I knew that coming to Sasquan (aka SmokeCon, aka WorldCon 2015, the con put on by the World Science Fiction Society, which administrates the Hugo Awards) would be interesting, but having never attended any kind of con before, I didn’t know quite what flavor of interesting to expect. The opening ceremonies, which began with a song and stories from some of the local tribes (Spokani, Nez Perce, and Plateau, I think, but I may have misheard, so please correct me if you know better). The theme that the conference organizers talked about was stories and how they bring us together, because whether we use art, words, or costume, we’re all telling stories which, fanciful or not, hit at the heart of something about what it means to be human. The storyteller (someone who took better notes – do you know what his name was? I’m having trouble finding it) ended his piece with asking questions that he didn’t want his listeners to answer right away because it is a sign of respect among his people to demonstrate that you’re taking the question seriously by saying, “Let me think about it.”
I’ve been doing a lot of listening this week, and a lot of thinking about the stories and questions I’ve heard, and I would like to tell you what the Fandom and its con look like to me as a new member.
The line between fans and creatives is somewhere between blurred and non-existent.
I’m not just talking about the way congenial superstars (like George R. R. Martin) wander the halls admiring costumes and graciously letting fans thank them for their work. I’m also, and maybe even mostly, talking about the way that fans love each other and lift each other up and honor fan art and fiction and commentary for the value that it has in giving well-loved works an even bigger presence in the community. People who have done the often invisible work of simply going out of their way to make new fans feel welcome and included get the same affectionate praise as the creators of the most popular art.
The “Imagi-Nation” works hard to figure out how better to make everyone welcome.
Diversity and cultural appropriation – two sides of the same coin – were taking up a lot of space at the con, which made me happy, because I wrestle with these concepts in my own writing. I had some wonderful conversations with many people about how to write about people who are different from ourselves without either stealing from their beliefs or representing them only as Other, and while I have so vastly much to say on this that I will probably return to it in multiple future posts, the clear trends that emerged were (1) do as much research on the culture you want to write about; (2) support creatives from minority cultures and boost their signal to give them room to be heard; and (3) we just generally need morefrogs and dogs and bears and chickens and whatevers. (Thanks to the inimitable Tex Thomspon and Kermit the Frog for that connection – the point being that the more you have of any particular group, the easier it is to represent the group as itself diverse and fully human.) The level of diversity is imperfect, but everyone seems to know it and care about actively making it better.
The only intolerable thing is intolerance itself.
You may recall that the Hugo nomination process this year was attacked by trolls disguised as puppies. A flame war commenced (which makes it oddly appropriate for the con to have be re-named SmokeCon, given the air quality levels that were as bad as they’ve been since Mt. St. Helen erupted in 1980, as Washington faces a national emergency). Names were called on both sides, people threw things: shit got ugly. I’ve got a little more perspective on the fight after attending the con, and I think that the reason the sad/rabid puppies got upset is because the Hugos are a tradition of a community that historically does engage not only with the works, but with the people who create those works. Creatives who do not respect the community rules of non-judgmental inclusiveness really aren’t all that welcome, and much of the ideological divide that separates folks who are overlooked from folks who make the awards has to do with the divide between inclusiveness and intolerance. I’m sure there are awards where the beliefs and attitudes of a creative are not primary criteria for judging the work, but with the Hugos, they matter. That’s the nature of this community of fans coming together to celebrate their mutual love of science fiction, and honestly, the environment that this principle engenders is like snuggling with a kitten while drinking hot chocolate in the middle of a snowstorm, so I can only say that I’m pleased to have found my way here.
Speaking of the Hugos…
For those of you who missed the livecast and aren’t inclined to watch the full ceremony, here’s the full list of winners…and let me share a very quick list of highlights from what was a very delightful event which I’m so pleased to have been there for:
- Tananarive Due and a team of red shirts faced down Death. (Death, incidentally, was created by this IBM engineer named Kevin Roche who is both involved in bringing a quantum mechanics fueled leap to computing technology and one hell of a costumer.)
- Robert Silverberg sang Hare Krishna with a tambourine and then got the entire audience singing with him. It was a thing.
- Wesley Chu got political: he has announced his candidacy for the Republican party run for president of the United States. >D
- Connie Willis was bitten by a bat and now thinks that Twilight is the best literature ever. Related: David Gerrold just about lost his shit laughing, which was a needed turnaround, because the memorial noting just how many friends and heroes the community lost in the last year was like being kicked in the chest by a mule. (This too was another lovely example of how fans and creatives are on egalitarian footing at WorldCon – longtime fans who passed away were named alongside well-known stars like Sir Terry Pratchett and Leonard Nimoy, and it’s clear they will be missed every bit as much, if not more.)
- A dalek joined the MCs to present the dramatic presentation awards. I would not have thought a dalek capable of comic chemistry, but there you have it.
- The Hugo for best novel was awarded by Dr. Kjell Lindgren, from the International Space Station.
- The “No Award” option has been used five times in Hugo history. Last night, it was used for five different categories.
- And most importantly, history was made as two translated works won awards, including best novel – a first for the Hugos, and one that I think points again to a community that cares about making space for diverse voices.
So these are some thoughts on WorldCon and the Hugos and this community in general, and generally speaking, I’m hoping I’ll be able to find my way to Kansas City in 2016 and Helsinki in 2017. This is only the very tip of the iceberg from the trip…I’ll be doing a series of posts following up on travelling in Spokane (which you had no idea you wanted to do, but trust me, you do) and some of the specific events and conversations and books I’ve been exposed to. (I’m going to try to post at least quick reviews of every book someone handed me for free, so this could take a while. “What do you mean my bag is overweight? It was fine coming out here.” Baggage officer unzips the suitcase and the airport is quickly buried in an avalanche of books. “Oh, right…”)
Alright, off to the airport. Safe travels, my beautiful tribe of glorious and good-hearted weirdos. :)