<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
The Great Ad Astra Con Report, 2004


My last day of class, perhaps ever. Certainly my last day as an undergrad. Due to the slightly crazy time at which I finished writing my essay and got to bed, and then the even later time when I was actually able to get to sleep, I was tired on Thursday. Very, very tired. (So tired that I actually took a short nap in a public room, curled up on a bench. That was a first.) And yet it was my last day of class, and I had the Odyssey book launch after the day was over, and Connie Willis' Lincoln's Dreams to help me pass all the unfilled time in between the two.

I will not discuss the fact that after writing my ass off to get that essay in on time, and all the hand-waving I had to do to make up for the fact that I didn't have any time to get any real content for this essay because the professor moved the due date up (which, I should add, I have since discovered that she was not allowed to do) the due date was moved back to Wednesday. Almost a week more time. No, I won't mention that, because remembering it might frustrate me again.

Went to the Merrill Collection for the book launch, and, of course, arrived almost an hour early. But since my local branch of the TPL is closed for renovations for a year it's been a while since I've been able to go to a good library, I spent my hour happily wandering through the SF section and amassing a great armful of books, which I subsequently had to put back with but two exceptions: Half the Day is Night by Maureen McHugh and Black Light by Elizabeth Hand. I could not carry more in my already overflowing bag.

The launch itself was a lot of fun, though I'm sure I looked kind of dazed at times. Exhaustion will do that to a girl. Met up with a lot of people that I'd see at various other times throughout the weekend, and feasted on the "light refreshments" that were really my dinner. (Sandwiches! Juice! Deviled eggs! Cookies! It was a starving student's paradise.) And I really enjoyed the mini-readings by four of the Odyssey authors. If I hadn't already claimed a copy from Sarah, I'd have been buying one for sure. (And I suppose that's the point.)

Afterwards, Sarah and I were going out to have some bubble tea with her friend Shannon (who couldn't make it, as it turned out), and ended up bringing some cool people with us: Amanda and Peter, Leah and Roupen, and ... well, a guy with a mustache. It was actually the first time that I'd met Leah and Roupen (though I'd recently found both of their journals) and was absolutely shocked when they not only recognized my name but quoted me. An Eco-Challenge quote no less! I about geeked out on the spot. And then proceeded to talk about adventure racing too much for my own good.

We were in the bubble tea shop for approaching four hours, I think, and though my exhausted self was yawning as soon as it got dark I just didn't want to leave. Funny people, great conversation and this sweet popcorn that came for free. What more could a girl ask for? But there was a con to attend in the morning, and I hadn't even begun packing and so the time came for me to go home.


I tried to sleep in. I really did. But the general excitement/nervousness that always is a part of my convention experiences woke me up earlier than I would have liked. Then it was a whirlwind of business card preparation, laundry and packing. Was ready in good time and headed out to pick up Sarah. We went to Bakka to pick up boxes upon boxes of books, and then with a little creative detouring to add some interest (who ever heard of a "no right turns" sign? Craziness, that) we arrived and unloaded all the books.

Met up with Sarah's sibling, Simon, and Dan (aka Ufer) and went out for food--the first I'd eaten since a bowl of Mini Wheats that I'd had around noon. The unintentional convention starvation diet was off to a fantastic start.

Hurried back to the con for the Ad Astra Odyssey book launch. It was much like the first, but with fewer good snacks and one fewer author in attendance, yet despite it's "Last time on Odyssey book launch" feel it was actually a lot of fun. Sarah impressed a second crowd with her dynamic reading, and I began to get very excited about our joint reading planned for Saturday.

After the launch it was off to Jason Taniguchi's show, which was running late, so we actually ended up seeing the end of the Buffy Sing-along. Now please be aware, I am not a Buffy fan. Never have been, never really wanted to be, was happy to live and let live (or impale, or whatever vampire/demon joke you'd like to add here). So you must understand that this sing-along, both the show itself and the behaviour of the crowd was somewhat fascinating for me. I had a hand waved in front of my hand at least once that I noticed as someone attempted to get my attention--I don't think that anyone quite understood why I was so engrossed.

But Jason Taniguchi came on, and it was ... well ... Jason Taniguchi. Which means funny as hell. That Return of the King was a far better movie than Attack of the Clones could ever dream of being, however, meant that there were fewer really terrible things that he could mock, but that's just part of the game.

After that it was the Meet and Greet, for which the panelists had been given stickers to wear that had a quote from that person's website or a published story which were to be used in a game. I slapped mine onto my shirt without thinking, then looked down. My quote read It does look like a face, the last line from one of my Phone Book stories. I frowned. "You know," I said to Sarah, "there are some quotes that just shouldn't be written across one's chest, and unfortunately mine is one of them."

We didn't stay long as Sarah still had to choose precisely which scenes of her story she'd be reading the next day, and I hadn't practiced my own reading nor knew how much I could read without going over the time limit. So we hurried off to our room accompanied by Simon, and ordered a pizza to help deal with the terrible hunger caused by reading. Sarah got through her first practice reading and I was a page and a bit into mine when the food came, stopping proceedings until a bunch of other newsgroupies crashed our pizza party. Sarah re-read her story to great acclaim. I brushed my teeth.


Julie Czerneda was having a smallish gathering for breakfast on Saturday morning, to which three of my five roommates had been invited or won spots for. I was kind and allowed them to all go in the shower first, as I had nothing much to do until my first panel at 10 AM. Later, as Simon and I sat in the café, I pointed across the room to the gathering of newsgroupies and famous people eating at their large table, and said, "Get a good look at those people. They're all cooler than us."

They were, however, less nervous than I, and for that I was terribly jealous. My stomach had decided to knot itself up, and my breakfast consisted of two cups of tea and the edge of a muffin that Simon got me from the buffet. In retrospect, it was a terrifically good thing that I didn't try to go to the buffet myself, not because of my stomach but because it would have blown my food budget for the whole weekend. Turns out that the buffet was something like $17. Upon hearing the price of the very small amount of food that the two of us had managed to eat, I said to Simon to grab anything that looked transportable, and we scurried off to our hotel room with yoghurt and a paper bag full of muffins.

My first panel of the day was "Show, Don't Tell," and was my introduction to the small, strange rooms in which most of the panels were to be held throughout the convention. They were filled with desk chairs--you know, the kind on wheels, with padded seats and arm rests. All those chairs swiveling around sure made changing rooms interesting if a panel went long--the chairs were rolling and turning, and people trying to get out and in and tripping, while the chairs began to get nervous and caused a stampede ... yes. Exactly like that.

I felt fairly prepared for "Show, Don't Tell," but then, of course, it started taking off in directions that I was totally not anticipating. I said things, but not a lot. Yet this is the good thing about being almost totally unknown: no one's coming there just to see me talk. Though I tried very much to stick to my guns with the fact that there are not simply two kinds of writing, showing and telling, but that any bit of exposition can be showing you one thing as it tells you something else. This made later questions about the ratio of showing to telling that an "ideal" story should have a mite bit frustrating.

Then it was time for me to start getting nervous about my 2:00 panel, "Heroes, Not Messiahs," which I was moderating. Nervousness accomplished, I rushed off to see David Nickle's reading, which I enjoyed, and met up with Genevieve. Then I was literally running back to the hotel room, where I discovered that Sarah's friends Tami and Shannon had arrived; I said a quick hi and wished that I could eat some of the lovely food that had been bought for a group lunch and then I was out the door again to prepare for the panel. (Later, I wished I'd said more than hi and ran around in a flurry, because they were only able to stay for a little while and by the time I found Sarah again they'd left. Sigh.)

Met C.J. Cherryh and Will McDermott, my fellow panelists, and then we weaseled our way into the room which quickly filled to overflowing. Ah, lovely, I thought. A standing-room only panel. So I got moderating, and did my best to keep conversation going for as long as I could, which worked well until the point when I totally ran out of things to say. (In my defense, this wasn't even a panel that I was particularly interested in being on, never mind moderating, but I was doing my damnedest to make it interesting.) About 45 minutes in, though, my mind was blank, my written questions had all been used, and the conversation went dead. I turned to C.J. in a panic and muttered, "Help me!"

"Ah," she said. "That means 'wing it, C.J.!'" And then she just started talking, and the things that she said were interesting and intelligent and totally saved my ass. Whew. So I believe it went alright, though the happiest time for me was when it was all just over.

Then I was able to spend some time with Gen, which was fantastic; we wandered the dealer's room and complained about how absolutely godawful the hotel setup is to people in wheelchairs (stair-stravaganza!) and watched C.J. Cherryh's GOH speech. I also hung around while Gen talked with Julie, which made me happy--glad that these two intelligent women got to meet and have a conversation, and glad that Gen has far more nerve than I do and has been (or will be) rewarded for her foresight and belief in her own projects.

I also spent a good part of the day either admiring or showing off the cover art to Summoned by Destiny (which has now officially been retitled Summoned to Destiny). It is, in a word, gorgeous. And inspired in no small part by my story, so I'm absolutely thrilled. And the quotes--I'm absolutely blown away at all the people that Julie got to give this anthology blurbs. More info when I know I'm allowed to talk about it.

Then came Julie's reading from her upcoming book Survival, which seems to be the usual lovely Julie mix of funny and serious. Wanted to go to the Team Banzai panel, which was next, but that one was full beyond standing room only--it was "stand in the hall if you're lucky" full, and I was going crazy trying to protect the gorgeous anthology cover art from being damaged by the hall-standers, so Sarah and I escaped to go prepare for our reading.

The reading itself went really, really well, I think. We had 20-odd people in the room, some of whom I didn't know. I read the first two and bit scenes from "A Prayer of Salt and Sand." My worry was that it'd be too dull when read aloud, especially when compared to Sarah's quick and funny story, but I just focused on reading slowly, falling into the rhythms of the narrative (which is really what I'm all about--is it any wonder that Cadence is my online handle when one's needed?). Simon said I read like the narrator from The Neverending Story, which I think is funny. I think my only problem was volume (I'm just not that loud, I'm sorry!), but I'll work on that for next time. Because there will be a next time--I'm hooked.

Then there was the masquerade, which was entertaining but seemed seriously short. You could tell when a newsgroupie or child of a newsgroupie went up on stage, though; our entire side of the room would explode with sound. Made me laugh. And then it was Julie's birthday party, in which the combined presents and presence of everyone was enough to make Julie cry.

At this point, I'd eaten: two cups of tea, the edge of a muffin and a small croissant left over from lunch. It was about 9 PM. I was hungry and no longer nervous, and so we hit the green room for sustenance. Why we didn't figure out before that they had good, free food for us panelist types I'll never know.

As for the dance ... well, there was a new DJ. Rumour has it that he went by the name "DJ Eargasm." I'm still laughing about that one; it's just bad in so very many ways. As Sarah said, he had a bit of trouble figuring out that this wasn't a high school dance, but despite a few questionable music choices (and the rather notable absence of some required con-dance fare) I had a ridiculous amount of fun. Sarah and I had been scheming before, and ended up bringing in my mixed Enter the Haggis CD and convincing the DJ to play us a few songs. ("Okay now," I said as we headed up, CD in hand, trying to ignore the bad eighties music playing at the time. "Look pretty!") He played the live version of "Lanigan's Ball," a totally exhilarating/exhausting song to dance to, and then "Half Fast Jam" a few tracks later.

I don't get to dance enough. I love, love, love dancing, and danced happily for hours.

There was a half-hearted attempt to go to parties when we were all danced out, but we ended up sitting on the floor of one party, eating the last few jujubes in the bowl and talking quietly to ourselves. Got to bed at 3, cursing daylight savings time with my last exhausted breaths.


I was awake. Really, I was. I just had trouble forming words so early in the morning. Sarah and I staggered up to the green room to eat some of their fantastic, free food. The people working the green room were just great, I have to say, and they have my undying gratitude for helping me make tea so quickly.

Sarah dashed off to a super-secret meeting while I had a panel called "Enlightenment Machines." I believe I was put on this one as the token girl. It was very much a "boys talk about gadgets" panel, which was actually really interesting, but not a situation that allowed me to say a heck of a lot. I sort of felt like an audience member with a really good seat. But I did jump in a few times, especially to stop people from making foolish sociological assumptions, and got two great story ideas of the experience, so I name it a success.

Then it was to "Myths for the Modern Age," which I think should be renamed "Sarah and Pat Forde Chat for a While About Stuff, With References to Fairy Tales." But I think that title was too long to fit in the program book.

Then it was time to pack up our hotel room and get everything loaded into the car, with a pause for a while to order and eat pizza. (Yay for pizza, boo-hiss terrible overpriced café.) With everything safely in my car and my hands about frozen off from the crazy cold win outside, we finally hit the dealer's room in earnest. I bought a gorgeous pair of dangly, sparkly earrings from the same woman from whom Sarah bought a fantastic bracelet. I also gave in to the terrible pressure and bought a coat that I absolutely fell in love with, literally spending money that I didn't have to get it. But the coat is actually another story whose ending has yet to happen.

"Magic on the Streets," Sarah's last panel, came next, which was highly entertaining as most of it was Tanya Huff and Michelle West saying amusing things back and forth. Stuck around and watched Patrick Neilsen Hayden's GOH hour/interview, which was fun and made me wish terribly that I had something to say, some question to ask, some reason to introduce myself. But I didn't, and besides, it was time to run back up to the dealer's room to pack up all the Bakka books again, get them in my car and, after many goodbyes and hugs, head on home.

Well ... home, with a short detour to get some food, including quite possibly the best brownie sundae I've ever eaten in my life.

And that, in short (no, seriously!), was Ad Astra 2004.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 1:12 PM


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