Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The WorldCon is Not Enough

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Well, it's probably a little of both: after a month of couch-surfing, con-crashing, clan-bonding fun in the Pacific Northwest, I'm finally home again. I don't think the cat remembers me, but we'll work on that.

If you look closely, you can see the banana peel on the back of the Prius.
Because we're Thompsons, and this is how we motherfucking roll.
Anyway, so WorldCon.  Look, I don't need to tell you that I had a terrific time. I might as well tell you that I metabolize oxygen. And I don't need to tell you that this year was a hugely political and contentious one for the Hugo Awards (because if you know what I'm talking about, you're already sick of hearing about it, and if you don't, have a Wired article.)

And yes, it is AWESOME that two translated works got the Hugo. Yes, it is GREAT that Helsinki won the bid to host in 2017. And I am absolutely delighted to see women and minorities receive more critical attention for producing truly master-class work. All of these are tremendous achievements, and part of what I hope will be a larger continuing trend.

But I don't think we can act like we just blew up the Death Star.

The thing is, WorldCon itself is still a huge ivory-tower event. It always has been. It has to be. A ~$200 ticket, plus airfare and hotel and meals for the better part of a week practically guarantee that anyone not within driving distance will be dropping at least the better part of a grand on this event.  It's great that you don't need to attend to vote on the awards - but that $40 supporting membership still means that we're only hearing from people who can afford to drop $40 in the ballot box.

With that said, the Gallifreyan contingent may be saving significantly on travel.

As Selina Rosen put it on Facebook (lightly edited by yours truly),
WorldCon is for people with lots of disposable income. It's for the big pros, the big publishers, and the big fans. It's not for people like me. [...] For me, a WorldCon is a huge affirmation that I have failed to make a name for myself in the business, and it has cost me more than I will ever make back. Most of the debt I have left to pay is because of the many WorldCons I attended. 

So I get it that you're all having a good time and that so many of you wish you could be there. I'd rather stay here and stick twigs under my fingernails, thank you very much.
And y'know, she's not wrong. The only reason I got to do this is because I signed with a publisher who could afford to pay me a good advance, and because I have a lifestyle that allows me to stuff that advance in a big sock and spend it all on traveling and self-promotion. I've truly enjoyed getting to be a part of this club, but I'm acutely aware that there are many, many people who are getting caught behind the velvet ropes, and I'm one bad die-roll away from being one of them.

And to be clear: this isn't strictly a WorldCon issue. Movement takes energy, which costs money. Space costs money. Time costs money.

To be fair, the wildfire smoke and eerie Kryptonian sun were complimentary.

So at the end of the day, any event that requires in-person travel is going to exclude a whole lot of people. Thus it has ever been. If we have a reason to feel better about this now than in decades past, it's because the Internet is helping us broaden the conversation to include the people who can't be physically present - and that is a great thing.

But speaking as someone who got to watch the Hugos at WorldCon and simultaneously follow the online feeds, it feels to me like what we have is two different conversations - maybe even two different communities.

From everything I saw, the mood at the event was overwhelmingly joyous. The people in my posse were ECSTATIC that Laura Mixon won. We were DELIGHTED for Wes Chu, and Wendy Wagner, and Julie Dillon - because for most of us, those people are our colleagues and friends.

By contrast, most of what I saw online was about who lost. The Puppies lost. Bigotry lost. Slate voting and awards-gaming and the Evil Empire lost. The virtual conversation seems to be much more about promoting ideas than individuals - and if we are talking about an individual, it's usually to rip them apart.

And of course, this is hardly an objective analysis. Everything I see and hear only amounts to a single anecdotal data point.  But I worry that the convention-going subset of our community is diverging significantly from the rest. It bothers me that the online medium seems to reward hyperbole, stifle nuance, and feed anger. And I hate that the forum where we get to see each other face-to-face, where we're naturally prompted to treat each other as real human beings, is also the smallest and least accessible.

I talk a lot about 'getting on the wagon', but a con lets you
and Team Novelocity literally GET ON THE WAGON.
This is fantastic! I want this for everyone!
I don't know how to fix that. I do know that I want to keep supporting causes like Con or Bust!, that work to bring fans to conventions, and throw more weight behind traveling circuses like WorldCon, WesterCon, and NASFiC, that serve to bring conventions to the fans. And I want to work on my digital game, because I know I'm missing out on a ton of cool people that I won't get to meet in meatspace.

I also know that it's my bedtime in at least two time zones, so I'll close here. All navel-gazing aside: thanks for a grand time, world-conveners. Until our next great conjunction...!

Be excellent to each other.



    Women and minorities were never excluded. Quit buying into the Faux News style hysteria and fear mongering. Just because a majority of a certain people are more interested in a hobby or career than another does not mean anyone is being "excluded". Does quilting have too many women? Are professional sports too black? The only blatant racist comments based entirely on skin color that seem to be en vogue right now are coming from "progressives". With so much of this fundamentalist religion-inspired guilt and self hatred, it is only a matter of time before you become that which you despise.

    1. Her point was specifically that these events have been ruined by people promoting politics and ideas over celebrating individual authors. You essentially proved you are keen to do the same thing. Well played, anonymous.

    2. Exactly! I'm not out to change anybody's mind about the actual awards (though it's pretty obvious where we both stand on that front). My concern is that we've gotten so wrapped up in drawing the battle lines that the first and last thing we do in talking about somebody is figure out which side they're on, and aim accordingly. That's not how good discourse works. That's not how a healthy community works. And I really don't want it to become the new normal.

  2. Wow, it didn't take long to get a dumb comment, did it, Tex? :)

    1. Yeah, what a great reply, brimming with insight and wisdom. Keep chugging that kool-aid and calling everyone else crazy, cookie. :)

    2. You know what they say, Jeremy - "if you build it, they will dumb" :)

  3. Well they say you're not successful until you get your first troll... Congrats Tex!

  4. You are one of the kindest people I know, Tex. Your first thought, when having fun, is to throw open the doors to everyone so that they can have a fun time too! :-)

    1. Haha, bringing in more fun people to hang out with is not kindness - it's reach-around selfishness! (Kindness is bringing non-fun people because you don't want them to be left out and lonely, even though they're awkward and boring. Totally different thing.)

  5. Motherfuckin' right that's how we role. Shit I live our family. And way to dominate generally all things. You're magical.

  6. I have consumed a lot of hours reading about this year's Hugos. I've read more posts than I care to remember from people on both sides of the "discussion." Tex, this is the most insightful, honest, even-handed and level-headed piece about it that I have read from anyone. And I mean ANYONE.

    1. Steve, if anything, this is even more splendid now than it is when you first said so at workshop. Thanks for the big thumbs-up - coming from somebody with fingers on ALL of the pulses, that is a huge compliment!