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Mark your calendars (Portland, OR)

Here are a few upcoming events that might be of interest to the Portland-area SF-reading crowd:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 7:00 PM: The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination reading/signing with John Joseph Adams, Daniel H. Wilson, and David D. Levine at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing (http://www.powells.com/events/#5113)

Thursday, April 4, 2013, 7:00 PM: Phantom Sense and Other Stories book launch with Mark Niemann-Ross, Richard A. Lovett, and David D. Levine at St. Johns Booksellers (http://stjohnsbooks.com)

Wednesday, April 24, 2103, 7:00 PM: SFWA Pacific Northwest Reading Series with Mary Robinette Kowal, Tina Connolly, and Nisi Shawl at McMenamin’s Kennedy School (http://www.sfwa.org/for-readers/sfwa-northwest-reading-series/)

Portland Comic Con report

I had thought that I’d never been to a comics event before, but when I ran into Barry Deutsch he pointed out that I’d been to several iterations of the Stumptown Comics Fest. Which is true, but Stumptown is more of an arts festival, where most of the tables are staffed by independent comics artists. The Wizard World Comic Con was not very much like that at all.

My first thought when I stepped onto the show floor was that this looked and felt exactly like the “sci-fi conventions” seen on shows such as Castle and CSI — masses of people, mostly dressed in black, with a sprinkling of costumes, all tightly packed in a show floor crammed with booths. Lots of T-shirts with geeky slogans; mass-produced zap guns and other accessories. Quite a few small children, with parents in tow (or is that the other way around). Pop music from the overhead speakers competing with video game noises and soundtracks from the booths. Thousands of people, possibly over ten thousand; certainly all the parking near the convention center was full. This was a place of commerce — a giant dealer’s room with a few tracks of programming attached (on the other side of the hall, more lightly attended). Apart from Barry (whom I’ve met only a few times before) and the other panelists on my own panel, out of all those thousands I didn’t meet a single other person I knew.

But as I wandered the show floor, looking at pirated DVDs and buying some graphic novels from the 50% off racks, I realized that there was something else this reminded me of: the state fair. Like the state fair, it had booth after booth of vendors and exhibitors; it even had games of chance (I won a T-shirt) and pitchmen hawking the geekish equivalent of Veg-A-Matics (mostly iPhone accessories). Instead of cows and horses, it had artists and actors. Brent Spiner and Lou Ferrigno chewed their cud in their stalls, signing autographs for $40 a pop and up. Artists, too, were had stalls, selling books, prints, and sketches (I’d been told that some would provide sketches for free; I didn’t ask, but saw several with posted price lists). I saw an enormous line, stretching the length of the exhibit hall, of people waiting for an autograph from one of the stars of The Walking Dead, which sort of baffled me. All it lacked was elephant ears and Fried Things on Sticks, though the convention center’s usual providers of unhealthy food were on hand.

Crossing the hall to the programming area, I sat in on a few panels, including a presentation on the history of Filmation by Andy Mangels, before it was time for my own panel (“Science Fiction Writers: Imagining Our Future” with Erik Wecks, William Hertling, Daniel H. Wilson, and Chris Claremont). Over a hundred people attended, and I think most of them were drawn by the name Chris Claremont… but he didn’t show, and didn’t show, and finally we started the panel without him. Then, about fifteen minutes in, someone from the convention came in and removed his name tent, muttering to the panelists “he’s not on this panel.” (::waves hands:: “I am not here. I was never here.”) Later we learned that Claremont had not been informed of his addition to the panel, though he was listed in the program book. However, even when it became clear that the star would not show, not one audience member left, which cheered me greatly.

It was a perfectly respectable panel; we covered the basics, with special attention to robots and AI due to the specialties of Wilson and Hertling, and fielded several questions from the polite but engaged audience. I handed out a few business cards and then left for another engagement.

So that was yesterday. Am I going back today? Probably… I must confess I am interested in the presentations by Morena Baccarin and James Marsters. Would I go again? Maybe, if I’m invited again, but I don’t think I’d pay $60, plus parking, for the weekend.

I’ll be at Portland Comic Con Feb. 22-24

The first Wizard World Portland Comic Con begins today at the Oregon Convention Center. I’ve never been to any kind of comic con before, but I’m going to this one, because I’m on programming. On Saturday 2/23, you’ll see me on the following panel:

4:00 – 4:45PM SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS: IMAGINING OUR FUTURE What roll [sic] does speculative fiction, and in particular science fiction, play in creating the future? When faced with so many potential catastrophes can science fiction provide hope? Or is science fiction at it strongest when it reveals our fears? Can the types of stories we tell influence the future we create? Come interact with Portland based science fiction authors William Hertling (Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears, A.I. Apocalypse), David D. Levine (Space Magic, Tk’Tk’Tk) and Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse, How to Survive a Robot Uprising and A Boy and His Bot) along with Chris Claremont as we tackle these questions and more. Moderated by Erik Wecks (Wired’s GeekDad) (ROOM C124)

1) I would like to apologize for the lack of any women or people of color on this panel. I did suggest several women to invite (sadly, I do not know any prominent PoC SF writers in Portland) but, for reasons unknown to me, they were either not invited or were unable to attend.

2) Any suggestions for a first-time comic con attendee? I don’t expect San Diego levels of overwhelming, but it’s a new environment for me and I would like to avoid any faux pas if possible.

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my birthday! I don’t have any grand plans for celebration, except that on my birthday I allow myself to eat whatever I damn well please and not feel guilty about it. Mmm, donuts.

Also today, Mad Scientist Week continues at the Book View Cafe blog with an original short-short story from me: “One Night in O’Shaughnessy’s Bar.”

I also want to take this opportunity to mention that last night I saw one of the best plays I’ve seen in some years: Red Herring at Artists Rep. It’s a noir detective story. It’s a romantic comedy that’s laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a keenly-observed commentary on the importance and meaning of marriage. It’s a noir farce, of all things. Six excellent actors play a variety of parts, with great skill and verve, on a set whose apparent simplicity belies its sophistication. See it!

The Mad Scientist’s Guide is available today!

Today marks the release of John Joseph Adams’s anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination! This kick-ass anthology, which has already received a starred review from Library Journal, a Top Pick review from Romantic Times, and an Editor’s Pick from Amazon.com, features 22 stories by evil geniuses including Daniel H. Wilson, Seanan McGuire, Diana Gabaldon, and me! It’s available now, in hardcover, softcover, ebook, and audiobook formats, wherever fine books are sold.

I received my author copies last week. They were accompanied by the best letter-accompanying-author-copies EVER. “I have shared your video with a number of people. I never imagined that you had such great dramatic talents. I love the hand; the static; the… bitterness.” (If you haven’t yet seen the video, now would be an excellent time to do so. The URL is http://youtu.be/NkOuPyILWx0. Tell your friends.)

In honor of today’s release, it’s Mad Scientist Week over at the Book View Café blog, with articles and stories about mad science all week. As part of this series, I’ll be posting an original mad science short-short story there on February 21.

On March 5, there will be a Mad Scientist’s Guide reading and signing with me, Daniel H. Wilson, and John Joseph Adams at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing in Beaverton, Oregon. See the editor’s blog post for information on readings in other areas.

I’m extremely excited about this book. Some of John Joseph Adams’s other anthologies have become bestsellers and I think this one has a strong chance of doing the same. See http://www.johnjosephadams.com/mad-scientists-guide for more information on the anthology.

PIFF: Shun Li, Alois Nebel, 80 Million, English Vinglish

More reviews of Portland International Film Festival films we’ve seen this year:

In Shun Li and the Poet, a Chinese immigrant to Italy is sent to work in a cafe in a small fishing village near Venice, where she strikes up a friendship with a Yugoslavian immigrant fisherman. Although the relationship is entirely platonic, this pleases neither of their communities and tensions run high. I had a lot of sympathy for Shun Li’s language difficulties (although I enjoyed the fact that I could almost follow the Italian when she was speaking) but the fisherman should really have known better and it’s really a sad situation all around, and at the conclusion the situation is resolved through mechanisms not entirely unclear. A pretty film, but somewhat slow-moving and dreary (the weather is nearly always rainy or overcast). Four stars out of five.

The single word I would choose to describe Alois Nebel is “leaden.” Computer-driven rotoscoped animation in black, white, and six shades of gray yields a film that looks like a graphic novel brought to life: the movement and backgrounds are extremely realistic, while the characters themselves appear hand-drawn. The film has a unique visual style — light and shadow are particularly well-handled — but the plot, involving a small-scale atrocity from 1945 whose repercussions are finally resolved during the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, moves extremely slowly. Two major characters barely speak at all, making the action somewhat hard to follow, and one of them spends a chunk of the film in a mental hospital, which is a downer. Visually interesting but not much fun; three stars out of five.

80 Million plays out like a caper film, but much more serious. It’s based on a true story: in Poland in 1981, members of the Solidarity trade union smuggled 80 million zlotys of their own money out of a banking system that was rigged against them. In a country where even the secret police can’t trust each other, the tension is almost overwhelming, though the film is not without humor. I was really not sure which of the main characters would make it out alive, and knowing that they were all based on real people made the situation still more chilling. One of the best films I saw at this PIFF; five stars out of five.

In English Vinglish, a smart but naive Indian woman, a wife and mother of two, is embarrassed by her poor English skills. Even though Hindi is the official language of India, English is the one common language and her lack of proficiency embarrasses her and mortifies her children. When she is suddenly called away to New York to assist her sister with a wedding, she seizes the opportunity to take intensive English classes, which leads to moments of great humor and emotional turmoil. Though it’s not a musical, strictly speaking, there’s quite a bit of music and dance, and the film is laugh-out-loud funny and heart-rending by turns (though the stakes may be low in absolute terms, the emotional impact of some scenes, such as her first attempt to order lunch in a New York coffee shop, is devastating). My favorite film of this PIFF; five stars out of five.

Men at Lunch is a documentary about the famous photo of eleven steelworkers having a casual lunch on a girder eighty stories above New York in 1932. The film goes into the archives, interviews photographers and historians, and visits with descendants of two of the men in Ireland. But even at only 80 minutes it’s a bit long for its subject matter. How many different ways can you say “we don’t really know for sure who took the photo or who these men were”? Also, the photo was frequently shown in various forms of re-creation (actors on a beam and/or a computer-created three-dimensional moving version of the original image) which made it difficult to really appreciate it as a photograph. It is an interesting photo, but not that interesting. Three stars out of five.

Also, special bonus film Stop Making Sense. Not part of PIFF, but as far as I’m concerned it’s one of the greatest concert films of all time and when you have a chance to see it on the big screen, you go. David Byrne is a strange, strange man, but his energy, along with the rest of the band, is boundless. And as every song began I found myself thinking “oh yeah, this is my favorite!” I guess they are all my favorite songs. Five stars out of five. Maybe six.

Interviews and Reviews Round-Up

Interviews and reviews related to last month’s releases of the Space Magic ebook and “Letter to the Editor” video:

Portland International Film Festival

February is the month of the Portland International Film Festival, now in its 36th year. Kate and I always hit as many PIFF films as we can, and this year we’ve got tickets to the following:

Here are my reviews of the ones we’ve already seen:

The End of Time is a beautiful, languid meditation on the nature of time that spans the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, lava flows in Hawaii, crumbling buildings in Detroit, and a Buddhist funeral in India among others. The images are gorgeous, often motionless or nearly so; the music is ambient and contemplative. The film will make you think about time, but it doesn’t provide any answers and the connection between the theme and the words and images on the screen is sometimes tenuous. It reminded me a lot of 2001, with its lingering, painterly shots and willingness to focus on the banal details of life while the big picture can only be seen by stepping back. But, pretty though it is, it goes on a bit long; I might have fallen asleep if it hadn’t been a matinee. I give it three stars out of five.

The Painting is an animated film that mixes computer-generated, hand-drawn, and live images in a delightful, painterly fable about characters who live in a painting. The conflict between the “all dones,” the “unfinished,” and the “roughs” provokes a Romeo and Juliet plot, but the real adventure is very meta as the characters (who know from the beginning that they are paintings and that they were created by an artist) wander out into other paintings and the real world. Will the Artist ever return to complete his creation? I enjoyed this one a lot, but I was annoyed by its almost complete lack of dramatic tension; whenever there is any danger to the characters it is resolved very quickly, and something about the painterly motion of the animation made everything seem very friendly and unthreatening. This lack of tension makes the film suitable for small children, but I think its complex ideas would be baffling to them. Four stars out of five.