A Worldcon in December

Vaccines for COVID-19 are finally starting to be rolled out in some countries, but it will be a very long time before everyone can be inocculated, and before we know how long it is efffective. Events trying to plan for 2021 are still in a very difficult position.

In view of this, the 2021 Worldcon, DisCon III, is giving people a choice. They can run a primarily virtual event on their expected dates; or they can move to mid-December when they believe that an in-person event will be safe to hold. You can register your opinion here.

Obviously I voted for a virtual event, because I cannot travel to the USA, so I can only attend Worldcon if it is virtual. I’m sure that is the case for many other people too.

On the other hand, I know that most Worldcon regulars view the event as an opportunity to meet up with friends, and thus for them an in-person event is the only option that fits the bill.

The obvious solution is to run some sort of hybrid event, and DisCon III has held out the possibility of some online programming even if they move to December. However, they haven’t specified what form that will take. And at SMOFcon over the weekend there was a substantial core of people who were dead set against running hybrid conventions.

I don’t want to go into the hows and whys of hybrid cons now. I’ll save that for this month’s Salon Futura. I will note that we are committed to running a hybrid event for Westercon 74. Also, if you are someone who cannot attend Worldcon regularly in person, but would like the opportunity to do so virtually, please fill out the DisCon III survey and let them know.

The way in which big conventions this year have become genuinely international has been a delight. It would be a shame if major events such as Worldcon and World Fantasy forgot that and went back to being conventions only for those who can afford to attend in person. Of course if they do then the future of fandom will shift to events such as FIYAHCON and FutureCon, because the future will happen, regardless of whether people want it to or not.

I believe that the deadline for responding to the DisCon III poll is 5:00pm EST today. Sorry about the short notice.

Geek and Trans

As anyone who is on social media will know, this week is #TransAwarenessWeek, which basically means that us trans folk have to be aware that everyone will be looking at us more for a whole seven days. Eeek!

But this week is also the week of Trans Pride South West. There will be a (virtual) parade and community day on Saturday. I will, as usual, be helping host the Trans Day of Remembrance event on Friday. And during the week the TPSW team have been putting on a number of virtual events. One of them is called Geek and Trans: Talks about Geek Culture, Conventions and Gender Identity. It is hosted by my friend Nathan, and I am one of the people that he chose to interview about being trans in the geek community.

I’ve just finished watching it, and Nathan has done a great job getting some really interesting people on the show. He’s also edited my contribution beautifully (which I can say as I know what it was like raw). It is also not too embarrassing, so I’m OK sharing it with you. Here you go:

World Fantasy Schedule

My appeal for people to complain to the World Fantasy Board about failings in this year’s convention seems to have fallen on deaf ears. I’m not entirely surprised. Fandom generally prefers to blame other fans when things go wrong, rather than the people whose fault it is, and who might be able to change things.

That left this year’s WFC badly short of knowledgeable panelists. So I had a choice: either join the boycott and let this year’s ConCom take the rap, or accept panel slots and use the platform to talk about why this year’s original programme descriptions were so bad in the hope that someone might actually take note.

There were a whole bunch of things that informed my decision. High on the list was the fact that the convention told me that they had a lot more international members this year. WFC is very expensive and almost always in North America. If going virtual this year meant lots of new members from around the world, I wanted to be able to talk to those people.

I confess also to wanting to rub certain people’s noses in it. The usual rule for WFC is that no one gets more than one panel slot. This year I have three. Take that, Steve Jones! Doubtless this will be an excuse for him to declare this year’s convention the new “Worst WFC Ever!”

Another important factor was that I got offered a panel on small press publishing, and I have a duty to my authors to promote them were possible.

Anyway, here’s what I am doing. All times are US Mountain Time.

Queering Fantasy
Date and Time: Thursday Oct 29, 4:00 p.m.
Panelists: S. Qiouyi Lu, Jerome Stueart (M), Cheryl M. Morgan
This is the one that originally had a trans-exclusionary description. Kudos to Jerome for writing something much more interesting.

Tropes and Archetypes
Date and Time: Friday Oct 30, 3:00 p.m.
Panelists: Kryssa Stevenson, Sarah Beth Durst, Cheryl M. Morgan, Sharon Shinn
This one was originally a “women in fantasy” panel. I’m pleased to see that the new description actually addresses one of the issues that causes the problem. Mythology and folklore are full of misogynistic tropes and archetypes.

Small Press Impact: Great Books Not Published by the Big Five
Date and Time: Saturday Oct 31, 2:00 p.m.
Panelists: Yanni Kuzia (M) Cherise Papa, Kathryn Sullivan, J.R.H. Lawless, Cheryl M. Morgan
Yanni is with Subterranean, so from my point of view I am totally playing with the big boys here.

The full panel descriptions are available here.

Of course WFC is expensive, so most of you won’t get to see me in action. I’m hoping that you might hear about it, though.

Another Year, Another World Fantasy Debacle

As we approach Hallowe’en, regular as clockwork, it seems, people start complaining about the current World Fantasy Convention. This year, despite the con having gone virtual, is no exception.

I need to start with a little personal context. On October 4th I received an invitation to be on programme. It was for a “women in” type panel. The panel description seemed pretty dumb, but I could see how a panel could make interesting things out of it so I said yes.

However, I also checked out the other panel descriptions. I didn’t read them all closely, but I did look at the LGBT panel and I could immediately see that it would be seen as transphobic. It being my job to do this sort of thing, I added a polite note to my acceptance explaining the problem and suggesting that they re-word it before people on social media noticed. I did not get a reply.

I spent much of the next week or so concentrating on doing promotion for Aleksandar’s book, and attending Eurocon and Octocon. I noticed a few rumblings, including Tempest Bradford holding forth in fine style, but didn’t notice any more.

Then yesterday I noticed that WFC had posted an official apology for a whole lot of unspecified mistakes, and that a lot of the programme descriptions had been re-written, including the one I had been asked to be on. I also discovered that at least 7 people had withdrawn from programming at the convention in protest at its lack of sensitivity to diversity issues. Several of them were good friends of mine.

As it happens, although I thought I had confirmed my willingness to be on panel, no one from WFC has been in touch to explain about the change of panel description. So now I am not entirely sure whether I am still on panel. In any case, I am considering my position.

As I noted above, this sort of thing does tend to happen every year (Tempest’s post has a timeline of WFC debacles). Like Worldcon, WFC is run by a different group of fans in a different city each year. But unlike Worldcon, WFC does actually have management. There is actually a “They” who are responsible for it, and who could in theory make changes if they wanted to. World Fantasy has a Board of Directors.

Not being on the inside of this year’s WFC, I don’t know who put the programme together. I do know that the last time I was heavily involved (the 2009 World Fantasy, which was run by San Franciso Science Fiction Conventions Inc.) the creation of the programme was the element that was most ruthlessly micromanaged by the Board. Things may be different now, so I can’t be certain where the blame lies.

However, the Board does have responsibility in another way. They are the people who select bids to run WFC. So if the fan groups who run the convention keep screwing up, that must be because the Board is selecting the wrong people to run it. The Board is also responsible for the fact that this “World” convention hardly ever leaves North America. (The Brighton WFC only happened because Steve Jones was a Board member and was able to persuade them to let him run it.)

So here’s my point. The folks in Utah may have screwed up. They may also have been trying to run a convention with one hand held behind their backs by the WF Board. That was certainly the case for us with San José in 2009. I am absolutely up for supporting a boycott, provided that it is the Board that is the target. I want them to accept responsibility for this year’s mess, rather than leave it to the Utah con chair to carry the can. I want them to commit to change, at a Board level. And I want a promise that they will work with next year’s WFC in Montréal to make significant improvements. Because if all we do is yell at the Utah folks this year, and the Montréal folks next year, and so on, nothing will ever change.

This is your chance, fandom. You keep complaining that “They” should fix Worldcon, even though you know that there is no “They” with the power to do it, at least not in the short term. “They” should fix World Fantasy too, and in this case They exist. Here they are. They even have a convenient email address for you to write to.

Please don’t hassle individuals. I know nothing about the internal workings and politics of the WF Board. Some of the members may have more power than others, and some may be as upset about the state of things as we are. Some of them are friends of mine, so I very much hope that they are. This is a matter for the Board collectively. It needs to act.

Octocon Happened

Another convention done. I didn’t see a lot of it due to the OutStories Bristol AGM and there being a Grand Prix on the weekend, but the Octocon folks have done a superb job of getting their content available for viewing by those people who missed it. All of the links are here. My panel was Better With Age, which was on Sunday at 10:00am.

Large parts of the convention were on Zoom run through Twitch. The use of Twitch was partly because such services make it easier to control the streaming, and I suspect it also helped with getting the content available.

One of the elements that wasn’t on Twitch was the parties. I attended the Glasgow in 2024 and Dead Dog parties, as did Kevin because it was a virtual convention and being in Nevada is no more of a barrier than being in the UK. There may have been whiskey.

Many thanks to my Irish pals for a fun weekend. Hopefully I will be able to visit Dublin again soon.

Octocon Schedule

October is pretty full-on when it comes to conventions. Last weekend it was Eurocon, this weekend Octocon, the FIYAHcon, a weekend off (I think) and World Fantasy. FIYAHcon is the only one I’m not on programme for.

You can find the full Octocon schedule here. The programme item I am doing is:

Sunday Oct. 11th – 10:00am
Better With Age – Older Characters in SFF
There’s a lot to be said for – and by – characters with life experience, so why are fantasy and science fiction so often focused on those who have none? What is lost by pigeon-holing or even ignoring the wisdom of age, and what can be gained when we include the full spectrum of age and experience in our fiction?
Ian McDonald, Cheryl Morgan (m), Gillian Polack, Marguerite Smith

I’ll have to miss some of Saturday due to the OutStories Bristol AGM, but hopefully I will be back in (virtual) Dublin in time for Juliet’s reading.

This will be the first virtual convention I’ve seen that is being streamed through Twitch. I will be interested to see how it stacks up against StreamYard, which we used for CoNZealand Fringe.

Eurocon – Day 2

Well, that’s a wrap. Many thanks to Fox, Igor and the crew, and special thanks to Nela for the beautiful artwork.

We used Zoom for my panel today, which was much better all round. Thanks to Aleksander and Mihaela for their input, and to everyone who tuned in to listen. Once again, the purchase links are: for Aleksandar’s book, and for Kontakt. Croatia has some great writers, and I’m honoured to be able to help bring them to an English-speaking audience.

The ESFS Awards took place last night after I had blogged. The Irish had a great evening, winning both the adult and YA fiction awards, the art award and the fanzine award, plus a few others as well. Good Omens won the dramatic presentation category. The full list of winners can be found here.

Many of the panels were pre-recorded, and the live ones were all recorded. I understand that there are plans to make them available, at least to registered members, at a later date. This is a real bonus of online conventions. There are several good panels that I missed because of scheduling clashes.

Next year’s Eurocon will be in Fiuggi near Rome. I very much hope I make that in person, partly because they have promised a focus on food, and partly because I will undoubtledly spend a few days in Rome peering at the archaeology as part of the trip.

Futuricon set new standards in brevity for the closing ceremonies. I think that my feed may have cut out slightly early, Fox, but I believe it was supposed to go a bit like this…

“David, press the button…”

Eurocon – Day 1

More like day 1.5 actually as the con started yesterday afternoon, but today isn’t over yet.

Anyway, the con is a lot of fun thus far. There have been the inevitable technical glitches. Some of them are down to using Jitsi for some of the tech. If anyone suggests that you use this platform for an online event, just say no. It doesn’t always work when you connect, and the picture quality is often poor. I don’t like the interface either.

Having said that, the ConCom is working hard at keeping us entertained, the chat on Discord is good, and the programming is very interesting.

I did my queer animals talk. It seemed to go down well, despite a few glitches. Something else to bear in mind for online events is that the latest versions of PowerPoint seem to break screen-sharing when in display mode. If you drop back to edit mode you’ll be fine. It also works fine if someone else is doing the screen sharing and you are just talking. I’ve also seen display mode refuse to work with older projectors, so it isn’t just a screen-sharing issue. If someone knows of a hidden setting in PowerPoint that can fix this, please let me know.

Tomorrow I will be joining up with Aleksandar Žiljak and Mihaela Perković to talk about Croatian fiction in English translation, both that which is available now and that which will be forthcoming next year.

Eurocon Schedule

The full schedule for this year’s Eurocon, known as Futuricon, has been published. I’m sad to be missing a trip to Croatia, but I’m absolutely delighted to be doing two panels. Here they are:

Saturday, October 3rd – 15:40
Worldbuilding with sex and gender
Otherwise known as my weird animals talk

Sunday, October 4th – 12:15
The Wizard’s Tower panel
The title in the schedule is in Croatian, but the panel will be in English. I’ll be talking with Aleksandar Žiljak about his new book, As the Distant Bells Toll, which will be published on Friday. Also on the panel is Mihaela Marija Perković. I’ll be talking to her about an anthology of feminist SF titled Empress of the Housework which will be forthcoming from Wizard’s Tower next year.

The website says that times will be displayed in your local timezones, so I’m assuming that the above times are BST, not CEST.

Membership is not free, but it is only €10 and you can buy one here.

The Future Happens This Week

Yes folks, FutureCon is upon us. It starts on Thursday and continues on a leisurely schedule through to Sunday. There not a lot of panels, but they are all very interesting. And they are all free to watch. You can find the full list on YouTube.

From my point of view, all of the most exciting stuff happens on Thursday. I have my panel at 16:00 (UK time), and the evening panel features Aleksandar Žiljak whose book, As the Distant Bells Toll, is due out from Wizard’s Tower next month.

Don’t forget to sign up for the Discord channel. The link to do is is on the convention’s home page, near the bottom.

Virtual NASFiC Lives!

The NASFiC, or North American Science Fiction Convention, is a WSFS-affiliated event that happens only in years when WorldCon is outside of North America. This year Worldcon was in New Zealand. Of course only the New Zealanders got to go, but a NASFiC had already been selected. No one can go to that physically either, but the lovely folks in Columbus, Ohio are running a virtual con anyway.

It is free to attend, though they are accepting donations. You can sign up here.

The con started this afternoon my time. I’ve already watched one panel (on historical fiction) which was great. And of course I am spending a lot of time hanging out on Discord, where we have a table for Westercon 74 in (very) sunny Tonopah, Nevada.

Everything has been thrown together in a bit of a rush, so I am well impressed that things appear to be going very well. I have two confirmed panels as follows (times are US East Coast, so 5 hours behind the UK and 3 hours ahead of California):

Roots in Two Places: Writing from a Dual Culture Experience

Saturday 2:00 PM Olentangy Room

Alma Alexander, Cheryl Morgan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Vikram Paralkar

Our panelists, all with roots in two or more separate cultures — look at the ways having dual culture and language has guided their worldbuilding and storytelling.

Running SF/F Organizations

Sunday 12:00 PM Scioto Room

Cheryl Morgan, Eileen Gunn, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Sumana Harihareswara

Creators, directors, publishers, and nonprofit leaders discuss the trials and victories of running magazines, publishing companies, and other SF/F businesses and organizations. They discuss logistics, strategy, budgets, and the effects of gender and race on their experiences as leaders. And they share what they wish they’d known ten years ago.

There may be a second panel on Sunday. I’m still waiting to hear back on that one.

Introducing FutureCon

While we might all be stuck at home wishing that we could sit in a bar with our friends, one of the benefits of the new virtual world in which we find ourselves is that travel is instantaneous and free. This means that we can have conventions that are genuinely global, and very cheap or free to attend.

Into this space comes FutureCon. It is being organised primarily by folks in Brazil, but with a lot of help from Francesco Verso in Italy, and also a bunch more people around the world. It will take place from September 17th-20th, and will be free to all on YouTube. All of the programming will be in English. Confirmed guests include Ann Vandermeer, Aliette de Bodard, Chen Qiufan, Ian McDonald, Lavie Tidhar and Nisi Shawl. But more importantly there will be speakers from over 20 different countries including Argentina, Croatia, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkey & Uganda.

Oh, and there will be me, talking about translations, obviously. Also Wizard’s Tower author, Aleksandar Žiljak, will be joining in from Croatia. Both he and I will be talking about the new collection that we will be launching at the Eurocon in October.

This is a brand new thing, and I’m very excited about it. Hopefully it will grow over the years and will help forge a truly international SF&F community.

Francesco can read in many different langauges, and he said something today in a launch meeting for the event that really struck a chord. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but the gist was, “the quality of science fiction is evenly distributed around the world, but it is unevenly visible.” I hope that FutureCon can be an important step along the road to changing that.

If you would like to help, there are three things you can do. The first is to donate some money to help with their running costs. You can do that here. Second, subscribe to their YouTube channel. Apparently you need 100 subscribers to be allowed to have a custom URL, which would be useful. And finally tell all of your friends, especially friends who, for whatever reason, might not be able to attend big, international conventions.

Ill Met by Moonlight

Via my friend Stephanie Budin I have discovered a rather interesting conference scheduled for next April. ‘Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture, is part of a project on Gothic Literature by a group of academics based at the University of Hertfordshire. How I have not heard of them before, I do now know. They’ve been going since 2010, and running annual conferences on all things creepy and going bump in the night. I mean, how can you not love a literary project called, Open Graves, Open Minds.

Anyway, the 2021 conference is about Fairies. Sadly I am scheduled to be in Sweden then, so even though I suspect that in-person events will still be impossible by then, I can’t in good conscience submit a paper on War for the Oaks, even though I want to.

However, you good people are hopefully not so constrained, and therefore might want to get involved. The full CFP is here. If Emma Bull doesn’t appeal to you, they also specifically mention works by Neil Gaiman, Liz Hand and Jeanette Ng. (Sorry Jeanette, you are canon now!). Hie thee to a word processor, and cast thy Puckish imaginings to the aether.

Why Worldcons Go Wrong

There are lots of people on social media currently saying things like, “Worldcon is broken, it must be fixed” or “Worldcon is irredeemably broken, we must replace it with something new.” These are all entirely understandable sentiments, but in order to fix Worldcon, or to build a replacement, it helps to know how and why it goes wrong. In this post I want to talk about a couple of specific examples from CoNZealand.

I should start by noting that much of the problem here stems from the fact that fans all over the world, even if they have Worldcon memberships, have no sense of ownership of WSFS or the convention. They see WSFS as a nebulous “Them” rather than as “Us”. And if something goes wrong, “They” must be at fault. But who exactly “They” are, and what “They” could they have done better, is unclear.

In one sense it is absolutely true that the buck stops at the top. When you agree to chair a Worldcon you know this. There is a reason why “Friends Don’t Let Friend’s Run Worldcon” is a common fannish saying. So Kelly Buehler and Norm Cates have been spending a lot of time taking it on the chin and accepting responsibility. Sometimes they did indeed do things wrong, but knowing what to do right is not always easy.

Take the George Martin situation, for example. CoNZealand was selected as a site in 2018, and George was announced as Toastmaster at that time. The Game of Thrones TV series was hugely popular then, and George had a stellar reputation among Worldcon regulars because, unlike many famous authors, he always attended the convention, and put a lot of his own money into it. His work establishing alternative awards, The Alfies, in the midst of the Sad Puppy affair was widely praised. Few people thought CoNZealand’s choice was a mistake at the time.

Warning signs started to appear last year with the fiasco around Hugo Finalists being barred from the Hugo Losers’ Party because it was full, and being asked to stand out in the rain until there was room. George has done most of the work funding and organising these parties since the Puppy affair, and his response to what happened in Dublin was very disappointing.

There may well have been additional warning signs in the months that followed. I’m not privy to the internal discussions of the CoNZealand committee so I don’t know. So there may have been multiple points at which CoNZealand might have been tempted to disinvite George. I would certainly have considered pushing back on Robert Silverberg having any involvement in the Hugo Ceremony.

But what would have happened if they did push back? George might well have been very angry. He might have withdrawn from the convention entirely, which might have resulted in a number of people demanding membership refunds. He might have gone to the newspapers, which would have resulted in the convention being dragged through the mud all over the world. And George’s legion of fans would certainly have waged war against the convention on social media.

If you want an example of how much damage an author with a very high profile can do, take a look at what another successful fantasy author is currently doing to the trans community in the UK.

So as a con committee, what do you do if one of your Guests of Honour turns out to be a problem? If, like George, he is very high profile, you will probably keep him and hope that he won’t do anything too awful. And, if he does, that your staff can keep things under control. That’s easier said than done.

Yesterday Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a Twitter thread about her own part in the Hugo Ceremony. She’s President of SFWA, and the winner of last year’s Best Novel Hugo, so she’s not without power and prestige in the industry. She’d been asked to present the Best Novella category. This was all pre-recorded, and Mary says she’d noticed from the way George introduced her that something was up. In particular he had expanded SFWA as “The Science Fiction Writers of America” rather than “The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America”. That might have been a genuine mistake, but it is also a common Old Guard dog whistle. (There’s a whole complicated reason why SFWA is not called SFFWA). She says that she could have asked George to re-do the intro, but she didn’t want to seem difficult.

The point here is that if the President of SFWA didn’t feel confident enough to tell George he was getting it wrong, what chance did younger writers, or volunteers on the CoNZealand committee have? If I might be permitted a Railroad joke, there’s a train in motion here and it is very hard to stop. From a convention management point of view, the only thing you can do is to trust that your high profile Toastmaster does not behave too badly. In CoNZealand’s case that trust was badly betrayed.

The other issue I would like to look at is the case of panellist Edmund Schluessel who was twice asked to change his Zoom background because it was deemed “too political”. The full story, complete with an image of said background, is available on File 770 here (item 3) and here.

The first time this happened, Kelly Buehler issued an apology on behalf of the committee. She stated: “There is nothing wrong with your Zoom background, and I encourage you to use it as much as you like.” However, the staff member who had tried to censor Schluessel’s background resigned in protest. And the next time Schluessel was on panel he was once again asked to remove his background, for the same reason as before, but by a different person.

Clearly some of the ConZealand staff have gone rogue here, including ignoring a direct instruction from one of the Co-Chairs. There’s little that the convention can do at this point. All Worldcon staff are volunteers. You can’t discipline them in any effective way. If you fire someone you may find yourself with a major gap in your team, and the person that you fire may take several of his friends away with him. Possibly it was a mistake to recruit this person in the first place, but Worldcons are often desperate for staff and have little chance to vet people at lower levels.

There’s a tendency in certain quarters to sneer when people say that running Worldcon is hard, but it is, and unless you have actually done it you probably don’t understand just how hard it is. Which is not to say that people don’t make terrible mistakes, and should not be called to account for them. I can assure you that I have done that often enough in my time (ask people about TorCon 3 if you don’t believe me). However, I have always tried to do so in the hope that we can learn from our mistakes and make Worldcon better. I hope you can see from the above that fixing things, or creating an alternative, is not simply a matter of vowing to “do better”.

CoNZealand – Day 5

Another one bites the dust. Worldcon 78 is dead, long live Worldcon 78, aka DisCon III.

I have made a start on catching up on programming. I particularly want to recommend the Afrofuturism panel, if you haven’t seen it yet, mainly because all of the panelists, despite being Black, insisted that they didn’t write Afrofuturism.

This resonated with me, because similar sorts of issues affect writing by trans people. There seem to be three main stages to the representation project. First you get written about by white people (or in my case cis people). Then you get to write your own stories, but only if they are ghettoised in fiction for Your Kind. And finally you get to just write fiction like the other people do.

One of the panel, I think Brandon O’Brien, said something along the lines of, “No one talks about White Futurism, that is just Futurism.” Exactly.

Oh, and Brandon, mate, if you are reading this, I’d love to have a chat with you at some point about American Gods. I totally take your point about Anansi, but it seems to me that the whole point of that book is that every god in it has been appropriated by America and forced to adapt to American culture.

I was also entertained by the other translation panel. As you probably know, German is a language in which most things are gendered. Tables, cups and bicycles have gender. So the German translator of Ancillary Justice carefully made sure that everything in the book was gendered female. Cora Buhlert said that it was very disorienting to read, but I suspect that’s just the effect that Ann Leckie wanted.

Today I did finally manage to get to the Exhibits area. The Art Show was quite fun, if much smaller than it needed to be for a virtual con. I was particularly taken by the people who made monster head hunting trophies to stick on your wall. Some of the exhibits were interesting too, though I though the 3D rendering was more technically clever than useful.

Sadly the Dealers’ Room was rather dull. To my eyes it was the part of the convention experience that worked least well in a vitual convention. Whether that is because of the facilities available to dealers, or because the concept doesn’t work, I can’t be sure.

Behaving Badly at the Hugos

I would imagine that everyone has now seen the outrage that accompanied the CoNZealand Hugo Award Ceremony. If you haven’t, the short version is that a fabulous list of winners and some really great acceptance speeches were completely overshadowed by a couple of old men grandstanding.

Before I get into the detail, I want to mention one of the acceptance speeches. Neil Gaiman won a Hugo for the television version of Good Omens. In his acceptance speech (Farcebook link) Neil spoke about how he made the series as a favour for his friend, Terry Pratchett. Terry, despite being hugely loved by fans all over the world, never won a Hugo. He was a finalist once, but declined the honour. This was not, as Neil explained, because he didn’t care, but because he cared too much. Terry wanted a Hugo so badly, and was so convinced that he’d never win one, that the mere thought of being a finalist was too much for him. That’s how much Hugos mean to people in our field.

The theme for last night’s 3.5 hour marathon bore-fest was Hugo history. George Martin and Robert Silverberg regaled us with stories from Worldcons past. In that vein, I would like to take you back to LA Con IV in 2006. That convention too had chosen an aging writer to have an important role in the ceremony. The writer in question was Harlan Ellison, who had a far bigger reputation for shooting his mouth off than either Martin or Silverberg. By the end of the evening, the social media of the time was incandescent with fury over something that came to be known as Gropegate. Here’s what I wrote after the event.

It was clear right from the start that Harlan was planning to behave badly. It was just that no one quite realized that behaving badly would include trying to swallow the microphone and groping one of Connie’s breasts during the ceremony. Harlan, I suspect thought it would be funny.

That would have been Connie Willis, who was the Writer Guest of Honour and was also hosting the ceremony.

Fandom was incandescent with fury. And I went on to say the following:

What I do know for sure, however, is that every time Harlan’s name comes up in a convention committee discussion, any convention committee discussion, in the future, people will remember what he did in Anaheim and, if they have any sense at all, will not want anything to do with him.

At the time I had a fair amount of profile as a fan writer. I had nominations that year in Fan Writer and Semiprozine (I had taken Emerald City out of the Fanzine category). Consequently Harlan heard about what I’d written. We didn’t know each other, but he knew Neil Gaiman and Neil knew me. As a result, I got a phone call. We chatted for quite a long time, and I’m not sure that Harlan ever quite understood why what he had done was wrong. It was the sort of thing that men got away with routinely when he was younger. But one thing was very clear: Harlan, who had won eight Hugos himself, was mortified that his actions had damaged the reputation of the awards.

Contrast that with CoNZealand. What we seemed to have there was a couple of old men conspiring to take over the ceremony, disrespect many of the Finalists, and bore the audience to death, because they don’t like the sort of people, and the sort of works, that are winning Hugos these days. It was, it seemed, a deliberate attempt to cause controversy and drag the awards through the mud. Hosting the Hugo ceremony is an honour, and should be treated as such. Many other people, including high profile names such as Neil Gaiman, John Picacio and Garth Nix, have done the job, and taken it much more seriously.

It doesn’t just stop there either. There was the incident where the introduction to the Best Fancast category concentrated solely on podcasts, despite the fact that one of the Finalists, Claire Rousseau, uses video rather than audio. The CoNZealand Chairs said in their apology that this was an error, and the CNZ staffer responsible has apparently owned up and apologised. But equally I have been in Claire’s position where people were saying that I should have been disqualified because I was using the wrong sort of delivery system. And when people see such obvious disrespecting of Finalists elsewhere, the natural assumption is that every such incident is deliberate. Bad behaviour elsewhere poisons all other interactions, even when a genuine mistake has been made.

Of course people will claim that Hugo winners have taken to making their acceptance speeches political. They are winners; that gives them a lot of licence. And mostly it is their own reputation at risk. Jeannette Ng did so and got a Hugo for it, which I think shows that she hasn’t lost much over it.

But when you are hosting the ceremony, it is not just your reputation that you damage if you misbehave. You sully the reputation of the convention, of all the people who worked so hard to make it happen, and of the country that is hosting the convention. Most of all, you sully the reputation of the awards themselves. Harlan understood that. I’m not sure that Martin and Silverberg do.

ConZealand – Day 4

I have watched some good programming. I can’t remember any of it. The only thing that sticks in my mind is the train wreck of a Hugo Award ceremony last night. As a measure of just how angry I am, I haven’t even looked at the stats yet.

I have been trying to see what future Worldcons and bids are saying about online features. Sadly most of them seem to be taking the line of, “well streaming all of our in-person programming would be impossible so we can’t have any online component.” I hope I don’t have to point out how disingenous that is.

Worldcon needs to change, but hardly anyone involved in running it seems to want it to.

Anyway, time to talk about last night. Separate post.