As anyone who reads this blog regularly should know, this past weekend I attended (and vended) at SFContario, Toronto’s only yearly science fiction convention to be held in the downtown core. Overall, I had a lovely time, and met many new friends, and bought a lot of books. (I know, I know, I was there on business, but what’s my business if not books?) Plus, since this con is close to Christmas, there was an unexpected benefit to attending: I got some lovely collectible Christmas presents for my husband! I’d tell you what they are, but I don’t want word to get back to him… and he’s sneaky when it comes to presents. 😛

 Also, a new addition to the Pop Seagull team this time around is my friend Jenn Bickley, a former student of mine and a valuable helper who watched the booth for me when I was off at panels and events, and helped out in innumerable other ways that made the event so much more fun. Jenn, if you’re reading this, thanks again! You really made everything run smoothly.

Friday

Jenn and I left Burlington around 10:30 in the morning on Friday to avoid rush hour traffic, and we ended up being some of the first people to arrive at the con short of the organizers. The hotel was on Jarvis, near College, and although it didn’t look like much from the outside, it was fairly easy to get to and it was very clean and nicely renovated once we got inside. Accessibility, both for wheelchairs and baggage carts, wasn’t the best, as the building was big on stairs and small on elevators (very small), but we managed to get all of our things into our room without too much hassle. I was disappointed that a convention hotel lacked an ensuite fridge standard in every room, and I did lose some food after an ill-conceived bet that they would provide one. I also found out later, after the sun had set, that the neighborhood is not the best and it might not be the nicest place for two unescorted ladies to traverse after dark. Luckily, a very buff friend of ours who is skilled in martial arts was nice enough to take us to Golden Griddle, lest we go hungry.

Although these first discoveries may sound totally negative, I don’t mean them to. There were several major plusses to the hotel. It was close to several major bank outlets, had an ATM and a convenience store next door, and if you have a car or go out during the day, it had a wide array of intriguing and relatively inexpensive restaurants right around the corner, including a partial service Tim Hortons. Unfortunately, Jenn and I only made it to the Golden Griddle and Tim’s, but we were very tempted by both the Cora’s and the Dim Sum. There was also a beautiful Victorian greenhouse right across the street, which I assume has some affiliation with Ryerson University (correct me if I’m wrong, readers?), lovely old-fashioned church bells on Sunday, and a view of the CN Tower from our room. Oh, and the shower in the room was fabulous.

After settling into our room and finding out where the bank was, Jenn and I decided to take our supplies down to the dealers’ room and get everything set up. Even though registration wasn’t open and Jenn didn’t have a membership yet, the staff were more than helpful to us, and let her in anyway on good faith. Someone was available to help us carry our things to the table, and we were very happy with the space and chairs that were given to us. At the start of the convention, we were warned that the room we were in could potentially get very stuffy, but we never experienced that. If anything, it stayed at a nice crisp temperature. We had the extreme good fortune (and misfortune for our pocketbooks) to be sat next to Mick’s Books, and Mick’s contagious love of books and collectibles entertained and informed us all weekend. They were lovely neighbours, and I went home with more than a few of their wares. Everybody in our room got along swimmingly, and we never lacked for friends and fun when the customers were elsewhere.

I had no panels Friday night, so Jenn and I just enjoyed selling books and getting to know everybody. I attended the opening ceremonies, met a few old friends there, and heard Toyboat play, which was quite an enjoyable experience. We also hung out with my buddy Erik Buchanan.

Saturday

 Saturday I woke up fairly early, as I had two panels in the morning, “Unconventional Relationships in SF/F” and “Criticism in the 21st Century”.

The first panel was a really interesting discussion, and I think I had a lot in common with my fellow panelists, which makes me feel rather better about my portrayal of bisexuality in Flood Waters Rising. I got to ask a lot of really educational questions, and learn what people in alternative lifestyles do and don’t want to see in depictions of their relationships. I tend to pick my panels based on how much I think I’m going to learn, or how much I think I have to teach, and in this case I think I really learned a lot.

The second panel was my only panel over the weekend with the GOH, Mr. John Scalzi. I don’t know how much I contributed to the discussion, but DAMN… he is awesome to talk to. Smart, funny, eloquent… he’s great. I could have sat on that panel for three hours, just to hear what else he would say. Later in the day, Jenn and I also deserted our poor table for a little while to go and see John’s slideshow presentation of his trip to the creation museum in the states… now, I don’t want to trample on anybody’s beliefs, but it was pretty darn funny, just from a scientific point of view. However, I also enjoyed John’s nuanced take on Christianity, and the fact that he acknowledged that not even the majority of Christian-identified people believe the things in that museum. All in all, it was worth seeing and very funny, and I highly suggest seeing it if it comes to a convention near you anytime soon.

The rest of Saturday was fairly uneventful, except for some nice conversations behind our booth. Jenn and I turned in early, and had some fun reading some of the books we’d bought (Con Gold!).

Sunday

 I had two more panels on Sunday, both in the morning again. The first one was on AI, and the second on giving and receiving critique.

My first panel was fun, educational, and engendered lively debate. We had the pleasure of discussing the topic with some entertaining and eminently intelligent panelists, from both writing and academia, and everyone got into it with vigor. Once again, the biggest value of this panel, for me, was the honor of being able to talk to some really smart people, and to have learned quite a lot about the way we think, and the way computers, essentially, don’t. This panel inspired me to research more such topics, and do more such panels, as I found it quite inspiring and fascinating.

The second panel was also fun, and I got to share a lot of knowledge that I’ve gained through my experiences at Odyssey, working as a creative writer in the gaming industry, and just being a working artist in general. I hope that I was able to help some aspiring professionals get closer to their goals.

After my panels, I had my first autograph session ever… and people showed up! Thanks, guys! It was great meeting you! And after that… well, it was mostly packing up. On the way home, we unfortunately got stuck in the chaos following Toronto’s Santa Claus Parade, and got lost for about three hours… I would beg the organizers not to schedule the con for this weekend again. It was really hard to get out of the city, especially if you didn’t know the minor roads very well.

Summary

 Overall, this was a nice little con. The hotel was comfortably appointed, people were really nice, and the major events were well-attended and fun. Being a country girl originally, I had never stayed overnight in downtown Toronto, and I found that it was a very nice experience overall. I especially liked that there was lots of readily available food near the hotel, unlike at many other cons where the variety and price range might not be all that good. My only criticism is that the scheduling of the con on a parade weekend made getting home more difficult than it should have been, but as I understand it, the con has been pushed back to an earlier weekend next year. As of right now, I’m planning to attend the next one.

My Advice, Condensed:

 -If you’re bringing your own food to this one, bring a cooler. You may not want to, though, as in some cases it may be cheaper just to buy food from around the neighborhood.

-If you’re not adept at defending yourself or you’re uncomfortable with unsavory types, plan to take a cab out at night. I would suggest always going out with a group.

-If you’re sharing a room with a lot of other people, this hotel actually has couch beds in the rooms, or at least they did on our floor.

-If the con is ever scheduled for a Santa Claus Parade weekend again, make sure to have a solid plan for getting out of the city smoothly, or staying overnight if necessary. Trust me… you don’t want to get lost like we did.

And now, you know what this means… I have a brand new stack of Con Reading! Yippee!

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