Chicon 8


On Thursday, Sept. 1, Mia McDavid and I drove to Chicago for Chicon 8: The 80th World Science Fiction Convention at the Hyatt Regency Chicago . This was our 5th Chicon. Previously we had attended:

Despite some glitches, we really enjoyed the Con, and visiting downtown Chicago again.

The drive from Minnesota was not bad, except for the last 10 miles or so, when we were in Chicago rush hour traffic. We arrived about 7. We managed to get a room on the 3rd floor of the East Tower. The view out the window was uninteresting, but we could take stairs to and from the Convention spaces on the lower floors. We did not need to use the elevators, except when going to the evening parties on the very top floors. Hotel parking was very expensive because we were in the heart of downtown Chicago

Convention registration was closed, but we followed time-honored tradition and went to Convention Operations to register. To my surprise they were not ready for this, but they understood their responsibilites and arranged to give up temporary badges for the evening. We could get our official badges at registration the next morning.

We were not very hungry, so we got beers and a snack at the bar. Not bad, but overpriced and the services was slow. Later in the evening we went to the thank-you party given by the Dublin 2019 Worldcon. We had a great time at that con when we were there,


Our first activity in the morning was to formally register. The con had strict Covid policies. Proof of vaccination was required to register. Masks had to be worn in all convention spaces except when actively eating or drinking.

The con did not have a printed pocket program. Instead there was an on-line program accessible by any device with a web browser, including any smartphone. Not a bad concept, but the attending membership of 3500+ overloaded the servers and the the program took forever to load. I made notes when I could get it to work and also consulted the posted program grids when I found them.

The Dealers’ room was full of books. There were lots of small press and self-published works. I saw this sign at a friend’s table:
Banned in Florida

Of course, I had to buy this book:
Killing Glenn

I stepped out of the hotel in the morning and immediately felt at home. Before moving to Minnesota Mia and I had worked for more than 20 years in downtown Chicago. It is dirtier and grungier than the downtowns of Minneapolis (where I worked for 18 years) or St. Paul (which we often visit, but it feels much more alive. Chicago is of course much bigger, so there may be an issue of critical mass.

Somewhere around the con I saw a T-shirt with a variation on a well known quote from Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones: “I drink because I know things.”

Mia and I had a nice and relatively cheap lunch at Nandos, which was completely new to me. Mia knew about it because the chain appears in some novels she has been reading. Highly satisfactory. Hope they come to Minnesota soon.

Facebook reminded me that this was tbe anniversary of J.R.R. Tolkien’s death. I was at Torcon 2, the 1973 Worldcon, when this happened. Lester Del Rey announced this to the con.

Some program notes follow.

Mining Our Biblical Matriarchs

Sally Wiener Grotta

The women of the Bible (Eve, Esther, Miriam, etc.) have been amongst the West’s most enduring female archetypes. As lush and varied as any mythology, their stories have been reinterpreted by every generation’s artists, clerics, and political leaders, according to how they expected women to be. However, these archetypes have been largely overlooked by modern spec fic authors. In this workshop, we’ll have fun challenging and toppling common preconceptions about various women of the Bible, as we mine this rich mother lode for SF&F story ideas.

This item is limited to 18 participants. To sign up for this workshop, visit All sign ups are available starting Wednesday, August 31st at Noon central, and you will be notified at least 12 hours before the workshop time if you were chosen for a spot. More details available at

I had not signed up in advance, but they let me in anyway. It was fascinating, especially the part about Lilith.

In the evening we went to a play by Moebius Theatre. We have followed them for decades and have friends in the group. This time they were doing plays based on SF from the 1950s

Chicago’s own Moebius Theatre presents two new plays, one based on “De Profundis,” by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore, and the other on “Help! I Am Doctor Morris Goldpepper,” by Avram Davidson.

Science in Science Fiction Shows: The Good, The Bad, and the Amusing

Catherine Asaro

We don’t really expect the science in science fiction to be right—do we? Although the limits math and physics place on us aren’t often a priority in our popular media, some shows incorporate them better than others. In this talk, physicist Catherine Asaro discusses science ideas in TV and movies. Could the Death Star really blow up a planet? Is one of Wonder Woman’s superpowers an ability to violate physics? What about all those tribbles? Asaro will also cover general SF tropes, like the math that makes FTL travel so irksomely impossible—or is it?

We arrived late, but were in time for her discussion of why FTL travel is impossible because of Special Relativity. She has her own purely fictional way of getting around this by treating speed has a complex number. See Complex speeds and special relativity.

She also discussed exponential population growth, based on “The Trouble with Tribbles.” The population growth numbers in the Star Trek episode are accurate.


I wore my The Stars our Destination T-shirt. It was recognized and appreciated by some local fans who remembered the store.
T-shirt from The Stars Our Destination

Really Weird Science: An Intro to Real Quantum Computing

Kevin Roche

The hype around quantum computing makes it hard to tell what is real and what is marketing. Kevin will try to dispel those clouds of uncertainty, starting with an introduction to the weird science that enables this new technology, and demonstrating how you can try out real quantum computers yourself (for free!) on the IBM Quantum Labs website. This presentation is intended for an interested audience with any level of technical background (no fancy mathematics required!)

Here are some links

Alternate Histories in Interesting Times—Sidewise Awards Presentation

K.G. Anderson
Mary Robinette Kowal
Matt Mitrovich
Steven H Silver (moderator)

Between pandemics, political turmoil, and other crises, it could be suggested that more history than normal has occurred in the past two years. How does the recent past look to alternate history buffs and what sorts of stories might we imagine coming out of this time of turbulent change? Join our panels as they discuss how Alternate History helps them grapple with living in interesting times. This panel will also include the presentation of the annual Sidewise Awards for Alternate History.

See Uchronia

Exploring Titan

Geoffrey A. Landis

Saturn’s moon Titan is the only moon with a substantial atmosphere and the only place in the solar system, other than Earth, with exposed bodies of liquid on its surface. But its temperature is 180 degrees below zero, its lakes are made of hydrocarbons, and its atmosphere is a thick orange smog of organic particles called “tholins.” Can we explore Titan? This talk will look at some advanced exploration concepts we have been studying for future missions to explore the seas of Titan and bring a sample of this fascinating world back to the Earth.

We met some old friends for Saturday dinner at Stetson’s. the Hotel Restaurant. Good company. Overpriced food. Slow service. noisy


Introduction to Typesetting Manuscripts in LaTeX

Nathan W. Toronto (moderator)

Are you a self-published author frustrated with the look and feel of your manuscripts? Learn how to code in LaTeX and take your manuscripts to the next level.

To fully participate attendees should download a copy of TeXworks from

Reference material can be found at:

This item is limited to 18 participants. To sign up for this workshop, visit All sign ups are available starting Wednesday, August 31st at Noon central, and you will be notified at least 12 hours before the workshop time if you were chosen for a spot. More details available at

Again, I had not preregistered, but since only six people showed up that was not a problem. LaTex is commonly associated with mathematical work, but is also very powerful for general typesetting, including science fiction books. You just need to do without WYSIWYG.

A Brief History of Astronomical Devices

E. C. Ambrose

Whether for agricultural, ceremonial, or navigational purposes, the stars have been our constant companion through thousands of years of human development. So too have people around the globe created increasingly sophisticated ways to observe, track and predict celestial movement. From megalithic stone alignments to armillary spheres, and from Central Africa to Central America, join a whirlwind tour through time and space to introduce some of the myriad ways that humans watched the heavens prior to the invention of the telescope.

Big Rocket Economics

Geoffrey A. Landis
Gideon Marcus
Henry Spencer
Jim Plaxco (moderator)

There’s an argument that bigger rockets are more cost-effective. Where it now costs about $3000 for a Proton M or a Falcon 9 to lift a kilogram of cargo into low-Earth orbit, there are hopes that the fully-resusable Starship rocket will get costs down to $10 per kilogram. As the Starship era nears, how will we respond? Our panelists will consider how big rockets may affect the timing and cost of asteroid mining, space manufacturing, space tourism, and space colonization.

Maybe. Small economical rockets are a prerequisite to big economical rockets. We are not there yet.

Synthetic Biology and “Biohacking”

Derek Kunsken
Laura Herzing
Ronald Taylor (moderator)

Synthetic biology aims to create organisms tuned to a specific goal, whether it’s glow in the dark flowers, cells that produce rare drugs, or architectural organisms to serve as living homes. From do-it-yourself biohackers to professional biologists, people are already bringing synthetic biology to life. The panel will discuss technologies that are available now, the problems synthetic biology could solve, and its possible dangers and ethical pitfalls

After Saturday’s night’s dinner experience we decided to leave the hotel for dinner. We tried to get into a couple restaurants, but the lines were hopeless. Downtown Chicago was really hopping on Sunday night of the holiday weekend. We ended up at O’Callaghan’s pub. It was noisy, but there were only the two of us. The beer was good, the food was OK, and the prices were reasonable. In fact, the kitchen messed up our order and a very apologetic waitress comped us because we had to wait for a dish. She got a good tip. We really enjoyed being out in downtown Chicago. Much more fun than the hotel restaurant.

On our way back to the hotel I tripped and fell crossing Wacker Drive at Michigan Avenue. Mia and a couple very kind strangers helped me up. I got a cut near my left eye but nothing was broken or lost. Running in sandals without heel straps is a bad idea.

Monday and Tuesday

We skipped most of the Con Monday. We got the car and drove north on Lake Shore Drive. We passed the place

where we were rear-ended in 1987 with a great loss of Thai food. Then up Ridge and Green Bay Road through Rogers Park and Evanston, where we lived fron 1977 until 1998. Very nostalgic. It was good to see that Hecky’s Barbecue is still aroung. Our destination was the Chicago Botanic Gardenthe Botanic Gardens, which we frequently visited when our sons James and Tom were young. We had a nice walk there.

We went back downtown and consider where to have dinner. A lot of restaurants still follow the old custom of being closed on Mondays, but Su Casa was open, and we had a nice dinner there. Back at the hotel there was on final Convention event taking place, a filk sing. Mia had a good time there. I stopped by briefly, but spent most of the time in our room catching up on the homework for my Irish language class.

We drove home on Tuesday. Leaving Chicago mid-morning meant we had no traffic issues in the City and the rest of our drive was uneventful. I like uneventful drives.

1 thought on “Chicon 8

  1. Pingback: Mining Our Biblical Matriarchs | From Hilbert Space to Dilbert Space, and beyond

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