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Harry Harrison Goes To Chicon 2000

Harry's full report as excerpted in Ansible:

Still operating on British time Joan and I went down for breakfast at the crack of dawn the first day. Fanac (proac?) began when Bob Silverberg joined us. A few minutes later Terry Pratchett did as well. I was going to tell them what a great flight we had in animal class in a 777, but Terry described the joys of BA first class – just him and one other passenger. When Bob described buying opals by the handful in Australia. I realized I was outclassed and remained silent.

I was at guest registration when it opened and I queued with the fans – no perks for pros in America! – and when I got all the con bumf for four of us, our son Todd and wife Mercy as well, I could barely lift it. The 'pocket' program book alone was two inches thick and impaled on a shower hook. Joan, wise to the ways of cons, went shopping that day. Since the opening ceremony wasn't until 3 PM I sought out the SFWA suite. I met a chubby guy with a bald head and a stick who resembled the Gene Wolfe whom I knew a scant twenty years ago. The resemblance was more than accidental. He reminded me that he was a neowriter then and that I had bought his almost-first story 'The Horars of War'. The years weighed heavily – particularly since, at breakfast, Bob had called me The Grand Old Man of SF while he and Terry nodded gravely. Sighs all around.

Ran into Dave Brin later, all tanned and Californian, who said that he had brought his spawn with him. We never did meet up again, which was rather a pity since I would like to have seen if they had tails.

Ran into Ben Bova in the hall and that was it. He was GoH and on stage 90% of the con and I never saw him again.

Got to the opening ceremony a half an hour late. Room jammed and the program hadn't started yet. Got the message and went to the bar where I had a drink with Gay and Joe Haldeman to our mutual pleasure. Joined by Charlie Brown of Locus, Harry Stubbs (Hal Clement) and Greg Benford and there was a lot of interesting talk, let me tell you.

This is also a good time to tell you that I go to cons to meet friends – and attend those parts of the program where I am speaking. If this offends – stop reading and complain to Ansible. Of course I do go to parties which, after all, what a con is about. And I talk to fen who talk to me. But my main pleasure is meeting my peer group; writers whom I have known for years. We talk shop and it is wonderful.

Went to the Tor party and didn't know a soul there. Someone invited me the Baen party but I forgot to write the room number down. I did get to the Des Moines party since I will be GoH at the DemiCon there next May. For some arcane reason the hosts were all dressed in Roman costume. Which did not stop me from drinking a good deal of microbrewery beer they had brought with them. Fatigue struck and so to bed.

Next morning Todd and I were off the science museum and were joined on the trip by Tom Shippey and super Swedefan Urban Gunnarson. A boystoyz venture since we wanted to visit the German U boat that the Americans had captured during the war. The museum had dragged it up on shore and cut holes in the stern and bow. Walking through it, hunched over and goggle-eyed, promotes instant claustrophobia. While being told that they had only a 30% chance of survival and could not flush the toilets while at sea. One sub that tried this sank itself. At the end of a cruise they had plenty of pots of poo let me tell you. Cheered by the allied victory over such shitty sailors we hurried back to the con for my panel on Prehistoric Alternate Fiction. I was impressed by the stupidity of the topic – once you have covered cavemen and dinosaurs what else do you talk about? I, and the three other panelists, all had gray beards which may mean something. I lost the note with their names; sorry Langford. When the pace of conversation almost congealed completely I told all assembled David Attenborough's Dinosaur Footprint story. This was greeted with gales of laughter and a round of applause from the audience. (If you haven't heard the story tell Ansible who may feature it. [Oh all right. Click here.])

Next day I did a more interesting panel on Historical Alternate History which was sure a lot more fun. With three other authors, one of them clean-shaven, names lost of course, and a lady editor named [Teresa Nielsen] Hayden. Lots of feedback from the audience and a fierce exchange with a military historian who differed with my statement that the Germans could not have lost the opening stages of World War 2 to the French and English. (Not to mention the Polish Cavalry.)

I am happy to report that we did enjoy the Hugo awards and the Costume Ball. From the alcoholic comfort of our air-conditioned room (90 degrees outside), courtesy of in-house TV. Went out after the Hugos for some air and to watch the most impressive fireworks. Met Harry Turtledove, in tuxedo and accompanied by female family, and remembering that he was toastmaster I asked him if the good guys had won. He scowled and gave a secretive thumbs-down gesture. I thought he was condemning all the rewards as nonsense – until I remembered that he had been shortlisted for a prize.

Next day I met Dave Kyle in the huckster room who bulged his eyes at me and kept saying 'Oh my God!'. Either I looked at death's door – or in the pink – after my open heart surgery. But when I asked him which it was he gasped and said 'Oh my God!' Life is full of little mysteries.

What else? Went to dinner with a DelRey editor (lost his name) and Fred Pohl and our wives. I ate a $45 steak. (Courtesy of publisher, not Fred.) For those who care Fred has quit smoking after about 70 years of puffing away at it and, as you can well imagine, this did not improve his humor.

Giving in to a wave of faanac nostalgia I went to the closing ceremony which consisted of fen giving each other Chicon pint mugs and no pros there at all. I left before the curtain, and the last mug, had dropped.

Conclusion. A nice con. Got good vibes from lots of fen. Signed at least 3,000 autographs. Fat Fandom is even more gross than ever as they expand at an unbelievable, probably exponential, rate. Portions of American restaurant food are so large that a minced steak I had for dinner would have fed a family of six Brits and have some left some over for the dog. Met a lot of old friends and made some new ones. The con had a great art show and a hundred enjoyable huckster tables. I drank enough, ate too much, walked about and saw a bit of Chicago, first time in a number of years.

How to sum it up – particularly from a fan point of view? Well it was big – over 5,000 someone told me. All of the activity was divided between two hotels and there was a continual lemming-like movement in the hallways, escalators, and in the lifts. In the evening the rush up to the room parties was so brisk that the queue, line, stretched across the lobby and hotel guards counted as each car was filled. There was an immense amount of programming and from what I saw every programming room one was full. Mistakes were made, inevitable with a con this size. On the Thursday night before the opening there was a guests-meet-the fans party which was a scrum disaster. The hall was too small; no one met anyone. I sat at a table next to Jack Chalker and signed books steadily for an hour and half before fatigue drove me away. I never talked to a soul there.

And then there is the price. A Britfan would have to pay around £400 roundtrip to Chicago since it was still the US high season. Rooms, including tax, were £85 a night. (Down from the regular price of £200!) Membership around £100 depending when you registered. So if you stayed the 5 days for the con you are talking about £925 not allowing for food and drink. A sobering thought.

Sorry if this report is low on fanac – but that was not why I went. A matter of different priorities I think.

If you are not happy – then blame Dave for accepting my offer of a report.

You can't win them all.