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Ad Astra: A Geek's Progress

I should have known that I was in trouble in December. That's when I bought a Star Trek calendar. Next thing I knew, I'd lost my girlfriend, quit drinking and got a bad haircut. But this weekend made it official. I went to a science fiction convention. I am no longer the cool sort of geek. I am the geek that those geeks laugh at. A common nerd.

But I don't care. Ad Astra was great. Contrary to popular opinion, there were girls in attendance, and on Saturday night, these people were partying like rockstars. I only saw one person dressed up as a Klingon and most of the costumes were the sort of thing you'd see at the Bovine. People were friendly, intelligent and just really nice to be around.

I was a bit worried when I read the programme and saw that first-timers like me were called "Neo" and that people who aren't into SF are called "mundanes". I thought I might have accidentally joined a cult. In time, I realized that the older science fiction fans are usually professionals and the younger ones are basically goths without the the cut up arms. Not perfect, perhaps, but at least I didn't have to worry about the Kool-Aid.

The panels were as varied as they were fascinating. There were actually too many to choose from and I often sacrificed things I wanted to see, like "Video Games and Fiction", for things that I wanted to see more, like "Geopolitics as Entertainment".

The panelists were a mixture of pros and people who still had day jobs, but they were, to a person, great. The standouts were James Allen Gardner, who had a devastatingly quick and dry sense of humour, Robert J. Sawyer, who brings experience and wit to any table he's at, and Cory Doctorow, whose passion and intelligence was overwhelming.

I also enjoyed the variety of the readings and the passion of the readers. Julie E. Czerneda was fun, coyly delivering her prose and giving away books. (At least that's what I think was in those brown packages.) Sawyer was, as usual, excellent. (This was his first reading from his new book, "Rollback" to be launched at Bakka on April 14.)

After making the CANLIT rounds, I can't even tell you how amazed I was at the difference between these readings and those. There, the authors often act as if they're blessing you with their genius while they bore you stupid in monotone. Here, they're humble and understand that a good reading is one part prose, three parts drama. You have the chance to laugh -not just smirk-- and, often, to participate.

But all good things come to an end and, for me, Ad Astra ended with a well attended panel on science fiction from the GTA. If this convention is any indication, Toronto's SF is well supported by devoted fans and packed full of talented authors. It is in very good shape.


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