Mary Robinette Kowal Announced as Chair of Discon III

John Scalzi

She’s replacing William Lawhorn, who stepped down in late June, in the wake of some various and persistent communication issues at the convention, which among other things occasioned the resigning of the committee in charge of the Hugo Awards (twice, not a great sign), and other staffers as well. The full press release announcing Mary Robinette’s assumption of the role is here.

Readers here will not be surprised to learn that I think this is a wise and excellent choice on the part of Discon III. Mary Robinette is my friend and also served as my Vice President for two years when I was president of SFWA, and of course became president of SFWA in her own right in 2019, with her tenure ending literally this last midnight. So both personally and professionally I have seen her at work close up for a decade and a half. Mary Robinette is extraordinarily competent, knowledgeable and empathetic; able to handle a lot of work and also able to delegate to excellent people; and has the ability to connect with science fiction fans and pros both old and new. She’s also been of service to previous Worldcons, notably 2018’s edition in San Jose. She knows the terrain and the stakeholders.

With that said: She’s also basically parachuting in at, if not the last minute, then at least far enough along that I suspect she’s going to be spending at least a little time playing catchup. And also, she is one person, who does not have dictatorial powers; she has to manage relationships with a whole lot of people. I am confident in her ability to do so, but I also don’t pretend there might not be hiccups and some bumps in the road ahead, which would happen regardless of who was in charge. I do hope people will exercise patience; I believe it will be rewarded.

I’m delighted for the convention that they managed to convince Mary Robinette to come on board. They and she have my support, for all that’s worth. And of course I have every intention of attending Discon III this December. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, thanks to the efforts of this Worldcon and its new chair.

— JS

11 Comments on “Mary Robinette Kowal Announced as Chair of Discon III”

  1. I’ll note that Mary Robinette is also up for two Hugos this year; the press release notes how she and the convention are navigating that to avoid the appearance of impropriety. I think they have made some good moves in that regard, and as someone who is a Hugo finalist this year as well — and indeed in a category in which Mary Robinette is competing — I think what they are doing is sufficient, and I have no concerns with her work remaining on the ballot.

  2. I’m thinking of buying her a US Cavalry hat, given how many times she’s rode in to rescue a fannish thing in the nick of time! ;-)

  3. I can’t think of a better person to get. Her experience as SFWA President means she can herd cats ;) She did a superb job as part of the team fixing the programming snafu at the San Jose Worldcon. I have absolutely no worries about any conflict of interest between her as Con chair and as a Hugo nominee. MRK is the epitome of integrity. Everything is in good hands.

  4. I have two conflicting reactions to this news.

    The first (and selfish) reaction is “oh, thank goodness, WorldCon could not possibly be in better hands, I am SO relieved!”

    The second reaction is “oh, merciful heavens, poor Mary Robinette.”

    I have just enough personal experience with con-running to know that it is undoubtedly one of the most horrendously difficult, thankless jobs in the world. I felt badly when I saw that the former chair had resigned; I know he didn’t do a perfect job, but neither did I when I tried my hand at running a convention, and neither has anyone else ever in the history of SF conventions. Trying to put on an event that large and complex with an all-volunteer and ever-changing workforce is essentially a guarantee that Things Will Go Wrong, and all too often, they Go Wrong In A Big Way.

    The one thing that I most hope for Ms. Kowal is that she is able to maintain reasonable boundaries between herself and the inevitable slings and arrows of outraged fandom – because regardless of what she does or does not do, there WILL be outraged fandom somewhere, and they WILL howl their fury to the heavens. I hope she can preserve time and energy for herself, for her family, for her writing, and for her sanity.

    Thank you, Mary Robinette, and please take care of yourself.

  5. There is a relatively simple formal process of appointing an independent subcommittee with sole authority to administer the Hugos for your Worldcon. (I was instructed on this formality. )
    No one on that subcommittee may be considered for or awarded a Hugo that year.
    This keeps the other hundreds of volunteers for a Worldcon from having to recuse themselves from consideration.

  6. The “firewalling” process, which most Worldcons do and DisCon III has done, is described in Section 3.13 of the WSFS Constitution, which can be downloaded from the WSFS web site. It’s neither secret nor arcane. Boring, maybe, as are a lot of routine details of WSFS governance, but not secret. (The Secret of the Secret Master of Fandom is that they aren’t Secret.)

  7. Now that our polities are starting to use ranked choice voting, perhaps SFF fans can help make it go more smoothly. (If not, MRK can leap to the rescue!)

  8. @Snuggledorf

    Two reactions – indeed.

    Somewhat like Mr. Bennett on finding that Mr. Gardiner (as he supposes) has settled the Wickham affair.