Archive for October 2015

Big Bad Con 2015

BigBadConI had the pleasure of attending Big Bad Con this year.

I had heard a lot about if from friends that have attended in the past as well as from various online forums that had discussed how open and welcoming it was to those in the LGBT community. The convention had a Kickstarter for this year’s event and I backed at the level necessary to get my Badge to the convention. It was a long flight from Kentucky to Oakland California but it was so worth it.

First, the convention, it’s staff, and the attendees are very welcoming bunch. I arrived on Thursday at the host hotel and had time to pop over and visit Endgame Oakland with a friend who met me at the convention. The next morning I woke up and attempted to follow the path of the 5K run that was to occur that coming Sunday. My poor direction sense turned a 3.1 mile run into six beautiful miles along the canals of the bay. When I got back to the hotel, I sat on one of the benches in front of the lobby collecting myself. I was approached by Nathan, whom I later discovered was the community coordinator, and asked if I was there for the convention. My Flash workout gear had betrayed me! I answered in the affirmative and he asked how my day was going and where the convention was being set up. I pointed out where they would be setting up soon and let him know that I was doing great and had just got back from a run. It ended up being a pleasant little conversation that set the tone for the rest of the convention.

I got cleaned up and decided to have breakfast. As I was headed over to the restaurant, I met another attendee who had arrived early and was waiting for the convention to start. I had breakfast and he had coffee while we talked gaming. It was pretty awesome. I went and picked up my things and headed over to the building housing the convention proper. It was a hive of activity as everything was being put together. While I was waiting around, several people took the time to speak to me and find out where I was from and how I was enjoying the area.

This scenario repeated itself over the entire course of the convention. I have never experienced this level of connection or welcome at any other convention. Even when playing games and there was another game to be heading towards, people stayed to discuss the game, how it went, and how much they enjoyed playing with the others around the table. I met so many nice people that I have forgotten most of their names. I feel bad about it because they were all so awesome to be around and fun to game with.

One of the unique things, at least to me, was that most of the games were held in their own individual room. I am used to playing in large ballrooms crammed full of tables where hearing the others at the table is difficult due to the din that fills the room. This gave the experience an intimacy that I had never experienced at a convention. It was like playing at home with a group of friends but I could just step outside and find another game in another room. There were three rooms where this was not the case. The convention had Games on Demand where there were plenty of tables in the room games were ran in two and four hour slots. You just had to show up and join a group for one of the games on offer. There were also two rooms where there were a few tables in the room and several games going on at the same time. Despite this, the room never felt loud or overwhelming nor did it interfere with the games that shared the room.

Big Bad Con created an atmosphere that was open and inviting. It appeared that everyone one from the con organizer down to the people from the food trucks that kept us games fed were invested in creating this feeling of welcome and inclusiveness. It made the entire weekend feel like a floating world outside of the realm of normal. It made we wish that every convention was like this and all the people that I ran into at convention wanted to talk about games, design, accessibility, and creating safe spaces for all within the community.

Big Bad Con gets four bear paws out of four from this geek bear. I have never had such a great gaming experience at a convention as I did here. I am crossing my fingers that I can make Big Bad Con happen for me again next year.

 

Ancillary Justice

Leckie_AncillaryJustice_TPIt has been some time since I have read any science fiction.

My reading habits have leaned more towards urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and the authors with whom I am already familiar. I am a fan of Kameron Hurley’s work and follow here on twitter. Last year she mentioned a book by Ann Leckie entitled Ancillary Justice. It sounded intruiging and I picked it up when I was out at my local book store. I brought it home and put it on my shelf where it sat for some time. I headed out for a tropical vacation and decided that this would be the best time to give Ancillary Justice a try. On these vacations, my reading time is spent in the early mornings while I watch the sunrise and await breakfast with my fellow travelers.

I regret putting off reading this for so long as I enjoyed it so much.

Ancillary Justice takes place in a far flung galactic empire. The empire in which the story takes place is termed the Radch. This empire has lasted for thousands of years and expanded it’s power through the annexation of other systems. Annexation makes it sound like this empire is genteel but this is far from the truth. Annexation is the process by which a planet is attacked and it’s people are turned into extension of the powerful ship AI’s, called ancillaries, that make it possible for the Radch empire to rule so thoroughly. Those that surrender during the annexation are granted citizenship and allowed to become civilized.

The story told in Ancillary Justice is that of one of these ancillaries. Breq, as they call themselves now, is the last surviving piece of the ship, Justice of Torens. She has struggled for 20 years for one thing. She has struggled to to get herself into a place where she could take vengeance on the personage that left her a singular entity when they had been so much more.

Leckie creates a character wuth such depth in the personage of Breq. throughout Ancillary Justice, the reader is taken back and forth in time to see the process that has brought Breq to this point and how that pushes them forward into seemingly impossible actions. Leckie paints a portrait of what it must be like to have such an wide perspective through so many eyes. Leckie highlights both the mechanical aspect that is inherent in this creation and subtly points out how those human emotions such as love and hate are still not possible to extract from these once human ancillaries and the powerful AI’s that control ships, stations, and planets.

Breq and Seivarden, our two main characters through this book provide two disparrate but complimentary views of this universe. Breq provides a self-deceptive detached view of the Radchii empire. As a ship, Breq is intimately aware of her crew and their views. The ships feelings are dismissed by all involved and this colors Breq’s thoughts and understanding of her own emotions. Seivarden, once an officer on Justice of Torens, is displaced in time. Their ship was lost and Seivarden escaped in a suspension pod, only to be found 1000 years later. Sevarden is a person with no connection to the universe and has sought solace in loss of their senses. Seivarden gives us the emotional view of someone just as lost in this world but bereft of any goal to which to set themselves.

Leckie has created a universe both familiar and alien in it’s scope. Her characters are well drawn and gently draw you into their lives. She creates a space opera that dances with the tropes of the genre through the fluidity of gender found within the Radch empire despite it still hewing to the colonial framework. Breq and Seivarden’s voices are so strong and their stories intriguing that I wanted to know more about them as I turned the last page.

I would give Ancillary Justice four bear paws out of four. It has characters that are well rounded and draw the reader in. The universe is reminiscent of Dune without ever feeling like a copy. A definite must read for fans of science fiction.

 

 

Rat Queens Vol 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N’rygoth

RatQueensV2_CoverOne of the books I made sure to take with me on vacation was the second Volume of Rat Queens. The first volume was just so good I had to get caught up with the title through what was available in trade paperback. I propped my feet up on my resort room balcony and read the book as the tropical sun rose over the palm trees rustled in the breeze coming from the ocean.

It was rather idyllic.

In this volume of Rat Queens there is a slight change in the creative team. Roc Upchurch was the Artist on the first volume. Due to circumstances, he stopped working on the title and Wiebe was able to get stellar artistic talents of Stjepan Sejic. I love Sejic’s work and had no reservations about his ability to do Rat Queens justice.

The story picks up with the Queens ending their celebrations of the defeat of the Orc horde and saving the city of Palisade from certain destruction. As is their wont, the Queens celebrations are are destructive as normal and they are once again brought before the mayor of the city. A new mission is presented to the Rat Queens to recompense the city for destruction of priceless art. The story unfolds to show the audience that things unfinished never remain hidden for long.

In this volume of Rat Queens We get to learn more about each member of the group as they fight for their lives and the lives of every member of the city of Palisade. The puzzle pieces presented in Sass and Sorcery come together as Gerrig is finally able to execute the plan to get revenge for the loss of the only thing that he loved in the world that was taken from him. The hole that this loss left within in soul can only be filled with the death of that which he helped create and, maybe then, his own death will cause the pain to end.

Like the first volume, the story presented in volume two is stupendous. The character which were well realized are given even further depth in here. The audience is given glimpses into the past of almost every character which shows how they ended up being a part of the Rat Queens. The dysfunction of the group is not ignored either as this provides both a layer of tension and comedy that makes this books so good. But, instead of being one dimensional, it evolves with the characters so that even their squabbles are endearing. The art, as expected, is wonderful. There is a series of panels at the end of the book where Dee is faced with a choice. Time is running out and something must be done. Sejic creates such tension in these panels as she contemplates her next move. When the decision is made and the power flows, Sejic creates a sense of power that flows through Dee to the wider world that is just beautiful to see. The transition in artists is also handled well so that the change isn’t ever jarring in the story.

Rat Queens Vol 2 is another must have trade paperback for any fan of comic books. Great characters, wonderful art, and a story that is exciting but leaves plenty of questions to be answered in further stories.

4 bear paws out of 4!

Midnighter

MidnighterMidnighter is about to reach issue five of the character’s solo run in DC’s new iteration of the character. I feel like I should have talked about Midnighter before this as he is one of the few out gay characters in comics today.

The problem is that my feelings about Midnighter are complicated.

Let me explain.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I am a fan of super heroes. Midnighter was a part of a super hero team called The Authority. He was out and open gay super hero who was in a relationship with the teams Superman analog, Apollo. I was not out at the time but it certainly struck me that here were characters that were strong, powerful, and able to embrace who they were. It was treated as part and parcel of the universe with only the occasional backlash. The first few story arcs were great with wonderful art. As time went on, the creative team on the book changed and with it the art and stories became…lesser stellar. I drifted away from the Authority but it created an indelible mark in my imagination.

DC Comics relaunched their continuity after Flashpoint with the New 52. Part of this was a team that included some members of the Authority, including Midnighter and Apollo. I gave the book a try but it could not recapture the feel of the the Authority despite repeated attempts to do so. In the fullness of time, the book was cancelled.

This brings us to now. Midnighter is a solo hero. The first issue shows the audience a man that is activley searching for a past that has been occluded from his vision. There are over the top comic book fights with villains but, similar to Nightwing and Grayson the audience is shown the personal life of Midnighter. We get to see that Midnighter has a profile on Scruff and has dates and one-night stands. Hell, for a man with no identity outside of the hero persona, we get to see how a date is rolled into the life of super heroics. All of this is presented without pomp or circumstances. It is treated as normal which is pleasant surprise coming from DC.

I have to say that despite my trepidation, I am hooked. In The New 52 universe, Midnighter is unaware of his heritage. He is the product of a secret project entitled the God Garden. This is a black box operation that has created technology capable of creating super powered humans almost on part with their original creation of Midnighter. Orlando has provided an explanation for the split between is both acceptable but poses more questions. One of the unique things about Midnighter is that he has the ability to see the outcomes of all actions within a altercation. In a flashback, the audience gets to see he and Apollo get into an argument. Midnighter’s ability kicks in and he makes a decision. He leaves Apollo that day. He would rather the pain be lesser and then that the greater pain that would be caused if things played out the way the were currently. This creates a picture of something more than a cold and callous creature of war. It also paints a picture of a person that, despite being comfortable in their own skin, is not complete in touch with their own and other’s emotions. I want to see this little story play out across Midnighter’s story.

The art is my only problem with the book. I am still stuck on my love for the original style of the Authority. So, it is difficult for me to read this book without comparing it to those panels and finding it lacking. So, I work to judge the art on it’s own merits and keep my disappointment in check when that desire for the old Midnighter design to return.

I would give Midnighter 4 bear paws out of four. It is an excellent take on a gay super hero in one of the big two’s line up. The story being told is interesting and the art is good. Midnighter is a definite book to have on your pull list.

 

National Coming Out Day

240px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skiesHappy National Coming Out Day!

My birthday is coming up in two days which will make this geek bear 44 years old. The both sad and happy fact about this birthday is that it will be the third year that I have been out.

You may be wondering why happy and sad?

The answers are rather simple actually. The happy part is that I have accepted who I am and am okay with being open and honest about myself.

The sad part is layered. I am sad that I was afraid to come out for so long. I am sad that I wasted so much time in hiding. I am sad that the time in the closet makes it harder for me to feel like I fit in anywhere very well at the moment. I am sad that I didn’t come out sooner in that it might have helped others accept themselves and spare them what I went through.

This is the important thing about National Coming Out Day. It is a bold statement to the world that it is okay to be who you are and accept yourself. It is a statement that there are people out there that care and want to help you be you. Even if you are in a place where it isn’t safe to come out publicly for one reason or another, coming out to your self is that one step closer to that level of openness that you may need. It doesn’t matter what age you do it because the act itself will help you move to that next step of being a better you.

If someone chooses to come out to you today, be happy. They think you are someone worth knowing the important things about them and are a safe person to share with.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

New Yorked

New YorkedOne of the way I judge a book is whether I would read it again. I know people that aren’t able to do this, but I am not one of them. If the books makes me want to wander down it’s path again despite knowing each twist and turn, it has done something special and won my heart.

New Yorked by Rob Hart made me want to read it again.

New Yorked is a crime fiction story set, as you may have guessed, in New York. The tale is told from the perspective of Ashley McKenna, a self-described blunt instrument. Ash, as he prefers to be called, would call himself a private detective but that requires years of training and an expensive test and background check through the police. These are things that Ash just does not have the time or patience for.

The story opens up with Ash awakening from a hangover of epic proportions. he has no memory of what has happened the night before and there are only a few messages on his phone to indicate what transpired. One message is from Chell, the woman he loves. Chell has called asking for help as she tries to get away from someone that has her scared. As Ash tries to clear his head and remember what happened, he learns that Chell has been murdered and her body left in a junk yard. What follows is Ash’s journey to discover what happened that night and exact vengeance.

New Yorked is very much like the burlesque dance that occurs in the story. It struts upon the stage covered in the tropes of a gritty, noir crime story. It even has a trilby. The dance begins with Ash, our wrecking ball, struggling with the thought that maybe in his drunken black out may be the perpetrator of this hideous crime. Like a good burlesque dancer, this is teased as the story proceeds instead thrown in your face from the beginning. Instead, You are treated to the exploration of whom Ash is, the people around him, and the city as he sees it. When the dance ends, the tropes have been treated in such a fashion to render them electric, and well blended with a modern sensibility.

One of the many things I enjoyed about this book is the cast of characters that surround Ash. They are lovingly detailed and well rounded despite the reader only getting to know them through Ash’s perceptions of them. My two favorites are Ginny Tonic and Bombay. Ginny is the drag queen crime lord that controls the area in which Ash lives and spends most of his time. I expect to be given a stereotype when I first hear mention of a drag queen crime lord. But like the burlesque I mentioned earlier, the stereotype is just piece of costume to be used to tease the reveal. Ginny’s time on the stage is brief but she holds the spotlight and demands attention. Hart gives her a depth that was unexpected and heart-wrenching at the same time. Bombay is Ash’s best friend and the only person in Ash’s circle with a normal life. Hart discards the stereotypes here and gives us a whole person that embraces Ash, warts and all, and never gives up on trying to keep Ash as much on the straight and narrow as possible.

I could go on and on about this book. It has a definite sense of place wherein it explores New York through the eyes of those who live outside of the bright shining lights of the movies but doesn’t ignore that perception. It deals with deeper thoughts about the journey to find just is sometimes the journey to confront our own failings. It even has geeky moments where it references old movies like The Warriors and LARP. There is just so much here that one reading will get you hooked and you will want to go back in to better pay attention to the dance so that you can see what you missed.

I give New Yorked by Rob Hart four bear paws out of four. It is great book that presents a diverse cast of characters in a realistic light. It sucks you in and makes you not want to stop until you’ve seen the dance to it’s end.