Here’s a good rule of thumb for those of you running a science fiction convention: If you screw up your Guest of Honor’s travel arrangements so badly that he or she is unable to attend your convention, don’t imply to others that the reason that the GoH will not be appearing is because he or she is an undesirable alien the US doesn’t want on its soil.
This is what Bob Palmer, the con chair of the ToBeCONtinued science fiction convention, is learning this week, after he apparently e-mailed to another writer that his convention’s Guest of Honor Robert J. Sawyer would not be coming to the convention this weekend “due to travel restrictions from Canada entering the US.” In one sense, this description was accurate: Palmer, who was in charge of procuring plane tickets for Sawyer, apparently didn’t do so in a timely manner, and airlines have this funny thing about not letting you fly if you don’t have a ticket. So not buying your GoH a plane ticket does, in fact, result in a travel restriction. This is one of those “it depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” sort of things.
But in another sense — which would be the sense in which most people not trying to obfuscate their own culpability would understand it — it suggests that Sawyer wasn’t allowed to enter the country, possibly because he’s one of those dirty, dirty, Canadians. And you know how they are. Well, here’s the funny thing: Sawyer holds dual US and Canadian citizenship. We can’t keep the man out of our country, even if we want to. It’s his country too.
Naturally, Sawyer took umbrage at the implication he was not welcome in one of his two homelands:
“What the fuck? Travel restrictions? I’m a US citizen — and Palmer knows that. I told him so in email on April 26 — I even gave him my US passport number. I have a US Social Security card, too; I can travel to, live in, work freely in, and even move to the United States anytime I wish, without restrictions.
“Even if I weren’t a US citizen, I’d still be able to freely travel to the States as a Canadian citizen (I am a dual citizen), unless the US government had imposed ‘travel restrictions’ on me ‘entering the US’ — which it only would have if I had a criminal record; Palmer’s message to my friend implies that I have one. But I don’t: I’ve never been arrested or charged with any crime; hell, I’ve never even had a parking ticket.”
When the author Palmer e-mailed (who is a friend of Sawyer’s and knows about his dual citizenship) asked for clarification, Palmer apparently replied that there was a problem with the airline and travel with Sawyer’s wife — both points of which Sawyer denies on his site (and provides e-mails to bolster his side of the tale).
Why was Palmer e-mailing this other author in the first place? According to Sawyer, Palmer was sounding him out to replace Sawyer as Guest of Honor — and doing so before informing Sawyer of the fact he was being replaced. Again, quite naturally, Sawyer was less than pleased, dropped the whole sordid story onto his Web site, and washed his hands of Palmer and his convention. In the aftermath, there’s an admission on the Con’s site that Sawyer’s travel planning got screwed up, but putting up the admission after one’s now-former Guest of Honor has outed one’s con chair for acting duplicitously is not covering one’s convention in glory.
Aside from being a telling example of less-than-competent con-running, this is also yet another verification of Scalzi’s Law of Online Communication, originally posited in 2002: Anything bad you ever write about someone online will get back to them sooner or later. Palmer presumably thought he could pass along a less-than-entirely-accurate explanation of events and that it wouldn’t get back to Sawyer. But, you know, seems like he was wrong. It never really does work out that way. People always find out.
Sawyer blasted Palmer for the fracas but also said on his site that he didn’t want people to take it out on the convention as a whole:
“I’m certainly not asking anyone to boycott this convention. I fully understand that the fault is that of Bob Palmer — one person — and that presumably many other, good people have worked on and financially supported this convention. Go, have a good time, drink a toast to an absent friend, and enjoy.”
That’s a very gracious move on the part of Sawyer, but I can’t help but think this is going to have an impact on the convention as a whole anyway. I’m at the point now where I’m getting invitations to appear at conventions, and one of the things I look at to help me decide whether I’m going to spend my time and (if I’m not a guest of honor) my money adding to the value of a convention is how the folks running the convention treat their guests. I’m sure, as Sawyer says, there are a lot of good people working on ToBeCONtinued, but when your con chair flubs the GoH’s travel, tries to replace him secretly and tries to evade responsibility for his (in)action, well, that does drop you down on the list of desirable conventions, because who wants to attend a con whose own chair treats its Guests of Honor so poorly? There are other competently run cons one could go to. Word does get around.
Now, I’m getting all of this from the Robert J. Sawyer point of view — if anyone involved at ToBeCONtinued wants to tell the story from the convention’s point of view I’d be interested in hearing it (drop it into the comments). But it seems pretty cut-and-dried.
In the meantime, here are other places you’ll be able to see Robert J. Sawyer this year, including many places in the United States, where, it is to be noted, he may freely travel, because he’s an American citizen and not just a dirty, dirty Canadian. God bless Robert J. Sawyer, and God bless the USA.
Update, 6pm: Apparently more troubles for ToBeCONtinued. Sawyer may have dodged a bullet.