Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ad Astra

http://www.ad-astra.org/ is a yearly sci-fi/fantasy/horror/speculative fiction convention, focusing especially on literary side of these genres of fiction rather than celebrating the fandom (although there was quite a lot of that going on as well). This was my first year at Ad Astra and it was overall a very positive learning experience. Every humanities student/afficionado dreams that one day s/he will get published, become famous, and add to the field, and in this respect I am no exception. As a result I was particularly in Ad Astra not just as a venue to meet some of my favourite authors (although I have met a few), but also as an opportunity to learn more about how to write, how to edit, how to make connections, and how to get published. In this respect Ad Astra was a humbling yet necessary lesson.

What does it take to be a published author? Patience, self-discipline, and lots of masochism. The pay is lousy, the rejections plentiful, the angst and self-doubt always lurk around the corner, and one's work is always on a verge of being castrated (whether for good or ill) by the editors. Even getting published once is no guarantee that the lightning will strike again. One of the loudest messages was how few new authors succeed in getting published a second time, let along third or tenth. Yet Ad Astra also demonstrated first-hand how emotionally and socially rewarding being an author can be. There are the fans of course and the signings, but there is also a tremendous spirit of camaraderie and excitement, and even just being around the scene for a couple of days provided an enormous intellectual stimulus.

Some other highlights of Ad Astra included meeting some of my favourite authors (Eric Flint, Ed Greenwood), meeting many Canadian authors who I've never heard of before, but now I'm eager to read. The panel discussions were for the most part very interesting and fun. The atmosphere was quite intimate and the authors had very easily engaged with the audience for the most part. I particularly enjoyed the panels on: Medieval Martial Arts (which was more of a history panel than a demonstration, plus I won a sword in trivia!), Post-Medieval Fantasy, Getting Your First Novel Published, Publishers: A View From the Other Side (really fun and instructive workshop on crash-editing). I also had the pleasure of going to an excellent storytelling session, and a panel where the authors read some of their own work. At one panel the panelists were sufficiently impressed with my question that in half-jest they'd invited me to join them (I declined them this year).

There was some ugliness as well. There was perhaps more self-promotion by a few authors (really a minority) that I appreciated. There were also some rather cringe-worthy displays of fan enthusiasm and fawning. The really loud post-dance party that was going on was very annoying to try and sleep through. Finally I think that Steampunk movement is plateauing. It was really noticeable this year and was on display everywhere. The effect, however, was not charitable. It has begun to seem cliche, passe, and mechanical and unimaginative in its execution. The costumes were well-executed, but the designs have really started to seem more and more uniform. The 'punk' in Steampunk is supposed to represent the counter-cultural elements in 'Steam', but as it often happens with counter-cultural the external appearance can sublimate the real ideas within. But more on that in a different post I guess.

Still, Ad Astra - well worth it! Definitely going next year!