Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Saturn, Disability, and the Hugo Awards at ChiCon 7 - The Wrap-Up


Good view for a Thursday.
A beautiful building right on the river, across from Chicago’s unparalleled skyline, was the perfect place to spend Thursday night. I spent sunset chatting about Hugo nominees and waiting for Saturn to become visible. While it was tiny even in the most powerful telescope we had, it was striking. Even when its figure is smaller than the tip of your pinky finger, you can make out its rings. Until then, I’d honestly thought that was an invention of cartoons, but it really does look like one of the glowing stickers I used to have on my wall as a kid.

While you’ve probably heard some complaints against the con-runners (and are about to read some more), they handled the Adler very well. Admission was free if you had your convention badge, and they rented eight buses to shuttle everyone to and from the planetarium for hours into the night.


While everyone working at the Hyatt Regency Chicago was courteous to me, I couldn’t recommend using the site again. Giving the floors arbitrary color names rather than numbers, and even less sensible themed names for the rooms (good luck finding “The Gold Coast Room” on “The Bronze Level”) were one thing, but the hotel is split into two towers that can only be navigated by three means:

1) a skybridge on the second floor where no convention events took place, requiring you to take either an escalator or a second, much slower elevator downstairs.

2) crossing the street outside on the ground floor, between a floor with three panel rooms and a floor with none.

3) crossing an underground bridge on the Bronze Level, where there were many panel rooms, including at least one that was only accessible up a set of stairs.

Complicate that with some elevators going down only to this set of colored floors, and some stairwalls only going this high, and you had a lot of baffled attendees walking indoor miles per day just to get lost. I expect to hurt when I’m at a convention, and had to set aside an hour every day to be in private over body tremors, but that’s my issue and I can handle it.

If they ever want to make a WorldCon Risk...

If you were in a wheelchair, though, you routinely had to cross to the other tower just to get downstairs and cross back to the tower you’d just been in to reach a room. That’s no reasonable way to ask someone to get downstairs. There have been reports of handicapped con-goers only being able to attend every other panel due to travel times within the Hyatt. They were rightly furious to make such long treks only to find a room with its own private set of stairs and no other point of entry. 

Especially at this point, I don't think outrage at con-runners is constructive. You can't fix architecture; you can only avoid patronizing it. WorldCon sites should be accessible to all attendees. Right now there are bids for 2015 between Florida, Washington and Finland. At none of the room-parties for these respective bids did I hear anyone pitch accessibility services. I’m hoping the post-con furor raises awareness. When you have over a thousand attendees, your location needs to start with being accessible.


I am a longstanding and publicly-admitted cynic about awards shows. They are generally artificial and reek of politics-over-product. I can’t say that about the 2012 Hugos; at least half of the nominees claimed not to have written speeches thinking they would lose, and that same number looked genuinely shaken, stunned or overwhelmed. Whoever screamed in surprise when E. Lily Yu was announced for the John Campbell for Best New Writer was perhaps the single loudest I’ve ever heard in my life, and I’m told it was Yu herself.

There were a lot of class acts. Jim Hines won for Best Fan Writer, mostly for his amusing series on how women are objectified on book covers, and excused himself from the category for every future Hugo to ensure that more new voices would be recognized. Ursula Vernon (Best Graphic Story) gave an endearing ramble on how she entrusted her boyfriend with the ending to Digger, just in case she ever died before it finished. John Picacio was the only figure to swagger up to the podium, and while he hadn’t prepared a speech, he remembered in the six times he’d previously failed to win Best Professional Artist the names of artists he’d grown up on and wished had been recognized with their own Hugos. He waited about a decade just to name them from that podium.
This is Jim Hines.
As far as I know, this is not a degrading pose,
but he sure has a grip on that thing.
And as coldhearted as I am, Jo Walton almost got me to choke up. She deserved the Best Novel Hugo that she won for Among Others, but still seemed to be processing merely getting nominated. She me by recounting something Ian Osmond told her: "Lots of people have said Among Others is a love letter to fandom. Didn't you expect to get a reply?"

It was well worth the half hour traffic jam leading to the sole escalator back upstairs.

It was also at the Hugos that I had my highest point. It was perhaps the only time of the year I’d wear a tie, and the last day that I shaved, but I couldn’t help being myself. I sat with an exceptionally good-spirited group of guys, and we quickly fell into joking about great novels and bad Adam Sandler movies. When they asked what I did, I described my upcoming novel and they showed keen interest, though I didn’t know how keen. I just enjoyed making them laugh, because that’s one of my favorite things to do for other people, even if it’s at the expense of Deadman and Jason Todd.

It was as Jo Walton finished her acceptance speech that one of them leaned over to me, writing on a scrap of paper. He asked how to spell my last name. I told him, then asked what was up.

“I can’t wait to read your novels,” he said. “You’ve got a fan for life.”

I shook all of their hands and probably failed to express how much that meant to me. Exhausted and pretty sick with the syndrome at that point, I couldn’t have felt better.

I still want a Hugo, though.


  1. What a great triptych of posts. I got tingles reading about your new fan. I can't wait to read Last House in the Sky, either!

  2. Such a wonderful post, John. That ending had me tear up. I can't wait to get to read your book either :)

  3. Sorry for screaming so loud! It definitely wasn't Lily. I'm her younger sister and I got really excited so I kind of went a little louder than I thought. =/

    1. There is no reason to apologize! You were a highlight of that show.

  4. Its early here and you had me sniffling twice. Congratulations on your lifelong fan. And yes, accessibility is a bone of contention for me as well. Our local Hyatt is pretty poor. It is wheelchair accessible, if you are prepared to come in through the kitchens and know how to get there. There other alternative is to be lifted up the front steps by attendants with no training. If they are willing to do so. Hiss and spit.

  5. Retweeting your post, John. I hope planners take note an address accessibility issues when choosing the next venue. Glad you're collecting fans :-)


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