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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Ad Astra

Ad Astra was last weekend, and I had a lot of fun this year (I usually do, but this year just rocked for me). Got caught up with a bunch of people I haven't seen in a while, enjoyed the dance, enjoyed the room parties. There weren't as many room parties this year as usual, but I got smoked meat in the Montreal Worldcon party, and chocolate cake in the Kansas City party. Spent more in the dealers room this year than in the previous three Ad Astras. Lots of good stuff at Apogee Books, some guy was selling off his vast graphics novel collection (and they were in amazingly good condition), and I got the new Karl Schroeder (Sun of Suns) from Bakka. Thanks to Aaron for lending me some cash when I couldn't get the ATM on the lobby working.

I do think attendance was a little off, likely due to all the snow we got on Thursday. All the guests got in on time, but I think a few of them were short on luggage for most of the weekend.

Was talking some more with Cory Doctorow about how to get anime fans to start reading SF and fantasy. He thinks SF fandom should start sending missionaries to anime cons. It's a problem that a lot of other fandoms out there have sprung from the SF cons, but people aren't going back and SF cons are slowly dying out. I specifically patterned Anime North after the SF con model when I started it up (and I think this has been to the con's benefit) and I'd love to see anime fans start attending SF cons. But I myself don't have the free time to devote to making this happen. If anyone out there does, let me know.

And the end-of-con nitpicking session reminded me why we don't do that at Anime North. Not that feedback isn't good and necessary, but most of what people were complaining about in that room was really juvenile stuff. "It took an hour to get here on public transit! Why isn't the con somewhere closer?". "I actually had to pay for a snack in the con suite! All the food is free at American Cons! You're insulting people!" "Me me me me me me me!" The con com spent months making all this happen and were undoubtedly exhausted after the weekend, and then they had to put up with an hour of whining from people old enough to know a lot better.

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Actually, SF cons aren't "dying out". The better cons are getting bigger every year. Cons like Balticon and Arisia are having to restrict at-door memberships because they are filling the largest hotels in their areas.

Unfortunately, Ad Astra has a bad reputation as an elitist con which is run for the benefit of the concom, not the membership. The crappy con suite compared to the over-plush green room (for concom and panelists only) sticks out like a sore thumb to a lot of people. A lot of people think the con suite should be a hospitality lounge which offers hospitality. There are questions about where the money is being spent at this convention.

The hotel is also in a very bad location. There are no amenities within walking distance. This makes it very hard on low-budget fans. (Microwave or no, the con suite isn't a serious option for an actual meal.)

Unfortunately, there are people on the concom who think their way is the only way, because they don't see how SF conventions outside Toronto are run.

The committee has made improvements in recent years. At least we have a hotel date for next year, and some guests. It was great having Cory Doctorow there, but on five weeks notice, his out-of-town fans could not arrange travel plans to come in. This was a big lost opportunity. I offered to find guests months earlier, but I couldn't convince people that getting author guests for the con was a priority.

The concom did *not* spend the time necessary to run this convention. As of October, there were no guests at all booked, and hardly any other work had been done. When I pointed out that we needed guests, I was told by the chair that if I couldn't come to meetings, he didn't want to hear my opinions. Since I have a 500-mile commute, the AGM and the Darts and Laurels panel were the only opportunities I had to speak. It's nice that people were able to pull things together on short notice, but a well-run convention takes more than a year to plan.

I attend and work on a lot of better-run conventions than this. I try to help this convention, but a lot of concom aren't interested in listening to what works elsewhere. I've had to repeat things year after year to get them to take some of the most basic and obvious steps. This seems to work, so I'm going to continue to repeat the obvious.

In two and a half weeks, I'm coming back to Toronto to work in the hospitality suite in FilkOntario, where we will be offering hospitality, including snacks and drinks, to members of the convention, because that's a convention that thinks that having the members socialize together makes for a better convention. And there is fast food across the parking lot.


Balticon this year had about 2500 attendees. Otakon (in Baltimore) does 15000 + attendees.

Arisia gets roughly 2500 attendees. Anime Boston gets 9500 attendees.

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