Well, it’s Monday, which means Ad Astra 2017 has come and gone. Here’s a brief summary of how I fared this past weekend.
Friday May 5
I got to the con later than I expected because transferring to York Regional Transit at Finch Station was much more difficult than I anticipated. Lack of signage, unclear instructions on how to pay for fares, not enough information about which buses dock at which platforms – just in general, Finch Station is a clusterfuck to navigate, I mean what even.
However, I did still have time to eat and get my registration package before my very first panel, the one on gender terminology in fantasy and science fiction.
This panel was a frustrating one in retrospect, because, frankly, one of the panelists was disturbingly conservative in her approach to gender. She didn’t see the point of using the singular “they”, didn’t respect the existence of non-binary pronouns, and promoted the worst forms of gender essentialism. (“Gender is related to procreation!” “In my book, I made my male and female characters completely different species, and decided to mix things up by using the pronoun ‘he’ for all characters, even the female ones!” “If you use ‘they’ to refer to an individual, then what are you going to do when there are multiple people, huh?”)
I tried to shut these lines of discussion down when I could, but they really made me angry. I found out after the fact that I was not the only one who felt this way, and that several members of the audience (which was standing room only!) appreciated my attempts to call this BS out for being reductive and erasing.
(Also, as a note to the Con Committee, in case any of you read this post: if you’re making a panel about gender terminology in SF/F, it’s not a good idea to have it populated only with white cis women. Ad Astra has a noticeable diversity problem, and in future instances I recommend that the con make an effort to ensure that future panels on similar topics have queer/non-binary representation.)
After that panel was over, Mr. Books&Tea and I wandered around the hotel, checking out various rooms and running into other people. At one point, it felt like every single person I ran into was a friend of mine, and as more people gathered around me, it felt like I was a gravitational mass pulling other awesome people into its orbit. I felt like I was at the centre of a great big lump of friendships and happiness. 😀
Saturday May 6
Saturday was awesome. I took part in two panels. The first, moderated by Adam Shaftoe-Durrant, was about whether or not the western genre is still relevant today, while the second, moderated by Derek Künsken, was about the current state of space opera.
I actually had enough to say on both panels without running out of ideas, which is a miracle. Both Adam and Derek were great moderators, as they came prepared with a list of questions and made sure to cycle back and forth among the various panelists.
Every so often, it strikes me as incredibly weird that there are people out there in the spec-fic community who care about what I have to say. Books & Tea is a super tiny blog, and Twitter is my main avenue of promotion. While I do have some sort of legitimacy in the community because I slush-read for Lightspeed, I still feel like an impostor. I don’t write short fiction; I stopped doing that a few years ago. I don’t have any story sales to my credit, and almost all of the writing I’ve done about science fiction and fantasy has been on a hobby/volunteer basis. So hearing people like Derek say that they want me on their panels, that I fulfill an important role by being a reviewer, is really validating.
(Plus, Jon Oliver, one of the editors for Solaris, flew out to attend Ad Astra all the way from the UK. He sat beside me on a panel! The fact that I sat beside him, an Honest-To-Goodness Real Live Science Fiction Editor, is just another whole new level of weirdness. What the hell am I doing to deserve this awesomeness?!)
Other than those panels, I attended one on citizen science, which was fascinating. Glenn Norman and S.M. Sterling are both engaging speakers with lots of incredible life experiences. I also took part in some Artemis Bridge Simulator games, which are like being in a real-life episode of Star Trek.
I also got to hang out and chew some fat with awesome people like Beverly Bambury, Charlotte Ashley, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, Julia E. Muldoon, Sylvie Lafontaine, and more. It was a pretty awesome day, and I topped it all off by getting Indian food with the folks I play a Star Wars RPG with. It was a day filled top to bottom with nerdery.
Sunday May 7
I attended two panels on Sunday: one on crowdfunding and one on contemporary works that successfully disrupt spec-fic tropes. Both panels, featuring the likes of Charlotte Ashley, Vanessa Ricci-Thode, Carolyn Charron, and Beverly Bambury, were awesome.
Unfortunately, about halfway through the second panel, my body decided it had had enough. I woke up with a headache and my attempts to quell it with breakfast and Advil were unsuccessful; at around 11:30, I suddenly felt awful, my headache spiked in intensity, and I felt nauseous, like I was going to vomit.
Once the second panel was over at noon, I found Mr. Books&Tea, told him I was feeling unwell, and found a couch to crash on in the hotel. Said couch was immediately outside of the Artemis simulator room, where several people noticed I was feeling unwell, checked in on me, contacted the ConCom, and dispatched a medic to assess me. (The feeling of concern on my behalf was both gratifying and somewhat overwhelming. These were complete strangers! But they all expressed concern over my welfare. Really lovely in retrospect.)
I felt tired, headache-y, sick, and cold. One person said it sounded like I was having a migraine. Another said it could be shock. Others said it was con crud or even an instance of hypoglycemia. Even now, a day later, I’m not entirely sure what caused it, but whatever it was, I just felt not good.
Mr. Books&Tea got me a fruit smoothie to bring my sugars up, and once I drank some and felt good enough to stand up, we left the hotel and took a cab home. I really wish I could have stayed another hour or two, but I just wasn’t physically up for it. Not the best end I had imagined for this year’s con. :/
Random Coolness Y’all Should Know About
Apparently, on Saturday night, Adam Shaftoe-Durrant invited a whole bunch of con-goers to his hotel room and filmed an impromptu re-enactment of Spock’s death scene from The Wrath of Khan in his shower. Noted luminaries in attendance included Charlotte Ashley, Beverly Bambury, Andrew Barton, and Todd Gorski-Parker. Apparently, Adam’s working on editing the footage into something presentable. HURRY UP, ADAM. I WANT TO WITNESS THIS LEGENDARY PERFORMANCE.
Science and Activism
One of the panelists on Saturday’s panel on citizen science and crowdsourcing mentioned that Zooniverse.org is a great crowdsourcing repository. Check it out! Take part in improving scientific information sets from the comfort of your own home – it’s surprisingly fun!
Most SF/F cons have rooms where you can buy pieces from art from other con attendees. This time, I discovered the beautiful machine embroidery work of Elizabeth Cano. She’s working on a PhD in engineering, and uses a machine to embroider extremely colourful, complex patterns on handmade bags and other pieces of fabric. I bought a bag from her with cats embroidered on it! Check out her Etsy store to see some more beautiful patterns, or see some examples in the gallery below: