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Chicon 7 (Worldcon 2012)

Chicago skyline from the south (seen from terrace of Field Museum)
Chicago skyline from the south (seen from terrace of Field Museum)

A few days ago I flew out to Chicago for my first US convention, Chicon 7 (aka Worldcon 2012), the 70th World Science Fiction Convention. I was very excited about it, mainly because it was a chance to finally meet a whole bunch of writer friends from the other side of the Pond, as well as being only my second trip to the States. For starters, I got to meet fellow Angry Robot authors Chuck Wendig, Madeline Ashby, Lee Collins, Matt Forbeck and Wesley Chu; Wes is a local, so he took us along to a restaurant for the obligatory Chicago-style deep-dish pizza (though I have to confess I much prefer New York style thin crust).

I had a busy schedule at the convention: reading and signing sessions, as well as three panels. The first panel, on Writing Gender Roles in Science Fiction (and fantasy – we didn’t confine ourselves to SF) was at 9am on Friday morning, and I was feeling both jetlagged and hungover—the latter a result of staying up late drinking scotch and chatting with Doug Hulick and a bunch of fencers. I was therefore not really on top form, especially when it came to giving examples of good gender writing in fantasy; indeed my main interest in the topic is down to the paucity of same, particularly in epic fantasy. That’s not to say that epic fantasy is uniformly bad in this respect, but picking out books worth recommending is another matter entirely.

My second panel, on Constructed Languages in Science Fiction and Fantasy, was rather less stressful, and it was awesome to find myself sitting next to moderator David Peterson, who created the Dothraki language for the Game of Thrones TV show. I only wish I had had time to talk linguistics with David outside the panel, as he chose to focus on general advice for writers rather than a technical discussion of language design. Finally I did a panel on Saturday morning called Why I Love My Editor. Since I only have one book out, I didn’t have any horror stories of errors that made it into print, but I was able to talk about my own editing process and of course about the pleasures of working with Marc and Lee of Angry Robot.

Panel on “Violence in Fantasy”. From left to right: D H Aire, Scott Lynch, Douglas Hulick, James Enge
Panel on “Violence in Fantasy”. From left to right: D H Aire, Scott Lynch, Douglas Hulick, James Enge

In addition to sitting on panels I also attended a few. Violence in Fantasy, moderated by Scott Lynch, was entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking, as was Vivid Character Building. The latter panel’s members (Kay Kenyon, Carol Berg, Brian Thomas Schmidt, Teresa Frohock and Randy Henderson) had a wide variety of approaches to the topic, which is always helpful. I only wish I’d made more notes! The other really good event I attended was a one-man talk by Ramez Naam, one of Angry Robot’s newest authors, on Merging Mind and Machine. This was a look at past research, current technologies and possibilities for the future—all utterly fascinating.

Playing “Apples to Apples”: Mur Lafferty, Chuck Wendig and Paul Cornell
Playing “Apples to Apples”: Mur Lafferty, Chuck Wendig and Paul Cornell
Of course conventions aren’t just about the formal programme. For new authors like myself, they’re a great opportunity to meet one’s peer group and network informally, particularly in the bar! Mostly it’s just sitting around drinking and talking, but one night I did get roped into a silly card game called “Apples to Apples”. I won my first round out of sheer beginner’s luck, but Mur won the game overall. (Apologies for the terrible photo, which was taken with my phone.)

One of the most awesome parts of networking is getting to meet so many people who, until now, were just names on book spines. For example, the night after I saw him on a panel, I met Scott Lynch and just about managed to rein in my fan-girl reaction when he said that my book was on his TBR list! And in addition to Mur Lafferty, I got to meet a couple of other favourite podcasters: Howard Tayler and Mary Robinette Kowal of Writing Excuses. I also spoke to Elizabeth Bear, Carol Berg, Saladin Ahmed…the list just goes on.

As well as these famous names, I hung out a good deal with fellow debut authors Doug Hulick, Mike Cole, Kameron Hurley, Teresa Frohock, Courtney Shafer, Brad Beaulieu and Mazarkis Williams, drank some more whisky and ate dried crickets and mealworms at the Night Shade Books room party. It was all Kameron’s idea, since her book has bugs in; you were challenged to eat a bug in order to get a free book. I didn’t need any more books, but I ate some of the bugs anyone, just out of curiosity. For the record, the cricket was very dry and felt like it stuck in the back of my throat, but the mealworms were quite nice.

No convention would be complete without a tour of the dealers’ room. I’m afraid I went a bit mad and ended up with three t-shirts, two books (a secondhand paperback of Shadowspawn by Andrew Offutt and a personalised signed copy of Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal), two necklace-and-earring sets and a steampunk pocket watch! I could easily have spent twice as much, but I didn’t want to over-stuff my suitcase and get charged for it.

A cheeky squirrel in Grant Park
A cheeky squirrel in Grant Park

On Sunday I took a day off from the convention to spend time with my husband (who came to Chicago but didn’t want to attend the con). We had a lie-in and a late breakfast, then walked through Grant Park in search of entertainment and culture. On the way I spotted a remarkably russet-coloured grey squirrel; like most urban park squirrels he was quite tame and came closer when called. Not too close, however, especially once he worked out we didn’t have any food for him!

We were going to go to the Chicago Institute of Art, but there was a horrendously long queue and it was a hot sticky day so we ventured further south. Eventually we reached the Field Museum, which specialises in anthropology and zoology—two of my favourite topics! The museum is enormous, and I could happily have spent at least a day looking around it, probably more. Sadly the Genghis Khan exhibition was sold out, but there was plenty to see in the extensive Native American galleries. All the major cultures of the Americas are covered, with artefacts ranging from Aztec gold and jade to woven baskets from the Pacific Northwest, and even replica houses.

A tiny hand-carved fetish – a fox or maybe a badger?
A tiny hand-carved fetish – a fox or maybe a badger?

At the museum shop I bought a book about pre-Columbian America and a hand-carved stone fetish. This little fellow now has pride of place on my desk, and I hope he will bring me some fox-like cunning to aid my storytelling :)

Sadly I was too exhausted from my tourist day to attend the Hugo awards, so I didn’t get to meet Neil Gaiman. Still, I did meet nearly everyone else I had hoped to, and more besides. All in all it was a fantastic convention, possibly the best I’ve attended so far, with a great programme of events and an amazing guest lineup. Apologies to anyone whose name I have omitted; there were just too many to list.

We flew back to England on Tuesday; I was happy to be going home, but sad to be saying goodbye to so many new friends. However World Fantasy is in Brighton next year and, better yet, London has won the bid to host Worldcon 2014, which hopefully means that some of them will be coming over to visit. I know I can’t wait…

Comments

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Erin

If the squirrel had a white belly, it’s actually an American red squirrel, which is of a different species than the gray (and different genus from the European red).

Sounds like you had an excellent time. I wish I could’ve gone this year to meet you. Maybe I’ll make it to London in two years.

And the Field Museum is awesome!

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Anne

Ah, that would explain it. He was certainly very different from the rusty greys one occasionally sees in the UK.

Hope you can make it to London in 2014 – should be a fantastic con!