The Editor’s Rant: Issue #24

by Michael D. Pederson


Recent events have turned me introspective. What function do I serve in fandom? Have I been successful?

After years of being told that I should make it to a CorFlu (the annual convention for science fiction fanzines), I was finally able to attend one. Not only was it in my home town, but it was in the same hotel that I host RavenCon at every year! How could I not attend?

The first night of the convention Warren Buff suggested that I join him and Curt Phillips as a panelist on the “Southern Fandom Classic” panel. Even though we were in Virginia, there were very few southern fans in attendance. I was happy to oblige and it turned out to be a fun and informative panel—we covered the history of southern fandom, it’s current state, and speculated about its future.

I spoke (rather eloquently, if I do say so myself) about how RavenCon has (simply because of it’s geographical location) served as a bridge between northern and southern fandoms—drawing fans equally from both the northeast and the southeast, something that would have been almost unheard of as recently as fifteen years ago. Later in the panel I mentioned that I feel obligated to act as a similar type of bridge between the generations of fandom.

We’re currently in the middle of the biggest growth spurt that fandom has ever experienced and most of that growth is coming from teens and young adults. Some old-school fans have lamented that as nice as it is to see this kind of growth, they’re afraid that it’s no longer “their fandom”. When we first started RavenCon, one of our main goals was to attract a younger crowd while still running a traditional SF convention. Our attendance passed 1100 this year so I think we’ve been successful at that.

The RavenCon staff puts on a convention that draws younger and younger crowds every year and hasn’t lost any of the appeal to the 40-and-up crowd. I’m proud to say that we’re one of the few conventions that Filthy Pierre attends every year; Filthy’s Con Calendar at the back of each issue of Asimov’s is what first drew fandom to my attention over thirty years ago.

Have I been as successful with Nth Degree? The jury’s still out on that but I expect that we’ll never be more than a footnote in the history of fanzines and SF literature. I just hope that people enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy putting it together. So, here it is…


Con Review: Arisia 2014

arisiaby KT Pinto


Arisia 2014
January 17–20, 2014
Boston, Massachusetts

I’m going to start with the obvious: Arisia’s hotel is mad expensive. Parking alone was $90 a night! Granted, the hotel is in Boston, but it’s not within walking distance of anything, with a garage that couldn’t hold all the guests’ cars. The opulence of the lobby is amazing, but the set-up of the hotel makes things difficult to get to because of the distance and various levels.

Beyond the cost, Arisia was pretty good. From before the con even started, Arisia was efficient, well managed, and participant friendly. Pre-programming as usual was a dream; Arisia used Zambia, which is a perfect program to organize your schedule and choose panels from their huge selection. This year’s Guests of Honor were Tanya Huff (Author) and Lubov (Artist).

Registration was amazing. There were almost a dozen people behind the registration table, plus a separate group that handled the badges, and their efficiency made a long line move like a breeze. Security had a presence at the convention, but wasn’t a hindrance to the attendees. The convention even arranged for food trucks to be there (although they weren’t prepared for the high demand) to compensate for the fact that the hotel wasn’t near anything.

But, there was something missing. It took me a little while to figure out that it was the same thing that had been occurring at smaller cons: harassment-phobia. It seemed that everything was low-key and people were walking on eggshells, even to the point of worrying about using the wrong pronoun when speaking to someone. It is a concern to me that Arisia—which always seemed to maintain a perfect balance of naughty and nice—turned suspiciously low key.

Will I go back? I’m not really sure. This time around, Arisia didn’t leave me wanting more and, with the high expense and distance, I may have to put this one on the back burner for a while…


Con Review: MystiCon 2014

mysticonby KT Pinto


MystiCon 2014
February 21–23, 2014
Roanoke, Virginia

When I heard who the GoH was this year (first Marina Sirtis, then John DeLancie, both from Star Trek: The Next Generation), I was a little worried about MystiCon. Could a medium-sized convention take on the responsibilities that go along with a crowd-drawing star?

I had no reason for concern. MystiCon had amazing security, crowd control (even with the con being at capacity), and time management. They also made sure not to forget all their other guests, which is something that happens when a con is not used to a mainstream media guest. Their Author GoH, Todd McCaffrey, was a good draw as well, and was extremely outgoing and personable.

Pre-programming was a simple process and there was a huge variety of choices. The layout of the hotel is simple and the rooms are easy to find. One concern of mine was that the readings seemed like they were being held on a separate floor from the rest of the programming, but MystiCon had it on the floor with the con suite, and had planned other programming around it, so it wasn’t in no-man’s land, and it was possible to pull in passers-by.

The one problem I did notice with the convention was something I’m starting to see at other conventions as well: poor moderation on panels. Some moderators I experienced were amazing—like on the Delphic Oracle and the ghost panels—but some moderators were so ineffective, other panelists took over the reins. I’m not sure if it was because of inexperience or just personality issues (like for example, I know I am not moderator material), but no matter what the reason, a bad moderator makes the experience not as much fun for the panel or the audience.

All in all, MystiCon was great! Some concern was mentioned about how they will survive without a mega-media guest, but I have gone to this convention in the past, and I don’t think they will have any problems in 2015.


Con Review: Lunacon 2014

 Lunacon2014by KT Pinto


Lunacon 2014
March 14–16, 2014
Rye Brook, New York

I usually don’t like going to Lunacon because of the layout of the hotel. Jokingly called the Escher hotel because of the confusing and inconvenient design, the convention has not seemed to create a rhythm to its programming that is conducive to a fun experience for the attendees.

This year was no exception, and even worse. The hotel was doing construction on two floors in the convention wing, so most people’s rooms were far away from the activities. To start off the weekend of issues, the convention had problems with registration, so they just let people into convention areas, which made me seriously question their security set up.

The programming staff tried their best to have new, exciting events throughout the weekend, but the vibe of the con was tired annoyance as they tried to get around the maze of a hotel (and the two inconvenient fire alarms didn’t help), and many programming events were under attended. It wasn’t all bad though, there were some upsides: the parties were well attended, the programming head was readily available and tried her best to make sure things ran well, and the dealer’s room had a great selection of vendors.

One really big bummer: no chocolate fountain at the meet and greet this year.


Con Review: RavenCon 9

RavenCon2014by KT Pinto


RavenCon 9
April 25–27, 2014
Richmond, Virginia

Just in case the staff at RavenCon hadn’t proven in the past that they go above and beyond to make a memorable and fun con for their attendees and participants, fate threw a couple of hurdles in their way to prove themselves this year.

RavenCon did not disappoint.

The weekend started with a three-fold situation: the fire alarm went off at the same time as it was rumored that lightning struck the hotel. As the hotel staff worked with the con staff to get attendees out of the hotel and (unfortunately) into a torrential downpour, they were given word that there was a tornado warning for right where the hotel was located. People could not stay outside.

In this type of insane situation, most people would panic and add to the problems. The RavenCon staff was calm, organized, informative and all accessible. The fire alarm was false, and the con staff helped get the attendees out of the weather (and the glass-ceilinged lobby) and all into interior rooms, where security (obviously present and organized) kept people from leaving until they were given the “all clear”.

If nothing else, this situation alone would show the professional nature of the staff. But they weren’t done. On top of this occurrence, one of a more personal nature happened during the weekend that needed delicate handling on the part of the staff. They fixed the situation for all involved with what seemed like no embarrassment to or gossip from any attendees.

This year’s guests of honor were Elizabeth Bear (author) and Ed Beard (artist).

A few downsides:

The con suite. I think it was a hotel decision and not the con’s, but the con suite used to be in the middle of the programming floor, where it was easy to grab a snack on the way to the next panel. But this year it was on the top floor of the hotel; rather inconvenient with the slow elevators. The food was good though…

The signing table was in the middle of the lobby. Possibly a logistics problem with no solution except this, but authors sometimes get better sales from passers-by. No one passed accidentally by the table in the lobby in its out of the way location.

Programming. Planning and scheduling of programming seemed a little unorganized. There were three or four adult/late-night (themed, not time-scheduled) panels but they were all single-presenter panels so I had no opportunity to sign up for adult programming.

Moderators. RavenCon, like other conventions, was also the victim of bad moderators all weekend. Not being able to move conversation along when there was a lull, not giving others on the panel a chance to talk… even one where they let a member of the audience basically take over the panel first from her seat, and then by joining the panel, much to the insult of the other panelists. I’m not sure what could be done about this issue, but it seems to be a growing problem on the convention circuit.

These were minor problems in the grand scheme of the weekend. As usual, RavenCon was a great convention and a fun weekend, tornado warning and all!


Con Review: Corflu 31

Corflu31by Michael D. Pederson


Corflu 31
May 2–4, 2014
Richmond, Virginia

After many years of people suggesting that I attend a Corflu, it landed in my hometown. So I went.

For those not in the know, Corflu is an annual science fiction fanzine convention (Corflu is slang for correction fluid, a useful item when mimeographing fanzines). I had several expectations going into the convention—some were met, some weren’t. I knew that eventually someone would tell me that Nth Degree isn’t a real fanzine, that took less than an hour before it happened. I was warmly welcomed at the convention though.

I also expected to be trading fanzines with everyone there. Apart from my own, I didn’t see a single zine all weekend. Why? Because the fifty or so people that were there all knew each other, they already had each other’s fanzines. Which—although it made for a very friendly and relaxing weekend—made me a little sad. I love fanzines and I want our fannish culture to continue long after I stop publishing and if the members of Corflu didn’t expect to see anyone new attending the convention how is this going to happen?

Aside from some mild disappointment on my part, the convention was a fun weekend. I attended about half of the panels and was able to contribute to a couple of them. Having just finished running RavenCon three days before Corflu I kept myself to a fairly relaxed schedule for most of the weekend. Most importantly, I got to see some old friends and made a few new ones, and can you really ask for a better weekend than that?


Con Review: Balticon 48

Balticon48by Rob Balder


Balticon 48
May 23–26, 2014
Hunt Valley, Maryland

Balticon has long been a mainstay convention of East Coast fandom. As fandom has changed, some traditional literary SF cons such as this one have had to adjust—diversifying and expanding their programming. In recent years, Balticon may have seen a disappointing attendance figure or two, and heard some grumbling from attendees. But this year felt like a clear uptick.

The heart and soul of Balticon is still the printed word, but the guests and programming again included extensive media and new media tracks, a big art show, film, music, and costuming tracks. Panel topics in all tracks were fresh, interesting, and contemporary. There were events for all ages, such as the Lego challenge in the con suite, so attendance was not only strong, but included lots of families and the full spectrum of ages.

And hey, our con bags included a massive softcover copy of The Way of Kings, by Author Guest of Honor Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson was a big draw, and this was a really nice bonus.

So we had as much of a blast at Balticon 48 as ever, and we can’t wait for 49. Long live Balticon!


Con Review: A-Kon 25

a-kon25by Rob Balder


A-Kon 25
June 6–8, 2014
Dallas, Texas

Big, loud, hot, and amazing. Dallas’ huge Hilton Anatole plays host to one of the ten largest anime cons on the continent, and the match-up between convention and venue is about perfect. This event ranks up there with DragonCon for the overwhelming spectacle of cosplay, but unlike DC you can actually get an elevator.

That’s partly because of the hotel’s sprawling design, in which almost everywhere you want to go is on the ground floor or accessible by a flight or two of stairs. But the combined great management of the con staff and hotel staff have a lot to do with it as well. A-Kon truly has their act together in terms of scheduling, instructions, volunteers and management, and they really should be commended because it’s hard to handle a crowd that size at all, let alone as well as this.

Our only complaint this year was that the hotel kept out the food trucks until after 9 pm, and tried to cash in on the crowds with a concession monopoly of overpriced hot dogs and crappy barbecue (by Texas standards). When the food trucks finally rolled in, they were so swarmed it took an hour’s wait to get anything at all. Not cool, Hilton Anatole. 😛

The programming has something for everyone, and the size of this con attracts some top talent in voice acting, game design, art, and writing. They also had two full J-pop bands (Ra:IN and GEEKS) performing. You could go there and never leave the massive gaming rooms. The dealers, artists, and exhibitors rooms alone would be worth making the trip. But A-Kon is just fun all around. If you can brave Texas in June and 25,000 screaming otaku, this con is definitely worth the trip.


Book Review: The Emperor’s Blades

emperorsbladesby Michael D. Pederson


The Emperor’s Blades
by Brian Staveley
Tor, 478 pp.

Last issue I praised a new fantasy novel (American Craftsmen) for it’s originality in both concept and execution. Today I review a new fantasy novel that has absolutely nothing innovative about it, yet I still enjoyed the heck out of it and for regular readers of this column you know how I usually feel about fantasy. The Emperor’s Blades, by newcomer Brian Staveley, is a traditional epic fantasy and the beginning of what promises to be a lengthy saga.

The story follows the three offspring (two sons and a daughter) of a slain emperor. Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent the past eight years in a distant mountain range studying under an ancient sect of monks. Also for the past eight years, Valyn has been training with the empire’s most elite soldiers, the Kettral. Adare, the daughter, has stayed in the capital city and, upon her father’s assassination, is elevated to the role of Finance Minister. Although we get hundreds of pages of training and character development for Kaden and Valyn, there are only a few chapters given to Adare—mostly dealing with the death of her father and the execution of his assassin. She does, however, have one of my favorite scenes in the novel and ends the story in possession of a key piece of information so I’m hoping that she’ll play a greater role in the sequel. There’s always a need for more good, strong female characters in science fiction and fantasy and I hope that Staveley seizes the opportunity to give us one.

There is (of course) a grand battle at the climax of the story that brings both brothers together and hints at an ancient threat that should serve as the main plot thread for future volumes, however the primary story arc is one of personal growth. We follow both sons through their training and watch as they have to master everything they’ve been learning in order to survive the inevitable conflict at the story’s climax. And that is the aspect of the story that will draw you in: watching the boys learn from their mistakes, accept their losses, and grow into men that can rule an empire. The second book in the series, The Providence of Fire, is due out in January, 2015.


Comic Review: Fables, vol. 1

fablesLIEby KT Pinto


Fables, Vol. 1: Legends in Exile
by Bill Willingham
Vertigo, 144 pp.

I am a huge fan of fairy tales, myths, and legends. So, when I heard through the grapevine about Vertigo’s Fables—I know, I’m a little behind, since this is the 10th anniversary of the graphic novel—I had to get a copy.

I wasn’t disappointed. At first I thought this would be just a fairy-tale-characters-meet-modern-day-NYC-type story, and that could go really well, or really poorly. But this story went way beyond the basics. There was murder, political intrigue, war, romance, secrets, comedy, and characters from all different fable worlds (with a legitimate reason why they are all there).

The characters who are able to blend in with the “mundys” live in a building called the Woodland, a building symbolizing where they originally came from, with Tardis-like rooms and dead-end hallways and a caste system like the kingdoms in which they once lived.

But then there are the twists; modern-day spins on princes, real boys, animals, and beasts. The dynamics of the characters who may have barely acknowledged each other in the fairy lands now thrown together by tragedy and need are a fascinating way to look at human interaction… so to speak.

From the author’s forward: “You are about to meet some old friends that you haven’t seen in a while. You already know their first stories—their adventurous tales from long ago. Now you get to find out what they’ve been up to lately. Some you can trust. Others you should never turn your back on. But isn’t that always the way of things?”

A great read! I can’t wait to get the next one!