(You may try not to snicker when you get to the part where he describes me as the “matured family man.” I know it made me grin.)
When I went through my journal to log this year’s books, I learned I’d been a bit lazy and had completely failed to record five of this year’s reads. Fixed.
So, here’s what I read in 2010:
The God Engines – John Scalzi. Dark. Bizarre. Innards-tangling. Not for the faint of heart, and a real deviation from Scalzi’s usual writing paths. I liked it.
Sailing to Byzantium – Robert Silverberg. I’ve liked Silverberg since I read Revolt on Alpha C as a kid, and when Kelsey was little, we read Lost Race of Mars together. This collection’s much more for the grown-up science fiction fan, and his take on Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Sharer is fantastic.
Zoe’s Tale – John Scalzi (re-read)
Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling (re-read)
The Gone-Away World – Nick Harkaway. The 100 Stories for Haiti anthology reminded me that I had been meaning to read this, and I loved it. Post-apocalyptic and mind-bendy and still human. Plus it has both Pirates AND Ninjas.
Math, Science and Unix Underpants – Bill Amend
Mainspring – Jay Lake
Cleveland’s Greatest Disasters – John Stark Bellamy II
The Sagan Diary - John Scalzi. Listened to this one on the drive back from Providence in March.
Fantasy Freaks & Gaming Geeks – Ethan Gilsdorf. Couldn’t put this one down: gaming and nostalgia and adventures and explorations galore.
The City & The City – China Mieville. For me, this was 2010′s equivalent to last year’s Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It’s a mental workout to read, especially in the beginning, but absolutely worth the effort.
FoxTrot: The Works – Bill Amend
Wildly FoxTrot – Bill Amend
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Handbook – Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, James Wyatt
Goblin Quest – Jim C. Hines
Daemons Are Forever – Simon R. Green. This is the second book in a series – it was a freebie from the author’s lit agency – so I started a bit behind the curve, but it was so unlike just about anything I’ve read that I got hooked pretty quickly. And James Bond references tend to go over well with me.
Found – Margaret Peterson Haddix
Locke & Key: Vol. I, Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez
My Best Friend Is A Wookiee – Tony Pacitti. A Star Wars memoir from a younger fan’s perspective, growing up when the originals could only be seen on TV or videotape, and coming of age in the prequel era.
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins. The kick-ass conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. Reviewing it for GeekDad earned me some serious bonus parenting points because it meant my daughter had it waiting for her when she got home from school on release day.
Dreadnought – Cherie Priest
The Odious Ogre – Norton Juster. With illustrations by Jules Feiffer, this reunited the Phantom Tollbooth words-and-pictures team for the first time in almost 50 years.
Oddball Ohio: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places – Jerome Pohlen
A Western Journal – Thomas Wolfe. Inspiring me to revisit my cross-country road trip in journal form.
Brody’s Ghost, Book 1 – Mark Crilley
Armor – John Steakley. A different, brain-cramping (in a good way) angle on the space-trooper genre tale.
Bloom County: The Complete Library Vol. 3 1984-1986 – Berkeley Breathed
Dungeons & Dragons Essentials – Dungeon Master’s Book – James Wyatt. As someone who only recently returned to D&D, I hadn’t really begun to think about taking on the DM’s role yet. This book, though, made for a great and encouraging read in that vein – thanks Kato and Wendy! – but I also got an awful lot out of it as a new player still kind of learning the finer points of the game mechanics and structure.
It’s awfully easy to lump us Star Wars fans into two major generational groups: Those of us who saw the original theatrical releases as kids, and those who have spent their collective childhood growing up on the prequels and The Clone Wars cartoons.
What this glosses over, though, is that even though it was out of the public eye for a big chunk of the late 1980s and the early 1990s, Star Wars never really went away: It just lived rather quietly on VHS tapes and television broadcasts, and the saga’s fans who grew up in that time fall into kind of a squishy era of missing out on the originals, but having moved beyond the grade-school wonder mindset by the time the prequels came out.
Tony Pacitti was one of those kids, and his book, My Best Friend Is A Wookiee: One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in The Galaxy, makes for a fun coming-of-age read that really captures that in-between-time, both in terms of Star Wars and in the awkward and painful and still hilarious years of late kid-dom.
You can probably imagine my reaction a couple months back when I got an email from fellow GeekDad writer Jonathan Liu which read, in part, “Hey, I’m sending you this Star Wars fan memoir I picked up at San Diego Comic Con.” (Yes, it was pretty much, “Star Wars fan memoir? Sonofabitchinfrakkinmundanenoodle…”)
And then I saw that Jonathan had not only had Tony sign it for me, but that Tony had actually written something nice about Collect All 21! in the inscription, and dammit, I couldn’t be mad anymore, especially after I couldn’t put down My Best Friend Is A Wookiee for the next couple days. (We also got to meet face-to-face at Celebration V not too long afterward, which was cool: Tony’s a nice guy, and if you get the chance, you should try to catch him at a reading or a con or a signing.)
I enjoyed his book on a couple levels. I’m a sucker for personal nostalgia that’s unafraid to take on the really crappy side of the middle-and-high-school years, for starters. (Which reminds me: This is an R-rated book. Seriously. Tony’s done a superb job of channeling his inner-12-year-old and then his sometimes-troublemaking-teenager and the result is an honest and often foul-mouthed recollection, and truth be told, some of the wincing I did was mostly at remembering the way my friends and I sometimes talked and acted when no adults were around.)
Of course, the Star Wars enthusiasm is hugely common ground, and even with our generational differences, there are still many familiar moments of saga-related awesome. His own Lucas-inspired parody project – a school paper on the digestive system titled “Indiana Skywalker and the Rectum of Doom” – took me back to the way my friend Jacob and I reinvented Empire with all manner of juvenile humor and later defaced his Jedi storybook with silver magic markers, howling with laughter the whole time.
Tony’s book and his story and his childhood differ from my own in so many ways – and yet, because there was this movie, this Star Wars thing, which occupied an important spot in both our lives, reading My Best Friend Is A Wookiee was a lot like those occasions I’ve had over the years hanging out with friends and reminiscing and geeking out about bizarre moments and half-forgotten times. Especially if you’re a Star Wars fan, it’s not just what’s in the pages: It’s what they’ll wake up in your own head.
Ever since getting back from Orlando, I’ve been going through those weird waves where Star Wars Celebration seems at once a distant memory and something that’s close enough that if I turned around quickly, I’d still see armored stormtroopers and kids carrying lightsabers and R2 units rolling down the hallway.
These are a few of my favorite leftover memories from the weekend. Once more, then, into hyperspace:
(Incidentally, all the photos in this post come from the perpetually-fantastic Jim Carchidi.)
For starters, here’s a funny picture of me and Jon Stewart:
You know why it’s funny? Because this happened when I was meeting Tony Pacitti, and I had just knelt down so I could sign him a copy of Collect All 21! when I heard Jim trying to get my attention: “John – um, JOHN.” I finished signing and stood back up – and that’s when Jim showed me that picture, which he had taken over my head as Jon Stewart walked right past me.
Bonnie Burton’s Dark Side commitment to R2-D2 was fun for several reasons (Jim and I both show up briefly a couple times in the StarWars.com video), not the least of which is I found myself standing next to Adrianne Curry right before the ceremony and got a picture with her afterward.
Also got to chat with Elvis Trooper while he was in full uniform – Kelsey & I had bumped into him on Thursday, while he was just in street clothes – and caught up with Bonnie for what would sadly be the last time that weekend.
Great stuff from the art show area over the weekend:
After Jim showed me the Katie Cook piece he’d bought for Kelsey, I had to go and get something for Jenn, so I requested this Star Wars/LOLCat-inspired piece:
I also bought her a copy of Katie’s totally-not-for-kids-but-utterly-hilarious-to-cat-owners book.
Made sure to catch up with Joe Corroney, who’s said nice things about my book and designed the OSWCC C5 badges -
Jim and I also crossed paths and hung out with Scott D.M. Simmons a couple times, meeting up at the collectors’ social on Friday and then wandering the exhibit hall on Sunday.
On Saturday, I met multi-talented and all-around-swell Orlando Sentinel online guru Tanya Hanson face-to-face for the first time. She’s the one who engineered the web coverage Jim and I provided for Celebration III in Indianapolis five years ago, and it was great to finally be able to thank her for that assignment in person. Since Jim was spending much of the day shooting the 501st and the Slave Leia group photos, Tanya and I hung out and attended the weekend’s second Robot Chicken Empire presentation. It was a blast and absolutely worth the hour and 20 minutes we waited in line, which we spent talking about cats and Tron Legacy and video games and assorted nerditry.
After that came an unexpected surprise: When Robot Chicken let out, I got a text from Jim saying he was in line for the Gary Kurtz solo panel just 20 minutes from starting – and it wasn’t too crowded.
Gary Kurtz‘ attendance at this Celebration had me whooping as soon as it was announced. The guy’s influence as a producer in shaping the first two (and, to my mind, the best two) Star Wars movies in the saga is legendary, but since leaving that galaxy behind after differences with George Lucas during and post-Empire, Kurtz has rarely looked back and, as far as I know, had never attended any conventions to talk about his involvement in the series. Given that a big part of Celebration V was marking the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, for all we knew, this could be the only time he’d be doing so.
I was absolutely astounded, then, to find that even when Jim moved further back in line upon my arrival (because I didn’t want to be that guy), we still easily made it into probably the first 10 or 15 rows of the auditorium, and even once everyone was in, there were still plenty of open seats. And this was Gary on his own, during his final presentation of the weekend, not sharing the stage with anyone but presenter Pablo Hidalgo. I’m still a little surprised, almost two weeks after the fact.
And it was an awfully neat talk. He may not have been as blunt on a few points as he was in this L.A. Times interview published the day Celebration V kicked off, but Kurtz made no secret of his feelings on Lucas’ changes to the original, more bittersweet Return of the Jedi ending – Han dead; Leia crowned “queen” and working to rebuild the crumbled republic; Luke riding off into the (double?) sunset as the tragic hero. Another interesting note: If my memory is correct, Kurtz – who did some second-unit directing in Empire – said that it’s his hands which are seen wielding the lightsaber in the close-up during the famous Tauntaun belly-slitting scene.
He also talked a fair bit about working on The Dark Crystal, which was an unexpected treat.
One of my favorite things about the whole weekend, though, came in the closing hours of Sunday afternoon. With no panels or presentations on our schedule, Jim and I leisurely took in the whole of the convention again, strolling through all the areas and the exhibition hall, meeting up with Scott and Adam again, shooting ourselves in the giant action figure card, stopping to play with toys at the Hasbro booth, exploring the fan-made Hoth diorama. Just generally trying to soak it all in and stave off the disbelief that it was all coming to an end.
After I filed my final GeekDad post, we decided to visit the Ralph McQuarrie exhibit one more time – a fitting return, it seemed, to the first room we’d visited on Thursday morning to start the convention.
So we’re in there, and who do we see taking in the paintings and sketches but ILM modelmakers Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – whom we’d just seen give a panel on model-building and Empire three days prior – each kind of separately just slowly walking and looking over the works. Now, I probably wouldn’t have approached either one – we’d just said ‘hi’ to Lorne the other day, and I didn’t want to bother Jon – but during a moment when Jon was walking around the end of an aisle, and not looking at anything, Jim took the opportunity to go introduce himself and thank Jon for his work and for attending the convention and letting us all sort of see a bit of our favorite saga through his eyes. (Or something like that, I bet. I was a little busy thinking, “Hey – Jim’s over there talking to Jon Berg!“)
So of course, I go over and extend a hand, which Jon accepts as Jim introduces me, and I say, “I’m sure this is probably similar to what you’ve heard already, but you know, your work was responsible for helping shape a very good part of my childhood, and I wanted to say thanks for that.”
And he looks at me and says something like, “You know, I don’t have kids of my own, so thank you,” and he puts a hand on my shoulder, and the other on Jim’s shoulder and says, “My boys,” as he pulls us into a fatherly sort of hug. It is a very brief but honest moment, and there is nothing like learning as a creator that you have managed to make something that lasted and mattered to someone else, and as a fan, I’m glad to take the chance to tell artists and writers when they have done so.
It was just about the perfect way to close the weekend. Yeah, Jim and I walked around a little bit more, and the crowd at the convention center got smaller and smaller, and the merchandise store felt kind of empty and echoing, but we were already starting that mental shift back to “real life.”
We headed toward the exit, and I took one more picture, looking back at the main entrance hall. We stopped at the McDonald’s right down the road for a long-overdue lunch, and though there were plenty of con-goers there in their Star Wars T-shirts, still wearing convention badges and lanyards, it was a different atmosphere than it had been just a couple days earlier, in the midst of the Celebration.
Still, for four days, it sure felt like if there was a bright center to the universe, we were there.
Although I didn’t land on any panels or have a booth at Star Wars Celebration V, I did have a lot of fun sharing Collect All 21! last week, even if my daughter and I had to lug my 10 copies in our carry-on bags because they pushed our shared suitcase just over the airline’s 50-pound limit.
For starters, the day we flew out of Akron-Canton, I spent the morning getting some new promotional postcards printed up for the book, since Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, had just written this incredibly nice blurb:
“Collect All 21!” is a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to eating Star Wars birthday cakes to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in, and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.
A couple days later, on Aug. 11, I spent the afternoon in Clermont, Fla., hanging out at Heroes Landing and talking comics and Star Wars with Adam, The Force Among Us creator Cris Macht, and Korgi author/illustrator Christian Slade. A steady stream of customers to the store led to some book sales and a lot of Celebration V chatter, and I traded a copy of my book for Cris’ DVD, which I couldn’t pass up after noticing, “Hey, those are my OSWCC friends in that movie!”
I was also introduced to Felix Albuerne of the Prime Time Geek program, which proved to be an awfully timely meet-up, since he called me four days later for a fun interview about my book, which he worked into this post-Star Wars Celebration edition of the show.
I already wrote an overview of Celebration Day One, but I want to stress here again how fun it was to finally meet Steve Sansweet – not because of his status as a megacollector and Lucasfilm fan liaison, but because of what his first Star Wars-related book meant to me. This is from the Collect All 21! chapter called “The Dark Times”:
Then Steve Sansweet’s “ Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible” book came out. This thing came at me out of nowhere one afternoon in a mall bookstore, and I absolutely devoured it: page after page of the toys I’d had, the toys I’d craved, and sweet God, the toys I’d never even known existed but now wanted to see. And for just the second time in my life, my eyes fell upon the image of a Blue Snaggletooth. This single picture and one-paragraph explanation of the figure’s existence, maybe more than anything else in that book, put the scent of Star Wars collecting back in my nostrils. “Collecting” even seems too antiseptic and grown-up. This nostalgia was like being little again and feeling that bone-deep desire to Collect All 21!
So, yes, it was amazingly neat watching him sign that same now-well-worn copy of his book most of two decades later. We talked for a couple minutes about journalism (he’s a former Wall Street Journal writer, and I always appreciated the interviews and research that went into Concept to Collectible, as well as Sansweet’s ability to tell the Kenner story) and about my own writing, and when he asked me to sign the copy of Collect All 21! I gave him, that was a great moment, too.
On Friday, I met up with another fellow writer and fan, Tony Pacitti, whose My Best Friend is a Wookiee – One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy memoir is set for a Sept. 18 release. Tony’s book came to me through two near-simultaneous recommendations: GeekDad Jonathan Liu sent me a personalized, signed ARC he’d picked up during his coverage of the San Diego Comic Con, and while it was in the mail, Ethan Gilsdorf sent me a link to Pacitti’s book asking if I’d seen it.
After online introductions and back-and-forth messaging, Tony and I met face-to-face:
I gave him a copy of my own book, and he plowed through it after the convention and wrote up some cool reactions here. Even though we’re fans of different generations – he watched the original trilogy on VHS and came of age during the prequel era – I enjoyed his book and it’s deserving of its own dedicated review post rather than a paragraph shoehorned into this entry.
The last panel I attended on Friday was titled “Why We Love the Prequels,” and while I’ll admit I enjoyed it probably more than I was prepared to, I really went because Fanboys director Kyle Newman was there. See, awhile back, after I’d created the Collect All 21! Facebook page, I noticed one day that he was among the new “likes” – and it just sort of floored me. So just before heading to Celebration V, I sent him a note thanking him for the support and offering him a copy of the book. He had responded with a thumbs-up, so just before the panel started, while he was hanging out near the door to the room, I introduced myself, and we talked about the book for just a minute or so. (Neat moment: He said he really liked the title, and identified with it, since he’d once considered starting a company called “12 back.”) When I told him that Jim and I had stayed up late and watched Fanboys the night before the convention kicked off – mentioning one quote from the movie in particular – Kyle nodded and said something to the effect of, “Yeah. That’s it.”
The quote? “It was never about the movie. It was about all of us.”
That line came to mind a lot during Celebration V.