September 2003
  2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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The Dern Report: First Make Sure You're Attending
Daniel P. Dern

Jump straight to Daniel's Torcon Pics... And Don't Miss: Sharon and Bruce's WorldCon Adventures (with lots more photos)

Our trip to TorCon (me, and Bobbi Fox, my SO) started semi-inauspiciously with my noticing, the day before, that I apparently had never converted my membership from SUPPORTING to ATTENDING. Also, Programming seemed to still be trying to schedule my informal magic show for the kids area (which I've done at several other WorldCons, Boskones and Arisias) for Monday, despite our return flight home being scheduled for Sunday evening (yes, that meant missing the masquerade, but we had to be back for Monday morning, for a previous commitment)

Fortunately, all these minor details sorted themselves out easily enough, thanks, among other things, to finding a membership for sale, via Usenet's rec.arts.sf.fandom Newsgroup

We'd heard mildly negative mutterings that the Toronto airport about it being scruffy, or something like that. While the terminal we were in was inarguably small and unprepossessing, evocative somewhat of Providence, RI's TFGreen Airport (which we fly out of as or more often than Boston's Logan), it was certainly clean, quiet and adequately organized, which portions of Logan still are far from

We cabbed in with a friend. (Note for future visitors, the fare to the Fairmont Royal York, which is opposite the Union train station and two blocks from the Greater Toronto Convention Center (GTCC) is flat-rate CA$39, shuttle bus tickets are about CA$15 each. If you know what you're doing and don't have too much luggage, there's apparantly a bus/subway combination that will do it for just a few dollars, though will take longer.) We got in and settled enough in time to hit a few parties briefly, and Bobbi was able to get her badge from the late-night registration area, which was thoughtfully open until midnight

Daniel's Visions of Torcon3 (images link to larger pictures)
(text continues after pictures...)



This is a good point to note that the informal buzz was already in the air that TorCon was "somewhat disorganized,"even granting some leeway for recent events of the SoBig and Blaster computer viruses, the big electric power blackout that had affected much of the U.S. Northeast along with parts of Eastern Canada including Toronto, plus the more general side-effects of the SARS scares, the high-tech economic meltdown, post-9/11 measures, et cetera

Possibly taking some of this into account as a partial excuse, it quickly became (and stayed) clear that a few things had slipped through the cracks, for whatever reason. The main program books weren't available Wednesday night... and what was thought to be boxes of them Thursday morning turned out to be the convention's restaurant guides. (The actual Program Books showed up later on Thursday.) Of greater concern were the schedule errors in the Pocket Programs -- so great that signs were posted not to rely on information in them, with fresh session listings and schedule grids being distributed nightly for the day to come. Equally or more problemmatic, many panelists didn't know until just before -- or hours after -- that they were listed as on certain items, often starting within minutes of when they were arriving at the convention. At at least two panels I attended, the panelists freely admitted "We have no idea why we're on this panel or what it's supposed to be about." (Which didn't necessarily get in the way of a fun time.) More often than not, nobody was assigned as moderator. (E.g., the two panels I was on -- which I ended up moderating.) And some details clearly slipped through the cracks -- such as the "How Much Of This Convention Can I Deduct on My Taxes" panel (which I was on), where all the panelists were U.S citizens/taxpayers -- no Canadians, or anybody who could speak to Canadian tax laws

Ah well


Despite the gaps in planning, most of the sessions I attended were entertaining, informative, or both

The first one we got to was Robert Sawyer's kaffeeklatch -- Thursday afternoon, two and a third days before he was to win the Hugo for Best Novel. Ebullient and effervescent as ever, he talked about his tax audit by Canada's equivalent of the U.S.'s Internal Revenue Service, during which he produced voluminous records and other proof, down to the explanation of the "Christmas extension cord" (colored green because of the holiday, but used for a lamp in his office)

Since so many U.S. movies and television shows seem to be filmed in Canada these days, I half- jokingly asked Sawyer where Canadians go for locations that look like Canada. The answer, he answered, is "When canadians look for a place to film, they go to Cape Town, South Africa... it looks like every city, if you know where to go, including everything form urban sprawl to the ocean." The panel, "Heinlein's Women (Just like the gal who married dear old dad)" seemed promising, especially given panelists including former SFRA president and author Dr. Elizabeth Ann Hulle, plus Larry Niven, along with Fran Van Cleave (she's sold to Analog and Artemis), and moderator David Silver, secretary/treasurer of the Heinlein Society... however, it didn't stay focussed, and the moderator mis-moderated including interrupting panelists. Feh

"What Editors/Publishers Are Buying" on Saturday, with Ginjer Buchanan, Gorden Van Gelder (F&SF), Scott Edelman, and Andrew Wheeler (agent), was an interesting look, often as much at what readers seem to buy. Van Gelder noted that F&SF's newsstand sales did better with 'generic spacescapes' than specific-story art. Other panels I went to included; o "Don't Mention Your Creative Writing Course In My Cover Letter" "What're They Buying" -- The obligatory sessions on cover letters, rejection slips, the slush pile, and related tales of success and woe. Funny and informative, as these sessions almost always are, albeit depressing as well, to any writer in the audience

  • "Equal Time for Women," with Ellen Klages and others... unfortunately, this was one of the "we don't know why they put us on or what it's about" panels. Given this, it went pretty well
  • Humor in fantasy and science fiction, with Terry Pratchett, Connie Willis, Mike Resnick and others. They weren't sure if this should be a discussion or a joke-telling session, so they did some of each
  • Plot Symposes for Dummies, with Robert Silverberg and Josepha Sherman. Nice to hear seasoned pro's give clear advice and tales-from-experience on what to do and not do. The neo on panel tended to interrupt or even recap her betters' contributions


Despite having initially fallen through the cracks due to not having gotten key email from the programming committee, I ended up on two sessions: o Computer Technology: The Year in Review. Since nobody else was or wanted to be moderator, I did the honors. I carefully defined "religous wars about operating systems" and "spam, viruses, etc." as off-topic, which helped keep the session in gear. Sessions like this can be good or bad, regardless of how little or much planning one does; I initially gave each person 7-8 minutes of talk time, but starting cutting that shorter so we'd have more time for Q&A, which livened things up. Marcel Gagne did a great, high-energy rap on Linux, Open Source and a bunch of other things; the panel also included techno-journalists Mark Van Name and Daniel Grotta. Near full room

"How Much of this Convention Can I Deduct On My Taxes?" -- Like I mentioned before, despite this being a convention in Canada, we had no Canadian tax-paying panel members. And only one in the audience, who left early in the game. (General tax advice: Learn the rules, keep good records!) I also was on the kids' programming, reading THE PAPER BAG PRINCESS (by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko), with the help of a pre-teen volunteer whose name I didn't get. Small but enthusiastic crowd.

 I'd originally been scheduled to do a short informal magic show for the kids Saturday evening, during the Hugos, but Steve Jackson Games had un-punked for that time slot with gaming stuff, so I did a few tricks after my reading instead. Not my greatest magic show at a con, but we had fun..and nobody cried, threw up or bit me, which is one good base level assessment of how well it went


Toronto is a great town for walking around. A friend of ours says its his favorite city ... it certainly seemed well-enough organized in terms of public transit, the streets were clean, and people on the streets friendly

 We had breakfast in Chinatown three out of the four days, taking the subway or trolley in, buying Chinese pastries (yum!) in three different bakeries, and walking back some or all of the way. (One day I also brought back about CA$25 worth for the Green Room... which didn't last long once I opened the boxes.) We also had dim sum (Chinese appetizers) for lunch there -- quite good. We were the only Caucasions I could see, except for a couple or two in the main room as we were leaving

Thursday morning we also walked around the Kensington Market area (which overlaps Chinatown). This area showcases Toronto's multi-cultural, multi-ethnic neighborhood identity, reminding me somewhat of parts of Waterown (Mass) where I lived for a few years, and Boston's (sadly now a shadow of itself) Haymarket area, with all the half-on-the-street produce vendors, stores selling nuts, beans and spices, and more.    Lots of nice mini-gardens and flowers in front of houses, lots of interesting paint jobs, nice architecture tucked away in odd spots. We passed an old Jewish synagogue in the middle of a block, with a Yiddish rather than Nebrew inscription carved over its doors.  (Unaware that the Toronto's other market area, the St. Lawrence market, a multi-story building like Philadelphia's Reading Terminal, or Seattle's Pike Place, was only a few blocks from the Greater Toronto Convention Center and our hotel, we didn't get there until Sunday, when the market building was closed, sigh. Fellow fans who got there when it was open report it sells mostly food that needs cooking, like meat, along with produce, cheeses, etc.) Also spotted: Spic'n'Span, a combination laundry and Internet access. (Why not "spic'n'spam"?)  The pointy spire of the CN Tower makes for a great orientation landmark, thanks to the relative lowness of the city. It all kind of reminds me of Boston back in the 1970s (when I was a student here), before Boston got overly built up height and crowdwise

 Toronto has a major under-the-ground set of walkways and stores -- several kilometers worth, I believe -- called PATH. We walked a few blocks of this, but didn't get around to doing more. Maybe some other time

Thursday evening we subway/bussed over to the Toronto Science Museum, where MarsFest was doing a "look at Mars through a telescope while it's closest to Earth" event. Some large number (hundreds?) of locals milled around in rough lines -- in the dark! -- waiting their brief turn at a (small) telescope, while a Mars expert talked and did Q&A nearby. The viewing of Mars itself wasn't that exciting (we did see a meteorite while waiting), but if nothing else, it was an interesting demonstration of very different -- mellow -- crowd dynamics. The odds of a crowd being this quiet and well-behaved in, say, Boston, seem pretty low

DEALERS, ART SHOW, GoH SPEECH, HUGOES, PARTIES, AND WHATNOT The Dealers Room was smaller than I would have expected... according to some people I heard talking, many dealers decided not to deal with the hassle of crossing the US/Canada border. There were many of the usual book dealers, and a few -- but far fewer than I'm used to -- costume, jewelry, media and paraphrenalia dealers. NESFA had its usual good-sized tables, SFWA had a good table. Being on the wrong end of the "economic slowdown" I limited my purchases to the "GRRM," the George R.R. Martin mega-book, nearly half a million words, a few and a few cheap paperbacks

I'll let somebody else speak to the Art Show... I wandered it briefly. The Print Shop side was depressingly meager -- probably just as well, budget-wise, but still I'm always looking for inexpensive gifts for some of sf/f friends

Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin's GoH speech was quite good... I don't know it's been put online, but it's apparently related to some of his GRRM book intro. He talked about growing up in Bayonnne, New Jersey, (where my father and some of my uncles and aunts grew up in or near)

Interestingly, the cadences or whatever of the speech reminded me of some of the readings that Samuel R. Delany has done

We went to the Hugos, which we don't always get to if for no other reason than to hear Spider Robinson as M.C., and we're glad we did. I won't do a re-cap, as you're bound to have seen (better) ones elsewhere. Neil Gaiman had a great short speech, starting with noting that the previous time he won, he was so surprised -- and unprepared -- that all he could repeat was, "F***, I've won a Hugo..." Rob Sawyer started his thank-you for his novel Best Hugo by thanking J.K. Rowling for being late enough with her latest Harry Potter book to not qualify for this year, and Neil Gaiman for writing a book that wasn't long enough to be in the "novel" category

The evening parties were, not surprisingly, more crowded than not. In one -- they made ice cream in situ, using liquid nitrogen for quick cooling. [[ SEE PIX ]] Some fun, soom food... lots of filled rooms, mostly


All in all, we had a good enough time -- decent food, some good sessions, fun walking around town, schmoozing with people, not buying too much. It would have been nice to have had more time to play tourist in the greater Toronto area and environs, but schedules didn't permit it. Lessons learned: start planning more some meals-with-friends more than half a day in advance. Be sure I've converted to ATTENDING more than a day before leaving.

Daniel P. Dern <> is a free-lance technology writer
Most recently he was Executive Editor of
His web site is <>

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  subscribe