The discussion about Paul Cook’s attempts to define SF for the rest of us seems to have died down, but it seems we’re still talking about Worldcon and the Hugos and if/how they should change. My last round-up of Hugo and Worldcon reactions is here BTW.
First of all, Paul Cornell apparently referred to the SMOFs, an acronym that stands for Secret Masters of Fandom (i.e. the people who organize and run cons), as “Smurfs” in reference to this photo of overwhelmingly male and white Worldcon chairs posted by Jim Hines and plenty of others. Personally, my reaction to the photo was “Wow, there are are more women than I would have expected.” I don’t really think Smurf is an insult either. After all, Smurfs are clever, brave, industrious, kind and regularly beat Gargamel at his own game. Nonetheless, some people were upset, so Paul Cornell apologized to all offended SMOFs. File 770 and Cheryl Morgan have more.
The second issue concerns Mary Robinette Kowal’s novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars, which won enough nominations to have made the Hugo ballot in the novelette category, but was disqualified due to being only available as an audio book and audio books count as dramatic presentations and not in the written fiction categories. At Geek Feminism, Annalee wonders whether the exclusion of The Lady Astronaut of Mars was at least partly motivated by sexism and whether the work of a white man would have been treated the same. Now we cannot know what would have happened if The Lady Astronaut of Mars had been written by – say – John Scalzi instead of Mary Robinette Kowal. But given that this year’s Hugo nominees nominees in the novelette category were three women, Catherynne Valente, Pat Cadigan and Seanan McGuire (twice) as well as Thomas Oude Heuvelt, a Dutch man (and therefore not really a part of the Anglo-American dominated core of fandom, even if he should happen to be white – no idea if he is), the accusations of sexism don’t really hold in this case. Never mind that the story that The Lady Astronaut of Mars would have kicked off the ballot was a story by another woman (Seanan McGuire), not a white man. Cheryl Morgan adds her two pence here. If you want to know what the uproar is all about, you can now read The Lady Astronaut of Mars at Tor.com BTW (and you should, cause it’s a really good story).
However, the main discussion is still about the supposedly too old and too white and too male demographics of Worldcon and that Worldcon needs to change to be more in line with hipper conventions such as DragonCon or Comic Con. Cheryl Morgan, who knows more about the behind the scenes running of Worldcon than most of the Worldcon critics, responds here and also goes a bit more into the mechanics of conventions run by volunteering fans here.
Here is a quote that I found particularly pertinent:
I note also my comments from last week about fans in Europe being concerned that American authors will boycott their conventions because those conventions fail to live up to some standard of moral purity that doesn’t work well with the local culture.
I’m pleased to hear that there are plenty of other fabulous conventions that people can go to instead of Worldcon. People have a choice, and if they don’t like Worldcon they can go elsewhere. Of course almost all of the examples I was given were in the USA, which is rather sucky if you happen to be me. Or indeed a lot of other people.
It is true that us non-Americans can do our own thing, but we still live in a culture defined to a large extent by the marketing juggernaut that is the USA. On the once-a-decade occasions that Worldcon visits our shores, a whole heap of US authors come with it, mostly at their own expense. That has some value to some people.
My own feelings are quite similar. If Worldcon were to be held every year at the same location (in the US naturally), that would be great for US fans, would suck for the rest of the world, because very few of us can afford to travel to the US for a convention, even if health and visa issues allow. And while the exclusion of overwhelmingly white European or Australian fans may not seem like a big issue to some people, this would also exclude a lot of fans of colour.
I also understand the worries of European conrunners about offending some real or imagine American standards of morality, because the truth is that cultures are different, even among people who look superficially similar, and that what is considered offensive in the US is not necessarily considered offensive elsewhere and vice versa. I struggle with this myself, for while I do my best not to accidentally violate some US cultural taboo and say or write something that may be considered offensive by Americans, I do come from a different culture with different standards of what is and is not considered offensive. I also balk at Americans who have lived in Germany for maybe two years and suddenly declare that X will have to go, because X would be considered offensive in the US, never mind that X is the way things have been done here for decades, if not centuries and absolutely no one is offended except for one busybody American. Never mind that many Americans have no problems writing or saying things that would be considered mindbogglingly offensive over here and get very defensive or downright insulting when called out about it (not that I often bother, since I know I’ll only get an extra dose of offensiveness laced with “Lighten up. It was a joke.” and no one to leap to my defense). For the record, whenever I did call out an American about saying something I considered offensive, people of colour usually apologized with “Sorry, I didn’t think. But you’re right, cause I hate stupid stereotypes, too.” The defensive jerks were all white, probably because white Americans have never had the experience of being “the Other” in mainstream pop culture.
Meanwhile, BundoranSF points out that discussions about the greying of fandom as well as the lack of women, people of colour and the young have been going on for thirty years at least, yet so far neither Worldcon nor fandom have died out.
Meanwhile, Justin Landon, the guy who kicked off this spring’s “The Hugos are broken” debate, has come to the conclusion that he was wrong about both the Hugos and Worldcon, that both are irrelevant and examples of a club that’s gradually dying out. Instead he proposes creating a new award that will be relevant to a new generation of fans and inclusive of a worldwide audience. Voting rights would cost 5 USD rather than 45 or whatever the current going rate is. Oh yes, and the new award would be awarded at one of those hip multi-media cons like DragonCon or Comic Con. William Henry Morris has some more thoughts on this.
A new truly popular SFF award inclusive of a worldwide audience? Sounds good, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I suspect that if Justin Landon manages to get this new award of the ground, the results would be quite different than what he expects. For starters, even with a worldwide voting base, the award would still go to the same Anglo-American pop culture juggernauts, because local works are only known to a local audience, while everybody reads or watches the Anglo-American stuff. And since this new award is supposed to be a popular award, the winners would be whatever is the most popular and bestselling thing around. For example, the proposed popular SFF award in the YA category would be far more likely to go to Twilight than to Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker. Which would amuse me, especially since I can’t stand Shipbreaker, but not Justin Landon, I imagine.
A few commenters even point out that such an award would only be won by George R.R. Martin/Patrick Rothfuss/Brandon Sanderson (two of whom coincidentally won Hugos this year)year after year. Personally, I suspect that if the award was truly inclusive of everybody who reads speculative fiction, Charlaine Harris, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Sherrilyn Kenyon or J.R. Ward would be far likelier winners than the reigning triumvirate of epic fantasy. Which would very likely horrify Justin Landon.
Indeed, the closest thing to a popular award the SFF genre has, the David Gemmell Legend Award, has been specifically criticized for awarding only the most popular works and the authors with the biggest fanbase. The same thing would likely happen with a potential new award.