Music of the Spheres

When I was a girl, I was very interested in music, and at some point I became fascinated with the notion of the “music of the spheres.” I don’t remember much of what I read about it (and I don’t really think I understood much of what I read), except that the Earth sings “Mi, Fa,” symbolizing the misery and famine that dominate our planet.

Imagine my delight today when I ran across the news that NASA probes have recorded electromagnetic waves, which can be played back so that we can hear them. These recordings are supposed to be spooky, but honestly, I just enjoyed hearing them. It was like a childhood dream being fulfilled.


“Choo-choo Underwear for Girls”: Corporate America Ignores Female Fans

From an early age, my daughter has loved both traditional boy stuff and traditional girl stuff. Case in point: around the same time that she was drooling over a hideously pink plastic toy “kitchen,” she announced that she wanted me to buy “choo-choo” underwear for her. I told her that the only “choo-choo” underwear in stores, specifically Thomas the Tank Engine underwear, was for boys.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “They should have choo-choo underwear for girls, too.”

“And mommies and daddies!” she exclaimed.

To be fair, boys who like My Little Pony can’t get MLP underwear.

She was talking with me the other day about wishing that she could easily get superhero clothing. We looked around in a nearby big box store, and here’s what we found:

  • In the girls’ section, there was actually a set of underwear featuring female superheroes (Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl). Still no choo-choo underwear.
  • Also in the girls’ section, you could get Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirts and even a Superman shirt, but they were, as my daughter noted, glittery and/or “pinkified.” There were no t-shirts featuring female superheroes. (My daughter is crazy about Black Widow and would snatch up a tee featuring her.)
  • Girls could get MLP t-shirts. Boys could not.
  • There were no superhero shirts in the junior or women’s departments. Men had plenty of options – shirts, pajamas, sweatpants, underwear.

Sexism is a problem in and outside of fandom, and a lot has been said about things like pink LEGOs for girls, the lack of movies about female superheroes, the “fake geek girls” accusations that are made against women who don’t fit a particular stereotype, and the harassment to which too many women cosplayers are subject.

But women are very much a part of fan culture. I don’t feel like I’m in a minority or out-of-place because of my gender at sci-fi/fantasy conventions or at sci-fi, fantasy, or superhero movies.

Thankfully, there are strong female characters out there (including Tauriel, much as I dislike her), but all too often, women are short-changed.

Girls and women want to see movies about strong females. Give us our Wonder Woman and Black Widow movies already. Stop sexualizing the female characters in comic books and movies. For goodness’ sake, carry more non-pinkified superhero clothing for female fans. And while you’re at it, would you please make choo-choo underwear for little girls?

CONvergence Party Rooms in Geek Culture

A picture of the outside decor for the Twin Cities Ghostbusters party room
Outside the Twin Cities Ghostbusters party room. Photo by Emmerlee Sherman.

Party rooms are a big part of CONvergence for many attendees. Several of the 2013 rooms are featured in Geek Culture. Some were still going strong in 2014, while others had closed their doors – temporarily or for good. Here’s what you’ll find:


“We have a lot of people who stay and form friendships with new people, or they come in with their friends and are able to talk. It isn’t a lot of screaming and trying to hear each other over stuff.” – Amaya Goldsmith

Still active in 2014, Ochaya offers tea in a restful atmosphere. I’m an introvert who sometimes needs a peaceful retreat,  so this is one of my favorite rooms.

House of Toast

“Lots of people try to shock you when you’re working in the topping line. They’ll say, ‘Can I have pickled cactus with Nutella?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah, sure, that’s not the grossest thing I’ve put together tonight.’” – Nancy Sims

If you’re new to CONvergence, you might wonder about the line you’ll find leading up to House of Toast. A part of the con for several years, this room offers party-goers the opportunity to eat a slice of toast with a mind-boggling selection of toppings.

Worship the Goddesses

“I think one of the most interesting things is that our room actually has an activity, something you’re supposed to do.” – Will

Worship the Goddesses, which ran from 2008 through 2013, featured women dressed as mythological goddesses. The room’s goddesses or female party-goers were “worshipped” by men with a love poem or serenade. In 2014 one of the room’s hosts, Sarah Richard, co-hosted a Rocky Horror-themed party room in its place.

The Brass Falcon Airship

“Instead of going home from work and drinking beer and watching sports, I [make things].”—Samuel McClelland

The Brass Falcon Airship was a steampunk-themed room made to look like the interior of an airship. During my visit with host Samuel McClelland, the room was very busy with people exploring the elaborate instrument panels and other features of the room. The party room was not at CONvergence in 2014.

IKV Rakehell

“The best thing about being a Klingon is that you get to be surly.” — Kris Spiesz

Another long-running party room, the IKV Rakehell was not around in 2014. Members of IKV Rakehell usually host a room at Marscon and one at CONvergence. The set-up is basically the same, but the decor changes from year to year to match each con’s theme.

USS Nokomis

“When movie premieres come out, we work with theaters to bring out sets.” – Captain Mary

Another Star Trek-inspired room, this one has a Federation theme from the original series. The party room, still going strong in 2014, features impressive props built by some of the group’s members, including a three-person transporter pad and a control panel.

Twin Cities Ghostbusters

“Jason owned a white Chevy Caprice wagon, and he thought, ‘For Halloween, I should make that into a Ghostbuster car.’” – Ryan

This room has been at CONvergence for four years, including in 2014. Members of Twin Cities Ghostbusters produce fan-films called Ghostbustin’ 911. You can often find their Chevy Caprice or classic Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance outside the main hotel for CONvergence.

College Courses for Geeks

In honor of “Batman Day,” a friend of mine shared a link with obscure Batman facts, including a mention of a “Science of Batman” class. I started thinking about geeky college classes and did some online searches, but a lot of the lists I found had classes that were, apparently, no longer being offered. So I spent entirely too much time doing very specific searches and, in a couple of cases, paging through online course catalogs to give you this non-comprehensive list of geeky classes currently offered at U.S. colleges and universities. By “currently offered” I mean that these courses were offered in Spring 2014, will be offered in Fall 2014, or are listed in a current course catalog.

Macalester College: ENGL 260 — Science Fiction: From Matrix Baby Cannibals to Brave New Worlds

This course includes works written by Philip K. Dick, Octavia Butler, China Mieville, and several other writers (not all of whom I normally think of as science fiction authors). Students also watch the Matrix trilogy and other films.

Swarthmore College: ARTH 039 — Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture

Manga is among the media covered by this course. Students discuss examples of design such as Hello Kitty.

Swarthmore College: FMST 041 — Fan Culture

This course includes an exploration of fan-generated content like fan fiction and videos. I wonder if it covers sweding?

Georgetown University: PHIL-180 — Philosophy and Star Trek

Students consider questions such as: Is time travel possible? Is Data a person?

University of California, Irvine: PHYSICS 12 — Science Fiction and Science Fact

Students use scientific knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction related to superheroes, science fiction, and news items. Note that this course might be offered online; I don’t know how easy it is to enroll.

Penn State: ENGL 136 — The Graphic Novel

This course includes a history of comics, an analysis of the medium (including panel layout and narrative techniques), and an exploration of graphic novels, such as Maus.

Kansas State University: ENGL 390 — Fable and Fantasy, ENGL 445 — Science Fiction, ENGL 670 — Harry Potter

An English major from Kansas State just might be a geek’s dream! Fable and Fantasy includes The Hobbit, The Princess Bride, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, and George MacDonald’s fairy tales. Science Fiction includes Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Octavia Butler, and Ursula Le Guin. Harry Potter includes reading the novels in the series (all of them?) as well as works by Jane Austen, E. Nesbit, Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, and other authors.

I’m ready to go back to school.



What Is Sweding?

In 2013, CONvergence’s programming included a “Movie Sweding and You” panel. Curious, Emmerlee and I showed up to cover the panel.

The simplest definition of a swede is a fan film. The term comes from the 2008 film Be Kind Rewind, but people were sweding long before that movie came out. Swedes can range from silly, low-budget versions of movie trailers to Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-for-shot remake by teenagers — although some would argue that the latter film is not a swede due to its length and serious approach.

The easiest way to grasp the meaning of a swede? Watch sweded films and trailers, of course! It might help to start with the trailer of Be Kind Rewind. (Of course there is a sweded trailer of that film, but in this case, it would be better to see the real trailer.)

You can find more sweded trailers on YouTube than any sane person would want to watch. Here’s a gem from 2013:

I’ll leave you with this swede of Die Hard, shot by the panelists on the first day of CONvergence 2012:



Are You a Purist When It Comes to Film Adaptations of Books?

[Warning: If you haven’t watched The Desolation of Smaug, there are spoilers in this post.]

I’m one of those people. When I was watching The Two Towers, I thought, “Hey! Frodo and Sam never went to Osgiliath!” (For the record, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies.) I understand when changes have to be made, such as leaving a beloved character like Tom Bombadil out of a movie in the interest of time, but I hate it when changes are made to make an already excellent book “more appealing.” So, of course, I had to attend the CONvergence panel called “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!”

I don’t have a mind for trivia. I’d hate to take some sort of test to prove I was a geek, because I’d probably fail. Did the hippogriff in the Harry Potter series have a name? Did it only appear in The Prisoner of Azkaban? I was tempted to look this up, but I’ll just leave myself wondering. I like to think my mind is full of things I need to use, like rules from the stylebook we use at work, so it doesn’t have room for things that are fun but not necessary.

Given that, you’d think I wouldn’t notice when movies vary from the book. In fact, with the Harry Potter series, I didn’t notice, because I’ve only read the series once – and since Rowling had creative control over the movies, they stuck pretty closely to the books anyway. But I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings four times now, so I have a good grasp of the books – though I still wouldn’t want to be quizzed on them. Besides, the Hobbit movies that have been released to date are so glaringly different from the book that I think I would notice many of their differences even if I’d read it only once.

Don’t get me wrong. While An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug don’t have my heart quite like Peter Jackson’s LOTR trilogy, I still enjoyed them. The actors are good. The sets and costumes are amazing. In the second movie, the scene where Bilbo encounters Smaug was perfect. Although I like to joke about Kili and Thorin being “eye candy,” I really do like them. But so much of the second movie is so ridiculous that I’m already waiting for a new film version of The Hobbit.

Take Tauriel. I know, I know. She was introduced because there was a perceived need for a strong female character. I’m all for strong women. Read my previous post on Wonder Woman! But I loved the book even without a Tauriel. Most of the folks at the CONvergence panel really seemed to like her, so my daughter and I are probably in the minority, but we call her “Mary Sue.” She’s too perfect! And the dwarf-elf romance (not as popular with many panel attendees) seemed like unnecessary fluff. Is that meant to appeal to women? I really don’t believe my gender needs romance in every movie.

Many people in the panel did feel that all the “stuff” Jackson added (Azog the Defiler, the fight during the barrel scene, the “Hey! Let’s cover Smaug in molten gold” sequence) detracted from scenes that could have used more attention. Beorn made it into the movie, but Jackson didn’t let him shine. In my opinion, the bit in the book where Gandalf brings in the dwarves in small groups, so that Beorn will accept them all, is gold. It’s funny, and it tells us something important about Beorn’s character. The movie utterly did away with it!

I also dislike the unnecessary drama Jackson has inserted into both movies. All of the “stuff” I mentioned before: Azog, the barrel sequence (though I know many people love it), the attempt to encase Smaug in gold… none of it is necessary. The Hobbit is a wonderful book with plenty of excitement; it doesn’t need the added action, especially when the action is over-the-top – such as Thorin’s ride in the river of molten gold.

Unlike many of my fellow purists, however, I really like Radagast – bird-droppings and all.

I will loyally show up for the last movie of this trilogy. Come on – it’s The Hobbit! I have to see it on the big screen! But I’ll wait breathlessly for someone to take the book and do it right. Too bad that Martin Freeman probably will be too old for it by the time that happens. He was the perfect pick for Bilbo.

I welcome any purists to comment on what movies really bug them.

Wonder Woman!

As a child during the 1970s, I absolutely loved Wonder Woman, both as she was depicted in the TV series starring Lynda Carter and in Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends. To this day, when I see anything related to Wonder Woman, I perk up. Here’s some recent news that attracted my attention:

Gilbert Hernandez is Writing and Drawing Wonder Woman

I confess that most of my reading in the realm of comic books and graphic novels is confined to a few titles, mostly from the ’70s and ’80s (especially the X-Men comics from that era), but the news about the upcoming Sensation Comics #3, a digital-first work, caught my eye. This issue will feature two stories about Wonder Woman, and everyone is betting that the story about her “rock star” days is the one that has been assigned to Hernandez. Comics Alliance ran a story on July 9 featuring four of Hernandez’s previous drawings of Wonder Woman. I have mixed feelings. I love how muscular, even beefy he makes her, though when I was a little girl, I would have been horrified by those biceps. What I don’t like: her Barbiesque bust-waist proportions in a couple of the drawings. I know other artists have drawn her that way, but I’m disappointed.

Also on July 9, MTV released the cover art for this issue, featuring our muscular heroine looking very fierce as she battles… androids from another dimension? That’s the focus of the other story in the issue.

Wonder Woman Teams Up With Scooby-Doo

My little-girl self may not have liked the Wonder Woman I mentioned above, but here’s something she definitely could get behind: On July 10, Comics Alliance announced that DC Comics has released a Scooby-Doo/Wonder Woman mashup, Scooby-Doo Team-Up #5. If you decide to check their post on this comic, be warned: They pretty much recap the entire plot.

Moviepilot Features Some Awesome Wonder Woman Fan Art

This isn’t really a news item, but it interested me.

With all of the chatter about Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Moviepilot decided to present a collection of fan art in a July 8 story. What I particularly love? Some designs, especially the first one, feature the heroine in a more useful costume that might actually be functional in a battle (unlike any of the Wonder Woman variations you’ll encounter in the news items above). None of them are perfect (in most of them her hair would be a problem), and some of them are ridiculous, but a few are quite good.

All of this blog’s readers are probably aware of the many conversations among geeks about how female super heroes are dressed. When they are dressed for sex appeal rather than the ability to move with ease and be protected, it detracts from the notion of powerful, competent women. (Or are they more competent than their male counterparts, since they actually do manage to fight quite well despite their costumes?)

For an excellent breakdown of the problems with heroine’s costumes, check out this entry in Mischief Managed, written after the blogger had seen Captain America: Winter Soldier.

An Excerpt From Geek Culture

Picture of Rae Lundquist as Professor McGonagall
Emmerlee Sherman’s picture of Rae as Professor McGonagall

If you’re wondering what to expect from Geek Culture, here’s a short excerpt from an interview with Rae Lundquist, who does business as the DreamStitcher, in the book’s chapter on costumes:

One costume which [Rae] remembers with pride was a recreation of the iconic outfit worn by the Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison. The man who wore it took his cosplay seriously and made sure his hair was just right for the convention he attended in Los Angeles. “He took second place,” said Rae. But what really thrills her is what happened after the Masquerade. “He was walking through the lobby, and someone said, ‘Peter, what are you doing here? I didn’t book you for this convention!’ It was Peter’s agent, and for just a second, he thought he was looking at Peter.”

Also in the costume chapter: a section on the 2013 Masquerade and some of its participants; an interview with special effects makeup artist Bill Hedrick; a section on the Lady Doctors, who appeared both as flappers and Victorian-era Doctors in 2013; a sidebar explaining steampunk (I do not assume that everyone who reads the book will know what “steampunk” means); another sidebar on Asian Ball-jointed Dolls; and lots of pictures.

An Introvert Goes to CONvergence

Self-care is important for anyone who attends a large, busy con, especially as you get older. The standard advice to con newbies (besides “Shower!”) is to have at least one decent meal a day, try to get some sleep, and pace yourself rather attempting to do everything. If you’re an introvert, you also have to make sure you get enough time away from the crowds.

I love CONvergence, and I really do like people, but I’m very introverted. While I was working on this book last year, I talked with a lot of strangers throughout the weekend. Because I was so focused on capturing the con, I also found myself eating poorly at irregular times, and I didn’t get enough sleep. By Sunday morning, I was exhausted and emotional. I made it through the con, but it was rough.

This year, I had an easier schedule, but I still found myself getting tired and touchy toward the end of CONvergence. Part of this was because I was pushing myself to promote the book, but I also found myself alone a great deal of the time, because my husband had other commitments, or we wanted to do different things. I’m fine going to panels alone, but there were times I wanted to go to parties, and those were more difficult for me to handle by myself. The first night of the con, I installed myself in Bag End and had a fine time, but each day I felt a bit more overwhelmed at the thought of conversing with strangers. After a visit to the House of Toast on Saturday night — something that’s easy to do alone — I gave up trying to socialize and went to Cinema Rex to watch a movie.

Introverts vary in their tolerance of crowds and strangers. Some people would never even venture to the con; others would have far less trouble than I did. I think next year I might encourage a “safe” friend – someone with whom I feel quite comfortable – to join me at the con. I should concentrate on going to party rooms on the first night, when I’m most energetic, and then focus more on panels or movies on successive nights. I also need to get over telling myself that I spent too much money to spend the evening in our hotel room with a good book.

If I have any introverted readers, I welcome comments about how they deal with similar situations – whether at CONvergence or elsewhere.

Tea Duelling!

Picture of women tea duelling
Round three of the CONvergence 2014 tea duel

[Ladies and gentlemen, you will see from the picture above, which I took, why I found a professional photographer to take the photos for Geek Culture!]

I first encountered tea duelling at TeslaCon 3 in 2012, and I was immediately hooked. I’m not the only one who loves it; there were 32 participants in what I believe was CONvergence’s first tea duel, and there was a large crowd of onlookers.

The art of tea duelling involves dunking a bisquit into hot tea for five or six seconds — the rules I’ve played under before today specified five seconds, but today the count was to six. Then each competitor tries to be the last to achieve a clean “nom.” If you wait too long (which is often my problem), your wet bisquit will fall apart before you can eat it, resulting in a splash (in your tea), a splatter (on the table or floor), or a “splodge” (on your person). If, however, you eat your bisquit and achieve a clean “nom,” but your competitor successfully eats her bisquit after you, she is the winner of the match.

Today’s match involved five rounds, ending in an intense battle that lasted nearly four minutes! I am proud to say that I actually made it past the first round, but then I came up against Emily, the champion dunker at the 2014 DIODES Steampunk May Day Ball in St. Paul, Minnesota. Emily easily bested me and went on for two more rounds to take fourth place in today’s contest.

Interested in tea duelling? Get a package or two of the approved bisquit (in the United States, that means Pepperidge Farm Chessmen), familiarize yourself with the official rules, grab some friends, brew some tea, and have fun!