It’s been about a month since the Hugo nominations were announced and with it the anger, frustrations, and mixed emotions of the slate voting by the self-described Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies factions. Since there are so many works out each year, the nomination announcement is not only a time to shout out about great work and writers I admire, but also acts as a reading list for what I may have missed. This year, I’ve been mostly quiet amid the debates, but it wasn’t until recently that I fully realized why.
My relationship with literary science fiction, and the community who love it, is complicated. I’ve been a casual science fiction and fantasy reader since middle school, but didn’t fully embrace it until later in life. I started attending a local convention and to my naive surprise, it was chock full of older white folks. There’s nothing wrong with older white folks, mind you, but it goes back to the importance of representation. My first time at a con, I was struck by the lack in age, minority, and gender diversity of both the panelists and attendees, but I could feel the value in their experiences. I’ve watched big name science fiction writers sit in panel audiences and be fans, and I’ve heard stories about the first Society for Creative Anachronism picnic and about organizing conventions before the Internet using postal mail and long distance telephone calls. I keep going back because they have such a deep knowledge of science fiction and fantasy and the strength of a community that comes from years, in some cases decades, of reading and discussing science fiction together.
Science fiction and fantasy have historically had a bad reputation for diversity. In the age of twenty-four hour news cycle, waiting for the sea of diversity to wash over us with amazing science fiction books written about and by persons of color, women, and LGBTQ folks feels more like a trickle than the tsunami we want. Books take years to write and workshop and revise. Then it takes time for get an agent—if you don’t already have one—have your agent pitch the book to publishers, work with an editor, review cover art, print schedules, shipping, book tours and eventually get people to read your book. Change is happening in science fiction, but it’s taking time. Look at Ann Leckie’s debut novel, Ancillary Justice, which featured a non-binary gendered protagonist, and which won several prestigious awards in 2014, including a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, and a Locus Award.
One of the high points in the year for literary science fiction and fantasy fans is the World Science Fiction Convention, commonly known as Worldcon. The convention has been held almost every year since 1939. The multi-day convention hosts panels, readings, autograph sessions, exhibits, workshops, a masquerade, and yes, the Hugo Awards ceremony.
Nowadays, it seems wherever you turn, a convention is coming to a town near you. In the States, we have big conventions, like San Diego Comic Con, New York City Comic Con, Wizard World Chicago, and PAX Prime. On the surface, conventions can all seem alike. Many of the biggest conventions today are produced by for-profit organizations, like Wizard World Inc. or ReedPop. Worldcon is produced via an all volunteer effort.
Since the location of each year’s Worldcon is selected by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) two years prior to the date of that convention, dedicated volunteers are working for two years to produce a great experience for their fellow fans in the community. On top of that, committees bid for the site of the Worldcon, a process that can take an additional one or more years. That means that volunteers could be working on a convention three to four years in advance.
Which brings me to why the slate voting campaign has bothered me so much that I don’t want to think about it. Producing Worldcon and celebrating the winners of the Hugo Award is a gigantic all volunteer collaborative effort. For a small group of disgruntled fans, to take advantage of a loophole raises a giant middle finger to all those who dedicated countless hours to the hard work of making the Worldcon, the science fiction and fantasy community, and ultimately the Hugos better. That people who claim to be fans and part of this community could do something so hurtful, feels so personal and leaves me feeling raw.
Yes, there are issues in the literary science fiction community. Yes, there needs to be more diversity in the works that are encouraged and celebrated while at the same time retaining the high standards. Yes, there needs to be an embracing of new fans, younger fans, more diverse fans.
Change is never easy nor does it happen overnight. Positive organic change is happening in the science fiction and fantasy community, and I’ll keep doing my part and putting in the hard work to help it along.