The Editor’s Rant: Issue #9

by Michael D. Pederson

 

It might be time to change the name of this column. I had originally thought up the idea of giving myself a page to rant about little things that were irking me when I was in my late-twenties and publishing a local entertainment magazine. Now here I am in my mid-thirties and I don’t seem to be in much of a ranting kind of mood. This scares me a little. Am I no longer an “angry young man”? And if not, can I at least gracefully slide into the status of “crotchety old man”?

Now that I think about it though, I have much nicer toys now than I had then. It’s hard to be too angry when you have a really bitchin’ home entertainment system. We live next door to a major military installation, and I’m pretty sure that there have been a couple of times when I’ve had The Lord of the Rings cranked up so loud that the Marines have started mobilizing to prevent an Uruk-hai invasion of central Virginia. Not that an Uruk-hai invasion of central Virginia would be a bad thing. I can’t imagine it would make the traffic any worse. It might even improve things. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve been stuck behind a driver who could be out-smarted by your average orc.

Oooh! That’s it! I do have a rant in me.

If ninety percent of everything is crap—and I’m pretty sure that this applies to people too—then it follows that a rapidly increasing population should make it more difficult for one to sort out the worthwhile ten percent. I suppose that this is yet another advantage of Fandom. It’s been my experience that the average fan is more intelligent and creative than the average man-on-the-street (take a bow, you know I’m right). Of course, the average fan’s social skills are generally sub-par too (yes, sadly, you know I’m right again) but that’s not a problem because we’re such a forgiving lot as well.

In fact, I’m beginning to suspect that the mundanes—straights, norms, muggles, proles, plebes—might be a little jealous of fandom. That would explain the ongoing conspiracy to shut down conventions on the east coast. “Conspiracy?” you ask. Yes, it all seems innocent at first glance but when you start to put the pieces together you see a pattern…

Disclave ’97. A New York cop (not a registered member of the con) handcuffs the “M” half of his S&M couple to a sprinkler head. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happens when you bust the head off an emergency sprinkler. Or maybe it does. Result: no more Disclave.

JerseyDevilCon ’03. A girl’s high school basketball team is staying at the same hotel. After being told they can’t drink at the Nth Degree party they wander down to the lobby where they decide to lift the kilt of a man dressed as the Jersey Devil. Oddly, the man who had his personal space violated was the one taken to jail that night after the kids’ coach filed a complaint. No more JerseyDevilCon (that’s not the reason the con closed, but it didn’t help).

Philcon ’03. At 5:00 AM, the fire alarm goes off. We later discover that another group staying at the hotel (I think it was a wedding party, but don’t quote me on that) had accidentally started a trashcan fire. Fortunately Philcon is a well-established convention and can shrug off a little event like that. It was still irritating though.

We’re taught when we’re young that police officers, teachers, and married people are respectable and that we should be just like them. Thank goodness we aren’t.

 

Con Review: MACE 2003

MACE2003by Jeff Smith

 

MACE
November 14-16, 2003
High Point, North Carolina

In the past couple of years I have found MACE to be an amazingly well-run small gaming convention. It seemed a little bigger this year though with almost 400 attendees and more games than you can shake a stick at. The gaming rooms were kept open until 4:00 AM on both Friday and Saturday and had at least fifty people still playing at that hour. Once again, the corporate donations were incredible (nearly fifty sponsoring companies) and helped to raise over $1,700 for the con’s local charity, the Reading Connection. This year’s con is scheduled for November 12-14. Keep an eye on www.justusproductions.com for more info.

 

Con Review: Philcon 2003

Philcon2003by James R. Stratton

 

Philcon 2003
December 12-14, 2003
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philcon is Philadelphia’s large regional convention, with attendance between 1,000 and 2,000 fans each year (closer to 1,000 this year). The con offers a huge array of activities to satisfy any taste. This year the Writer Guest of Honor was Jack McDevitt, the Artist Guests of Honor were the Brothers Hildebrandt (although only one of the brothers was able to attend), and the Special Guests were Peter David and Harry Harrison. Of course, many, many other artists, authors, editors, costumers, and other genre luminaries were in attendance as well. A grossly incomplete list would include Dr. Paul Levinson, P.D. Cacek, Michael Swanwick, Diane Weinstein, Mark Rogers, Darrell Schweitzer, George Scithers, John Gregory Betancourt, Tony Ruggiero, Laura Anne Gilman, Scott Edelman, Gordon Van Gelder, Gardner Dozois, Jon Norman, and David Hartwell. Of course, the merry Nth Degree crew was there as well, with Issue #8 in hand, literally hot off the presses.

As with past Philcon’s, my wife and children joined me, along with a friend and her three children this year. For me, this was a con characterized by many highs and lows. We arrived at the convention hotel early Friday morning so that the five children and myself could volunteer for the Art Show set up. I highly recommend this; volunteers make conventions happen and for the few hours you put in setting up, helping out, or tearing things down afterwards, you get your membership for the next year waived. You also get to meet the wonderful people that work so hard all year to put on the show. While we were laboring away in the showroom, my darling wife and her friend went shopping. The Marriott Center City is one block from Lord and Taylor, the Reading Terminal Market, and a multistory shopping mall. Given the proximity of this con to Christmas, these stores were very handy.

The con officially opened for business at 7:00 PM, with such panels as “Breaking the Belljar: Peter Max Draws Harlan Ellison” on genre art and “Transformation of the Graphic Novel.” I especially liked the panel entitled “I Want to Write That When I Grow Up” followed by “Contract and Literary Law.” I also found time to visit the Art Show and the Dealer’s Room. This year’s art show was in excellent form, with dozens of artists attending.

Throughout the evening my children and their friends split their time between the gaming room and the anime room. My son even entered a Mage Knight tournament and took first place. He literally walked away with his arms loaded down with prizes from the game designers. Later, my wife and I stopped off at the lounge in the atrium of the hotel for martinis before we called it a night.

Saturday is the main day for the convention, with activities running from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night. I’ll just mention a smattering of the things we did. I started the day with a panel entitled, “Can This Writer Be Saved?” and a discussion of time travel by the noted author and physicist John Ashmead at 10:00 AM. At 11:00, I ran into my first serious conflict. Scheduled at the same time were: “The Editors’ Panel” with Gordon Van Gelder, David Hartwell, Andrew Wheeler, and Gardner Dozois; a panel on recommended jobs for writers hosted by Scott Edelman; a panel on the use of pen names; and a panel on writing from the point of view of a sociopath. For a writer like myself, each of these panels was a must-attend, so I felt terribly torn.

At noon I grabbed a quick bite and then presented myself at the Writer’s Workshop, the highlight of the convention for me. For novice writers, this is definitely something you should do. This year the convention had arranged for Darrell Schweitzer, P.D. Cacek, Roman Ranieri, Diane Weinstein, and George Scithers to review and critique any and all manuscripts submitted. Nowhere else have I ever been able to get such a concentrated dose of professional feedback on my writing, and as painful as it sometimes is I can’t pass it up. Sadly, this was the first low point in the convention for me. The workshop was not well advertised this year. Only my story and one other were received, compared to 6-10 manuscripts in previous years. Did you ever wonder how a scrap of meat thrown among a pack of hungry wolves felt? It was a good news/bad news kind of experience. The other story was an effort by a novice writer about a knight in shining armor rescuing a beautiful princess from an evil ogre. They tore the tale to bloody bits. Having already satisfied their bloodlust, they then spent close to an hour with me and I’m happy to say that they were largely positive. They had some specific recommendations, but overall liked it. I floated out of the room.

I spent the rest of the day watching anime, making a few purchases in the Dealer’s Room, and watching my son take third place in another Mage Knight tournament. For dinner, our friend took the kids to the Mall for pizza while Patty and I went across the street for an excellent Italian dinner. Back at the hotel, we got the kids settled in the gaming room and headed over to the main ballroom for the Masquerade. While CostumeCon and Worldcon are the premier events for costumers, Philcon has traditionally been an important regional competition. Sadly, this year was not up to past standards. I understand the convention committee ran into problems obtaining a venue for the competition and had a great deal of difficulty setting up. Although scheduled to start at 8:00, the doors did not open until 8:30, and the show did not start until almost 9:00 due to technical difficulties. The presentations were truly wonderful but we were disappointed to learn that there were only nine competitors this year, as compared to the usual twenty or so in previous years. Still, we did get one pleasant surprise. A young man on the convention staff contrived an elaborate ruse to get called on stage and then had his girlfriend brought up as well. On one knee he proposed and she accepted. The popular rumor afterwards was that their ceremony will be the highlight of next year’s Masquerade.
We exited before the awards were handed out and scattered. I headed to the video and anime rooms, the kids returned to the gaming room for yet another tournament, and my wife and her friend visited the lounge before calling it a night. The rest of us followed shortly after midnight. We had enjoyed the day and were well tired out. Unfortunately, we hit our third low point of the convention shortly after we turned in.

At 5:00 AM the fire alarm sounded. The security staff assured us that there was no emergency and they were checking out the alarm. Still all of us and many others dressed and headed down to the lobby to await the outcome. It turned out to be a false alarm and we were back in our rooms by 6:00. The rumors the next day were that someone had triggered the fire alarm intentionally, but I never did hear a final resolution. (Someone not involved with the con had accidentally started a trashcan fire—ed.) Still I am disturbed by the whole scenario, as this is how Disclave in Washington, D.C. ended.

Needless to say, we all slept in late the next day, and then headed to the Art Show to place our bids for the items we’d selected over the weekend, then moved over to the Dealer’s Room for some last-minute purchases. I caught a panel on suspended animation before we all returned to the Art Show to pick up the items we had won in the bidding. Normally, we would have stayed for a few more hours, but the weather reports were calling for rain/snow/sleet, so we (and many others) loaded up the car and headed home.

Overall, I enjoyed Philcon very much, as did my family. It is true that there were some glitches as noted, but the high points far outweighed the low points. We already have our memberships for next year and I would recommend you do the same. See you December 10-12, 2004! www.philcon.org

 

Con Review: Genericon XVII

genericonxviiby J. Andrew World

 

Genericon XVII
January 16-18, 2004
Troy, New York

I returned, quite welcomed, to Genericon again this year. Coincidentally, the con had record-breaking attendance this year. Once again they had an incredible array of web comic pros, such as Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance, Randy Milholland of Something Positive, and Ian Jones-Quartey of RPG World. There were other guests including Bard and Vicki Bloom, creators of the World Tree RPG; Tom Van Zandt and Aaron Wood of Captain Drew and his Crew of Two; and Fuzz Face of Looney Labs.

I arrived late on Friday because of traffic problems, but that was fine. I quickly ran into an old friend and we passed the time catching up and ended up playing in the Play-Doh Wars. I made a head that looked like an Easter Island statue crossed with the Martian Manhunter. The competition ended in a three-way tie, which included my friend Dan Marsh who made a Bun-Bun, complete with switchblade and Easter egg. By this time it was kind of late so I went to check into the hotel.

I woke up early the next day to get to the Art Show. After setting up I ran to the panel on Fandom that I had been invited to take part in. It turned out to be a pretty relaxed panel with Fuzz Face and me talking to the other people about Fandom for about twenty minutes. However as it came closer to noon the room filled up more and more in anticipation of the next panel. I began passing out ’zines to the people as they came in, I even threw some to people as I pranced around the room. By noon, the room had filled for Pete Abrams’ Sluggy Freelance panel which was a great deal of fun. After lunch I decided to spend some time in the Art Show chatting with the other artists. I even squeezed in some time in the Dealer’s Room talking to Tom Van Zandt and Aaron Wood.

That evening Genericon took the guests out for dinner. We went to a small pub in a rowhouse called “The Holmes and Watson,” which looked appropriately like it was straight out of Victorian England. The place was rather posh and had dark wood everywhere. They fit thirty of us upstairs. We had a blast, eating, joking, and creating a panel-by-panel comic. I added a picture of a ninja pulling a pair of lips from his eye. After dinner we all split up—a few went to set up the party, a few went to Lego Wars (just like Play-Doh Wars but with Legos), and I hung around the convention.

I eventually went to the party and had a blast. There weren’t many people, but we had fun turning Munchkin into a drinking game. The game lasted until 4:00 AM.

The next morning I crawled out of bed and grumbled my way to the con complete with hangover and obnoxious cat girls shrilling in decibels that should not be hit. I caught the “Business of Web Comics” panel and the “Web Comics Jam.” After the Jam I got the weather report—snow—and decided not to stick it out until the end like I was hoping. I missed a good chance to make some extra cash (they let guests pimp their goods at the end of the con) but I did avoid a massive snow storm.

Next year’s Genericon will be held January 21-23, 2005. There are no details online yet but stay tuned.

 

Con Review: Arisia ’04

Arisia04by Rob Balder

 

Arisia ‘04
January 17-19, 2004
Boston, Massachusetts 

Going to Bean Town in January is a certain way to freeze your beans. Boston gave its chilliest reception to the throngs of Fen arriving at the Boston Park Plaza, but the atmosphere inside was friendly, cozy and warm.

Arisia is a well-planned and well-executed literary SF/Fantasy con with a broad spectrum of programming for gaming, art, music, comics, and free-form fun. For sheer variety of programming choices, in fact, this is one of the best middle-sized cons on the East Coast.

The chosen theme for programs this year was “The Future of Freedom,” which meant the inclusion of some unusual panels and panelists. Electronic security experts and open-source programming gurus were nearly as common as writers and artists. Panel topics such as “Does Information Really Want to be Free” produced many spirited debates which continued even long after the panels were finished. But the slate was not a slave to the theme, and there was much to enjoy, whatever your fannish obsession. Other panels included everything from Monty Python to Astonomy to LiveJournal. Tim Powers, the writer GOH, really gave of himself and graciously participated in a great many panels and events.

One particularly notable track was all of the music-related programs. King of Filk Tom Smith was the filk GOH, and in addition to performing concerts he spent a good deal of time in the filk circles. There was also a chorale workshop, giving particularly ambitious singers the chance to filk in four-part harmony. But the one music program which got the biggest response was the demonstration of a theramin. The crowd packed the conference room and spilled out into the hallway.

The most fascinating GOH had to be the kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson. A special reception for the display of his bizarre, hypnotic inventions was held on Friday night. It is impossible to describe these works and do them any kind of justice, but if you ever get a chance to see his work, seek him out. The little mechanical gems he makes will blow your skull off.

Our only major beef with Arisia was its alcohol policy and the threatened enforcement thereof. We know that this had a lot to do with codes in the City of Boston, but still. For a con themed around freedom, threatening to infiltrate our party with plainclothes officers (in order to ensure that adults of legal age were not choosing to imbibe alcoholic beverages) seemed a little Orwellian.

But other than that, the management of Arisia was outstanding. Dealers’ Row was hopping, and many merchants reported excellent business. The Green Room was well stocked and comfortable. The printed programming materials were beautiful and informative. And the staff was as friendly and helpful as you could ever ask for.

We loved Arisia! Despite the long drive and the dangerous weather, we are looking forward to the next one which is scheduled for January 14-16, 2005 with Barbara Hambly as the Guest of Honor (www.arisia.org).

 

Con Review: MarsCon 2004

Marscon2004by Michael D. Pederson

 

MarsCon 2004
January 23-25, 2004
Williamsburg, Virginia

Once again, all of the regulars descended upon Williamsburg for another fun and relaxing weekend of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and LARPing. I love the absolute consistency of MarsCon. I’ve been attending this con for eleven years now (since their second or third year). In fact, they were the first convention to make me a programming guest (way back when) so I have a soft spot in my heart for them.

MarsCon6

The ultra-cool interactive miniatures strategy game, Quickfire 2, being played at MarsCon.

The con committee took it easy on me this year—only scheduling me for a single panel—so I had lots of time for catching up with old friends. My light schedule for panels was mainly because programming at MarsCon is heading more and more into a heavy workshop-oriented schedule, which is nice as it makes for a more interactive convention experience. This year’s workshops included Art, Miniatures Painting, Terrain Building for Gamers, Armor Making, Writing, and SF Poetry. I’m told that next year there will be even more.

And, of course, all the usual guests were there: Bud Webster, Daniel Trout, John and Jason Waltrip, Women of Whimsey, Luna-C, Robin Welch, and others. Overall attendance was down (fandom in a Navy town takes a big hit when the fleet is out) but I still saw several new faces at the con and talked to a few people who were enjoying their first MarsCon.

Next year’s con will be held January 21-23, 2005. You can visit www.marscon.net for more details.

 

Book Review: The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy

GuidetoWritingFantasyby Rob Balder

 

The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy
edited by Darin Park and Tom Dullemond
Dragon Moon Press, 360 pp.

The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy is a remarkably ambitious title. Imagine a warehouse filled with all of the Fantasy literature ever written… stacks of books, rising to the ceiling, representing everyone from Piers Anthony to Roger Zelazny. In struts a 360-page trade paperback, which glances around at the looming towers of works.

“Oh yeah,” says the cocky little book, “I’ve got it covered.”

Fortunately, we’re all drilled from grade school not to judge a book by its cover. On the inside, the Complete Guide is a much more homey and down-to-Middle-Earth read.

The book is a carefully assembled collection of essays by writers, fans, and subject-matter experts (often all three rolled into the same person). There are chapters on the basic staples of Fantasy (magic, arms & armor, combat), plus some fun oddities and surprises (martial arts, medieval food, humor). In all, fifteen people contributed their expertise. The committee-animal nature of the book is both a strength and a weakness, as might be expected. The quality of the information provided is uneven from section to section. Some of the contributors laid out their knowledge in great depth of detail, creating a useful reference which a writer might use for, say, choosing an appropriate weapon to arm a horde of goblins. Others only gave the reader a batch of glossy platitudes, the sort of opinion-tinged generalities you hear in the last ten minutes of a panel discussion.

Overall, though, the diversity of writers is much more of a plus than a minus. Single-author guides to writing can often suffer from tunnel vision. This book is less of a tunnel and more of a magic forest. There are sights to be seen and treasures to be uncovered. The chapter on medieval food, for instance, is a wealth of detail and insight into an aspect of world creation which a writer could easily overlook. For that matter, the chapter on world creation does a great deal to encourage the aspiring writer to exercise creative muscle in place of cliché. And there’s even a chapter on clichés themselves, giving some useful warning flags and Do Not Enter signs for the landscape of Fantasy writing.

My main complaint as an aspiring Fantasy writer reading this book is the lack of real industry insight. There was a lot of care to discuss anachronisms and other potentially-correctable cosmetic mistakes a writer might make. But it would have been nice to have a section to talk about the limits of the genre, the “unwritten rules” of published Fantasy, the sorts of themes and choices an author could make which are most likely to cause a publisher to reject the work. There is a section on markets, but it does almost nothing to guide a writer to write for publication, other than advising you to study the publisher’s submission guidelines. But this is a nitpick. The book is filled with insights, examples, anecdotes and advice, which any Fantasy writer can use to good benefit. Taken as a whole, The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy is both an informative resource and a very entertaining read. It belongs on the shelf of anyone who is setting out to write in this challenging and popular genre.

 

Book Review: Greetings From Lake Wu

GreetingsFromLakeWuby Michael D. Pederson

 

Greetings From Lake Wu
Jay Lake and Frank Wu
Wheatland Press, 246 pp.

This combined effort from the talents of Jay Lake and Frank Wu, in addition to having one of the most clever titles I’ve seen lately, affected me on many levels. For starters, I’ve been cursing myself for not being able to read all of the genre magazines on the market. For if I could, I would have known about Jay Lake sooner. Wow. I can’t remember the last time that I have read such a consistently great collection of short stories from a single author. In a time when short fiction gets little respect (and less money), it’s refreshing to see someone that has so clearly mastered the form. The stories here cover the full range of science fiction, fantasy, horror, fairy tale, satire, and a few surprises. The Wu in Lake Wu is, of course, Hugo-nominated fan artist Frank Wu. Having met and been on panels with Frank at conventions, I know what an energetic, jubilant person he is. If I hadn’t met him though, I could tell as much from his illustrations—many of them seem like they are constrained by the dimensions of the page, ready to burst from the page, and all of them evoke an emotional response. It’s just a shame that the book is in black and white because, as you can tell from the cover, Wu’s art works even better in color. If you’re a fan of short fiction then your library is incomplete without this one.

 

Book Review: Ilium

Iliumby Michael D. Pederson

 

Ilium
Dan Simmons
Eos, 576 pp.

I loved it! Before I had even finished reading the book, I found myself recommending it to anyone who would listen to me. As in Hyperion, Simmons once again blends science fiction with classic literature in brilliant new ways that will shock and amaze you. Ilium incorporates elements from Homer’s epics, Shakespeare’s Tempest, and the works of Marcel Proust. It’s an unusual combination but damned if it doesn’t work. Only Dan Simmons could successfully pull off a scene with robots on Europa analyzing Shakespeare’s sonnets and not make it seem ridiculous. The story here is too complex to sum up in a blurb (I tried, the best I can come up with is “a sci-fi version of the Trojan War,” and that barely scratches the surface). Space-faring robots, god-like Post-Humans, pampered eloi-styled humans, Greek warriors, Shakespearean monsters, Quantum Teleportation, resurrected scholars, Little Green Men from Mars, intrigue, betrayal, and the face that launched a thousand ships. Simmons redefines the term “Epic”—again. And as incredible as Ilium is, it’s only the build-up for the final war between men and gods that will take place in the sequel, Olympos.

 

Book Review: Julia and the Dream Maker

JuliaandtheDreamMakerby Michael D. Pederson

 

Julia and the Dream Maker
P.J. Fischer
Traitor Dachshund Books, 290 pp.

Despite all warnings to the contrary, I highly recommend judging this book by its cover. This small-press publication looks like a big-press offering and reads like one too—it’s a ripping good yarn. Set in the near future, the story starts with our hero, Steven, on trial for the violation of genetic engineering laws. A couple of courtroom chapters serve to build the suspense before flashing back to the main story. In an attempt to raise some cash, Steven, his girlfriend Eli, and their friend Bennie create an AI toy rabbit to sell to kids. However, Steven combines the rabbit project with some cutting-edge bio-engineering ideas that he is currently writing a thesis on. Not quite hard-science and not quite soft-science, this squishy-science is strong enough to lay the foundation of the story upon. Although some of the antagonists are thinly drawn, the main characters are real enough that you laugh at their antics and worry about their predicaments. The book takes a strange turn at the end when Steven’s AI genetic-modeling program brings Eli into a simulation that Steven has allowed to evolve on his computer. This is where the titular Julia comes in. Unfortunately, the only character that can properly explain how and why this happened (Steven) is in jail, so any explanations will have to wait until book two (due out later this year). Apart from the somewhat baffling ending, I really enjoyed this and think that it would be an especially good starter-novel for someone that has never read SF before.