Chicago, as I’m reminded every time I set my foot in this metropolis, is the perfect place for a science fiction convention. That’s got little to do with it being America’s second city, or with its convenient location in the Midwest, or that it’s a large metropolis possessed of a number of large and accommodating hotels with lots of meeting rooms. It’s because Chicago itself often looks like something out of a science fiction novel.
The people organizing Chicon 7 clearly thought so too, since the distinctive imagery on our badges depict the Chicago skyscrapers proudly towering over rockets ready for launch into the heavens – and, funnily enough, the rockets don’t seem out of place. It’s something I’ve remarked every time I stroll around the Loop and Michigan Avenue – that the pristine skyscrapers of glass and steel are uncannily futuristic. Unlike the rather straightforward skyscrapers of New York, the ones in Chicago are winding, twisting, slanting, oddly shaped, the tall proud neighbors of equally proud Gothic structures that reach just as magnificently to the sky. It’s a conglomeration of architectural feats and scientific splendor that look like they’re only a decade from being Coruscant or Atlantis. Some buildings – the ones that, conveniently, decorate the rooms where most of the panels take place – even look like alien spaceships that have landed on the corner of Dearborn and Madison.
It’s a pleasant note to start on, and, as I quickly realize, a necessary one. Because as soon as I walk in and get my badge, I realize that I am so totally out of my depth. In my science-fiction-addled brain, I can just hear that phrase in Samantha Carter’s distinctive voice saying “Oh boy” in my ear. Oh boy indeed.
There are a few things I should clarify: I am, in case it’s difficult to tell, a geek. I quote Han Solo because his particular brand of arrogant badassery just happens to be my preferred way of dealing with the world, I take notes about watching Star Wars, and I will happily inform you about why the speed of light is the same in all inertial reference frames. I am also, however, a convention newbie (this is my second one) and geeks are not famous for their social skills. Attending a social event for people who’d rather be reading books seems like a bit of an oxymoron, and it does nothing to set me at ease (and excuse the blatant stereotyping. It’s allowed because I include myself in the generalizations).
So when I arrived on Thursday, I had the sinking feeling that perhaps I should have come earlier and gone to all the “Conventions 101” panels that I was so clearly in need of. Because being in a hotel full of 5,000 people who have read more David Brin and John Scalzi than I have intimidates even my arrogant self. The 15 or so options for each time slot, coupled with signings and interviews by more authors than I’ll ever have time to read in my lifetime, but whom I should probably know if I am to be worthy of the title of Geek, as well as the slew of parties and afterparties, make me realize really fast that I really, really don’t know where to start.[Insert panicked flailing here]
Even my neat highlighted schedule and copious maps of the multi-story (and multi-tower) facility don’t help, so to remedy the problem of indecisiveness, I decide to plunge right into the academic programming. Academia is my niche, so to speak – nothing makes me more comfortable than discussing the metaphors and symbolism of science fiction, for example.