Con Woman

This summer, my friend and fellow writer Timothy Carter suggested that I get involved with Can*Con and said there was still time to get on a panel. I hemmed and hawed a bit, but eventually I said yes. I only landed one panel because I crashed the party right before midnight, but the panel I got was a good one.

On the morning of September 9, I double checked that I had my bus tickets, loaded my stuffed-to-the-seams backpack onto my shoulders, and shuffled out the door like the Junk Lady from Labyrinth. The trip from my apartment to the subway to a Greyhound bus to a Blue Line taxi (at rush hour, no less) to the hotel took almost exactly seven hours. Watching the gorgeous Ontario landscape slowly change as we approached Ottawa was entrancing, but I was extremely happy to get my room key and drop off my stuff. I was also quite pleased to have a double room with a cushy loveseat all to myself.

Unfortunately, I had the bill all to myself, too.

First things first. I registered for the convention and looked over the books that had generously been donated by Chizine Publications as gifts for the attendees. I wasn’t sure how many you were allowed, so I chose the one I was most interested in, which was WestLake Soul by Rio Youers, which has a subtle what-dreams-may-come theme to it and I absolutely love Hamlet. To death. His death. Over and over again. (Sorry, that was just weird. Moving on.)

I had already decided that Friday night would be the time for me to explore the neighbourhood as the hotel was right next to the Byward Market, Parliament Hill, and a gaggle of galleries, and Saturday would be an all-day panel marathon. I didn’t get out of the hotel before the market-y things were closing up, so I headed towards Parliament Hill.


I got a few good pictures and some not so good pictures before nightfall, but I didn’t stick around for the light show on the Hill, which could only have been disappointing after the glorious sunset that backlit the Langevin Block and House of Commons.  

With daylight slowly fading, I finished trekking through the fragrant gardens behind the Chateau Laurier and around the market. I decided on Chinese food for dinner and then made my way back to my quiet, air-conditioned room for a night’s rest.

The next morning, I was a complete slug about getting up (Dear Snooze Button, I love you), but by skipping breakfast, I made it to the first session of the day for a panel on the many weird and wonderful sensory mechanisms that animals and plants possess. Since I have a science fiction book on the backburner that involves an icky race of subterranean echolocating lizardmen, I thought that would be the perfect way to learn more about the kinds of sensory data the critters of the world can process.  As I predicted, echolocation came up and it truly is a most bizarre talent. Apparently, bats can measure distances as small as one-half millimeter between objects while in flight (holy shit!), and they can register the frequencies of the other bats’ calls and modulate their own frequencies to avoid signal jamming. Also, if you put a bat in a jar or any walled container, the constant echoing will drive it mad, so if you capture a bat, please be kind and cage it if possible. I sincerely hope that I never have reason to catch a bat, but now I know how to royally fuck up my scaly antagonists.

Over a late breakfast, I planned out the rest of my day, which was basically just a mad dash from one room to another. I attended a panel on publicity and marketing, another on terraforming (also valuable for the lizardman book), a physicist’s talk about quantum mechanics, and an RCMP officer’s talk on the realities of police procedure, among others, stopping only to eat dinner before rushing off to Nina Munteanu’s talk about the science of water.

My panel on Madeline Ashby’s vN series was immediately after Nina’s talk, and most people were already burned out for the day. We had a small but involved crowd, and since we had no moderator and no clear direction for the discussion, the audience members’ thoughtful questions and comments were a boon.

Left to right: me, K.W. Ramsey, David Nickle, and Suzanne Church.

By this time, I needed a sanity break. I went back upstairs and enjoyed some quality time with a cup of tea while reclining on that plush white loveseat, which was very comfy, random pen marks notwithstanding.

Having steeled my overloading introverted nervous system, I went down to one of the con parties, where I had a drink and chatted with a few people. I met Madeline Ashby and basically interviewed her for a few minutes before she managed to gracefully flee my barrage of questions, then intruded on another conversation including one of the organizers, Derek Künsken, whom I have seen a number of times at Ad Astra but never actually spoken to.

Later, I found myself having a long conversation with a few attendees from the vN panel, one of whom was thinking about writing a book on the history of her own small town, where her family has deep roots. I have a significant amount of experience with local history, as I used to do a lot of work doing research and editing for Dr. Mary Anderson in Hamilton1, so we talked for a while about historical events and the value of history, local or otherwise. Local history doesn’t always have a big audience, but it has tremendous appeal because you have no choice but to get into the gritty details of peoples’ lives and stories, their loves and losses, and this human connection is what really draws people in. I certainly hope she writes that book.

I chatted up a few more people before retiring for the night, and the next morning I woke up wishing I had booked a later ticket home. I would have to be at the Ottawa Greyhound terminal by 11 AM, too early for me to catch even the first panel of the day, so I crawled out of bed, got some breakfast, and went back to Byward. This time, the individual vendors were open, and I found all the colourful things—artwork, veggies, people—plus a bagel shop that makes woodfire baked bagels. Next time I’m in the area, I know where I’m getting breakfast.

The morning passed far too quickly, but I lucked out with a friendly, chatty cab driver, who got me back to the bus terminal in record time.  A five-hour-plus bus trip isn’t my idea of a great time, but was a gorgeous day to pass by the rocky, marshy lands of the Canadian Shield and the rolling hills of the countryside, back into the land of glass and steel and my home sweet home—where I was promptly told off by my cat.

As usual, I had a touch of the post-con blues, but I think I have now managed to convince Sarah WaterRaven that she needs to come with me next time, and our mutual friend Vanessa Ricci-Thode has quite enthusiastically jumped on the Can*Con 2017 bandwagon.

Get ready Ottawa, because next year we are definitely going to have fun storming the castle.

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  1. This was for a website about the McQuesten family of Hamilton, Ontario, back in the day when people called me Abby. However, I am in the process of legally changing my name to Una, and I’m just waiting on the paperwork. Could be a while though, ‘cause, you know, government.

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