The Return of the Cons

In this week's Transfer Orbit roundup, we take a look at what the return of conventions and what it means for cosplayers.

The Return of the Cons


Pfizer shot #2 down on Monday. My arm was sore for most of the day, and I felt pretty achy on Tuesday. Ibuprofen and an epsom salt bath helped with that, and by Wednesday, I was back to normal. If you haven't gotten one yet, I'd certainly urge you to. If a day and a half of feeling kind of blah is the price to pay to avoid a debilitating, deadly virus, there's no question in my mind. Here's where you can find a vaccine near you.

I've covered infectious diseases over the years, and it's genuinely mind-boggling to me that we have a vaccine for this disease a little over a year out from the start of the pandemic. That, of course, is down to some new technologies, a huge cash infusion, and the result of years of work prior to the pandemic.

This Tweet caught my eye the other day, which I think is a useful thing to know and understand: Moderna has been working on the type of RNA vaccines since 2013, with $25 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This type of technology wasn't designed specifically for the coronavirus, but it's certainly proved to be useful in that area. It goes to show that research doesn't happen overnight, even if it looks like that's the case. It also makes me wonder: what types of things are they working on that we'll see results for in the next 10 or 20 years?

Becky Chambers @ Mysterious Galaxy

Graphic: Mysterious Galaxy

In case you missed the announcement last week: I'll be chatting with Wayfarers series author Becky Chambers in an event hosted by Mysterious Galaxy next week: Monday, May 7th at 7PM PT / 9PM CT / 10PM ET. We'll be chatting about optimism in science fiction, her latest book The Galaxy and the Ground Within, and a bit more.

You can find full details about the event here, and anyone who buys a book will get a signed bookplate. You can register for the event here. If you're on Facebook, you can add yourself to the event here (I do this as a sort of reminder). I really hope that you'll come and listen in. I interviewed Becky the other day — stay tuned next week for a Q&A with her — and we've got lots of cool things to discuss. Her book is really excellent, and I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Programming note for those paid subscribers who came over from Substac: as you might remember, there were some issues with the migration, and folks who were monthly contributors were comped through May 30th. This is your heads up that that date's coming up. Those of you who are annual subscribers are compted on a rolling basis, and those will start to expire in the months ahead. I'll email those folks on a case-by-case basis.

Obviously, I'd love to have you renew your subscription, but don't worry if that's not in the cards. I will be running a subscription drive in June, so if you wanted to pick up an annual subscription at a slightly discounted rate, stay tuned for some details down the line on that.

Also, if you were a subscriber who has found that they're not being comped (and their subscription didn't expire), let me know? I've had one instance where someone was missed, and want to make sure that there aren't any others.

Okay! Onto this week's roundup. I promise that this newsletter isn't turning into an all-Star Wars-all-the-time sort of thing, but that seems to be the case every May.

This week in SF/F

Cosplayers at DragonCon. Image: Andrew Liptak

Return of the Cons

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic last year, a ton of conventions ended up cancelling their in-person events, and a couple of months in, many opted to transfer over to a virtual event that allowed fans to tune in from anywhere around the world. A couple of big conventions opted to simply cancel altogether, like Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, which announced that it would push off until August 2022.

This week, Lucasfilm and ReedPop announced another change to that upcoming con: it would move from August to May 26th-29th, 2022, a bump up in which appears to be some confidence that the world will be getting back to normal in the coming year. The move comes as other conventions, like San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con have announced their own returns to in-person events, although with some modifications.

This year's San Diego Comic-Con won't be held during its typical July weekend, but will instead hold Comic-Con@Home from July 23-25, 2021, and it'll hold a "smaller, supplemental event" called Comic-Con Special Edition, which bizarrely will take place over the Thanksgiving weekend between November 26th-28th. New York Comic Con will also take place this year between October 7th-10th, although it'll be holding the event at "reduced capacity." Other big cons from ReedPop, like C2E2, Emerald City Comic Con, and Florida Supercon will also take place later in the year, presumably with some wiggle-room to make way for local restrictions in the event that COVID-19 is still lingering.  

For cosplayers, this is a welcome thing: while they've been able to build and share costumes at home through social media, cosplay is a vocation and hobby that's really designed for in-person events. We thrive on those in-person, social interactions with fans and fellow cosplayers, and the online environment just isn't as good at providing that. I've seen it as a bit of a stop-gap measure.

But returning to in-person events means that cosplayers — and fans alike — are going to have to adjust to some changes and challenges. A while back, I threw together a list for Cosplay Central (A publication from ReedPop) of costumes that would be perfectly suited for an environment where we'd have to be wearing masks: it included characters like Bucky from Captain America: Civil War, Sister Night from HBO's Watchmen, and the biohazard suit that we saw in Arrival.

Image: ReedPop

With the announcement that Celebration was moving, ReedPop also announced a string of safety requirements around masks, namely, that everyone will need to be wearing one. And the doozy here is that costume masks won't cut it: convention personnel will need to actually see you wearing an approved mask, which means that if your costume has a helmet, you won't be able to wear it: "Face coverings must be visible at all times. For this reason, headwear and cosplay pieces which cover the face in a manner which does not visibly fit the face covering requirements will not be permitted."

Presumably, you could wear the rest of the costume: I predict plenty of depictions of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker trapped in a trash compactor (As well as officers and off-duty TIE Pilots). As I noted to a fellow cosplayer, if I end up making it to Celebration, I'll just bring my General Merrick pilot costume (which nicely fits into a backpack, meaning that I wouldn't have to lug around a big case with the armor.)

Celebration isn't the only con to issue these requirements: New York Comic Con and C2E2 have announced identical requirements that forbid face-covering costumes. ReedPop chalks this up to "current local and venue health guidelines," and I'm guessing that they could update this requirement closer to the convention date if Anaheim, California does — which depends on more people getting vaccinated and the country / world as a whole making some significant progress against COVID-19. I haven't seen requirements for San Diego Comic-Con or Dragon Con just yet, and the local cons near me, Vermont Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo  and the Vermont Fan Fest haven't announced any restrictions here, but we're also trending a bit better than the rest of the country.

Predictably, there's been some grumbling about this. For groups like the 501st Legion, helmets are a big component of the costume, and events like Celebration are a big gathering point for the Legion as a whole — a time to show off those costumes and take pictures with huge groups of us.

Mind, this requirement isn't a bad thing: public safety should always be the first priority for these sorts of big events. There doesn't really need to be a balance that accommodates cosplayers: it's something that they'll have to work around and be responsible with: like getting vaccinated, wearing masks, not attending if they're sick, and keeping socially distanced.

Hopefully, as folks realize that they can help bring an end to the pandemic and return to some modified sense of normality, we'll be able to get back to attending conventions and suiting up with our friends before too much longer.

Art: Paul Shipper

Kenneth C. Flint's lost Star Wars novel

Earlier this week, I came across something interesting on Twitter and eBay: copies of an unpublished Star Wars novel had surfaced on Amazon. The books were fan-printed copies of Kenneth C. Flint's unpublished Star Wars novel, and had been taken down after a couple of days.

But not before people got their hands on copies, who then flipped them over to eBay, where they've been selling for hundreds of dollars. One person I got in touch with about a copy wanted to sell it to me for $50 plus shipping — five times what they paid for it on Amazon.

The whole incident prompted me to look more deeply at the book and its unfortunate story, interview Flint and Star Wars Expanded Universe Timeline owner Joe Bongiorno, and how it exposes the larger fractures within the Star Wars community. The post is for paid subscribers (I spent a couple of days researching and writing this), but here's an excerpt (if you click on the post, you can read the intro as well):

Joe Bongiorno, a long-time fan of the Expanded Universe and the editor of a fansite called Star Wars Timeline, was interested in what had happened to that lost book. He'd come across references to it over the years, but had never come across it.

His site is an extensive guide to the various tendrils that was the Expanded Universe: an effort to reconcile and celebrate the stories that were published throughout the 1990s and up through 2014. In an email, Bongiorno explained that he's been "obsessed with preserving stories that would otherwise vanish," and that his website is the perfect outlet for archiving and distributing those particular stories.

Over the years, he's published a handful of projects, like two unpublished editions of the Star Wars Adventure Journal, and an unpublished novella from Ryder Windham, Adventures in Hyperspace: The Big Switch.

Bongiorno explained that he'd been looking for Flint's novel for a while, and that "I'd always wondered what became of that book (which had been advertised), but didn't have high hopes for its survival," he says. "So, I reached out, and Ken was thrilled to have someone take an interest in it. I explained that I wanted to first edit it to ensure that the story wasn't chucked aside by fans because it wasn't in continuity, and he was fully onboard with that."

"I happily sent [Joe] an electronic copy," Flint says, after the webmaster got in touch and asked if he could read the manuscript. "He afterward proposed the idea of putting it up online as fan-fiction, which he said would be acceptable. I was convinced to go along, wanting people to finally see the book I’d labored on for months."

Bongiorno gave the book a light edit — noting in his editor's note that it was already complete and edited — and commissioned a piece of artwork that resembled the look and feel of the books of the era, and posted it online in 2015. The arrival of a new Star Wars novel on the site sparked a flurry of headlines and interest from fans — as well as some physical editions.

Flint credits Bongiorno with all the work editing and posting the book online. "I’m an old guy and have no technical expertise or online connections to accomplish this," he says. "When it went up, I told my friends and family. That was about it. I expected little more. So, I was very surprised when the print copy came out too! I didn’t have any idea that was happening. I managed to secure a single lousy copy in the 5 minute-window before the book got taken down."

In his notes, he explained that he helped to provide some minor edits, and that they made some small adjustments to ensure that the book fit within the existing Expanded Universe continuity for those readers who had been missing that era of storytelling. While it wasn't published as intended, Bongiorno notes, it was well-regarded: series creator George Lucas apparently sent Flint a letter saying that he enjoyed the book. "I've been grateful to see that fans — with the exception of the most pedantic — have embraced the story."

It was left as that: a curious story that would likely appeal to that small sliver of Star Wars fandom that clamored for more stories from those early days of the franchise.

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Currently Reading

Image: Hodder & Stoughton's ARC for Galaxy and the Ground Between. Image: Andrew Liptak

My aforementioned event with Becky Chambers is coming up on Monday, so I've been immersing myself in the latest installment of the Wayfarer's series, The Galaxy and the Ground Within.

Like the other novels in the series, it's a sublime read, the equivalent of taking one's self out of a busy world and finding a nice, peaceful green space, away from the noise of traffic, notifications, and machines. The story is about four aliens who find themselves stuck on a planet after a satellite disaster (something a bit like a Kessler Syndrome incident), and they spend some time together getting to know one another. It's a book about bridging differences and learning about others.

Other books on the TBR pile:

On the horizon:

Further Reading

  • AI Pitfalls. A company called Latitude launched a storytelling game called AI Dungeon, which uses machine learning to build out an adventure. The company supplying the AI, OpenAI, found some troubling behaviors emerging: some players were prompting sexual encounters with minors, prompting the company to launch some moderation tools. Some users have complained that those efforts go too far by reading private scenarios. It's a new quandary. There's a good rundown on Wired about it.
  • Audio Scams. Francis Blagburn over at Vice has a neat look at the world of scam audiobooks. It's relatively easy to distribute a gibberish book on places like Amazon, but for audiobook, you need a narrator. The incentives are pretty wild: Amazon would provide folks who completed a book with 200 free promotional codes. Good for indie authors wanting to promote their books (they'd get some readers and royalties, and a ripe target for scammers: "Rennie’s description of the ruse is that scammers would create a book by scraping content from webpages online into a barely formatted ebook, then list it as a royalty split deal on ACX, so narrators would only get paid when anyone bought it. Most likely, nobody would, but the scammers could still get codes – which had a cash value."
  • Inventing new creatures. Over on her excellent newsletter, The Science of Fiction, my friend Maddie Stone has a great report about how biologist Meghan Brown worked with Jeff VanderMeer on his new novel Hummingbird Salamander to create some new organisms.
  • Inventing new worlds. Charlie Jane Anders has an essay up at Polygon that ties in with her new book, Victories Greater Than Death and the pitfalls of creating new civilizations, looking at how we often create humans-with-a-difference, and how that can create some problems in depictions of those people. It's a useful thing to think about when building your own worlds.
  • State of book sales. CNBC's Lucy Handley has a rundown of the latest statistics on print and digital book sales, and finds that print books are still outselling their electronic counterparts. This goes beyond fiction categories, and there are a couple of reasons for print's dominance: people like to display phsyical books, and while some categories see greater ebook consumption like romance, thrillers and crime stories (part of this, I think, reinforces the theory that ebooks have pretty much replaced the mass market category, where those books already dominated) there's also a desire on the part of the reader to escape from a screen for a while.  
  • Stacy Abrams profile. The New York Times profiles Georgia politician Stacey Abrams about her new legal thriller While Justice Sleeps, and in it, it discusses her love of star Trek and science fiction, as well as what she's been reading lately: P. Djèlí Clark's Ring Shout, as well as Rebecca Roanhorse's Black Sun. I really hope that she turns her attention to writing science fiction or fantasy at some point.

As always, thanks for reading — Let me know what you've got on your TBR pile. I hope to see you at Monday's event!