The Editor’s Rant: Issue #8

by Michael D. Pederson

 

The truth is out. I’m a fraud. A sham, fake, and poseur. No, I did not just get a new thesaurus. I’ve just came from a convention where I was scheduled for an open autograph session with all of the other guests. There I was sitting between Darrell Schweitzer and Bud Sparhawk, feeling quite overwhelmed. Also at the table were William Tenn, Alexis Gilliland, John G. Hemry, David Hartwell, and Nancy Jane Moore. All major talents. All very nice people. I could tell that they were nice because not one of them spit in my direction and asked, “Hey, who’s the hack with the ’zine?” Bless them. And thanks to all the fans that stopped to talk while they waited in line for William Tenn’s autograph. The hour wasn’t a total loss though. I did sign a magazine or two and I learned that Darrell Schweitzer has a talent for forging celebrity autographs (his Asimov is fantastic). By the end of the hour he had nearly added mine to his repertoire.

The convention is over now; my dignity is still intact and the hangover has faded. It’s time to move on to other business…

Looking at the calendar I notice two things: 1) I’m WAY behind schedule getting this issue out and 2) Today is almost exactly two years to the day since I started putting this ’zine together. The first item is the result of a rather time-consuming wedding and honeymoon (note that there is a new Pederson in the masthead now) so please forgive my tardiness. The second item is cause for celebration (Cate would argue that the first is also). Two years! It feels like it’s only been 24 months.

What’s changed in two years? We’ve doubled our page count, increased our fandom coverage, and cleaned up our cover design. But I think that the biggest change has been in how we’re greeted at conventions. Last year the first question people would ask was, “So, what’s Nth Degree?” Now it’s, “When’s the next issue coming out?” Name recognition has picked up wonderfully in the last six months or so—the magazines’, not mine. (I’ve added extra facial hair in the last two years to help protect my anonymity. Oops, shouldn’t have said that, now I have to shave.) I suspect that’s the result of our getting to more conventions than I had thought humanly possible.

What hasn’t changed in two years? The fall issue is still late (last year’s was slowed down by the purchase of a new house). People outside of fandom still mistake our title for North Degree or sometimes Ninth Degree. George Lucas is still making really bad movies. And I still have a hard time coming up with good topics for my Rant.

What’s in store for the future? Plans are afoot to expand to 48 pages. When that happens we’ll be bringing in guest columnists and adding a letters page. I’m also planning a major illness for fall 2004 just to keep up the trend of late fall issues. I haven’t decided on the ailment yet though… Perhaps a nice bout of malaria or maybe a good old fashioned case of consumption. Until then… Stay away from me, I may be contagious.

 

Con Review: Torcon 3

TorCon by Catherine E. Twohill & Michael D. Pederson

 

Torcon 3
August 28 – September 1, 2003
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto, eh? It was the 61st annual World Science Fiction Convention—Torcon 3—and all we can say is “Toronto, eh?” Well, in deference to our friends up north, that’s all they could say, as well. To be honest, the sense of “world” was missing from this year’s Worldcon. So much of the convention schedule was filled with sessions on Canada—Canadian history, Canadian anime, Canadian costuming—that we went looking for some Canadian Club hoping everyone would just move on.

The location was excellent though (Toronto’s Convention Center) and close to hotels, restaurants, and general touristy things like the CN Tower. The accommodations were lovely; we stayed at the beautiful Royal York Hotel, and we found several fantastic restaurants within a block or two of the hotel and Convention Center.

Operationally, the convention could have been tighter. The pocket program wouldn’t have fit in a pool table pocket and, unfortunately, the printers printed an outdated file, rendering the entire book pretty much useless. Updated schedules were available every morning (if you were quick enough to get them before they ran out) but, sadly, these too turned out to be wrong a good percentage of the time. Pre-con information books were well-labored over yet were either never received or sent very late. We wished that the last update—which arrived the day we got on the plane—had arrived a week earlier; it contained important information about clearing customs. Without that info we spent eight hours on the phone with Canadian customs and had to literally bribe local shippers to get our ’zines into the city. In the end we had to chalk it up as a lesson learned.

GOHs

GoHs Mike Glyer, George R.R. Martin, and Spider Robinson at the Opening Ceremonies.

Content-wise Torcon 3 was strong and with GoHs George R.R. Martin (Pro) and Mike Glyer (Fan) and Toastmaster Spider Robinson, the general sessions were entertaining and purposeful. Unfortunately, Frank Kelly Freas (Artist GoH) was ill and unable to attend. However, even death didn’t stop Robert Bloch (GoHst of Honour) from making an “appearance.” Be sure to visit the con’s website to get the complete rundown on Hugo Award and Masquerade winners (www.torcon3.on.ca) but in brief: Robert Sawyer took home a well-deserved Best Novel Hugo for Hominids and an amazing Trumps of Amber presentation won Best in Class Masters Division and Best in Show at the Masquerade.

Despite the confusing program updates we still found several great panels to attend… There were some good panels on small press publishing, an unusual Photoshop panel (most people on the panel preferred to talk about how they could do special effects without Photoshop), and a LOT of Doctor Who programming that kept us busy. We also attended a few readings and lectures by Spider Robinson, Cory Doctorow, and Nalo Hopkinson. There was a great Children’s Programming track as well (pipe cleaner dragons, yay!). We wanted to go to a few of the KaffeeKlatches but the sign-up lists filled up WAY to quickly. And, unfortunately, none of the video programs that we attended had the necessary projectors—that really hurt the Chuck Jones tribute that we had been looking forward to.

Don’t get the impression that the convention was a total bust though. SF fans LOVE to complain and Torcon really came through for us. We spent half the con laughing and bonding with total strangers over the mounting problems each day. Therein lies the beauty of a Worldcon… There are no true strangers at a Worldcon, just strange people you haven’t met yet.

Next year’s Worldcon, Noreascon 4, will be held in Boston, September 2-6. For you early planners, check out www.noreascon.org. Terry Pratchett and William Tenn are the scheduled Pro GoHs. See you there!

Amber2

Torcon’s Best in Show Masquerade winners, The Trumps of Amber.

And here are some more of our photos from Torcon…

 

Con Review: Dragon*Con 2003

DragonCon2003by Rob Balder

 

Dragon*Con
August 29 – Sept. 1, 2003
Atlanta, Georgia

The world’s biggest Geekcchanal grew even bigger this year, as Dragon*Con boasted a huge jump in attendance over the already staggering 20,000 it had attracted in ’01 and ’02 (no surprise with Worldcon being held in Canada). I heard estimates of the attendance ranging from 22,000 to wildly speculative numbers like 36,000. We should be hearing an official number before too long, but it’s really just a footnote. This party was record-breaking by any measure.

Once again, I am left in awe of the sheer competence of those brave and dedicated souls who make this thing happen. The potential for disaster in such a gathering staggers the imagination. Yet we saw no fights, no injuries, no accidents, no arrests, no fires… nothing to ruin the fun. As last year, Dragon*Con was brilliantly planned and executed. If you didn’t have an incredible time, it was your own bloody fault.

Having said that, there were some growing pains associated with this larger crowd. Most programming panels at the Hyatt were standing room only (the ones at the Marriott seemed to be smaller… reason unknown). The elevator situation—bad last year—was absolutely miserable. You could count on a ten-minute delay every time you went between floors. Between the packed-solid conference rooms and sardine elevators, the pungent odor of my fellow geeks became a buzzkill. “Aren’t you glad you use Dial?” I kept thinking, “Don’t you wish Dragon*Con did?”

But these problems were tertiary and there wasn’t much that could reasonably be done about them. They did not appreciably detract from the insane amount of stuff available for a con-goer’s amusement. As it always will, what we didn’t get to do dwarfs what we did. We missed the Klingon Beauty Pageant AGAIN, dangit. We never got to any concert, not even Cruxshadows or Voltaire. We barely met any celebs (our fault—they were totally accessible on the Walk of Fame) except Gil Gerard, who I sought out to ask if he would submit some poetry to Nth Degree. He said he’d consider it. We missed the Masquerade, but it was available afterward on the Hyatt closed-circuit channel and I caught most of it. I dunno who won, but the Pac-Man skit was my pick.

What did we do? Well, I for one could have been satisfied doing nothing but Writer’s Track programming. And that’s just what is so great about Dragon*Con. It has full tracks for everything… enough to fill an entire themed con around each. People come and do mainly Buffy programming, or British Sci-Fi, or Comics, or Tolkien. There was an entire track for Pern, and Anne McCaffery or her son were personally involved in most of it! It made me realize that there is a level of fandom honor above mere GoH—if they have a full programming track or a complete con just for your stuff, then you have reached a new level.

So what else did we do? I performed in the Trek Trak filk-sing and it was an absolute train wreck. The less said about that, the better. If you really want the details, the whole Charlie Foxtrot is available on video, so that future generations may mock my plight even long after I am dead.

I went to an X-Track panel on cryonics, hosted by some folks from Alcor. I learned some interesting details about how to get frozen and had some of my long-standing questions answered.

I sat on a webcomics panel that had to be about the best one I’ve ever done. The chemistry among the five of us was great, the room was electric, I got cheered twice for saying I quit my job, and the panel got a standing ovation… a first! There was a second webcomics panel that I was not on, but most of the people who were had been in the audience at the previous one. I made a lot of new friends in the field.

The ’zines went like crazy. We put out four of the five boxes right away, and then followed up with the final box as a reserve. Probably we could have put out another three or four boxes. Nth Degree’s name recognition is really growing, based on some conversations I had.

The hallway costumes were amazing, again. They should rename the Lower Lobby the Cleavage Mile. The costumes were heavily tilted toward LotR this year, with Uruk-Hai and orcs very nearly outnumbering Imperial Stormtroopers, even with the 501st there in… uh, force. And where we saw ten Spider-Men last year, we saw about that many Lara Crofts this year (and no Spider-Men). Again, we saw only one Borg… a different Borg than last year. Collective, my ass. “No Face” from Spirited Away loomed large and spooky over the crowd almost all the time.

Many more things happened, many bottles were drained, many hangovers were suffered, many unique personal experiences were experienced, and a car was totalled. But these should be told at future con parties. Next year’s Dragon*Con will be held September 3-6. For photos from this year and more info on next year, visit www.dragoncon.org.

 

Con Review: Conjecture II

ConjectureLogoby Chris Garcia

 

Conjecture II
October 3-5, 2003
San Diego, California

No city in America is more identified with a single con than San Diego is with Comic-Con. But to think that Comic-Con is the only game in town is to forget that there is a rabid fandom in SD. One of their annual activities is Conjecture, a small con in its second year that has not failed to impress.

This year, in honor of Guest of Honor and Chronoliths’ author Robert Charles Wilson, Conjecture was subtitled “A Brief History of Time Travel.” The theme ran throughout the convention which featured Time Machine Wars, a Mad Science Fair, and film programming that featured time travel films from the last five decades. Panels dealt with everything from “The Physics of Time Travel” to “Microscopic Temporal Anomalies,” alongside the standard Star Wars, Buffy, Fandom, music, literature, and sex programming.

What’s a con without parties? The League of Evil Geniuses threw a fine party as part of the push to bring CostumeCon 2008 to the Silicon Valley. Fan Dave Bloom held an open-door fortieth birthday party which featured authors like William Wu, Vera Nazarian, and Lee Martindale playing with nearly fifty balloons that covered the floor. Both the San Diego in 2006 and Monterey 2006 WesterCon bids threw shindigs as well.

Perhaps the most stunning thing was the number and quality of the guests. For a con attracting only about 350 attendees, the names brought in for programming were astounding. Authors Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Nancy Holder, Gregory Benford, and David Gerrold all participated on panels with artists like James Stanley Daugherty, Frank Wu, and Sue Dawe.

Another excellent small, West Coast con that is looking towards bigger and better things in the future. Conjecture III is scheduled for October 1-3. Next year’s GoHs will be C.S. Friedman (Writer) and Jess Heinig (Gaming). More details at www.conjecture.org.

 

Con Review: Albacon 2003

Albaconby J. Andrew World

 

Albacon 2003
October 10-12, 2003
Lake George, New York 

Albacon was held this year in Lake George, New York. Normally it’s held at a hotel in Schenectady, however the convention’s regular hotel has been closed so they had to find someplace new to host it. They choose a dude ranch resort in Lake George during peak foliage season.

The drive up was gorgeous! Along the sides of Route 87 the trees exploded with yellows, oranges, and reds. I arrived at Roaring Brook Ranch and went to the main lodge where I was greeted by a sweet woman who saw my art and immediately told me where the Art Show was. I set up in the art room and then went to register. I had volunteered my services as a programming guest at the last minute and, unfortunately, they didn’t get my email in time to add my name to the “free badge” list. This took some time to sort out and I missed the ice cream social because of it. They had a nice artist reception though. They fed us Spicy Sesame Chicken wings!

After the reception I wandered around the Ranch to check things out. In the game room I saw the most surreal thing: The room was filled with animal heads and pool tables. Above a confused Pac Man game (it was really Ms. Pac Man, but it said Pac Man on the outside) was a moose with lipstick!

The next day began slowly, I found the ’zines and hit a lecture. Most of the panels were aimed more towards writers (no surprise with Lois McMaster Bujold as the GoH) so, as an artist, I felt a little left out. I made up for it by going to the Artist Guest of Honor’s (Allen Koszowski) presentation. It was a slide show of his influences and artists that he liked. It was filled mostly with horror pieces from classic sci-fi and horror magazines. He also had early fanzine work from successful illustrators like Charles Vess. After the presentation I handed him a copy of Nth Degree and showed him one of my illustrations. He asked if he could add it to his World Fantasy Con presentation. I told him I would be honored!

After a fine Mexican dinner it was time to hit the room parties! Oz Fontecchio of Philcon (also the Fan GoH) threw a great party. The copies of Nth Degree I brought just disappeared! Plus Oz had an amazing array of alcohol—I discovered Godiva mixed with Buttershots—needless to say, I don’t remember very much about the party.

The next morning I went to a few lectures, hung out, and then went to visit a nearby friend.

Albacon 2004 will be held October 8-10. They will be announcing their guests soon at www.albacon.org.

 

Con Review: Capclave 2003

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Capclave 2003
November 21-23, 2003
Silver Spring, Maryland

I can’t remember the last time that I enjoyed a small convention as much as I enjoyed Capclave ’03. Attendance this year peaked at about 200 fans, all determined to enjoy themselves as much as possible. This is Capclave’s third year and their first disaster free weekend—their previous cons took place during a hurricane one year and the DC sniper the next year.

Sam

Capclave chairperson, Sam Lubell, stops by the Nth Degree room party for a quick pick-me-up.

This year’s Guest of Honor was William Tenn, Golden Age author and satirist. It’s always impressive to see a small convention bag a big name for a guest and Capclave pulled no punches. In addition to Tenn they also scheduled Alexis Gilliland, Yoji Kondo, Bud Sparhawk, Steve Stiles, Scott Edelman, David Hartwell, Darrell Schweitzer, Lawrence Watt-Evans, and quite a few others.

I participated in three panels that were all well-attended and extremely fun to be a part of. The first was a discussion of comic books as short fiction that included Steve Stiles and covered nearly fifty years of comics history. After that I had an enormous amount of fun discussing SF/F television with Tee Morris (writer/actor), Mike Zipser (host of the Washington cable program Fast Forward), a couple other panelists, and a packed room. Needless to say, we were an opinionated group. The last panel that I was scheduled for was “Fanzines: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” with Alexis Gilliland, Rich and Nicki Lynch, and Steve Stiles. Between the five of us we had about 150 years of publishing experience (with my meager ten years added in). Needless to say, I was honored to be included. The one panel that I got to attend as an audience member was a reading by Michail Velichansky (whose second appearance in Nth Degree is in this very issue). He read a fantastic story that he wrote at this summer’s Odyssey.

Kudos need to be awarded to next year’s Capclave chair, Lee Gilliland, for stepping in at the last minute (9:00 pm Thursday!) to take over the con suite when the previous two con suite organizers got sick. Capclave 2004 is scheduled for October 15-17. More info will be posted at www.wsfa.org.

 

 

Book Review: Buffalogic, Inc.

Buffalogicby Michael D. Pederson

 

Buffalogic, Inc.: Tales of the Amazing Conroy No. 1
Lawrence M. Schoen
SRM Publishers Ltd., 46 pp.

Lawrence M. Schoen is best known as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Klingon language. So it comes as no surprise (and perhaps even a bit of a relief) to learn that he has a great sense of humor. This chapbook presents two short stories featuring the Amazing Conroy. The first story, “Buffalo Dogs,” introduces us to Conroy, a stage hypnotist, and to the title creatures. Buffalo dogs are miniature buffalo that eat anything and fart oxygen; they are highly prized by the terraforming industry and worth millions. “Buffalo Dogs” is a wacky story about how Conroy got into the smuggling business and acquired Regina Catherine Alyosious Nantucket Bitter Almonds St. Croix (his own buffalo dog) that keeps you laughing to the end. The second story, “Telepathic Intent,” is a clever murder mystery that uses telepathy and hypnosis to confuse the issue of whodunit. The characters are good and the plot is clever but the story seems to move too quickly. This time around Conroy is swept along by events around him and he spends most of his time reacting to others as opposed to “Buffalo Dogs” where he was the master hypnotist, in complete control. Still, Buffalogic, Inc. is a good pair of stories, especially if you’re in the mood for some enjoyably humorous science fiction. I look forward to future volumes.

 

Book Review: Conquistador

Conquistadorby Michael D. Pederson

 

Conquistador
S.M. Stirling
Roc, 424 pp.

In 1946, John Rolfe returns home to Oakland from the war. One malfunctioning short wave radio later and he has a doorway to another America, an America that has never been discovered by Europeans. Rolfe calls in his war buddies and proceeds to settle what he calls New Virginia (yes, he’s descended from those Rolfes). Cut to the year 2009 where our hero—Tom Christiansen, a big blonde farmboy and game warden—has tracked a warehouse full of poached pelts and some unusual condors back to John Rolfe and his family. This, of course, leads to Christiansen and his partner being abducted to New Virginia where they become embroiled in a coup by radical New Virginians attempting to overthrow the Rolfe family. There are no real surprises in the story but it’s well told and the descriptions of an untainted California can’t help but make the reader lust for a west coast that hasn’t existed for 200 years. And the weird mix of fascist police state and Ozzie and Harriet wonderland that Rolfe has created on his blank slate America leaves one wondering just what they would do in a similar situation. In the end, Stirling proves that he’s still as capable of putting out damn fine alternate universe stories as ever.

 

Book Review: The Butlerian Jihad & The Machine Crusade

ButlerianJihadby Michael D. Pederson

 

Dune: The Butlerian Jihad
Dune: The Machine Crusade
Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 621 pp. and 643 pp.

It’s hard to get excited about licensed continuations of science fiction classics. Usually. However, Herbert and Anderson proved with their first trilogy that they are more than qualified to play in the late Frank Herbert’s sandbox. House Atreides, House Harkonnen, and House Corrino dealt with all the backstory leading up to the birth of Paul Atreides. They were enjoyable and faithful to the original but felt claustrophobic at times—we all know how it has to end and there isn’t much room for surprises. This time though, tackling the Jihad (10,000 years pre-Dune), Herbert and Anderson have free reign to cut loose and leave their own mark on this classic series. Butlerian Jihad sets the scene: An artificial MachineCrusadeintelligence named Omnius and his army of cyborg (Cymek) and robot warriors have enslaved mankind. Military leader Xavier Harkonnen and his fiancé Serena Butler head up the resistance. Vorian Atreides, son of the Cymek Agamemnon, works alongside the machines against humanity. Along the way, we see the invention of Holtzmann shield generators, the first wormride, the early roots of the Guild, the enslavement of the Zensunni tribes, and a planet of female telepathic Sorceresses that you just know is going to turn into the Bene Gesserit. It’s an intricately plotted story that plumbs the depths of human emotions and pokes and picks at the very definition of humanity. For most of the book humanity is on the defensive; dealing with losses that range from tactical to deeply personal, the characters become clearly defined instantly in a way that draws the reader into the action. By the end of Jihad, mankind—lead by Butler, Harkonnen, former slave Iblis Ginjo, and the reformed Atreides—has begun its holy war against the machines. The Machine Crusade picks up twenty-five years into the Jihad. The Cymeks are fighting to overthrow Omnius and humans have succeeded in liberating several planets from the machines. Where Jihad dealt more with the evils of the machines and the inevitable Frankenstein issues, Crusade deals instead with the evils of man. Herbert and Anderson focus on the plight of the Zensunni people, fighting for freedom against their hypocritical human slavers; Iblis Ginjo, Grand Patriarch of the Jihad, and Arrakis tribal leader Naib Dartha both succumb to the corruption of power and money; and the organ harvesting operations of the Tlalaxu are exposed. In the end humanity’s evils are overshadowed by the heroes’ acts of bravery and self-sacrifice. It is a beautifully crafted, emotional story arc. By the final page most of the main characters have been killed so one can assume that the concluding book of the series will take the story into still more unexplored territory in the Dune universe. Stay tuned.

 

Book Review: The Fix in Overtime

TheFixby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Fix: Fix in Overtime
Tony DiGerolamo
Padwolf Publishing, 196 pp.

This superhero story from comic book writer and humorist Tony DiGerolamo is a humorous page-turner that’s perfect for that weekend when your gaming group all bails on you. Private investigator Mark Mammon is… The Fix! Yep, after he drinks a weird green alien liquid he calls “The Stuff” this lovable slacker is transformed into a super hero that defies description. This story of alien invaders is fast-paced and amusing. DiGerolamo switches the point of view from chapter to chapter creating a unique (if sometimes confusing) framework for what might otherwise be an overly simplistic story. The book opens with a 16-page comic book that explains the character and closes with a 3-page comic epilogue (artwork by Brendon and Brian Fraim). If you like superhero novels you’ll find this one to be far superior to the generic novelizations that Marvel and DC have been flooding the SF bookshelves with lately. If you’re not a fan of the genre you probably haven’t even read this far into the review and I’m just wasting space by saying anything else.