Well, it’s WorldCon weekend, and tonight is the night of the Hugo Awards. I’ve only been to one WorldCon before, at which I was a little bit of a cause celebre (that’s French for meme) because of my role in both explaining and skewering what we might call the, ah, alternatively righteous element in the community of science fiction and fantasy literature: those who believed their tastes were the same as objective truth, that their favorites (or indeed, their own works) were the only ones allowed to win awards, and that any other outcome meant the whole thing was rigged, rigged, rigged, I tell you. (WITCH HUNT!)
This is only my second WorldCon. I missed last year’s in Helsinki because of money and other external factors, but the year before that I made a point to go because that was the year of Sad Puppies Review Books and other satirical or analytical works. I knew I’d received many people’s nods for a Hugo Award, even if I didn’t quite make the shortlist, and I woke up the morning of the award ceremony the year before last feeling an overwhelming (and entirely unaccustomed) sense of humility in the face of how the fandom community had rallied against these gatekeepers, this ballot-stuffing clique of bullies who wanted to tell them what to read and who to like and what to do and who were determined to burn the whole concept of awards to the ground if we did not wholly surrender and give them everything they wanted. I wrote a blog post describing my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing.
It is a little bittersweet to read it now, as it is to read just about anything that touches on politics written in the fall of 2016. Before 2016, I would not have expected to be so close to a major industry award for non-fiction. After 2016, I found my always unconventional career taking a very different turn, one which I think my little skirmishes with the so-called Sad Puppies helped prepare me for. On November 8th, 2016, I found myself on Twitter, helping to explain what was happening. Then it kept happening, and it never stopped happening, and I have kept explaining. That’s not exactly a job, but it is certainly a calling, and it is, for now, how I pay my bills.
My burgeoning success as a political analyst, commentator, and all-around Weird Politics Mom on Twitter consumed so much of my attention that I didn’t have much to say about the Hugos last year. When I look at the two blog posts I linked above, though, I feel like that left things a little incomplete, that I didn’t have a finale for the little trilogy, full of pithy thoughts and wry observations about the final and saddest refutation of the Sad Puppies, when their influence died not with a bark but with a whimper.
But then, maybe silence was the appropriate way to mark that moment.
In any event, I am here at my second WorldCon, again on the morning of the Hugo Awards ceremony, and my thoughts are not on the puppies nor really on the awards but the convention itself. This is my second time at a convention larger than my beloved WisCon, and while this time I feel much more like a part of it and much less adrift in a sea of people… I’m now able to fully appreciate both how big a WorldCon is, and how it is big.
The people who sought first to steal and then downplay the awards insist that WorldCon is a little, piddly, rinky-dink little thing, because compared to one of the big media events like San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon… well, it’s just not at the same scale as those things. But it’s also not either of those things. It is its own things. It’s about all of science fiction and fantasy in every form insofar as it brings together people who love it in every form, but at the beginning and in the end it’s about books, which are intimate conversations between authors and readers.
And this is why WorldCon feels so huge to me: because I’m not here for movie spoilers and big announcements and I’m not here for an award, but I am here for the people. There may be more people at a media convention, but the attendees are just attendees. At a lit con, the attendees are the con. The people are the convention and the convention is the people, and if it were twice as long I could not possibly spend enough time with everyone I want to see.
I know (she said with all due modesty) that what I do right now is important to so many people. I know this because, among other indicators, I have had people come up to all weekend to tell me, “Thank you for what you do, it is so important.” And this is both uplifting and baffling to me, but I understand that even when I don’t know what to do with the information, it means something to the person saying it that they were able to say it. So more so than usual, I’ve been trying to keep myself available, make myself visible, make sure that anyone and everyone who want to find me and see me in person has the chance to do so.
But I know that for my best efforts, I’m going to get at least a few “I looked for you and couldn’t find you” messages, because that always happens, just as there are people I’ve been looking out for whom I haven’t seen.
That’s convention life, though. It is a sign of the health and vibrancy of the WorldCon community that even somebody on the fringes of it, as I am, can’t make all the connections she’d want to in the course of four days.
Back in 2016, I said that awards don’t matter so much as the genuine appreciation they represent matters. They’re a symbol, like a flag, and while a flag may stand for freedom the flag itself is not freedom. The map is not the territory. The symbol is not the thing.
Though I have recently become a bit more of a fiction writer again, I did very little in the speculative world in 2017 and I did not have the bandwidth to think much about stories or trophies. This year I have just started to kindle a bit of a spark of the old creativity and curiosity again, and in doing so I discovered what a wonderful thing a spark can be in the middle of a very long, very cold, and very dark night.
And so here is my insight for this year: the awards matter because they represent genuine appreciation, and the appreciation is genuine because it comes from people, from real people, a real community of people, a community of communities — some old, some newer, each diverse in different ways, each with their own competing and conflicting and even occasionally complementary tastes. This community is here at the convention and it is distributed somewhat haphazardly across the globe, wherever people are reading and writing and appreciating science fiction and fantasy literature published in the English language.
WorldCon is a concentration of that community, and the Hugo Awards are a concentration of WorldCon. The community is people, the convention is people, the awards are people, Soylent Green is people, and it is beautiful and it is glorious, even when the community stumbles.
If you have never peeked behind the curtain of a fandom convention, here is a key insight you must understand above all else: the best-run cons have just about enough time, money, resources, expertise, and personnel to not quite throw a convention, and then they do it anyway. When everything come together perfectly and for even a single shining moment it all just works, it’s like a perfect magic trick from the outside because the labor that goes into it is invisible. When there’s a false note or a missed step and something goes sideways or belly-up, those are the moments that the people in charge get the most recognition.
So while I will never not push a convention to do better — I think the essence of science fiction is being able to look at the world and imagine how it might be better — I think we do need to take a moment to recognize the miracle inherent in the fact that conventions get done at all, and then recognize that it is not a miracle, or if it is one, it is one that comes with great sacrifice on the part of people who, all things considered, probably wish they could just be attending the convention like the rest of us.
I am grateful to be here, I am grateful to be a part of this community. I am grateful for all the old friends I have been able to see and the new friends I am making. There is a song that says the latter is silver and the former gold, and if this is true then I have a positive embarrassment of riches, a hoard of treasure any dragon would envy.
My first WorldCon was a bit like a fairytale. I found myself at the legendary Hugo Losers’ Party hosted by the man himself, George R.R. Martin, not because I had lost a Hugo but because the puppies’ machinations had knocked me off the ballot, denying me the chance to even lose it. I was philosophical about this, because my works that had garnered the attention to get me within striking distance of the shortlist wouldn’t have existed without those same machinations, being a response to them. So I went to the convention with no expectations and yet the wildest ones I might have set would have been blown away.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be any closer to a Hugo Award than I was that year. My first Hugo Loser’s Party was probably my last one, too. My interests are eclectic and my career has been unconventional to say the least, and I just don’t see that kind of mainstream success for myself while I am called to do the work I’ve been doing on Twitter.
But even if it never happens, if I never find myself a Hugo winner or even an actual loser, I still had my moment, and if it happened in a way that seems ridiculous and impossible — nearly as ridiculous and impossible as throwing a convention in the first place — well, maybe that’s the only way it could have happened for me. I am, after all, a ridiculous and impossible woman.
I’m going to close this by noting once again that conventions are people, and that we go to conventions to see people. If I am one of the people you came here to see, you should know we are lighting out first thing tomorrow, slipping out for the airport like a thief in the very early morning. That means today is going to be your last chance say hello, introduce yourself, to talk about my writing or whatever’s on your mind, and if that is something you have a mind to do, I encourage you to do it.
Happy WorldCon, everybody.