Chicon 2000, the 58th World Science Fiction Convention, was held in the Hyatt Regency, Swissotel and Fairmont Hotel in downtown Chicago over the weekend of August 31 to September 4, 2000. We had originally been planning to be in the dealers' room, but due to a sudden increase in the price of dealers' tables and a number of impossibly picky rules, we decided to just attend and have fun. Thus we didn't leave until Thursday morning (had we been dealing, we would have left on Tuesday evening, stayed overnight in the Chicago area and arrived early Wednesday morning for dealer setup).
We had to fight our way through some road construction on I-65, and then get through downtown Chicago traffic to get to the hotel. Then we had to get checked in. Since they only have valet parking at the Hyatt, and it's expensive as all getout, we had to get everything out and to the room as soon as we got checked in. Of course that was easier said than done -- the front desk of the hotel was terribly backed up and nobody knew anything, so I got to sit in the car and kill time while my husband wrangled with them (we couldn't leave the car unattended under the entrance awning -- I don't know what a person coming alone would have done). Once we finally got stuff in and handed over the car to be parked (which meant that we couldn't retrieve it until we were ready to leave), we were able to get to con registration and get our badges -- but we had to *locate* Registration, which was down in the maze of lower-level rooms that make the Hyatt such a madhouse.
At least Registration had their act together, and we had almost no problem getting our badges. I'd mislaid my Progress Report #7 and couldn't find it in a mad search Wednesday evening (it'll probably turn up when I sort through my papers in a week or two), but I had my program participant mailer, so they gave me my badge without any hassle.
Then I took my art to the art show, which was an utter circus. At least they did acknowledge that I had pre-paid my panel (they were trying to claim that several other artists had never reserved any panel space), their program for printing up bidsheets was a mess. Instead of having the artists write up their own bidsheets, they had a system by which the artists turned in a hand-written master sheet, which was then input into a computer which would print up really sharp-looking bidsheets.
Or at least that was the theory. It turned out that they'd never tested it on the level of workload that a Worldcon artshow entails, and the computer had a nervous breakdown. To complicate matters, the art show director had left the con for a family emergency, and hadn't delegated enough authority to let anyone bend procedure for the duration. Instead of doing the sane thing and let the artists quick write out temporary bidsheets, everybody had to wait until the computer could grind out the pretty ones. Although I got my art up early Thursday afternoon, I didn't get bidsheets until Friday morning, and several of them had the minimum bid printed wrong. Unfortunately I didn't catch that mistake until someone had bid on one of the incorrectly printed bidsheets, so I couldn't get that one changed. I'd hoped it would get bid up, but instead I ended up having to accept the lesser price with the best grace I could manage.
We also made a quick round of the dealers' room. While I was there, an old friend came by and asked me if I'd like to talk to some press people about science fiction art. I talked to them briefly, but they seemed rather overwhelmed by the entire event.
I also squeezed in a panel on childrens' literature that afternoon. The panelists talked about the differences between writing for adults and for children, in particular the wealth of adult experience that isn't shared by children and cannot be assumed by the writer. They also talked about the problem of censorship, and how some people will find objectionable sex and violence in the most innocuous storylines. Unlike the case with adult fiction, childrens' books are generally not bought by the children themselves, but by various adult gatekeepers who determine whether the books are appropriate for their intended readers. Often this is not an ideological matter, but simply a factor of a limited budget. For instance, many school librarians are allowed to buy only from the Accellerated Reading Program, which provides study questions with each book. Unfortunately these questions are often very superficial and train children to read only for surface detail instead of deeper issues of motivation and theme. Furthermore, the tight grade levelling is very limited, especially in communities where the word of authority figures is reckoned as final (particularly communities of immigrants from authoritarian countries). Roberta Rogow had a very good point about the distinction between books you have to read, books you ought to read, and books you want to read.
The discussion then turned more specifically to the problem of writing science fiction for children, in particular in creating believable science and in integrating it with the action of the story. When Heinlein was writing juveniles in the 1940's and 1950's, it was still believable to have his characters hopping from planet to planet with relatively little in the way of ground crew. Today we know that space travel simply doesn't work that way. Furthermore, the current active branch of science is not space travel but genetics. Today's young readers are interested in what species we're currently crossing and what creatures we're producing through transgenic techniques. Unfortunately it can be difficult to get children's sf published if one is not already published, since the only real market for it is Scholastic Books.
After that panel I went back to the art show to check if my bid sheets were ready, but they still weren't. So we headed upstairs and grabbed a quick bite of supper before making the rounds of the parties. Charlotte in 2004 had some really good spicy barbeque, while Boston in 2004 had cocktail shrimp.
Friday started bright and early for me, since I was scheduled on a panel on Web design for the Internet. We discussed what made for good and bad sites, and almost everybody agreed that anything which distracted from the central point of the site or slowed its loading on slow connections were a problem. Several panel members suggested sites which can help improve one's site, including http://www.netmechanic.com/ and http://www.anybrowser.com/. Someone else noted that Adobe's website has a number of free tools for JPEG optimization and other things that help improve a site.
After that I hurried down to the art show and finally got my bid sheets up. Then there was a little time to visit the dealers' room before I had to get to my second panel, on Two Millennia of Roman Rule. This was one I was really looking forward to, since Harry Turtledove was also on it. We talked about what a Roman Empire surviving to the present would look like. Everyone agreed that it certainly wouldn't look anything like the Roman Empire of classical times. In fact, it could be argued that important parts of Roman civilization have survived to the present. For instance, the Founding Fathers of the American republic borrowed many concepts directly from the old Roman Republic. Furthermore, much of the administrative structure of the late Roman Empire was transferred almost directly into the Church of Rome -- although it would be rather difficult to call Pope John Paul II a Roman Emperor. At the same time, there are many things about present-day civilization that an ancient Roman would find very alienating -- for instance, the absence of classical virtues in our civic society, or the acceptance of what to them would seem like utter disorder in our society. They would find our technology to be more akin to magic and our economics to sorcery. But most puzzling to them would probably be the way our culture embraces change and calls it "progress," so utterly unlike their tradition-based society that assumed change was decay.
After that, I hurried off to a panel on avoiding literary scams. This was held in one of the hidden third-floor rooms of the Hyatt, and it took me so long to find it that I was late. The room was packed to capacity and beyond, and I ended up sitting on a ledge in the back of the room. However, it was one of the best panels I'd seen on the subject, since it included two noted literary agents (Ashley Grayson and Donald Maass), as well as an attorney who specializes in fraud cases. When an ordinary person says that book doctors can't appreciably improve one's chances of publication, it may get some nods, but when a leading literary agent says it just raises a manuscript to a higher level of rejectability, it is going to get heard. All the panel members had horror stories of people who'd been bilked out of large amounts of money by "letterhead agents" who took substantial fees to "represent" a book and then did nothing with it. Even established people in the business have been tricked by some of these scams. Our best defense as writers is to keep in contact with one another and be informed of the latest scams.
After that panel I attended an audience panel on whether the vote should be earned a la Heinlein's Starship Troopers. In an audience panel, the one person at the front table acts as a moderator and guides the audience in discussing the topic. We explored the concept relatively thoroughally, discussing various aspects such as the emphasis on willingness to sacrifice oneself and the need for the leaders to subordinate their own desires to the good of the all. People brought up the issue of whether people should get a second chance to earn the franchise if they were too immature the first time they have tried but have since grown up more. Another issue that was brought up was recent discoveries in neuropharmacology which reveal that many "mental" illnesses are actually biochemical brain disorders that show up by distorting the patient's behavior and attitudes. How should people like this be dealt with in a service program?
Friday evening we hosted the Sime~Gen fandom party, so there wasn't much time to visit other parties. I did visit the Capricon party, but that was mostly to see about my membership refund for having been a program participant. The Sime~Gen party was somewhat more low-key this year than it has been in past years. Part of this may have been due to a mix-up that left our posters at home, unprinted, so we had only a few hand-drawn posters to advertize the party. We were also in a bad location which was less likely to be found by people strolling through the halls. However, Jacqueline Lichtenberg did put in an appearance and announce that a new studio has shown interest in making a TV series based upon Sime~Gen, although with a lot more sex and violence than she would really like to see in it.
Saturday was another busy day. Although I was still tired from the party, I had to get up early to get to the kaffeeklatch with Ellen Datlow. She talked about her latest projects, including her work for SCIFI.com, which is undergoing some changes. She also discussed the general future of publishing. We can look forward to a steady flux as e-publishing is having a greater and greater effect upon the field. E-rights are rapidly becoming a major issue, rather than one of those extra rights that was often ignored in contract negotiations.
Afterward I was able to make a brief visit to the art show and the dealers' room before meeting with a reporter for the Southern Illinoisan, the local paper of Carbondale, Illinois (where I used to live when I was attending Southern Illinois University). We talked at some length about my art and writing.
I then attended a panel entitled "After Harry Potter: What Next," which was about recommended reading for children who have read all the Harry Potter books and want to read more books like them. The panel members had worked up a fairly extensive list of both classic and contemporary children's and young adult fantasy literature, and audience members added more titles as the discussion proceeded. Several panel members noted that one of the most difficult problems in recommending books for young people is finding ones that are appropriate for a given reader's personal development. This doesn't necessarily correlate to chronological age or to "reading levels" -- a child may be able to handle "hard" words but be utterly baffled by the motivations and relationships of the characters in a book. Young people who try to read books they aren't yet ready for are apt to become bored and frustrated, and likely will blame the book for their problems, or even the entire idea of reading. Young children are also apt to take things at surface value and entirely miss layers of ambiguity.
After that I attended a panel on Alien Languages, moderated by Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog. Almost all the panelists spoke several languages, and many of them had developed fictional languages for their alien characters. The discussion started with the relationship of language to society, then moved to dealing with totally alien modes of communication that humans might not even recognize as language -- chemical, electrical, etc. Aliens might have totally different perceptions of the universe. For instance, dolphins hear a much wider spectrum of sound than humans and also use hearing for echolocation, a sort of natural sonar. We might well be creating aliens -- one day our computers and networks may well "wake up" and talk back to us. They will perceive the world much differently -- for instance, they may see distance in terms of network speeds, with other computers becoming nearer or farther away as net traffic varies.
After that I attended the Alexandria Digital Literature chocolate party and got to visit with David and Alexandria Honigsberg, whom I originally met back in 1996 at Consanguinity II. I also talked with Alexlit editor Kathy Ice and learned that my short story "The Stirge" has indeed been posted and is available for purchase on their site at http://www.alexlit.com/.
I caught the last few minutes of the presentation on the new fantasy magazine Black Gate and their website, BlackGate.com, before it was time for my third and last panel, "Authors Who are Best Forgotten." I was the moderator of this one, and I was a little apprehensive about it, but several people complimented me on how well I had done afterward. I started with the authors we'd like to forget because they're so godawful *bad*, like Dan Gallagher, Vanna Bonta and John Norman. However, another of the panelists took a completely different tack on it, suggesting that there are some writers who are so *good* that they need to be forgotten by other writers, because everyone is too busy imitating them instead of developing personal voices. Authors in this category included J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein and William Shakespeare. A third panelist suggested another interpretation -- that there are some authors we'd like to forget so that we'd be able to enjoy the experience of reading them for the first time once again.
After that we went out to a Chinese restaurant for supper before making the rounds of the parties. Since the East Tower parties were apt to be crowded, we did our best to get them done before the Hugo Awards ceremony was over, and thus avoid the elevator crush. We did get to see various bits and pieces of the ceremony, which was televised on the hotel television system, since several of the parties had televisions tuned to it.
Sunday we slept in a little later before getting moving, so I caught only the last part of the panel on "Can You Make a Living at This?" This panel was about being self-employed as a writer, artist or anything else related to sf, fantasy or fandom. Some of the important points brought up by the panelists included the necessity of keeping good records and being ready to deal with lots of paperwork, since the IRS has the power to ruin a person for missing any of their hoops. The panelists also discussed the difficulty of having health insurance, but tempered this by noting that even people working in regular boss-and-timeclock jobs are less and less likely to have coverage come automatically with their employment. Panelists and audience members also exchanged tips on making a limited amount of money stretch further.
The next panel I attended, "Why I'm Worth A Percentage," was about what agents do. Four agents talked about the various aspects of their work, and what it can do for an author. They noted that a number of publishing houses have gone to a policy of not even looking at novel manuscripts that don't come via an agent. Agents also know the ins and outs of the business and can catch surprises in contracts and royalty statements which authors are apt to miss. However, they also noted that an author needs a *good* agent, and that a bad agent can be worse for one's career than none at all.
Then I attended a panel on censorship and the Harry Potter books. However, it ranged far beyond that particular series to discuss the issue of the censorship of children's books in general. There was a fair amount of controversy about exactly what constituted censorship in this context, as well as what was the best way to deal with it. Everyone agreed that parents need to maintain an open dialog with their children about what they are reading. Many parents who don't have time to pre-screen everything end up having to simply say "no" to things that might well be good, simply because they can't be sure. Another important thing for parents to remember is that their children are growing up, and rules that may have been appropriate for a five-year-old will create antagonism and covert or overt defiance when applied to a teenager. Outside the home, people who are opposed to censorship need to remember to make their opinions heard, because the people who want to censor things are often very loud and vocal, to the point that it may seem that they represent a far larger segment of the populace than they really are.
After that panel we had several hours to simply enjoy the convention. I made a nice slow round of the dealers' room and picked up a book that I've had some considerable difficulty finding. I also got to the Internet room and checked my e-mail again.
Then it was time for the "How I Buy what I Buy" panel, in which editors talked about what criteria they use in selecting stories and books. Eileen Gunn explained why she will not be taking unsolicted submissions for her new electronic magazine, at least for the first year. Gardner Dozois, in his usual over-the-top style, explained that he is constantly reading and he picks what he likes and he thinks his readers will like. Patrick Nielsen Hayden compared the process to buying clothes in a thrift store. He wants to find good material, and then tries to determine whether it is a good fit for what he is trying to achieve.
After that we had supper, then began making the round of the parties. We made the rounds of the East Tower parties while the Masquerade was one in order to avoid the worst of the elevator crush, although we didn't avoid it entirely. We were in the ASFA suite when the Masquerade began, and we got to see some of the major problems. The cameraman seemed more interested in playing with the special effects buttons than with providing good production values. Half the time the image was out of focus and wasn't even centered on the participants. The announcer was just as bad, rudely mocking the young girl who was the very first entry. She was costumed as a mermaid, and was dancing in a giant seashell. The announcer made a crack about "having a shell of a good time" right in the middle of her act. It threw her for a moment, but she regained her composure and ignored him for the rest of her act. This little girl had more professionalism than either of these so-called adults.
At the Torcon 3 thank-you party I met Robert Sawyer, whose writings I've admired for a number of years. We talked a little while about writing and about the value of conventions to enable authors and readers to make human contact.
Monday it was time to gather up our belongings and get out of our hotel room. That proved a little easier said than done, since the bellmen were backed up over an hour. While we were waiting for a bell-cart, I went down to the art show and got my unsold art. Three of the bidsheets had vanished entirely, and I had to spend a little time proving that the artworks in question hadn't been stolen. Then it was back up to the room to pack them and wait for the bellman to arrive.
Because of the valet parking mess, we decided to just load the car and leave rather than doing any Monday programming. Still, it seemed like a bit of a let-down to leave the con, as it often is after a big convention that's so full of energy the way a Worldcon is.
Overall, Chicon 2000 was a good convention. Most of the problems we experienced (other than the art show mess) could be ascribed to having it in the big downtown hotels. The next time Chicago wants to host a Worldcon, they should really give some serious consideration to the suburbs. There are a number of convention centers with sufficient adjacent hotel space which could host a Worldcon in the larger suburbs, where there would be free parking and a much better traffic situation. Los Angeles has gone for that solution -- LAcon III was held in Anaheim rather than downtown Los Angeles. There's no reason it wouldn't work for Chicago as well.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
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Last updated October 21, 2012.