Chicon 7: the 70th World Science Fiction Convention

(Note: if you’re thinking this doesn’t exactly read like a typical convention report from a SF writer, that would be because this is actually my weekly science column. A slightly different version will be my column for the next issue of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild newsletter Freelance. Never let a convention go to waste!

(The photo is of Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, co-publishers and co-editors of DAW Books, among whose authors I am proud to count myself. Betsy is holding the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor (Long Form), a long-overdue tribute to one of the best editors in the field.)

Most people plan their summer vacations based on places they’d really like to go or people they’d really like to see.

Us? We plan it around the World Science Fiction Convention, which meant that this year, we vacationed in Chicago.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Science fiction convention? Isn’t that one of those wacky events where everyone dresses up in Star Trek uniforms and swings light sabers at each other?”

To which I can only reply, “Well, yes, sort of…but that’s only a small part of it.”

This year’s World Science Fiction Convention, the 70th of its ilk, and the seventh to be held in Chicago (hence the convention’s title, Chicon 7) drew more than 5,000 people to the Hyatt Regency in the heart of downtown over the Labor Day weekend (from Thursday to Monday), and it’s safe to say no two of those people experienced the convention in exactly the same way, because at a WorldCon there are so many things happening all at once that a dozen people could arrive together and never see each other again for the entire weekend.

As the website ( points out, WorldCon this year offered discussions on writing, publishing and criticism; comics and graphic novels; film, television and other media; art; anime and cartoons, and costuming.

But that’s not all: there was also a very strong science track.

Guests of Honor were author Mike Resnick, artist Rowena Morrill, agent Jane Frank, fan Peggy Rae Sapienza, author John Scalzi, who acted as toastmaster…and astronaut Story Musgrave. A very special science guest was Sy Liebergot, the NASA Apollo EECOM Flight Controller in Mission Control for all Apollo manned missions and all Skylab program missions.

Admittedly, I was focused more on science fiction and fantasy than on science while I was there: my wife actually took in more science programming than I did. I did things like sign autographs (a few—my line, alas, did not stretch out of sight like George R.R. Martin’s did), took part in a panel on writing science fiction and fantasy scripts, and sang, as part of the “filk” programming (filk music is the SF/fantasy equivalent of folk music) The Road Goes Ever On, a song cycle of poems from the works of J.R.R. Tolkien set to music by Donald Swann (of famous music-hall duo Flanders and Swann).

But as usual, I regret not attending more panels of all sorts, including science panels. Because the line-up was impressive:  So what does WorldCon have to offer writers? Plenty. Here are just a few of the panels at this year’s convention: “The Future of Food,” “Toxicology 101: Everything You Know is Wrong,” “So You Want to Discover the Higgs Boson?”, “Microbial Residents and Hitchikers,” “The Next H1N1,” “NASA and the Future of Space Exploration,” “What Energy Sources are Sustainable?”, “String Theory for Dummies,” “Latest News from Astronomy,” “Apollo 13: The Longest Hour,” “Mars Desert Research Station,” “Curiosity: The Mars Science Laboratory,” “Ceres, Our Nearest Dwarf Planet” and “The ‘Other’ Space Telescopes.”

And that’s just a small selection!

Of course, there’s lots more to do. There are readings and small get-togethers with authors (called Kaffeeklatsches or Literary Bheers, depending on the beverage available), the  masquerade (where the costumers show their stuff on stage), the art show (where the work exhibited includes some from the top illustrators in the field) and the Big One, the Hugo Awards, whose winners are nominated and then voted on by the members of the convention.

Notable winners this year included Montreal writer Jo Walton, whose novel Among Others (Tor) won the Hugo for Best Novel, Neil Gaiman, for his Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” (Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form), George R.R. Martin, who accepted on behalf of Game of Thrones, the HBO series based on his novels (Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form), and best of all from my point of view, Betsy Wollheim, who won the Hugo for best editor (long-form). Betsy, who has been an editor for 37 years, is also the publisher of DAW Books along with my editor, Sheila Gilbert.

WorldCon is always a fantastic (if exhausting) event, a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose: you just can’t take it all in. There’s only one solution to that, of course: go to the next one.

The 71st World Science Fiction Convention, LoneStarCon 3, will be held next Labor Day weekend in San Antonio.

See you there?




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