A few subjective thoughts about WorldCon
When the Sad Puppies affair happened, it should have rung two alarm bells, not just one. Don't get me wrong, it was good to see people galvanised by the realisation that scifi and fantasy were full of racists, sexists, homophobes and transphobes. A lot of us had been telling that for a long time, even experienced it painfully. The alarm bell came late. Very late. But it came and that was good because from that emerged a realisation that things were wrong. Please note I'm saying realisation and not necessarily action…
The second alarm bell didn't happen. The second alarm bell should have been: "What the ef is wrong with an organisation whose awards can be manipulated in such a way?" A few voices though raised the issue. As for the racism, sexism, etc. in times not-so-long past (or present), no one really listened, or people said, "But look! It's robust! We've tweaked the rules and avoided the worst!" That, in itself, should have been a worry: preserving the institution was more important than attacking the root of the problems, its own organisation.
Fast forward 2020 and the Saudi Arabia bid. All of a sudden, everyone realises that there is a problem. Well, yes, there effing is. I won't get into why the idea of hosting a con in Saudi Arabia is a bad idea because, honestly, if you can't understand it or if you find excuses to it, you should stop reading right now.
But the fact is that we have now people asking: "How did that happen?" Well, in the same way that the Sad Puppies happened. The only thing you need to vote in the Hugos or the bids is money.
Basically, WorldCon and the Hugos is an oligarchy.
Let's face it, WorldCon was in its inception as much "world" as the US baseball championship is "World" series. But the thing is, if it's written on the door long enough, people end up believing it. And while an old guard is still wondering what happened to PDFs fanzines, a lot of new, diverse, creators and readers who passed the threshold are saying that there's something rotten in here.
But who has the money and the time to decide on what happens and on how the organisation changes (or not)? Again, the oligarchy.
And one of the things that leaves me bemused is how all those people say that they are not a hierarchical organisation, not top-down, that they're anarchists really. They are absolutely blind to the fact that they may not be hierarchical inside the circle but to actually reach the circle, you already have to belong to the top, or at least the upper-middle of the social hierarchy because, let's remind it again, time and money. And no, that doesn't bloody make you an anarchist at all. Please check the definition because when you say that you look perfectly ridiculous to anyone who knows what anarchy is.
At the same time, the magnificent effort pulled by a team of dedicated fans and creators to bring CoNZealand Fringe into existence proved that something else is possible. Something relevant, international, and diverse. I think that, nonetheless, the Fringe has one limit. Through the quarantine, a lot of us have learned that online is fine, but with meatspace also comes a different kind of relationships, very valuable, whether it is a quiet smoke outside when you meet writers or others fans, getting into a passionate discussion with strangers around a drink, deciding to wander into the streets in a city you don't know with your mates…
All things that won't be possible in Saudi Arabia if you're LGBTQ+ or a woman alone. But it's fine, it's fine. The good people with all the money and time on their hands will save us with their enlightened voting. Amazing how reminiscent that is to me of some regimes during the Antiquity or the Third Republic in France (spoiler: there was an actual anarchist revolution in the middle of that, La Commune).
After the absolute clusterfork that the ceremony was, I saw some people realising that less than 2000 people vote in the Hugos. Less than 2000 people for the SFF awards that is the most recognised around the world. It is in the favour of wonderful, talented and hard working creators right now, and I am delighted with the results. But it also means that a) the Hugos are not representative of the community at large and b) what happens when the people, whose only qualification is to have money, decide that all this "diversity thing is fine but let's go back to some proper serious mediocre white men"? Because it'll happen. Conservatism always pushes bach and with less than 2000 voters, the Hugos are easy to hijack if you have the money for it and an agenda less transparent than the Puppies'.
Where's the future? Is it in waiting for an organisation that changes so slowly that it makes the Jurassic look positively modern to finally catch up? Is it in going fully online and finally getting us rid of the money constraints that exclude so many fans year after year? Is it in building something new, both online and in meatspace, leaving the old to those who faithfully guard it with their rituals and ceremonies?
As far as I'm concerned, I'm always fond of saying: burn it to the ground!
I haven't put in my votes yet, but I thought I'd do a quick recap, like Hammard did, about what I read and liked.
Sadly, I've had to pull out of three categories this year for the first round (fantasy, blurred boundaries and short stories) but I fully intend to get back to at least two of those for the second round, particularly since the fantasy category seems to be very exciting.
Science-Fiction category: this will be the hardest. There are three novels I want to give my vote to. Three novels I absolutely want in the second round. The Outside by Ada Hoffmann, which blew me away last year and has perfect neurodiverse rep; A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, which has an extraordinary pace, excellent world building and a remarkable rep of colonialism; All City by Alex DiFrancesco, which also blew me away and was the topical novel I didn't know I wanted to read. But I can only nominate two (first one gets two points, second one gets one point). This is going to hurt so much.
Novella category: A lot of contenders here for me, and some novellas which are definitely not my own cup of tea but very much to the liking of my fellow jurors! One of the most interesting things with SCKA is also how debating about the books with others can have you digging deeper into things you had initally dismissed, to realise that there was more to it than you first thought, or how some aspects you weren't keen on were balanced by things that made the novella worthwhile. My own highlights include Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky; Incompleteness Theories by Wole Talabi; The Deep by Rivers Solomon.
Series category: One of the things I particularly appreciate with SCKA is how it makes us read books we wouldn't read otherwise. In the series category, I really enjoyed reading the Sword and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso which was gathering dust on my TBR. Sometimes also, it just confirms that, nope, this book isn't your cup of tea at all! Apart from Caruso's series, my others highlights include, without a surprise if you follow this blog, Rosewater by Tade Thompson, and The Winnowing Flame by Jen Williams.
The deadline for putting our votes in is 19 July 2020. So stay tuned... The results are coming in shortly. Who will make it to the second round? (Dun, dun, dun...)
The adventure started in 2017 and we've enjoyed it so much that we're back again!
"While we were reading" is an irregular feature about reading science-fiction and fantasy. It can contain guest posts. Nothing fancy, come as you are.
It is also home to all the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards announcements.