Chessiecon 2017

I went to Chessicon again this year, which is a small, regional convention held in Timonium, MD. As per usual over this holiday weekend, I could only free up my schedule for one day, so I attended on Saturday. I had an excellent day, and here are the sessions and events that I attended:

  • Unintentional Geoengineering: The Current and Future Status of Climate Change — One major consequence of modern industrial society is shifts in the Earth’s climate variability: aka, climate change. Find out about the reasons why (over all) these changes our detrimental to our society; and the prospects of responding to it in the future. [With Tom Holtz]

    An excellent and comprehensive presentation, including slides, on the topic of climate change. With a concentration on the science, Tom Holtz, a professor at the University of Maryland, covered a wealth of topics: primary factors in climate change on long and short timeframes, an overview of how climate change occurs, the reasons why recent climate change is man-made, etc. Very cool stuff, backed up by a killer slide deck.

    One sad note. Like a lot of scientists, Holtz is worried that much of the publicly available climate data will be taken down by the current presidential administration. I confess, I never thought in my lifetime that I’d see a totally anti-science stance by our very own government, so I understand why he’s afraid.

  • Concert: Kiva — Kiva blends strong vocal harmonies with rich and diverse acoustic and electric instrumentation, performing originals, traditionals, and covers. The musicians are inspired by many cultures, spiritual disciplines, and musical styles, including celtic-folk, folk-rock, blues, big band, traditional chants, and jazz. [With Kiva]

    Kiva was a surprise. I’d been heading for another session, but got pulled in by a song as I passed the concert room. I ended up staying for the whole set, and even buying one of the band’s retrospective CDs. A wide variety of music, in different styles, played/sung by people who love what they do.

  • Where Do We Dystopia from Here? — Dystopia as a genre has been reigning in many science fiction circles and shows no signs of losing popularity. What’s powerful and useful about this trend or its manifestations? What’s limiting or frustrating? How do we feel about dystopian fiction when we live in dystopian realities? [With Mary Fan (M), Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Timothy Liebe and Jay Smith]

    A fun talk about dystopias in fiction. Not a lot of true information content, but a fun time was had by all.

  • Suddenly, the Power Went Out… — How is horror affected by modern improvements in technology? Do you have to knock out the Internet and smart phones to have a compelling horror story? Or can modern terminology be used to enhance the experience, rather than an impediment that has to be subverted or mysteriously disabled before things can truly get chilling? [With Elektra Hammond (M), Cristin Kist, Jay Smith, Kelly Szpara and Martin Wilsey]

    The general consensus was A) people, including the panelists, were tired of the same old tropes, and B) new technologies actually provide new opportunities for horror. If you still want to use the old tropes, you can still set your story in the appropriate time period with whatever technological limits that you want. Twilight Zone was also mentioned for the minimalistic and timeless ways in which it did its stories. Also intriguing, because the kernel of a new short story came to me during this talk.

  • How the Twilight Zone Embraced “Less is More” — Sterling’s television anthology The Twilight Zone engrossed audiences with thrilling stories of all sorts. In 2017, many episodes of the five-season series and its various spin-offs are still intense, captivating and even scary, often thanks to the show’s ability to say as much as possible with very few special effects. Our panelists talk about their favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and how the minimalist style made it more effective and memorable. [With Scott Edelman, Elektra Hammond (M), Steve Kozeniewski, Karen MacLeod and Alanna Morland]

    Panelists described some of their favorite Twilight Zone episodes and how they still held up so well today. Ably helped out by a fan in the audience who knew the name of every single episode. Another fun talk.

  • Author Meet & Greet — This was the first of two author signing slots.

    The authors were excellent, including my friend, Martin Wilsey. The other authors at this session included J. L. Gribble, Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Steven Southard and Michelle D. Sonnier. I even bought books from Southard and Kozeniewski.

    If I were to pick a nit, it’s that I didn’t feel the convention did much to promote the event. Authors ultimately come to conventions to promote themselves, after all.

  • Zuul: Destroyer of Shins! (and Other Recent Prehistoric Discoveries) — Aside from being the coolest dinosaur name ever, what does the recent find of Zuul, and other dinosaurs of 2016/2017 mean? A review of the latest finds, and how they inform the scientific world and the public. [With Tom Holtz]

    Another fun presentation from Professor Tom Holtz, this time on the various dinosaur-related discoveries of the past year. Including one dinosaur that was named after Zuul, the demon from the original Ghostbusters move. It was also interesting because it gave you a view into the back and forth nature of scientific research, as recent discoveries bring into question some aspects of the currently accepted taxonomy of dinosaurs. Very much worth staying late for (the talk ended at 10:15 PM, and then I drove back home).

More than other conventions, Chessiecon has a prominent filking (folk music and mixes of other types of music) track. That’s not really my thing, but I’ll confess that Kiva pulled me in with some excellent music. It was a small convention, with some pretty good content, but not a lot of it.

The event was noticeably smaller than last year, and almost overwhelmingly gray in terms of age. I honestly think they need to try to do more to appeal to other age groups, at least if they want the convention to continue being viable.

I was also surprised that there was no day rate for Saturday—I got charged the full convention rate for just that single day, which is unusual. Even more annoying, though, was that the writing workshops were only available for advanced sign-ups. Since I got charged the full rate, but still couldn’t attend the one writing workshop I was interested in, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated.

Still, despite that one annoyance, overall, I had a good time.

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Justice League: Surprisingly Watchable

Justice LeagueMy brother dragged me to see Justice League, the new DC superhero movie, last Thursday for its early premiere. Technically, it’s the fifth movie in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Of course, Marvel has had 17 successful movies compared to DC’s five movies, which have been critically panned with the sole exception of Wonder Woman.

This review, by Paul Tassi, is about the most accurate I’ve seen. He does an excellent job of summarizing what was good and bad about the film.

My own brief summary:

  • The character interactions mostly feel right, and are primarily what makes the film work as well as it does. The humor is a huge plus for the film.
  • The villain is just a McGuffin for the team to fight. He’s even more one-dimensional than Marvel villains, which is an impressive feat, but not one that you should strive for.
  • The threat used to bring the team together seems a little sketchy. Basically, it’s just a plot device to get the team formed.
  • Aquaman was considerably more intriguing than I expected, despite the abbreviated introduction
  • Flash was hilarious. More, please.
  • The special effects weren’t quite up to the final climactic battle, but DC tried.
  • It’s got some plot holes you could drive a truck through. Try not to think about them too much.

Basically, it’s an enjoyable film. I liked it. I didn’t love it. On IMDB’s 10-star scale, I’d give it about 6 stars (considerably better than the 39% from Rotten Tomatoes).

All of the previous DC movies have been financially successful, despite any beatings they taken from audiences and critics. However, Wonder Woman is the only film that has emerged with acclaim from both fans and critics, as well as being a financial powerhouse. It remains to be seen how Justice League will fare. It debuted lower than expected, 96M in the US rather than 110M+ as was expected, which is the worst of all the DCEU films. And the word is that it’s basically got to cross 600M worldwide to make a profit.

It’s got some serious problems, but it’s the first film other than Wonder Woman where they successfully captured the essence of the DC superheroes.

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Inspiration: Olympus Mons and Arizona

Olympus Mons and Arizona Our inspiration this week is the long-dead volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons. As you can see in the accompanying image, the mountain is literally as big as the entire state of Arizona.

It has a height of 13.6 miles (or 22 kilometers or 72,000 feet, take your pick). In short, it’s two-and-a-half times the height of Mount Everest above sea level. Olympus Mons is the largest known volcano in the solar system. As a shield volcano, built up from successive basaltic flows, it’s much like the Hawaiian volcanoes, but on a much larger scale.

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Profile: Guerra

Guerra is the wildcard in my upcoming novella, “Rise or Die.” He’s a seventeen-year-old warlord in conflict-ravaged Brazil, forged in the crucible of deadly asymmetric warfare since he was four years old. He’s got more bonafide combat hours than most soldiers ever see in a lifetime. Now there’s two separate groups chasing each other through the territory he controls, a band of art thieves and the Brazilian military units chasing them. Aren’t they going to be surprised when they meet Guerra?

By the way, Guerra means “War” in Portuguese.

As an exercise, I often start off by writing a profile for each major character in a story. Here’s the profile for Guerra, a dangerous, homegrown warlord. He’s 17 years old, 5’6″ and 125 pounds.


Profile: GuerraI don’t remember my parents. I was maybe four when a war band killed my village. What I remember most was the heat and the tears and the screams and the smell of cooking meat. They burned everything and then they took me and some of the other children, maybe ten or twelve of us, with them into the jungle. I did what I was told to do, because that was how you survived.

None of the others from my village lived more than a year. They weren’t tough enough. Me, I took my first life before I was five. Turns out, I was good at killing. Really good.

Knives. Guns. It didn’t matter. If I could lift it, I could kill with it.

But it was like I saw things different from everyone else. Enemies don’t just walk in front of your gun, especially if they got guns, too. You got to arrange for them to be where you want them. I was good at that, too. Really good.

I’m not a child no more. I’m too dangerous. I’m a threat to the ones above me. In the jungle, you kill threats. I want to live, but I got to become something else to do it. I got people depending on me now.

I’ll paint the jungle red with blood if I have to.

It’s rise or die.

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Monday Mashup: Doc Savage vs. Terminator

Doc Savage vs. Terminator Today’s mashup is a fake book cover featuring the inimitable pulp hero, Doc Savage, vs. the Terminator, from the famous movie franchise.

Doc Savage was featured in his own magazine in the 1930s and 1940s, a response to a similar magazine featuring the Shadow. All of the Doc Savage stories were later reprinted by Bantam in the 1960s and 1970s (when I encountered them). More novels have been sporadically published in the years since the Bantam reprintings.

Doc Savage is a heroic figure of a man, trained since birth to be extraordinary, both mentally and physically. From his headquarters in the Empire State Building, he fights crime with the help of an oddball crew of five unusual and uncommonly talented military veterans.

The Terminator, of course, was sent back in time at the behest of Skynet, an Artifical Intelligence that decides to use time travel to eliminate its enemies before they can organize resistance to it.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Doc Savage, the so-called Man of Bronze, really fought against the Terminator? I’d certainly buy that book.

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Profile: Carlitos Paiva

Carlitos Paiva is the villain in my upcoming novella, “Rise or Die.” In 2214, he and his hand-picked unit are military advisors in Brazil during a long, long civil war. Unfortunately, he’s working for the losing side. His employer, General Diego, needs his help in arranging a strategic exit to a luxurious life in exile funded by a cache of stolen artwork. However, somebody is trying to steal that cache from both Paiva and Diego. That’s a bad idea.

As an exercise, I often start off by writing a profile for each major character in a story. Here’s the profile for Carlitos Paiva, international mercenary and military advisor. He’s 42 years old, 5’9″, 217 pounds and has close-crapped black hair and a salt-and-pepper beard.

Carlitos Paiva

Profile: Carlitos PaivaI just follow the money. I’ve got some specialized skills that are in high demand. The downside is I have to travel to some of the most God-forsaken spots on this planet to exercise them. Like Brazil in the middle of their damned civil war.

You can call me a mercenary, if it makes you feel better.

Security services, corporate extraction, tactical decommissioning, military consulting—I provide whatever the client needs. I’ve got a team that I regularly work with and a boatload of mil-grade gear, plus I can field larger units with sufficient lead time for recruiting and training. It’s a profitable, albeit dangerous business, but one that I’m well prepared for thanks to my military experience.

One big score, though, could push me over the top.

I’m good, but the years are catching up. Tech only makes up for so much. One big payday and I’m running Paiva Security Services from a corner office somewhere. Living the high life and sending others into the field and raking in money without personal risk. This thing in Brazil could be just the ticket.

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The Whispering Voice

Khalish, the God of the Forlorn Hope I just finished a new short story, around 6400 words, called “The Whispering Voice.” I’m submitting it for the anthology, “Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar,” edited by Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray (wish me luck). It’s a sequel to the original anthology, “After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar,” which appeared in 2011 from DAW Books, by the same editors.

The Ur-Bar is a magical bar that appears in different cities throughout history, with Gilgamesh, the legendary warrior king, as the eternal bartender. He’s cursed by the gods, having achieved immortality but remaining trapped within the confines of the bar.

Each story has to feature the Ur-Bar in some significant fashion. My story explains what happens when a woman with an insoluble problem meets the long forgotten, has-been god of forlorn hopes.

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