Ad Astra 2009, or, My First Con

This weekend past, a few of my favourite authors were appearing at Ad-Astra, Toronto’s regional SF convention.  Since I’m going to Worldcon this summer, I figured attending Ad-Astra would be a good practice run, and so off I went, with a few others in tow.

Now, strictly speaking, my secondary title up above (“My First Con”) is not entirely accurate — some twelve years ago, as I dimly recall, there was a new con started up in St. John’s, NL, and I attended the first one.  It was a modest affair, with no panels that I can recall, although I do remember a filk singalong.  I’m not sure if there was more than one, and I am given to understand it bears no relation to the current Sci-Fi on the Rock convention.  Anyway, I don’t really count that as a proper first, since it was missing a few crucial elements (panels, guests of honour, more than one room, etc.) and generally felt a bit awkward.

So, back to Ad Astra.  I actually had a fairly busy weekend apart from the con, what with some friends visiting from out of town, and other things in my life, so I missed many of the typically high-profile con events like the Masquerade and various parties — basically, anything in the evening was right out.  Instead, I focussed on the panels (with a few quick book-signing escapades thrown in for good measure).

On Saturday, I got there in the afternoon, and managed to take in the panels “How to Edit Yourself”, “Different Kinds of Fantasy”, “What is Real Evil?”, and “Too Many Characters”.  Sunday saw panels on “Working with a Smaller Press”, “Fields of Plenty for Writers”, “Minions”, and “First Contact”.  (Clearly, I split my interests between the writing track and more general programming.)

I think my favourite panels were actually two of the writing ones, on self-editing and “fields of plenty”.  The panelists had great chemistry; they played off each other, took up leads that others dropped, and shared the stage well.  They just flowed very well.

The panel on evil was also quite interesting, with Peter Watts at one extreme almost apologetically suggesting there is no evil except as a way to label others, and the other panelists running the gamut all the way to religious concepts of evil.  There was some good and interesting discussion.

The rest of the panels were also quite enjoyable, although some felt like the panel topic didn’t give the panelists quite enough to keep going for the whole hour, and by late Sunday afternoon some of the panelists were looking a little run down.

So, I chalk up my first con experience as a positive one.  I’m looking forward to Worldcon even more, now.

I Watched Watchmen

I saw Watchmen earlier tonight, on my second attempt.  (I had not anticipated a Saturday matinee being sold out more than 45 minutes before showtime.  My mistake.)  I was not displeased.  I know that does not sound like a ringing endorsement, so let me clarify: the movie is really very good.  It doesn’t quite make it to excellent, but it was very, very good.

It’s been a few years since I read the graphic novel, so in some ways I was coming to the movie fresh, without remembering a lot of the details.  They also (naturally) had to cut a fair bit to fit the story into an (already long) movie, and they changed some details, to boot, so I feel comfortable in saying that the movie will be accessible to people who haven’t read the comics.

I’m sure there are a zillion plot summaries and descriptions out there already, so I won’t go into much detail.  (Skip the rest of this paragraph if you want no information on the content at all.)  I’ll just say that Watchmen is set in an alternate Earth’s 1985, with Richard Nixon still president and nuclear tensions with the Soviet Union at an all-time high.  There had been a team of superheroes — the Watchmen — that was effectively disbanded by the government passing the Keene Act, which outlawed their activities.  Only two — the Comedian, and Dr. Manhattan, who is the only hero with actual super powers — continued to work, under the auspices of the government.  The Comedian is killed in the opening moments of the movie, setting things into motion.

Now, I’ve heard some complaints of gratuitous violence in this movie, and honestly, I have no idea what the complaints are about.  While there was some unnecessary gore, there didn’t seem to me to be a gratuitious amount of action or violence.  But then, perhaps that’s just the kind of movie I normally watch.  I would agree that this movie is a little more harsh than other comic-based movies we’ve seen, but frankly, so is the source material.  This is a pretty bleak story.

I found two things about the movie a little jarring.  The choice in music — seemingly chosen to evoke the mid-eighties — just came across as a little odd or awkward.  However, the presence of Malin Akerman in the role of Laurie Jupiter disturbed me in perhaps a unique way, as I cannot see her as anyone other than Freakshow’s wife Liane from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle or Tess from 27 Dresses.  She did a fine job in the movie, but it just jarred me out of the narrative a bit.

So, my thoughts here have been all over the place.  Let me try to pull them together.

The movie was well done.  Despite some over-reliance on slow-motion action sequences, it is visually delightful, and has a solid cast.  The script is mostly successful at trimming a graphic novel often touted as “unfilmable” into something coherent and manageable.  I’m not entirely convinced that the changes they made to the ending are as effective as the original, but I’m willing to buy it in the context of the movie they’ve produced.

Perhaps the only real complaint I have is that it never swept me up enough to make me forget that I was watching a movie.  I could appreciate the structure, how the movie is essentially divided into three separate acts.  I enjoyed the visuals.  I appreciated the strong casting.  I noticed the odd musical choices.  Or the fact that there were too many endings.  I enjoyed it, but was always aware I was enjoying it.  Hence my feeling that it was just shy of excellent, though it was — as I said — very, very good, and well worth seeing.