The Editor’s Rant: Issue #6

by Michael D. Pederson


Amazingly, some would even say miraculously, we are now well into our second year of publishing. “You’re giving it away?! What are you, crazy?” We just might be, but we’re having a great time. From the first appearance of our four-page promotional flyer to the release of Issue #5 at this year’s I-Con, we managed to get the ’zine distributed at an astounding forty-three conventions—with staff members putting in personal appearances at twenty-eight of those cons. Yes, it was hectic. Yes, it was tiring. It was also a lot of fun.

It’s been an educational experience as well. We have attended straight-up science fiction conventions, media-oriented SF cons, anime cons, gaming cons, relaxa-cons, party cons, comic cons, and one Worldcon. Some of these cons we attended as programming guests, others we merely attended as registered con-goers. We have thrown parties, hobnobbed with celebrities, schmoozed with dealers, and helped with staff functions. Most importantly, we’ve been able to spend plenty of time with other attendees—the people that make it possible for this crazy world of fandom to exist.

What have we learned? Mostly, that organizing a convention is an unbelievably difficult task that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Con chairs and their support staff are a very under-appreciated group. Take a minute at your next con to pass on a word or two of appreciation to the staff. If you’re really appreciative, volunteer to help out; cons are always looking for people to help with the registration table, to work security, or to hand out sodas in the con suite.

Possibly the most critical part in running a successful convention is the hotel. I’ve seen too many conventions crumble because of difficulties with the hotel. The biggest difficulty, of course, being other bookings. Face it, most mundanes don’t understand our wacky little conventions. Larger conventions can get around this by reserving sizable chunks of hotel real estate (if not the entire hotel), but many smaller cons are often forced to share their space with little Suzie’s wedding party or a high school field trip to the big city. This is why you paradoxically tend to see a greater security presence at smaller cons than at larger ones. What can we as con-goers do to help with this? Face it, we’re at a convention to have a good time—telling people to be on their “best behavior” is pointless at best. Just remember not to cross the line from loud and silly to downright irresponsible. And always wear your con badge.

Some quick suggestions to convention organizers: My previous point works in reverse—loud and silly is not the same as irresponsible, allow some leeway for fun. A well-stocked con suite is always a mark in the plus column for any convention. Don’t end your programming at midnight, if there’s something to do people will stay interested and keep out of trouble. Double-check your schedule for conflicts—don’t put the writing seminar opposite the Writer GOH’s keynote speech. Encourage room parties prior to the convention (on your website and in your flyers)—fans enjoy them and with advance notice they can be grouped in an area of the hotel where they won’t disturb other guests. If you want more suggestions, drop by my next room party and I’ll be happy to share them with you.


Con Review: Genericon XVI

GenericonXVIby J. Andrew World


Genericon XVI
January 24-26, 2003
Troy, New York

Genericon is a small gaming/anime convention that clearly has the potential to be a bigger one. But, since it’s a school-run event, they are limited by what the school gives them to work with. I was a guest of the art show, and did have a good time.

I arrived Friday night and the art show wasn’t ready yet, which worked out well seeing as how I didn’t have the cloths I needed to make my display look right. So, I puttered around and passed out copies of Nth Degree. One of my illustrations was in the program book as well as my bio (there were only five guest bios in the book) so people almost treated me like a celebrity. To kill time, I checked out the dealer’s room and then went for a drink.

I woke up at 9:30 the next morning, showered, and went to set up for the art show. After I set up my two tables I went for breakfast. I got back and met two other artists from the Artist’s Alley. Both were amateurs and one was still in school, but a talented anime-style artist. We traded stories and got to know each other. I showed off my art to other attendees and discussed my technique. After lunch, I went to speak on the one panel I was invited to sit in on: Web Comics. Strangely enough, I have never done a web comic. I went mainly because (as I mentioned) there were only five guests at the con. The panel consisted of six web comics creators and me. We went through the introductions and showed our comics. I seemed to score the biggest laughs when I showed the Sluggy Freelance where Pete Abrams put my clothes on Torg ( I ended up taking on the job of panel moderator; I asked the artists questions when the audience wouldn’t. It worked out nicely. At one point I asked how the panelists promoted themselves and one person answered, “Name dropping,” to which I replied, “That’s how I got on this panel.” Afterwards I tooled around the con and went to the dance. Which sucked. Mainly because the DJ thought that the only danceable music was anime music, which (in my opinion) is totally undanceable. I tried to get him to play something decent (this seems to be a common complaint at convention dances – ed.), without any luck. I left to go to bed at 4:00 AM.

The next day my voice was wrecked, I was exhausted and could barely get out of bed. I got to the con around 11:30 and once again hung around the art show. It closed at 3:00. I hung out with some new friends and played “Star Munchkin” until the closing ceremonies. I said my good byes and went home.


Con Review: Stellarcon 27

StellarCon27by Catherine E. Twohill


Stellarcon 27
March 14-16, 2003
High Point, North Carolina

High Point, NC proved to be a high point in Nth Degree’s 2003 Con Tour. While the year is barely half over, Stellarcon 27 gained such a laudable status by attracting hundreds of attendees, a garrison of Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, an Ewok, an over seven-foot tall Nazgul costume donned by a five-foot tall woman, and a kick-butt Nth Degree room party on Saturday night. (Special thanks to our neighbors across the hall for opening up their swanky suite to our guests. Those guys rocked!)

Organized by the Science Fiction Fantasy Federation (SF3), a UNC Greensboro Student Government Organization, Stellarcon 27 was held the weekend of March 14-16 at the Radisson Hotel in the heart of Furniture Country, USA. You couldn’t toss a droid without hitting a furniture store or a gamer. Lots of card, board, and battle gaming took up quite a bit of the available convention space. With four programming tracks and some incredible guests—including Jennifer Roberson, Catherine Asaro, Bill Fawcett, Eric Flint, William Fortschen, Jody Lynn Nye, John Ringo, and Daniel Trout—there was always something fun going on.

Stellarcon 28 will return to High Point, the weekend of March 19-21, 2004. The guest list already includes Aaron Allston, Timothy Zahn, and James Roberts. We can’t wait!


Con Review: I-Con 22

I-CON22by Michael D. Pederson


I-Con 22
March 28-30, 2003
Stony Brook, New York

What is there left to say about I-Con that we didn’t say last year? When over 6,000 guests descend on the SUNY campus at Stony Brook you know it’s going to be a heck of a party. Too many guests to mention by name, they covered a full spectrum of interests: media stars, gamers, filkers, artists, authors, scientists, and publishers were all represented by over one hundred different guests and programming participants. At any given time there were nearly forty different programming tracks running. Given the size of the convention, it was inevitable that there would be a few grumbles from the crowd… The anime room was unable to get several of the films they had scheduled, the dealer’s room (though very large and well-attended) closed too early on Saturday night, and some of the programming was mis-scheduled. And there will always be people complaining about the official hotel being twenty minutes from the convention. Even with these minor snafus, I-Con still holds its own as one of the top conventions on the east coast.


Game Review: Coruscant and the Core Worlds & Ultimate Alien Anthology

CoruscantandtheCoreWorldsby Ron McClung


Coruscant and The Core Worlds
(Star Wars Role Playing Game d20)
Wizards of the Coast

When I heard that Wizards of the Coast was doing a guide to Coruscant and the Core Worlds, I did not get overly excited. It did not excite me because I was running a game in a different region of space and I do not usually use “planetary guides” too much in my campaigns unless I design a campaign or adventure around the region they describe. However, because I wanted to support the line and WotC has surprised me in the past, I bought it. I am glad I did.

One of the best parts of the books is right in the first few pages—a very comprehensive table of contents. It is helpful to the way I gamemaster because I am usually “winging it,” so anything I can grab and look up quickly is good. The table of contents not only lists each of the 29 worlds described in the book, but also divides out the “extras” by category: New GM Characters, New Species, New Feats, New Equipment & Vehicles, New Starships, New Prestige Classes, New Creatures, and New Droids.

This book also has a lot of “extras.” Not only does it contain descriptions, histories, and specific locations for each world, but it also has feats, species, and other additions. Of all these things, the extras are mostly GM Characters. However, along with the GM characters, it only has one prestige class (the Seyugi Dervish), six feats, and the species are listed with short descriptions. As for the rest, there are eight species, a long list of specialized equipment, five starships (including the TIE/Ad Defender Prototype), a host of creatures, and four droids—all interesting and occasionally handy.

The introduction gives you advice on how to campaign in the Core Worlds and how each character class would fit in the region. It also details the Star Wars Universe era-relative information. Also included is a full color star map of the region with “zoom windows” for three regions that contain many of the worlds described within.

Starting with Coruscant, each world is given sufficient treatment with descriptions of the planet, the people, its history throughout each Star Wars era, and important locations. Of course, Coruscant is given a little more treatment than the others, including a large list of GM characters. Each world is also pictured but not mapped. Following that is a list and description of locations on the world. Each location is given between one and three paragraphs of text, generally describing it and its importance to the world. Despite the fact that the planets aren’t mapped out, there are several maps of locations throughout the books—a total of 32. Each map ranges in detail from general to very specific and can be handy if you are visiting those locations or something like them.

One of the most interesting and useful items in each section is the GM “adventure nuggets” at the end of each world description. Marked “For the GM,” a GM will find short paragraphs describing adventure ideas for that particular world. I find this most useful because most “nuggets” can be re-written for any planet, or at least any similar planet. I find myself scanning them a lot now when I am searching for new ideas in my current campaign.

Also included towards the end are the Allies and Antagonists, where all the GM characters appear. These GM characters range in level from 3 to some as high as 17. Featuring crime lords, prominent diplomats, alien mystics and anything in-between, it is a good rogues gallery for ad-hoc character generation.

The smattering of art that is in the book ranges from moderately cool to good, but it does not contain a lot. It is quite apparent when you look through the book that the authors tried to pack a lot of information into a small space, which I think is smart. It is also apparent that WotC recognizes the fact that many of these worlds were already covered in more detail elsewhere—like West End Games products—and does not want to rehash too much. However, it does cover enough for those that do not have the WEG products or access to them.

Overall, I feel like this is a much better book than similar books in the past. It does not blow me away, but it is better than I thought. I can see myself using it more than I had planned. The content is extensive, and it is a good read. Along with the planets most movie fans would be familiar with, it also covers many worlds found in the Extended Universe. I recommend this to all Star Wars gamemasters and collectors. It is not essential, but it is definitely cool to have.


UltimateAlienAnthologyUltimate Alien Anthology
(Star Wars Role Playing Game d20)
Wizards of the Coast

There is one scene in Star Wars that I remember most of all. Because I have always had a passion for monsters and aliens, it stuck with me. Even today, with the more defined and fluid characters in Episodes 1 and 2, nothing has struck me more than this one scene.

I am referring, of course, to the opening scenes of the Mos Eisley Cantina, the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” where you see all the myriad aliens. That blew me away at the age of eight when I first saw it. I loved it.

So, when I got into role-playing I had to have lots of aliens. When the game didn’t have enough, I would take them from some other source. Now I play Star Wars d20, and this book is a dream come true to me. 180 species to play with—every shape, size, and culture you can imagine. I was excited, to say the least, when I heard it was coming out. And when it did, I had it as fast as I could get it.

This has to be the second largest book next to the Revised Core Rulebook to be put out for Star Wars d20. At 224 pages, it details 180 races from all different sources—some old West End Games species are revisited (like the Anomid or the Kerestian) and others are brand new from Episode 2 (like the Gossam or the Muun), while some are races that have been in the Star Wars Extended Universe (EU) for a while, but have never been given form in any role playing game (like the Yuzzem).

Each species is fully fleshed out, with paragraphs on Personality, Physical Description, Homeworld, and Adventurers—notes for players that want to play that race. Also included are sample names, Age in Years, complete Species Trait lists, and Commoner Stats. However, the text is not accompanied by a drawing of the race. A group of four aliens are drawn on every other page, each labeled so as to discern which one is which. Although some would see this as a drawback, I don’t. They are drawn to relative scale and it’s much easier to get an idea of the size of each species. Each picture also has a scale in meters along the side, showing height.

And this book does not end after the last alien. The end of the book has twenty-five pages of new Prestige classes and feats. Most of these are specific to a species or type of species. An example is the Aerobat that applies to flying species only. But there are also other Prestige classes like the Telepath that any Force-using character can use. The new feats are listed in the first appendix. The second appendix expands on the Yuuzhon Vong, redefining each existing class in Vong terms.

The final interesting gem in this book is the index by homeworlds—a listing of all the worlds mentioned in the text and where they are in the book. This is very useful if a GM is trying to keep up with the multitude of planets that keep sprouting up in the Star Wars universe.
Overall, I would say this book is excellent. The art is very well done, although I do feel the interpretation of some of the aliens’ appearances are a little off. It’s a hefty volume that no gamemaster or Star Wars player should do without.


Book Review: Evolution

Evolutionby Michael D. Pederson


Stephen Baxter
Ballantine Publishing Group, 578 pp.

Stephen Baxter has turned in another magnificent epic, and has done it in a single volume this time. Evolution traces the history of human life, from its simple beginnings to its projected ending 500 million years in the future. The novel hits the perfect balance of fact and conjecture when recreating the lives of our distant ancestors. Starting 65 million years ago with a simple shrew-like creature, Baxter depicts the evolution of mankind from the burrows to the trees to the savannah and into the future. As man’s progenitors develop more and more human traits, Baxter’s writing grows richer to keep pace with the evolving species. But the development of man is only half of the story and a lesser writer would have stopped at the present. When the story moves into the future, Evolution takes on a new aspect. Where the earlier half of the story sweeps you along in an exhilarating wave of hope and progress, the latter half has an almost overwhelming sense of loss as mankind slips back down the ladder of evolution. Working from the theory that intelligence is not the inevitable end-product of evolution, Baxter creates a fanciful—yet frighteningly believable—future for the human race. The story takes one awkward sidestep early on with the “Hunters of Pangaea” chapter, which tells the tale of a race of semi-sentient saurians. Although the chapter stands well enough on its own (it was published as a short story in Analog), it doesn’t fit properly into the rest of the novel. But even with this slight flaw, Evolution remains an exciting thought-provoking novel.


Book Review: Pattern Recognition

PatternRecognitionby Michael D. Pederson


Pattern Recognition
William Gibson
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 356 pp.

I am always excited to see a new release from William Gibson. It’s no exaggeration to say that the man shaped the face of science fiction in the 1980s. Could there have been a Matrix without Neuromancer? Possibly not. Sadly, Gibson’s latest, Pattern Recognition, won’t be spawning any trends or blazing new paths in the industry. Comparing an author’s latest to his best known works is never a fair practice, but Gibson still has a trick or two up his sleeve and manages to conjure up some interesting ideas.

Pattern Recognition follows American design consultant Cayce Pollard on a global quest to track down the creator of mysterious video clips that are being anonymously posted to the internet. Although not the most interesting character in Gibson’s library, Pollard is possibly the most approachable. She is intelligent and creative, rational and quirky. And Gibson uses her perfectly as a voice for a marketed society that is in the process of steadily homogenizing itself. That is not to say that he uses the story as a pulpit for his opinions; rather, he blends a good mix of adventure and humor in to get a few simple points across. Unfortunately, the story lacks a strong finish. All of Pollard’s character issues are well resolved by the end, but the climax of the plot comes when she is unconscious, which leaves the reader feeling slightly cheated—as if your favorite team had won its big game in the middle of a commercial break.


Book Review: Kiln People

KilnPeopleby Michael D. Pederson


Kiln People
David Brin
Tor Books, 568 pp.

I missed this one when it was first released in hardcover so I pounced on it as soon as it came out in paperback. Brin is one of those rare authors that I have come to count on as a “sure thing.” In Kiln People he revisits familiar territory from a new angle. Like his Uplift series, Brin is once again dealing with a sentient race that has difficulties being recognized by the dominant species and focuses on how they cope with the issues that are involved. This time though, he writes with his tongue firmly in cheek. The main character, Albert Morris, is a private investigator in the classic Chandler mold. The great twist here is the introduction of dittos—clay copies of individuals that have all of the memories of their original, with a one-day lifespan. It’s a slightly silly premise, but it works extremely well in the context of a film noir-style private eye story. Brin keeps the story fast-paced, with a steady barrage of puns and bullets. If nothing else, it’s worth reading just for the clever way that Brin has set up three points of view, all from the same character. And, amidst the fun and excitement, he addresses the serious issues of prejudice, individuality, and religion. There is something exciting on every page.


Book Review: Dreamer of Dune

DreamerOfDuneby Michael D. Pederson


Dreamer of Dune: The Biography of Frank Herbert
Brian Herbert
Tor Books, 576 pp.

Frank Herbert made science fiction respectable. Dune is still one of the most honored books of the twentieth century. It’s a series that I rank as one of my all time favorites, and I have read it countless times. Needless to say, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to read an insider’s account of the life of Frank Herbert. As told by his son, Brian, the story unfolds as one of intense passion and deep tragedy. Along the way, there are several insights into the creation of Herbert’s works, including the magnificent Dune series. But the true focus of the book is on Herbert’s relationships with his wife and sons. Brian Herbert writes very honestly about his father’s shortcomings and very lovingly about his strengths. He does have a tendency to repeat himself at times though. He mentions on no less than three occasions that the song “Greensleeves” may have been written by their ancestor, Henry VIII. A minor nuisance at worst and despite it, I was unable to put the book down once I picked it up.