Hugos and Worldcon Redux

While some of us are debating about Paul Cook’s rather clueless attempt to define what is and isn’t SF (read the previous two posts for more), the discussion about the Hugos and the future of WorldCon is still happily chugging along.

The given the amount of discussion that the announcement of the Hugo nominees has caused earlier this year, post Hugo reactions have been remarkably quiet. So far, the only negative reaction has been on Facebook, where military SF author John Ringo rants about how John Scalzi’s pandering to what passes for leftwing in the US may have won him a Hugo (or three), but pisses off what Ringo views as Scalzi’s core readership and may cost him sales. He also complains about Scalzi’s tenure as SFWA president, during which Scalzi apparently bothered too much with “trivial” issues such as harrassment at conventions. Oh yes, and he attacks the straw communists of New York publishing as well. Never mind that John Ringo no more defines the readership of military SF than anybody else does, the passive aggressive threats of “We won’t buy your books anymore” (Doesn’t Nick Mamatas have an icon for this?) don’t really make him come across all that well. Too bad, because John Ringo actually won my respect for his classy response to the “Oh, John Ringo, no” thing a few years back, though I don’t read his books, cause they’re not my cup of tea. The rant was pointed out by Andrew Trembley in the comments to my previous Hugo post BTW.

John Scalzi indirectly responds to John Ringo and other critics of the Redshirts win here and here. Scalzi also has this great post from early August in which he tells self-styled gatekeepers to fuck off, because he wants his works to be enjoyed by as many people as possible, no matter who they are. I totally agree with him. I’ve never been a fan of target demographics, because people’s tastes are a lot more complicated than marketers believe. For example, the My Little Pony cartoon has a significant fandom of young men. I’m pretty sure they’re not the target demographic. Supernatural was originally pitched as a show aimed at the coveted young male demographic, but its biggest fans are women. A new German TV channel supposedly aimed at men between 18 and 30 (i.e. the coveted young male demographic) just launched with the German TV premiere of Captain America – The First Avenger. Avengers fandom skews heavily female. Perhaps they should have shown My Little Pony instead.

Besides, while John Ringo warns John Scalzi about limiting his readership, I note that John Ringo is, consciously or unconsciously, limiting his own readership. For starters, with his focus on gun rights and the second amendment to the US constitution and on being a Jacksonian limits his readership to US-readers, because people outside the US mostly don’t care about the second amendment or Andrew Jackson and find the US insistence on owning guns for defense against some nebulous threat rather bizarre.

Plus, military SF is one of those very American subgenres which presume that soldiers are by default heroic and admirable. However, in many parts of the world, including Germany, soldiers are not viewed as heroic and admirable by default. Indeed, if you grew up in (West) Germany after 1945, you were inundated from a very early age with a “war is evil” message (not necessarily conscious, for many of us deduced that war was evil from the tales of grandparents and parents about bombings and rapes long before the schools got into the picture), which for many of us quickly translated into a message of “soldiers make war, therefore soldiers are evil”. This wasn’t actually the official message, but it was the one that stuck. For the record, most of us don’t actually believe that soldiers are evil by default (I certainly don’t), but we don’t believe that they are heroic and admirable by default either, which is why so much US entertainment that relies on the lazy characterization of “He or she is a US soldier, therefore he or she is a good person” falls flat outside the US. For example, to a German viewer, Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS is not a good guy because he used to be a Marine (most people over here have very vague ideas of what a Marine actually is), but because the show has proven time and again that Gibbs is a genuinely good person, an impression that even manages to survive the occasional really bad and borderline offensive NCIS episode. Another example, I enjoy Suzanne Brockmann’s military romances about heroic Navy SEALs a whole lot, because Brockmann is a good writer and makes me care about her characters. Interestingly, Brockmann wasn’t translated into German into fairly recently and much of her oevre is still not available over here, because military subjects are a hard sell. So the takeaway is that good writers show why a particular character is an admirable person regardless of their choice of occupation. Lazy writers just rely on the “the character is a soldier and therefore a good person” shorthand that works in the US and then are stunned when non-US readers don’t care for their work. And for the record, since I haven’t read John Ringo, I have no idea into which category he falls.

Interestingly, John Ringo also explains why I have enormous problems finding space operas to read at the moment, even though space opera is my favourite subgenre. However, space opera and military SF have become nigh synonymous and are assumed to be rightwing subgenres, read mainly by right-leaning Americans who really love guns and admire the military and wish that Heinlein were still alive. Meanwhile, I am probably far left by US standards (though only somewhat left of centre by European ones), think gun control is a good thing (though again I am liberal on gun control by German standards, since I don’t want an outright ban and don’t want to disarm sports shooters and hunters) and am highly skeptical of the military. Plus, as I explain here, I really love stories about revolutions in my space opera. But since I don’t fit the profile of what a space opera reader is supposed to be like, I don’t have a whole lot to read apart. Luckily, indie publishing has made a wider spectrum of works available, though we’re still drowning in space marines.

However, the main discussion this time around seems to focus on the demographics of WorldCon and how representative they are of fandom. For example, Chuck Wendig points out that WorldCon skews older compared to other big conventions such as Dragon Con or Comic Con.

J.M. McDermott points out that this year’s WorldCon was also very white – although held in San Antonio, a city that is very diverse. I doubt that London next year will be different in that respect (perhaps even worse, due to many white Europeans who can’t usually attend finally having the chance to go), even though London is also a very diverse city. McDermott also points out some problematic conversations with the sort of elderly fans who still believe that the Heinlein juveniles are the be-all and end-all of YA. I totally agree with McDermott’s friend Jenn that if we want to teach SF is the classroom, Heinlein is not the way to go (for university students in a history of SF class Heinlein is okay, but not for highschool and younger students).

Robert Jackson Bennett sees the aging of WorldCon as a symptom of a general problem considering that many professional gatherings in the US (because this whole war generation, baby boomers, Generation X, millennials breakdown is purely a US phenomenon – other countries have other demographic trends) skew older. Meanwhile, Ursula Vernon points out that SF fandom still manages to be singularily unwelcoming among fandoms that skew older.

Finally, Madeline Ashby points out that the older crowd currently dominating WorldCon will eventually die off and the cosplaying anime kids of DragonCon will inherit the world. It’s a great post, though I have issues with her request that WorldCon should always take place in the same location (in North America, naturally) just like Dragon Con and Comic Con. Not all fans, including not all young fans, live in the US, and many of us cannot travel to the US for financial, health or visa reasons (Never mind that the US isn’t exactly a friendly country for foreign travelers). I’m fairly privileged as a white woman from a visa waiver country, nonetheless I know that I will never attend Comic Con or Wiscon (never had the slightest interest in Dragon Con) because they are held in the US. However, I might be able to attend WorldCon on the rare occasion it takes place in Europe (and will be going to London next year).

I’m also not sure if making WorldCon more like DragonCon or Comic Con is the answer. Because we already have media cons, comic cons, anime and manga cons, gaming cons, etc… We even have some of those in Germany (probably because German fans realized that they would never be able to attend Comic Con or DragonCon and so set up their own) and yet I’ve never felt tempted to go. WorldCon, on the other hand, has always been focussed on written SFF, though media SFF, comics, etc… and their fans shouldn’t be excluded by default either.

Alice Black responds to Madeline Ashby with some concrete suggestions on how to make WorldCon more welcoming to younger fans. A pretty good list. Scott Edelmann also has a suggestion about how to make WolrdCon for welcoming to new fans.

Andrea Phillips points out how daunting WorldCon feels to a newcomer. By comparison, Amy Gentry, who covered the convention for the Austin Chronicle, was pleasantly surprised by her experience. And for a slightly different perspective from a first time WorldCon attendee, Mark Oshiro, who was nominated for the best fan writer Hugo, recounts his experiences.

Meanwhile, Cheryl Morgan points out that WorldCon is slow to change and that many of those criticizing the convention are not willing to butt heads with the people who resist change in the respective committees.

On a similar note, though written before this year’s WorldCon, this post by Jonathan McCalmont views attempts by some to eliminate the fan Hugo categories, because the “wrong people” keep getting nominated and even win as a symptom of some SFF fans to cling to the past. He also points out the youth problem of official SFF fandom, while he’s at it.

Jonathan McCalmont also points out this great post at Strange Horizons by Renay of Lady Business, wherein she points out how unwelcoming mainstream SFF fandom felt to her as a younger female fan, compared to the far more welcoming atmosphere of the woman dominated fandoms she grew up in.

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10 Responses to Hugos and Worldcon Redux

  1. Eddie Cochrane says:

    Great roundup of the Hugo Award and Worldcon commentary going around. The last link looks broken though, the one to Renay’s post on Strange Horizons.

  2. Andrew Trembley says:

    So picking out one thing: Alice Black’s reactions to badge ribbons is interesting. At Gallifrey One (the long-running Doctor Who convention in LA), ribbons are a much bigger thing than at Worldcon, and the kids and teens are all over it. It’s a very youth-oriented activity.

    • Cora says:

      I found that interesting as well, for collecting ribbons strikes me as exactly the sort of thing kids and teens would like.

      • Sahrye says:

        I went to Dragoncon for the first time this year and have been to WorldCon in the past. Hardly a ribbon to be seen. The only ribbons I saw were official ones designating people as offical press, guests, etc. I think perhaps ribbons is a smaller con thing? Anyway, as a early 30-something book nerd and cosplayer I have to say that I enjoyed both cons. If they were not at the same time in the year I would attend both. Since they are I’ll probably have to alternate or pick based on which friends are attending which con or where Worldcon is being held.

        • Cora says:

          The ribbons probably are a thing at specific cons. I’ve never seen them here in Germany, but then I’m not really what you’d call a big con goer. Also good point that it’s possible to enjoy both WorldCon and DragonCon on different levels. I agree that it’s a pity that they are usually held on the same weekend, since it makes it impossible to visit both. Next year, WorldCon and DragonCon will actually take place on different weekends, but since they take place on different continents as well, attending both will only be possible for a few wealthy fans. On the plus side, it means that I can finally go to WorldCon.

  3. Pingback: Yet more Worldcon and Hugo Reactions | Cora Buhlert

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