I know it’s late in the week for a con report, but I really wanted to do one and I was down with the flu from Sunday onward, so I’m just kind of getting back on my feet now. First of all, I’ll do a run-down of a few elements of the con that were new or noteworthy, and then I’ll get down to my personal experiences and overall impression.
The new hotel, the Markham Holiday Inn and Suites, was quite nice actually, and very reminiscent in layout to the hotel for Polaris, if you’re familiar with the Sheraton. I much preferred it to the previous hotel, which had expensive parking fees and felt claustrophobic, isolated and hard to find. Although I forgot my bathing suit (dang) the Holiday Inn also boasted a nice pool, which I think is a big perk. The staff were very accommodating while we were at the site, and we never had a problem getting what we needed from them. Reservations weren’t all that user-friendly when I initially called, but once a manager got involved things went more smoothly. The rooms were nice, spacious and had complimentary fridges, which was a big help to us even though we had a cooler. The entire hotel also had free wifi and parking.
Dealers and Activities
I’ve been to Ad Astra several other years (it was my first science fiction convention, in fact) and it seemed like this year they had definitely stepped up the volume and variety of vendors, art show selections, and activities on offer from previous years. I wish I’d been able to go to more of the official parties (alas, I was stuck behind a booth) but they looked genuinely intriguing and fun. This was a bigger Ad Astra than I was previously used to, but I hope that they can keep up the numbers because I liked to see so many people coming out. Also, having been placed on the ‘party floor’ accidentally at a number of cons now, I can honestly say that Ad Astra had the politest room party crowds I’ve seen. I was two doors down from one, and I barely lost a wink of sleep over noise. No one was spilling out into the hall, and if they did, they weren’t yelling, which was just great.
The hotel was really easy to find when we arrived on Friday, and easy to get to on the highway. In our party was my husband, who is a vendor as well, and my lovely assistant, Jenn (by the way, thanks again for all your help, my friend!). We got there early, checked in, then went to see about our table. Unfortunately, there were some miscommunications about our table locations, but the convention staff were very good about rectifying the situation and we ended up with a lovely location and no complaints. With no panels to speak of, we were free to vend all evening, and I was lucky enough to make it to the short story writing contest. I just love these, as I find them inspiring, and honestly, I could win the Hugo and still go into ’em. There’s nothing like a little healthy competition and some prompts to get the ol’creative juices flowing and encourage writerly fun! Our main prompt this year (although there were lots of minor ones, and the more you incorporated, the better) was to use a logging truck somewhere in your 250 word or less short story. Mine was about an inner-city boy who is sent to summer camp by a charity and runs away, only to find a dying dryad who has fallen off the back of a logging truck who is just as much out of her element as he is. I liked it enough that you will be seeing it in some form in the coming months.
Saturday was a bit of a whirlwind due to the fact that there were a lot of scheduling errors this year and I ended up spending a lot of my time running about trying to figure out where I had to be when, and whether or not I was double-booked with something else. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my RIP Hogwarts panel (probably one of the most entertaining of the kind that I’ve been on) and the non-sf TV panel. After the hectic day, my husband, my support crew and I decided just to take a relaxed night off and play some Magic: The Gathering. It was very nice, and we ate altogether too many chocolate chip cookies and baguette crisps with salsa.
Sunday was surprisingly fun considering I probably had a fever for most of the day. Most importantly, I think, I had my first reading with the wonderful Karen Dales, and Matthew Johnson, whom I had never met before but quickly found to be delightful and a good listener. I want to take this opportunity, right now, to thank Tracey for coming out to see me. It meant so much to me that you came! Also, it was nice to see how many people came by to chat before the end of the con, as we were close to packing up. It was nice to have made an impact on so many people, and to all of you who bought books, I sincerely hope that they bring you hours of joy and entertainment. I also attended my most intellectually rigorous panel of the weekend last, in Peter Halasz’s ’10 Most Influential Fantasy Books of All Time’ panel. Thanks for a great discussion, Peter! I was honored to be included as one of your experts. It really is a testament to this con that I was burning up with a fever by the end, but still went home in a good mood.
One Last Note…
When I talk about this convention, I can’t lie, there were some big hiccups over the weekend, mostly in programming, but personally, I’m going to chalk this up to necessary growing pains for a previously small gathering becoming bigger and more exciting. I also want to draw attention to the fact that no matter what my problem was, big or small, I was directed to the right person to solve it immediately, and all of my issues were dispatched with a smile– no belligerence, no defensiveness, just results, and genuine help. In an age when many governing bodies prefer to pass the buck rather than act when something goes wrong, I want to applaud the resourcefulness and good cheer of the Ad Astra staff. Certainly, I hope things run more smoothly next year, and I’m sure the organizers do too, but, as the old saying goes, shit happens, and it’s all in how we deal with it.
PS: Tim… I realized after writing this that I neglected to mention our sandwich moment. Consider this terrible oversight remedied. 🙂