Chicon 7’s Opening Ceremonies on Thursday afternoon began with a four-piece guitar band silhouetted against a lavender-lit backdrop. Then bright spots illuminated the stage, set with a desk and black sofas in talk-show format. The band cranked up and its leader belted out a raucous Chicon lyric. At the end John Scalzi emerged from the wings to play our genial host, the drum machine player matching his triumphant jabs with what Scalzi called “punchy sounds.”
Scalzi preened over his stylish new jacket — “Paul Ryan casual” he said, then promised that would be his last political joke, and it was. He tied his monologue together with references to his being a Worldcon newbie, his first having been in 2003, which worked surprisingly well when you consider he’s in his second term as SFWA president and often writes online as a kind of voice of elder wisdom.
Erle Korshak was the first to be interviewed once Scalzi moved behind the desk. Korshak co-chaired the original Chicon in 1940 and he paid tribute to its other leaders, his co-chair Mark Reinsberg and the treasurer Wilson Tucker. Asked how many people came to that con Korshak said 129, and Scalzi gestured to the front of the Grand Ballroom, “About the first two rows here.” Yes, we’ve grown.
Mike Resnick, author GoH, followed Korshak. He squinted up at the lights and told about his time on that stage in 1991 presiding over the masquerade, unable to read his notes or see directions through the glare. The stage manager was reduced to giving him signals by rubbing his leg. Scalzi reached over and stroked Mike’s leg in a dramatic interpretation which, if captured on video, will doubtless be up for a Hugo next year. The pair also plugged Resnick’s story collection Win Some, Lose Some, released by the fannish ISFiC Press for sale at the con.
Rowena Morrill’s sister, Kathy, aquainted us with the artist GoH, who was missing the con to recover from health problems. She delved into family memories about Rowena as the creative instigator of family plays, and shared that her sister actually was preparing to be a classical pianist before she took an art class and discovered something that fired her interests even more.
Artist Agent GoH Jane Frank told how she and her husband carried out the vision of creating a Victoran room in their modern house and filled it with specially commissioned art showing their favorite elements from the stories of H. Rider Haggard.
Scalzi introduced Fan GoH Peggy Rae Pavlat with copious praise for her work coordinating the two most recent Nebula Weekends. She closed with the story of how her father, Jack McKnight, made the first Hugo Awards on a machine at home after a whole series of other plans came to nought, missing most of the 1953 Worldcon to do so, and ever after referring to them as “those goddamned Hugo Awards.”
Former NASA flight controller Sy Liebergot, a special guest, was introduced as the man who didn’t go to the Moon but made sure others did. He rhetorically answered one interview prompt, “How did we do it? We had a bunch of smart guys who could think straight. We don’t have that now.” There was applause, though Scalzi’s expression matched the sourness of the remark.
Hugo base designer Deb Kosiba instituted what I hope will be the new tradition, unveiling the base on the first day rather than waiting until the Hugo reception. She described her effort as drawing upon the local traditions of architects Louis Sullivan and Mies van der Rohe, and artist Pablo Picasso.
Chicon 7 chair Dave McCarty bantered with Scalzi, bringing the ceremonies to a close. He praised his leadership team, the Flying Monkees, and the 500 people on staff. And he reminded us that astronaut Story Musgrave, another GoH, would be with us on Saturday and Sunday.
Scalzi had a great handle on the event. That comes as no surprise but it particularly interested me to see him gage his approach to get the best from each person, in contrast to many actual TV hosts who force guests to play off them. He joked at the beginning about a part being “all about me” in the spirit of such host, then, in fact turned in a deft and inclusive performance.