Ad Astra 2012 – The Titanic of Conventions
If someone had entered the lobby of this year’s Ad Astra, Toronto’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, and shouted, “Iceburg! Right ahead!” I’d know exactly what he meant. Conventions are, at best nightmares to organize and run. As a relatively sane person, I’d never volunteer to run one. That said, however, something broke at this convention. Passengers and crew, guests and organizers fought valiantly against the flood of poor planning, and while the ship may not have sunk, it had certainly foundered.
Day 1 - Friday the 13th
Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. The first day is always crazy with people arriving, dealers setting up, old friends meeting, regular hotel guests wondering what the heck all the fuss is about and hotel staff pretending not to see the scantily clad costumers and Steampunk girls strutting around in corsets and fishnets.
Trust me, it’s the same at every con.
But that disorganization needs some anchor to bring everything together and start the con gears rolling. That element was missing, and never really appeared during the course of the weekend.
In a nutshell, after attending the opening ceremonies, where the con committee essentially apologized in advance, the highlight of Friday was helping fellow Stop Watch Gang member Suzanne Church carry party stuff to her room. Her short story, The Needle’s Eye, is nominated for an Aurora and she decided to hold a party Saturday night.
Meanwhile, I had volunteered to take part in the Murder on the Titanic game meant for Saturday and was supposed to look for a certain gentlemen to give me the info needed to participate. This search soon took on quest-like proportions involving missing persons and even Excalibur. Eventually I learned that the gentleman in question was nowhere to be found and so my commitment to the affair waned.
Day 2 - Saturday the 14th
A brand new day. Out with the old and in with the new.
Finding the rooms was difficult because nothing jived with the panel schedule. Rooms weren’t clearly marked, or plaques just not obvious enough. When I did find a room, it was usually crowded because the ‘salon’ rooms were too small. Needless to say, I wandered a lot until my panel on E-readers which I moderated and was a full room, so that was very cool.
More wandering, another reading with Suzanne Church, Swg’er Brad Carson, and Marcy Italiano, and we gathered for dinner at Frankie Tomatto’s which was surprisingly good, especially for Ian Keeling who essentially forgave the world for any faults done to him because the dessert buffet had grape ice cream.
After that it was killing time until room parties. I attended two: GOH Peter Halasz held a World Fantasy Convention promo party serving some of his wicked Merlot, and of course Suzanne Church’s party. Chizine also had a party going, but by then I was tired and as I had a panel and a reading the next day, I headed for home.
God, I’m just getting old.
Day 3 – Sunday the 15th
Woke up tired. Went to the con tired. Moderated a panel on live critique groups which, although lightly attended went very well. When you get a compliment from an audience member, you know you did good.
My reading was a bust, but then unless you are someone of note, they usually are. Just as well. By then all I wanted was to go home, so after stopping in the dealer’s room to buy gifts for the family, I did just that--and napped the rest of the afternoon.
But all was not bad. Every con has its moments. Despite its northerly locale, the hotel had plenty of reasonably priced eateries within walking distance. Parking was free. While generally confused by what was going on, the hotel staff were courteous.
The committee managed to attract enough dealers that tables filled some three or four rooms, and stretched across both upper and lower lever levels.
I met and shook hands with Christopher Ward, one of the original VJ’s when Much Music first started up. He also co-wrote the musical monster hit Black Velvet and was ther to interview his friend, GOH, Leslie Livingstone who is herself a part of the television and movie world. Later, I had a beer with her and she was everything a great GOH and nice human being should be.
I finally met future SWGer Pippa Wysong, who will make a perfect fit among our dysfunctional group of soon to be literary superstars.
Saw some ultra-cool Lego models:
I met some new people which is always my goal, and on the whole, I think I made a good impression without making an ass of myself...I think.
As an observer, I would say the Steampunkers had a good time of it. You can judge how well a gathering has gone by the melancholy nature of the guests come Sunday. Costumes packed, room paid for, they sit quietly in the lobby, perhaps nursing a hangover, until it’s time to go home and be normal again. They’ll be back, I’m sure.
There were also gamers, people who come here specifically to play board games, and those rooms look filled. I can only guess if they had a good time.
But can the same be said for the literary fans? The hotel location is definitely a factor. While paying for parking is a concern at downtown hotels, does free parking justify alienating or inconveniencing those who rely on the TTC?
I’ll be back, because for better or worse, loud or sedate, as long as I write genre fiction I’m a member of this community, and attending cons is not just promoting yourself, it is supporting an event that is for fandom. It’s fun, but it’s also part of the job and a responsibility.
That responsibility does not extend to fandom. When they lay their 40 bucks down for a con, they move into a new category, that of paying customer and they expect a show. You don’t provide, and they will not come back. 2012 was not a great con by far, but hopefully it was a learning experience which will make next year all the better.
My heart will go on.