Chicon 7 Recap

Photo: Fred Teifield (http://www.fredteifeld.com/)

I’m back home now from Chicon 7, this year’s Worldcon. Some thoughts on it, in no particular order.

1. As the absolutely ridiculous .gif to the right might suggest, I had a massive amount of fun at the convention, and that’s something that was not necessarily a given for me, because I was the Toastmaster of the convention, i.e., the one Guest of Honor who works like a dog rather than being feted. In particular I was responsible for MCing both the Opening Ceremonies (which this year took on a talk show format, and at which the .gif was taken) and the Hugo Awards themselves. So no pressure there. I was also at Chicon 7 in my capacity as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which meant that in addition to my duties entertaining the fans, I chaired several hours of board meetings and the SFWA Business meeting for our organization’s members. Between the two of those, almost all of my time was spoken for; this was the busiest Worldcon I’ve ever had, bar none. As a piece of advice for folks:If you can avoid being both SFWA President and the Worldcon Toastmaster at the same time, I heartily suggest it.

So if I was incredibly busy and basically worked like a dog for the entire convention, how did I have a massive amount of fun? Primarily through the incredible competence of others. On the SFWA front, I have for the third year running been blessed with a board comprised of smart, engaged people who are able both to manage SFWA’s business and to civilly and constructively discuss the issues the organization faces. So although the meetings were long, we got a substantial amount of work done, and such work is pleasant when you have good people on it. So thank you, my fellow SFWA board members. You rock yet again.

On the Toastmaster front, I got to take advantage of the entire support structure of Chicon 7, so when I was on stage, the only thing I had to worry about was myself; every other technical and logistical issue was dealt with long before I showed up. As someone whose job was essentially to be the public face of Chicon 7 itself, this is incredibly freeing, particularly for events that have as many moving parts as the Opening Ceremonies and the Hugo Ceremony have. The staff and crew of Chicon 7, from my point of view at least, flawlessly pulled off everything I was involved in, which made what I did look good, or at least better than it would have otherwise been. Which made what I was doing a whole lot more fun. So to the good people who ran Chicon 7 and the divisions I engaged with, and to the staff who put together the shows and events I was part of, you have my unending gratefulness for being so good at what you did.

2. As noted earlier, my primary responsibilities for Chicon 7 were hosting the Opening Ceremonies and the Hugo Ceremonies, and I was also called on to interview Story Musgrave, Chicon 7’s astronaut Guest of Honor. How did each of these go? Well –

Opening Ceremonies: I think this one went very smoothly. It was done in a talk show format, right down to the talk show host desk, the long couch for the interviewees (the other Guests of Honor) and the house band (Toyboat) which allowed did musical stings at the behest of the host, i.e., me. That’s what that silly .gif is all about, incidentally: Me testing Toyboat’s musical reflexes by wildly swinging about and seeing how they did. They performed flawlessly. And then I got to do an opening monologue WHICH IS SOMETHING I ALWAYS WANTED TO DO AND NOW I HAVE DONE IT AH HA HA HA HA HAH HA HA and then it was me interviewing my guests, all of whom were interesting, so all I really had to do was give them soft lobs and watch them spike them into the audience. Well, at one point I did also sensually rub Mike Resnick’s leg. There was context, I promise.

Story Musgrave Interview: I’ve been a journalist off and on for two decades now, and have interviewed hundreds of people, and the interview I did of Story Musgrave was one of the easiest I ever did, because all one really has to do to have a fascinating event with him is put him near a microphone and get out of his way. Musgrave is incredibly interesting — hard early life, overachieving career as astronaut/surgeon/scientist (seriously, the dude has got seven advanced degrees), and a “retirement” schedule that would make most 20somethings exhausted. So the smart play is just to let the man talk, and that’s what I did, with only the occasional prompt or two to get at something I wanted to know. Again: One of the easiest interviews I ever did, and at the end of it, I got a hug. Because apparently Story Musgrave’s a hugger. And that’s just fine.

Hugo Ceremony: Look, I’m not gonna lie to you. If I had screwed up the Hugo ceremony, it would be me getting seventeen layers of crap about it on Twitter and not UStream. I do not appear to have screwed it up. My philosophy for the Hugos going in was pretty simple: I needed to be funny and I needed to keep things short, and if I could only do one of those things, I should go with “short” rather than “funny.” Fortunately I think I managed both — we started the ceremony a bit after 8pm and finished it at about 10:25, and a quorum of people laughed everytime I attempted a joke — so that was a huge relief. Aside from that, you know what? Being the guy who gets to give Hugos to people who are creators you admire and/or people who are your friends is one of the coolest gigs ever, and I recommend everyone try it at least once in their life. Giving away each of them was excellent, but I will say I was particularly pleased to give a Hugo to John Picacio, for whom it was a long time coming. In short, really delighted to have gotten the gig, and immensely relieved to have not messed it up.

3. Yes, I was nominated for a Hugo as well, and no, I didn’t win it, a state of affairs that surprised me not in the least. As I had no expectation of winning, I spent almost no time worrying about it, and was very happy for Ken Liu when he walked off with his extraordinarily well-deserved award. My only regret about the nomination, in fact, was that because I was nominated in the same category as Ken, we had someone else give away the award (Gardner Dozois), and so I was not on stage when he won and wasn’t able to congratulate him. And then afterwards I didn’t catch up with him either. So, Ken Liu, if you happen to be reading this: Congratulations, man. You wrote an excellent story, and I am happy the Hugo is yours.

4. When I wasn’t on duty, I spent most of my time with friends and family. My wife, child and mother-in-law were in attendance with me, and it was nice to be able to get back with them and depressurize after a long stretch of toastmastering/presidenting. I was also happy to spend quality time with my friend Jared Cloud, whom I knew from UofC days, and with his family; the chances we have to see each other are few and far between, so I was happy to get that chance this time around. As for the rest of it, there were so many people to see that I worry I didn’t get to see any of them as much as either they or I would like, including some of my very dearest friends in the SFF world. But again, this is what I get for having responsibilities. Next year? In San Antonio? I’m gonna plant my ass in the hotel bar and stay there for five days. That should fix the problem nicely.

5. As a final note, I am really so very happy that when I got the Worldcon Toastmastering gig, that it was in Chicago. Chicago is an extraordinarily important city in my personal history; it was important in making me who I am today and will always be a part of who I am. I am also fond of Chicago fandom and have been grateful that they have always been kind to me and supportive of my work. I am also so very happy to have been a part of this Worldcon, working with the people who put it together, and being a public face of it for the thousands who attended. It was a lot of work, I am very tired, and I wouldn’t have missed any part of it for anything. Thank you, Chicon 7, for letting me be a part of this. It was everything I had hoped it would be. And a lot more, too.

And now I’m going to sleep for the next three days.

45 thoughts on “Chicon 7 Recap

  1. Mothers-in-law get an infamously bum rap in pop culture. Has anyone ever considered how awful that old saw “we’re not losing a son/daughter, we’re gaining a daughter/son” is? Yay, another fraking child just when you’re expecting some time off. :)

  2. Still at a loss why they chose to stream on the Free rather than Premium service. Though the idea of an SF con attacked by robots was sort of fitting.

  3. It was really cool to finally meet you in person. And I think you did an EXCELLENT job with the Hugos.

  4. Congratulations to you and the Chicon staff for presenting one of the few interesting opening ceremonies I have ever watched (and my 1st Worldcon was in1973).

  5. I heard-tell they were (professionally or at least officially) taping the interview with Story; do you happen to know if it’s going to be posted somewhere?

    And thanks for helping to make Worldcon fun for the rest of us–you were great!

    –SMQ

  6. What?! No mention of Scalzistock in 2020? I’m honored to have been given its last ribbon at an impromptu dead dog party I hosted last night.

    Well, its last ribbon for now, I should say.

    You were utterly fabulous at Opening Ceremonies and I remain completely happy with the decision to have you not just emcee the Hugos, but also to give out all the awards (well, except the category you were nominated in).

    I hope you liked Steve Stiles’ full-page illustration kicking off your section in the Souvenir Book. I loved it and admire both Guy and Rosy Lillian for the idea of having the GoH drawings done by the Best Fan Artist Hugo nominees.

  7. I’ve been around the sci-fi block a few times, but this was my very first Worldcon. To say I had a blast was an understatement. I was overwhelmed and still managed to have a great time. The Hugo Awards ceremony was top notch and very entertaining. Well done, John.

  8. I’m so glad you gave John Picacio a shoutout. He’s an incredibly nice guy and a friend for (yipe) over 15 years now, and it’s great to see him getting the recognition he deserves. I still remember seeing him at LoneStarCon 2 and thinking, Wait, he’s more than just the guy I see at San Antonio Texas Exes meetings? Yes, Andrew, so very much more indeed.

  9. That gif is amazing, in a ‘Steve Ballard freak-out’ sort of way. :-)

    Glad to hear the convention went well. Except for the streaming website that shall not be mentioned, that is…

  10. Late on Sunday night, or perhaps Monday morning, I was ALMOST getting things under control in the London Party when you walked in with that other guy and everything started up again. Glad you enjoyed things though.

    At the time it did feel like the punchline to a joke. “… and then Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi waltzed in and all hell broke loose.”

  11. I was there (my first Worldcon. Yay!) and you rocked the house. I got to see all three of your events: Opening Ceremonies, Hugo Awards Ceremony, and the Story Musgrave interview. All were great but the interview was the best panel I have ever attended by several orders of magnitude. Story is beyond competent, personable, and funny. I remember one woman in the Q&A noted that he seemed like a classic Heinlein hero. I’m convinced that if Heinlein had ever tried to create a character with all of Story’s attributes, the editor would have balked that no one could ever be that amazing. Story is the kind of guy that makes you feel like you’ve wasted your potential while simultaneously making you feel like you can go out and do anything. Genial and Inspiring.

    I had a point of pride when Chicon 7’s conchair, Dave McCarty, told me over dinner that they stole the Opening Ceremonies talk-show format from my convention (no I won’t tell everyone which con. we’re talking about how awesome Chicon 7 was, not my guys. I know they’re awesome). Dave is a great guy and the Chicago crew had the whole convention dialed in. I have no doubt they stole the best ideas from everyone they could find and then created a bunch more of their own. Then they executed all of them with competence and style.

    So congratulations, John. You did great.

  12. Congratulations on MCing a great con, John. It was great to catch up – you’re right, chances to do so are too few and too far between. I was sorry to miss both the opening and the Hugos; I thought I was sorrier about the Hugos, but the gif has changed my mind.

  13. You did a great job.

    And if you ever put your face that close to mine again, I swear to cats, I WILL lick you in retaliation. I don’t care if you’re demonstrating creeping.

  14. OMG, it’s going to be in San Antonio? That’s my hometown! I have a list of excellent places to eat downtown and NOT the tourist traps that sell bland Tex-Mex. (I am SO going to talk my husband into a trip to visit my family then.)

  15. You sir, did a fabulous job. Lucky ducky. You get to sleep. After dealing with ASFA meetings, panels, and Hugo stuff, not to mention that “art thing”, I have to march into my classroom and teach 30 second graders in a few hours. Sleep will elude me for yet a few more days. (sniff) Sweet Dreams on a job well done!

  16. My wife and I both thought you did a great job as Hugo MC. I’m wondering if you’ve now held more Hugos than any other Hugo recipient, since almost everyone had you play Hugo Holder while they gave their speeches. (Nice job of that, too. And of gently guiding more than one slightly stunned recipient to the mic when they started to give their speech without amplification.)

    Sitting in the live audience, I found the show very tightly put together. It didn’t drag, and your strategy of saying less and less between awards the closer it got to the end really paid off in both keeping the pace and increasing the tension.

  17. The Musgrave interview was astonishingly cool. There is a guy in the Heinlein canon as accomplished as Musgrave, but he is Lazarus Long, who cheated by actually living several lifetimes.

  18. I remember talking with Dr. Musgrave over 20 years ago. I had just won a trip to the international science fair and got a behind the scenes tour of the Johnson Space Center. Dr Musgrave came up and was genuinely interested in the research I had done. As a very intimidated high school student it was both amazing and terrifying since his reputation more than preceded him. All that I really brought away from that was the thought “what a nice guy!” It wasn’t until a few years later when working at a NASA research center the full extent of his accomplishments (this was pre-web by a few years). If people included what he’s done in real life in a SF story people wouldn’t believe it.

  19. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I haven’t been to a Worldcon in years. My friends who go every year were kind of underwhelmed at Chicon this year and felt it was one of the weaker Worldcons. It certainly sounds like many enjoyed it, though, so that’s good to hear.

  20. “If you can avoid being both SFWA President and the Worldcon Toastmaster at the same time, I heartily suggest it.”

    Allllllll – righty then! I’ll just remove that from my list of goals right now then.

  21. I missed the opening ceremonies but stood at the back for the Musgrave interview and had a seat for the Hugo ceremony. You were both a wonderful interviewer and a sharp, funny MC. I would have stood through another session of you interviewing Story and was thrilled that the Hugo ceremony was both funny and short.

  22. Your interview with Story Musgrave was the highlight of the Worldcon for me. However, you were wrong when you told Story that the audience was not there to see you. The Scalzi/Musgrave combo drew more people than just Story alone.

    Also, do you by chance have clearer picture of you (with the wad of money) and Dave McCarty (with the Hugo) that you can post? The ‘payoff scandal’ in newsletter #42 was the icing on the delicious Worldcon cake.

  23. I agree with Agrehond. If it had been Mr. Noname interviewing Story Musgrave, I wouldn’t have gone. …and I would have missed out, of course, because he would have been pretty good anyway, but you gave him just the right noodges at just the right times.

  24. I wound up going to only four program items: your three and a friend’s kaffeeklatsch. All four were wonderful experiences. If I didn’t think you (or your family) would kill me for it, I’d make you the Toastmaster for every con from now on.

    But seriously, it was great; you were clearly having fun and bringing the other participants and the audience along for the ride the whole time. It was also nice to meet your mother-in-law, and I hope she had as good a time at Chicon as I did.

    (I’ll join Agrehond and Xopher in saying that you being the interviewer made me more interested in the Musgrave interview than if it’d been someone else.)

  25. I attended Chicon7. It was my first convention, so I’m just as glad that it wasn’t the most frenetic. I made it to the opening ceremonies, the Hugo Award presentation, and the closing ceremonies. You did a great job! And getting to hold all those Hugos for the winners must have been a treat!

  26. Although Turbonerd notes Chicon 7 stole the idea for Opening Ceremonies, (s)he didn’t indicate which con we stole it from. I’m happy to give them a shout out for letting us take such a marvelous idea: Fencon in Dallas.

  27. John — You did a helluva job this past weekend. Well done, man. Thanks for the shoutout. Meant the world to be handed that Hugo by you, after many a conversation we’ve had at Losers’ Parties. Onward to getting better at what we do. :)

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