Monday, September 10, 2012

The Panels of ChiCon 7

Last week I had the pleasure of attending ChiCon 7 in Chicago, host to the 70th annual WorldCon. My digital camera died going through an airport scanner, so there are few photographs, but some things about the convention beg to be shared. I've split it into three days on different subjects so as not to drop a giant hunk of text on the site. Also, the Panels of ChiCon 7 really deserve their own post.

There were at least three panels about the schism between real medicine and Science Fiction. The con devoted over a dozen rooms to a plethora of topics, ranging from formalized book clubs (I hit the one discussing Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) to thoroughly unformulized nostalgia. You wanted zombies? You got zombies. Ethics of book reviewing? Could you biologically engineer a plausible dragon? They had experts on all of this. All you had to do was find your room on this map.

Behold: The Mapocalypse

There were two particularly stand-out panels, one a raucous group effort, and one a gutsy one-man act that I doubt many people in the field could match.

Jack McDevitt might have been the single-handed king of the convention for me. He’s a prolific Nebula-winning author, but even his panel’s circumstances impressed. Just hours from his flight into town, and minutes from having fought through Chicago traffic to get there, McDevitt ran a 90-minute one-man panel on what gets your work rejected from magazines and publishers.

He riffed on the audience, he was funny and insightful, and seemed to know how to work a crowd just as well as how to edit a manuscript. There was the traditional advice of cutting adverbs and using only as many characters as was absolutely necessary, but also analysis on how hooks work, and why forcing the reader to wait can be a great strategy (his formidable example: waiting for the murderer to strike in Horror).

There's no better reason to go to the next EerieCon in Buffalo than to catch him as the Guest of Honor. His best advice was perhaps the best advice of the whole weekend, and I furiously scribbled it down:
"Keep the exposition short, but get it right. ...
It's the things you think you know
and don't look up that you get wrong."

Jack McDevitt, taken by Maureen McDevitt

You couldn’t beat what McDevitt brought, but you could excel at something entirely different. For instance, moderator Myke Cole, Jean Johnson, Scott Lynch (of Lies of Locke Lamora fame), Marie Bilodeau and the man known as “Eightball” discussing Disaster Relief in Science Fiction.

Everyone on the panel has real life experience in disaster relief, from firefighting to wrangling Deep Water Horizon, and so you wouldn’t expect them to put on the funniest show of the weekend. What began as an inquisition into what film habitually gets wrong and how strong the human spirit is devolved into a ten-minute debate about how to put a tourniquet on a bleeding asshole. Cole’s facial expressions as he listened put me into tears laughing. You know you’re winning when the Iraq-veteran-turned-moderator is hiding his face in revulsion.

Myke Cole could kill me, or entertain me with his giddy list-making of horrible disaster movies.
The depth and variety at these events left me deeply desiring to do one. It also left me deeply desiring that audiences shut up during them. There's little worse at a panel than the nerd who can't help yelling opinions, or raising their hand for a question and then monologuing on their lives for five minutes. The strangest thing of the weekend came not from religion or cosplay, but from an audience member breaking into a screaming fit against Apple when someone merely mentioned Amazon's business tactics.

An honorable mention for Achievement in Panels goes to Kendall F. Morris on the Medicine and Science Fiction panel, who shared a unique insight from engineering cough medicine:

“We learned if you cough a lot, it’s irritating.
If you don’t cough at all, you die.”


  1. It sounds like you had an amazing time. I'll remember that quote next time my sawdust allergy kicks in ;)

    1. As a decades-long asthmatic, I was not expecting the end of his sentence. It was too funny to me.

  2. Coughing here. And on an unrelated note - I would love to see a dragon. And yes with wisdom and beauty I can accept blood lust, hunger and cruelty (it is a very long time since I have been a nubile virgin).

  3. The Panels of Chicon 7 sounds like an SF novel from the 1950s or 60s.

    The con itself sounds amazing.

  4. This is a great con review. I am now envious that no such succinct and appealing review exists for PAX (not one that has trickled into my purview yet, anyway).


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