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 I also discovered that at least 7 people had withdrawn from programming at the convention in protest at its lack of sensitivity to diversity issues.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.

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