Toronto’s Best Kept Convention Secret

I attend many conventions through a regular year. Most of the conventions that I frequent are, naturally, Science Fiction/Fantasy affairs and most occur in Canada though I am always happy to amble across the border to enjoy our southern cousins’ offerings.

There is one convention, however, which I find to be an absolute favourite. Not an easy thing to select given the enjoyment, the entertainment, the wonders and the peoples that I find at all the conventions which I am able to attend, but this one particular convention seems to have the rightness that I, personally, look for in a gathering: Ad Astra.

Ad Astra is a general science fiction/fantasy convention with a very heavy focus on the literary side of things. Thirty-two years of age, she has had her lean years and her fat but she has always offered an incredible experience and this year no less so than any other.

First of all one must look at the people and the social adventure. The folk are friendly and welcoming, they are fun and intelligent and always up for an intriguing discussion. There are many many room parties as well as a convention hospitality suite of a large size and excellent placement and, for the special guests, a green room that offers a wonderful place to sit and chat. Alcohol is abundant but handled in a very mature manner [and for those visitors from the United States may I note that our drinking age here in Ontario is 19!] Conversations break out in rooms, hallways, the smoking area, the parking garage and anywhere that two or more fen meet. It has a relaxed atmosphere which encourages an atmosphere of greater fun and less stress than some conventions I have been to.

Ad Astra is one of the few conventions at which I enjoy meeting the special guests as none here are pretentious or standing atop a pedestal and all seem more than pleased to be able to chat with anyone and everyone. This year’s included Jim Butcher, Stephen Hunt, and Ben Bova as well as a host of other wonderful people among which were to be found Guy Gavriel Kay, Julie E. Czerneda, Kelley Armstrong and Robert J. Sawyer. And many were the writers and creative peoples of all ilk and diversity.

The dealers’ room was well layed out and balanced, presenting books, collectibles, jewellery, clothing and many other items in a neat, compact area. Selection was varied and prices were more than fair.

There are readings, tastings, anime screenings, and gaming as well as a broad selection of panels including relevant fashion design [from corsets to costumes], quite a few on writing [from how to write to crowdsourcing to promoting to finding an agent and more], several steampunk topics, some science, prop making and current trends and topics.

Two items of special note:

The masquerade is well run and not at all large with, generally, about a dozen entrants. This is the perfect place to strut your stuff for the first time in front of an audience who loves to be entertained as well as a great venue for showing off your masterpiece to a very focused group. With Ad Astra occurring at the start of the SF Convention season it’s also the perfect place to test drive your new costume and presentation.

The karaoke on Friday night was just pure fun and those who know me also know that I tend to dislike karaoke quite a bit. However the host, the song selections and the singers made it a perfect way to wrap up the evening before hitting the room parties. I must admit that I truly enjoyed it.

Overall I must highly recommend this convention to anyone who is interested in being a writer, to everyone who enjoys a good social weekend and to all fen who just like a darned excellent convention. I would, and do, offer Ad Astra a very solid 8 out of 10 with their expressed intent to continue improving until they reach the pinnacle.

H.A. Higgins-Keith

[For more information do feel free to visit their website at http://www.ad-astra.org/ ]