ConGregate 4 / DeepSouthCon 55

ConGregate 4by Michael D. Pederson

 

ConGregate 4 / DeepSouthCon 55
July 14–16, 2017
High Point, NC
www.con-gregate.com

Only in it’s fourth year, it was great to see ConGregate stepping up to host a DeepSouthCon. And they did a great job with it!

This year’s Guests of Honor were Barbara Hambly (Writer GOH) and Alan Pollack (Artist GOH), as well as Michael A. Stackpole, Toni Weisskopf, and Timothy Zahn. I was quite pleased to get panel time with all of this year’s GOHs and can testify that they were all very friendly and approachable. With over 70 guests booked (for just a 450-person convention) they were able to offer a very full and varied slate of panels (seven tracks of programming). And I definitely like the way that ConGregate categorizes their panels; panels are either Audience Participation (AP) or Experts Talk (ET). About two-thirds of the twelve panels I was scheduled for were Audience Participation and they all had good turnouts and active participation. More conventions should think about stealing this idea. (Yes, we do all shamelessly steal ideas from each other.)

For a change, I actually got a chance to hear several of the bands that were performing. I was able to see White Plectrum, Gild the Mourn, and Valentine Wolfe. Gray Rinehart and Angela Pritchett also performed (sadly I missed both of their shows) which made for a nicely eclectic selection of music for the weekend—goth rock, traditional filk, and ukulele!

As DeepSouthCon 55, ConGregate was responsible for presenting the Rebel and Phoenix awards. The Rebel is an award for fans who have contributed the most to Southern fandom while the Phoenix is an award for professionals who have done the same. I was on hand to collect a much-deserved posthumous Rebel award for my friend Bob Ellis. Bob was a long-time con goer who spent the last fifteen years of his life becoming more and more involved with the running of Virginia and Carolina conventions. Nobody disliked Bob; I was more than honored to collect his award for him. Surprisingly, I also received a Rebel myself. Two Phoenix awards were given out as well; one posthumously to Aaron Alston and one to the very alive Simon Hawke. A Rubble award (for the individual who has done the most TO Southern fandom) was also awarded to the Chattanooga Choo-choo Hotel for closing down and leaving LibertyCon without a venue. At the DSC business meeting ConCarolinas won the bid for DeepSouthCon 57 in 2019.

All in all, a very fun intimate convention with plenty to do.

 

Book Review: Invasive

Invasiveby Michael D. Pederson

 

Invasive
by Chuck Wendig
Harper Voyager, 329 pp.

Genetically engineered ants are out for blood in Chuck Wendig’s latest thriller, Invasive.

When a body is found in an isolated cabin, stripped of its skin and surrounded by dead ants, FBI consultant Hannah Stander is called in to investigate. The investigation leads her to the Hawaiian laboratory of a billionaire inventor/philanthropist. And then all hell breaks loose.

Who in the lab is responsible for creating the killer ants? What’s their motivation? And can Hannah stop them before the ants are released on the world? It’s a plot that unfolds like a standard Crichton novel (only without the “science is evil” overtones) and reads very much like Jurassic Park with very tiny dinosaurs. The body count is pretty high and a lot of it’s rather gory, the more sensitive readers may find this somewhat disturbing, horror fans will love it though.

As exciting as killer ants are (I grew up in the seventies so I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about killer bugs run amok) the real attraction of the novel is Hannah. Raised by survivalist parents, with a backstory that’s left her scarred and fearful of life, Hannah has a background that makes her capable of dealing with harsh situations and a psychological depth that makes her interesting to get to know. I tore through this novel quickly and seriously hope that it’s just the first of many in a series of Hannah Stander novels.

 

A New Website!

 

FishInWater

 

So much to talk about! Yep, the website is FINALLY finished. It’s been a long, hard road but we’ve finally moved 14 years worth of content onto the newly designed website. It’s taken a bit longer than originally anticipated but I’m very happy with the results.

What’s new? All of the interviews, features, reviews, convention calendars, editorials, and artwork that originally appeared in the zine but was never on the website is now on the new and improved nthzine.com. We’ve also added new features like this very blog. As a convention runner and fanzine editor I frequently have things to comment on and now I have a spiffy new blog to do just that.

What’s coming up in the zine? In the next week we’ll start running new Featured Stories twice a week. And we’re already hard at work on the next issue of Nth Degree. Issue #26 will feature new stories from our good friends C.J. Henderson and Bud Webster who passed away while we were creating the website.

Also, reviews will be more timely now. I’ve already posted a few reviews to the website that will be included in the upcoming issue. Being able to preview them on the website will let us feature items more regularly than our quarterly update schedule previously allowed.

I’m also planning on rolling out a Patreon page soon. If that goes well we’re hoping to be able to start paying for fiction. Ideally I believe that we can turn Nth Degree into one of the top paying markets in the industry. We’ve published a lot of quality material from many talented creators over the years and I feel like we’ve just barely skimmed the surface of what we’re capable of producing.

Please be sure to let all of your friends and followers know about all of the exciting changes here at the new and improved Nth Degree!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Television Review: The Tick

TheTickby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Tick
Amazon Video

Amazon Video recently rolled out the pilot episode of it’s latest incarnation of Ben Edlund’s The Tick. As part of their pilot season, they debut three separate shows and let the audience response decide which one will be picked up. I’ve followed the Tick through all of his incarnations—comic, cartoon, and live action sitcom—and, so far, I think that this one could be the best version yet. I say “could” because I’ve only seen the one episode so far, and even though it was missing some key elements (particularly the fellow heroes that the Tick frequently interacts with, who they might be depends on which of the three sources they pull from) the basics were all there and the pilot left me craving a full season binge.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. No, Peter Serafinowicz isn’t a big, burly mancake that looks just like the cartoon version of the Tick. He’s no Patrick Warburton, but damned if he isn’t the Tick. Watching him casually stroll into danger you believe that he’s nigh invulnerable in a way that you never did with Warburton’s Tick. Serafinowicz’s performance channels the goofy confidence of Townsend Coleman’s animated delivery by way of an ultra-upbeat Adam West. It’s nothing short of perfection. Where Warburton brought a charmingly naive innocence to the role, Serafinowicz reminds us that the Tick is mentally deranged (but in a good way).

The pilot episode (bookended by opening and closing narration by the Tick) is primarily an origin story for Arthur. Yes, he gets a requisite tragic back story but it’s served up in a way that manages to be both poignant and mocking of over-the-top cliches at the same time. Since his origin event, Arthur has spent the past twenty years obsessing over the Terror, a criminal mastermind that everyone believes to be dead. Arthur believes otherwise and has a Wall to prove it. We get a brief flashback scene of the Terror in Arthur’s origin story that whets your appetite for more. As played by Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), the Terror is both comical and terrifying and it’s this tightrope balance of silly and serious that makes the episode work so well. Edlund clearly learned a thing or two about camp while writing for Gotham. In The Tick, he’s created a serious world, populated by real people that just happens to have some very weird characters in it. And it works.

Making Arthur the POV character rather than just a sidekick makes the show a lot more approachable to the average viewer than some of its past incarnations. Whenever Serafinowicz is on screen though, the screen just explodes. Exuding a contagious enthusiasm while bellowing catchphrases and pontificating about destiny, Serafinowicz makes you believe that he’s an animation come to life.

If you want more (and I sure do) you’ll need to go to Amazon Video and fill out their survey.

 

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matterby Michael D. Pederson

 

Dark Matter
by Blake Crouch
Crown Publishers, 340 pp.

As science fiction continues to become more and more mainstream, I predict that we’ll start to see more novels like Dark Matter. From the author of Wayward Pines (Blake Crouch), Dark Matter is one-hundred percent pure science fiction, but written in a very approachable, mainstream fashion. It’s also being marketed as a “Thriller” instead of as an “SF” novel. And I’m fine with that. Because it’s good. Really good.

Crouch’s main character, Jason Dessen, has a good life; he’s a physics professor in Chicago with a loving wife and a teenage son. Jason and his wife both gave up promising careers (he in experimental physics and she as an artist) to raise their son, and they’re happy with their choices and happy with each other but they still sometimes wonder “what if?”. When Jason is abducted one night and shanghaied to an alternate universe (like I said, pure science fiction) he has that question answered for him. Most of the first third of the book is Jason coming to terms with his abduction and the remaining two-thirds cover his attempts to return home to his family. Halfway through Jason’s quest through the multiverse, Crouch writes an important character out of the story—they just wander off and are never heard from again—and I wish we could have had a better resolution for her story line, rather than just using her to merely advance Jason’s story, but that’s my only grievance. All of the characters are well drawn and the plot can’t help but suck you in.

More important though, Crouch addresses the questions raised by the existence of a multiverse: What is home and how do you define “self” in a sea of possible alternate homes and alternate selves? Never settling for the option of “close enough” we see over and over again how our hero becomes his own worst enemy, frequently in frighteningly literal examples. It’s a fast-paced story that has a thrilling twist in the final act that works brilliantly and has a very cinematic feel to it. Highly recommended.

 

Michael D. Pederson

 

In no way do I consider myself to be an actual artist. I’m a professional graphic designer who just happens to be pretty good with Photoshop and Illustrator and sometimes I find myself in need of an illustration that a real artist doesn’t have the time to create.

 

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.

 

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.