exhibit, there’s over three hundred photos in the collection. We don’t always show all of them; there’s not always room. Some of the fans that we thought were going places but haven’t really done anything in the last twenty years, maybe we’re not going to show them as much, but people who made significant contributions… [people like] Bob Shaw and Bob Tucker are going to be in this exhibit as long as we have it. Lee Hoffman, she’s here to stay.

Warren Buff: I see you’ve got signs up this weekend [at Detcon1], encouraging folks to have their picture taken to be added.

CBB: Well, that’s [Detcon Chair] Tammy [Coxen]’s project. That’s part of what NASFiC is doing.

What we have right here is a work-in-progress situation because a bunch of the framed photos have gone missing, so I’m slowly trying to replace them and right now half the exhibit is printouts. They’ll get replaced as I buy more frames and frame them and deal with all that work in maintaining it.

What Tammy and Detcon1 are trying to do is to encourage people to consider themselves as part of the face of fandom and to get photos and to get snapshots. So we’ve set aside ten panels, ten of these two-foot-wide grid walls for the ad hoc photos that we’re hoping to collect over the weekend. But that’s a separate project from what we’re doing with the permanent Fan Gallery collection. Now maybe we’ll get photos and learn that person’s been making things happen in Detroit or the Upper Peninsula. Maybe there’s fandom in the UP, I don’t know, could be. Who are t­he people who’ve been quietly making things happen in Wisconsin? I don’t know. I’d like to find out. I’m trying to take pictures of everybody I meet and have a conversation with because I may need that photo when I learn more about what they do; right now they’re just someone I’ve met.

On a related note, I have my own personal website called Hazel’s Picture Gallery, and you can go to www.shotbyabear.com and get to that, you can go to www.scifiinc.net to find the Fan Gallery. These are two completely different photo projects but I will sometimes draw from my personal collection, to make sure I have a shot.

 

You can listen to the entire interview on Fancyclopedia. You can download the unedited transcript at: http://www.nthzine.com/FR.FanGallery.pdf. You can also visit the Fan Gallery online.