I knew very few people so there was always someone new to meet. Coming alone meant I tried to keep busy by attending and seeing everything. At 9am each day, there was a chance to Stroll with the Stars, and I probably met the most new people on those walks as we shuffled through the city. Plus the "Stars" I spoke with were very kind and generous with their time. I also went to the Adler Planetarium, the Writers' Workshop, and a few room parties, but not nearly enough.
If I had to rate myself in terms of small talk with strangers, I'd probably score about average, and this is a skill I'd like to improve upon. I score off-the-charts in worrying about every stupid thing I said after the fact--things which will have been forgotten by the other party two minutes after I've said them. Anyway. If you're reading this, my conversational neuroses probably aren't news.
My sister shared the hotel room with me and went sightseeing while I attended the con. This arrangement worked well. I was able to eat meals with her a couple of times and benefit from her knowledge of wandering the city. She is to thank for my being able to eat deep dish pizza, not once, but twice. Twice means I've done enough research to legitimately compare different restaurants and have a favorite.
All through the con it was really amazing seeing these huge names in science-fiction literature just walking around and being real. Sometimes I attended panels just so I could hear them speak and put a name with a face. I took lots of notes and I'll be digesting all the great information for a long time.
I wish I was capable of listing all of the people I met and awesome panels I saw, but I would miss someone or something and I don't want to do that. So I'll just share a few highlights.
My favorite panel was watching John Scalzi interview NASA astronaut, Story Musgrave. When Musgrave described seeing plasma stream over the orbiter's hull on reentry I couldn't take notes fast enough.
I also enjoyed the Wild Cards panel (featuring George R.R. Martin) because I learned a useful strategy for encouraging artists to work in a shared world. Wild Cards has this neat concept of Consortium Points, in which each author selected for the book receives a point. And if a character you've created is used by another author (with permission) in a published story you receive a point. Points equate to shares of the profits. This system encourages authors to "share their toys" by providing a solid financial incentive. I thought that was brilliant.
Another panel I was so sorry to see end was "The Secret History of Science Fiction" featuring Gardner Dozois, Joe Haldeman, George R. R. Martin, Mike Resnick, and Robert Silverberg. The panelists had the audience cracking up for a full hour and a half. And seriously, look at that lineup! How could it not be a good use of time?
Obviously with five days of programming I am glossing over most of the con, but I think this will give you a taste. And I see that my alarm has just gone off. Time to go out into the world and find a breakfast burrito.