Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why Do They Charge So Much?

by John Pershing

“So, why should I buy a membership to go to a convention so those clowns running it can make money off me, shouldn’t fan run conventions be free?”

I heard this question very late one night, from two young fans at a really big convention last year. They had been at the dance, were in costume, and were very up-front about having crashed the con (without paying the registration fee), because they were broke, and besides, “It isn’t like the convention pays for the hotel rooms, the people have to do that, right?, so why should we register so they can make money from us? How much money does a convention like this make, anyway?”

First of all: Nobody involved in a fan run convention is making any money off of the event. There are commercial conventions that are run by professionals which are money making enterprises, but that isn’t a fan run convention. OSFest in Omaha, as well as nearby conventions like Constellation (Lincoln), DemiCon (Des Moines), ConQuesT (Kansas City), ICON (Cedar Rapids), to name just a few, are fan events which are run by volunteers.

Figuring that these fans were clueless about what is involved in a convention, I decided to try and fix the misperception they had:

I asked, “How much money do they make? Do you mean profit they take home?” They were nodding to me.

“No, no. Listen, I know several of the folks who run this convention, and I can tell you, for a fact, nobody is making anything off of this. You mentioned the hotel rooms - sure - people rent their own sleeping rooms. But right down this hall,” I said, pointing to my left, “we’ve got, what, four big meeting rooms? And past these are another eight big rooms on this floor, and another six or eight downstairs?” I gestured to the right, “and here is the big room with a dance, a DJ playing music, and a room where the dealers are set up. Down that hall are a bunch more function rooms, and the consuite.

“Take a look at the consuite, with all those 5-gallon soda cans stacked up for us to drink. The con has to pay for all this function space, all the pop, all the food in the consuite. And let me tell you, the function space alone in this hotel will cost tens of thousands of dollars for this weekend. Add the hotel rooms and airfare for the guests of honor that the convention has brought in, and there are a dozen or more guests here. Just printing up the badges and program books for all the people will cost several thousand dollars. And there are all sorts of other expenses through the year that are needed, to put on an event like this. The money we pay to register for the convention is all used to put on the convention.

“And all these folks running around with staff shirts on? None of them is making a dime. Every single one is a volunteer, and lots of them have been working every week for the past year to make sure this event happens, and everyone has a good time. They are all doing it because they love to go to these conventions too, and enjoy themselves. And somebody has to do the work to make it happen.

I’ve summed up the conversation I had with those two fans - it wasn’t quite the monolog you see above. They asked some good questions, too, and we got into some details on the expenses involved in a convention. But the basic point is simply that throwing a convention is more complex - and expensive - than simply telling several hundred fans to meet at a hotel.

I’ve talked to plenty of folks who would like to go to OSFest, or similar conventions, but think that the cost is prohibitive. There are things you can do to save money. If you want a hotel room (or are going to another city and NEED one), go with some friends to split the cost. Most hotels will limit you to four guests in a room, but sometimes they will make an exception. It can get cramped, but the cost goes way down. (And you’re planning on partying most of the time instead of sitting in your room anyway!) Eat cheap. It is tough to get a balanced diet if you are eating only the free food at the consuite. But if you do the consuite food, with just a couple trips to a fast food place, your food budget can stay very small. Of course, if you plan ahead and make sandwiches or bring your own snacks, that works too. You get the idea.

As to the registration cost, register early - for example OSFest is $30 now, but $40 at the door, to encourage people to register early, and other conventions offer similar savings. But don’t forget that you’re getting quite a bit for your money: All the events at the convention, all the food and drink at the consuite, and the guests who come to spend the time with the fans. Dollar for dollar, it’s tough to beat the price of a convention registration for a great weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The New OSFest Website Launches

We have just launched the new website for OSFest 3: The World Created By You. 2010 will be the year that the Omaha Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival celebrates all the things people do to express their love of the genres of science fiction, fantasy, anime, horror and gaming. We want to showcase whatever you find interesting:

« The R2-Central Builders will be back.
« Meet the bevy of authors coming to Omaha to celebrate their passion for the future and the fantastic.
« Art Bozlee will again be talking about private space plans – Remember when Robert Heinlein declared that only private industry was up to the challenge of space exploration? (hint: Destination Moon) Art represents that effort.
« Join Mitchell Davidson Bentley and learn about creating and collecting artistic visions.
« Our Artist Alley will allow you close contact with creators of visions that inspired trips into our realms of flight and fantasy.
« With Jan Scott-Frazier we will be adding a whole new dimension to the SF experience for the weekend.
« We have found a way to take our tried and true hotel and get another track for programming out of the same space. We will still have the same Literary, Media, Scientific, Artistic, and Gaming experience but we will be expanding our Anime programming
« Fredd Gorham's Artist Jam will be holding a session as part of the Festival, come and create with them.
« We will have a tribute to the man who hosted horror films on Saturday nights; Dr. San Guinary.
« We will have a fabulous con suite and a whole floor dedicated to room parties. Want to know how to go about putting one on? Go to for some useful advise. Then join the fun.
« Our Friday night hall costume and Saturday night masquerade contests will again allow people with vision and imagination to express themselves – and entertain the rest of us.
« Our video game room will be moved to a location where people will have better access to the games they want to play

So check out our new website:, where we wish to proclaim that “All these Worlds are yours. Use them together, use them in Peace.” Choose your planet and let your OSFest adventure begin.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Usual Suspects - March & April Schedule

The Usual Suspects are a group of movie buffs that meet weekly for the newest (or as close as they can get when a week has a double release) genre film. Join them at the Great Escape Omaha Stadium 16 every Saturday for the last matinee showing of the day. You will have a great time and a wonderful chance to talk about the film you have just seen and others you may or may not have enjoyed. Below is their March and April schedule:

March 6, 2010 – Alice in Wonderland (Adventure, Fantasy)
Director: Tim Burton Screenwriter: Linda Woolverton Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Mia Wasikowska, Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Christopher Lee, Paul Whitehouse
Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as 19-year-old Alice, who returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen's reign of terror.

March 13, 2010 – Brooklyn’s Finest (Crime, Drama) (Note: This movie goes into wide release on the 5th)
Director: Antoine Fuqua Screenwriter: Michael C. Martin, Brad Caleb Kane Starring: Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, Jesse Williams, Ellen Barkin, Wesley Snipes
In the course of one chaotic week, the lives of three conflicted New York City police officers are dramatically transformed by their involvement in a massive drug operation.

March 20, 2010 – The Bounty Hunter (Action, Comedy)
Director: Andy Tennant Screenwriter: Sarah Thorp Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Gerard Butler, Jason Sudeikis, Dorian Missick, Joel Marsh Garland
A bounty hunter learns that his next target is his ex-wife, a reporter working on a murder cover-up. Soon after their reunion, the always-at-odds duo find themselves on a run-for-their-lives adventure to Las Vegas.

March 27, 2010 – Clash of the Titans (Action, Fantasy) (Note: This can be swapped with next week’s movie)
Director: Louis Leterrier Screenwriter: Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi Starring: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Flemyng, Alexa Davalos, Izabella Miko, Nicholas Hoult, Pete Postlethwaite
The mortal son of the god Zeus embarks on a perilous journey to stop the underworld and its minions from spreading their evil to Earth as well as the heavens.

April 3, 2010 – How to Train Your Dragon (Animation, Fantasy) (Note: wide release on the March 26th)
Director: Chris Sanders, Dean DeBlois Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Craig Ferguson, Kristen Wiig
Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the action comedy tells the story of Hiccup, a Viking teenager who doesn’t exactly fit in with his tribe's longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup's world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges he and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.

April 10, 2010 – Repo Men (Action, Thriller) (Note: This movie goes into wide release on the 2nd)
Director: Miguel Sapochnik Screenwriter: Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner Starring: Jude Law, Forest Whitaker, Liev Schreiber, RZA, Alice Braga, Carice van Houten
Set in the near future when artificial organs can be bought on credit, it revolves around a man who struggles to make the payments on a heart he has purchased. He must therefore go on the run before his heart is repossessed.

April 17, 2010 – Kick-Ass (Action, Adventure)
Director: Matthew Vaughn Screenwriter: Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman Starring: Nicolas Cage, Aaron Johnson, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mark Strong, Chloe Moretz
Dave Lizewski is an unnoticed high school student and comic book fan who one day decides to become a super-hero, even though he has no powers, training or meaningful reason to do so. "Kick-Ass" is based on the groundbreaking, best-selling comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

April 24, 2010 – The Losers (Action, Thriller) (Note: This movie goes into wide release on the 9th)
Director: Sylvain White Screenwriter: Peter Berg, James Vanderbilt Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Holt McCallany, Jason Patric
After being betrayed and left for dead, members of a CIA black ops team root out those who targeted them for assassination. Based on the graphic novel by Andy Diggle.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Uninhabited Planet Survive

John Schlosser

It is the 22nd century, and man has been driven into space by the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem. Luna is a fourteen-year-old orphan girl living in a space colony. During a routine field trip, her school’s transport vessel is hit by a gravity storm. Although the ship successfully escapes, a single lifeboat containing Luna and six school-mates is somehow cut loose. Fortunately, the nearby planet is habitable, but with only the clothes on their backs, the contents of their (wrecked) shuttle, and Luna’s robot pet, can they survive?

First off, let me say that this is very much a story for children. The main charac-ters are essentially stereotypical grade-schoolers. There’s the plucky young girl (Luna), the no-nonsense class president, the spoiled rich-kid, the rebellious loner, the shy worry-wart, the strong go-getter, and the young genius; and obviously their first obstacle is learning how to work together. To the show’s credit, this is not resolved as smoothly or as happily as one might normally expect.

Another childish aspect is Luna’s robot pet: Chako. Chako is essentially a pink anthropomorphic cat who (given her status as an orphan) is Luna’s guardian. Such a character could easily become a sort of robotic deus ex machina for the writers but, other than helping them find safe food, the robotic aspects don’t come into play until very deep into the story. It is hinted that Chako serves Luna as an educator and confessor, and her/its childishness is only in her/its appearance.

As with any survival show, the setting is also a vital character. The uninhabited planet is full of surprises for our young heroes. Most of these will be perfectly obvious to anime (and sci-fi) veterans, but don’t let that stop you, there’s much more going on than meets the eye at first.

There are a number of flaws: The plot unfolds very slowly- as in Robinson Crusoe, most of the first part of season one is concerned with finding food and building their new home. The spoiled rich-kid, Howard, gets very annoying after a while and one begins to wonder why the others don’t just toss him out. There are also a number of minor, but annoying, gaffes such as the scenes in episode 26 where everyone is running around with lit torches in the pouring rain.
Recommended for: fans of Fushigi Yuugi, Future Boy Conan, Nadia: the Secret of Blue Water, or anyone who wants a big bold adventure in the manner of a classic Heinlein juvenile. Those who enjoy survival stories like Robinson Crusoe or My Side of the Mountain will enjoy this also.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Business Side of Convention Going 1

As an artist you always have the option to mail in your artwork to whatever convention you like without ever having to attend the convention. But if you do that, then you are losing a lot of potential a convention offers for furthering your artistic career.

The rational for new authors to attend SF/F conventions is obvious, not only do they get to interact with fans of their writing, but through readings, panels and autographs sessions they get a chance to expose new readers to their work. Sometimes editors even make the conventions and then a new author gets a chance to sell his latest body of work to someone who can make printing presses roll.

Pressing the flesh works for the artists also:
• An artist that is in attendance at the art auction can help sell their work in a couple of ways; helping with the auctioneering and explaining something that helps other auctioneers sell artwork.
• Running tours of the Art Show to expose new collectors to what they should be looking for when acquiring artwork for their homes.
• Participating in Artist Alley activities allows an artist to sell his visions directly to the attending public and/or directly commission works from them.
• Even a chance meeting with another attendee can lead to good things. While attending a convention, artist Patrick Kennedy chanced to talk with the editor of Sam’s Dot Publishing. Since the editor liked his work, he commissioned Pat to do several covers for him. The first of which was SHELTER OF DAYLIGHT. Pat has informed me that BEYOND CENTAURI should be out in January and in April ILLUMEN will be published. All with his cover art.

This year OSFest will have two cover artists from Sam’s Dot Publishing in attendance. Both Pat Kennedy and our Artist Guest of Honor: Mitch Bentley will have artwork on the covers of the books at the Sam’s Dot Publishing table in the dealer’s room. And they will have work hanging in the art show. So like authors; artists who attend conventions get a chance to further their careers. Come to OSFest and further yours, information for artist will soon be available at Join us and have fun while working on your passion.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Happened to the First I, ROBOT Movie

Never Tell The Guy Who Writes The Checks What You Really Think Of Him!

I remember either hearing this story on the SciFi channels; SciFi Buzz or reading it on Asimov’s Magazine of Science Fiction when the screenplay was released and serialized in the magazine. It was the late 70’s and with the popularity of Star Wars, Warner Brothers Studios wanted to case in on the new science fiction market for films. Acquiring the rights to Isaac Asimov’s collection of short stories; I, Robot, they commission Harlan Ellison to prepare a screenplay for a film treatment of the book.

Harlan is a great writer and developed a screenplay that used Susan Calvin (who is the only character from the book used in the Will Smith movie) as the central thread to weave in several of the stories that Dr. A had written. To weave the short stories into a narrative movie, Harlan had a reporter interview an aged Dr. Calvin about her life with US Robotics. Rather than go into the actual screenplay, let me point you to a couple of reviews: here and here.

Harlan is a terrible diplomat. Of course that is also a positive comment on Harlan, he does not brook fools. In a meeting with Robert Shapiro, the Warner Bros. studio head, to discuss changes the script needed, some of the comments made by Mr. Shapiro lead Harlan to belief he hadn’t even read the script but sent it off to his lackeys. So Harlan asked Mr. Shapiro about a specific scene in the screenplay and what he thought about it. When the man responsible for this film project responded that the scene was fine as written, Harlan pointed out, as only Harlan can, that the scene was not even in the screenplay and accused him of having the "intellectual capacity of an artichoke".. Harlan was removed from the project, despite many attempts by others connected to it to placate Mr. Shapiro and the project was dropped.

I have read the first installment of the screenplay and I think it would have made a much better movie than the Will Smith version. At least it would have made more sense and left the Three Laws of Robotics intact, until Dr. A himself found the loophole in them (see the development of the Zeroth Law in his novel Robots and Empire). Maybe someday either Harlan’s script will again be optioned or another screen writer will get a crack at bringing this classic to light.

On a side note, this was not the first of the Asimov robot stories to be adapted. In 1964, BBC 2 broadcast The Caves Of Steel, using a script by Terry Nation (the creator of the Daleks) starring Peter Cushing (who fought the Daleks in the 2 Hammer film versions of Dr. Who) as Elijah Bailey. Unfortunately like most of the early Dr. Who episodes, the video tapes were erased and only a few seconds of this teleplay still exist.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

10 SF Novels That Could Make Great Films

by Dana Boden

In view of the amazing popularity of Avatar, one could be encouraged that original ideas in SF can be turned into movies and still have a good chance at success. But all Hollywood seems to want to do is play it safe and give us endless remakes and sequels, especially after a new story has surprisingly proven itself a money-maker.

But Avatar could just as easily bombed. It was enormously expensive, took many years to complete, and was Science Fiction. How many movies besides the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord Of The Rings movies have been such huge successes? These have almost-assured audiences, unlike Avatar, so why was it so successful?

Avatar obviously appealed to movie-goers other than SF fans, and not even all SF fans loved it. With that in mind, here are some classics of SF literature that I think would have as good a chance at reaching beyond fandom and winning big at the box office.

1. Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper
Second only to tribbles (probably even surpassing them) in cuteness. Just one look at how Michael Whelan has depicted them, and you will know how much they could appeal to children. Especially since they are very childlike themselves, almost like otters. They would need to look the same in CGI, but this would not be difficult. Secondly, the novel is short, its plot fairly simple, and has a clever, feel-good ending. If any studio felt the basic story was lacking, I'm sure it could be embellished without ruining it. And don't forget the MERCHANDISING!

2. The Star Beast, by Robert A. Heinlein
Okay, this is one of Heinlein's "juveniles," but the hero in this is a young man, so he could appeal to teens, especially boys, since he owns a alien pet that is Huge, inadvertently clumsy, but docile. Cool! The plot also is not complex (there is no difficult science for the non-fan to try to understand,) and the "Lummox" would be easy to create in CGI, plus the climax has a very amusing surprise. Disney had this once, but couldn't figure out how to adapt it. Maybe we were lucky there. Again...think merchandising.

3. Red Planet, by Robert A. Heinlein
This one has two boys as the heroes, and it's just a great kids' adventure on Mars, resisting the System, with a really cute alien in tow...who happens to have a cool secret. Of course, the screenwriter would need to adjust the way Mars looks from what Heinlein put in it, but it might not take too much, and the basic plot is not complex.

4. Tunnel in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein
This Heinlein "juvenile" has high school and college-age characters, and is just a damned good adventure story on another planet. Where they are forced to live by their training, wits, and luck, where they were put there as a test to become planetary scouts for colonies, where they ended up marooned. Think Lord of the Flies, but without the sociology, politics, back-sliding, and atavism. Maybe this could succeed, even without adolescent super-heroes. Just kids who overcome the trials of their situation--and don't whine about it or end up as comic-relief as they mess up trying to solve things!

5. Podkayne of Mars, by Robert A. Heinlein
Something for the girls, how about a girl who wants to prove herself "just as good as man." Often classed with Heinlein's "juveniles," he did not consider it such and caused controversy when published. Just your basic adventure of an adolescent girl hopping around our solar system, meeting weird characters and foiling terrorist plots. This one's plot is more complex and mature than Heinlein's other juveniles, but not that much. We could also use some of the Dean of SF's comments on what he addresses in the novel. Might be good to have some real values in a SF movie for a change.

6. Friday, by Robert A. Heinlein
Something for the adolescent boys again, but also for young girls who like empowered heroines. And empowered Friday certainly is! Not to mention being a liberated, kick-ass beauty, she's got one of the best Wise Old Men Heinlein ever created to guide her and provide pithy insight on society. Basically this is not a complex story; it has plenty of adventure, even with the sex that can be handled discreetly. I also believe the audience would feel for this heroine because as an "Artificial Person" she's something of a social pariah. Best bet to play her--Summer Glau.

7. "Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington", David Weber (This novella is in Changer of Worlds and Worlds of Weber.)
Many probably know of the Honor Harrington series, even if they haven't read any of it. This is chronologically the first story about her. While on her “snotty” cruise she is forced to take command of the ship in a battle with pirates and save the day. Forget about Disney pirates, kids. THIS KICKS ASS! It would be the best of the series to use for a movie. The plot is straightforward and far more military than we ever saw in Star Trek. And like ST, it also has no gender barriers in the military, another plus for appeal to audiences. But Honor is a heroine who could appeal to virtually everybody as she rises to defeat the challenges in this story. Cast the right actress and you have a winner.

8. The Legacy of Heorot, by Larrry Niven, Jerry Pournelle & Steven Barnes
A small human colony inadvertently upsets the local ecological balance and is besieged by monsters they call grendels. Second only to "Aliens" in nastiness. The science behind all this is not hard to understand, and the action could knock you out of your seat if done right. This would make a better ecological statement than Avatar, in spite of the authors' politics, because it's not as heavy-handed. Finally the climax is a real nail-biter of a last stand.

9. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
This classic has many levels to it: the military (as it has evolved drastically), sociology of the future (imaging conditioning most people to be homosexual to contain population growth), and really great, realistically thought out science fiction. This one might be more difficult to understand for non-fan audiences than those I've named above, but not impossible if done right. Hey, it's got bizarre aliens and weapons, a way-freaking-out military with satire sprinkled throughout, an appeal to gay/lesbian SF fans that is not a sop, and a great, climactic battle. Haldeman's ironic denouement would not be lost on many, whether pro-military or not. Military-SF fans as well as liberals would love this.

10. Harlan Ellison's screenplay for I, Robot.
This last would be extremely difficult to sell, but who knows? Maybe in twenty years, if the appeal of Asimov's robot stories still lasts, they could use Ellison's script for a remake. Its format is very different but unique and effective, maintaining more of a faithfulness in spirit and in retelling the stories than the movie I, Robot, which used only major elements and not plots to create a whole, new story. We can all guess why 20th Century Fox didn't use Ellison's script, or maybe they were afraid of another Bicentennial Man, needing to appeal to more than just fandom. Of all the remakes I HATE seeing come out, this is one I'd like to see.

Dana Boden

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pervyi Otryad (First Squad)

by John Schlosser

It is the winter of 1942, and the Russian army is preparing to launch its counter-offensive against the German blitzkrieg. In the desolated countryside, a teenage girl is traveling with a group of performers. She is a psychic, telling fortunes and seeing the future – but she is also much more. After her troupe is killed by German bombers, she encounters an old man who tells her that she is actually part of something larger, a military organization that is using supernatural forces as a weapon of war. Her visions will be instrumental in identifying the moment of truth that will change the course of the war.

First Squad is a collaboration between Japan’s Studio 4°C (Memories, Spriggan) and Russia’s Molot Entertainment.

The cinematography of this OVA is a perfect compliment to its setting. The drab colors and stark landscapes almost make it seem as if the anime has been filmed in black and white and highlights the devastation that Russian suffered during this period.

Recommended for those of you who like the way out pseudotechnology of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell or the surrealism of Satoshi Kon’s Paprika.