Tag Archives: conventions

What Conventions Are and Aren’t

A glossary moment before I begin: In this post, I use “harassment” as a catch-all term for one person deliberately inflicting unwanted touch, commentary, or intense attention upon another. In the real world things are considerably more complicated than that, and I’m not for a moment advocating treating all harassment incidents equally; but I do think it is worth addressing general cases before moving on to the specific. English doesn’t have good one-word terms for people who have been harassed: “harassee” and “victim” define a person by something that’s happened to them, and “survivor” is wonderful but only for those who survive. Throughout this post, I use phrases like “people targeted by harassers” to emphasize that these people are people, putting them front and center in their own stories and counteracting the tendency in this culture to dismiss and objectify them.

A disclaimer moment: I volunteer with Readercon, and have volunteered with other conventions in the past. The following post expresses my personal views only.

Finally, please read Genreville’s comment policy before commenting, especially if you would like to comment anonymously or pseudonymously, and be aware that ALL comments are held for approval. I will go through them as quickly as I can, but that may not be very quickly over the weekend.

There has been a lot of conversation lately about harassment and other reprehensible behavior at science fiction conventions. As the program chair of Readercon, I’ve been following that conversation with considerable interest, not least because the latest round started when one Readercon attendee harassed another at the convention and the convention’s governing body did not handle it well. Discussions about building and enforcing safety policies have encouraged me to think very hard about the philosophical approaches that those policies might be founded on, and my personal conclusion–which, I would like to stress again, is mine alone–is that the following words do not belong in any such policy, nor in descriptions of how those policies are implemented:

  • punishment
  • consequences
  • reprisal
  • deterring
  • ostracizing
  • apology
  • recompense
  • redemption

Conventions are not communities in the traditional sense of the word. They are not townships. The conchair is not the mayor; the head of safety or security is not the chief of police; the concom and the board are not tribunals or juries. The organizing bodies are not directly or representationally elected and are almost never demographically representative of the convention-attending population. I think that treating conventions as in some way parallel to real-world communities governed by law is a really bad idea, especially when we get into these crime-and-punishment discussions. Conventions are not in the business of dispensing justice. They aren’t designed for it or equipped for it, and no one–especially not anyone involved in running a convention–should behave as though they are, even for a moment.

What conventions are designed for and equipped for is helping people to have fun. That’s the business model! And I think that is what conventions should stay focused on when someone pops up and starts making their spaces less fun for their customers.

Take a moment and look back at that list of words. What they have in common is that they are focused on perpetrators. We do this all the time. All the time. When someone does something we find noxious, they become the focus of attention: how will they be punished? Will they apologize? Can they be brought back into the fold? Meanwhile, the person they targeted with their noxious behavior is forgotten, dismissed, or scorned. Harassers are often charismatic, which is how they get close enough to harass, and they often target the shy and vulnerable, who are that much easier to ignore if they manage to speak up at all. We are all intimately familiar with the narrative of sin-repentance-redemption, and it’s startlingly easy to try to follow someone through it while all but forgetting that they wouldn’t have even started down that road if they hadn’t treated another person badly.

As for popular, commonly understood narratives for people who have been targeted by harassers: well, we don’t really have any. We notice them only long enough for them to accept an apology or teach the transgressor a lesson. The closest we get to a complementary narrative to sin-repentance-redemption is victimhood-struggle-triumph, and that still focuses the person’s entire story on the perpetrator’s behavior: experiencing it, coping with it, learning from it, being made stronger by it. These are all just different kinds of objectification, of the person as acted upon rather than active.

It’s clear that cultural programming teaches us to minimize and ignore people targeted by harassers at conventions (and elsewhere, but conventions are my focus here). I believe that the most immediately effective way of overcoming this programming is to focus on conventions as businesses providing services, and on convention attendees as customers. Specifically, conventions are in the business of providing safe, enjoyable environments where fun things happen and people have a good time. And that means conventions need to feel entirely free to oust any individual customer who’s causing problems for others, without focusing on where that person will go or how they will feel afterwards. (It also has implications for other aspects of convention-running, such as selecting sites and designing spaces and materials to be universally accessible, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.)

The narrative that conventions should care about is not sin-repentance-redemption or victimhood-struggle-triumph. The narrative is purchase-enjoy-repeat: that is, “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back.” It is the narrative of a satisfied customer, which makes for a healthy business. Anyone who perpetrates harassment at a convention is disrupting that narrative, and convention organizers should not hesitate to write them out of it.

That’s the business side. Now for the personal side.

It’s very easy for the organizers of an individual convention to dwell on how someone might feel to be denied access to that particular space, because when you run a convention it becomes your world. I know that feeling well; I am passionately devoted to Readercon, which is why I put endless hours and effort into helping to make it happen every year. If I try to imagine what it would be like to be kicked out of an individual instantiation of Readercon, much less banned from it for life, it’s absolutely devastating. But we need to step away from that habit of putting ourselves in the harasser’s shoes (and what does it say about our culture that we do that more easily than putting ourselves in the shoes of the person they harassed?).

Taking the broader view, every convention is just one convention that happens one weekend a year. There are hundreds of other conventions, just like there are hundreds of other stores. There are online communities as well. (And let’s be honest: rape culture being what it is, in the vast majority of those conventions and communities, harassment and even rape aren’t going to be seen as good reasons to kick someone out.) And there are a billion other ways to spend a weekend. So quit worrying about the poor harasser! They have lots and lots and lots of options.

I have seen occasional concerns that if we kick out everyone who behaves badly, there will be no one left to come to conventions. This is farcical and insulting. The vast majority of congoers comport themselves well within acceptable parameters. Many people stay away from conventions for fear of being harassed; oust one harasser and you might get ten or twenty new attendees who want to show their appreciation or simply now feel safe enough to attend. Thoughtful, well-behaved fans are really not in short supply.

What is in short supply is safe space for people who have been harassed. Again, rape culture being what it is, in the vast majority of both online and offline communities, speaking up about being harassed only leads to being harassed even further. Making a safe space for someone who’s been harassed, and pledging to them that within that space they will never have to encounter the person who harassed them? That is a big deal. That is an amazing thing to do. Offering any kind of help at all to someone who’s been harassed, even a moment of listening and support, is a glorious bounty of kindness compared to what they get from most people. Going a bit out of your way to make a little oasis of safety for them is pretty high on the mitzvah list.

So to run the cost-benefit analysis from this perspective, with all numbers on a scale from 0 to 10:

Cost to the ostracized harasser: .0001
Cost to the convention (investigating and verifying the accusation, having the awkward “you can’t come back and this is why” conversation, making sure that person really stays away, one fewer attendee to contribute funds or volunteer time): .01
Benefit to to the convention (knowing they’ve done the right thing, making the space safer, promoting the convention as a place that takes harassment seriously, gaining attendees who feel safer): 4
Benefit to the person who was harassed: 1000

The conclusion is obvious.

“The customer is always right” obviously is not 100% true, but it’s still a useful starting point because it reminds businesses that customers are people, not just sources of funds. Well, if there’s any situation where we need to be reminded that certain people are people, it’s the situation where those people have been harassed. Imagine the cultural shift if we started from “the person who has been harassed is always right” instead of “the person who has been harassed isn’t worth thinking about, or is probably lying, or was asking for it”. Just take a moment to sit with that. I don’t know about you, but I get a little teary-eyed trying to imagine that world. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be so much better than what we have now.

I know conventions have decades of history as people throwing parties for their friends. I know it’s hard to make the shift from that mindset to the mindset of being a business and offering a service. But it’s worth doing, and it’s necessary if these businesses are going to survive. “I went to a convention, I had a good time, I plan to go back”: let’s write those stories, hundreds and thousands of them, every weekend around the world. And let’s not let a little nasty cultural programming and a handful of creeps get in our way.

 

(Thanks to Marie Brennan for starting a conversation that helped to crystallize a lot of these thoughts, and to the many people who have discussed these matters online and off. It is tremendously heartening to see so many people taking harassment seriously and working out ways to decrease it in fan spaces. We may not be a formal incorporated community, but we are a community and I’m proud to be a part of it.)

Back from Chicago

And boy are our arms tired: Josh transcribed 6500 words of interview and I wrote 3500 words of article and blog post on Monday (holiday, shmoliday) and we’re still recovering! But it will be worth it when the SF/F focus issue comes out this coming Monday, September 10, and you can read the profile of Seanan McGuire, the feature article on genre-blending, and the nifty little sidebar on Christian inspirational epic fantasy, plus a Q&A with Iain M. Banks. PW subscribers get instant access; the rest of you will have to wait three weeks.

In the meantime, some links to tide you over:

  • Justine Larbalestier is brilliant on “Racism in the Books We Write”. If there’s been a theme for this year in my part of the world, it’s taking responsibility; Justine’s post is a great example of how to do that without defensiveness.
  • Aliette de Bodard is equally brilliant on the scale and scope of engineering projects.
  • ChiZine is launching a YA imprint, ChiTeen. Agented subs only at this time. First books will come out in 2014.
  • There are some complaints that Worldcon could have done a better job with accessibility, even given a convention center that was an absolute maze (and probably not ADA-compliant).
  • Ustream apologizes for cutting off the Hugo ceremony; apparently once the automatic ban went into effect, they couldn’t turn it off, but it could all have been avoided if the Hugo administrators had just paid for the service. Apparently that post got a number of angry comments before commenting was turned off altogether.
  • PW reviewer John Ottinger III is part of the movement to make September 7 (today!) National Buy a Book Day in the U.S. Will you #buyabook today?

Worldcon Breaking News

Josh and I are hard at work on turning Worldcon news and interviews into articles for the SF/F focus issue of PW (September 10! Mark your calendars!) but here’s some breaking news for you in the meantime.

Worldcon-related:

  • The Hugo Awards results, of course.
  • During Neil Gaiman’s acceptance speech for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (for his Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife”), he let it slip that he’s on the third draft of another Doctor Who script. Cue much squeeing.
  • …except from those people who couldn’t see his speech because Ustream cut off the awards ceremony webcast, citing copyright violation. That would presumably be because the broadcast included clips of the Best Dramatic Presentation nominees; the clips had been provided by the studios and were used and streamed legally, but that didn’t stop some DRM-hound program from blocking the transmission. Cue much outrage.
  • The London in 2014 team won its unopposed bid to host the 2014 Worldcon, which will be called Loncon 3 and already has a sterling line-up of honored guests. Josh and I promptly upgraded from “friend of the bid” to full membership. I have so far dodged all attempts to get me to volunteer, though I did offer to make myself available as a consultant on programming matters. That’s totally different from volunteering, right? Anyway, I expect it will be an excellent convention and I’m really looking forward to it.
  • The 2015 bid is hotly contested by Orlando, Spokane, and Helsinki, plus a Phoenix AZ bid for the 2015 NASFiC if Helsinki gets the Worldcon the 2014 NASFiC. (Apologies for the error.)
  • LoneStarCon 3, the 2013 Worldcon in San Antonio TX, has announced that it will have a Spanish-language programming track–presumably not just about Spanish-language work but actually conducted in Spanish. That would be very exciting.

Publishing news:

  • Harper Voyager is “actively seeking new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling storylines” to submit manuscripts for consideration for a new digital-first line. Submissions will be open for two weeks only, October 1–14, at www.harpervoyagersubmissions.com (link not live because the site isn’t up yet). Distribution for accepted, published titles will be worldwide (world English rights). Executive Editor Diana Gill says they’re looking for “novels, novellas, short stories, interstitials.” Get those manuscripts polished up!
  • Patty Garcia of Tor Books tells me that Harry Harrison turned in the manuscript of his memoirs just two weeks before his death in August. “We had originally scheduled it for spring but we are trying to move it into late fall,” she says.
  • A source I cannot name informs me that Jim Butcher is supposedly about to turn in the manuscript for Cold Days, the 14th Dresden Files novel, currently slated for a November 27 release. The series pub dates have been creeping later for a while, from a year-long gap between volumes to nearly a year and a half since Ghost Story came out last July. Fans will be very relieved to see this one hit the shelves.

Speaking of the Dresden Files, I’ve been quite enjoying getting to walk around Chicago, but it is a little disappointing to encounter neither mobsters nor monsters. Any suggestions for Dresden-related landmarks to visit before we head home?

Worldcon, Day One

Our first day in Chicago was pretty low-key. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, UK literary scholars Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James dragged us out to lunch with Liza Groen Trombi of Locus; we enjoyed a wide-ranging conversation about books some of us liked and others didn’t, which is always a good way to get into the convention spirit. Then I interviewed David Long at Bethany House, who had some really interesting things to tell me about Christian speculative fiction. It goes way beyond Left Behind! That material will be going into an article for the upcoming SF/F focus issue.

Mikki Kendall and her husband took us on a walking tour of Chicago’s “scary” South Side (we stopped at a scary organic deli for scary coconut water! brrr!) and a drive through Bronzeville. Mikki’s a historian as well as an author, and she filled us in on the often tragic history of Chicago’s black neighborhoods. It’s one thing to play Sim City and see neighborhoods wither when you cut off their public transit. It’s another to see it in real life.

After we got back to the hotel, I napped for a bit while Josh took another walk, and then we went off to dinner with Charlie Jane Anders of io9. She used to be in medical writing, as did I, and we agreed that we’d love to see more SF where medicine is the science and the focus is something other than life extension. (More medicine in fantasy would be great too, like Daniel José Older’s story about a paramedic who determinedly resuscitates a witch who will come into her full powers when she dies.) After a few minutes of brainstorming we came up with a first contact story where an alien materializes in the middle of a road, is hit by a car, and has the actual first contact experience with the ambulance drivers or ER doctors, and also a story exploring the near future of hospice and palliative care and assisted suicide. Authors, consider this a challenge!

After dinner we hung out with a couple of Readercon volunteers and talked about plans for the coming year’s convention, and then Josh passed out while I got some editing done. It was a very nice start to what looks to be an entertaining and informative weekend.

Chicago Here We Come

I’m really looking forward to going to this year’s Worldcon. As usual, I expect to almost entirely miss the program in favor of talking with interesting people who are full of interesting ideas and gossip (some of which–quoted with permission, of course–will undoubtedly make it into the mid-September SF/F focus issue of PW). Josh and I will also be liveblogging and livetweeting the Hugos on Sunday night, starting at 8 p.m. Central Time. No idea yet whether they’ll get me an embargoed list of the winners, so follow along here and on @genreville to see whether our updates go like clockwork or are full of hasty shorthand and typos.

Link Roundup

Some fun things for the weekend:

  • At every convention I’ve ever gone to, rule #1 is “don’t freak the mundanes”. However, some mundanes are very good at freaking themselves. (h/t Andrew Porter)
  • Chicon and Dragon*con will be doing some joint programming, connected by two-way video links. I’ve looked into doing this sort of thing at Readercon, mostly to bring in guests who can’t travel to the convention for one reason or another, and there are a really astonishing number of ways for it to fail even if you have substantial infrastructure and experience with videoconferencing. Not all the problems are technological: if you’re a speaker, for example, do you face the live audience or the camera? If you’re a moderator, you rely heavily on body language; how can you tell whether your long-distance panelists are fidgety and bored, or itching to say something but too polite to butt in? It’s very complicated. I will definitely be going to some of those program items to see whether they can pull it off.
  • Speaking of Worldcon, if you want to meet up there, drop me a note! It’s a working vacation for me, and I’d especially love to connect with small-press publishers who don’t often come to New York.
  • At long last, Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction series will have digital editions. These books are excellent reading as well as priceless snapshots of how SF has changed over the years. Not mentioned in that press release, but hopefully included in the digitization project, is The Best of the Best, Volume 2, an anthology of superb SF novellas from the past 20 years. That book is probably my third-favorite anthology of all time, and I have read many, many, many anthologies. (The first two in my personal pantheon are Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year #14 (1984) and Spider Robinson’s The Best of All Possible Worlds. It’s a close call, but I think Best of the Best, Volume 2 edges out Judith Merril’s The Year’s Best S-F: 11th Annual Edition (1967) and Arthur W. Saha’s The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories 13 (1987) for third place. Barely.) Some of the very best work in the field has been done at novella length, going back to the days of skinny pulp paperbacks that really did fit in your back pocket. If you haven’t hunted down Dozois’s homage to the SF novella, do; you won’t be disappointed.

Finally, my friend Rachel Silber kindly sent along “Just Glue Some Gears on It (and Call It Steampunk)”, a smashing blend of chap-hop and barbershop-style harmony:

Nebula Awards Weekend, Day 1

After a morning conference call, I packed up and took a cab back to the convention hotel. There were no further hotel shenanigans, for which I am very glad; showed up, checked in, got reimbursed for my cab fare, all good. I got my badge, nabbed lunch at the hotel buffet (surprisingly tolerable), and headed up to the press room. Jaym Gates, SFWA’s press officer, is terrific. Even though she was dealing with hotel shenanigans, she still managed to get me set up with free wi-fi and line up a couple of interviews with Nebula nominees Mary Robinette Kowal and Rachel Swirsky. The audio of those will be exclusive to SFWA’s member site, but I’m hoping to at least post excerpts here.

After that I went down to the bar and ended up talking with a gaggle of folks (I’m trying not to turn this into namedropper central) about Readercon, Philcon, Lunacon, and other events of days gone by. Gardner Dozois told a hilarious story of the time he and George R.R. Martin, both young and broke, went around a convention trying to find an editor who would buy them dinner, and finally one took pity on them and got them each a hot dog from the cart outside the hotel. Be kind, editors! You never know who that pesky young writer will be someday.

I ran into James Patrick Kelly, who somehow talked me into being on a 10 a.m. panel tomorrow about e-books and self-publishing; this is what I get for snubbing the convention program. I did actually go to a panel, too: Jim Kelly, Connie Willis, John Scalzi, and James Morrow talking about how to write humor. They were all very responsible about staying on topic rather than zinging off snappy one-liners, but Scalzi managed to do both by describing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as “an extinction-level event for comedic science fiction.”

After that was the mass signing, which I endured for about an hour before fleeing to my room for a blissful hour of peace and quiet. I went back downstairs at about 7:15 to find several people discussing an email that had just been sent out by Jason Williams of Night Shade Books. (He also sent me a copy with permission to quote from it.) Night Shade’s had a couple of hard years; Williams cited the collapse of Borders and difficulties with a distributor, and also admitted that when SFWA put Night Shade on probation, they “needed the kick to get our affairs in order” and have continued to struggle to make payments on time (which may be why Cat Valente recently announced she would no longer be working with them). None of that is really news, though. The newsworthy bits are three:

  1. Night Shade has signed a distribution deal with PGW, including domestic and international e-book distribution through Constellation. “Ebook sales since we went live with Constellation in December have literally doubled.”
  2. They’ve also signed “a huge audiobook deal, that will not only include 20-30 backlist titles, but also a guaranteed audio rights deal for every non-reprint novel we have going forward.”
  3. “A wave of checks will go out at the end of this month, and another will go out in early July. After that, we’ll be paying bills in the beginning of every month…. We are making more than we are spending, and that means that we are operating with cash left over to pay off that back debt. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I’m going to be doing my best to make sure that everyone that is owed is getting money on a regular basis.”

Most of the reactions I heard were variations on the theme of “We’ll see”. I think it’s great that Night Shade is continuing to look to the future, but I suspect they’ll have image problems long after those debts are paid off (assuming they do get paid off).

I pulled myself away from the conversation for a wonderful dinner with Geoff Ryman and James Morrow at a nearby Ethiopian restaurant (thanks to Eileen Gunn for the kind recommendation), and came back fashionably late for the nominees’ reception. In a bit of accidental comedy, Scalzi left E. Lily Yu off the list of short story nominees (an error he quickly corrected) and then sent them through the wrong door for their group photograph. I caught up with Lily a bit later and she said happily, “That was actually the best thing that could have happened. I was so nervous before, but after walking into a supply closet with Adam-Troy Castro and Sheila Williams, now I’m not nervous at all!” So if you have pre-award jitters, supply closets are apparently the way to go.

I circulated and chatted for a while, and eventually the party shut down; most people decamped to the bar, but I wanted to spare my voice for the panel (seriously, why did I agree to do that), so Danielle and I got tea from the consuite and then headed for our room. I ironed all my shirts, hung up my suit, realized with some vexation that I had left my captoes at home and would be stuck wearing less formal shoes, and sat down to write this post. Now, to sleep. Tomorrow, the awards!

Nebula Awards Weekend, Day 0

I’m in D.C. for the Nebula Awards weekend. The hotel got overbooked–apparently an enormous tour group decided to stay an extra day, and once people have rooms you can’t kick them out–so a bunch of us were shunted off to a very posh hotel several miles away for Thursday night. This is a bit puzzling, as the original hotel is surrounded by other hotels and presumably they could have just sent us across the street, but whatever. Alas, the very posh hotel put all its money into building an enormous atrium with house-sized shops and restaurants inside of it, leaving none for soft beds.

This entire place–not just the apocalyptically empty and echoing hotel but the surrounding extruded-plastic “walkable downtown” with meticulously kept-up lawns and a complete sucking absence of soul–feels grotesquely fake. I could believe that it was once a movie set built from a demented megalomaniac’s dim, warped recollections of childhood vacation fantasies. Now the (undoubtedly dystopian) movie is done and the set has been abandoned, to be intermittently occupied by confused, wealthy squatters. The bars outside the hotel, where we went in a futile search for non–room service food, were packed full of the most desperately intoxicated people I have ever seen in my life. There is no dirt anywhere. There is no sense that anyone who had a hand in designing this place put the slightest thought into human comfort and enjoyment; it all exists simply to make an impression. It’s the architectural equivalent of someone who has undergone so much plastic surgery that none of their original face is left. It’s the suburbia that Information Society wrote “On the Outside 2.1″ about, the sort that recalls the man with red eyes and the regimented children from A Wrinkle in Time. It is profoundly discomfiting and I will be glad to leave.

The one redeeming feature is that I ended up with the magnificent D.T. Friedman as my last-minute roommate, which is lovely. If I were in a room all by myself I’d be missing my partners a whole lot. I’m still missing them, of course, but it’s tempered by slumber party fun.

There’s hardly anything on the program that interests me (no slight to the organizers; I have this problem at all non-Readercon conventions, and this one is mostly geared toward fiction writers, a group I don’t really belong in), so once I get back to the conference hotel, I plan to spend the next three days alternating between hot tub and bar*, using my phone to record interviews, with a break to put on my pinstripe suit and liveblog the Nebulas. I love my job, even when it sends me to strange, disturbing, non-real places.

* Because it’s where people congregate, not because I’ll be drinking. I don’t drink when I’m working.

Eastercon Followup

  • BSFA apologizes to everyone regarding the recent unpleasantness.
  • John Meaney doesn’t seem to feel the need to apologize to anyone but Lavie Tidhar.
  • Nicholas Whyte on the best parts of Eastercon.
  • Alex Dally MacFarlane on the less nice parts of Eastercon. Mirrored from her blog; the two links have quite different sets of comments.
  • …and a follow-up post regarding some of the criticism she got for daring to say that Eastercon was not 100% perfect. In the comments: “I’m willing to apologise for not caring about racism today, in favour of caring about the the way the criticism of the event comes across. I’m willing to care about racism tomorrow though.” I… wow.
    • Tangentially related: Tori Truslow on the word “exotic”, including some very good discussion in comments. A while back I adopted a policy of excising that word from any prose I edit, pretty much for the reasons given there. If you can’t replace “exotic” with “foreign” and keep the sentence’s meaning intact, then the sentence is almost certainly laden with unpleasant cultural baggage and needs to be reworked entirely or omitted altogether.
    • And tangentially related to that, Charles Tan on “World SF”. Quite long, and worth reading in its entirety.
    • And in case you missed it, Saladin Ahmed on Game of Thrones‘s blinding whiteness. Do not read the comments. (h/t Aliette de Bodard for most of these links)

Link Roundup

  • Congratulations to Andrea Hairston on winning the 2011 Tiptree Award! There are some great works on the honor list and long list as well.
  • M. Christian and Marilyn J. Lewis have launched the Black Marks Literary Award for unpublished SF, which will give $500 and an offer of publication to the author of the winning manuscript. No word on how they’re defining “science fiction”.
  • Speaking of awards, I’m going to the Nebula Awards Weekend! Are you? And now that the Hugo nomination ballots are in, what was on yours?
  • The Other Change of Hobbit has received a loan that will let it stay open for a short time. If you want to help them stay open beyond that, stop by their fundraiser on March 18th.
  • Francesca Lia Block is facing foreclosure despite never having missed a payment on her mortgage. She’s asking her fans to sign a petition urging Bank of America to help her renegotiate the mortgage and keep her home.
  • Cabinet des Fées has released a chapbook of Cinderella jump rope rhymes, with 50% of profits going to charity.
  • London in 2014 is the only 2014 Worldcon bid to file by the deadline, so now would be a great time to become a supporter and lock in the lowest possible rate. Josh and I have been pre-supporters since Arisia 2011 and just upgraded; we’re really looking forward to it.

Link Roundup

Some very good and very sad news today.

  • A couple of years ago, I wrote, “If I could subscribe to a publisher like a magazine or a book club—one flat annual fee to get everything they publish—I would subscribe to CZP.” Today ChiZine publisher Brett Savory wrote to me to say that I (and you) can do just that: they now offer e-book only, trade paper + e-book, and limited hardcover + e-book annual subscriptions, all with heavy discounts. Details here.
  • Author Spider Robinson’s daughter has been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. Spider’s wife and longtime collaborator, Jeanne, died in 2010 after her own battle with cancer. I hope that family catches a break very soon. (h/t to James Nicoll)
  • Over on PWxyz, Peter Brantley smacks Penguin into the middle of next week with a brilliant essay on the importance of e-book lending.
  • Paul Cornell pledges to evict himself from any convention panels he’s on where men outnumber women, and to invite a female audience member to replace him. Reactions predictably vary. (h/t to Graham Sleight)

Chicon, Here We Come!

It’s official: Josh and I will be in Chicago for Worldcon this fall! I’m hoping we’ll be able to take some time before and after to hang out with local friends and see the sights.

If you’d like to see us while we’re there–and that goes both for friends who want to hang out and for authors and publishers who want to set up meetings or pitch interviews–drop me a note: rfox@publishersweekly.com. Leave a comment here if you’re interested in a Genreville reader meetup. I’m going as an official PW emissary and Josh will be resuming the mantle of Genreville blogger for the occasion, which means it’s our job to scout out all the most interesting news and gossip at the convention. If that happens to happen over lunch or tea with wonderful people, so much the better.

Other cons this year:

  • Arisia: We gafiated and were very glad of the break after four straight years of hardcore volunteering. We’ll be back in 2013.
  • Readercon: We will of course be there, since I’m the program chair.
  • RWA: Not this year, alas.
  • World Fantasy: I will if I can. Not sure yet.

Happy Birthday, Conventions!

January 3rd was the 75th anniversary of what was quite possibly the very first SF convention (there is some debate as to its primacy, but at the very least it was one of the first), held in Leeds, England. The tireless Andrew Porter forwarded this email from longtime fan Rob Hansen:

A few months back I was put in touch with Jill Godfrey, daughter of Harold Gottliffe. It was Gottliffe who took photos of the event and not only did Jill have better prints of some of these than had come down the years, she also had several that were unknown to us.

I’ve been holding these back so as to premiere them on the anniversary. If you go to those pages on my website now you’ll see these, including a photo of the young Arthur C. Clarke that has never been seen before:

<http://www.fiawol.org.uk/fanstuff/THEN%20Archive/1937con.htm>

Along with the recently unearthed report by Ted Carnell (link also included) that’s more new material on that historic convention than has turned up in years.

Eric Frank Russell was quite the handsome fellow! Also I want his clothes. How come no one (except steampunk cosplayers) wears three-piece suits to cons anymore? It would certainly help protect us against the hotel air conditioning.

Link Roundup

I’m putting together the November 14 romance issue, which doesn’t leave much time for blogging. Enter the handy link roundup!

Genreville’s Borders Expand Again

In a perfect illustration of the ways that the fantastic has become mainstream, Fox has purchased the TV rights to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (and, I assume, will do similarly with The Magician King if the first project goes well). According to Deadline.com, the series “will be written by X-Men: First Class and Thor co-writers Ashley Miller & Zack Stentz and produced by Michael London (Milk), Shawn Levy and Michael Adelstein.” I note that it is being referred to as a “drama series”.

Let’s get beyond the complaints that It’s Popular, Now It Sucks. If The Magicians is a drama and Terry Pratchett is a satirist, this isn’t about genre media getting a bigger audience. This is about the audience no longer caring, positively or negatively, that genre media are genre. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, either. It’s been happening in the film world for decades, and in the video game world for even longer. My first “aha” moment on this topic was in 2006, when I realized The Lake House was being billed as a romantic drama without a word of warning about its fantastical elements. A friend told me the other day that the best science fiction story he’d encountered recently was the video game Portal 2. How many people loved Portal 2 without ever thinking of it as SF?

Our obscure little dialect has, somewhat mysteriously, become the lingua franca. That means genre fans are going to have to sit down and seriously contemplate what it means for our identities as fans to have our genre become so thoroughly embedded in, or subsumed by, the mainstream. The sets of “people who actively enjoy speculative literature” and “people who participate in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature” used to overlap extensively. Now the first is vastly larger than the second. If you define “fan” as “someone who actively enjoys speculative literature”, fandom isn’t shrinking and greying; it’s expanding and diversifying to a really thrilling degree. If you define “fan” as “someone who participates in discussions and gatherings devoted to speculative literature”, fandom is rapidly dispersing among the general population and losing its precious uniqueness in the process, like a drop of dye in a bucket of water.

My unofficial tagline for Genreville has always been “Welcome to Genreville, population: more than you think”. Genreville has no immigration policy and no protectionist regulations. I would much rather expand the definition of “fan” than restrict it. I want good conversations about books, and that means inviting in as many viewpoints as possible. Coincidentally, there are more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have been since the Great Genre Schism between fantastical and mimetic fiction–and actually, given the increase in world population since then, there are probably more people reading and thinking about the literature of the fantastic than there have ever been. That’s amazing. And let’s not forget that their money funds the industry, and their opinions (in the form of their book-buying habits) shape it. We longtime fans truly can’t afford to dismiss the newcomers as unworthy of our attention.

Instead, I think it’s incumbent upon us to reach out to them and learn from them. They may not have read the classics of the genre; what were they reading, watching, and playing instead, and how did those other media experiences influence their experiences of fantastical literature? Maybe they could turn us on to things we might have missed out on. I haven’t played a story-based video game in years, but my friend’s description of Portal 2 made me want to give it a try–and made me wonder what else I would love that I haven’t even heard about.

I don’t think conventions and zines and other fanac (including terms like “fanac“) will disappear altogether. I think the ones that are primarily about interaction will be replaced–are being replaced–by online socializing. I think the ones that are primarily about books will stay around as long as they can make themselves attractive and relevant to mainstream readers who are just starting to realize they like that fantasy stuff. Will this mean more 101-level conversations, fandom’s eternal September? Probably. Is it worth it for old-timers to stay around and contribute to those conversations? Absolutely. Those mainstream n00bs need us, and we need them.

More Deep Thoughts

Josh and I were idly chatting over the weekend about someday running a Worldcon; he wants to have one in Atlantic City in ’21 (very appropriate) and I said we could call it Ace of Cons. After some thought, we came up with a dream team of guests of honor: author N.K. Jemisin, editors Devi Pillai and DongWon Song, and artist Kinuko Y. Craft, with K. Tempest Bradford as toastmistress. By 2021 I expect Nora, Devi, and DongWon will have cemented their reputations as genre stars; Kinuko Craft is already legendary; and Tempest, the Wanda Sykes of fandom, would run the world’s most hilarious Hugo ceremony. It would be awesome. It would also be a statement that you can have a major genre event where all the deservedly honored guests are people of color and most of them are women. Links like the ones above are the reason I think such statements need to be made, repeatedly and with emphasis.

California and Nevada, Here I Come

Josh and I are heading to San Francisco tomorrow for a week of vacation before we go to Worldcon. I would like to pretend that Worldcon is a vacation, but at this point it’s as much of a professional event for me as it is a way to see friends and steal panel ideas for Readercon attend interesting program items.

If you’d like to meet me in person and tell me how awesome Genreville is, here’s where I’ll be before Worldcon:

Aug. 13, 7 p.m.: SF in SF

Aug. 16, 6:30 p.m.: The mp3 Experiment San Francisco (Josh and I will be among the blue shirts)

And at Worldcon:

Aug. 18, 2 p.m.: Kaffeeklatsch, room KK1

Come hang out, drink tea, and chat with me about books and reviewing and anything else you like!

Aug. 18, 8 p.m.: Fannish Origami Workshop, room KK1

Have some experience with origami? Come learn advanced origami patterns for aliens, spaceships, mythological creatures and more! Paper will be provided.

If you know a mountain from a valley and a squash from a sink, origamically speaking, please do come to this so I can feel justified in having spent Worldcon’s money on lots of pretty paper.

Aug. 19, 11 a.m.: Social Media for Writers (with Tee Morris, Tom Negrino, Cory Doctorow, and Brenda Cooper), room A03

Writers know the Internet, but not all writers take advantage of its full potential. With the evolution of Social Media, potential readers are only a click away. But what exactly is Social Media? At this panel, you will pick up the vocabulary and background of exactly what Social Media is, what it can do, and what it cannot do.

Every time Cory says “DRM” or “free”, take a drink. Every time I say “Don’t argue with reviews”, chug. If you know Tee, Tom, or Brenda, feel free to suggest more drinking game rules in the comments.

Aug. 20, 3 p.m.: The Paranormal as Metaphor (with Naamen Tilahun, Lucienne Diver, Carrie Vaughn, and Patricia Briggs), room A16

Paranormal fantasy, including urban fantasy and paranormal romance, is among the most popular genres within speculative fiction. One intriguing aspect of this type of fantasy is its role as a stealth route toward social commentary and change. What are the issues being examined and how effectively are the experiences of various groups presented?

Remember that post from a few months ago on why white men should refuse to be on panels of all white men? This panel as originally convened–a panel on paranormal metaphors for social issues!–was all white women. I emailed the Renovation program staff and said I wouldn’t be on it unless they made it more diverse. Somewhat to my surprise, this was actually effective, and I’m delighted that Naamen will be joining us. (I’m equally delighted that I didn’t have to make good on my threat, as I think I’m the token queer on the panel and diversity in that direction is important too.) The program item description has also been much improved. Kudos to the Renovation program staff for taking positive steps quickly and without defensiveness. And if you find yourself on a similarly un-diverse panel, I hope my positive experiences here will encourage you to speak up.

In addition to my official schedule, I expect to be at the Regency Tea Dance, at which PW reviewer and dance historian Susan de Guardiola will be teaching, and possibly at the Regency ball as well. (Incidentally, if you write anything set anywhere near the Victorian era, you should hire Susan to fact-check your work, because she is brilliant and eagle-eyed and ruthless.) I will also probably spend a lot of time in the bar because that’s where all the good convention stuff happens. Look for the white chick with fuzzy hair drinking her own weight in ginger ale and knitting baby clothes (all my friends are having babies all at once!).

Speaking of Worldcon, I just got a press release saying that the Hugo voter turnout set a record this year: “A record total of 2100 valid final ballots were cast, a 46.1% turnout, from voters in 33 countries. (The previous record set in 1980 was 1788 ballots cast.) Renovation also broke a record earlier this year when it received 1006 valid nominating ballots.” Well done, everyone who nominated and voted! Even those of you who voted for things I didn’t like.

With that, I’m signing off until August 24th, with two exceptions: next Monday I’ll be posting the extended version of our Q&A with the magnificent Maureen McHugh, and the following Saturday I’ll be liveblogging the Hugos (assuming I can get internet access from the convention center ballroom). I hope the coming weeks treat you kindly. See you on the flip side.

Back from Readercon

A scant few weeks after posting about my attempt to go as long as possible without meeting Neil Gaiman, I have lost the game: he randomly showed up at Readercon (yes, the convention committee was as surprised as everyone else) and Peter Straub kindly introduced us. We also got surprise visits from Junot Diaz and Marjorie M. Liu. One of my favorite things about Readercon is that you never know who’s going to come by.

Neil was at the convention primarily to attend the Shirley Jackson Awards ceremony, one of three that take place at Readercon. The winners:

  • Novel: Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Novella: “Mysterium Tremendum” by Laird Barron
  • Novelette: “Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains” by Neil Gaiman
  • Short story: “The Things” by Peter Watts
  • Collection: Occultation by Laird Barron
  • Anthology: Stories: All New Tales edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

The full list of nominees is here, and you can see video of the ceremony here.

Also given at Readercon are the Rhysling Awards for speculative poetry. In the short poem category:

  • First place: “El Codex Chupacabra” by Juan Manuel Perez
  • Second place: “Welcome Home (The Nebulas Song)” by Janis Ian
  • Third place: “Peach-Creamed Honey” by Amal El-Mohtar

And in the long poem category:

  • First place: “The Sea King’s Second Bride” by C. S. E. Cooney
  • Second place: “Dark Rains Here and There” by Bruce Boston
  • Third place: “Wreck-Diving the Starship” by Robert Frazier

This year’s Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award went to Katherine MacLean, the award’s first female winner and first living winner. She was on hand to accept the award, give a short speech on the nature of sentience and intelligence, be interviewed by Samuel R. Delany (that link goes to a video of the interview, no transcript) and generally charm and delight everyone at the convention.

Also announced this weekend (but at Mythcon, not at Readercon) were the Mythopoeic Awards. The winners:

  • Adult literature: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
  • Children’s literature: The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Inklings studies: Planet Narnia by Michael Ward
  • Myth and fantasy studies: The Victorian Press and the Fairy Tale by Caroline Sumpter

Congratulations to the many winners! I love that all these awards touch on very different aspects of our genre; it’s wonderful to be reminded just how broad the SF/F/H umbrella is, and how many amazing people crowd together beneath it.

I am entirely hoarse, entirely behind on my work, entirely exhausted, and still glowing from the joys of this past weekend. Many thanks to the Genreville readers who came up to say hello; it’s nice to know I’m writing to real people and not just shouting into the void. I hope to meet more of you at Worldcon in just a few weeks!

Monday Links

  • My mother and Ellen Stern have a lovely piece about novels with great second lines up on New York City Woman.
  • Got too many books? Turn them into bedside lamps and speakers.
  • FILM CRIT HULK diverges from films to discuss George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows, explain why the Game of Thrones miniseries is better than the books, and otherwise very thoroughly spoil the entire series through book four. (No spoilers for book five yet, unless you count “Vader is Jon Snow’s father”, “Petyr Baelish is Keyser Söze”, and other contributions to the #dancewithdragonsspoiler hashtag game on Twitter the other night.) I personally found that A Feast for Crows improved greatly upon rereading, but it really isn’t a complete book without A Dance with Dragons.
  • The Readercon schedule is finished! I am very proud. I hope to see many of you at the convention. If you spot me, say hello!