The World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WorldCon, is one of the oldest science fiction conventions in the world. It has been running continuously since 1939 (except for 1942-1945, during World War II), and has traversed the globe, from Detroit to Glasgow to Yokohama. This year’s WorldCon was the convention’s 70th anniversary and took place in Chicago at the ritzy downtown Hyatt Regency. This was the seventh occasion WorldCon has been held in Chicago, so the convention was referred to as Chicon 7.
Chicon chose SFWA president John Scalzi as their Toastmaster, which proved to be a brilliant move. If you ever have a chance to see Scalzi speak live, about anything, don’t miss it. The Opening Ceremonies were set up like a late-night talk show, complete with a desk in the corner of the stage and a band to play as the guests walked on. The atmosphere was light and jovial and Scalzi didn’t waste a single opportunity for a punchline. He even went so far as to stroke Author Guest Mike Resnick’s leg. That’s commitment to comedy.
Scalzi was also the host of the 2012 Hugo Awards. The Hugos are scheduled for the convention’s last official evening, Sunday night. You might be tempted, so late in the convention, not to attend the Hugo Awards, but I assure you, they’re worth standing in line with your friends for an hour to get decent seats. Never have I enjoyed an awards ceremony as much as I did this one. It wasn’t just about Scalzi’s funny jokes or the beautiful awards themselves or the dazzling lights or the presence of so many brilliant creative minds. It was more that we were there together, celebrating the stories we love, and somehow that made the atmosphere positively electric. As Neil Gaiman said in his acceptance speech, “We won.” And though he was referring to the popularity of Doctor Who among American teenagers, the sentiment was definitely a profound one. In that moment, sitting in that ballroom overflowing with enthusiasm, it felt as though the Geek had, in fact, inherited the Earth.
Chicon’s programming was varied and interesting, with several tracks running continuously on every aspect of science fiction and fantasy writing
imaginable. The Steampunk Genre panel, which I moderated and featured a number of steampunk luminaries, was particularly well-attended. I was also lucky enough to sit in on panels on world-building, anthology creation, and scientific advances presented by well-known writers, editors, and experts like Jacqueline Carey, Ellen Datlow, and Story Musgrave.
Other events included a Masquerade, a theater troupe performing two of Neil Gaiman’s stories as one-act plays, and countless author readings and signing sessions. On Wednesday night the Adler Planetarium opened its doors to welcome Chicon members for free, with shuttles to take us back and forth from the hotel to the museum. Although I’m not a huge fan of space museums, it was impossible not to be infected by my fellow geeks’ collective enthusiasm for astronomy and cosmology in that space. And the view of the Chicago skyline from the planetarium’s grounds is awe-inspiring, especially at night.
The dealer room was a treasure trove for book lovers, with tomes both new and old, including the very rare. There were also a few clothing dealers, much to my surprise, including Lady Heather’s Fashions, a purveyor of Steampunk and lolita finery, and Idiorhythmic Designs, whose booth was an eclectic mix of corsets, bustles, fancy dice bags, parasols, and scarves. A number of booths sold very fancy, often handmade jewelry. David Malki of Wondermark was also there hocking everything from t-shirts to stickers to books of his clever comics made from Victorian-era drawings.
Evenings at Chicon 7 were all about the room parties. Various cities trying to win WorldCon bids, such as London and Tokyo, hosted parties in their massive suites, complete with finger food and drinks. Other impressive parties were hosted by fan groups like Brotherhood Without Banners and the Discworld Seamstress Guild, or publishers like Tor. It was Barfleet, however, with a disc jockey and dance floor, that took home the award for Best Room Party.
Chicon 7 was, overall, one of the most fun-filled weekends of geekery I’ve attended, but I did find a few aspects frustrating. Mainly, the cost. A badge for Worldcon is easily 2-3 times more expensive than a badge for another science fiction convention, especially if you don’t buy it the moment it goes on sale. Admittedly, the membership afforded me the privilege of voting in the Hugo Awards, which meant receiving a packet of all the nominated works for free, as well as the weekend-long admission to Adler Planetarium and the Wednesday night shuttle. But add in the cost of the hotel–also 2-3 times more expensive than a typical convention hotel–and parking in downtown Chicago, which was easily $45-50 a day, and as you can see, the expenses really start to pile up. Food in downtown Chicago is also quite pricey, and without a refrigerator or microwave in the room (those cost extra) leftovers were pretty much out of the question. Fortunately there was a well-appointed Con Suite and a separate Green Room for panelists, as well as an inexpensive 24-hour hotel snack bar, all of which helped to keep food costs down. If you’re going to attend a WorldCon, however, be aware that you’ll have to budget at least 2-3 times more money than you normally would for a convention.
There was quite a bit of griping about the elevators at WorldCon, as some guests felt they were rather slow. To them I say: attend Dragon*Con, and then compare the two. Six elevators for 6,000 people doesn’t even begin to compare to eight elevators for 30,000. Another complaint I heard was about the number of people in motorized scooters, who were given priority in elevators and seating at some panels. Personally, however, I didn’t mind the presence of the scooters. In fact, as my friend Dave pointed out, they were a sign of the culture of acceptance. WorldCon is unique among conventions in that it appeals to members of fandom of all ages and from all walks of life. That means there are going to be some scooters, and canes, and maybe even people with funny accents.
Cell phone reception was also not great, mainly because most of the convention’s events happened in the basement of the hotel. I actually rather liked, however, that Chicon required me to disconnect. We were all forced to look away from Twitter and interact with one another (for better or for worse) for an entire weekend. And that’s just as it should be, really.
If you’re a member of science fiction fandom, especially if you’re an aspiring writer, you really owe it to yourself to get to a Worldcon. With only
6,000 attendees in a single hotel, chances are better than good that you will meet one of your favorite authors. There’s no other place in the world where you can spot Neil Gaiman on the escalator, run into George RR Martin in the hall, or chat up Mike Resnick in the dealer room…or take your picture with Jacqueline Carey.
Next year, WorldCon will be in San Antonio. In 2014, it will be held in London, England. Buy your tickets early to get the best deal. I hope to see you there!