Why is it that, no matter how I travel to a convention, I always seem to wind up with not enough space in my luggage on the return? If I'd my copy of The Curse of Chalion to hand, I'd pull out Cazaril's quote about overflowing saddlebags, although this trip's luggage crisis was made up of two parts: I had left my larger duffle bag on the other side of the continent, and I needed to pack business casual clothes for a second conference immediately after Ad Astra.
So it was with a snugly-packed small duffle bag, a computer case, and a Vancouver Public Library book bag with copies of the Darkborn trilogy – just in case – I headed out on Friday morning, April 4, to meet my ride to Ad Astra, and the launch of Breakpoint:Nereis – minus, it transpired, my camera and dental floss. Half way to Toronto, we met the forecast rain-front and spent the rest of the way in intermittent grey outs.
Ad Astra was at the Sheraton Parkway Hotel in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto, where World Fantasy Convention was a couple of years ago. I was staying at the associated Best Western Hotel, along with several hockey teams from a med school charity meet. I was in a suite: tucked under an arch to one side of my room was a small bar area. I didn't spend much time in the suite, though. I made it into the swimming pool twice, on both mornings – one of the swimming pools, since I only discovered the Athletics Club with the second swimming pool on Saturday evening, looking down from the tenth floor party suite, and only went looking for it, wet swimsuit in hand, after the second swim, after I realized that geometry made it impossible that the pool I had swum in was the pool I had seen. Next time.
I was scheduled for three panels and a book launch (mine).
The aesthetics of SF, with Donato Giancola (artist), Michael Martineck (writer), and Zainab Amadahy (academic/activist, who proposed the subject and prepared a slideshow that looped on the screen throughout).
Colour schemes in 'serious' science fiction and fantasy tend to be muted – even monochromatic – messes. Is it because we equate bright colours with children and immaturity, or just plain ugliness? Which (if any) SF/F works get away with a colourful palette? Open your mind, and maybe your crayon box, for this colourful discussion.
We talked about trends in illustration and visual design for film, and how it anecdotally did seem to be moving towards a more muted display, with examples from the field of artists being asked to desaturate their colours. About whether that was due to the current fashion for dystopia, which tended to hark back to the grimy drabness of 1984 and post-WWII Britain, and how drab seems to be 'right' for poverty to the Northern-Western eye, even though in Latin American and Asian cultures, poverty keeps a vivid palette. About how colonialism influences our aesthetics, by associating bright colour with tropical 'primitive' cultures. We compared the available, living palettes of the tropics and the north, and the economics of colour. We brought in the influences of militarism, and religion – austerity was one of the ways that emergent Protestantism (particularly its strains of Calvanism and Puritanism) contrasted itself to Catholicism. We considered the gendering of colour, how in North Western societies the allowable palette for men's dress is much more muted than that for women (though professional women are advised to emulate the male), and how women's dress historically was for attracting mates and displaying family wealth. We got a bit into the uses of colour by writers, and how the meaning of colour changes across cultures. I mentioned how I had used the colour yellow in Contagion:Eyre (sequel to Breakpoint:Nereis), and brought up JM Synge's use of the meanings of white, black, red and grey in Irish mythology to heighten the fatalism in his plays Riders to the Sea and Deirdre of the Sorrows.
From the Black Death to schistosomiasis to zombie hordes, infectious diseases and the plagues they cause have made for many a fascinating read. Even as we progress towards eradicating disease, we continue to tinker with tailor-made germs. This panel will explore how historic traumas shaped classic stories, and where the fear they create overlaps with present-day anxieties to create something altogether new, yet familiarly terrifying.
Alas, I scrambled in late, and I missed everyone's introductions. But we talked about forensic anthropology and accidental rediscoveries of burial grounds from the Black Death and other epidemics, SARS and how it exposed a the vulnerability of healthcare workers as well as the effect of political distraction and denial, what kind of fatality rates would change society forever, vaccine politics and renascent outbreaks, accidental releases and bioterrorism, synthetic biology and the eventual possibility of rolling our own bad bugs, and the fact that the most devastating infections might not affect us directly, but might affect our food sources. As a finale, we got a chance to speculate on how a devastating pandemic would play out in the here and now. My answer was it depends – largely on whether we recognize and react soon enough. (Which you can guarantee not to see in fiction; after all, where's the fun in that.)
Biotech, Identity and Personal Freedom, with Shirley Meier.
In Donna McMahon's Second Childhood, one of the characters comments that nobody living in the twenty-second century can know for certain that memories and thoughts are one's own. In this panel, discuss this concept along with whether advances in biotech and greater understanding of our genetic makeup will make us more free, or less.
This is a topic I've pitched before, and it's different every time, depending upon the constitution of the panel. Shirley talked about the tech, since her interest was steampunk, artificial intelligence, and identity, and mine was in neurobiology, psychology, and ethics. We coincided on the subject of liberty and internal and external threats to freedom, whether resulting from programming or our own biological circuits.
The Bundoran Press launch on Saturday night, for Strange Bedfellows, Breakpoint:Nereis, both from Bundoran Press, and Robin Riopelle's Deadroads, from Night Shade books. Strange Bedfellows is Bundoran's kickstarter-funded anthology of politically themed science fiction. Deadroads is a novel about family, ghosts and devils, three Louisiana siblings who have inherited their parents' paranormal abilities, as well as their – in several senses – demons. Hayden read from Gustavo Bondoni's short story “Gloop” from Strange Bedfellows, I read the scene from the cover of Breakpoint:Nereis, of Aeron Ivesen reluctantly visiting a relic of the pre-plague settlement, Robin read a scene in which Baz makes what is clearly going to be a very bad deal in exchange for the whereabouts of the sister he has not seen since she was a small child – spooky and a perfect length for a short reading, and Andrew Barton read from his short story “Three Years of Ash, Twenty Years of Dust”, also from Strange Bedfellows.
As for the rest of the weekend, I didn't leave the hotel, though occasionally I noticed there was bright sunshine out there. I had a couple of hours stint in the Dealer's room, watching books get sold. I dropped by the SFCanada table, hosted by Ira Nayman. I met Matt Moore, of the Ottawa ChiSeries readings, and Annette Mocek, of the Merrill collection, and James Alan Gardner. I said hail-and-farewell a few times in the hall to a Doppler-shifted Julie Czerneda. I signed books. I finally got to meet Derek Newman-Stille, of the Speculating Canada blog, in person. I met my editor (Hayden), and Bundoran Press' publicist (Beverly Bambury), and Alyx Dellamonica, author of Indigo Springs (winner of the Sunburst Award), Blue Magic, and a memorable and – dare I say it, very Canadian – urban fantasy from Tor.com, “The Cage”. While I enjoy butt-kicking heroines as much as the next woman, I love civilization even more. Dellamonica's heroines in “The Cage” defend themselves and each other with guile, law, and community. Her forthcoming novel, Child of a Hidden Sea, promises to scratch more of my itches: portal fantasy, with oceans. Anyone I missed mentioning, sorry, not on purpose! I did not meet the guest of honour, David Weber, which was a shame, because, yes, I'm an Honor Harrington fan, but I know he's coming north again this year.
Book tally, in my overflow bag (remember the Vancouver Public Library bag in the opening act):