Reading List Context 27

There were many good things that came out of Context 27. One of them was a large index card of scribbled titles making up a to-be-read list culled from panels and fellow readers. I ended up making a list of TBR and TBreR (to be re-read). These are classics, graphic novels, old faves, Star Trek novels, poems, novellas, but they have all been recommended by a person here at the convention. The availability on these selections varies wildly as does the reason for recommendation so I leave the treasure hunt to you. But rest assured! The folks recommending these were dribbling in booky love for these.

Full Metal Alchemist, Hiromu Arakawa

Pump 6 – Paolo Bacigalupi

Mirabella and Spin, Nina Allen

Uhuru’s Song, Janet Kagan

Defenders, Will McIntosh

Scale Bright, Benjanun Sridungkaew

City of Stairs and American Elsewhere, Robert Jackson Bennett

Afterparty, Daryl Gregory

The Last Policeman, Ben Winters

Pen Pal, Francesca Forrest



Santiago, Mike Resnick

Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock

The Integral Trees, Larry Niven

Gossamer Axe

Ann Aguirre, new series

Jean Johnson, new series from DAW

Heaven of Animals, a poem by Dickey

Devices and Desires, K. J. Parker

The Knights of Breton Court, Maurice Broaddus

Shadows Fall, Simon Green

The Master Builder, Henrik Ibsen

The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers

Leigh Brackett

Maureen Johnson



That’s a long list. I’ll leave the TBreR list for next week.


Random Acts of Geekness – Shore Leave 35: A Con in Review

David Belt Copyright 2013

Few creatures do as many varied and random acts as Geeks, specifically the geeks who attend science fiction conventions. You know the characters I’m talking about, and if you’re reading this article you’re probably one of them; I know I am.

Shore Leave in Towson, Maryland, this year had no shortage of members performing random Acts of Geekness.

Random Dress – Commonly known as cosplay, costuming, or masquerading. This year’s Shore Leave masquerade was a huge success. Geeks paraded in all manner of dress with hundreds of wonderful entrants, but more importantly, and certainly more geekified, on Sunday morning was the Bunny Masquerade.


Members were allowed to vote on their favorite bunny, and my entrant, Bunnidas, won the popular vote. Go Bunnidas! (Far left bunny in the picture above)

Random Purchase – Also called impulse shopping. We have all stood at the checkout lines in the supermarket and snatched something from the impulse isle, because we suddenly had the urge for a candy bar or breath mint. That level of impulse is magnified exponentially when some geeks enter the Dealer’s Room and see something they just have to buy. I had a young lady sprint through the dealer’s room on her way to get an autograph. She stopped at my booth, turned to her friend and said, “You go on without me. I’m going to be here a while.”

Random Thoughts – To the outsider many geek phrases appear to simply be random thoughts, but at a scifi convention you can walk around in shirt that reads “There is no place like,” and a large number of people will get the joke. You can say things like “After the Rock/Paper/Scissors/Lizard/Spock tournament, do you want to go to the Iron Chef: Hobbit Brunch or do you want to build a TARDIS?” And the person you are talking to most likely knows exactly what you mean.

Random Displacement – Not even celebrities are immune to Random Acts of Geekness. I witnessed Neil Grayston in the dealer’s room for several minutes before he looked at his wrist and said to his staff attendant, “I think I’m supposed to be somewhere right now, but I don’t know what time it is or where I am.” Don’t tell Neil I said that. He probably doesn’t want anyone to know he is a closet geek.

Random Kindness – Geeks are nothing if not good people. I did witness one geek help another following Brent Spinner’s Q&A. The lady remarked that she would like to get Brent’s autograph, but she didn’t have the money for it. The gentleman said, “Would you allow me to pay for you?” The item, the cost, even the celebrity no longer mattered at that point. One human being reached out to another, and the memory of that kindness will last long after the ink and the picture have faded beyond recognition.

One last random event happened on the way home from the convention last weekend, and that event is the reason I am a week late in posting my article. On I-95, just south of Baltimore, I witnessed the aftermath of a terrible accident. Emergency crews had not yet arrived, and I knew at least one person was in need of immediate medical attention, so I parked my car and put my years of emergency medical training to work that I have received from the U.S. Navy. I’ll skip the gory details, but after 45 minutes, when the first paramedics arrived, I told them we had 3 injured: one ambulatory and fully responsive with minor lacerations, one non-ambulatory but fully responsive with a compound fracture, and one non-ambulatory, non-responsive with internal bleeding and multiple fractures, low pulse rate and breath complicated by fluid buildup. Then, I got back into my car with someone else’s blood and bile on my hands and drove to the nearest gas station to wash up.

I have spent the last week thinking about that time. I have come to the conclusion that our lives are largely composed of random events, some good, some not, but all blend together to weave the fabric of our lives. Regardless of the level of control we attempt to fool ourselves into believing we have, we must take each day, each event, as it comes and find a way to carry on. It’s okay to pause and take a breather when life throws you a curve ball, but then you have to get back into the game and wait for the next random act of geekness to come your way.

Origins: Table Top Miniatures

This is a photo survey for you guys. Warning! These photos are really large because I wanted to show you the detail.

I decided to go forth and look things new to me while at Origins. One of those was the miniatures.

For scale, these tables are about 4′ by 8′. The level of detail in these models just blew my mind. Not just the careful painting, but the innovative re-use of common materials to achieve a texture, or a scaled down giant …thing. Like using cardboard egg cartons for cargo pods on a space ship, for example. The life-like representation of the models is very important to these miniaturists, and the result is stunning.

I was brave and asked a guy about the games. He made the set in the jungle scene, below, plus about three others that he was setting up.

Q: huh?

Each set up is a whole imaginative story-world, or a re-enactment of a battle. The basic premise of all of these games is a story with an unresolved plot. Each player takes on a pre-generated character and performs actions within that character’s personality and role within the story in order to drive the story. The figurines are moved around the board as the actions take place. The players have to work together or against one another to achieve the goal. One player is Director of Events (Game Master) and is the leader, making decisions and directing the story and the game.

Q: How much time does it take to do this?

The simplest figurines take about 10 to 15 minutes to paint. More complicated figurines can take over an hour. He surveys the table as he is telling me this, and then looks at me again, saying “There’s a lot of hours here. I listen to music or books while painting.”

Q: How long does it take to play?

About three hours for a noob game. Others can take days. This isn’t something you prepare and cart around and set up for a quick game. Yes, you can play a game if you are totally new to gaming. Just ask which might be the best one for you to cut your teeth on. It will depend on your interest, time availability, and the tolerance of the game master and other players for a new player, but most gamers want more gamers to game so don’t be afraid to ask.


  • Boats:
  • “Tailgate This!”:
  • I lost track. But here’s a great intro to tabletop gaming from one of the vendors of one of these games.
  • I couldn’t find the Gold Digger Jones link but found what I think is the original sculptor of the pieces. Whether or not this is a match, this person does mini-dinos, so that’s a win for me.
  • Here is exactly how small this world of gaming and SF fandom is. I found this link while looking for information on the Gold Digger Jones game. This is the Star Wars table top miniature in process of being built!

This table is about 3′ foot by 10′. These boats are incredible.


heh-heh! Some kind of mech-warrior game with an industrial, post-apocalyptic feel.


A pastoral setting.You can see the character sheets along the opposite side of the table.

This one was the winner of the Judgy Noob Award. “Darkest Africa: Gold Digger Jones and the Lost City”. Hot air balloons? Cool!



The table was full of these kinds of details, such as the pseudo-Egyptian temple entrance shown here.

“Star Wars: X-Wing Episode IV, or Trench Runs are for Noobs.”


Origins Stuff What I Don’t Know What It Is

Q:Pirate Cthulhu? RPG or LARP?


A: A role-playing game, with a bar-like atmosphere.


Q: Pods? HAL? What are these things?


A: flight simulation video game.

Q: An Orc tavern? An SCA outpost? Complete with …Orc?


A: it’s a LARP, set up like a Haunted House. They outfit you with props and costume pieces, and you wander through whacking stuff with fake swords and collecting loot and maybe there’s an ale and a cheerful fire at the end. No experience necessary. It takes about an hour. …asking for a friend.


Q: What are these giant board games?

A: dunno but this is Mayfair Games

…huh? Is this an anachronism?


A: no. Just a convenient holding table.

Cheers, yo. More later!
–“Game Master”

The Origins of our Origins weekend

Uh. So I guess this thing is huge.

I’m married to the middle dot-sized head.

Origins Game Fair 2013

This is the first year that either of us will be volunteering for administrative duties at a convention. As members of CABS, we were given the opportunity to volunteer at the board game library. Additionally, I threw my hat in the ring for a few hours of Origins volunteer duty. We’ll see what that’s all about.

You can address me as Game Master from now on, thanks.


Mostly empty warehouse sized rooms await thousands of gamers:


We’re having a few folks stay with us for the weekend, see you guys soon and be safe. Wake up call is at 6:15 am., we don’t want to miss a moment of Origins!

Concarolinas 2013

David Belt Copyright 2013

After six hours travel, I find myself in Charlotte, NC, so I figured, while I’m there, I might as well go to Concarolinas, reputedly the best sci-fi convention in the Carolinas. Besides, I already had a hotel room for the weekend and a space in the dealer’s room.

Well, Concarolinas certainly lived up to its reputation. They had a huge variety of attractions, sure to wet the appetite of any sci-fi fan. They had a guest list that was 97 names long, full of writers, musicians, film/media performers, and gamers, along with 20 organized fan groups that really brought a great variety of non-stop fun to the con. They had, not one, not two, but three gaming rooms each dedicated to a different facet of gaming (RGP, Board/Card, and Video). In fact, the fun was so non-stop I could barely find time to eat or sleep. Awesome!

Mr. Bunny was doubly excited about this year’s Concarolinas, because after a full year of wearing his Klingon costume, his blood, sweat, and fur was finally going to pay off. Mr. Bunny was inducted into KAG, the Klingon Assault Group!


Mr. Bunny was so proud, he could have cried, but Klingons do not have tear ducts. So, instead he sang at Klingon Karaoke.

There was yet another inaugural occasion for my small business venture. I have recognized a need some people’s lives for help, and I am doing my part to see that they get the help they need. To that end, I have created two workshops (A Twelve Step Program for Wire-Wrapped Hearts and A Twelve Step Program for Chainmail Dice Bags). My first two workshops were Saturday evening, and boy do I have some lessons learned from these experiences, but all in all it turned out well, and all attendees reported they had fun and learned a great deal.


So, after a full day attending the dealer’s room, taking Mr. Bunny to photo ops, workshops, Klingon Karaoke, and blur of other events, I crawl to my room in the wee hours of the night. However, in my infinite wisdom, I chose to get a room on the party floor. So, Mr. Bunny carried me around to every party where he drank Blood Wine, and I imbibed Romulan Ale until the sun warned us that we had to do it all over again in a few hours…

I would like to extend a hearty “thank you” to the Concarolinas staff for hosting us. They were very attentive to all our needs and lent great support in the dealers room, on the con floor, and in the boardroom. We had a wonderful time, and we will miss you all! Qapla’!

X-Con Review

David Belt Copyright 2013

I awoke late this Monday morning, following an exhausting weekend at X-Con in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My back is complaining, my head is a bit fuzzy, and the morning caffeine just isn’t cutting it. But, oh, what a weekend!

The trip was a little under seven hours each way, a bit outside our comfort zone for travel to cons, however, we had received a special invite from Myst3ry, Inc. That’s right! Fred and Daphne were there with Scooby-Doo in the Mystery Machine. In addition to the invite was a commission for chainmail versions of the traditional scarves worn by the pair, so we happily accepted their invitation.

Myst3ry Inc

We chose to take a step outside of our normal comfort zone, and join the crew at X-Con… and what a crew! The staff at X-Con was amazing. I have become accustomed to what I considered the typical hectic-ness of con life. Very often, the people that are “in the know” are running around trying to get it done, and people who aren’t “in the know” are running around trying to find someone who is. It seems ridiculous from the outside looking in, but I’m used to it. Plus, I usually have a program that I stole from someone, because I didn’t one at registration. So, figuring out what is happening at most cons really isn’t that hard.

I never did get a program at X-Con, but I didn’t need one, nor did I ever have to track anyone down to find out what was happening. Two things kept me comfortably “in the know.” First was the attentive and knowledgeable staff. Every staff member, every volunteer, every person wearing a red shirt (that didn’t die in the first five minutes) knew exactly what was going at all times, and one such person would stop by our booth every few hours, just check up on us. I have never seen a staff for any con so well organized. The second innovative idea utilized at X-Con is one I realize, logistically, can’t be done everywhere, but they made excellent use of the resources at their disposal. They had an intercom system piped throughout the convention center that relayed current information on upcoming events. The very excited announcer would emphatically list the event, location, time, and name(s) of special guest(s) preceding each event at least twice (usually 30 and 15 minutes prior to each event). This was fantastic. I never had to leave my booth, never needed a program, yet I felt I was “in the know” at all times. This made a welcoming and secure feeling throughout the weekend.

While much of the content of the convention wasn’t entirely to my likely, there was certainly something there everyone, and I mean everyone…

There were more than 20 celebrity guests from TV and movies ranging from the original Star Wars Episode IV to the current TV show “Walking Dead,” a whole host of artists, writers, photographers, and post production specialists, games for all ages, including card, miniature, roleplaying and video gaming, and one of the best varieties of vendor wares I have seen.

Oh and did I mention things for all ages? The National Children’s Museum turned out with toys and activities for the littlest ones, two bounce houses kept primary school ages happy, and all gaming and activities were appropriate for all ages (I must confess, I did play with the Legos). Most importantly, all of these events ran throughout the entire duration of the con. There was never a time that there wasn’t something going on for every age.

All of the above was available to attendees for only $20 for the whole weekend. While day passes were not available, children 12 and under were free with a paying adult, and there was plenty for them to do.

A great variety of affordable fun, who could ask for more? Well, I can.

While X-Con was very well put together it was not without its own problems, the biggest of which occurred Thursday night during early setup. There was no one directing or coordinating the variety of vendors and other stage hands setting up booths and displays. It was quite amazing there were only a few problems due to miscommunication, which were all settled Friday morning before the show opened.

Another problem was logistical in nature. There was a large stage setup in the center of the main hall that doubled as the vendor’s room. My booth faced the stage, which gave me front row viewing of all the stage events. Sounds great, right? Wrong! The stage events included hours of wrestling, live steel medieval fighting (I did get to repair the fighter’s chainmail for these events), costume contests, and the Nerd Dating Game. All of which were quite loud and distracting, making interacting with customers rather difficult.

All in all, X-Con was great, and I would like to extend a hearty “Job well done” to director Robin Roberts and his wonderful staff. Thank you, and we look forward to seeing you again next year!

RavenCon should be called Accessi-Con!

RavenCon Accessibility

We wanted to put up a formal thank you to the RavenCon staff and attendees for making this particular convention so beautifully accessible to fellow attendees with limited mobility.

We found the convention’s utilization of the hotel’s layout to be advantageous to a wheelchair, in that everything was pretty much on one floor. The hotel uses a lowered-floor design (the restaurant, the lobby, the ballroom area) to differentiate different spaces, and these were all easily accessible via very nice long ramps that were never crowded or blocked.

But it doesn’t matter what the physical layout of the space is if the people attending the convention are not also part of the accessibility. It’s really easy to ignore a wheelchair by simply looking over it. This allows the foot-powered person to also ignore the wheel-powered person thereby avoiding any uncomfortable discussions about injury or disability.

We found that the RavenCon attendees totally blew this norm out of the water.

First, we found that the RavenCon attendees were not only aware of the chair, but that they went out of the way to modify the flow of traffic to allow us to get to where we were going. In places where there is a crowd (wal-mart, for an easy example) we get back to the idea of the wheelchair being completely ignored: so much so that shouting doesn’t work and the problem is resolved by running the crowd over with the chair, which is dumb and makes everyone angry. This was absolutely not the case here.  People cleared doorways pretty quickly, there was no camping out on the ramps and using the ramps as a meeting place, and there wasn’t much stoppage in the hallways.

Second, we found that the RavenCon attendees did not invoke the “just don’t stare” normal crowd attitude, which renders a person to a non-entity defined by a wheelchair. All weekend, we were approached, engaged in conversations, and asked if we needed anything or could be assisted in some way. In other words, we were allowed to be part of the convention rather than simply an outsider.

Even especially crowded places, like the vendor room, were designed in such a way that it was easy to get around and interact with the vendors. While attending the panels, we found that the audience was aware of the need for aisle access and moved without ever needing to ask for accommodation.

The only problem we ran into over the entire convention weekend was finding the access to the art room. A simple signage (“go through the restaurant”) would solve that problem. But even once in the art show, the layout was such that we could see everything and get around without, you know, knocking stuff over.

YAY! Thank you RavenCon!

The Working Dead: A Review of Ravencon 2013

Copyright 2013 David Belt

I have just spent 52 of the last 56 hours working (I did manage 4 hours sleep Friday night) at a small local convention in Richmond, Virginia called Ravencon. Located around the corner from the Edgar Allen Poe museum, it is no surprise that a large portion of this science fiction and fantasy convention is dedicated to writing with a variety of workshops and panels, covering the entire scope of the writing process, from concept to art to publishing to sales. For my part, this was a working convention. I had a table in the dealer’s room which I manned for 22 hours, spending the remaining time attending panels, workshops and social networking, while attempting to fill orders placed during the day.

The work is grueling. In order to keep up with customer demand, I take my work with me everywhere throughout the convention. I’ll be the one in the back of a panel or workshop, furiously mailing away, while answering questions about storm trooper armor or some other interest. This is how Elizabeth (Darkcargo) discovered me at this very convention, just last year. Throughout the entire convention, I escort Mr. Bunny, allowing him to get out and meet people in order to establish and maintain those social networking contacts so important to successful business practice, a skill which I learned years earlier, under the tutelage of Leona Wisoker and other helpful companions at Ravencons past.

For those of you who do not know, I am actually rather agoraphobic. I don’t do well in most social situations, so the societal complexities of a large scale public gathering, such as a convention, are really quite daunting to me. I fight my inner desire for flight and engage people as best I can, often occupying a small corner of the room with my chainmail bag on one arm and Mr. Bunny on the other.

I haven’t yet counted the weekend’s receipts, but already I know the weekend was a worthwhile success, despite the otherwise unconscionable hardships. Ravencon is much more than just another show to me. It is a home away from home where I feel welcomed and loved with no shortage of family, whom I care for dearly. The events of the convention, while wonderful in content, are merely background; the work, a labor of love. It is the people of Ravencon that make the experience life changing. To that end, I wish extend heartfelt thanks to Chairman Mike Pederson and the entire Ravencon staff. You truly are the very best.


photo (1)

Indie Comix Fair

Ever since Chuck Parker tuned me into comics, and especially indie Comics, I’ve been….well, more tuned into this stuff.

Turns out, Columbus is pretty huge on the indie comix scene. Huh. There are not just a few comic convention type events throughout the city every year, but several. The Columbus Museum of Art hosts a scholarship thingy for a guest comic artist to have a paid retreat at the local historic home of James Thurbur. Among others, Jeff Smith of Boneville is a local commodity.

I found this at my local coffee shop:
20130309-144554.jpg and so we high-tailed it up High Street to check this out.

Ah! Cool! About a dozen local comic artists camped out in a bar, exhibiting their talents. Neat! will be hosting SPACE 2013 in mid-April. This will be its 20-somethingth year. (!)

(No website) Canada Keck discovered she was a comic artist by accident. She is part of a collaborative guild-style effort for local artists to support one another.


Something…Zombies…something… I’ll take one. Asking for a friend.