Friday, March 31, 2017

(Re)Generation Who 3: The Story of “The Story of the Story”

We went to our third (Re)Generation Who over the weekend. I always enjoy them, and this time it was extra special for me because I would be administering my own panel about how I came to write Forever Fallen, which had been inspired in large part by Tom Baker’s Skype address at Regen 1.

Last year Jen and I went with two other couples, Jeremiah and Nicole and Dave and Jen. You can read about our adventures here. Spoilers: Nicole gets married to a Dalek.

My wife Jen had a big work commitment on Saturday, so she wouldn’t be able to join us to until later in the weekend. The rest of us headed down together.


We made great time and got to Maryland at around 2 pm. No problems with check-in or registration. Regen has always been a well-run convention and they continued that here. This was their first ReGen at this location, as it had outgrown the smaller venue in nearby Hunt Valley. It felt a little smaller, but I’m sure that was a matter of perception. Four pints looks a lot bigger in a five-pint pitcher than five pints does in a gallon jug.

3 pm:  We are (Re)Generation Who: The showrunners, Oni and James always bookend the convention with “This is who we are” and “How did we do?” panels. They’re very good at what they do.  I wrote about them in my post about Balticon 50, so refer to that if you’d like to hear me rave about them for a bit.

The primary reason I went to the panel was because it seemed like the convention was moving towards more guests from the modern incarnation of Doctor Who, and I was wondering if that was deliberate or if that was simply a reflection of who happened to be available.  Oni’s answer was that they were aiming for a 50/50 split between the old and the new and they want to be accessible to all fans. That’s reasonable. My interest skews much more towards the classic series but I absolutely support their aim to be as inclusive of everyone as possible.

She also made a joke about a six hour Doctor Who rock opera. I know she was kidding, but I kinda want that for next year.

4 pm: Doctor Who Novelizations (Andrew Cartmel, George Mann, Paul Magrs) Right at the beginning panel, Andrew Cartmel pointed out that while they were all authors none of them had ever written a novelization. Consequently, the panel didn’t really deal with that subject as much as it did the general topic of writing Doctor Who.  I’ll deal with this topic later on in the post, but Cartmel was extremely deft at keeping things going with just a few questions. Whenever things started lagging, he’d interject with “Don’t you have a story about that?” to one of the other panelists. It’s an underrated skill set, but one for which I have enormous respect.

Paul Magrs has the nicest head of hair I have ever seen on a human being. This is not something I tend to notice about guys, but seriously, it’s perfect.

I was less familiar with George Mann since he made his name outside of Doctor Who and I haven’t read any of his work, but he seemed like a great guy too.

5 pm: Eight is Great: Celebrate the Eighth Doctor (Nick Briggs, Craig Cobalt, Rob Shearman) I’m not actually much of a fan of the Eighth Doctor. I was mostly there to see Nick Briggs. I was hoping to tell him to “Buck up!” but he asked the crowd to say, “Buck up!” and the “Stopdon’tmove!” right at the beginning of the panel, so I had to abandon that plan. Craig Cobalt (which is the best name ever) mentioned to him that I was the writer of Forever Fallen, so he interviewed me briefly and our exchange made it into the Big Finish podcast!  If you have the desire to hear my strange, off-putting voice punctuated by awkward pauses and numerous vocal tics, you can listen to the podcast here. I’m at about nineteen and half minutes in.

I wound up enjoying the panel anyway. Nick described Big Finish in the best way possible, by saying that they make stories based on the Doctor Who that exists in their memories, so it was worth attending for that line alone. It’s a great community, and the enthusiasm from both the audience and the panelists is both genuine and infectious. I’m still not much of a fan of the Eighth Doctor, but I really appreciated the anecdotes. Nick Briggs is a born storyteller and Rob Shearman was possibly the best part of the convention. It’s been more than a decade since he wrote Jubilee, considered one the most beloved Doctor Who audio plays ever made, but he still seems surprised and delighted when people are excited to see him. He was just so very gracious and enthusiastic. If someone told me they didn’t like Rob Shearman, I would need to know why.

6 pm: Sylvester McCoy is the Seventh Doctor: I almost skipped this one. I planned to head over to the I like my Doctors Grumpy panel, but a friend texted that she was saving me a seat for this, so I headed on over to them.  McCoy is the best. Just as Briggs is a born storyteller, McCoy is a born entertainer. I could watch him all day.

My group headed out for a late dinner, then returned to our room to hang out and talk.


This was my big day.

I got off to a good start. I wandered down to the vendor area to kill a little time before I was to start my panel. Sylvester McCoy was just getting set up in the autograph area. I brought my copy of the script with me in hopes that he would sign it, and he did!

I ran into Andrew Cartmel in the vendor area. He is just brilliant. He oversaw my favorite era of the show and he really impressed me with the depth and breadth of his knowledge and the incisive way he answered questions. I picked up both of his books and he signed them and complimented my t-shirt. I didn’t realize what a compliment this was at the time, but apparently, he was renowned for his collection of t-shirts during his time at the BBC.

This is the t-shirt I wore

My friend Jeremiah caught up with me. He’s been hosting a podcast for two years (The Loaded Couch! Check it out! Good stuff!) and he had kindly offered to record it. He figured we should check with the convention staff in case they wanted to look over our stuff. They were very helpful and they were fine with us recording it as long as it didn’t interfere with their equipment.

And before I knew it, it was 11 am and time for my panel.

I was nervous. I’m terrible on my feet but I had gone through the entire presentation several times and I was confident that I had something that worked. It was a PowerPoint presentation of 50 slides, broken into three parts, and I had fourteen pages of script/notes.  Also, I had a bunch of friends planted in the audience to act as ringers and they jumped in with questions like “Is it a burden to be so handsome?” and “What’s it like being so talented?!” whenever there was a lull.

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Any problems it had were with my execution and not the concept. I was nervous, because I’m a socially stunted introvert who dreads human interaction, but I enjoyed it and I think the folks in the audience did too!

Then I went upstairs and caught up on all the sleep I didn’t get last night.

I changed into my Whizzkid outfit and met Andrew Cartmel at his table in the vendor room. I said, "Check me out! I'm Whizzkid!" and he replied in the most neutral tone of voice I've ever heard. "Yes, you are." It was such a neutral tone that not even J.K. Rowling would attach an adverb to that statement. He just said it. He did add that Stephen Wyatt (author of that story) would have appreciated it, so that was cool.

A brief defense of Whizzkid

If you’re not familiar with the character, he appeared once, in the Greatest Show in the Galaxy. He was written as a parody of obsessive Doctor Who fans and he’s best known for the line: Well, yes, of course. I've never been able to visit it before now but I've got all sorts of souvenirs. Copies of all the advertising satellites that have ever been sent out. All the posters. I had a long correspondence with one of the former members too, soon after it started. Although I never got to see the early days, I know it's not as good as it used to be but I'm still terribly interested.

Andrew Cartmel said of him in this interviewThere was a lot of laughter on the set when we finally executed that fucker, I can tell you!

Which is kind of hilarious.

He gets killed off by the Gods of Ragnarok when he fails to entertain them. The only thing left is his blue distinctive blue frame glasses.

I had Whizz Kid glasses for my costume, by the way, but I didn’t wear them. I scoured online eyeglass stores, but had a terrible time finding glasses with round, blue frames.  I finally tracked them down, and I was so excited that I could barely enter my prescription into the appropriate fields.

I finished the order and waited patiently for them to arrive. When they did, I quickly realized my mistake. I had ordered from the children’s section of the website and the glasses were way too small for my head.

Plus, I have a really weird prescription (legally blind in one eye without glass, fine in the other) that I can’t even give them away as a prop to some little kid.

There’s a lesson here, but I’m not sure what it is.  Maybe that the effort I put into cosplaying as Whizzkid was out of proportion with anyone else’s level of interest in it.

Anyway, Whizzkid is annoying, but at least he came across as sincere in his interests. In this age of Gamergate, gatekeeping and doxing, he doesn’t look so bad.

Long live Whizzkid!

The next panel I attended was at 3 pm Whovian Feminism: Alyssa Franke authored one of the finest essays of the primary, so I was really looking forward to her panel. The presentation itself was short, and the rest of the hour was spent in debate, centering on the topic of a female/POC Doctor.

There was a bit of a fallow period on the schedule here. I think it was because they didn’t want to schedule anything against the high-profile guests, but unfortunately, Jenna Coleman had to cancel at the last minute so they wound up with a bit of a gap.

We had some dinner at the worst pizza place in Baltimore and then my wife arrived late at night. She went down to the dance party with Nicole.

I’m not into dancing, but I enjoyed the music and the Doctor Who videos on the screen (even if it was way too heavy on Matt Smith)


I attended the Coffee with the Creators breakfast and that was nice, but I’m way too shy to actually talk to anyone. I was happy to listen, though.

I followed that with Afterlife of the Seventh Doctor: Cartmel and McCoy are a great team.  Someone in the audience of another panel derisively called the actors on Doctor Who "the talent" (which I felt to be a rather strange attitude to hold at a Doctor Who convention, but whatever ), but I kind of understand the sentiment. The actors don't understand the show the way the writers do. Sylvester McCoy is the wrong person to ask why his Doctor acted in a certain way in a certain story, but Cartmel can speak at length on the topic.

Here’s a picture of my friend Jeremiah talking with Sylvester.

12 pm: Ace! This panel was great. It was hosted by Andrew Cartmel and some really great fans dressed up like Ace. This was possibly the best panel of the con. ReGen has always been community driven and I loved the enthusiasm here. The panelists loved Ace and wanted to share that love with us.  We talked about Hex (“Oh my God!”) and Raine and it was GREAT! Someone asked why they went with a baseball bat for Ace in Remembrance. Cartmel said because it was an offensive weapon that was easy to acquire and which doesn’t look like a weapon. I thought, “What a remarkably cogent answer!” I liked that it wasn’t an arbitrary decision, that considerable thought had gone into it. I'm not anywhere near as talented as he is, but I have the same methodical approach to storytelling.

Meanwhile, when I was doing all this, Jen was cosplaying as a Weeping Angel. She was tremendously well received.

I’m very happy for her, though I’m a little put out that I’m not even the most famous Whovian in my own family. I wrote a story! Big Finish produced it! It was pretty well-received! But nobody gave me a license plate holder!

I’m just glad our daughter didn’t come. Otherwise, I would have dropped to third place. She cosplays a great Seventh Doctor.

Overall? I loved it. I always love this con. (Re)Generation Who is the culmination of an enormous amount of passion and hard work from a ton of people.

They continue to evolve and refine themselves without losing their identity. In her introductory panel, Oni said that it was all about the fans and the community and I absolutely believe her.

I'll keep coming back to this con for as long as they hold it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Shadows and Reflections not dead after all?

I'm hearing rumors that Shadows and Reflections, the long delayed Zelazny tribute anthology might be close to print after all this time. If this is true, it's great news. I thought it was dead for sure.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Crossover Combat: Battle of the Genies

There was a stupid joke in an old issue of Dragon magazine that nevertheless made me laugh.

Efreet: Let me get this straight: You want me to RAZE your ability scores?
Naïve Adventurer: Well, yes.

I started playing D&D in the era when the game was still framed as something of a contest between the Dungeon Master and the players. Advice on screwing with your players in such a fashion was not uncommon in those days.

But the smart ones always took precautions

I said once in an early post about Superman that I think “Should you do it?” is a much more interesting question than “Can you do it?” and wishes are an interesting way to explore that question.

Today’s installment of Crossover Combat is The Battle of the Genies.

In this corner, we have Aladdin’s Genie of the Lamp!

Powers: "Phenomenal Cosmic Power!"
Restrictions: “Itty Bitty Living Space!” No wishing for more wishes. No making anyone fall in love. Can’t or won’t bring back the dead.
Weaknesses: Sight gags referencing Arsenio Hall no longer topical.  Compelled to obey the holder of the lamp.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”:  For Aladdin, he’d create the biggest, most delicious ham sandwich with all the fixings. For Jafar, he’d make something flavorless and bland, with waxy cheese and stale bread.

Jeannie: Barbera Eden from I Dream of Jeannie.

Powers: Standard genie panoply of wish-granting.
Restrictions: Can't use her powers to get out of an enclosed space, which seems like a weaksauce weakness until you realize that she spent the 2000 years prior to the start of the series stuck in a bottle.
Weaknesses: Kind of stupid. Compelled to obey the holder of the lamp.
How she would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: She’s a bit capricious. If she's in a good mood, she'll blink a ham sandwich into existence. If she's in a bad mood, she'll get involved in some sitcom hijinx like joining NASA or putting a bunch of goats in your boss's office.

The Djinn from Wishmaster: I like Wishmaster. The movie is all kinds of B-movie trashy,  it looks like it was made a decade before it actually was, most reviews are a variation of the San Francisco Chronicle's pronouncement of "an extravaganza of bad special effects and worse acting"  and the titular villain constantly mugs for the camera. However, there are parts where it's legitimately very clever and they stuck in as many cameos from horror movie actors as they could. Come on, Tony Todd, Angus Scrimm AND Reggie Bannister? Sure that's worth a few points on Rotten Tomatoes!

Powers: Must reshape reality in accordance with his interpretation of any request he hears.
Restrictions: Must grant the wish as worded even if it's to his detriment. Unable to use his powers without a request from an outside.  (The Djinn: Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to have unlimited power, and only be able to use it when some worm asks you for something? Guard: No, I can't say that I do. I can't say that I give a shit, either.) Can't grant wishes directly relating to himself. ([after Morgana wishes him to go back in the opal] I see you've done your homework. Unfortunately for you, it's not that easy. After all, I am the Wishmaster here. So any wishes pertaining to me are circumscribed by the prophecy.) Oooh, circumscribed! Sounds like somebody spent a wish on a word-a-day calendar.
Weaknesses: The Djinn is the biggest asshole in the world. My friend Frederick maintains that the Djinn is under a compulsion to twist the wording of his wishes, and that would explain a lot.  Like the scorpion in the fable, it’s just his nature. He needs to get the person who freed him to make three wishes (at which point the other Djinn are unleashed upon the world), which shouldn’t be a hard sell. Instead, he twists the first two wishes through some darkly humorous wordplay, making the wisher extremely reluctant to go for a third.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: Do I have to spell this out? It's going to involve some kind of body horror transformation.

Mister Mxyzptlk: Grant Morrison tied Mxyzptlk and other five-dimensional entities to the myth of the djinn, so let’s go with that.

Powers: Unlimited restructuring of reality.
Restrictions: The effects of his magic disappear when he is banished back to the Fifth dimension. The TV version said that he was unable to make Supergirl fall in love with him, stop her from killing herself, or make her drink orange juice. Since these all fall under the umbrella of compelling her to do something, I'll say that he's incapable of such an act.
Weaknesses: Autocorrect. Also, like any character that's been around for several decades, he's been portrayed inconsistently, but he is banished back to the Fifth Dimension if a previously determined condition is met. It's usually tricking him into saying his name backward.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: Unpredictably. Not the baleful polymorph of the Djinn. Maybe dropping a thousand ham sandwiches around the area, maybe putting you in a ham sandwich costume, maybe making the raw ingredients (live pigs, wheat) appear all around you.


Powers: The ability to guess the identity of a character.
Restrictions: Stymied by obscure Star Wars characters.
Weaknesses: Only as good as the data put into it.
How he would grant the wish of “Make me a ham sandwich”: By asking “Does your character wear shoes?” and “Is your character the main character of the work in which he appears?”

So, who wins this frightful battle of the genies?!

It is none other than

King Suleiman! 

If you're playing in a format that allows Suleiman, you're going to find him in some kind of degenerate deck that costs more than my car. And before you can say Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mox Sapphire, Mox Pearl, Wheel of Fortune, he's killed all your genies.