Toronto Recap

So, how did my trip to Toronto go? Quick recap:

1. The Friends of the Merril Collection offered to pay for a plane ticket, but I ended up driving because I had other travel coming up which might have dovetailed with the Toronto trip but the dates weren’t confirmed until last Wednesday, by which time the cost of a plane ticket from Dayton to Toronto was $1,500. Which seemed excessive. So I got in the car instead. It’s not a short trip — 435 miles and close to eight hours — but it wasn’t as bad as all that, since Southern Ontario in late April is pretty. That said, driving to Toronto and back with only a day between is a lot of driving, and I’m not hugely in a rush to do it again. Next time: taking a plane.

2. Friday I spent most of the day in the company of Chris Szego of Bakka-Phoenix Books, who was a lovely hostess and who walked me all through Toronto with sightseeing. We walked for several miles, which was the most exercise I’ve gotten in a while, alas, and my body was more than happy to inform me of it once we has stopped long enough for my leg muscles to seize up. I ended up taking some aspirin before I went to bed. Chris of course should not be blamed for my sloth coming back to kick my ass, and as noted it really was a fine time seeing more of Toronto than I have before.

3. After all the sight-seeing we did end up at Bakka-Phoenix, where I filmed an interview with Space, the Canadian science fiction television channel, and got a chance to catch up with Michelle Sagara West and Leah Bobet, who were excellent company. Bakka-Phoenix is one of my favorite book stores on the North American continent, and is jam-packed with the books of many of my writer friends, so getting a chance to hang out there for a bit was a Very Good Thing.

4. We got to the Merril Collection a little bit early, in order to let the folks there give me a tour of their stacks. For those of you who don’t know what the Merril Collection is, it’s one of the most comprehensive collections of science fiction literature (if not in fact the most comprehensive collection) in the world. The reference stacks there are climate and humidity controlled and feature a genuinely staggering amount of science fiction, fantasy and horror, including rare first editions, author manuscripts, and science fiction pulp magazines going back to the 1920s. In short, a true Geek Mecca, and one of those places every geek should visit before they die (because visiting it after you die will not do as much for you).

5. I am deeply relieved to say that my talk was well attended (we had people standing in the back — sorry, folks), and what you missed by not being there was me reading the first two chapters of Fuzzy Nation — its global debut, in point of fact — followed by roughly an hour of general blather, because I do try to give value for my appearance fee, and then the ritual defacing of books with my signature. I think it all went pretty well, but I’m not the one to ask about that. But if nothing else I had fun. Afterward Chris, Leah, Michelle and I went for a post-blatheration drink accompanied by Lesley Livingston, the fabulous YA author who as it happens was one of the very first people I met in this whole wacky science fiction/fantasy community, because we hung out at Torcon 3, which was my very first ever science fiction convention. It was really cool to be able to catch up with her.

6. The only downside to any of this is that my netbook took this opportunity to die on me — fortunately after I used it for my reading, but even so. I suspect it’s my fault for not making sure it was entirely shut down before stuffing it into my travel bag after the reading and then walking all over Toronto with it, but no matter what it makes me a little sad. It was a good little netbook. Of course, now I’m in the clear to buy an iPad if I want to, which is something Krissy noted to me when I announced the demise of the netbook. I think she may suspect I intentionally killed the little dude. For the record, I would totally not ever do such a thing. Totally not ever, man.

To sum up: Toronto is a wonderful city full of wonderful people (mostly Canadian!) who treated me very well while I was there. I had a grand time and look forward to visiting again. Thanks for  having me, and especially thanks for coming out and seeing me while I was there. I look forward to coming back some time, sooner rather than later.

31 thoughts on “Toronto Recap

  1. Well, other than the fact that Gary Burghoff did not show up, and you did not dance like a monkey (you offered, but were we supposed to demand?), I rather enjoyed it.

    The Q&A was largely ‘Inside Baseball’, but that actually made it more interesting to me, even though I have no interest or ability to be a writer. The fact that you had to pay an advance to Penguin was hilarious. Do you think they’ll earn out?

    One thing that was asked about was something that I noticed in the reading; you use of ‘said’. I thought to myself, “wow, he really uses ‘he said’ a lot”, but it made a lot of sense that when reading, you just tune it out, especially because of the repetition. It’s something I never would have noticed without it being pointed out.

  2. You should come to Winnipeg, John!

    One question – do you charge a fee for your signature? I hear that some people do (at SF conventions, for example) and I’m curious if you do.

  3. I don’t have any interest in an iPad myself, but that could be due to my interest in Unix and Linux the last 10 years. I prefer computers I can tinker with, customize. But I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, if you get one.

  4. I’m glad that some people in the world have sense. The iPad is neat. But a replacement for a fully functioning computer or laptop, it is not. Replacement for a netbook…oh baby, yes. I’ve never fooled around with a netbook that made me not think that my iPhone was a better machine.

    Personally, I’ll end up buying a MacBook Pro when I have to upgrade technology again (read: when my desktop computer dies from having so many mismatched parts making up its innards) unless–and only unless–the iPad gains the ability to run OSX and let me install my own programs via USB instead of being forced to download apps. The day that happens is the day I buy one and say goodbye to normal computing.

  5. An iPad is not a netbook. Don’t expect to be thrilled by the writing experience on the iPad—the virtual keyboard is better than the iphone’s and quite serviceable, but using it is still not a fluent experience. On the other hand, the iPad gives you a reading/viewing/browsing experience that is, quite honestly, delightful. Try before you buy. You may love it; you may not.

    So say I, from the virtual keyboard of my iPad. Which I happen to love.

  6. @Prof Beej: Don’t expect the iPad to ever run OS X proper, unless it’s hacked in there by someone. I would bet big money that we’ll never see an official Apple tablet running OS X proper; to do a tablet right, you have to throw out the desktop UI and design for touch operation from the start, it’s not something you can just layer on over existing applications. (Which is why all the Windows Tablet Edition tablets have failed over the years.) I think Apple’s demonstrated they understand this with the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, which is why the first two have been so successful.

    Now, a further evolution of the iTouch OS into something more powerful and capable – using the touch UI foundation established by the current iTouch devices, but taking it to more of a ‘power user’ level, adding in features deliberately left out of the current devices for the sake of simplicity – that, I expect. :) I’m just not sure how long it will take.

  7. I had the opportunity to try out the iPad at the Apple store the other day. I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t. It was sort of neat, but there are problems. One, the keyboard sucks. You’d have to get an external keyboard to type anything. Second, the graphics on some applications aren’t that good. I’m sure that will take time to fix. You can’t take Touch graphics and expect them to look good on a screen that’s a lot larger. I read somewhere that it won’t play any video that is in Flash (75% of videos on the internet are flash). Who knew? I didn’t.

    Things I liked about it: It does look very sleek. Nice interface. Books do look nice on it. I hope that if you read for a while though your eyes don’t hurt.

    Buy one and tell us your experiences with it.

  8. I realize that in my previous comment about the mistake, I might have infringed on some of your quidelines about correcting your mistakes. I’m sorry, I wish I could edit a post. Also, I can’t find the article where you wrote about the subject.

  9. @Travis Butler (#9): I always figured it was a pipe-dream, to be honest. If they can ever give the tablet those features that were stripped (namely working programs that aren’t powered by apps), I’ll jump on board. The main reason: I’m not too up on writing my novel or blogging using the Pages/Wordpress apps and the keyboard dock until it gets a lot more “concrete” feeling than it currently does.

  10. Beej,

    You’d want to use the bluetooth keyboard, not the dock one from what i hear. But the iPad is a different thing and not really intended as a replacement for a laptop/desktop. Some people will love it.. some won’t.. some will hate it. Oh well.

    tToronto sounds like a nice time and I’d never heard of the Merril collection. Probably never ge there, but it sound like a fun place.

  11. “Toronto sounds like a nice time and I’d never heard of the Merril collection. Probably never ge there, but it sound like a fun place”

    It’s all right but, for the most part, the actual collection is off limits to the visitors and you have to request those books and materials you want to see. Good for preserving the books but not so good for people who love browsing through stacks.

  12. I love Toronto. It’s a totally awesome city. One thing I miss about where I currently live is that Toronto is no longer a short drive.

    As for iPad, it’s not a netbook although it may serve for what lots of people actually use a netbook for. The rest, those who actually need or want a laptop, ought to get a laptop.

    My big issue with iPhone OS is the mechanics of getting stuff on and off the iDevice. Apple has gotten better about this but their solution isn’t fully baked yet (and apps don’t all yet support it). However, there are apps that talk to Google Docs as well as to the various cloud storage services. I expect getting documents between computers and between apps will get better more quickly now that developers actually have iPads to play with. Apple’s design intent seems to be though that you eventually sync iPad up with a Mac or PC. (e.g., it doesn’t do OTA OS upgrades. The first thing you have to do when you take it out of the box is mate it to iTunes. *sigh*)

    You’ll probably want to use a bluetooth keyboard. The combination is about 2.25lbs, approximately the same weight as a netbook. (Actually, that’s 2.25lbs with Apple’s bluetooth keyboard. Maybe there are lighter ones?) I look forward to trying out the virtual keyboard. In landscape mode it looks about as narrow as a netbook keyboard, but no tactile feedback. YMMV.

    (I ordered an iPad 3G so I won’t see it until Friday. Right now, this is research and second hand experience talking.)

    The company line is that an iPad is it’s own thing, a brand new category. That may be hyperbolic, but I do think it’s an exciting device with lots of potential. It’s certainly the first general purpose computing device to really take advantage of a (multi-)touch interface. But maybe it’s my 20 years of experience with many flavors of Unix (including 15 with Linux) that makes me all excited about new computer technology.

    It ought to be more than capable enough for writing, answering emails, browsing the web, VNC, listening to music and podcasts and watching the occasional video. Apps exist for all of those things and they’re pretty much all I do with any portable computing device. (i.e., I don’t do anything that requires a laptop.) Again, YMMV.

    I’ve researched this about as thoroughly as I can without using one. The test will be how well it works for me once it shows up. If all goes well, my iPad goes with me to Clarion in lieu of my laptop. (The laptop dates from 2004 and no longer has a fully functional keyboard anyway.)

  13. I had a fantastic time at the Merrill last year. I could probably spend days there and just scratch the surface.

  14. Two points regarding the iPad and comments made or questions asked upthread:

    1. The keyboard: In landscape view it is really quite comfortable to type on. As good as a tactile keyboard? No, of course not. But as someone who spends all day pounding on real keys, I find it fairly easy to touch-type with few mistakes, and only really slowing down to hunt for alt characters that aren’t on the main keyboard. (Unlike iPhone/Touch, the main keyboard has , . ! and ? — the rest, along with numbers, are accessed by tapping one of two buttons, one each side of the keyboard.) And don’t forget that you also get the benefit of Apple’s really-quite-decent autocorrect, plus a new spellcheck feature on top of that. It’s really not bad, though of course YMMV.

    2. Eyestrain and the reading experience: This was my biggest concern before getting an iPad, and I was very pleased to discover that the iBooks app well and truly rocks. I do a lot of reading in the dark at the moment, and in my experience reading on the iPad, with the screen brightness turned all the way down (via an easily accessible slider in iBooks) seems to result in less eyestrain than with an LED-bulb book light shining on real paper.

    In fact, the reading experience is so pleasurable that it only takes about a minute for me to basically forget that I’m reading on an electronic device at all. That’s not an exaggeration; I actually have caught myself sort of reaching my finger around behind the iPad in preparation for turning the page. (The page-turn touch controls and animations are neat, but not intuitive for me, at least not yet. I’ve found that just tapping the side of the screen is the quickest method, and hence the least disruptive to the illusion of reading a physical book.)

    And one more note about iBooks: The original Little Fuzzy is available for download, for free, through the iBooks store. Public domain, dontcha know.

  15. It’s amazing how much more walking you do living in a city rather than in the suburbs (or beyond). You don’t even have to think about it, it just happens as part of your everyday life.

    I’m in burbia now, and really having to work at making sure I get enough walking in.

  16. Love Toronto, although the times I went were spent at the Word on the Street book fair. Since I already overloaded my luggage with my haul from that, I wasn’t allowed anywhere near a bookstore.

    Also — the times we’ve gone up to Toronto (from Florida, then), we flew into Buffalo and rented a car. That worked out to be about half the price of a direct flight. I think it works similarly for other locations, depending on the airline — smaller airports usually mean cheaper fairs. Buffalo’s airport is small, but reasonably easy to get into and out of. And the drive is about 2-3 hours.

    There is a (slim) chance I may be living in Toronto by next year. Once the books are moved and housed (yes, this requires an effort. I am addict. Hello.) perhaps I will be allowed to pass the door of Bakka-Phoenix. (seriously, my geek Toronto friends never once mentioned it, and I suspect that is a purposeful omission.)

    As for netbook vs iPad — I’ve not yet actually touched an iPad, but I suspect my experience would echo that of my iPhone experience — in short, touch pad devices do not work well for me. It’s sort of a mutual antipathy, I think.

  17. Hunh, I hadn’t heard of the Merrill collection before. I think both the Eaton collection at UC-Riverside and the collection dearest to my heart, that of the MIT Science Fiction Society (which is distinguished by being amateur-funded and -run, and open-stack), would give it a run for its money. It’s hard to judge largest or most complete, because we all have somewhat- but not entirely-overlapping missions and collections, but in general, I think the more people studying and collecting SF and SFnal things and making them available to people, the better. :-)

  18. I’m very fond of Toronto myself; having relatives up there means I always have a place to stay. And, like Murphy @23, I’ve discovered how much cheaper it is to fly into Buffalo. Another advantage of going through Buffalo is the beautiful countryside you drive through to get to Toronto.

    In Toronto, I am shallow enough to be thoroughly enamored of the St. Lawrence Market where you find wonderful bagels, a dozen different types of rice, any sort of seafood you can imagine, and more types of cheeses than you knew existed.

  19. Just FYI (for those who don’t know, but might like to), the Merril collection was set up from a base s-f collection donated by Judy Merril, a torch in the 1940s, s-f writer/anthologist/evangelist in the 1950s and 60s, and outspoken feminist after that. (Short biography, Wikipedia entry, fannish adventures .

    As an anthologist and evangelist for new s-f writers, I remember her approach and attitude as being a lot like yours, John.

  20. The geek in me wants to autopsy the old netbook to see why it died. The idiot in me wonders what the best way is to dispose of a dead netbook, but the recycler in me says that it’s probably the way all other electronics get recycled or disposed of safely. The fan in me is glad you had a nice trip.

  21. A friend’s daughter travels often between her home in San Jose, CA and school in Toronto (she’s at OCAD) via Buffalo. There is a reasonably priced bus service from the Buffalo airport to downtown Toronto. She tells me it was a very comfy double-decker. Last time it took under two hours including the time going through customs. You also avoid the massive lineups at US customs at Pearson Airport. Which are not pretty. Just a thought for next time.

    It was lovely to meet you again!

  22. It was so cool to finally meet you, and getting to hear you read from Fuzzy Nation was pretty freaking awesome, too.

    I second the recommendation about flying in to Buffalo – it’s often cheaper than flying in to Pearson, in my experience.

  23. Hey, I’m glad you enjoyed Toronto, in spite of the long ride! Too bad you did not really spend much time here – you definitely should come back, there’s a lot to see. It sure is a great city and I’m not only saying this because I live here.

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