Canadian science fiction, to the stars… Ad Astra.

I’ve recently returned from Ad Astra 2013 after my stint there as a Guest of Honour; so, here’s my thoughts on the convention and the fine state of the fantasy and science fiction genre up Canada-way. First off, it should be noted that Ad Astra is a literary fan-run convention, promoting local talent within the genres of SF, fantasy, horror and the paranormal, covering all media of the written word. I was born in Toronto where the con is run, so I guess I just scrape into the ‘local’ component on the con, which was held in the north Toronto ‘burbs at the Markham Holiday Inn.

One of the nicest things about being a Guest of Honour is getting to meet the fellow GoHs on a regular basis at the con parties and panels. This year’s guests at the convention included the writers Jim Butcher and Ben Bova, the Pixar/Disney/Lucasfilm artist Scott Caple and Star Wars documentary filmmaker Cris Macht.

Jim Butcher writes the excellent ‘Dresden Files’ series of horror novels (think Buffy for adults), and was a real crowd puller – as in around the block during the group signing and standing room only for his panels – as befits the popularity of his series and the reanimated horror field in general. Jim’s a proper raconteur and held court with his audience as smoothly as Peter Ustinov. His first book was very nearly a trad. fantasy series, but one of his teachers suggested he try the horror field instead. He owes that woman a pint sometime! As well as being into writing, he’s also a keen live roleplayer and costumer. Maybe there’s a future vampire/werewolf/zombie slaying novel inside me, gulp? We’ll see.

Ghost story by Jim Butcher.
Ghost story by Jim Butcher.

It is always excellent meeting authors whose books I grew up reading and that includes Florida snowbird Ben Bova, six-time winner of the Hugo and a former editor of ‘Analog’ magazine as well as the now sadly defunct ‘Omni’ magazine. His 1988 book ‘Peacekeepers’ is one of my personal faves. I found out a few things I didn’t know about him, such as the fact he wrote ‘THX 1138′ with George Lucas in 1971 and I got to meet his very nice new wife, too (Ben’s, not George’s). He’s a real old school gent, very well turned out, erudite and a true veteran of the field.

Ben Bova Peackeepers.
Classic book with a classic cover.

Scott Caple is a Toronto-area native and a real sweetie. He’s the storyboard artist behind some great animated flicks including ‘The Incredibles’ and the rather under-rated Disney steampunk movie ‘Atlantis: The Lost Continent’.

His storyboards, posters and production art from many Pixar, Disney, Lucasfilm and Aardman flicks stole the art show. His impressive work includes film art for ‘Inspector Gadget’, ‘Ewoks’, ‘Droids’, ‘Cadillacs And Dinosaurs’, ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’, ‘Dragonslayer’, ‘Poltergeist’, ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan’, ‘E.T. The Extraterrestial’, ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven’, ‘Rock A Doodle’, ‘Thumbelina’, ‘A Troll In Central Park’, ‘The Pebble And The Penguin’, ‘Atlantis: The Lost Continent’, ‘Mulan’, ‘The Hunchback Of Notre Dame’, ‘Tarzan’, ‘Fantasia 2000’, ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Horton Hears A Who’ and ‘Arthur Christmas’. What he doesn’t know about art and/or the film business isn’t really worth knowing.

His brilliant art of a knight in armour inside a gyrocopter also graced the program book for the con (and my free guest’s t-shirt: sweet).

Scott Caple
Here’s one Scott did earlier… recognize it?

I also got to meet Chris Macht, who has shot two documentaries. The first film he financed himself, ‘The Force Among Us’. The second, ‘The Force Within Us’, was very successfully funded on KickStarter. ‘The Force Within Us’ aims to take viewers further into the Star Wars experience than just obsessions with collectibles and costuming. Exploring how and why this saga has the ability to possess and alter lives, ‘The Force Within Us’ centers on Star Wars as a catalyst for spiritual rebirth… finding personal meaning in life and inspiring positive change.

It exposes personal connections that are developed through the saga’s good versus evil story line, and the hope that good ultimately triumphs in our world as well as in a galaxy far, far away. Featured are stories from Star Wars celebrities Steve Sansweet, Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Dave Dorman (Star Wars Artist), Robert Watts (producer of ‘Return Of The Jedi’) and others and how being a part of the phenomenon has changed their lives.

The Force Within Us
The Force Within Us

Some of the panels I sat on included Discussion-worthy Books of 2012, Creating a successful Alternate History, How ePublishing has changed the market for traditional press, Steampunk University, and Form versus function in Steampunk. Thanks to all the readers who showed up to sit in on them and my fellow panelists who made them such a blast…including (but certainly not limited to) Derek Kunsken, Neil Jamison-Williams, Ed Greenwood, Matthew Johnson, Peter Halasz, Karina Sumner-Smith, Ashley Regimbal-Kung, Cliff Goodman, Adam Smith, Hayden Trenholm, S.M. Beiko, Adrienne Kress, J.M. Frey, Cliff Goodman and Jody Rodier.

The con organisers did a really great job of making this year’s Ad Astra run smoothly and, much like a swan, I suspect there was much mad paddling under the surface to make things run as perfectly as they did, so hats off to Amy DeRouyte (my main point of contact), Karl McAlonen, Paul Roberts, Michael Green, Valerie Whiteside, Michael ‘Taz’ Labadie, Evelyn Baker, Alana Otis-Wood, Emmy McAlonen, Glen Hamel, Kent Wong, Desiree Kern, Andrew Byers, Jeff Currey, Chris Charabaruk, Karl Knechtel, Cathy Orr, Lisa Czudnochowski, Kelly Moore, Erica Pai, Adele Simmons, David Warren, Erica Pai, Sunil Pai, Andrew Houston, Adi Everitt, Kim Czigarenko, Doug Ward and all the many helpers I met at the con suite parties and various dinners…usually held in Roman glory at all-you-can-eat Italian buffet Frankie Tomatto’s (much recommended to anyone in the area: unless you’re on a diet). As well as working like canines to reach the Dead Dog Party at the other end of the con, they also did a stand-up job of making myself and my family feel welcome…a Canadian trait, I note.

Here’s a few pics from the con to end with…

Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt is a fantasy and science fiction author published in English the UK, Canada and Australasia by HarperCollins and in the USA by Tor. For all the foreign translations of his works, check out his web site at http://www.StephenHunt.net

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