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ChiCon: The 2000 World Science Fiction Convention

As I mentioned last week, 6,000 people recently gathered in Chicago for the 58th annual World Science Fiction Convention, myself among them.

Mention “science fiction convention” to most people and they immediately think of a Star Trek convention. However, science fiction fans have been getting together long before Star Trek penetrated the public consciousness. At WorldCon, the focus is on written science fiction far more than the TV and movie version. (While most fans of written SF, myself included, enjoy SF TV shows and movies, we consider them inferior to the literary form.)

WorldCon began as a few fans, who knew each other through the letters columns of the pulp SF magazines of the 1930s and ’40s, getting together. In a sense, that’s what it still is. The people who stage WorldCon are all volunteers. Cities bid for the right to hold the convention just like cities bid for the Olympics–and although the result of Toronto’s Olympic bid is still pending, I’m pleased to announce that Toronto will be hosting the 2003 World Science Fiction Convention!

So, what did we do in Chicago?

Mainly, we talked. At WorldCon, as many as eight or nine panel discussions were going on at once, beginning at 8:30 in the morning and sometimes still running at 10 at night.

You could go to panels that focused on academic matters (designed for people who teach SF), panels that focused on costuming (although you don’t see as many costumes at WorldCon as you would at a Star Trek convention, you do see a few interesting outfits, and there’s a very impressive masquerade/costume competition), panels that focused on writing (I was on a panel that discussed writing for children), panels that focused on filking (SF-themed music) and panels that focused on science. There are also unclassifiable panels like the one on the future of the Broadway musical.

Among the panels I attended were Teaching the Writing of SF, Self Promotion and Publicity (aimed at writers), Researching Your Writing, Start Up Rituals of the Pros (how writers get their writing days started, held, appropriately, first thing in the morning), On the Shoulders of Giants (about writers from the past who have influenced the writers of today), and panels at which editors talked about how they select what they publish.

Although I was focusing on writing-related panels, I also took time for some science-related ones. There were dozens of these. For instance, there was a panel on the planets we have discovered orbiting other stars, several panels on computer technology and a slideshow of The 53 Most Significant Events in the History of the Universe.

Another slideshow, called Volcanoes and Ice: The Last Days of the Galileo Spacecraft, featured fascinating images of Io, one of the moons of Jupiter, where volcanoes spew molten sulphur and sulphur dioxide across the surface, constantly changing its appearance.

A scientist from the Space Telescope Institute presented some of the latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope. These amazing pictures of deep space are as close as we can currently come to traveling among the stars, so it’s not surprising this presentation filled one of the largest rooms at the convention, not once, but twice.

The convention also featured a vast dealer’s room filled with everything from T-shirts and jewelry to magazines and books. I spent $20 U.S. on a paperback that originally cost 35 cents–The Colors of Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley (better known as the author of the best-selling Arthurian epic The Mists of Avalon). It’s one of the books that cemented my love of SF as a kid.

Other activities included dramatic presentations, including a new SF opera, autographing sessions, on-line chats and author readings.

One of the highlights was the Hugo Awards presentation. Fans nominate and vote for the Hugos, which honor the best SF writing of the year. (The Hugos are named after Hugo Gernsback, who started the first science fiction magazine in the 1920s.) But the most exciting moment of the week for Canadian attendees was the announcement that Cory Doctorow of Toronto had won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Since last year’s award went to Nalo Hopkinson, also of Toronto, that’s two years in a row that the best new writer of science fiction has been a Canadian.

Who knows? Maybe at Toronto in 2003, Canadians will also sweep the Hugo Awards.

Hey, I’ve got a place all picked out for mine.

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