My Finncon Schedule

It is almost July, and that means I will be heading to Finland for Finncon. This year the convention is being held in Jyväskylä, home of my dear friend, Irma Hirsjärvi. I will be on programme. The convention website is here, but to read it all you will need to know a bit of Finnish. In the main menu: Ohjelma = Programme. In that menu: Perjantai = Friday; Lauantai = Saturday; and Sunnuntai = Sunday. The programme grids for each day describe the English-language items in English. My assignments are:

Friday 5th: 15:00
On Writing, in which I interview Guest of Honour, Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher) about her writing practice.

Saturday 6th: 14:00
Wales in the Time of Arthur, in which I talk about Welsh history in the 5th and 6th centuries, CE.

Saturday 6th: 17:00
Masquerade – Ursula and I will be among the judges

Sunday 7th: 10:00
Queer Fantasies, in which a panel of queer-identified folks talk about their favourite fantasy books with queer elements.

Following the convention, I will be attending Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale at the University of Helsinki. And because my life is a bit mad, on Saturday 13th I will dialing in to the Marginalised Writers’ Day at Abertystwyth University, from the Finnair Lounge at Helsinki airport.

Talking of that day, my pals at Inclusive Journalism Cymru now have a blog post up about it. Two of my colleagues will be attending in person and reporting on social media: one in English and one in Welsh.


We have an election happening in the UK. In the past such things have often been of little interest to me. The town where I grew up, and the town where I lived until recently, were both in constituencies where the the Tories could have put up a corpse and still got over 50% of the vote. Ah well, at least I wasn’t in the Bath & North East Somerset constituency, where they did put up a corpse who kept getting elected. However, Rees-Mogg is one of many Tories too chicken the contest the election this time because he knows he’ll lose. That’s not the case for Trowbridge, where the incumbent Tory is still confident of winning.

These days, things are very different. To start with, my local constituency is known to be a hot bed of Plaid Cymru supporters. Secondly, it is one of the constituencies that the Tories gerrymandered. They have stuck us in with Carmarthen which has traditionally been solidly Tory. And with Labour on the rise across the country, people were initially predicting a three-way fight.

Earlier this week some friends and I headed into Carmarthen to see a hustings. It was being held at SERO, a community environment centre, and was therefore likely to attract a more progressive audience. Of the 8 candidates, only 4 turned up. The far-right (Reform) and far-left (Workers Party) candidates did not respond to the invitation to participate. The Green, very sadly, was sick and unable to attend. There was a place set for the Tory, but he didn’t show. It looks like he has given up. So maybe it is only a two-way race.

Ours is one of the few seats in the country to have a Women’s Equality Party candidate. I suspect that is because the incumbent for my town’s old seat was kicked out of Plaid when he was arrested for beating his wife, though he kept his seat in Parliament. However, he decided not to run, which left my new pal, Nancy Cole, with much less to do. It was her first time as a candidate, and with the election having been called in a rush she had no time to get any training. In view of that, she did very well, but I don’t expect her to retain her deposit. On the plus side, both the Labour and Plaid candidates supported most of her positions. Getting other parties to support their policies is one of main purposes of WEP.

The LibDem candidate, Nick Beckett, was the only man among the four candidates. He’s a local councillor, clearly an experienced politician, and he spoke very well. Sadly he has no chance.

The Labour candidate, Martha O’Neil, is very personable. She was born here, speaks good Welsh, and clearly knows the area despite now being part of the Westminster set. She’s young, very smart (won a scholarship to Cambridge), has worked for an animal rights charity, and knows a lot about IT (a skill sadly lacking in Westminster). She could win.

That leaves Plaid Cymru. Their candidate, Ann Davies, is also an experienced local councillor. She owns a small farm near Carmarthen. What I’d seen of her campaign before the hustings was all about being anti building new transmission links to connect renewable generation to the grid. Farmers have a reputation of being very conservative around here, so I was a bit worried.

Thankfully Ann was very different in person. She, along with Nick and Martha, had clearly researched options for getting more renewables online without building pylons through local beauty spots. She was well aware of the culpability of farmers in polluting rivers, and knew something had to be done. Despite being quite a bit older than Martha, she was equally vociferous in supporting the women’s rights issues raised by Nancy. Being a Plaid candidate, she was able to talk about advocating for Wales, whereas Martha, if elected, would be subject to the whims of the very English Labour establishment. And she was the only candidate to mention LGBTQ+ rights, unprompted at that.

To date no one has come to my door canvassing. I’ve had one leaflet from Labour and two from Plaid. The Tories sent a questionnaire asking about my political views, which seemed to be aimed at getting a list of people to be sent to internment camps should they actually win.

Given that it seems that kicking out the Tory is not going to be an issue here, we are more free to vote our conscience. Some of my friends will vote Green regardless. Personally I’d like to vote for Nancy, but I’m also very invested in the Plaid Cymru v Labour contest, because the thought of a government led by Kier Starmer with a massive majority fills me with terror.

Most people in the UK will be better off under Labour. There’s little doubt about that. A few groups of people will not be. That includes trans people. Starmer has been very clear that he supports all of the anti-trans policies put forward by the Tories. In his view, trans women are not women, even if they have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), and he has promised to ensure that people like me are kept out of “women only spaces”. That means hospital wards, changing rooms, toilets, rape crisis centres and so on.

The hospital thing is interesting because NHS Wales is a separate organisation from NHS England. But this is probably one of the points where we will discover that Starmer does not believe in devolution. I’ll just have to hope that I don’t need a hospital stay any time soon.

Toilets and changing rooms are a different matter. There’s a case before the UK Supreme Court at the moment that will probably end up with a ruling that it is legal to exclude trans women from “women only spaces”, even if they have a GRC. That won’t be enough for the transphobes. What they want, and what Starmer seems prepared to give them, is to change the law so that it is a crime to allow a trans woman to use a “woman only space”.

This will put the onus on service providers–hotels, pubs, gyms, shops and so on–to enforce the law. They will end up getting lots of false positives, causing endless trouble for cis women who are not sufficiently feminine-looking. But they will, very reasonably, claim that the Gender Recognition Act is an obstacle to their upholding the law. I have government ID (passport and driving licence) that say very clearly that I am female. The government would have to demand that I surrender those so that I can’t use them to pee illegally. As I have no desire to have government ID that outs me as trans to anyone I have to show it to, that would be a major inconvenience.

As far as other constituencies go, I would still advocate voting Labour if the only alternative is the Tories. I’d probably be voting Labour if I was still in Trowbridge. But if, like me, you have the option to get rid of a Tory without giving the seat to Labour (or Reform), I hope you will do so. The country needs an opposition.

Friends in Bristol, please vote for Carla, she’s great.

Aberystwyth Does Marginalised Writers

My friend Jo Lambert, who is a Creative Writing student at Aberystwyth, is co-hosting a day-long hybrid event for Marginalised Writers at the University of Aberystwyth on July 13th. As a trans writer/publisher, I have been invited to be on a panel. As it turns out, I’ll be on my way back from Finland at the time, but I’m hoping to be able to log in from the Finnair lounge at Helsinki Airport.

The event is aimed at marginalised people of sorts. If you are a person of colour, disabled, elderly, queer, living with mental illness, on a very low income or any other form of marginalisation, this day is for you. While Jo is primarily a novelist, writers of non-fiction are welcome, and indeed the event is being supported by my friends at Inclusive Journalism Cymru. Attendance is free, and you can attend online (though you’ll miss out on lovely Aberystwyth and the free food if you do). Tickets available here.

I hope to see some of you there.

Legal Shenanagins

One of the things that has protected trans rights in the UK over the past couple of years is that the Tories are too busy, and too cowardly, to actually repeal the Gender Recognition Act, even though many of their MPs very much want to get that done. The anti-trans lobby is unhappy about this, and is therefore taking matters into its own hands by taking legal action. Very soon, their case will reach the Supreme Court. Should they win, the consequences for trans people in the UK (and equality law more generally) will be catastrophic.

The Gender Recognition Act says, unambiguously:

Where a full gender recognition certificate is issued to a person, the person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender (so that, if the acquired gender is the male gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a man and, if it is the female gender, the person’s sex becomes that of a woman).

However, as I understand it, the argument that will be put before the Supreme Court is that allowing a trans woman to be treated as a woman is, de facto, discrimination against cisgender women, and therefore illegal under the Equality Act. As the Equality Act is a more recent piece of legislation, its provisions should supercede those of the GRA.

Hopefully it is obvious that, should this claim succeed, it will open the doors to equivalent claims such as, “letting Black people into my whites-only pub is discrimination against white people,” and “building a wheelchair ramp is discrimination against able-bodied people.” Thankfully such claims are less likely to pass the Supreme Court.

But the chances of this getting through are very high. And if it does, not only will the GRA be rendered useless, it will create a climate of fear in businesses all around the country. Because it will be possible for a business (or school, local authority, etc.) to be sued for discrimination if they inadvertently allow a trans woman to be treated as a woman. This will lead to a lot of proactive bans being issued at places like public toilets, gyms, clothing stores and so on. Most of the people caught by this will be gender-nonconforming cisgender women, because despite what the anti-trans lobby claims, they can’t always tell, and neither can anyone else.

I say the chances of it getting through are high, because at the moment no trans people or allies will be allowed to give evidence. The anti-trans lobby is being bankrolled by She Who Must Not Be Named (to the tune of £70,000). In contrast, a crowdfunder by The Good Law Project to allow them to intervene in the case stands at just over £10,000. Britain’s only senior trans judge has asked for leave to intervene on the case, but that request may be denied.

My guess is that both Sunak and Starmer will be having messages sent to the Supreme Court judges encouraging them to find in favour of the case, because both main political parties would be delighted if the GRA could be made to vanish without them having to do anything. And of course the judges know that they will be pilloried in the media if they don’t find in favour of the case.

It would not surprise me if, by the end of this year, the UK had become one of the most transphobic countries in the world (rather than just one with the most transphobic media in the world).

Introducing Tir y Dail

Ah, the Spring Equinox (in the Northern Hemisphere, at any rate). It is a time of new beginnings, and so perhaps a time to talk about new things. Things, at any rate, that have been gestating over the winter.

When I lived in Wiltshire, I knew hardly anyone else who lived near me (which was probably just as well, given how very patriotically English and Tory most people there were). Most of my friends were in Bath or Bristol, so I could visit them, but not hang out for any great amount of time.

Here in South Wales I have several good friends who live locally, and who have many of the same interests as me. Those interests include role-playing; something I have not been able to do seriously for around three decades due to lack of a suitable local group (not to mention lack of time).

At the same time I have read Nicola Griffith’s Spear, and am keenly aware that the place where I live was once the home of the great boar, Twrch Trwyth. This area is as steeped in Arthuriana as the area around Glastonbury where I grew up.

Now it so happens that one of my favourite role-playing game systems is Chaosium’s Pendragon. I ran a campaign many years ago. But Pendragon is very much based on Malory and Le Morte d’Arthur. It is a high mediaeval and English version of the Arthur cycle. Would it be possible, I wondered, to do something more Welsh? Something that was rooted instead in The Mabinogion?

Well, never fear. I did, after all, grow up on Original D&D (the white box version). As a consequence, I never met a role-playing system that I didn’t want to customize. I could do this.

Out of such thoughts grew Tir y Dail, a role-playing campaign set (at least initially) in South Wales, and using a variant of the Pendragon rules to create a distinctly Welsh feel to the game. Specifically the campaign begins in Ystrad Tywi, the same location in which we find ourselves at the start of Spear. But Tir y Dail is not the stylized, mythical land of Griffith’s story. It is something much more similar to the world of Hild and Menewood. Whereas in Spear, Ystrad Tywi is a wild land occupied only by a few peasants and bandits, in Tir y Dail it is a bustling post-Roman culture just beginning to learn to live with the absence of colonial rule.

The most obvious sign of Roman presence is the still-busy port town of Moridunum (Carmarthen), the most westerly outpost of the Roman Empire. From here, local goods can be traded for wine and pottery from the continent. There are two sizeable villas in the region, one south-west of the city, and one north-east. Hill forts are everywhere. Tir y Dail (The Land of Leaves) is the name of the local settlement here in Ammanford, but there are many others dotted about the region. To the north, keeping watch over the Tywi, are the impressive Dinefwr Castle and the stately home that stands in its shadow. Those are more modern constructions, but in the 5th Century the hill on which they stand still boasted a Roman fort, guarding the road west to Moridunum.

I’m telling you all this now for a number of reasons. I am NOT planning to keep a campaign diary. However, I do want to talk about the worldbuilding, and the historical research that went into it. Some of that I will only be able to drop once the players have moved past the events in question. Also I see from BlueSky that my good friend Hal Duncan is working on something similar but based in Scotland (and presumably fiction). I hope people will find the contrast illuminating.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with doing Arthurian stories set in Scotland. We should remember that, before the Romans came, “Wales” – the country of Prydain, inhabited by the Cymry – covered the entire island, at least to the edge of the Highlands. (I’ll talk about the problem of the Picts in a later post.) Glasgow is a Cymric city. The name, Glas Cae, means “blue field”, and is indicative of especially good grazing.

In the time of Tir y Dail, the Ystrad Clut (the valley of the Clyde) is ruled over by the Damnonii tribe whose capital was the imposing fortress of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock). It stayed that way until around 870 when Ivar the Boneless and his Viking buddies finally managed to sack the place. The Damnonii then moved their capital to Glasgow – specifically to the area called Govan which is just over the river from the Event Campus where Worldcon will be held. They also fell under the influence of their Gaelic-speaking neighbours, the Scotii of Dál Riada. The new kingdom, known as Strathclyde, remained independent until just after the Norman invasion of England, at which point they joined the kingdom of Alba (possibly because they were conquered by MacBeth).

But I digress. There’s a huge amount of Welsh history that I want to talk about. The Irish will be in on it as well (though mostly as villains to begin with). I’ll stop for now, but there will be more.

LuxCon, For Real This Year

Last year I was invited to be a Guest of Honour at LuxCon. It was the weekend after Eastercon which, if you remember, was a massive superspreader event for COVID. So I ended up being sick and unable to go to Luxembourg. The con committee were very understanding, and have kindly invited me back this year.

I think I will be able to make it. When I was first invited the date I was given was the weekend after Easter again. Since then it has been moved two weeks later. So I am now going there direct from an Assyriology conference in Malta. However, I’m confident that my Assyriologist friends will be rather more careful than Eastercon attendees. My main worry is having to go through Heathrow.

Assuming I do get there, it looks like being a fabulous event. I’ve been offered some fun panels. It looks like they have an excellent cosplay culture. And there is talk of a live role-playing game featuring the guests.

I’m particularly impressed with the number of guests from around Europe they have (full list here). Given that everyone in Luxembourg seems to speak at least 3 languages, I guess I should not be surprised.

I will report back in the April issue of Salon Futura.

Brian Stableford

As I have probably said before, I am useless at obituaries. When I need to write one, one coping mechanism is to wait and see what others have said. But I can’t put this off any longer.

Most of the obituaries of Brian Stableford focus on his significant output of science fiction and fantasy novels. I only got to know him at the tail end of his career, but in that time he produced some amazing work. See this review on Emerald City for an example of what he was up to around the turn of the millennium.

Some people have also focused on debt that they owe Brian as a person. Kim Newman commented on social media that Brian’s SF vampire novel, Empire of Fear, was very important to him. Farah Mendlesohn, writing on the BSFA website, had a more personal connection. And I have one too. Brian was very kind to me when I was going back and for the California on a regular basis, putting me up for the night at his home in Reading to save me a hotel night at Heathrow. On one memorable visit I was up half the night because I could not stop reading an amazing new book called Perdido Street Station.

But the thing I really wanted to mention was alluded to briefly in the Locus obituary. They say that Brian produced, “translations of hundreds of French works”. Yes, hundreds. Let that sink in. Here you can find the eligibility list for the final year of the SF&F Translation Awards. There are over 40 novels by Brian on it, and a whole lot of short stories too. Most people would be hard pressed to read 40 novels in a year. Brian could translate as many in that time. And, I happen to know, when his eyesight was failing.

We will not see his like again.

February Salon Futura

Issue #58 of Salon Futura went online last week, just squeaking into February thanks to the leap day. In it you can find the following:

Book reviews

Media reviews:

And finally, Chengdu Revisited, in which I have things to say about the future of WSFS than fandom probably doesn’t want to hear.

We Have a Crawford Winner

The results of this year’s Crawford Award for a first fantasy book were announced yesterday. They are:

Winner: Vajra Chandrasekra, The Saint of Bright Doors (Tor)

Honourable Mentions:

  • Juhani Karila, Summer Fishing in Lapland (Pushkin)
  • Emma Torzs, Ink Sister Blood Scribe (William Morrow)
  • Wole Talabi, Shigidi and The Brass Head of Obalufon (Daw/Gollancz)
  • B Pladek, Dry Land (University of Wisconsin Press)

All of these books are well worth a look.

In the past the Crawford has worked on an “advisory group” system which meant less work and the freedom to comment on the books. This year it moved to a formal jury, so sadly I am unable to review any of the above. I will be stepping back from the jury for future years as I don’t have the time to read a whole lot of books I can’t review.

Testing, testing…

It appears to be necessary to wean my sites off Jetpack, and eventually all Automattic products. I don’t have the time to investigate Ghost right now, but I am working on reducing the Jetpack features that I use. Having closed my Tumblr account, and with Farcebook and Xitter no longer allowing remote posting, the only thing I was using the Social module for was Mastodon. As of today. I’ve stopped doing that and have installed the ActivityPub plugin instead. Hence a testing post.

Now if only it was possible to stop using Microsoft products as well… Yes, yes, I know, but I still have to work, and clients expect me to use Microsoft.

Update: Well that’s annoying. Apparently ActivityPub doesn’t play well with W3 Total Cache. So for now I’ll have to manually cross-post to Mastodon as I’ve been doing to BlueSky. Not that I blog that often here these days, so it is not much of a pain.

Public Statement re the Hugos

As questions have been raised on File770 regarding my involvement in the Chengdu Hugo Award disaster, I am making a public statement.

1. I was not a member of the committee of the Chengdu Worldcon, and was not involved with the convention other than as an ordinary member of WSFS who did not attend the event.

2. I was not involved in any way with the Administration of the Hugo Awards for Chengdu.

3. As a member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee it was my duty to ensure that the results of the Hugo Award voting process were posted to the official website promptly and accurately, as they were supplied to us by each year’s Worldcon, including those from Chengdu. We had no authority to comment on or change those results in any way.

4. I am not, nor ever have been, a member of the WSFS Mark Protection Committee (MPC).

5. I am not, nor ever have been, a Director of Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP), and have no financial stake in that organisation. WIP was created from the corporation that ran the SF&F Translation Awards (of which I was a Director), but no directorships carried over from the one organisation to the other, save for Kevin Standlee who is a Director of WIP because of his membership of the MPC.

6. I resigned from the Hugo Award Marketing Committee, primarily because I no longer wish to be held responsible for (including being subject to legal and reputational risk for) the actions of organisations of which I am not a member and over which I have no influence.

7. Having seen legal advice on the subject, I am confident that the contracts I issued from Wizard’s Tower Press are structured in such a way that no one suing me, either individually or as an officer of WSFS, will be able to obtain the rights to any of the works published by Wizard’s Tower.

Locus Recommends

It is that time of year once more, and the annual Locus Recommended Reading List is now live. I am once again honoured to have been invited to contribute to the creation of the list. I am one person in an increasingly large and diverse group, so I’m afraid I can’t take the blame for anything on the list, but I am very pleased that some books I loved have been included. You can read the list here.

Miracles of Ancient Science

A couple of weeks back I was doing some work in the house. I was kneeling down, and as I went to push myself upright I felt something go in my left knee. That’s not entirely unusual. I’ve had knee problems before. I figured it was a sprain and if I took reasonable care of it then it would heal in time.

Healing did not happen. There wasn’t any pain most of the time, but the knee was badly swollen and despite lots of cold treatement did not improve. I had it heavily strapped up, and was walking with a cane.

After a couple of weeks I messaged my GP because I was worried there might be something seriously wrong. I got a message back saying that they were overwhelmed and, unless it was an emergency, I’d have to wait. There’s an entirely separate rant to be had about what the Tories have done to the NHS, and what Labour will contine to do because lots of their MPs are also being heavily sponsored by American healthcare companies.

However, this is a rugby town. If there is one thing we are not short of, it is physiotherapists. I found one online and gave him a call. Today I had an appointment.

The good news is that the physio doesn’t think that there is anything seriously wrong. My knee just needs a lot of time to heal. Many weeks. But he did suggest that could speed things up with a bit of accupuncture.

Well, I thought, it was worth a try. And it would be a new experience. So I sat there on his treatment couch for half an hour with needles in my knee and ankle. At the end of the treatment I could walk without either knee brace or cane. I still limp, and am going back next week for more treatment, but I am seriously impressed,

So if anyone asks you if accupuncture works, you can tell them that you know someone for whom it most definitely did.

Legal Complications

My thanks to everyone who welcomed the ideas Kevin and I had for reforming Hugo Award administration. However, I regret to say that I no longer believe that solution is possible. Here’s why.

As I explained yesterday, individual Worldcons are incorporated. They have to be, because they as subject to enormous legal risks. But WSFS, famously, is not incorporated. If we were to create an Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee as part of WSFS, that would also not be incorporated. Anyone who was unhappy with the results of the Hugos in a particular year could then sue the members of that committee for damages. No one would serve on such a committee under such circumstances.

There are technical ways around this, but they’d require a lot more wording in the original motion. In particular there is an organisation called WorldCon Intellectual Property Inc. (WIP) that exists to own the WSFS service marks. That could be re-puposed to own the IHAAC. Ironically, WIP was created out of the ashes of the corporation that Kevin and I created to run the SF&F Translation Awards, so it was originally an award organisation. But the creation of WIP was hugely controversial within WSFS, with many people seeing it as creeping incorporation. And of course there are plenty of people within fandom who think it is wrong for WSFS to own the Hugo marks at all.

So we could re-craft the motion so that the IHAAC reports directly to WIP, and its members are therefore protected by WIP’s corporate shield. However, that would leave little for WSFS to actually do. It is incorporation by another name, and it would make much more sense to simply transform WIP into WSFS Inc.. And that, I’m afraid, will not fly.

I may be wrong, but my sense is that there are still way too many people within fandom, and in particular amongst those who run Worldcons, who will fight to their dying breath to oppose incorporation of WSFS. Indeed, I suspect that some old-time fans will be trying to rise from their graves to come and vote against it.

At this point I think WSFS is dead in the water. It can’t enforce its own constitution, and the social contract by which Worldcons agreed to adhere to the Constitution anyway has been broken. The only possible remedy is anathema to too many people in fandom. I’m not sure we can get out of this.

A Smoking Gun?

There has been talk for a few days that Chengdu gave notice in advance that Hugo Administration might be subject to local laws. I’ve been reluctant to support it without proof, but that has now come through (thanks Nibedita Sen on Blue Sky). In Progress Report #2 on page 5 it says the following:

Eligible members vote according to the “one person, one vote” rule to select Hugo Award works and individuals that comply with local laws and regulations. The Chengdu organizing committee will review the nominated works and validate the votes.

Emphasis mine there.

So I guess we were warned.

FWIW, I don’t think there needs to have been direct government interference here. Having lived in the UK through Section 28 (the original “Don’t say gay” law), I have seen first hand how ordinary people, often out of fear, willingly implement, and often go well beyond, censorship required by government. Pressure from sponsors may have played a role, and the Chengdu committee may simply have been afraid for their safety if they did not do this. From the way Dave McCarty is behaving, I suspect they are also afraid of admitting to having done it.

How Did We Get Here?

One of the more common questions I’m getting asked on social media is why WSFS is not incorporated, and why is there so much resistance to it being so. I’m not really the right person to answer that, because I only started going to Worldcons in 1995. The fannish war over incorporartion had been going on for some time by then and was deemed mostly settled against the idea, but I will give it a go.

In 1995, incorporation was clearly still a hot potato. Most people back then thought that the Business Meeting was a load of boring nonsense, but the one thing I was told was guaranteed to get everyone out of the program sessions and into the BM to vote was a cry of, “WSFS Inc.! To the Barricades!!!”

So why exactly does Worldcon fandom have this horror of incorporation? It has become clear to me over the years that many people involved in running Worldcons despise WSFS and would be much happier if it went away. Part of that is sheer selfishness. Once they have got control over the shiny toy for a year they want to be able to run it however they want, not be constained by some stupid old constitution. But there is also a very real fear among con-runners of mechanisms that might come back to bite them.

Worldcon is a massive undertaking staffed entirely by volunteers. It is questionable as to why anyone would take on such a responsibility if they thought that there could be serious consequences for them if they got it wrong. Worldcons routinely take out insurance against being sued for various reasons, but having legal obligations to WSFS would be harder to avoid.

(Updating this because a couple of people read it in a way I didn’t intend. Individual Worldcons incorporate. They have to, and they have to do so under the laws of their host country. What Worldcons do not want is for WSFS to incorporate. Nor do they want to have to sign legal agreements with WSFS in exchange for the right to run Worldcon.)

Some of the responses to my suggestion for fixing the Hugos also cast light on the issue. Some people have responded that the Mark Protection Committee is the wrong body to take on the responsibility because the current members are all incompetent arseholes. Well, that’s an opinion, but that’s why I suggested that people might want to amend the motion to have them all stood down and new elections take place.

Heather Rose Jones has made some very good points about the dangers of having such a body, and she’s dead right. There are ways in which it could go bad. Democracy only works if we are constantly vigilant and prevent it being subverted.

But then there are people who say that it can never work because the wrong people will always get elected. That’s much more of a Libertarian viewpoint: all government is bad, because anyone who gets to be in government is bad.

That brings us back to the early years of Worldcon, and a time when many of the attendees were hard core Heinlein fans. Resistance to incorporation is, I think, at least in part driven by the idea that risking an occasional individual Worldcon going rogue is far preferable to creating an official body that might itself go rogue and then could not be stopped. If you agree with that assessment then you too should be against any proposal that creates an oversight body.

Up until now, of course, it has worked. Worldcons have mostly done the right things and followed the rules, even though they could not be forced to do so. Chengdu has changed all that. And I note that, when Kevin and I explain that there’s nothing that Glasgow can do about it under the Constitution, a common reaction is that they should just do it anyway. Going rogue can be infectious.

Decoupling the Hugos

In amongst all of the discussion as to what to do about the Chengdu Hugo issue has been one suggestion that can actually be implemented, albeit over a number of years. That is decoupling Hugo Award Administration from the host Worldcon, so that the laws of the host country cannot interfere with the voting process.

I explained my ideas to Kevin, and he kindly drafted a resolution that could be put before the Business Meeting in Glasgow. You can see that here, but it is long and legalistic so I’ll describe the basic idea. (If you want a DOCX or RTF version, ask me.)

WSFS already has an organization called the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the service marks that WSFS owns (in particular “Hugo Award” and the logo). I suggest renaming this the Independent Hugo Award Administration Committee (IHAAC) and giving it, rather than Worldcon, the job of administering the voting process. The IHAAC would recruit experienced administrators in much the same way that Worldcon does, but there would be a lot more consistency from year to year.

Worldcon would still have the option of staging a Hugo Award ceremony, and creating a distinctive trophy base, but equally it could decline to do that and pass the job back to the IHAAC.

Kevin and I cannot take this proposal forward ourselves. Kevin is a member of the MPC, and I effectively work for them in maintaining the WSFS websites, so we both have a vested interest. Our involvement could easily be portrayed as a power grab. But we are happy to provide help and advice to anyone who does want to take this forward at Glasgow.

It would also benefit from input from people who have good experience of Worldcon budgets. I don’t know how much running Hugo Administration costs, and the IHAAC would need a share of WSFS membership fees to cover that. Some of that should probably be paid well in advance, just in case the Worldcon later goes bankrupt. Input from people who understand international data sharing laws would also be useful.

There are also changes that might be needed to ensure broad support for the idea. For example, people might want the current MPC members to resign and stand for re-election because their role has changed. They might want IHAAC members to be elected by online ballot of the WSFS membership rather than at the Business Meeting. It might be easier for Worldcons if the IHAAC administered Site Selection as well, and so on. The current motion represents what we think are the minimum number of changes required.

Neither Kevin nor I are wedded to any particular version of this. We are simply putting it out there to help people get started on a change that at least some people appear to want.

Of course there will also be people who think that this will inevitably lead to WSFS being incorporated and having a board of directors. That is entirely possible, and I expect such people to oppose any change of this type. But I also think it is incumbent upon them to propose a better idea, or to explain to fandom why the current chaos is preferable to WSFS Inc..

A Better Analogy for Worldcon

The social media drama about this year’s Hugos continues unabated. Kevin and I are still getting a fair amount of pushback to our attempts explain what can and can’t be done. A lot of this falls into two camps. Firstly there are the people who assume that we must be lying and are probably part of the conspiracy. And then there are people who quote bits of the WSFS Constitution at us as if this was some massive gotcha because of course we can’t possibly understand it ourselves. Neither of these groups are worth engaging with.

However, there are people who are prepared to listen. And one (thank you, Joseph), led me to what I think is a better explanation of how WSFS and Worldcon work.

Traditionally, people have compared Worldcon to the Olympics. Cities bid for the right to hold it. When one wins a bid, the local organising committee is largely responsible for running the event. But this analogy has two flaws. Firstly the International Olympic Committee actually exists. And secondly, they do have some limited power over how each year’s Olympics are run. In contrast, the “Hugo Board” does not exist, and no one has any power over a seated Worldcon.

A better analogy, I think, is that of a parliamentary election. We, the people (i.e. WSFS members), vote for a party to govern us. Once that party is elected, it may or may not do what is promised to do during the election. And it may do things that we definitely didn’t want it to. But, short of taking to the streets and protesting, there is little that we, as electors can do.

Of course a functioning democracy should have checks and balances on the power of the government. There might be a separately organised upper chamber, or a head of state, or a supreme court, or any combination of these. There may also be a written constitution. The only one of these that WSFS has is the constitution. But if the government acts against the constitution, what can be done? Typically you go to another branch of government to rein them in. However, WSFS does not have any other branch of government. In practical terms, the only thing preventing a Worldcon committee from acting against the WSFS Constitution is the shame that will befall them if they do so.

As we are seeing in real democracies, shame is no longer an effective check on elective dictatorship. The UK is a good example. The King is effectively powerless. The House of Lords is being subverted by the Tories by the simple expedient of given lots of their corrupt buddies peerages. (This is helped by their rapid turnover of Prime Ministers, as each one gets to have a Resignation Honours List.) As for the Supreme Court, when they tried to rein in Boris Johnson, he and his allies in the media branded them “enemies of the people”. The current big issue in Parliament is the government ramming through laws that say that the UK has the power to ignore international law, specifically over the policy of deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda. Rishi Sunak insists that he is doing this to protect “the will of the people”, despite opinon polls consistently showing that the people actually oppose this policy.

The Tories, at least, do have to worry about the next election. But Worldcon is an exhausting thing to run, and usually no one fan group will bid more than once every 10 years. By that time there will probably have been substantial turnover in the people involved, and fannish memories are short.

That, I’m afraid, is where we are with WSFS. Once seated, a Worldcon can pretty much do whatever it wants. There is no effective sanction on its behaviour. It is possible, and that is a separate discussion, that Chengdu had very good reasons to do at least some of what they did. But now that they have shown an apparent willingness to flout the Hugo rules, I expect future Worldcons to feel empowered to do so with no reason other than that they want to. I am, I hope obviously, very unhappy about this.