Monday, December 21, 2020

The Year of Virtual Sci-Fi Conventions

With Steve Warren Hill and Nick Seidler, the hosts of Chicago TARDIS virtual convention, 2020

2020 has been the first year in decades when I went to only one science fiction convention in person (Gallifrey One in February). However, I did attend the virtual conventions that popped up, and I've been impressed by how the fan-run conventions switched to virtual programming so quickly. The virtual conventions let me talk to people I hadn't been able to see for a long time. I got to watch Eric Choi's and Jeff DeLuzio's panels at Penguicon, talk to Darrell Schweitzer about our favourite pretenders to the Byzantine crown at Amazingcon (which began as a virtual convention from year 1), and went to the Heinlein Society party at CoNZealand, and came in third place at the SFWA Halloween Party's masquerade, which was followed by a dance dejayed by John Scalzi. In November, I got to explain St. John Ambulance logo to the Doctor Who fans at the virtual Chicago TARDIS. 

Using the new technology was like the old days of fandom, when small groups of fans held conventions for other fans and had to learn how to do things as they went along. At Amazingcon, Ira Nayman appointed me to be the host of Darrell Schweitzer's reading on the spot, so I suddenly had to learn how to let people into the Zoom room, how to eject obscene interlopers (a duty that I did not have to perform, fortunately), find a photo of Darrell online, and share the screen so the audience could look at his photo during the reading. It was the first time I had to use any Zoom control other than "Join with Video" or "Join with Computer Audio". It was like the old days when one could suddenly be recruited to staple the program book together on the first day of the convention.

It was amazing how the fans came together to run the virtual conventions. Chicago TARDIS did something no other convention had tried: use Zoom for the panels, but instead of having the audience all join the Zoom meeting, broadcast the Zoom panel to Facebook Live and YouTube simultaneously, with tech staff collecting questions from the audience and sending them to the panelists. The technical set-up was complex, which I noticed during a tech test on Thursday night before the convention. Yet Chicago TARDIS' unpaid volunteers rose to the challenge, and it all worked on the weekend of the convention. 

We also noticed that our audience numbers went up. Panels that would get double-digit attendance at in-person conventions saw their audience numbers shoot up. At an in-person Chicago TARDIS, my St. John Ambulance presentation would have gotten 30 people maximum if the room was full. The virtual presentation got 1,400 viewers on Facebook Live and 222 viewers on YouTube.

Strangely, there is one convention whose attendees adamantly refuse to hold virtual events: Anime North. There is a very vocal group of Anime North attendees who oppose virtual conventions and events on the Unofficial Anime North Facebook Group. They say that holding a virtual event is "hurtful and insulting for us that Anime North means a lot to" (their twisted grammar, not mine). They say that virtual events are worse than having no events at all. People are who willing to hold and attend virtual events say that the anti-virtual congoers can simply stay away from the virtual events, but the anti-virtual group says that they would be greatly offended if others zoom into a virtual convention. Anime North attendees want either an in-person convention or no event at all. Anime North did hold a short virtual event (a few panels) on Twitch in the summer. However, it was barely publicized; indeed, the email and the sole Facebook post that announced it did not even have a link to the Twitch account.

However, Anime North cannot dictate what other conventions will do. Although everyone prefers in-person conventions, a lot of conventions and their organizers and attendees are willing to go virtual if necessary. I predict that even after it becomes safe to hold in-person conventions again, hybrid types of conventions will emerge. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

Vote for Where the Stars Rise in the Aurora Awards

Canadian citizens and residents of Canada: The Aurora Awards voting ends in less than 5 days, on on Saturday, September 8. My anthology Where the Stars Rise (co-edited with Lucas K. Law) is nominated for an Aurora Award in the category of Best Related Work. If you join the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA), you can get a pdf copy in the voter package. If you like Where the Stars Rise, please consider voting for it.

Also, two short stories from Where the Stars Rise are on the ballot in the Short Story category: "Old Souls" by Fonda Lee and "Rose's Arm" by Calvin Jim. If you like them, vote for them too.

As in previous years, there is a $10 membership fee to join the CSFFA , but the CSFFA covers the right to nominate works, vote for works, and to get the voter package of works.

To join the CSFFA, get your voter package, and vote, visit:

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Nominate "Songbun" for the Aurora Award for Best Short Fiction - English

Calling all Canadians citizens at home and abroad and permanent residents of Canada: our national science fiction awards, the Aurora Awards, are now open for nominations. This year, my short story "Songbun" is eligible to be nominated in the category of Best Short Fiction - English.

"Songbun" was published in the anthology Strangers Among Us: Tales of the Underdogs and Outcasts, edited by Susan Forest and Lucas K. Law, from Laksa Media Groups Inc. 

During the nomination period, "Songbun" will be available free on my website at or you can download a pdf here.

 To learn more about the Aurora Awards and to nominate stories and individuals, visit:

The Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) charges an annual $10 membership fee, so both new and returning members will be asked to pay $10 by Paypal. Renewing members can access the membership portal and make nominations after paying the membership fee. New members will receive a Society number by email and can go back to the Aurora Awards website and submit nominations. Nominees do not get any sort of monetary gain from the fees. The CSFFA is a non-profit organization, and its small budget, raised by the membership and voting fees, goes to administer the awards program and produce the trophies. $10 is a low price to promote national pride in our science fiction and to give a small reward to your favourite authors, artists, and fan organizers.

The online nomination deadline is May 6, 2017.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Curse of the Colonel: Fried Chicken, Baseball, and Christmas in Japan

This was originally a "briefing" that I gave to the Encampment of the Kentucky Colonels Toronto Command on April 26, 2013.

Japan Airlines serves Kentucky for Christmas

The most famous Kentucky Colonel, Harland Sanders, the inventor of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is usually seen as a benevolent figure.

Who can think that Colonel Sanders can do any harm, with his grandfatherly appearance, his two large charitable foundations, and a life free of scandal, unlike that of most of today's celebrities?

But, like King Tutankhamun, there is a curse associated with him. It involves two of Japan's great traditions: baseball and fried chicken at Christmas.

The Japanese are quite adept at taking foreign traditions and turning them into their own. Baseball is one of these. They saw Americans playing it in the nineteenth century and adopted it as their own national sport. Japan, like the United States, has two professional baseball leagues, the Central League and the Pacific League, who play each other for the Japan Series, their version of the World Series. Baseball is so popular that there are even soap operas and comic books about baseball teams.

Let's talk about fried chicken. The Japanese first noticed fried chicken when they saw American soldiers eating it during the Occupation after World War II. KFC soon followed the U.S. military into Japan. Thus they associated fried chicken with the United States.

In the 1970's, foreigners looking for turkey for Christmas dinner could not find any turkey in Japan. Instead, they ordered fried chicken from KFC. KFC saw an advertising gimmick here and launched an campaign called "Kentucky for Christmas", which promoted the false idea that fried chicken is a traditional American Christmas dinner.

"Kentucky for Christmas" became wildly popular, and today, you need reservations to go to KFC on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you don't make a reservation, you might wait 2 hours in line. You can even get a Christmas dinner of fried chicken, cake, and champagne on Christmas at KFC.

Kentucky for Christmas advertisement

You might wonder how Christmas became a big holiday in a country where less than 1 per cent of the population is Christian. That's because the Japanese adopted Christmas and turned it into a second Valentine's Day. If you hear a Japanese song about a lonely girl who has nobody to spend Christmas with, it's not that she doesn't have a family to visit. It's that she has no boyfriend who will take her out to KFC, the most romantic restaurant in Japan.

Kentucky for Christmas advertisement

So how did the Curse of the Colonel arise?

In 1985, the baseball team the Hanshin Tigers won the Japan Series. An American first baseman on their team, Randy Bass, was a major reason for their victory.

Wild celebrations broke out in Osaka. Tigers fans gathered on a bridge across a river. A fan who resembled a Tigers player jumped into the river.

Nobody in the crowd resembled Randy Bass, who was an American with a beard. However, a fan stole a life-size plastic statue of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC and threw it into the river.

Kansai Tigers fans throw Colonel Sanders into the river.

Unfortunately, the Hanshin Tigers never won the Japan Series again. Hence, a legend developed that Colonel Sanders had cursed the team and that they would not win again until the statue was recovered.

Tigers fans apologized to the KFC store owner, but still, the Kansai Tigers kept failing to win the Central League Championship, much less the Japan Series.

Numerous TV shows broadcast attempts to find the Colonel, but all such attempts failed, to the dismay of Tigers fans.

The years passed. Colonel Sanders died in 1980, leaving behind two charitable foundations and a Christmas tradition in Japan. Randy Bass became a baseball legend in Japan, left the sport in 1988, and was elected to the Oklahoma State Senate in 2004. The Hanshin Tigers continued to lose the championship.

State Senator Randy Bass

The curse seemed to lift in 2003. After 18 years, the Tigers finally won the Central League Championship again. This time, 5,300 Tigers fans jumped off the bridge and into the river. Everyone thought the curse was over. But it was not: the Tigers lost the Japan Series.

Tigers fans intensified their efforts to find the Colonel. Finally, in March 2009, divers thought they saw a dead body at the bottom of the river. But Tigers fans knew better: that was the missing Colonel. The divers recovered the statue, which had lost both hands and the glasses over the previous 24 years.

The divers found the right hand a day later, but the left hand and glasses are still missing.

The Colonel Restored (but missing his left hand.)

Still, the Tigers' losing streak continued. They have yet to win either the Central League Championship or the Japan Series again. Japanese baseball fans say that the curse will never end until the left hand and glasses are found.

The moral of this story: never throw a Kentucky Colonel into a river. Never underestimate a Colonel's supernatural power to control the fate of your baseball team.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Anime North 2016: my schedule

Anime North, Toronto's largest fun-run anime convention, is almost upon us. Once again, I'll be speaking at the following panels:

Friday at 2000 (8:00 pm) in Hamilton (International Plaza Hotel): Getting Published: Self or Traditional?

Friday at 2100 (9:00 pm) in Hamilton Room (International Plaza Hotel):
Writers' Autograph Session A

Sunday at 1100 (11:00 am) in Hamilton Room (International Plaza Hotel):
World and Characters Building

Sunday at 1300 (1:00 pm) in Hamilton (International Plaza Hotel):
Writers' autograph Session B

Sunday at 1500 (3:00 pm) in Hamilton (International Plaza Hotel):
How to Impress or Annoy Editors

AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine book signing in Toronto, Tuesday, May 24, 2016

AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine will have a Toronto book signing at the Richard Charles Lee Hong Kong-Canada Library, in the Robarts Library, 8 th floor, University of Toronto, 130 St. George Street, on Tuesday, May 24, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. Joy Kogawa, Sky Lee, Terry Watada, and I will be there.

AlliterAsian is an anthology of articles, interviews, and fiction from Ricepaper, the major magazine of Asian Canadian art and culture. It republishes my story "It Came to Eat Our Chicken Wings", about a Chinese American Hooters Girl who meets an alien at a car show, originally published in Ricepaper in 2002.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Ad Astra 2016 Schedule

My schedule of events at Ad Astra Science Fiction Convention, at the Sheraton Parkway North Toronto Hotel in Richmond Hill, Ontario:

Friday, April 29, 2016, 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm:
Diversity and Equality in Cosplaying - Markham B
What are some important considerations to take into account when cosplaying to recognize diversity and equality? In recent years, cross-race or gender costuming has become more common, but it can have many pitfalls. Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes that lead to problematic cosplaying and be respectful, but also how to think outside the box in ways that challenge notions of traditional cosplay. With: Lady Di, Todd Clark.

Saturday, April 30, 2016, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Star Trek: The First Fandom - Markham A
These days it's easy to forget that there's one science fiction and fantasy property that you can trace the entirety of fandom - convention culture, fanfiction, message boards and online discussion, and celebrity worship, among other things - back to. It's Star Trek, which is this year celebrating it's 50th anniversary. What was it about Star Trek that drew fans into it's orbit in a way that no other science fiction or fantasy universe had before? Why has Star Trek seemed to have lost it's centrality to fan communities even as fandom itself has begun to dominate mainstream media and lifestyles? Let's talk about and celebrate Star Trek and it's place in fandom history. - See more at:
These days it's easy to forget that there's one science fiction and fantasy property that you can trace the entirety of fandom - convention culture, fanfiction, message boards and online discussion, and celebrity worship, among other things - back to. It's Star Trek, which is this year celebrating it's 50th anniversary. What was it about Star Trek that drew fans into it's orbit in a way that no other science fiction or fantasy universe had before? Why has Star Trek seemed to have lost it's centrality to fan communities even as fandom itself has begun to dominate mainstream media and lifestyles? Let's talk about and celebrate Star Trek and it's place in fandom history. With: Anatoly Belilovski, Cathy Hird, Derwin Mak

Saturday, April 30, 2016, 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Diverse SFF Islamophobia and the War of the Worlds - Newmarket
World governments are lining up to intervene in Syria; the refugee crisis in the Middle East and North Africa has provoked a surge in Islamophobia in the West; and veterans and victims of the 'war on terror' are contending with life-changing injuries. This panel discusses the role SFF can play in disrupting the media myth of a 'clash of civilizations'. Can SFF help challenge the way race and religion are used to demonize others and perpetuate geopolitical conflicts? When human rights concerns over disability, gender and sexual orientation are marshaled as arguments to go to war, can - or should - SFF reflect and re-frame these debates? With: Cathy Hird,  Jane Ann McLachlan, Naomi Foyle

Saturday, April 30, 2016, 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Saturday Evening Science Fiction Reading - Oakridge
Hear me read an excerpt from my new story "Songbun". I share this time slot with Alyx Dellamonica, Kelly Robson, and Madeline Ashby.

Sunday, May 1, 2016, 10:00 am - 11:00 am

What Can Your DNA Tell You? - Newmarket
So companies like 23andMe now offer average Canadians the ability to better understand their own genetic information, to learn something about themselves from their DNA. But how is this useful? Healthcare professionals have expressed concerns about decisions people could make based on risks of diseases or illnesses that lie in their genetic information. Others are fascinated by what it can tell us about family lineages and history. This panel is a place to discuss the implications of what our DNA can teach us and the value in knowing, and the things that this technology might offer us in the future. With: JF Garrard.