April 12th, 2016

Odyssey Con, 2016 “Powered by Moogic”: Friday

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/

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/288212.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Odyssey Con, 2016 “Powered by Moogic” Saturday

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/

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/288329.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

OddCon 2016, Sunday

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/

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/288728.html. Please comment there using OpenID.