The Editor’s Rant: Issue #7

by Michael D. Pederson

 

When I first conceived of Nth Degree I wanted to create a fanzine that would serve as a place for up-and-coming writers and artists to get their first publication. My biggest concern at the time was that I would have to look at a lot of marginal material and end up publishing second-rate authors that would never grace the pages of the big-name magazines. People still ask me at conventions just how many stories I have to reject before I see a quality piece. The answer is: Surprisingly few.

I’m as shocked as you are. I was actually looking forward to having a slush pile of real stinkers. When it comes to finding the discipline to sit down and work on a short story, I’m hopeless. It would have been a nice boost to my ego to be able to sit back and laugh at the lame attempts that these so-called disciplined writers churn out. But, alas, it was not to be. I’ve been receiving quality stories. Now, let’s not get carried away and assume that I mean to say that every story has been a work of art and would win a Hugo if it could only be nominated. But, in my opinion, many of our contributors do have the potential to go on to become major names in the field.

I was prompted to write this rant because at a recent convention a reader said to me, “It’s a great looking magazine, but you should get rid of the fiction.” His complaint was that he didn’t think the fiction was as good as what you can find in the major genre magazines. And he was right. But does that mean that these stories should never be published anywhere? I don’t expect to publish the next Hugo-winning novella but I do expect that one day a Hugo winner will stand before the podium and thank Nth Degree for helping to start their career. At least that’s what I hope for.

Right now, there are a handful of major magazines publishing fiction by recognizable names in the industry. There are also some very good smaller magazines that pride themselves on being able to get fiction from some of the big names in our field. And who can blame them? A recognizable name on your cover sells magazines. Perhaps, if a name appears on our cover often enough it will be considered recognizable enough to be picked up by a major publisher.

I think that we have already published some great new writers and artists that are well on their way to a solid career in the field. I find it unbelievably exciting that I could already be working with the next Vernor Vinge or Lois McMaster Bujold. It thrills me that the next Michael Whelan may donate a piece of cover art to this humble little ’zine in exchange for a small amount of publicity.

The final arbiter on quality though, is you the reader. We will soon be expanding to a greater number of pages and will finally be able to include a Letters column. So, please, write in and let us know what you think. The contributors are used to hearing me say that their work is great—they expect me to say that so that they’ll keep sending me stuff—but I think they deserve to hear it from the readers as well.

 

Con Review: JerseyDevilCon 3

JerseyDevilCon3by Michael D. Pederson

 

JerseyDevilCon 3
April 25-27, 2003
Edison, New Jersey

JerseyDevilCon, a.k.a. the small con that doesn’t know it’s a small con, met and/or exceeded expectations again this year. GOHs for multiple categories (SF, Fantasy, Horror, Art, Comics, Science, Gaming, and Filk—Harry Harrison, Nancy Springer, Brian Lumley, Joe DeVito, Mark Rogers, Clifford Pickover, Bard & Vicki Bloom, and Voltaire, respectively), a large art room filled with pros and semi-pros, and lots and lots of programming (they kept me busy) are just a few of the things that JDC has going for it. I’ve attended two out of the three JerseyDevilCons so far and I am continually impressed. With attendance around 500, JerseyDevil falls into the small con category but they run the programming, art show, dealer’s room, and masquerade as if they were a 1,000+ member convention. Next year’s con will probably be held in a different hotel (keep an eye on www.jerseydevilcon.com for details) as multiple event bookings have made the last few years difficult on the convention—this year’s “difficulty” is already being talked about on the con circuit in the same hushed tones as the infamous Disclave flood. (See this issue’s filk for more details.)

 

Con Review: Balticon 37

Balticon37by James R. Stratton

 

Balticon 37
May 23-26, 2003
Baltimore, Maryland

Balticon is considered a large regional con, like Philcon in Philadelphia or Albacon in New York, with attendance between 1,000 and 2,000 members each year and offers a wide array of activities to satisfy just about any fan. This year the Writer Guests of Honor were Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the Artist Guests of Honor were Sheila and Omar Rayyan, and the Filk GOH was Steve MacDonald. In addition, there were dozens of SF luminaries including Jon Ashmead, Joseph Bellafatto, Tobias Buckell, Hal Clement, Brenda Clough, Ann Crispin, Keith Decandido, Scott Edelman, Laura Anne Gilman, Eric Kotani, Paul Levinson, Mark Rogers, Tony Ruggiero, George Scithers, Bud Sparhawk, Laura Underwood, and Diane Weinstein. Understand, this is only a partial list.

My son and I arrived at the convention on Friday and checked into the hotel with a minimum of difficulty. For those of you who have not visited the Wyndham Inner Harbor, this is an excellent hotel with extensive facilities just blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The opportunities for good food, shopping, and entertainment are too extensive for me to discuss here.

My son attends conventions with me so that he can participate in the gaming track and watch lots of anime. Balticon did not disappoint him. The con had set up a networked computer room with about a dozen stations and ran tournaments all weekend. My son spent a great deal of time competing in Unreal Tournament, as well as playing the World War II computer game “1942.” He also spent time in the gaming room set up by Looney Labs, a local gaming company, and purchased several card games. When he tired of that, he visited the anime room, the art room, and the dealer’s room. The anime started at noon on Friday and ran continuously until 3:00 PM Monday, so he (and I) had ample opportunities to visit. The biggest problem I had with my 15-year-old was getting him to eat and sleep.

My interest differs substantially from my son’s. I read and write genre fiction, so my time was spent in the writer’s tracks as much as possible. My first panel on Friday was put on by the publishers of the fine magazine you are presently reading. The panel was entitled “Nth Degree: A Fanzine Meets the Fans” and was hosted by Mike Pederson, publisher and editor; with Cate Twohill and Rob Balder, administrators and contributors. Those of you who write certainly understand how valuable it is to be able to meet the people who publish the magazines you read and submit to. The rest of the evening I sat in on panels relating to various writing topics, such as “How to Make Nonhuman Sentients Really Alien” and “New Trends In Publishing: Print On Demand,”and ran into the Nth Degree crew again at the “Fanzines and SF Fandom” panel. I finished off the night with a presentation of the classic movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Saturday, I was up early to attend the writer’s workshop, one of the main reasons I attend these cons. Balticon’s workshop is put on each year by Steve Lubs, with able assistance this year by Diana Weinstein of Weird Tales magazine and author Ann Crispin later in the morning. For those aspiring writers out there, I strongly recommend these convention workshops to you. I am aware of no other venue where you can get direct comments from editors and authors on your writing.

The rest of the day was spent decompressing from the workshop and catching panels on every kind of subject imaginable. They included discussions of the Lord of the Rings movies, literary scams to be aware of, art demonstrations by Joseph Bellafatto and Mark Rogers, and a workshop on balloon sculptures. In addition to these, there was a strong science track with lectures on artificial intelligence, time travel, the Hubbell Space Telescope, and surgery in space. Then it was time for dinner.

My son and I made a quick trip to the Inner Harbor for dinner and hurried back to get in line for the Masquerade. For those not familiar with masquerades, the Balticon Masquerade is one of the premier regional competitions for the costumer’s art, and is one of the high points of the convention for me. There is no way for me to describe either the costumes or the presentations, beyond saying I was thoroughly entertained for hours. I finished off the night by visiting a number of room parties put on by Nth Degree, Charlotte in 2005, Seattle in 2005, L.A. in 2006, Capclave, a Buffy fan group, and several others that just seemed to be there for the heck of it. This was a late night for me.

Sunday was another busy day starting with a workshop on improvisation in writing, run by author David Sherman and others. I was introduced to the Malaysian poetry form known as pantooms, which is poetry written in four lines. You then use the second and fourth line in your poem as the first and third line in a new poem and so on. As this is all done on the fly, you’re forced to achieve some interesting imagery. I then put in my bids at the art auction before it closed and won several Chinese-style paintings on silk. The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting various panels, including “Crazy Science Ideas,” “How to Prevent Identity Theft,” and “The Effect of Recent Changes in Copyright Law.” I finished the evening catching a film festival showcasing a number of movies presented by local producers and hosted by Chainsaw Sally, a local horror show maven.

Monday was the slowest day at the con for me. Most of the artists had left after the art auction concluded on Sunday, and many fans had headed home as well. Still, the organizers worked hard to keep the members interested. The dealers were offering deep discounts on many items on Monday only, and were giving out tickets for each purchase that could be redeemed from the con organizers for prizes. The con also had a premiere presentation of The Animatrix on Monday.

I should mention that I partook in a number of other activities over the weekend… I watched the complete anime series Sabre Marionette J, the anime movie Spirited Away, and the very odd anime series Real About High School. I also caught several movies, including Spiderman and The Witches Of Eastwick. Last, but not least, I taught Steve the bartender how to mix my favorite adult beverage, the blue sky martini. He mixed his first ever on Friday and gained great proficiency with repeated practice over the weekend. In addition, there were many other activities that I did not have time for. There is a separate poetry track, an artist track, a media track, and a costuming track. In short, there was more there than any one person could ever hope to experience in one weekend.

Overall, I can highly recommend Balticon to the writers, readers, artists, and just plain fans out there. You’ll find the experience compares favorably to any of the many other conventions held throughout the year. If you attend next year (May 28-31, 2004—www.balticon.org), look for me as you wander about. If you’d like, we can chat as we give Steve another practice round at the blue sky martini. Until then, enjoy!

 

Con Review: BayCon 2003

BayCon2003by Chris Garcia

 

BayCon 2003
May 23-26, 2003
San Jose, California

Bay Area fandom has had a busy 18 months, from the half dozen regular conventions to hosting last year’s Worldcon. BayCon returned to the DoubleTree hotel in San Jose for the twenty-second time in twenty-two years. As always, BayCon brought together fans from all over California, plus Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, British Columbia, Alaska, and Great Britain, more than twenty-two hundred over the course of the convention.

As always, BayCon brought some great guests: Greg Bear, who brought with him tales of the forth-coming Science Fiction Experience museum in Seattle; Artist GOH Mark Ferrari, who gave a delayed, but highly regarded reading from his up-coming novel; Fan guest Janice Gelb; and Toastmistress Rachel Holmen, along with more than one hundred guests made BayCon 2003 the most impressive line-up in years.

BayCon tends towards the highly decorated. The huge ScreamWorks party took up two large guest rooms, plus a significant portion of balcony. At one point, more than 200 people crowded into the space. The League of Evil Geniuses’ celebrated alumni including Cruella DeVille and Eric on the Elevator, an elevator talk show, hosted a party that featured the debut of the first two seasons, filmed at BayCon 2001 and 2002.

The panels were far-ranging, fascinating, and typically well attended. Some highlights included “Five Dollars, a Dead Fish, and a Time Machine, or Turtledoving for Dummies,” which filled a room designed for 50 with nearly 80 attendees. “Futurism: or How the Future Has Failed Us at Every Turn” took the classic Where’s My Flying Car debate into areas such as world government, single pill meals, real internet security, and the fifteen-hour work week. Panels on art and tech were highly successful, as were all the Buffy panels, despite the fact that author Nancy Holder had to cancel at the last moment. All that, plus great readings from Ferrari, Howard Hendrix, Lori White, Cory Doctorow, and Irene Radford made for much great stuff for daytime consumption.

Running alongside the parties in the evenings were the largest masquerade in recent memory, Off The Wall films (actually shown on the side of one of the hotel’s towers), half a dozen concerts, and at least two dances a night. And every issue of Nth Degree that hit the fan handout table flew into a greedy fan’s hand almost instantly!

All in all, a great weekend that signals the begging of a little rest for NorCal’s hardest working SMOFs. Next year’s convention, with GOH Michael Swanwick, will be held May 23-31 (www.baycon.org/2004).

 

Con Review: Trinoc*CoN 2003

Trinoc2003by Michael D. Pederson

 

Trinoc*CoN 2003
August 1-3, 2003
Durham, North Carolina

Summer conventions are tough. Who wants to compete with the beach, amusement parks, family vacations, or Pennsic? Well, Trinoc*CoN has bucked the system by successfully moving their convention from its well-attended October dates to the first weekend in August. Guests this year included Lawrence Watt-Evans (Literary), Ursula Vernon (Art), and Bruce Baugh (Gaming). Trinoc*CoN has built a reputation as a literary convention so I was surprised and impressed to see how much of their programming was dedicated to gaming, anime, and web comics. A very large (and well-ventilated) gaming room was kept open 24-hours as was the anime room which had the coolest sound and projection system that I’ve seen yet at a small convention, plus it sat up to 250 people. A good portion of Saturday night was spent crowded around the Nth Degree party room with several book dealers and the literary chair, discussing potential guests for next year’s Trinoc*CoN. I am always impressed to see that kind of interactivity between the con staff and the attendees. Trinoc*CoN 2004 is scheduled for July 23-25 (www.trinoc-con.org). Expect to see me there, even though I couldn’t get a good answer on why a capital “N”.

 

The Return

TheReturnby Ruthanna Gordon

 

Shub Niggurath looked around the city, tapping a tentacle in irritation. The last time she and her friends had been here, towers had stretched toward the sky, walls swooping in intricate and highly symbolic curves to guide the paths of the inhabitants. And those inhabitants! Not the most aesthetic or well-formed creation, by any means, but the ugly little creatures had devoted their lives to creating and worshipping the images of their masters. They had been the seed of a glorious civilization, ready to spread the holy names across their world (and win the bearers of those names a rather substantial bet).

They all appeared to have stepped out to lunch.

“Where are they?” whined Cthulhu.

Azathoth glared. The smartest of the threesome, he had spent the last few millennia telling the other two that these get-rich-quick schemes never panned out.

It had seemed simple enough. The Elders and the Great Old Ones had been in friendly competition for some time, and a group of their rivals had made an offer. Each party to have a thousand years to start a religion on a world, and the worlds then to be left alone for… well, a not-unreasonable length of time. Whichever religion had spread the farthest at the end of that time, its creators would win both planets, plus… well, other considerations. Two planets, and more, practically overnight. In a moment, Shub Niggurath knew, Azathoth was going to say, “I told you so,” and she was going to scream, and that was always a bad thing.

Instead, Azathoth took a deep breath (or at least, the eldritch equivalent—you really don’t want to think too hard about what he actually did).

“If you all will just shut up for moment, I’ll check where they’ve gone.” Azathoth was telepathic. He closed his eyes (or at least, the eldritch… never mind—you get the idea). After a moment, his face darkened in anger.

“They have forgotten all about us… no, wait…” The air crackled, and several objects fell to the ground in front of the trio. Shub Niggurath sat down to take a look, pushing aside the remains of a crumbling edifice to make room. There were several tomes (small, cheaply made, and written in the most vulgar of tongues) and a stuffed cloth figure. She picked up the doll to examine it more closely. It had a bulbous head and a nearly reasonable number of tentacles. It was also plaid. Aside from that…

“Hey,” she said. “Look who I found.” Azathoth looked over her shoulder, and then at the remaining member of their party.

Cthulhu glared. “It does not look like me!” The other two kept smirking. “It does not! It does not, it does not, it does not!” His howl took out a few more of the ancient ruins.

“Aside from your pride,” rumbled Azathoth, when the echoes had died down, “we have a problem.”

“Yeah,” said Shub Niggurath. “If this is all that remains of our worship, not only are the Old Guys going to win the bet, they are going to laugh.” She bit the head off of the plaid Cthulhu. “Ugh. This tastes awful, too.”

Azathoth began to smile. “I believe you may just have hit on a solution. You’ll recall the eschatological section of our mythos…”

Light dawned slowly in Cthulhu’s eyes. “Oh, no,” he said. “That part was your idea. You know I get stomach cramps.”

“So we eat them,” said Shub Niggurath. “Not only don’t they worship us, but they’re all dead. What good is that?”

“Who’s to say who they worshiped while they lived?” said Azathoth. “Only we saw. A few well-placed statues before the Old Guys come by to check, and they were so delighted and awe-struck at our return that every last one sacrificed itself on our altar. How could they top that?”

“And at least we’d still have one planet to work with,” said Shub Niggurath. “It’s so crazy, it just might—”

“Don’t say it,” said Azathoth. He looked out over the world, thinking that he hadn’t eaten since they passed Altair. They could pull this off yet.

Cthulhu swallowed. “All right,” he said, looking a bit queasy. “Let’s do lunch.”

 

This story was awarded first place in a Quick Write competition at JerseyDevilCon in April 2003. The judges were Edward Carmien, Tony DiGerolamo, Michael D. Pederson, Tony Ruggiero, and Susan C. Stone.

 

Game Review: Return to the Forgotten Village

ForgottenVillageby Ron McClung

 

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich: Return to the Forgotten Village
For Call of Cthulhu (Classic & d20)
Chaosium, Inc.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich sourcebook is the first of the Lovecraft Country series to be revised for use in Call of Cthulhu d20. It is a dual system book, able to be used in either Basic or d20 systems. It is basically a sourcebook describing the town of Dunwich, its surroundings, its citizens and the mysteries that lie beneath the “forgotten town” appearing in H.P. Lovecraft’s classic The Dunwich Horror. Included is source material, complete adventures that take place in and around Dunwich, and several maps.

The book opens with a Table of Contents and an Introduction explaining the book’s use and contents, followed by a comprehensive map of the Lovecraft Country in Massachusetts as well as a listing of locations on that map with a paragraph describing their significance.

The meat of the book starts with the complete text of The Dunwich Horror. If a Keeper is going to tackle a Call of Cthulhu game, it is a real good idea to read some of H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and this is a good place to start. This story is quintessential Lovecraft. It gives you a sense of context and tone to the Lovecraftian universe.

Adding considerable value to the book, each location in the story is identified by a Location Number; some people and events mentioned also have a Location Number in parentheses next to them, indicating that they are associated with that location. This is a handy system that allows for quick reference.

Following the story is a chapter entitled “Welcome to Dunwich.” It is the start of a location-by-location description of Dunwich Township. It gives a short history of the township, as well as general facts and statistics of the town, and names and notes about the town leaders’ names. Also included are climate notes, flora and fauna descriptions, a timeline of the township’s history, notes on how to get to and around in Dunwich, as well as where to stay and notes on local laws. Interestingly, also included in this are notes about the telephone “system” in Dunwich, and it ends with a complete “Village Directory” of telephone numbers. Nice flavor!

The “Welcome” chapter is then followed by the “Secrets of Dunwich.” This section is probably best not read by players or it will ruin some deep dark secrets the Keeper could use. Revealed here are the darkest secrets of the Whateley Gold and the Believers, an ancient secretive cult that founded Dunwich. There are many cool nuggets of inspiration contained in these pages.

Inside the “Secrets of Dunwich” is a section about the village itself. This includes the first of many Dunwich maps, numbered to correspond to the Location Numbers mentioned earlier. These describe the central places the players would probably go first—from the Osborn’s General Store (formerly a church) to the Dunwich Cemetery, and other important locations in the village-proper.

After extensive descriptions of the village, Western Dunwich, and the Mill Area, the next chapter is called “A Guide to Dunwich Environs.” This chapter divides the area around Dunwich into nine regions. Each region is described in painstaking detail, noting specific sites and buildings of importance as well as listing important people associated with each site. Detailed here are the relationships, specific historical significance, and political plots of the Dunwich sites, people, and things. Nothing is left untouched—not even the loneliest abandoned barn.
If that isn’t enough, the following chapter, “The Underground,” as the name suggests, delves into the caverns, tunnels, and underground waterways that lie beneath Dunwich. These are no ordinary caverns for investigators to go off spelunking in if they get bored. Inside these dark serpentine tunnels are Things in the Darkness, and other immeasurable perils including The Black Beach and The Boat Dweller. The Underground is not just one set of caverns but several. Starting with the upper caverns, investigators can potentially be lead to the windy lower caverns and even deeper into darkness and secrets untold for centuries.

The book ends with adventures. A solid one-third of the book is dedicated to adventuring in and around Dunwich, including “Return to Dunwich,” and “Earth, Sky, Soul”—a short adventure/encounter first published in the Unspeakable Oath fanzine. Also included in this section are the appendices. The first is a chronology of the events that occurred in The Dunwich Horror to be used if the Keeper wishes to put the players through that actual story. The second is an invaluable tool for Keepers, “Mysteries, Legends, & Rumors,” a series of notes divided out by region that describe just what the title suggests. This is perfect for those red-herrings, creepy tales, and things that keepers like to throw at the investigators to keep their stress levels high. The final appendices are the d20 conversions for non-player characters, creatures, and spells. Also included in the end are the handouts for the adventures and a nice fold-out map of the entire region.

H.P. Lovecraft’s Dunwich: Return to the Forgotten Village is a book of rich material for any Keeper wanting to venture into an established town in the Lovecraft Country. It is full of “nuggets,” ideas for quick adventures or long campaigns. The value in the book comes in the numerous possibilities, the ease of use for a Keeper, and the fact that it is a complete sourcebook—beginning to end—giving veteran Keepers as well as beginners a chance to get the true feel of a CoC game.

 

Book Review: The Center Cannot Hold

CenterCannotHoldby Michael D. Pederson

 

American Empire: The Center Cannot Hold
Harry Turtledove
Ballantine Books, 619 pp.

What can I possibly say about the latest American Empire novel? Turtledove is the undisputed master of the alternate history story. The Center Cannot Hold continues the story of the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Confederate States following the Great War. By the end of this book the series has been diverging from our timeline for seventy years and it remains fascinating to see how Turtledove maintains a congruity between the two realities. In this installment, the stock market’s rise and fall influences most of the action of the book while the CSA’s Freedom Party continues its Nazi-like rise to power. Can a new reader pick things up six books into the series? Probably, Turtledove is good with his recaps, but six hundred pages of political and economic upheaval might not be the most interesting place to start.

 

Book Review: Hell’s Faire

HellsFaireby Michael D. Pederson

 

Hell’s Faire
John Ringo
Baen Books, 312 pp.

This is the latest (and last, for a while) installment in Ringo’s Posleen War series. For reader’s of the first three books (A Hymn Before Battle, Gust Front, and When the Devil Dances) this is a must-read. If you haven’t read the earlier books you will most likely be unappreciative of this one. If you haven’t read any of this series and you’re a fan of military SF, crawl out from under your rock and buy them all. Ringo is easily the best new military SF writer to come around in a while and this series (Gust Front especially) shows him at the top of his game. Unfortunately, publishing deadlines and the 9/11 attacks forced Ringo to cut his last book short; Hell’s Faire was originally meant to be the concluding chapters of When the Devil Dances. Unfortunately, the book suffers some from the obvious padding that was needed to stretch the conclusion out to full novel length (and it’s still less than half the length of the previous volumes). The added material brings out a lot more of Ringo’s rather wicked sense of humor but also saddles the reader with an almost constant barrage of in-jokes that must be annoying to those not in the know. As for the rest of the book though, the action scenes are still cranked to eleven and the Posleen are still one of the nastiest alien menaces to ever invade our planet. Hell’s Faire ties up some loose ends but leaves us hanging on some of the larger issues that have been looming behind the scenes since the first book and it looks like it’s going to be a while before Ringo returns to the series as he is currently involved in several other projects.

 

Book Review: Niamh and the Hermit

Niamhby Michael D. Pederson

 

Niamh and the Hermit: A Fairy Tale
Emily C. A. Snyder
Arx Publishing, 276 pp.

If the Brothers Grimm had been raised in Ireland, they probably would have written tales like this one. Niamh is the story of a Celtic halfling princess, too beautiful to behold. With no suitors able to withstand her beauty, Niamh is betrothed to a reclusive magician who has been cursed with a bestial form—he has the claws and wings of an eagle and the head and tail of a lion. His letters cause the princess to fall in love with him, but before he can arrive at the castle a vengeful count places a curse on Niamh and has her banished from the kingdom. In true fantasy form, a quest ensues to return the princess to the castle so that she can marry the Hermit. Along the way they encounter fairies, a Wolf King, an evil witch, an enchanted lake, and plenty of peasants. Blending Celtic mythology with a classic fairy tale structure and throwing in a dash of Tolkien, Snyder’s book provides a full banquet for your starving inner child. My biggest concern about this book is that the unusual Celtic names and the “thou mayest” writing style could scare off some of the younger crowd that would otherwise be the natural audience for this type of book. Snyder does remedy this somewhat though with very helpful appendices that include character descriptions and name pronunciations as well as a series of maps of the kingdom.