Balticon 51

I made a quick note on Facebook about giving a longer and more detailed review of this year’s convention. IF you’re seeing this connected to FB – here it is!

I started going to Balticon back at number 27. Yup, that puts me at about 24 years for this one. Sounds impressive until you realize that I know at least one person (Hi Ray!) that’s been to them all. Yes, all of them. That’s impressive.

First and I think most importantly credit where credit is due. Programs this year were smooth. Really smooth, not simply as juxtaposed with the struggle of last year. Got my invitation early, got my survey and panels early, and the schedule was posted and available before the week of the convention. WELL DONE!

I had 4 panels and 2 book launch events over the weekend.

The panels I had were editing the short story, reading outside your genre for SFF writers, being a fan of problematic things and the xenoarchaeology road show.

I think editing the short story went relatively well. I also thing reading outside your genre went well – I did my best to toss ideas out there of things I’d read that I felt could be of interest to folks. I got the biggest reaction when I mentioned Devil in the White City as apparently some others have read it. All in all, not bad.

Being a fan of problematic things was going to be a contentious panel. Intellectually I knew this. Emotionally it took a lot bigger toll on me than I thought it might have. It was a difficult panel. I have written about this topic before (Your Protest May Vary published in Watch the Skies and again here at my site) and given the topic a great deal of consideration.
I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. Part of it was the audience. There were a couple of attendees that talked over almost everyone for the duration of the panel. It can be a very personal subject, but I felt it was a disservice to the rest of the folks in the room to do what they did. The moderator struggled against them the entire time. The other struggle was sitting between two panelists with definite thoughts on the matter. I could feel tension just sitting there. I can say that S.M. Stirling impressed me with the depth of knowledge he could bring to hand without notes or references. While I don’t know that I shared his opinions, he recalled the specifics of an example I pulled from a very old novel. I pulled the example based on the clarity of the language that might show it to be problematic. He knew the context of the characters and brought all that out in defense of his position on the matter. Agree or not, he had that information rattling around upstairs. By the end of the hour I was just done. It took a lot of effort to stay level and calm for me in there – and it didn’t really have much to do with the topic itself.

I’ve really enjoyed attending the Xenoarchaeology road show in the past. The panel pretends to be archaeologists digging up long forgotten things from a human world. See something come out of the box and make up a great explanation for what it obviously is. I signed up to be a panelist on a whim for this one. It was an hour after the problematic panel, and being funny at the drop of a hat is not easy. Clever, maybe. Witty, perhaps on a good day but not for an hour straight. I don’t know that I’ll sign up to be on that panel again because I just don’t feel like I brought the humor that panel deserved. It was something of a let down to me. I was disappointed in myself, I can only hope the audience had a good time. I know I enjoyed what my fellow panelists came up with as much as the audience did. The running gag of “it’s clearly a ritual item…” was pretty funny.

The launch events were Fortress Publishing (TV Gods Summer Programming – available now) and E-spec books (DTF – Man and Machine – available now). The Fortress launch was wedged into the hour between the problematic panel and the road show. I couldn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted to, but I did get to sign a few books while I was there. The E-spec launch was a pretty big shin-dig. It took over the con suite for 2 hours. It was really well done and it looked like everyone involved had a really good time.

In between all this programmed goodness was the chance to play test a game for a friend. I can’t give out details but I can say I think I’ll be jumping on a copy when it comes out! Lots of fun trying to break the mechanics of it and stretch the rules to see where the holes show up.

Surprisingly, I didn’t come away from the weekend feeling the creative charge I normally do. I really enjoyed having dinner with friends. I liked sitting and chatting with people that I don’t get to see nearly enough. It’s a silly thing, but I was extra excited to recognize a ‘Sky High’ cosplay and earn the pink ribbon you can see in the picture (hey – the preferred term is hero support). Somehow I just didn’t feel that juice flow, that battery charging jolt I usually have when I get back to the house.

I would call this year a successful year even without that jolt. It’s always good to see old friends and add new ones. I’m going to dive into some projects that have been waiting for me while already plotting and planning for next year!

Your Protest May Vary

This is a republish of my article from the March issue of Watch The Skies Fanzine.

“The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Protesting” by pouring thousands of words onto your blog or into your Facebook driven slactavism has become so knee jerk reactionary most people don’t give it any thought. I can’t stand it. I have outrage fatigue. The number of things I see raging across my screen on a daily basis is exhausting. Instant calls to action for the slightest affront. Demands that I join your current bandwagon, even it it’s nothing I’m interested in talking about. Boycotts for things I wouldn’t buy anyway. Petitions wanting my signature despite being something I have no experience with or connection to. It’s a bit like the tiny print that flashes past at the bottom of a car commercial, you see it, but you don’t read or understand it. You go for the flashy picture and the punchy lines. If you noticed the small print or actually stopped it and read the words it would undermine the whole commercial. That’s similar to how I feel about these new, first world, so called protests. The best description I’ve ever heard for this is “The burning of the library of Alexandria by way of the Hot Topic t-shirt printing press”. Grab the easy slogan and go with it. Make a t-shirt and ‘tag’ your friends.

I’m betting that within my first couple of lines here you’ve worked up a comment or two. You’ll soon discover a reason that I am wrong then the venomous words will slide out. By the time you reach the fourth paragraph someone will be trying to figure out what I look like so that I can be burned in effigy. Ready?

There must be both accountability and separation when discussing creators and the things they make. The creation can and should be judged separately from the creator. The creator should be accountable if they take their views public, but their creations can and must be considered apart from the creator. Long, important, creative and scientific endeavors can be brought crashing down in mere moments, potentially without hearing more than a slogan. Don’t believe me? Ask Tim Hunt. Think I’m totally wrong already? Point to Milo Yiannopoulos. Both really interesting examples to discuss.

What does this mean for me? I might go and pick up (or watch or listen to) things created by people who hold political or religious views I don’t agree with when and if I find them worthy of my entertainment dollar. I think Orson Scott Card works best as my personal example. I can’t totally back away from a man so totally intertwined with science fiction as I know it. Do I want to support him? No, I really don’t. For anyone that doesn’t know, Mr. Card is a very well known author. His writing, one of his stories in particular, is the basis for the relatively recent movie Ender’s Game. His list of accomplishments is many and varied. He’s famous. He’s also directly politically opposed to certain views I hold. Personal, important things to me are the opposite of what he wants. When the movie was announced a large and vocal group of people denounced his work based on his personal views. I couldn’t say they were wrong.

In all honesty I’m still trying to figure out where the line is that separates the creator and the work. I realize my personal example is old and out of date now when it comes to protests, but the principle remains. There are no easy answers when it comes to supporting what you believe in and laying out your hard earned money to buy something you enjoy. It absolutely matters, but everyone must consider these things in their own way. The current political climate makes this an even more dangerous place to tread. There have been lots of people smarter, more creative and far more famous than I am that have covered variations on this topic. Oscar Wilde went to jail. George Orwell tried to come to grips with it. I’d rather go with a much more personal example to me because that’s how I think each person should handle their choices.

Here goes –

I am lucky to have a handful of my works published and by way of those publications get invited to attend science fiction conventions. That was actually one of my earliest stated goals as a writer. I wanted to publish enough that I would land on the guest list rather than paying my way in (thus saving me a not insignificant amount of money along the way). In achieving that goal I also learned a great deal about the nature of the industry behind the genre I love that I have taken small, faltering steps into.

I was scheduled to be part of a panel at one of the first conventions I was ever invited to be a guest at. I had very little experience sitting on the presenter side of the table. I had done some research but I was anxious about the topic being presented. I was nervous about being an unknown person sitting before a room full of people interested enough to pick this panel over another. What reason did anyone in the audience have for caring what I had to say about anything, let alone the matter at hand? The panel got rolling and the moderator kept things on a steady path. He had bounced different questions around to the other panel members, then did something I totally didn’t expect. He asked me a direct question based on what he knew of me and what he’d read about me in the convention program. I was stunned. I almost dropped the ball on answering the question because I hadn’t expected anyone to know who I was or care why I was there. I managed to use words and form complete thoughts, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the topic was. I was just blown away.

It was a vital lesson in convention panel attendance. Know who you’re going to be working with when you’re up there in front of people. I had to go and ask somebody who he was when we were done because I’d been so wrapped up in the panel topic I hadn’t remembered I was there to share things with other fans. I had forgotten how many well known people started off as fans and convention attendees. I had no idea who I was sitting with.

Turns out that person was part of the editorial staff for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Somebody working in the industry and in a position to work with writers far better known than I am took the time to look me up and know something about me. He took the time and made the effort when others I’ve met have not. He was unfalteringly polite when we all got a chance to shake hands and chat at little at the end of the panel. It was moving to know he bothered. What I found out later was that he was working directly with OSC at the time. OSC is the publisher and executive editor of Intergalactic Medicine Show. Direct connection to somebody I didn’t want to like or like anything connected to him.

I don’t want to support views directly opposed to something important to me. If I lay out my hard earned money and the person directly benefitting from that uses the money to oppose me am I implicitly helping? My problem is multifaceted. I have never personally met the man. I have heard from many others that have met him and worked with him that he is generous and helpful. I’ve enjoyed his work in the past and often refer to parts of it in discussion with my friends. My direct experience with somebody on his staff was more than positive. Going out of your way to work with somebody that doesn’t directly benefit you is a good thing – and I have since continued to encounter folks directly connected to his organization who have been unfailingly polite, helpful and welcoming. They have always been good to me. Where is the line? This is my dilemma, but it also points to the bigger picture.

I am not a scholar of history by any means but it seems to me an inverted symmetry to have OSC trashed so completely in the same manner as Oscar Wilde more than 100 years ago. Wilde was put on trial and jailed for being against the moral character of society at the time and OSC has been attacked (if not properly tried) for being the diametric opposite of Wilde. The issue remains the same – the artist is not separate from his art. The problem as I see it now is that many folks don’t look beyond that flashy image or the catchy phrase they believe states their position so clearly. Hit the like and share buttons and move on. Mission accomplished. Trial by public opinion – no facts needed.

Much like Lord Henry living vicariously through Dorian’s hedonism most people don’t really commit themselves. They rely on the voyeuristic nature of the internet to maintain a safe distance all the while denouncing everything they watch. They add a virtual voice without any personal stake.

It’s beyond time for people to take a step back and pause before launching the latest barrage of indignation at the world. Did it truly affect you? Do you have direct experience with the subject? The consequences have become much more significant these days for even the smallest missteps. The current atmosphere will kill creativity and expression and discourage others from reaching out and making a learning connection if we are not significantly more cautious. Get out from behind your screen and go talk to people. Meet some folks that aren’t your normal circle. Stretch and learn and try to see things from a new point of view.

Today the pen clearly kills more than the sword. As for me, I’m going to keep working, keep writing and continue trying to find that line separating the artist from the art. I’m going to hope I can convince people to learn to trust and see value in differences. I want people to connect and I particularly hope they do so through the filter of science fiction. I suggest everyone take a serious look at things before denouncing them. Seek out articles and opinions from many sources, not just those that agree with you. Take your time. Do your homework. Step back and consider your reaction before you launch your words out there. Remember to read the small print; your protest may vary.

EDIT:

The creator’s work, judged without his name attached seemed to do OK – see File 770.

The New Year!

So here we are in the all new year – a happy, shiny, just out of the packaging 2017.

I’m pleased to say that part of the reason my posts here have been slow during the holiday season is that I am blessed with many family and friends. Part of the reason my posts here have been slow is that I have been working on things that don’t involve me being here and posting. Professionally (day job) things are moving forward toward a goal I’ve had for many, many years. It’s going to make things here slow. I’ve started moving toward finishing a lot of things that I’ve started. This should make for a very interesting year to come.

Yes it’s a convenient way to mark the time. Calendars are good like that. What it is not, is a time when I “make a resolution”. I’ve posted about this in the past. It hasn’t changed. If you want to be consistent, then what it takes is an ability to keep showing up. I have found that is one of the things I’m actually really good at. I can certainly keep showing up.

I look forward to seeing all the big things the coming year has to offer. Keep showing up. I want to hear what’s going on with you as well!

Book Reviews – the backlog

I like to hear what others think of books they’ve read or would recommend to me. This is the best way for me to find new things to read. I also try to share my thoughts so others can check out the things I read and enjoy. I actually also post reviews of military science fiction over at MilSciFi.com. It’s exciting that I can do that for folks.

book

I have a personal philosophy about my reviews. It’s important to start by stating the fact that I am a fan first. Yes, I help to publish a monthly fanzine. It’s also true that I’m an author and artist when I can squeeze that in along with my day job. It’s important to state these things because I make every effort to be honest and fair with my reviews. If I like something, I’ll tell you. If I don’t like something, I’ll try to figure out what it is exactly that bothers me, but I’m going to say I don’t like it. I don’t intend criticism to be personal about any author. I know how hard it is to make it work when you’re writing a novel.

I intend to stick with the five star rating system. I’ve always considered stars to be very limited, but I can’t really come up with a better system on my own. I’ll make them work. I am a terrible grader, in that I don’t consider average to be a horrible thing. I don’t just give five star ratings away. I consider five stars to be something rarely achievable. I also believe a book has to have gone really wrong to end up in the one star category. I can only recall two I’ve read that have landed at a single star. Getting it really right is tough, but it’s just as challenging to get it really wrong.

An example is probably best here. I would give The Hobbit five stars. The writing style struck a chord with me. The story is one that stands up to a reread despite the fact that I read it the first time when I was nine or ten. I’ve gone back and read the book more than once. The depth of world building shows through the writing without becoming a bludgeon. I feel that is a standard for the full five star rating. It moved me. It changed something in my outlook and really made me think. I haven’t put any others up to that level yet. I say “yet” not because I haven’t read other excellent and moving books, but because I’m not going to rate backwards in time. I will only rate/review a book should I read it *again*. While I consider The Good Earth another five star book, I’m not going to put something like that out for consideration until I read it again.

Having said all that about stars, I will also be upfront about any book (or books) where my own work shows up. Pretty easy to say that a book of my own, or an anthology containing a story of mine would get a five star rating from me. You should know that up front if I expect you to care about my reviews. I’ve seen others that give everything they read a four or five star rating. I don’t give those reviews much weight. I don’t expect you would either.

That’s my non legal disclaimer. I’m a fan. I try to be fair about what I read. I can’t wait to see the next cool story headed my way.

I was supposed to review a book for MilSciFi called Destroyer Men. I got a free copy of the book and dug in. That was April. It’s now December and the phrase “what are you waiting for, Christmas?” springs to mind. I totally stalled while reading that book. It didn’t seem right to review other books when I was supposed to be doing that for a web site that was not mine and they’d given me a copy of the book and how could I bump these others…

I hit something of a mental road block. I normally post my personal reviews here and on Goodreads as I read, but I put a couple off. The couple became a few. The few became everything I’ve read since May. I should have been posting them one at a time, but now they’ve become this giant task all piled up and waiting. I’m going to cheat. I’m going to make one post here in the near future and just list them all at once. It’s the only way I’m going to catch up.

If you happen to be on Goodreads, look me up. I might post longer stuff there – maybe not – but it’s worth making the connection anyway.

Have you read anything good lately?

Firefight

I have fallen behind on my reviews – so I will be launching a few off here this week. IF you’re connected to me on Goodreads you’ll have seen all of these in the update feed!

Firefight (Reckoners, #2)Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t recall the actual date I finished reading this book. It was certainly in April, but I haven’t been able to sit and write up my thoughts on it until now.

I really enjoyed the book. It was a fast read. It built on the world from Steelheart and just kept plunging ahead. I totally bought into the main character and was along for the ride. I jumped from this book directly to the next one to wrap up the series.

IF you haven’t read Steelheart, go back and start there.

View all my reviews

Balticon 50

There it went.

I have tried to give myself a little time to get past the immediate reaction and allow for more thought. The problem with that is news of a convention gets stale rather quickly. I’ve been going to Balticon for a while, but not as long as quite a few folks. In fact I had a conversation with a man this past weekend who has attended all 50 of the conventions so far. It’s an impressive number.

For me, it was an impressive convention celebrating the 50th anniversary, but probably one of the worst for me personally. That makes it sound worse than it really was. Perhaps it was the level of expectation going in? I’ve got that sort of thing going with books and movies, maybe it was the same thing for the convention. If I go into a movie or a book with crazy high expectations – those expectations are almost never met so it feels like a disappointment, even it the work in question was actually quite good. IF I go with low expectations and get something crappy, I’m good. My expectations were met. If I go with low expectations and get something excellent… you get the picture. I’ve seen a number of folks on social media and other blogs say they had “wonderful”, “awesome” and “fantastic” conventions. My reaction wasn’t as positive.

I have had a lot of great cons over the years. I’ve really loved being a participant and not just an attendee at conventions. Balticon is the one that I consider my “home convention” and is the one I always give preference to. This year had real issues for me. Some of those things were directly related to the convention, some of them were all about me and some of them were outside the realm of things the con could control (and it’s not fair to blame them for those). I was also somebody that friends brought issues to (they know I’ve joined BSFS), presumably so that word would travel with somebody. That made it a struggle. When you’re the staunch defender, what happens when you don’t want to defend anymore? I got really, really tired of trying to help and defend things that I didn’t find defensible.

The hotel was new this year. That was important – the space was needed for a record number of guests. It also made for lots of people not knowing where anything was, long lines at the elevators, confusion about parking and frustration over added expense. Some of that was just the unavoidable nature of change. Some of that was trying to settle in to a new location. Some of that was people not communicating well and having their expectations not met. I could have worked with all that. I expected it.

I know some of the people involved and I know the intent was good. Programming was an unmitigated disaster from my point of view. Double booked rooms, double booked panelists, changes, deletions and random additions that weren’t communicated well just made a hash of things for me. I’m going to emphasize that again – for me. I am the D list person here and I understand that I’m not going to get priority or even a lot of attention. I got nothing for programming. Nothing. When I asked about this the response was a very snappy “well what do you want?” I want these things figured out before Saturday morning of a convention that starts on Friday for starters – and a little less attitude to go with the response. I get the stress. I work cons too. Snapping at me isn’t going to help anyone. It will in fact hurt the process and cause responses that aren’t necessarily deserved. I just stopped trying to fix it right then. There’s nothing I could do that would have made the situation better and anything I said in anger would not help. I stopped defending. I stopped volunteering to help. I walked away and just did my own thing the rest of the weekend.

I was not the only one in a situation like this. For me – a total ‘D’ lister – it’s not such a big deal. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I’ve already received an invitation to another convention asking me about my thoughts for programming. I’m going to hope for better, or at least in advance, there. The problem is I’ve heard from other people that should be the backbone of the convention – the folks you want to return again and again because they’ve got a solid following and some excellent knowledge to share – that they won’t be back. They reached their saturation point with the frustration and problems and have decided to just walk away as well. I was actually saddened by this. Conventions are where I get to hang out with these folks. Some I might not see otherwise. Most of all, I’m concerned for the next convention, and the next one after that. There was, rightfully, a lot of attention paid to the big names that were there, all the big names that were brought back. Those folks got a lot of attention and drew a lot of convention goers, but at what expense? I fear the damage done. Perhaps I just haven’t gone through this from the participant side of the fence before.

I don’t want this to to turn into some kind of doom and gloom sort of thing. There were a lot of fun things that did happen at the convention. There were great times, laughs and fun mixed with the frustration. I was super glad to have helped out with the Liar’s Panel again this year. I was one of the runners that dashed around the audience collecting up the donations for charity. There’s actually a photo and a little more detail over at Mark’s Journal. Raising a few hundred bucks for charity is a great thing and the panelists were really funny.

I also watched the Mr. Poor Choices III comedy show. I howled. It was fun and funny. The show was totally stolen (from my vantage point) by the sign language interpreters. How do you sign “the nut mangler gym shorts” exactly? Their expressions were wonderful. I went and thanked them after the show. It was great fun.

I got to connect with a lot of folks this past weekend. I think that was really what made it all survivable for me. I had dinner with folks I don’t get to see often enough, drinks with others that I was thrilled to sit and chat with and even a teeny amount of time in the game room (even though I can’t hang with the Power Grid guys and totally forgot my t-shirt – sorry John, I’ll get it right eventually).

I expect with time that I’ll gloss over 50 and other Balticons will be better for me. I really want some of the folks I talked to this past weekend to make some good connections. I’m hopeful that some of the connecting I did over the weekend will lead to future projects. I’m also hopeful that folks that said they were done would be persuaded to return. I am hopeful, and if I work hard and am lucky enough maybe I’ll be one of the folks brought back by special invitation for number 75.

50Logo

Things Explained

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple WordsThing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thing Explainer is such an appropriate title for this book. It is not a sit down and read it cover to cover kind of book. You could do that, but it’s not linear. I like it much better as a pick it up and learn about something book. Pick a point and see how (insert thing here) is explained in words everyone can understand. Fair warning – you may have to think about the words and the way they’re used to describe things. Do you know what a shape checker is? Fun, interesting and filled with detail. Fantastic book.

View all my reviews

I’ll pencil you in…

I’ve been criticized lately for being too busy. This is not from my family, this is from other people. Friends of mine seem to think I do too much – and I will tell you flat out I don’t understand that criticism. Just don’t get it. How can I NOT be busy? There are not enough hours in the day for all the cool stuff there is to do in the world!

There have been many flavors of this critique of how I use my time, but the least flattering of them was something along the lines of, “go ahead, tell us again how big your junk is…”

Am I busy? You bet I am. I’m scheduled flat out until sometime in June. No, I’m not joking. There are times in there that are less busy than others. There are things I’ve lined up that have piled on top of each other, but that happens from time to time. I can’t say that I’m always happy with it. Sometimes the circumstances mean I miss something along the way. Am I doing this as some form of competition? Of course not. It’s not a win/lose kind of thing! Everyone should find stuff they’re passionate about and get out there and do it!

I can say for certain that I have no intention of changing. The stuff I do is based on people I have made commitments to. I am cautious about who I commit to when I’m asked to do things. I am busy. I am also connected to some amazing things and wonderful people. IF I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it – and I don’t particularly care what you think of my schedule. I love the things I do. I help with conventions, I write, I create art, I run professional organizations – and have a great time on the way. Stay home and watch TV if you want, I’ve got things to do and people to meet. I mean, seriously – how many people have you met that do old timey strongman stunts these days like, tearing a license plate in half, ramming nails through board using bare hands OR:

Seriously, would you want to miss out on dinner with somebody that has stories like that?

Re-reads

I’ve been meaning to track down the relatively recent Shannara television program. I struggled when I realized I don’t have MTV as a channel in my television line up and had totally failed to notice that. Then it came to me… I can always catch up with that later but right now I still have the book. The real, actual paperback novel.

I picked this book up when I was a kid and devoured it. I think I was 10 at the time and I recall doing a diorama of one of the scenes for a book report at school using Star Wars action figures and a shoe box. As an adult I seem to recall that it was very much like the Lord of the Rings series I was so enamored with, but all the details were fuzzy. I decided I’d go and pull it from the depths of the library and read it again.

I tried that with the very first Dragonlance book a while ago and met with… minimal success. As it turns out my ten year old self and my self now have spectacularly different taste in writing styles. I’m wondering what I’ll see and how I’ll react to reading this book again after more than 30 years have gone by since I first read it.

What’s your experience been like with re-reading your favorite works?

Sword and Stones