So, I’ve been meaning to get this up and running and this felt like the ideal way to do so.
I’d like to feel that I’m regular enough at Ad Astra to have an educated opinion on the convention; I’ve been going there for the past few years and it’s a scheduled event on my calendar that I eagerly look forward to. Ad Astra signals the start of the convention season for me, that glorious period of time that starts in April and runs until November. It’s a season in the same way that the hockey season is, I suppose, but the December-March stretch feels longer than it should.
There’s a good bunch of things to talk about. The con has moved into a new hotel (amusingly going from my old neighborhood to Rob’s old neighborhood) and there’s numerous details that come with that.
I haven’t stayed at a con hotel for a local con because it hasn’t made much sense when I live in the city. What I did hear from people was that the overall quality of the Markham Hotel Inn was better than at the Don Valley Hotel & Suites, the previous host of the convention. The convention was certainly promoting that the Holiday Inn had cheaper rates than had been featured at the old hotel. From what could be discerned from not staying there, most of the con space was laid out in a way that was much more accessible than the old con space. The convention space at the Don Valley Hotel was fantastically dated, featured many stairs and split levels, and had limited or no elevator access to all of these subfloors. Moving to a hotel with more flat surfaces was the right move.
The new hotel is also in a relatively better location when it comes to food. The old hotel was isolated and the only food that wasn’t more than a block away were the hotel restaurants and a Tim Hortons. It certainly wasn’t impossible to feed one’s self, but it required a bit of a hike to get over to the restaurants on Don Mills. The new hotel looked like it would be just as isolated, but a quick look at Woodbine revealed countless places to eat in walking distance. We ate well.
The content was about average for Ad Astra; higher than normal for a science fiction convention in terms of depth and quality. There were blocks of time where we couldn’t find any panels that grabbed us, but that’s par for the course and usually becomes the “Tim Hortons Panel” or the “Dinner Panel”. The quality tended to degrade on the Sunday, a side effect of guests staying up to late or being hung over. I find the Sundays more mellow than anything else and don’t mind the atmosphere. However, when it came to finding the panels…
WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED WITH THE SCHEDULES?! I wouldn’t say that I was angry about them, but I was certainly frustrated. If anything overwhelming coloured the con, that was it. I’m sorry if I sound like one of those entitled fans, but there’s something to be said about 1) Having no printed schedules at the start of the con, 2) Having the final schedule not match the one posted on the website, 3) Having no lists of guests for the panels. The last one might be borderline entitlement, but it certainly made things confusing when you’d see the guest of honour in a panel in a salon room when he was supposed to be downstairs in one of the larger rooms.
There’s also the little problem with the salon rooms on the second floor. This beef mostly lies with Holiday Inn, but why weren’t they completely emptied of furniture? It could have freed up more space for chairs. I spend a few panels sitting on the hotel room dressers. The salon rooms worked fine for roundtable discussions and small panels, but I was in several packed panels that had to be breaking the fire code. I know this happened at the old hotel as well, but it seemed to irk me less. I suspect it’s because the old hotel rooms had the illusion of holding more people.
Another fault that lies more with the hotel is that it was never really clear if there was a route between the first and second floor that didn’t involve the elevators. I still don’t know; someone claimed that a person tried to use the stairs and it triggered a series of alarms, but I don’t recall that happening. The elevators did form a nasty choke point that made getting around really annoying.
The Bizarre – Odd things of note:
- That Harry Turtledove panel was the first time I’ve ever remarked “That audience was overwhelmingly male” at a con. I must have been one of only three woman there.
- I had some stranger stare at my chest through a panel on Worldbuilding. I wasn’t sitting with Rob at the time, so that might be part of it. I’m reminded of the “it’s sad that we need this section” in the con guide that implies “Don’t assume that a person is being friendly with other con goers will welcome a stranger’s attention”, which may have always been in the guide but I only noticed it this year.
- I wanted to go to the panel on Star Wars Expanded Universe to figure out why Del Ray’s books for the rest of the year are the relaunch of Wraith Squadron, an adaptation of a RPG module and Wacky Adventures with Your Host, Timothy Zahn. As in, things I would actually buy for fluff reading because I like Star Wars silliness more than Star Wars seriousness. However, the audience was tiny and mostly fans who are anal about “canon” (based on what they said in past panels), so I figured it was a fools game to linger.