Robert Sawyer, American

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.

19 Comments on “Robert Sawyer, American”

  1. He’s never had a parking ticket?

    Who’s going to believe that?

    Anything bad you ever write about someone online will get back to them sooner or later.

    Yep. But the good things you say will take longer.

  2. It’s like red-baiting, all over again. Except this time it’s “so-and-so had trouble at the airport” (hint, hint, nudge, nudge). Next thing you know, after you’ve taken a polygraph test and just before they make you pee in the cup, your job interviewer will ask: “Have you ever been told you couldn’t board a plane?”

    Sawyer was way too kind about Palmer. But then, I have less class than he does.

  3. *cringe*

    I really don’t like to see a conflict between people who I like and who I work well with. While I can’t make excuses for what my friend Bob Palmer said, I would like very much to see everyone in this situation in the kindest possible light. That’s all that was necessary for Robert Sawyer’s author friend: he could have interpreted it to mean that homeland security is super paranoid and restricting Robert Sawyer’s travel for no good reason. Heck, that’s a lie I might have believed. Bob Palmer’s statement, while a falsehood, was in no way an accusation of crime.

    I am a guy who is involved with competently running two of those competently-run conventions which Scalzi mentioned here. I sympathize deeply with the plight Bob Palmer found himself in when he succombed to a temptation, although I don’t excuse what he said and I never would have lied in that situation. The reason I sympathize is that the job Bob does is a very very very hard and thankless volunteer job. I want to buy a beer for anyone who’s willing to do it at all– even badly.

    It did strike me as odd when Bob asked me to do the program book for ToBeCON (which I did) when I don’t even live in that state. The way I see it, there is just nowhere near enough manpower to go around in science fiction fandom in some regions of the country, and that accounts for the original screwup that caused this. That’s my impression of the situation from several hundred miles away.

    Remember Bob’s not getting paid diddly squat here. Yes, judge him guilty, clearly there is a problem, but please mitigate the sentencing phase your honor.

  4. I’m sorry to hear this about ToBeContinued. A few years ago, before they moved it closer to Chicago, they held it in Valparaiso, Indiana, and I drove down for the day from West Michigan. It was one of the first cons I’d ever been to and I had an excellent time,made some good contacts, and learned a lot from some of the writing panels.

    It’s a wonder that so many cons around the country and around the world ever get pulled off. There’s a whole lotta thankless work that gets done by a core group of fans. My hat’s off to them — and yes, I always wear a hat, so I have one to doff in honor. Sawyer is just arguing about how the long tail on the Bell curve shouldn’t ruin it for everyone… there’s always someone. (grin)

    Dr. Phil

  5. Matt Arnold:

    “Remember Bob’s not getting paid diddly squat here. Yes, judge him guilty, clearly there is a problem, but please mitigate the sentencing phase your honor.”

    I’m sure he’s a nice guy, Matt, and I don’t doubt he’s running around with his hands full — I know enough con runners to know it’s a whole lot of work, for which you don’t get near enough acknowledgement when things go right. But all the juggling in the world doesn’t much mitigate poormouthing a GoH to cover up one’s errors.

    I’m willing to believe it might have been a moment of weakness or exhaustion, but it’s still a hard thing to come back from, in terms of credibility.

  6. Running around with his hands THAT full indicates either a failure to delegate, or no one to delegate to. I have to wonder… why wasn’t there a convention committee member devoted entirely to do nothing but arrange travel as early and as cheaply as possible? That’s what we do over here. Why go out of state to find me to do the program book? When the volunteer labor shortage comes to that state of affairs, were I in that situation I might cancel the convention before even inviting any Guests of Honor.

    By the way, on a tangentially related note, the cover is posted here, and I’m tremendously proud of my usage of the new Google SketchUp 3D program.

  7. I’ve been reading about this over on Robert Sawyer’s blog. It just amazed me that Palmer just wasn’t honest. Certainly it is difficult to eat crow, but eating crow usually allows forgiveness and a moving on. Lying just makes everyone want to force feed you that crow.

  8. Ah, yes, that story brought back lovely memories of the days when I accepted invitations to conventions. In all of those situations, I tend to quote Riddell’s Law (“Any sufficiently developed incompetence is indistinguishable from conspiracy”) to explain the shenanigans, because pulling these stunts with deliberation would take serious effort.

    (My favorite personal experience with this was the 2000 con where I had to bail out because a blown head and head gasket on my car wiped out the money I had reserved for plane tickets, and the only contact with the con was through its main E-mail address. After spending two solid weeks trying to get a response, I finally gave up, only to find out two weeks later that nobody else involved with the con knew what was going on. Y’see, everyone knew that the guy manning the E-mail address was “difficult to work with” and “not really dependable”, but he’d been with the convention for a really long time and wanted the post, so they let him continue to run that spot, whether or not he actually did his goddamn job. By the time the former con chairperson discovered the situation [roundabout via a friend and fellow guest], the cheapest plane tickets to the event cost about $1200, so I wasn’t going. This was just one of many lovely situations with that convention, but it was the last, and the toad manning the mailbox got rather huffy when I specifically stated the next year that I wasn’t going to attend because I wasn’t going to go through that runaround again. I don’t miss conventions any more: if I want to create the warm feeling of a con, I just pour gasoline on my dick, set it on fire, and try to put it out with a garden cultivator.)

  9. Too late! I’ve filled out a mental file card in permanent ink, “diplicitous” is a portmanteau of “duplictious” and “dips***””

    Now I just have to find some occasion to actually use it.

  10. CoolBlue, as far as I recall, Rob doesn’t have a driver’s licence. So I’m betting not ever getting a parking ticket is true. Jaywalking, now that I can’t speak to.

    D

  11. (cross-posted in my Live Journal)
    Report from To Be CONtinued 5

    I mentioned that I live a few miles from the site of To Be CONtinued 5, a Science Fiction convention that’s been in the blogs lately due to troubles getting their guests. (These troubles appear largely self-inflicted). Having nothing better to do on a cold and rainy Saturday, I decided to drop in for the day. Here are some random observations:
    • The Con program book had been printed after they knew Rob Sawyer wasn’t attending, and had been scrubbed of his name. However, it still had stuff pertaining to the art show and consuite, both cancelled.
    • The dealer’s room had, by my count, six dealers in all. They were not listed in the program.
    • Gaming had been reduced to two tables in the lobby.
    • Programming was down to two rooms, one of which was the hotel boardroom, which seated 12 or so around a long table. The first session I attended, at 11, I was the only non-panel member. It was nice for me, since all the sessions there were more informal discussions vs. the typical “panel sits in front and talks.” But since the largest session, a reading by Don Bingle, had 3 attendees, probably not so nice for the panelists.

    Before I tell this story, I have to make some disclaimers. First, I am not “tied into” the Chicago fan scene. I go to Windycon and Duckon, hit the writer’s track and have a cocktail at the after-hours parties. I have no axe to grind. Second, this is all hearsay, and may be completely inaccurate.

    So, one of the Guests of Honor was the artist Larry Elmore. At his noon session, which became “cons I have attended” Larry said that part of To Be CONtinued’s problem was that half of the committee, including the consuite group, had quit Monday of con week. He also mentioned that he didn’t get his tickets (from Louisville, KY) until Tuesday of this week, for a Thursday flight. He was of the opinion that this was a dying con. I tend to agree.

  12. To Be Con was certainly a train wreck, undoubtedly the worst-run con since an early 80’s Fantasycon, where the hotel was changed to a real fleabag the day of the convention, and the space reduced to about the same as 2BeC’s (anyone else with memories of it, please write me and we’ll commiserate).

    I had no choice in backing out: I had booked three rooms to host the teen fan ‘dorms’, we were responsible for 20 attendees counting ourselves (a goodly fraction of the total).

    But it had its high points:
    * There’s some great food nearby (if you avoid the factory-chains), such as Lo Garden, a branch of the Chinatown Lao Sze Chuan.
    * I had time to read the entirety of Old Man’s War (yes, hardcover). Wonderful, just reviewed it on my blog (at the link below).
    * The ADD Pirates are funny, most of the time.
    * The Great Luke Ski never fails to entertain.
    * The masquerade actually beat most of the recent Chicago-area cons with 10 entrants. Yeah, a couple were lame, but hey, 10 is pretty good these days.
    * House of Bricks had some truly impressive displays of Lego(tm) robotics, including a Connect-Four playing bot, and some prerelease NXT bots.

    Will I go to another con run by these folk? No.
    Did I have a nice weekend? Sure.

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