My 2019 Worldcon Experience

It was great!

Okay, that’s it, thank you for coming.

Oh, wait, you wanted details? Well, I mean, okay, I guess I can do that. In no particular order:

* Krissy and I actually started our trip a few days before the Worldcon started. This year the Worldcon was in Dublin, Ireland, and neither of us had been either in Dublin or in Ireland, and we wanted to make sure we had time to be tourists and see the city before we basically confined ourselves to a single convention center for several days.

And we totally did the tourist thing! We saw the Book of Kells! We visited the crypts at Christchurch Cathedral! We ate adequate Irish food at a tourist trap in Temple Bar! We visited the Guinness Storehouse, which is like the Willy Wonka tour with beer! And so on! I really enjoyed Dublin because, at least where we were, it’s very walkable and pleasant to get around in. Krissy also managed to get outside of the city when she and some gal pals took a day trip to the shore. It was all very excellent.

So, Dublin and Ireland: A+++, very much enjoyed, plan to enjoy again at some point in the future. It had always been a dream of mine to visit the country, and this initial trip to the Emerald Isle did not disappoint. I have hundreds of pictures; I will probably put some up in a separate post when I get the time.

* My personal Worldcon was also delightful. I did not overschedule myself, confining myself to a single event per day (sort of; more on that later), so that left lots of time for hanging out with friends, which is probably the major reason I come to conventions these days. I like most writers spend most of my time looking into a screen, so bulk-loading friendships at conventions is kind of an actual thing. I got to see friends from the US, of course, who had made the trip, but I also got to see friends from Europe and elsewhere who see less frequently, including some I’ve not seen for years. It was fabulous.

Of my own events, I have to say the highlight was the dance I DJed on Saturday. As ever, I wondered whether people would show up — but they did, and from 10pm, when the dance started, to 1am when it ended, the dance floor was never empty. There’s something delightful about a whole, fairly large room of nerds getting sweaty to the greatest dance hits of the last several decades. As for myself, it will not surprise you that in addition to being the DJ I also danced, pretty much for the entire three hours. Two things about that: I dance almost exactly the way I did when I was in my early 20s, and also, I am now 50, so I’m still feeling it on Tuesday. I could barely walk down the stairs this morning. I think if I’m going to keep doing this dance thing — and I will — I should probably stretch more than I do.

I also read from two upcoming books, The Last Emperox and A Very Scalzi Christmas, and both were well received. I got help in reading from the second by my very good friend Yanni Kuznia, who is also the COO of Subterranean Press, which is publishing the book. She was delightful reading as an exasperated boss having to deal with an enthusiastic but clueless subordinate, read by me. If you know either of us, you may realize that this was typecasting. She was wonderful.

I also did an interview with Diane Duane, who was one of the guests of honor at the Worldcon. Diane and I had known each other online for more than a decade but the Worldcon was the first time we’d ever met in real life. I’m very happy to say we got on like the proverbial house on fire, and that Diane is simply delightful, both to have drinks with and then to have a conversation with in front of a couple hundred people. It was, in fact, pretty effortless, and also, the phrase “I have two highly polished uranium spheres, watch what happens when I clack them together” may have come up at some point in the conversation. You had to be there for that, but it brought the house down.

* Overall I thought the Dublin 2019 Worldcon was well-run and enjoyable, but I think it struggled with the number of people who attended (about 7,000 as I understand it), which is a high class problem to have, but still a problem. The convention center itself could only hold so much programming, so there was a satellite site for the art show, autographing and some other programming, almost a kilometer from the convention center proper. I definitely got my steps in during the week. It also meant that while pretty much every panel was well-attended, there was a lot of stuff people couldn’t get into, and lots of queuing. I know everything I had was jammed, to the point that I added both a second kaffeeklatsch and a second reading in order to accommodate attendees who wanted to see me (and here I give mad props to the Dublin 2019 programming staff, who made those happen on the fly). Every Worldcon — every convention, really — has its own challenges. As far as I can see, Dublin 2019 mostly handled them pretty well.

* And what did you think about the Hugos this year, Scalzi? Well, I think by now everyone knows how I feel about the Best Novel win, and otherwise I was very pleased by how the results sorted themselves out. Mind you, this is in no small part because I thought the composition of the finalist lists was very very good this year — you pretty much could have had entirely different winners in every category, and I would still walk away, as a reader and appreciator of the genre, with a feeling of satisfaction. I like Hugo years when it is really hard to decide what is one’s first choice, and this was indeed one of those years.

The award ceremony itself I thought was really well done except for one thing, which I will get to in a minute. Things that were praiseworthy were the hosting, the set design (as well as the design of the Hugo itself), and the interstitial bits, which included live music (which it should have, this is Ireland) and also a chance for both hosts to have their minute in the spotlight. All accomplished in just about two hours and fifteen minutes! That was pretty impressive.

The one thing that didn’t work was the attempt at live captioning, which was shown on a screen hanging above the presenters and hosts. The live captioning was apparently done via machine rather than by human translators, and it showed, because it mangled what presenters were saying, which was sometimes comical, but also messed up people’s names, which was not appropriate. Ultimately it became distracting and disconcerting. Ada Palmer, who was there to present the Campbell Award, didn’t know why people were weirdly and spontaneously laughing at her speech (which was interesting but not intentionally comical), until she finally looked up and saw how the machine translation was mistranslating her words. She took it with good grace, but she deserved better.

* I wrote something here about Jeannette Ng and her Campbell win and speech, but then after I was done writing it I realized I wrote a whole post inside a post, so I made it its own post, which you can find here.

* I showed my ass yesterday on Twitter — funny, that! — in discussing the the Best Related Work Hugo win of An Archive of Our Own, the fanfic repository initially started by (among others) Naomi Novik. I saw a headline from The Mary Sue saying something along the lines of “Thousands of Fanfic Writers Now Hugo Winners” and I RT’d it and was all “Well actually it doesn’t work that way blah blah blah blah blah,” to which fanfic people were all “Yeah, we all know that, but we’re invested in the win anyway, and also that’s coming across as pedantic and dickish, so that’s a great look for you,” and I was all “Yeah, you’re right, I’m a dumbass, sorry.”

And I am sorry! I was pleased with the Archive win and happy for the fanfic folks because I think they get dismissed a lot when what they do is really fundamental fanwork, and I’m generally supportive of fanfic, both as a writer and a fan. And also, you know: Fuzzy Nation. It’s totally fanfic. I made people feel bad who I should not have made feel bad, and now I feel bad, which I should, because I was bad. I used bad a lot in that last sentence. Anyway. I done fucked up, and if you’re a fanficcer and I made you feel bad because I came across as an elitist dick, I apologize. That’s on me and there’s no excuse. I’ll do better.

(What was nice was that after I apologized people were all, “well, you’ve been traveling so your brain was probably fried,” which while accurate is not a good excuse. But I appreciate people rationalizing my dumbassery. Thanks, folks.)

* I’ve seen some grumbling in the usual whiny dude quarters about the Hugos being dominated again by women this year, and my thought about that is what it usually is, which is: Meh. Even if I were inclined to suspect A CONSPIRACY OF THE FEEEEEEEEEMALES, which to be clear I am not, it’s hard to complain when the individual works and people under consideration are so strong. Unlike other recent conspiracies one could think about, The Feeeeeeeemale Conspiracy did the actual work. If it existed, which it doesn’t. And on a personal level a bunch of the people who won (and who were finalists) are people I like, so there was that, too. It was a good Hugo ceremony for me.

(Plus! Because I’ve lost weight recently I fit into a suit I hadn’t been able to wear for a few years, and I will tell you what, it looked good on me. I’ll take it.)

In all, the Dublin Worldcon was really happy-making for me, and I’m glad I came. They made a good one this year, folks. I’m looking forward to the one in New Zealand next year.

Jeannette Ng, John W. Campbell, and What Should Be Said By Whom and When

In the aftermath of the Hugo Award ceremony this year, there’s been quite the harumph harumph about the fact that this year’s winner, Jeannette Ng, started her acceptance speech by offering up the opinion that John W. Campbell, the foundational science fiction editor for whom the award is named, was a fascist (you can read the actual words of her prepared speech here). Immediately there was fallout from various quarters, on the order that Ng was a) insufficiently grateful, b) should not have put politics into her speech, c) should have declined the award rather than denigrate Campbell, d) should have done pretty much anything other than what she did up there on the stage.

Unlike most of the people who are now grousing about this, I am an actual winner of the Campbell Award, so I think I am uniquely positioned to have some thoughts about this.

And what I think is: Hey, you know what? Campbell, aside from everything else he might have been, was a racist and a sexist and as time went on pretty deeply way the hell out there, and from his lofty perch he was able to shape the genre into what he thought it should be, in a way that still influences how people write science fiction — for fuck’s sake, I write science fiction in an essentially Campbellian manner, and it would be foolish for me to suggest otherwise.

Do those bigoted aspects about about Campbell make him an actual fascist? Well, I wouldn’t have characterized him as such, but then never thought to think of it in those terms, so there’s that. Now that I have been made to think of it, I know that the people and organizations I would have unhesitatingly called fascist actively incorporated the mechanisms of American racism into their worldview. It’s not exactly a secret that the actual Nazis looked to the United States’ “Jim Crow” laws for inspiration and justification for their own racism and, ultimately, genocide. American racism — the racism that Campbell both actively and passively forged into the structure of the science fiction genre — is at the very least an ur-text to fascism, and of course racism is so deeply ingrained into fascism today, and vice versa, that you couldn’t separate the one from the other without killing both, which, incidentally, is a very good idea.

So when Jeannette Ng stands up and calls Campbell a fascist, what I can say is: It’s not the argument I would have made (in no small part because, again, I literally never thought to make it), but it is an argument to be made. Nor is it a facile, unserious or utterly indefensible argument, for the reasons I note above, and for other reasons as well –seriously, go have a deep dive into some of the things Campbell believed and espoused; the Venn diagram for “Things Campbell Said” and “Things Fascists Say” is, uhhhhh, overlappy. One doesn’t have to agree (or know if one agrees) with Ng’s fundamental proposition to accept that she has a perfect right to say it, and by saying it, to force us to haul out Campbell’s track record and words to examine and interrogate.

Moreover, she has a perfect right to say it as she is up on the stage laying claim to the award that has Campbell’s name on it. Was what she said comfortable, and happy, and appropriately cheerful? No, it wasn’t, at least not the first bit of it. Certainly when I won I wouldn’t have (and didn’t) say anything of the sort, even though by that time I was well aware of who Campbell was a person, and his various imperfections. But, and quite obviously, I’m not Ng; the world of science fiction and fantasy was literally designed — by Campbell and many others! — to take me, a chummy white dude writing in the Campbellian/Heinleinian mode, to its bosom. The ease with which I slid into its good graces is pretty much a matter of record, and you can believe I was happy to slide right on in there.

The world of science fiction and fantasy wasn’t so felicitously designed for Ng and many others who are not, shall we say, chummy white dudes writing in a way Campbell would approve. She and they have spent years working to make the genre a place where they could work and build and thrive. She and they know better than I the work they had to do, where they found resistance, where they found help and from whom, and what they had to rebel against — and still have to. And she has a right to say all of those things, while claiming an award named for a person who she could argue would have been resistant to her presence in the field. Her relationship to him is not the relationship I have to him, in no small part because he would not have been to her what he would have been to me.

You can claim the John W. Campbell Award without revering John W. Campbell, or paying him lip service, and you can criticize him, based on what you see of his track record and your interpretation of it. The award is about the writing, not about John W. Campbell, and that is a solid fact. If a recipient of the Campbell Award can’t do these things, or we want to argue that they shouldn’t, then probably we should have a conversation about whether we should change the name of the award. It wouldn’t be the first time an award in the genre has been materially changed in the fallout of someone calling out the problems with the award’s imagery. The World Fantasy Award was changed in part because Nnedi Okorafor and Sofia Samatar were public (Samatar in her acceptance speech!) about the issue of having a grotesque of blatant racist HP Lovecraft as the trophy for the award. There was a lot of grousing and complaining and whining about political correctness then, too. And yet, the award survives, and the new trophy, for what it’s worth, is gorgeous. So, yes, if this means we have to consider whether it’s time to divorce Campbell from the award, let’s have that discussion.

Now, here’s a real thing: Part of the reaction to Ng’s speech is people being genuinely hurt. There are still people in our community who knew Campbell personally, and many many others one step removed, who idolize and respect the writers Campbell took under his wing. And there are people — and once again I raise my hand — who are in the field because the way Campbell shaped it as a place where they could thrive. Many if not most of these folks know about his flaws, but even so it’s hard to see someone with no allegiance to him, either personally or professionally, point them out both forcefully and unapologetically. They see Campbell and his legacy abstractly, and also as an obstacle to be overcome. That’s deeply uncomfortable.

It’s also a reality. Nearly five decades separate us today from Campbell. It’s impossible for new writers today to have the same relationship to him as their predecessors in the field did, even if the influence he had on the field works to their advantage. Moreover, and especially in the last few years, the landscape of science fiction and fantasy has changed, and Campbell and the writers and forms he championed simply don’t loom as large as they did. Nor should they — if they did, the genre would be stultifying, and, yes, sterile. Campbell and his cohort will never go away, and they still rise over the plain. But they’re the Appalachians, familiar and worn, known and explored. Meanwhile, the Rockies are bursting out of the ground and rising. Tectonically speaking, that’s where the action is. And that’s where so many of the new writers — Jeannette Ng and the other writers on the Campbell Award ballot this year, for starters — are to be found. Which is as it should be.

I’m proud of having won the Campbell Award. It was given to me by fans and it was in many ways my welcome into the fannish community, and the community of science fiction and fantasy at large. My love and honor for the award doesn’t change who John W. Campbell was, and doesn’t change because of who John W. Campbell was. I accept that the namesake of the award was foundational, and imperfect, and wrong in a number of his views. I accept that other people have the right to, and will, criticize who he was, even as they claim an award named for him, and, through the work which earned them that award, make a definitive mark in the genre. Jeannette Ng has done the work, and made her mark, and in her speech, gave me a lot to think about that I hadn’t thought about before. She gave us all lot to think about. I hope we will.

In the meantime, as a former Campbell Award winner, I congratulate Jeannette Ng on her win, and support her right to have said what she said, where she said it. I’m glad to share the field with her, and I look forward to her being in it, and shaping it, in the years to come.