Conference Report–Ad Astra 2010

So much for the writing trick of “keeping secrets,” as Pat Rothfuss likes to put it–I think you all pretty much know what this post is about from the title, so I might as well dive in!  It’s actually going up later than I intended…we’re in the home stretch of the spring semester, and so I ‘m trying to juggle writing projects and grading as best I can.  To summarize:  as usual, Ad Astra was a good time, and except for the hotel, there’s a lot to like about this convention.

We got there on Friday night about 8:45 p.m., fifteen minutes before the start of my panel, and after getting my wife and daughter situated in the hotel room and changing, I got to the room exactly at 9 p.m. (I’m the on-time machine, baby)…in fact, Rick Wilber showed up a minute later than I did (he’s allowed, though…he’s coming from Florida, and I think may be one of the only people besides me that goes to both ICFA and Ad Astra every year).  What followed was I think the best panel of the con, at least of the ones I saw or participated in–it was entitled Same Old Settings, but we had a fairly wide ranging discussion on a number of topics relating to what fantasy and science fiction is or isn’t, and how cultural assumptions play into all of those beliefs.  (The fact that it was well attended–at 9 p.m. on a Friday night!–was another bonus.)  A panel on the Joy(s) of Teaching Speculative Fiction followed, with a much smaller audience (not surprising, since we had hit 10 p.m. by that point)–but again well worth the time, as I got to hear how colleagues treated the teaching of speculative fiction in their classes.

The next day began a bit later than I had intended (look, I was tired…), but once I got up and rolling I headed to my panel on Each Character’s Voice.  This had good turnout and also went pretty well, though a five person panel is a bit of overkill for an hour long session!  After that I was free for a few hours, so my family and I grabbed some lunch and checked out the dealer’s room–not exactly Gen Con quality (I mean they have to use the largest room in the Convention Center for that one, so it’s not a fair comparison), but there was some interesting stuff.  (My wife ended up getting some neat steampunk jewelry–she’s become a big fan of the style, and hey…who am I to dismiss something which relies on dirigibles and fantasy?)  And there’s no truth to the rumor I might have gotten a couple of gamebooks at a great discount for some popular role playing game with two famous initials.  None at all.

From there Clea and Senavene headed back to the hotel room for a nap, while I went off to get some grading done for a few hours before the group autograph session.  That session was a trip, by the way–they put all of us in a big ballroom, so there I was sitting across from Guy Gavriel Kay, and down the way was Eric Flint, and over there was Robert J. Sawyer, and…you get the idea.  It was cool, anyway, and I got the chance to chat with some authors and readers, which is always a good thing.  Then it was on to dinner with the family, more grading, and bed.

The next morning I managed to get up a bit earlier than the day before and went to my panel on How to Get an Agent, which was I think pretty productive for those in attendance (a good number, and in a large room…this is a hot topic).  We all agreed that it was interesting how many different paths we had taken to get our agents, but I had a couple of people afterwards tell me they were glad there were some stories they felt they could replicate, rather than the standard “well, sometimes crazy things happen!” anecdotes which seem to be popular at times at these panels (and not very helpful to those trying to make the crazy things happen sooner, if you see what I mean).  I was glad it seemed to be helpful.  I finished up my participation at the convention with a reading with Chris Jackson and Ed Greenwood…yep, that Ed Greenwood.  The readings were fun, and as usual Ed was a riot (again, some day, that popular role playing game with two famous initials with Ed Greenwood…?  How cool would that be?), and a nice guy to boot.  He also had a great story at the panel he was on immediately after our reading–to paraphrase, Roger Zelazny autographed Ed’s bookmark (when Ed was a kid) with the next few sentences of an Amber paragraph Ed had written.  This went on for several conventions, and when Ed got to be well known, that back and forth writing appeared in a tribute collection to Amber.  That story would have been worth the convention by itself, in my opinion–that’s about as cool as it gets, and I’m filing it away in my “to do for young fan” list when the writing career really gets going.

After that, we swung by the art room, picking up a couple of beautiful pieces, and then headed home–it took a couple of days, because we stopped by Niagra Falls on the way, but that was part of the point.  On the whole, it was a good family trip.

As was the case last year, I really liked Ad Astra, and I loved the fact that they incorporated our feedback (like putting lesser known authors with better known ones in group readings) this time around.  My only complaint?  The hotel is…er…not good.  First of all, it’s in the most blatantly business-only district of Toronto you could possibly find–restaurants outside of the hotel were a dicey proposition at best, and checking out the rest of what is a beautiful city is pretty much an impossibility without a car.  That wasn’t as important to me, both because I’ve seen Toronto and because I had convention responsibilities, but for family members it’s kind of a problem.  That wouldn’t matter so much if the hotel itself was better–but in addition to being very oddly designed (it feels like someone made the game SimHotel and set it to random–stairs up and down all over the place, random elevators only covering certain floors, a weird garage setup, etc.), the service was utterly incompetent at best and rude at worst.  Every staff member seemed harried and overstressed, and the food service was a nightmare–we waited ONE HOUR for our food during Sunday lunch, when there were maybe ten people in the entire place.  (Ask Rob Sawyer if you don’t believe me–his party waited longer than we did!)  This would be fine if we were paying fifty bucks at a Motel 6, but this was a lot more pricey than that.  I heard that a few other Canadian conventions were able to secure hotels in Toronto, and I’d strongly suggest Ad Astra try for something similar next year–this place just clearly isn’t grateful enough for the business, and it does affect the experience.

All that said, the staff of the convention was great as always, and did a good job in every way I could tell.  I’m looking forward to next year.  And that time, when my daughter is three, I might even think about the annual costume contest for kids.  I mean, she’s obviously the cutest little girl in the world, so…


P.S. I’ve put audio up of the various panel appearances and the readings I did at this convention in my Media sections, one on the Academic side and the rest on the Author side.