Orycon 2019

(Author Chelsea Nolen, my wife Shelley, and Clayton J. Callahan)

This weekend was the 41st celebration of Orycon, Portland Oregon’s premier science fiction convention. Oh sure, we have not one but two Comicons every year (Rose City and Wizard World), but those are huge commercial events. Orycon is different.

It’s a smaller, more intimate affair where fans can connect with other fans without having to stand in line all day for autographs or other such nonsense. In this way, it’s a more authentic fan experience than the overhyped Comicons will ever be. For instance, the great CJ Cherith (Left) was in attendance this year and it took no autograph fee of hours-long wait in line for me to speak to her (much like the last time I saw her at Rivercon in 1985, and yes, I’m that old).

Costumes are also welcome at Orycon. And although Comicon has a lot more participants in that department, one can still strut one’s stuff in the halls of the Red Lion Hotell just as well as at the Portland Convention Center.

Now, to be fair, I do go to both conventions and enjoy them. But as in all things people are allowed their preferences–and I prefer Orycon.

By Clayton J. Callahan

Wanted:

I recently re-acquired this GameLords classic. I bought my original copy back in the 1980s (yes, I’m that old) and kept it for decades. Why? Because it’s one of the best damn game supplements ever written!

When I first started gaming, I’d buy a rule set, roll up a great looking character and then twiddle my thumbs while waiting for someone to run a game. Call it dungeon mastering, referring, or storytelling, the person who runs the game is the one guy who you can’t do without. And when nobody else stepped up, I was often that guy.

But you know what? It can be a real pain in the butt to come up with new material week after week. Oftentimes, I struggled to keep the game exciting for myself and my players. I mostly ran Traveller games back then using GDWs original system and thus, would often peruse the science fiction shelves at The Black Forest Hobby Shop–my teenage home away from home. And that’s where I discovered Wanted: Adventurers by John Marshal.

Basically, the book starts with a page torn from the want ads of a starport newspaper (yes, a newspaper–it was the 80s remember?). Players can read the ads and then discuss which job they want to apply for. Opportunities range from mercenary contracts, to search and rescue work. Once the players decide what kind of adventure they want to have, the game runner simply turns to a two or three page summary of the scenario and runs the game from there. Simple right?

I can’t tell you how many science fiction conventions I’ve attended where I just plopped this little gem in the middle of the table and told the assembled players to “go for it,” in true 1980s fashion. If you run any kind of SF-RPG and are looking for ideas, I highly recommend you acquire yourself a copy at:

https://www.diffworlds.com/gamelords_traveller.htm

Or, for more ideas, simply read some adventure-oriented science fiction short stories, right?

By Clayton J. Callahan

 

 

Dark Stars and Good Times

Have you ever watched a movie so bad it’s good?

My answer is, “yes,” and I’m not too proud to admit it. And of all the bad movies I’ve seen, one will always have a special place in my heart, John Carpenter’s Dark Star. Yes…that John Carpenter. The guy who gave us Halloween, The Thing, and Escape From New York was once a lowly film student, and back in the ancient days of 1974, he made Dark Star as a student film project.

The story revolves around a half dozen hippie astronauts on a never-ending journey, not to explore space and discover its mysteries. Nope. Their job is to seek out “unstable planets” and blow them the hell up. To do this they have a hyperspace capable ship called the Dark Star with a bomb bay full of self-aware planet-busting bombs.

Fun right?

I first encountered this little gem of a film on late-night TV back in the early 1980s. This was back in the days when local stations would shut down for the day at about 3:00am, play the national anthem, and then go dark until 6:00am. Dark Star, if it showed at all, would always be shown just before the anthem.

Later, I re-discovered it at science fiction conventions in the late 80s and earily90s. In those days, conventions always featured a “movie room” where classic SF films would be shown round the clock. I always found the movie rooms to be a great retreat from the hustle and bustle of the con. Tired of your friend’s drama? Kick back in the movie room for a few hours and eat some popcorn. I often found myself doing just that after midnight, and Dark Star was always shown after midnight.

I suppose lawsuits ended the movie room tradition as I haven’t seen a con feature one in decades. For this reason, I doubt if many young fans have ever heard of Dark Star. Still, it’s a movie that deserves to be remembered.

For a student film it was pretty darn good and for that reason, Carpenter managed to get it distributed professionally. Upon release, it mostly was shown at second run theaters and at drive-ins. Considering its shoestring budget, I’m pretty sure it made a profit after the first hundred or so ticket sales. I highly recommend it for your late night viewing. It’s silly, stupid, irreverent and has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. No really, when your film’s climax is an astronaut debating phenomenology with an artificially intelligent, planet-destroying bomb you just can’t lose.

Besides, whoever said science fiction was supposed to be serious anyway?

Haven’t Been To A Con, Yet? Go!

I just finished my Thanksgiving turkey, but a thing that’s left an equally filling aftertaste was the weekend before at Orycon 39. This year was my eighth, or maybe ninth Orycon. To be frank they all kind of blend together in one great fanish haze from time to time.

Again, this year I was honored to be a panelist (and grateful they forgave/forgot the whole “blasted out of my head” incident of three years back). I sat before various audiences discussing things ranging from Star Wars to Wonder Woman, and man did I get some challenging questions.

But panels be damned! I also went partying with my wife, drank more than a bit too much, played some great science fiction card games, and met a lot of truly great authors (I’m talking about you Susan R. Matthews), and fans.

Honestly, I’ve been going to these science fiction conventions since 1985 (Milinecon Minus 15, Dayton Airport Hotell) and highly recommend you give one a whirl. Oh, you can start out with one of those huge, sprawling Comicons if you like. They can be fun too.

But personally, I recommend you seek out one of the smaller, cozier ones close to home. You get a real sense of community at the local conventions that can’t be found in a larger venue. Great conversations take place in hotel lobbies with like-minded geeks you only met an hour ago, and lifelong friendships get off to a great start.

In short, it’s always worth it to seek out new friends and new conversations. To boldly con where few have coned before.

See you there!

L. Ron Hubbard, Evil, Evil Science Fiction Genius…of Marketing

Evil Genious of Marketing

When the great authors of science fiction are discussed by hard core SF fans, certain names are almost always mentioned. Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, CJ Cheryth, Andre Norton, Philip K. Dick and Arthur C. Clark rise to the top like bubbles in a glass of fine Champaign. They are the bright luminaries of the art, who’s work is never out of print because they contributed something truly fresh and insightful into the world. Many of them started in “the pulps.” Cheaply produced, short story magazines that were popular from the mid 1920s to about the early 1950s. In these little gems, one can see the beginnings of  a writer’s greatness to come. These early stories were often more about  intriguing situation than characters,  but they still managed to build our understanding of what science fiction can do. For instance, All You Zombies by Heinlein was a break through in time travel fiction as great as HG Wells’ book, The Time Machine.

Alas, for today’s writer, the pulps are gone. Now we live in an age of digital fiction where everyone can become an author…and so everyone does. Now, some pulp authors were clearly better than others, but at least they all had to pass through the hands of a professional editor. These “gatekeepers” could insist that the science fiction they paid for met some kind of minimal standard. But the gatekeepers are now mostly gone, and it’s pure chaos out there. Self published authors are a dime a dozen, and many produce books that use a great cover to hid the terrible prose within. The challenge for the reader then is to find an author who’s work stands out from all the crap  in the market today.

Since the reader can’t go to the pulps anymore to sample their choice of authors, writers are encouraged to “build a platform” to reach the reader. By this, it is meant that the writer should start a blog, a facebook page, a twitter account, anything that will spread the word and create a fan base. This kind of marketing would have boggled the minds of the early masters, who  needed only to concentrate on writing good fiction and let nature take its course. But one man was a pioneer in this field. True, he was a poor writer, condemned to forever toil over pulp stories that were barely acceptable to the editors of the time. But as the pulp age grew to a close in the late 1950s (and his livelihood dried up) his true genius bloomed. There was no facebook or twitter in his day, but that didn’t stop him from successfully creating a platform that would create a large and fanatically devoted fan base; he started a religion. Or, as he sometimes called it, “an alternative to psychiatry.”

Through Scientology, he created a flock of mentally vulnerable people (who probably would have sought psychiatric help if not for his luring) and convinced them to spread the word for him. Only after the creation of his religion did L. Ron Hubbard become a best selling author, not of mere short sorties mind you but of books! As the 1950s became the 60s, he finally had a platform sufficient to push his lack-luster talent into the wide world of slick publication.

What are the results of his evil little marketing ploy?

Well, years after his death his books are still in print, but only his religious zealots speak well of them. I’ve been going to SF conventions since 1985, and not once have I ever heard his name mentioned. By this I mean not at all, even when bad writers are discussed–his name has never come up in my presence. Critics ether deride or ignore his work, and classes in SF literature forget his existence completely…unless the class is being taught by a Scientologist.

My name is small in the world of science fiction authors, and it may never be big (who can tell?). If my work spreads far and wide, I want it to be because it actually makes people happy when they read it. I do blog and facebook, as well as buy the occasional magazine ad, but I will never stoop so low as to abuse and manipulate vulnerable people into thinking I’m some kind of messiah just to sell my books.

Perhaps I’m no genius…but nether am I evil.