Monday, January 22, 2018

Report on Chattacon 43

Skeletor costume at the Chattacon Vintage Halloween costume display, Jan. 2018

Last weekend I attended Chattacon, a nice little speculative fiction convention here in Chattanooga, TN, USA.  As I've written about before, cons are vital for the community of science fiction/fantasy/horror fandom as a place to meet other fans and let your geek flag fly proudly.

Here are a few highlights from my experience at Chattacon 43.

  • The biggest new thing for me personally is that I volunteered to serve on a few panels (details here).  I was on the list of panelists on the website, too!  I even organized a panel called "Philosophy, Science Fiction, and Fantasy."  It went really well!  I had a great co-panelist, Robby Hilliard.  We discussed issues in epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics in The Matrix, Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, etc.  We had a great conversation, a lot of which turned, with some help from Black Mirror, to issues surrounding technology and how it changes us as people, what Asimov's three laws of robotics might show us about programming self-driving cars, and whether technology changes the human condition (my thought: not really... at least not from an existentialist or Buddhist point of view).  I ended by discussing my favorite part of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy when the computer Deep Thought is about to start contemplating the answer to life, the universe, and everything.  Philosophers show up and demand they shut down the program, because answering that question will put them out of business!  I'm reminded of Bertrand Russell's point in his book Problems of Philosophy that philosophy should be studied for the sake of its questions rather than answers, which we may never know, anyway.  I feel like I made a lot of great connections, handed out some business cards, promoted this blog, and did my part to forward my university's mission for community engagement and my personal interest in public philosophy.  Good times!
  • The biggest new thing for the con was its new location at the Chattanoogan Hotel rather than the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel (yes, there really is a Chattanooga Choo Choo, at least as a tourist attraction).  The new location has nicer rooms.  The Choo Choo conference space is badly in need of renovation, whereas the Chattanoogan is shiny and new.  It turned out to be a pretty nice weekend weather-wise, but it was nice to have the whole con accessible without having to go outside, and it was good to have the con suite closer to everything else.  And the free beer in the con suite was super nice as always!  Which raises the eternal quandary: why don't more cons have free beer?  The downsides were that there was no space for the robot battles or the fire dancing troupe, which were some of my favorite events in previous years.  Also, the con suite was unable to offer any hot food and the set up was a bit odd (the food and beverages were across the hall from the tables).  But while there could be a few improvements next year, I think the move was a good idea overall.
  • In addition to my own panels, I attended a few others on retrofuturism, how much science a science fiction writer should know, weird fiction, religion in science fiction, and storytelling as well as a Star Wars trivia contest. 
  • There was a display of retro Halloween costumes.  I'm pretty sure I wore a few of these as a kid in the 80's!  (see photo above)
  • I talked with a few people I've met at previous Chattacons, including fandom legend "Orange Mike" Lowrey and humorous SF/F writer Dave Schroeder.
  • Volunteering this year put me in a position to get to get to know more people.  I'm socially awkward enough that I have trouble just walking up to people and talking to them without having a specific reason or context for doing so.  But I'm perfectly happy to talk to people if the  social context dictates that I have some reason for talking to them, like being on a panel, giving a talk, or teaching a class.  In those cases, it can be hard to get me to shut up!  (I think this is one thing I like about blogging: you are here for reasons of your own and could stop reading at any time, so I don't feel like I'm imposing on you).  I got to know a few more people this year, especially my fellow panelists: Robby Hilliard, Christopher Woods, Mark Wandrey, Rob Howell, Gregory Nicoll, Stephen Antczak, Rob Sommers, and Scott Baker (you can find out more about all of them on the Chattacon panelists page).
  • So Chattacon 43 was a great experience!  This whole volunteering thing worked out pretty well.  One of my lessons this year is that a good way to get more out of your con is to volunteer, at least if you're a bit awkward like me.

Thanks for reading.  Maybe I'll see you next year at Chattacon 44!

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