We got to the Madison Radisson about noon, Friday, and made a quick check around to be sure everything was getting in gear. With no problems found, we had a light lunch and greeted people as they arrived. Early arrivals tended to be past members, so there were many faces we were glad to see again.

Panels started at 2:30, with “Held Hostage by the Internet of Things.” With the three members of the panel being professionals in software, hardware, and systems administration, the presentation was very informative, and proposed both dire and humorous scenarios. (“For only $39.95, you, too, can spy on your neighbors!”)

At 4PM, we had “Not Your Saturday Morning Cartoons,” “World Building 101: Milieu,” and “Making Movies with No Budget—And Other Horror Stories.” The World Building panel was the first of three aimed at creating a collaborative story world, and arrived at post-environmental apocalypse setting that had plenty of potential “plot hooks.”

Media Guest Michael Butt proved to be an entertaining raconteur with adventures of making horror movies in the wilds of Northern Wisconsin, including the shooting day for his feature, YETIS!, when the temperature hit 37 degrees below zero. The frigidity gave the acting great verisimilitude, but the camera nearly froze up--.

Georgie and I took Michael to dinner at Tandoori House, along with our friend Todd Voros. Food was good, but the service was a little on the ramshackle side. Dinner conversation was entertaining.
“Opening Ceremonies” went smoothly with the usual announcements and introductions. For the first time, there was not a humorous skit as part of the program, a pity too, since Janet Lewis had had an idea for a pun-laden “Forbidden Planet” parody, but other pressures took precedence. The announcements were followed by the Speculative Poetry Slam and Open Mike, which had some very good entries.

Evening programming started with “Odysseus and the First Odyssey,” and “Can We Make Democracy Work?” “Odysseus” looked back at Homer’s great saga and the character of Odysseus, as portrayed in the Iliad, the Odyssey, follow-on works such as the Theogony, and literature through history since, wherein Odysseus is perhaps the single most often portrayed character. The traditional OddCon Karaoke also broke out in room Oakbrook 3.

Formal programming ended the day with Richard Russell’s “SF Movies of 2017”, his usual encyclopediactic review of SF in media, and the beginning of the “Filksing Intime” at Mooshenko’s, hosted by Milwaukee filkers Art and Cynthia Warneke.

Saturday morning started off with bang and four very interesting panels: “Forbidden Planet,” “20 Years of Harry Potter,” Ray Bradbury’s Work in Comics,” and “Chinese SF, an Update.”

“Forbidden Planet” discussed the classic science fiction film, and its lasting impact on the film genre and SF in general. This panel was particularly well attended. “20 Years of Harry Potter” drew an enthusiastic audience reflecting on the remarkable persistence of the “Harry Potter” phenomenon, which continues to attract new readers. “Ray Bradbury’s Work in Comics” was a presentation by the nascent Ray Bradbury museum, and highlighted the author’s works as (sometimes unauthorisedly) adapted into the comic book form. In “Chinese SF, an Update,” Dr. Janice Bogstad gave an introduction to science fiction currently being produced in China, which has been garnering interest since Liu Cixin won the Hugo award for his novel (as translated) The Three-Body Problem.

At 11:30AM, we had “Being a Grownup, the Female Experience,” “World Building 201: Plots,” “Cosplay on a Budget,” and “Lounge L33ts Presents: MMO Worlds.”

This year’s “Being a Grownup” was a follow on to last year’s panel, which was very good but by coincidence ended up being all men. We thought it was worth pursuing the female viewpoint, and had a very interesting and far-ranging discussion of the changing expectations for and of “grown-up” females, and women’s issues generally. “World Building 201: Plots” took off where “World Building 101” left off, “Cosplay on a Budget” gave tips on how to create a good looking costume without breaking the bank, and “Lounge L33ts” was game writer Erin Burke’s annual roundup of new developments in online gaming.

At 1:00PM, we had “Fantasy Movies of 2017,” “Future Habitats,” “What Makes Overwatch So Appealing?” and “Should Governments Be Run Like a Business?” This last panel resulted in a very lively discussion, commencing with the clarifying question, “Which parts of government, and which types of business?” Which lead on to provocative proposals, such as, “If the government’s going to be run like a business, why don’t they monetize the military?” and “There’s no demand for critical thinkers, so schools should discontinue that product.”

The 2:30 session featured the Guest of Honor Interview with Artist Brent Chumley, whose artwork can be seen in Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, the Legend of the Five Rings card game, Shadowrun, and the forthcoming Dragonfire deck building game from Wizards of the Coast, among others. Brent’s interview covered his formative years, schooling (running up against the “fine artists’” disdain for “illustration”), his breaking into professional game art work, and how he manages a full-time art career while living in a small Illinois town. Brent had a great deal to say, and all of it was both entertaining and informative.

Other events at that time included “Hybrid Publishing,” “Is Seeing Still Believing?” “Running A Successful Kickstarter,” and “Why We Love B-Movies.” Lead by hybrid publisher Brea Behn, “Hybrid Publishing” talked about the ins and outs of the expanding middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. “Is Seeing Still Believing?” considered the expanding ability to create alternative realities using visual editing and CGI software.

At 4PM, Media Guest Michael Butt was the interviewee, and spoke about how he decided he wanted to make movies rather than just act, his choice to work in the horror genre and his goals, and the unique challenges of making scary movies in a small Wisconsin town, such as: “It’s really hard to get a woman to go out in the woods with you and get covered in fake blood.” We also had “Storytelling Builds Our World,” wherein authors talk about the impact storytelling has had, and may have, on their own and others’ worlds; “SF in Translation”; and “Return of Tokoatsu,” the review of animation and special effects from Japan.

After the dinner break, we had Guest of Honor Speeches, the Costume Contest, and the Flash Fiction Contest winners. Brent Chumley and Michael Butt gave interesting and entertaining speeches. Brent had a PowerPoint show of his works, and the movie room showed Michael’s recent feature This Woods is Cursed immediately after the speeches ended. The Costume Contest had half a dozen entries, all of which were very good.

This year, we were fortunate to have the winners of both the Adult and Youth Divisions of the Flash Fiction contest in attendance to read their winning works. David Talon read his story, “The Sea Breathes Salty,” in which a man is haunted by the embodiment of his past regrets, and Zoe Leonard read “A Farmer’s Guide to Growing Faceroot,” a zany and wonderful article about how to cultivate a mandrake-like vegetable. These, and the second and third place winning stories can be read at http://www.odysseycon.org/contest/contest.html

Evening programming started off with “What Makes Science Fiction an Exciting and Inspiring Genre?” “The Workings of the Crypto-Plutocracy (How the US Govt. Functions in Practice)” and the Big Damn Filksing in Oakbrook 3, which went on until 2AM.

Late night programs in the 11:00PM slot were “Sleep is Weird,” looking at what is still an unexplained phenomenon, and “It Came from the Internet,” a review of the new truly weird and wonderful content on the Web.

Checking out function spaces on the way to bed, we noted that table-top gaming was still going strong, people were enjoying programming in the movie and Amalor Anime rooms, and that the Mad Scientist’s Party was well attended.

Sunday morning started off with another strong selection of panels. “The Animals Talk, Why?” considered the continuing popularity of talking animal stories, ranging from the “beast fables” of antiquity, through Beatrix Potter and The Wind in the Willows, through My Little Pony, and Richard Chwedyk’s “Saur” stories. “20 Years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” celebrated the long-running TV show. “Promotional Ideas for Books” gave tips for marketing your book, and “Portraying Accurate Military Units and People in Games and Fiction” took on some common myths about the military.

The 11:30 panel on “Heaven and Hell” was short a panelist due to sudden illness, but the survivors managed to entertain the audience by expounding on portrayals of the Underworld and the Heavens by Dante, Mark Twain, James Joyce, and others. “Get Lost” dealt with getting and being lost, in fiction and real life, and how to deal with it. “World Building 202: Characters” wrapped up the series.

At 1:00PM, “Wicked and Worse,” considered what makes a good villain, and what makes a believable villain, and why the two aren’t necessarily the same. In “Pets in Spaaace!” panel and audience speculated on the probability (or not) of your cat, dog, or other animal companion coming to the stars with you. “Movie Charades” was this year’s installment of the popular game.

Programming officially ended at 2:30PM with “Kill the Cow!”, which is the attendees’ chance to give direct feedback to the concom. After a slow start, a lot of good and useful suggestions were contributed and recorded for future planning.

Attendance was 180+, which was within range of some other recent OddCons, although down from last year. Events at-con went off with no significant hitches. There were some particularly good panel discussions, and Brent Chumley and Michael Butt were great guests. We ended the con on an optimistic note, and with several good ideas for the future.


Apr. 11th, 2017 05:33 pm
On Saturday, April 8th, we went to the Milwaukee School of Engineering for Concinnity 17, the campus’ annual one-day gathering for science-fiction, anime, cosplay, and gaming fandom. Held on two floors of the Campus Center building, this was a nice little gathering. The commons area on the third floor was used for dealers, and we were pleased to see friends Julie Ann Hunter, Terresa Roden, Emily “Dragonwielder” Schultz, and Karen Pauli having tables. We checked out all the tables, chatted with some new acquaintances, and attended Lee Schneider’s panel on “Nudging History” and Chris Madsen’s talk about his book, “The Eyes of the Setting Sun.” We didn’t stay for any of the anime or the gaming, which ran into the evening, but had a very nice time.

We’ve usually missed Concinnity due to being on the same weekend as OddCon, but that didn’t happen this year, so we were glad to have a chance to check it out.
Sunday morning, the program began at 10AM, with “RPG Licenses We’d Like to See,” with Margaret Weis, Bill Bodden, and Athena Foster; “Medical Technology and Medical Ethics”, Lee Schneider and Dick Smith; “Fantasy Films of 2016,” Richard Russell; and “A Pack of Ideas,” Diane Greenlee.
I listened in on “RPG Licenses,” which dealt with the business of licensing existing media properties, such as Firefly, dealing with the rights owners, and figuring out which properties would actually make good games. Georgie went to “A Pack of Ideas,” which was a presentation on the Tarot and how to use it as an aid to writing. Georgie said it was a very interesting and informative presentation and nicely illustrated.

The 11:30 slot had “What’re Your Top Ten?” discussing YouTube videos, presented by Lynn Laakso and Todd Voros; “World Building Upgrades,” Brandon Sanderson, Jim Frenkel, author Chad Ballard, and Melissa Olsen; “The Cyberpunks Were Right,” Bill Bodden, Thomas Shaul, Dick Smith, and Leah Zeldes Smith; and “Will Comics Ever Be Respectable?” with Richard Russell and myself.

“Will Comics Ever Be Respectable?” had a good audience and a lively discussion touching on comics from classics to new titles, and agreed that there are many comics that are “respectable,” but perhaps it would be best that the genre of “comics” as a whole remained rather raffish and runagate.

In the 1:00PM segment, we had “Magical Ethics,” with C.K. Hinchliffe, Lee Schneider, Brandon Sanderson, Thomas Shaul, Margaret Weis and Chad Ballard; “What Constitutes Canon?” with Athena Foster, Leah Zeldes Smith, Steve Lemberg, Catie Pfeifer, and Melissa Olsen; and “When Social Justice Isn’t Justice,” with F.J. Bergmann, Richard S. Russell, and myself moderating.
“When Social Justice Isn’t Justice,” was rather a fraught topic, since both F.J. (Jeannie) and Richard have been “villainized” on the Internet. However, it was agreed that social justice is a worthy goal, even though the current tools for achieving it are crude and prone to misuse, with particular scrutiny of Internet tendencies to jump to conclusions, view with alarm, exaggerate, smear, and engage in guilt by association. The audience was attentive and engaged, and a serious and thoughtful discussion was had.

The last round of programming began at 2:30PM, with “Marvel vs. DC, the Media Wars,” featuring Paul Weisner, Jennifer Margret Smith, and Bill Bodden; “Famous Mages of Story,” Catie Pfeifer and Georgie Schnobrich; “Not Your Father’s Mars,” Paul Dale Anderson, Richard Russell; and “Gaming in the Classroom,” Nicholas Kotelensky, Thomas Shaul, and Margaret Weis.

I went to “Famous Mages of Story,” which was a well-researched panel, beginning with Merlin, working up through Gandalf, Belgarath, Harry Potter and Harry Dresden, up through newcomers like Peter Grant of the “Rivers of London” series.

I also got feedback from participants on the “Gaming in the Classroom” panel that it was a very constructive and productive event.

Things closed down after 4:00PM, with Georgie and I making our way home, tired and generally happy. There were a few unavoidable glitches and hitches, but nothing that couldn’t be recovered from, and that’s our definition of a good con.

Brandon Sanderson, Margaret Weis, and Marjorie Liu were all wonderful guests, and you would be fortunate to have them at your con or a con near you. Huge thanks are also due to the entire ConCom and all the program participants who put in great amounts of time, effort, and thought for our mutual benefit.

At this time, Odyssey on 2017 looks like a “go.” Stay tuned!

Odyssey Con: http://www.odysseycon.org/

Odyssey Con on Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/groups/22351026475/

Chad Ballard: http://www.amazon.com/Chad-Ballard/e/B01A667ZU0

Diane Greenlee/Anna Black: http://www.annablack.net/
Saturday morning, we got breakfast at the hotel restaurant, which comes with a room. This was adequate, with good orange juice and fruit, and decent eggs, sausage and potatoes. I wasn’t particularly taken with the transformation of the restaurant space into “Twist” a sports/cocktail bar, but as long as there were places to sit and eat, it was OK.

Saturday programming started off with “Once Upon a Time in a (Ford) Galaxy,” moderated by Georgie Schnobrich, joined by Paul Dale Anderson, Jim Frenkel, and Alex Bledsoe; “Artisanal RPG Design: Threat or Menace?” which discussed the developing trend of crowdfunded games, speakers Bill Bodden and Margaret Weis; “Publishing 101 in 2016,” lead by writer Brea Behn, with editor Susan Chang, and small-press publisher Phillip Kaveny, talking about the various paths to publication now open; and “Return of the Iron Ration,” presented by Rena Noel, gamer and chef, about the treatment of food and nutrition in fiction. After seeing everyone was started, I listened to “Once Upon a Time in a (Ford) Galaxy,”, in which the panelists reminisced about their exposure to the culture of cars; cars they had once owned, driven, or (in one case) stolen (the statute of limitations has run--); and the fantasy, romance, and artistic impact of the automobile upon American culture.

At 11:30AM, we had panels asking the questions “Will Horror Fiction Ever Get Respect?” featuring Bill Bodden, Paul Dale Anderson, poet F. J. Bergmann, Alex Bledsoe, and Jim Frenkel; and “What Are Humans Good For Anyway?,” with Steven Vincent Johnson, Lee Schneider, and Todd Voros, moderated by Georgie Schnobrich. We also had “SF Films of 2015,” presented by Richard S. Russell; and “Intro to Anime/Manga” by Lynn Laakso, Stefan Laakso, and Thomas Shaul.

In this time slot, I got to conduct the Guest of Honor interview with Marjorie Liu, which I think went very well. We talked about her paranormal romance series, her urban fantasy series, and her work in comics (I had slides--). Jennifer Margret Smith also gave us some interesting insights into the inner workings of Marvel Comics. The audience was very interested and had some good questions as well.

Margaret Weis had her interview, conducted by Bill Bodden, at 1:00PM, which was also very well received. At that hour, we also had “Alchemy, When Philosophy, Theology and Magic Stumbled Upon Science,” with Lee Schneider, Georgie Schnobrich, and Paul Dale Anderson; “Scrivener, What is it?” presented by writer Diane Greenlee; “Reboots,” with Lynn Laakso, Alex Bledsoe, J Patrick Laakso, and Jim Frenkel; and “Jackson’s Hobbit: There and Back Again”, presented by Catie Pfeifer, Philip Kaveny, and Dr. Janice Bogstad (Richard West, also scheduled, was unfortunately ill). “Scrivener” is writing software that supports automated formatting of scripts and other documents, annotating, and has other features useful for writing professionals. “Reboots” discussed the success or failure of the rebooting of various media franchises. “Jackson’s Hobbit” was a discussion of the Hobbit movies and their differences from Tolkien’s original.

The 2:30 time slot included the hottest “ticket” of the weekend, Brandon Sanderson being interviewed by Jim Frenkel. The room was packed, standing room only, and people stood in the hall near the doorway to listen. Had we realized that there would have been this much demand, we could have scheduled opening up Oakbrook 2, but, as it was a panel was in progress in that room that couldn’t be moved. Oh, well—make notes for next year. Fortunately, everyone was very good about it.

Other events that period were “It Came From the Internet,” a review of interesting Internet videos by Matt Winchell and Erin Burke; “Old Fans, and Tired,” considering the effect of science fiction becoming mainstream after a lifetime of being a fannish ghetto, featuring Dick Smith, Leah Zeldes Smith, Philip Kaveny, Jan Bogstad, and Todd Voros; “Getting Horses Right for Fantasy Authors,” presented by F.J. Bergmann; and “How Not to Run an RPG,” with Margaret Weis and Lee Schneider.

At 4PM, I was on “Love Their Works, Hate Their Views,” along with Catie Pfeifer, Athena Foster, and an interested audience. There was a wide-ranging discussion, considering various authors, artists, and performers; when a creator’s anti-social behavior or philosophy contaminates their work and when not, and when it is appropriate to boycott. Georgie Schnobrich presented “Awesome Librarians!” about the sometimes weird and often wonderful denizens of fictional libraries. There was also “The Practical Physiology of Immortality,” by Lee Schneider, Paul Dale Anderson, Janet E. Lewis, and Todd Voros; the “Speculative Poetry Workshop,” facilitated by F.J. Bergmann; and “Cryptobio Camera Shy,” in which Steven Vincent Johnson and Alex Bledsoe considered why, in this day of ubiquitous phone cameras, Sasquach, the Loch Ness Monster, and UFOs have managed to remain unphotographed.

At dinner break, Georgie and I went across the street to “Nani” which bills itself as a dim sum restaurant. The place has been remodeled and improved from its days as a Chinese buffet and the ambiance was quite nice. We were amused to see The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor on the (fortunately quiet) TV.

This was another unique menu experience for us. The dim sum menu is presented as a large sheet with small pictures and names of the various offerings in Chinese and English. You check off which items you want (or use a number if more than one serving). The waiter takes the completed form to the kitchen, and then brings it back for you to keep.

The choice of dim sum is extensive and unusual, with several items we had not seen before.

We ordered shrimp buns, “sticky rice”, baked pork buns, pan-fried turnip cake, fried pot stickers, and “beef variety.”

A note if you go there, that it is worth asking questions about what’s in what. The pot stickers were visibly green in the picture, but we assumed that this was due to spice or herbs, and the filling would be in the main, traditional pork. Not so! The pot stickers were filled with a combination of a tofu-like substance and green vegetables. They were tasty, but not what I had wanted in a pot sticker, but that was our fault for not asking.

On the other hand, “Variety Beef” as pictured, appeared to be a beef stew. And, so it, was, but, when it was brought to the table, I was reminded that “variety meats” is an old euphemism for tripe—which was the main part of the dish. I did sample it, but the rubbery texture of the meat and the strong oniony flavor of whatever root vegetable was in it, made me stop there. Again, my fault for not inquiring further, but the dish could have been more explicitly labeled.

On the other hand, the shrimp buns, pork buns, turnip cake, and rice were all very good. We were filled up and took leftovers to the Con Suite and gave them away. We would go back, but a bit more cautiously.

The Saturday evening program started with Guest of Honor speeches. These were shorter than anticipated, since Marjorie Liu was unfortunately called away by a family emergency, and had to leave the con. Margaret Weis told us the interesting story of how both she and her family, and Tracy Hickman and his family, had each taken a great risk to go to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to work for TSR, which brought gaming the heretofore unique Dragonlance project.

Brandon Sanderson, putting on what he called his “professorial voice,” gave a fascinating talk which linked his book tour visit to Dubai to the fallacious interpretation of “Sturgeon’s Law,” and an exhortation to enthuse and be encouraging over that which is good, and not to be negative and disparaging at other people’s choices of what to enjoy.

The costume contest, judged by noted costumer Stace Feldmann, followed, and had a good turnout of cosplayers for a small convention.

I had agreed to be auctioneer for the Charity Auction benefitting the Literary Network. After a bit of a ragged start, I auctioned off books, posters, and jewelry. I had fun doing this, having decided to do a “proper Wisconsin auction,” in which the auctioneer is addressed as “Colonel” (a self-awarded title in my case), and wears a straw Stetson. Thanks to a generous audience, $250.00 was raised for charity.

In the same time slot, Editors Susan Chang and Jim Frenkel held “Talk to an Editor” and answered questions about publishing and getting published. Brandon Sanderson commenced a Magic: The Gathering “booster draft” tournament, which ran long into the night.

At 11:00PM, Lee Schneider, Dick Smith, Philip Kaveny, Todd Voros, and author Ozgur K Sahin talked about “Nudging History”, a panel about how alternative histories might have worked out, if certain particular events had gone a different way.

At 11:00 PM also, I was running two videos we had had submitted. The first was an extended trailer for a work in progress, Miss Wisenheimer and the Aliens. Written by Hal Dace and Lancer Kind, the film is set in “man's golden age in the universe, when although energy is plentiful and space travel is easy, no alien intelligence has ever been discovered. An old atheist and a young Christian develop feelings of love while exploring the universe to prove the other wrong about whether everything was built by God for man, or if there are aliens.” Other features of the milieu, according to the trailer, are that 20th Century rock musicians are venerated as saints, and all humans are now mixed-race. An animated feature, Mr. Dace provides the voice for “Hal Babbage,” the “old atheist,” whereas the young would-be cult leader, “Zipporah Weisenbaum” is voiced by Elena Kolkutova. It’s a very interesting premise, but the trailer is rather incoherent and hard to follow, and has an annoying music track. I liked the spaceship designs, which resemble neon-lit chandeliers. The animation is currently about last-generation video game level. It has promise, but needs work.

The second longer video is the pilot for a web series, AFK, which stands for “Away From Keyboard”. In this series, gamers in a World of Warcraft-like online game are “away from keyboard” because they have been mysteriously sucked into the game world, where they are physically incarnated as their avatars. AFK is produced in New Zealand, and is live-action with some CGI backgrounding (since I don’t think there are castles in New Zealand). It’s very good looking, and the characters are engaging and interesting, especially since the players inhabiting the bodies aren’t necessarily the age, race, or sex of their avatars.

In the trailer, we meet “Q” (Mia Pistorius), elven ranger, who actually has real-world skills useful in the game world that make her the natural leader when a group coalesces, although that isn’t necessarily immediately recognized by characters such as “Jack” (Calum Gittins), human rogue. Jack’s chiefly chirked up about being hunkily handsome in-game, but is rather a jerk, at least initially. Jack also discovers he has a steep learning curve when theoretical character abilities don’t translate into live action. In this episode, we also meet “Brendon” (Grae Burton), a fifteen-year old inhabiting the body of a middle-aged wizard, who’s an experienced gamer but hasn’t got any spells because he was interrupted while building a new character. He joins up with a less experienced female fighter (J.J. Fong), who’s obviously regretting the choice of “Red Sonya”-style bikini armor. “Q” also joins forces with “Maybel” (Ravi Narayan), gnome rogue. By the end of the episode, some of the characters have fallen into the clutches of a new “guild” run by “Vanya”, Ivan Essin, who’s decided to apply ruthless dog-eat-dog rules to the situation.

The series looks to have lots of potential, and I will definitely be checking it out further. As of this date, twelve episodes have been released and can be seen on the website below. Recommended, particularly if you are a gamer or know gamers.

The audience gave good attention to both pieces. I closed down for the night, it now being midnight, and checked out the rest of the con on my way up to bed. The karaoke was still going on, as was the M:tG tourney and other gaming. People were still chatting in the halls, and the OddCon party room and the video room were going strong. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Philip Kaveny: https://philkaveny.wordpress.com/

Ozgur K. Sahin: http://www.ozgurksahin.com/

Stace Feldmann: http://strangelandcostuming.deviantart.com/

F.J. Bergmann: http://www.madpoetry.org/madpoets/bergmann.html

Lancer Kind: http://lancerkind.com/movie-miss-wisenheimer-and-the-aliens/

Miss Wisenheimer and the Aliens Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJpyfhkfm3Q

AFK: http://www.afkwebseries.com/
On Friday morning, April 8th, Georgie and I drove over to Madison for the 16th Odyssey Con (a.k.a. “Odd Con”) general interest Science Fiction convention. This year, Georgie and I were Programming Co-Chairs. This involved a level of work we hadn’t put in for a convention for some years, so we were quite excited about it, particularly since we felt we had helped to put together a very strong program.

This year’s guests were a very strong lineup. We had Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn series, The Stormlight Archive series, Elantris, the “Alcatraz” series of children’s books, and who completed the Wheel of Time series after the death of Robert Jordan.

We also had Margaret Weis, author and game designer, who co-wrote the Dragonlance novels, as well as the series Darksword; Deathgate Cycle; Star of the Guardians; Sovereign Stone; Dragonvarld; and The Dark Disciple, as well as other stand-alone works. She currently owns and manages Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd., which currently produces the Firefly and Battlestar Galactica role playing games, among other properties.

Our third guest was Marjorie Liu, author of the Dirk & Steele series of paranormal romances, the Hunter Kiss series of urban fantasies, and who has written for Marvel comics for Dark Wolverine, NYX, X-23, Astonishing X-Men, and other books. She is currently working on her creator-owned comic Monstress, published by Image Comics, and had been engaged by Marvel to work on a forthcoming comic starring Han Solo, to be set in the time period between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

We got to the hotel with no problems, despite the unseasonably crummy weather, got checked in, and registered with the con, also picking up keycards for spaces we had access to, such as the Con Ops “Inner Sanctum,” and “Mooshenko’s” (Suite 102). We were pleased to see that everything appeared to be in good order and the Con was spinning up to speed nicely.

Margaret Weis and Paul Wiesner got us launched at 2:30 with the panel, “Firefly’s Children,” which discussed the impact the late, lamented TV series and movie have had on subsequent series such as “The Expanse,” “Dark Matter,” and others. Paul and Margaret were well informed on the subject, and the good sized audience took part enthusiastically.

At 4PM, we were running at full bore, with five items going: “Writing for Comics,” with Marjorie Liu and Jennifer Margret Smith, her editor; “Bodily Autonomy and Agency,” with Catie Pfeifer, author Paul Dale Anderson, and Athena Foster; “The (Annual) Massively Multiplayer Online Game Panel,” with “Mad” Matt Winchell and Erin Burke; “Beginners CosPlay” presented by Lynn Laakso and J Patrick Laakso; and “Translating the Future,” by engineers Lee Schneider and Todd Voros. After checking to see things were running, I attended the MMO Game panel, and was truly impressed by the vast depth of knowledge the presenters had on this vast and rapidly changing industry.

5:30PM was dinner break, and we went to the nearby Tandoori House (formerly Maharaja) for dinner along with Tor Books editor Susan Chang, writer and game designer Bill Bodden, and friends Jim Leinweber, Todd Voros, and Tracy Benton. The food there was very good, but the service was somewhat impaired by the new ordering/billing system, in which the server inputs orders on a tablet. This was a new thing, and the staff wasn’t completely adept with it, and the system locked up when attempting to print out our bills. That said, the food was all excellent, as was the company.

We got back to the Opening Ceremonies skit in progress, and were sorry to have missed the beginning of what was one of the best in years, and amusingly politically pointed. Wisconsin farmers had discovered ways to make cows fly using “moogic” which made them a potentially clean transportation and power source, and that “moogic” cheese could be used to sustainably power cars and trucks. Their efforts are nobbled by the villainous “Hay Brothers”, Oklahoma oil magnates, and further hindered by “Governor Crawler,” who has signed laws outlawing “Moogic” research. However, virtue triumphs when the golden dragon who lairs atop the Capitol dome is invoked, squashes the bad guys, and extolls the restorative power of Moogic for everyone.

Then, the winners of the Speculative Fiction Contest, judged by author Beth Cato, were announced, followed by readings, and the Speculative Poetry Slam and Open Mike.

While Karaoke was being set up in Oakbrook Room 1, panels resumed at 9:30PM, with Richard Russell facilitating “An Evening with Mrs. Byrne,” the dictionary game of peculiar definitions; and “How to Act Like a Grownup (For Better or Worse)”, with a panel consisting of Todd Voros, artist Steven Vincent Johnson, author Alex Bledsoe, and editor and agent Jim Frenkel. Although often funny, this panel was also affecting and sometimes serious. Jim Frenkel spoke sincerely about the wonder and terror of being a father, a sentiment echoed by Alex Bledsoe, who allowed that he didn’t always feel grown up enough for the job. Steve Johnson spoke about the process of his metamorphosis from youth to man. Todd Voros spoke about dealing with loss in the untimely death of his wife, and the joy he has found in mentoring young people, though childless himself.

(As it happens, no women volunteered for this panel. I think I will propose “How to act like a grown-up woman” for next year--.)

At 11:00PM (yes, we run late), “Mad Matt” and Erin Burke presented “Tokusatu,” a survey of the past year in Japanese “special effects” films, a classification that includes science fiction and fantasy. Marjorie Liu, Alex Bledsoe, and author Melissa F. Olsen talked about “Urban Fantasy, World Retooling” at Mooshenko’s. Karaoke ran late into the night. There was some miscommunication about late staffing for the main game room, which had to close at 11PM, although the secondary table top game room stayed open. There was also LAN gaming in the Gammon room, which seemed to be in continuous use.

Brandon Sanderson Offical Website: http://17thshard.com/

Margaret Weis Official Website: http://www.margaretweis.com/

Marjorie Liu Official Website: http://marjoriemliu.com/

Bill Bodden: http://billbodden.com/

Steven Vincent Johnson: http://www.orionworks.com/

Alex Bledsoe: http://alexbledsoe.com/

Melissa F. Olsen: http://melissafolson.com/

Brea Behn: http://www.breasbooks.com/

Beth Cato: http://www.bethcato.com/


Mar. 16th, 2015 10:00 pm
When we became aware last year that Somtow would be in town for the production of “The Snow Dragon,” we said, “We must get together and do something.” Local SF fans Leah Zeldes Smith and Dick Smith took the idea and ran with it, setting up OperaCon, something probably unique in the annals of fandom, a relaxacon centered around an opera performance. The Smiths took the initiative in contacting the Skylight Music Theatre and reserving a block of tickets for what became a sold-out opening night.

They worked with the Skylight to arrange some particular events, especially the private question and answer session with Somtow at the Skylight Saturday afternoon, which included a look backstage and upclose examination of the Dragon puppet. The Skylight had “Welcome OperaCon” signs in the lobby, and we got little gift bags of chocolate as special guests, as well as an explicit invitation to the Skylight’s after party (which is generally open to “First Nighters”, but it was nice to be specifically asked. We had the opportunity to meet other members of the cast and crew, toast the production in champagne, and those who felt inclined could partake of a generous cold collation. (We were both still full from dinner--).

OperaCon began Thursday with move-in to a set of comfortable rooms on the sixth floor of the Hilton Milwaukee Center. Somtow had relocated from his Skylight-provided housing to rooms across the hall. A great deal of food and drink, name badges, program books, and tickets were brought in. Somtow provided the special edition librettos for each member, which he autographed. Members drifted in through the afternoon and into the evening, and the party was officially on.

We got back to the hotel Friday afternoon, bringing along the Snow Dragon cake that the Smiths had commissioned from Georgie, in order to celebrate their immanent thirtieth wedding anniversary. The cake was pronounced good, and safely stowed away until its Saturday evening unveiling. About four o’clock, I changed into my full white tie for the opening, and about four-thirty set off for the group dinner at the Milwaukee Ale House.

The Ale House is a “brew pub” occupying the ground floor of one of the restored Third Ward commercial buildings about two blocks from the Skylight. It has an extensive menu of food and its own home-brewed beers as well as many other craft beers. It is nice for a post-Industrial space, although the exposed brick tends to make the ambiance loud and hard to hold a conversation in. The Milwaukee Ale House management and staff were very accommodating for our group. A lot of Milwaukee restaurants don’t even take reservations on Friday night, let alone for groups of forty. The servers were cheerful and responsive, and we got our food in plenty of time to make it to the opera. Georgie and I had the fried cod fish fry, which was very good. Georgie had potato pancakes with hers, which she thought were tasty, but made with a bit too much flour. Others at the table, however, pronounced them “just like Grandma used to make,” so recipes can vary.

For a review of the Opera itself, see my separate article. It was good!

We left the after-party at the Skylight a bit before eleven PM, and went home to bed. We understand the party continued at the Hilton well into the morning hours.

Saturday morning, we came back to the Hilton, bringing along a cardamom coffee cake from Beans and Barley, and a couple of pies to celebrate the special Pi Day. (3/14/15--). (If you had a a sweet tooth, OperaCon was a great con for you. Besides Milwaukee coffee cake and Racine kringle, Leah had ordered "kaddush" cakes from Chicago, which were delicious dense confections full of cinnamon and sugar.)

The talk for the membership was scheduled for one thirty PM, back at the Skylight auditorium. For unknown reasons, Maestro Subbaraman never made it (the one disappointment of the weekend). One of the Skylight staffers gamely took the stage along with Somtow, who held forth about music and literature with his customary erudition and humor. My humorously intended opening question, “How do you justify your existence?” surprised us by eliciting the anecdote that Somtow had actually been a guest of the famous Trap Door Spiders dining club (Isaac Asimov, George Scithers, Lester Del Rey and others) who customarily began grilling their guests with that question. Somtow talked candidly about his career in music, his rejection by the Thai cultural establishment, his reinvention as a writer, and his calling back to music, this time greeted with more success.

At the end of the talk, we were permitted to go onstage, examine the back stage and look closely at (but not touch!) the Snow Dragon puppet, which was fascinating.

At this time, Georgie and I ditched OperaCon temporarily since we had tickets for the 5PM Early Music Now concert. (To be reviewed later.) We got back to the hotel approximately eight o'clock, just as gears were being shifted for the Smith's anniversary observation.

I helped cut and serve the cake and pies, and a good time was had by all. Again, we folded up before midnight, but I understand the party again ran long.

Sunday morning I checked back in at the Hilton, finding that the Smiths and other helpers had clean-up well in hand in an atmosphere of jolly contentment, and would not be moving out until Monday, so I hung out for a while and then went home to take care of business there.

OperaCon was a very nice time and a lovely event. Thanks to the Smiths for all their work in making it happen!
The Geneva Steam Convention Mid Winter Carnival went on March 6-8 at the Grand Geneva Resort at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

This was a first convention, so attendance was very good,official attendance figure 266 including vendors, drawing mostly from the Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago triangle, and a bit lightly programmed, but very pleasant and showing promise for the future.

The drive from Milwaukee was a pleasant one given good driving weather, and took just under an hour. We were able to get registered with the hotel and the convention with no problems, and settled in. The Grand Geneva Resort is quite a posh complex in many ways, including a golf course, ski hill, and riding stable. It’s also rather odd in some ways. The architecture is based on Frank Lloyd Wright principles, so the major structure is built to follow the terrain, in this case a ridgeline overlooking a valley that contains the golf course and a decorative lake. This means that the lodge is very strung out, and getting from a room at the far end of “Building Two,” as ours was, could be quite a hike. Getting from one point to another is less linear than expected, also, since each building unit is on a different level, and there’s no standard interface at connecting points, making it possible to choose the wrong ramp or stair and get shunted off into a dead end.

Rooms were nice enough. We had a “Lakeside Double Double” on the ground floor with a walk-out terrace (not that we used it due to the temperature--). There were some—interesting amenities, such as the television built into the bathroom mirror. I was interested to see that the room desk included USB, VGA, and composite Video ports, apparently allowing one to use the main flatscreen TV as a monitor. All of the staff we encountered were cheerful, friendly, and helpful, although I gather that all was not sweetness and light between the con committee and the resort sales team during the convention, a likely indication that if there is a second Steam Convention it may well find another venue.

The first event we attended was the 2PM Friday panel on “What is Steampunk?” A good discussion was had, focusing on Steampunk as an aesthetic movement, involving literature, music, and style.
Next, we attended the “Golden Miracle Medicine Show,” by Dr. Brady Jebediah Peters and Miss Annabel Lee, which was an amusing satire on the classical medicine show spiel and associated entertainments.

At 4:00PM, “Haberdashery,” presented by Robyn Tisch Hollister was an interesting presentation on hat styles and types. (This one was mostly women’s hats, so “Millinery” would have been a more correct title--.)

5-8PM was a “Mixer” in the lobby bar, which was a pleasant low-keyed event. I had been asked to act as a host, so made a point of meeting and greeting the attendees on behalf of the convention committee.

The other major event of the evening was the “Victorian Pajama Party.” This was a very pleasant and convivial event with many of the attendees indeed showing up in period nightwear, ranging from red long johns to lace-bedecked but modest nightgowns.

Saturday morning there was a reprise of “What is Steampunk?” with some different panel members, followed by my presentation of “Melodrama and the Music Hall,” which was well received. Also a popular draw at that hour was the presentation on “Fast Upgrades to Your Costume,” by Tracy Benton.

“19th Century Weapons Beyond the Gatling Gun” at noon was a well attended and enthusiastic presentation that could have used a bit more organization and proofreading (example: both presenters referred to a famous World War I era artillery piece as a “French 76” when it was actually a 75mm gun: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_de_75_mod%C3%A8le_1897).

1:00PM, “Corset Lacing for Others,” was a brief but useful lesson on how to assist someone else in getting into her (or his) corset, by Henry Osier.
At 2:00 was “Fact or Fraud: Victorian Mysticism,” by Robyn Tisch Hollister, which focused on the Spiritualist phenomenon, and mainly on the famous frauds. Well done and informative, but sometime I would like to see one of these presentations give equal time to the sincere believers.

After a tour through the well-stocked dealers’ area, we attended the 4PM panel, “Meet Your Steampunk Groups,” hosted by Bridget Sharon of the Milwaukee Steampunk Society and Sam Perkins-Harbin of the Chicago Steampunk Society, which was a very good networking opportunity. (I took the occasion to plug Steampunk Chronicle--.)

At 5PM, there was “Bellydance History and Movements”, presented by Julieann Hunter and members of the Stellamani dance troupe. Yes, belly dance falls into the Steampunk milieu, since it was largely introduced to the West during the Steam era, at the 1876 Centennial in Philadelphia, and the 1893 World's Fair, the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Stellamani has added Steampunk costume elements to their “fusion” style of dance, which were very interesting and effective.

We had dinner at the Resort’s Ristorante Brissago, which features modern northern Italian cuisine. We both started with the Insalata Casalinga alla Brissago, which was quite good. Georgie had the Salmone con Finnocio, with wild rice and a limoncello sauce for entrée, and I had the Vitello alla Grigia, veal tenderloin with root vegetables and orzo. For dessert, we split a chocolate-caramel confection. All the food was delicious, and the service pleasant and prompt. Considering the quality of the food, I didn’t have a problem with the prices, which compare with an urban fine dining restaurant. (Our bill, with two glasses of wine, topped $100.00.)

This may be one of the Resort’s biggest drawbacks for a hobbyist convention. The resort is a long way from anywhere else, and the food is mostly pretty pricey for the fan on a tight budget. Breakfast buffet at the Grand Café was $18.00 each. Granted, this includes made-to-order omelets and fresh waffles, tea or coffee, juice, fruit, pastry, etc., all of which was excellent, but it’s a good thing there was also the “Café Gelato,” which had a variety of “grab and go” sandwiches, muffins, croissants and other pastries. This is where we got part of our Friday dinner and Sunday breakfast, and I gather they did a good business this weekend.

At 7:00PM, the doors opened for the Grand Ball, which was the major event on the “Mid Winter Carnival” theme. Entertainment was provided by the music of Milwaukee group “Dead Man’s Carnival,” interspersed with sideshow and circus acts, including a juggler, magician, acrobat, and aerialist, as well as Sir Pinkerton’s notorious “blockhead” sideshow turn. The Stellamani dancers also performed some very entertaining numbers from their repertoire. There were also carnival games presented by various local charities as which one could win raffle tickets. Con attendees turned out in their finest and had a good time, with many dancing to the band’s eclectic music.

Sunday morning, we attended the presentation on “How to Thrift for Costumes” by Mary Prince. This involved finding and re-purposing both clothing and non-clothing textiles and other bits into Steampunk garb.

At noon, we rolled home, having enjoyed a very pleasant weekend. Congratulations to the Geneva Steam Convention committee for having staged a very nice convention with few detectable glitches.

OddCon 2014

Apr. 9th, 2014 04:38 pm
On Friday, April 4th, Georgie and I drove over to Madison for Odyssey Con 14. We found the new hotel, the Crowne Plaza on Madison's east side, easily, and checked in with no problems.

Our first panel was mine, "What Gaming Has Done For/To Me." Lee Schneider was moderator, and I joined Bill Bodden and guest of honor Peter Lee in sharing reminiscences of our years in the gaming hobby. This was a fun panel to be on, and I think the audience enjoyed it as well.

After that, I was on "Uplift Accidents," with F.J. Bergmann and Cristel Sparks, which discussed the problems of "uplifting" non-sentient species to sentience, and of potentially being "uplifted" by a more advanced race, and how that might affect humanity. This was a good, lively discussion with vigorous audience participation. (One of the problems that plagued this year's con was the extensive double-booking of panelists, due to a rather highly compressed programming process, which I gather resulted from the changes in the concom. I elected to go to "Uplift Accidents" rather than "Dragons, Wizards and Fey," which would have been only me--.)

Next, we hit the dealer's room and bought some things from Ingrid the Crafty and from Hank Luttrell. We went out and got a quick evening meal by purchasing sandwiches from "Milio's" which we brought back to our room and ate. Milio's is a carry-out only place nearby, and the sandwiches were fresh and good.

The Opening Ceremonies skit was more tightly scripted than some of recent years. Doctor Who's 1, 10, and 11 encounter Dr. House, mostly succeeding in irritating the irascible physician. There were a few good jokes, but the sketch petered out without a real punch line.

(This year is the 50th anniversary for Dr. Who, and 40th for Dungeons and Dragons, so those were major themes of the con. Georgie's "Dr. Moo" cow-acature design was very well received, and translated beautifully into the t-shirt of the year.)

After Opening Ceremonies, we drifted around a bit, checked out the Con Suite, chatted, and made it a fairly early night.

We started Saturday morning with the hotel's buffet breakfast, which was quite good. Fruit, cereal and bread were on offer. There was a do-it-yourself waffle maker, cinnamon french toast, warm sweet rolls, two kinds of eggs, bacon, and sausage, all of which were quite good and fortified us for the day.

Georgie had panels this day, and started off at 10:00 with "Fantastic Prague," which discussed the extensive presence of the city of Prague in fantastic literature, ranging from the legendary "Golem of Prague" to current novels such as "City of Dark Magic," and "Cabinet of Wonders." There was a good turnout for an early panel and a good discussion.
At 11:30AM, Georgie had "Wicked Women," a celebration of the unrepentant and unredeemed female villain in science-fiction, fantasy, and film noir. The audience chimed in with their favorite "bad girls."

After that, we hit the con suite for a light snack, and then went out to do a little necessary shopping in the area.

We were back at 2:30 for "Science Fiction Charades," which was a lot of fun as usual. Due to a responsive audience, I came in second overall in presenting. Georgie and I also won notoriety for some correct guesses, I for getting "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," from that it was a six-word title beginning with "The," and Georgie for getting "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" from "-ball 2".

Our next event was the Costume Contest at 5:30, which I helped judge. It was an interesting idea to move the costume contest to the hotel's spacious atrium lobby, which had excellent lighting, but was not as friendly to presentation. There was a surprisingly good turnout for a small con, and some very nice costumes. It was the unanimous opinion of the judges that "Best in Show" went to the "Weeping Angels" (from the Dr. Who episode "Blink") which were, frankly, WorldCon level costumes, and fascinating to see close up.
We went out to dinner with Darlene Coltrain and Steven Vincent Johnson at the nearby Imperial Garden, and had a very good Chinese dinner with excellent service. We were back in good time for the Guest of Honor Speeches.
Guests Troy Denning and Peter Lee talked about the ups and downs of working for TSR and Wizards of the Coast from very early days (Denning) to the present day (Lee). Author guest Richard Lee Byers gave a very funny and ironic speech on the topic "Five Principles of Toxic Communication," a dead-on response to the Internet's general tendency toward scorched-earth awfulness. I will put up my notes on this useful speech as a separate post.
F.J. Bergmann read the winners of the Flash Fiction contest, which were quite impressive, especially the Youth winner. After the presentation, we went and read the Spontaneous Fiction entries, which were also very good particularly given the constraints of the contest. We ended up chatting outside the con suite for some time, and eventually retired for the night.
On Sunday at 10:00AM, I joined Richard Russell, and Richard West for discussion of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." With an interested audience, we discussed elves in general, female elves in particular, elf-dwarf romance, Benedict Cumberbach as the voice of Smaug, fighting a running battle with a dragon in an underground complex, and speculation on what the next film will include. Although it was generally agreed that the films have been enjoyable and spectacular, it was also agreed that, by this point in the narrative, we are no longer in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," but in Peter Jackson & Co.s' "The Hobbit."

Next, we went to "Faces of Sherlock," a panel about the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. I found this generally interesting (although one panel member was annoyingly misinformed on some points) and learned about a number of interesting-sounding Sherlock variations I hadn't heard of.
At 1:00PM. I went to the "D&D Next" interview with Peter Lee. Lee spoke about the process of evolving the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which was interesting in part, but repeated quite a bit of his speech from the previous night, and, obviously, there was a lot he was not able to talk about.

At 2:30, Georgie was on our last panel of the con (and the last panel slot), joining Rena Noel on "What is an Iron Ration?" which started off by dissecting the lack of detail about food in most games and segueing into a talk about food in SF and fantasy in general with reference to favorite works and series.

We drove home having had a very good time, and looking forward to next year. The concom is working hard to rectify the lapses due to this year's transitions, and an new homepage is already up with guests, theme, and artwork for next year-check it out at: www.odysseycon.org<http://www.odysseycon.org>.



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