Chicon 7, the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in the Chicago Hyatt Regency from August 30 through September 3, 2012. The convention was the best attended Worldcon since L.A. Con IV in 2006, with almost 5000 warm bodies present.
Overall, I enjoyed Chicon 7 a lot, and didn’t have much to complain about regarding the Hugo winners (the nominees are a different story!). The number of nominations was generally higher than last year for Renovation, perhaps due to a rule change that allowed members of three years’ worth of Worldcons to nominate. However, the number of final ballots was generally lower, sometimes significantly, than last year. I don’t know if this was due to apathy about the quality of nominees, or whether Renovation did a better job of nagging members to vote.
The Hyatt Regency is a very large hotel with ample meeting space for a convention of this size. The problem is that the hotel is split into two towers with events in each tower. The way the escalators and elevators were laid out made for difficult navigating within and between the towers and their multiple, arbitrarily color-coded levels. There were a number of complaints from mobility-challenged fans about the inadequacy of handicap access. To confound attendees further, the con organizers somehow thought it was a good idea to include a nonexistent meeting room on the schedule. Apparently, this hoax room is a tradition with Chicago conventions, but the humor was lost on those not in on the joke.
Programming ran continuously from noon on Thursday to mid-afternoon on Monday. While there were plenty of panels worth seeing, and many time slots with multiple items of interest, there were very few “must see” panels. There were a handful of special events, such as the Masquerade and Hugo Award Ceremony, that were highlights. The opening night event at the Adler Planetarium was especially fun and interesting.
The Dealers’ Room was in a nice, large space. It took me a little over an hour to go through it the first time, and I dropped in a couple more times during the weekend. There were a few interesting vendors, but I didn’t end up buying anything. The Art Show was in a large ballroom and had plenty of space. There was the usual mix of professional and amateur 2-D and 3-D works ranging from the awful to the sublime.
Panels were varied and well run, heavily weighted towards literature and space exploration, reflecting the strengths of the convention’s guests. There were a handful of panels related to TV and movies, as well as things like costuming and filking that I am not interested in.
Unlike many recent Worldcons, the only late night activities were filking and parties. Fun, late night programs such as “Just a Minute” and “Match Game” were absent. There were no anime or movie rooms operating at night, which I found strange. (The only film room showed mostly public domain cartoons, and only during the day, as far as I could tell.) There were no screenings of the Hugo nominated dramatic presentations. Apparently, attendance at convention film screenings is too low to justify the cost of renting films and paying technicians to show them. There was a film festival running during the convention which screened independent films; and while I am sure there were some hidden gems amongst the entries, my less-than-satisfying experiences with similar film festivals kept me from exploring this one.
One of the innovations that the convention tried was to have a number of joint panels with Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I attended a couple of these panels, and for the most part they worked well. Video conferencing is often fraught with technical difficulties, but the technicians had it working smoothly. As long as these two large conventions share Labor Day weekend, it makes sense to do some cross-programming. I hope this will become a regular part of Worldcons to come.
Nothing against younger writers, but the old-time raconteurs make the most entertaining and thought-provoking panelists. Examples were Connie Willis and Robert Silverberg riffing on each other, Guest-of-Honor Mike Resnick reminiscing about his career, gray-beards Gardner Dozois, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman, and George R. R. Martin recounting the silly things they’ve done individually and together, and David Brin ranting on science and politics.
The highlight of the convention was seeing Guest of Honor Story Musgrave. A veteran of six Space Shuttle flights, including a Hubble Space Telescope repair mission, Musgrave is a real-life Buckaroo Banzai. Surgeon, engineer, pilot, farmer, and poet are just a few of Musgrave’s accomplishments. At 77 years old, he could easily pass for 50. Musgrave’s boundless humor, enthusiasm, and optimism fuel his curiosity and drive. At the same time, he is humble and down-to-earth, and was clearly moved and honored to be recognized by the science fiction community. I was inspired, educated, and entertained by this remarkable person.
An all-volunteer-run event of this scale and quality and complexity is simply amazing. The con committee did an excellent job working in the background to ensure our enjoyment, comfort, and safety. I had a wonderful time, as did the people I talked with. This was a superb convention.