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MisCon Science Fiction is celebrating its 30th year with a fine convention the weekend of May 27- 30th, 2016. In case any of you will be there, I thought I’d share my schedule for the event.

Friday, May 27th
6:00 p.m, Workshop, Description to Die For. I’m leading this one. It’s just under an hour of actual writing practice, so bring your writing materials.

Saturday, May 28th
10:00 a.m, Writer’s Workshop. Just what it sounds like. You had to pre-register for this one.
Noon, Elevate Your Dialogue.
1:00 p.m, World Building 101
4:00 p.m, Sky Warrior Books Group Reading
7:00 p.m, Open Mic Fiction Slam! Another of my pet projects. Anybody who wants to read, can read.

Sunday, May 29th
2:00 p.m, Anthologies and Collaboration

Things get hectic at school during the last few weeks, so I’m definitely looking forward to visiting my favorite Alternate Reality — science fiction!

Dragonwort

Here’s a truly spectacular flower that will amaze and… well, maybe not delight you. To be honest, it’s kind of stinky.

Dracunculus vulgaris is native to Mediterranean regions from Greece and the Aegean Islands to the Balkans parts of Anatolia. It’s been known since ancient times and has a number of names: Voodoo Lily, Black Arum, Black Dragon, Snake Lily, and so on. Because it is so showy, it has been transplanted to yards and botanical gardens all around the world.

The plant has just a few big, jagged leaves, with the blossom reaching up to 2 meters tall. The single petal is scooped, somewhat like a calla lily, and deep red or purple. At the center is a prominent spadix, which is black. The flower’s sexual organs are deep inside the base of the flower and emit a “perfume” that smells much like rotting meat. Flies and other insects are drawn to the scent and crawl through a narrow gap to the chamber where the actual flowers are. Unable to escape, the insects are forced to crawl back and forth over the flowers, thus pollinating them.

When enough of the flowers are fertilized, the petals wither. This allows the flies to escape and perhaps carry pollen to another flower of the same species.

Here’s a good old game I’ve had for years but somehow forgotten about. It was released in 2004 by WizKids, and won a slew of awards. They also released Tsuro of the Seas, which is just like Tsuro except you’re sailing a ship and there are sea monsters. Both sets currently are produced by Calliope Games.

Tsuro is a quick board game for two to eight players. You start at the edge of the board and set down tiles, each of which has pictures of various strings that connect with adjoining tiles. These are the paths mentioned in the game’s title.

The goal is to keep to your own path without going off the edge of the board. However, you must always move forward to the end of the path. So, you can force opponents out of the game by setting down a tile that will direct them off the board. If it happens that two players are on the same path and collide, then both are out of the game. Staying still is not an option.

In addition to the simple rules, the illustration is a major selling point for this game. A beautiful red and gold Asian dragon adorns the box. The individual playing pieces resemble standing stones, each with a similar dragon carved in.

This game is very easy and yet challenging. The board only has 36 spaces, so it fills up fast, leading to a short game. People who want dazzling excitement may not be thrilled with Tsuro, but the game is perfect if you just want to chill for a few minutes with family and friends.

In my other life, I’m a support staffer in public schools, and I often work with children who are somewhere in the Autism/Asperger’s Spectrum. I was thinking about creating a board game that would help the kids learn social skills, but decided to search first and see if such a think already existed. Am I glad that I did!

Ryuu is a card game that combines collectible cards with features of role-playing games to teach social skills. Players choose a dragon that they identify with based on their own situations. Through role-playing, they recognize Dark Forces that illustrate problematic behaviors, and try to rally Light Forces that embody coping strategies. They begin as eggs and can “evolve” their dragon by practicing social skills. Feel free to check it out here.

A few of the dragon characters include Remota, who feels like a stranger among her fellow dragons, and Oratar, who talks a lot but has a hard time listening. The Dark Forces include Rigidity and Indifference. These are countered by Light Forces of Flexibility and Empathy. Like all card games, there are many details and abilities for players to track, but they still can mix up the deck with different cards and try new things even if they usually play with a small group such as in a school Resource Room.

There are four versions of the Ryuu game, starting with Concentration-style matching of Light and Dark Forces and progressing to full-fledged role playing that demands a lot of preparation by Game Masters and cooperation from players. Thus the game is accessible for all ages, and players don’t have to be diagnosed with Autism/Asperger’s. For instance, an Oppositional/Defiant kid might identify with Xplotar, whose temper runs amok. Play is based on the kid’s behaviors rather than their diagnosis.

Price-wise, the cost is fairly reasonable. The starter set of two decks, rules, and a support CD comes in at $55.00, right in line with a starter Magic set. Booster packs are $20.00, with the actual quantity of cards not specified. However, because this is such a specialty product, you’re not likely to have the issues with price spikes on rare cards that you get with Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon.

So if you have a young family member with social-skill issues, or you work with such kids, Ryuu sounds like it could be a big winner.

I was really excited when one of the kids in my math group mentioned this video game. It’s based on the How to Train Your Dragon movies and web episodes. Fans can play as a Viking with their very own dragon. They go on quests and such, and it sounds like tons of fun. Check it out here.

Unfortunately for me, my system won’t run it. Download and installation went fine, but there was an endless loadup for individual sessions. I had to give up. Which, I guess, is a lesson to me that specifications matter and I need more RAM or more bandwidth to make this work.

Even so, it does sound like a really fun game that’s appropriate for the under-twelve age group. If you remember the movies, you know the characters are fairly over-the-top. The dragons are very colorful and have a quirky, fun design to them.

If any of you have suitable systems to play The School of Dragons, I’d love to get some player reviews.

Another longtime illustrator who’s been a big influence on our collective image of the dragon is Larry Elmore. I’ve been familiar with Elmore’s work since the early 1980s, when he provided art for TSR’s seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. He went on to paint covers for books in the Dragonlance series, also for TSR, and did many illustrations for Magic the Gathering cards, as well.

You can always tell one of Larry Elmore’s dragons from the crowd. (Or perhaps I should say from the flock. From the flight? Anyhow!) They have distinctive horns, angled back from the skull but with a certain twist. Just take a look and you’ll know. His web site is right here.

These days, Elmore is semi-retired. Yet he’s made the short list for a Hugo in 2016, so perhaps the best is yet to come.

Last time, I mentioned that Michael Whelan’s illustration for the Pern novels became an icon for me. This leads me to another set of Pern novels, the Harper Hall books, which had covers by Elizabeth Malczynski. Here’s her gallery.

In some ways, Malczynski’s fire lizards were the opposites of Whelan’s dragons. His covers are glossy, airbrushed, with operatic composition. The dragons are solid and almost dinosaur-like. By contrast Malczynski’s are small and dainty, set amid ethereal watercolors. Of course, fire lizards always had the feel of charming pets. Still, her covers were intimate and welcoming, a perfect invitation to young readers.

For many of us, Malczynski’s Harper Hall covers are the Pern we remember most fondly.

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