This past weekend, the Crowne Plaza Hotel up by the Don Valley Parkway hosted Ad Astra 2009, Toronto's annual sf convention. I had wanted to put in an appearance at this one last year, but was unable to do so because of my night shift schedule - I had no such limitation this year, and so on a bright Saturday I boarded a 100 Flemingdon Park bus up to North York to see just what I might encounter.
It's been a while since I've attended a convention - my last was, I think, 1992 - but what I did learn on Saturday was that they're far better when you're actually with someone, and not just navigating through the crowd like a fish swimming upstream. Be that as it may, I attended a couple of events which I did find rather interesting, and picked up a fair shake of swag as well - including issues of Analog dating back to 1965. Wheee!
I had intended to attend a reading of Robert J. Sawyer's latest novel Wake, which I read when it was serialized in Analog last year. It was standing room only by the time I arrived, though that was primarily because I'd set my clock an hour ahead, and arrived just in time for it to end. Grumble, grumble says I.
My primary interest came right after that - a panel discussion on "Those Pesky Laws of Physics" which included Robert J. Sawyer, James Alan Gardner, and Marcel Gagné. As a bottom-of-the-ladder sf author, getting those details right is important to me, because on some level I really do want to believe in this stuff and suspend my own disbelief - because, really, if the author can't manage that, why should a reader?
More importantly, adhering to the laws of physics produces good, hard limits which help to frame stories and characters. When anything is possible nothing is forbidden, and when nothing is forbidden nothing is interesting. Sure, there's plenty of sf based on the "one free impossibility" to examine - H.G. Wells' time machine, for example, or Larry Niven's Ringworld - but that is the sort of thing that should be minimized.
One of the things that fascinated me during the panel, and which I looked up myself later, was Robert J. Sawyer's reference to a RAND Corporation study from 1964, "Habitable Planets for Man." This trove of planetary and astronomical data may be older than some countries, but the equations in it are no less relevant and can provide a great jumping-off point for aspiring authors. They've made it available as a free PDF for download on their website.
Nevertheless, I'd have to say that the highlight of the convention was the Steampunk Fashion Show. This was apparently the first year it was run, and I'd very much like to see it continued in the future - I love that style. Most of the costumes were dead on, but I'd have to give the trophy (had I one to give) to Phineas Flensing, Esq., traveller, inventor, and dinosaur hunter.
To conclude, some choice quotes:
"Skydiving in a skirt - that's daring." - Female presenter, Steampunk Fashion Show
"As soon as you've waved your hand about gravity, you've acknowledged you're writing fantasy." - Robert J. Sawyer
"Because I wanna go to Mars on a spaceship built by teenagers." - James Alan Gardner
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