Ad Astra 2011 Conference Report…finally!

It’s a measure of how busy I am lately that I’m only now, two and a half weeks after the fact, managing to get my post about Ad Astra finished.  But I was determined to give at least a few of my impressions about one of my favorite regular conference/conventions:

1.  As always, the panel arrangements, topics and participants were first-rate.  I’ve always felt the convention organizers run a tight ship, and this year was no exception–panelists knew about their assignments well in advance, feedback was solicited on everything (and acted upon in many cases, which is often unusual), and once there they were out of the way unless needed, being neither overly intrusive nor absent when an issue needed to be resolved.  This was despite having to coordinate book launches, art exhibits, the masquerade, and so on…everything seemed to run close to time without feeling rushed.  They’re all volunteers, but there’s nothing amateurish about how they run Ad Astra.

2.  The panelists themselves were awesome as usual (I’ll leave myself out of it and leave it to others to decide if I fit the awesome label too… πŸ™‚ ), interesting, fun and polite.  Some of them I’ve known for a while, like Tony Pi or Adrienne Kress, but others were new and pleasant acquaintances, like Howard Tayler…even when they weren’t on a given panel, as was the case with people like Derryl Murphy, with whom I had the chance to talk shop several times during the weekend. And then there were the luminaries like Dave Duncan or Ed Greenwood–I got the chance to do a reading with both, and it was a great time. (Ed, as always, was a blast…it’s impossible not to laugh about something when he’s around!)

3.  The audiences were fantastic: thoughtful, engaged, and interesting.  I did notice that attendance was down a bit this year, at least anecdotally; even Saturday seemed less busy than I remember it from years past.  But the intelligence of the people there remained the same, and it was nice to see.  (I was even thanked by a Klingon for my work on one panel, which I think was the last obstacle to my career taking off in earnest.)

4.  The dealer’s room was small but fun–unlike Gen Con, you could get through it in less than an hour, which allowed for repeat visits without feeling guilty.  No truth to the rumor that I got some more D and D stuff there.  No pics, so it didn’t happen, right, Internet?  πŸ™‚  The art show was good too, and we got a neat steampunk lantern/lamp/candle holder…okay, I don’t know how to describe it.  It was cool, that’s all.

5.  The only negative: I still don’t like the hotel, and if anything it’s gotten worse.  It’s about as far from anything interesting in Toronto as you can get, and heaven help you if you don’t like the food there, because you’re basically stuck with it (though I was told there was a good Mongolian barbeque nearby which I didn’t have the chance to check out).  Add to that a rude, harried staff and incredibly slow service and you don’t have a recipe for success.  The organizers claim they get a great financial deal from the Don Valley, and maybe that’s true (it doesn’t seem to help those of us staying there a great deal)–but it seems to me the hotel seems to resent having to deal with convention goers, which is not how you’re supposed to handle a group of people spending a bunch of money at your site.  I can guarantee no one related to Ad Astra would set foot in the hotel if it weren’t being held there.  This may be a lost cause, but I would encourage the organizers to keep looking for something better–I’ll keep coming for the other reasons I mentioned, but the hotel part continues to disappoint.

Overall, though, this was another big success.  I like traveling to Canada anyway, but even if I didn’t I’d always make time for Ad Astra.  It’s always towards the end of my spring semester, heralding the coming of summer and the beginning of the big convention/conference going season, and always a good time.  If you haven’t already, mark your calendars for next year.  And if you see Ed Greenwood at a convention, for the love of Elminster don’t start off a conversation with the much too general “I have a question for you” line.  The answers you’ll get will disturb you for weeks… πŸ™‚


P.S. I’ve posted some audio of panels I participated in during the weekend on my Media page…take a listen and let me know what you think!