The Best Laid Plans
By Cheryl Morgan
Iím not entirely sure whether there is any point in writing these Worldcon reports any more. L.A.Con IV has already been nitpicked to death in more detail than I could possibly manage in far more blogs than I can be bothered to read. Many of the people making comments seem to have little idea of how a Worldcon is run, but that doesnít seem to stop them from having opinions. In the blogosphere, facts donít seem to matter very much as long as you can yell loudly. Besides, as weíve all learned from Karl Rove, anyone who disagrees with us is obviously lying and deserves every insult we can throw at them.
Because I was reporting on the convention for Locus and SFX as well as Emerald City, I spent much of Sunday night going round asking people what they had thought of the convention. I found it hard to find anyone with anything negative to say. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have had a great time. And yet a week later if you had taken a look at the blogosphere you might easily have come to the conclusion that L.A.Con IV was at least as big a blot on Worldcon history as Torcon III, possibly even worse than Nolacon. Part of that, of course, is the seemingly inevitable tendency of the Internet to escalate every flame war to the level of the Worst Possible Outrage in the History of the Universe, Ever!!! But equally, after a decade of pointing out ways in which Worldcon committees really ought to try harder, Iím beginning to come to the conclusion that sometimes we donít deserve Worldcon.
The way it ought to work is this. When you win the right to run a Worldcon you have entered into a contract with the members of the convention. You undertake to do the best job you can, producing something that is enjoyable, has your own innovative stamp on it, and yet is clearly recognizable as a Worldcon. The members, in turn, recognize that all of the committee are volunteers and that the convention is unlikely to be perfect. Ideally they offer to help out themselves.
What we see, of course, is often very different. Over the years I have pointed out numerous instances where some of those running the convention either couldnít be bothered, refused to listen to advice, or insisted on doing things their way regardless of what the members wanted. I have, on occasions, been quite rude about this sort of behavior. But the other side isnít holding up its side of the bargain either. More and more we are seeing people with an attitude of, "I paid for my ticket and it is your duty to entertain me the way I want (and only the way I want)." Worldcon attendees are developing what Lynne Truss might describe as a "zero tolerance" approach to convention inadequacies. I suspect it is only a deep-seated sense of tradition that keeps the Worldcon regulars coming back year after year. Clearly the volunteer work that they do is not appreciated (or even recognized) by many of the attendees (and certainly not by those who didnít attend but jump onto blogosphere bandwagons).
None of which should be taken to suggest that L.A.Con IV didnít make any mistakes. They made a lot less than many Worldcons I have attended, but they did manage one or two howlers, and a number of minor niggles. Most of their problems seem to have boiled down to a lack of communication. I suspect that if your Worldcon is based in a region with such a wealth of con-running talent as the L.A. Basin there is a beguiling temptation to do as much as possible in face-to-face meetings. Last year in Glasgow we had the opposite problem. Our committee was spread to the four corners of the globe. As a result we communicated a lot. So much so, in fact, that some committee members got quite irritated by the flood of emails. But at least everyone knew what was going on. That didnít always seem to be the case with L.A.Con IV. Communication with the members is good too. Count how many times the word "map" appears in what follows.
One of the things that people always forget about Worldcon is that there is no such thing as an ideal site. Every year we get the complaints about how the site is bad because of some obvious flaw, but no one ever seems to remember that the year before the site had been bad for some other reason that this year wasnít a problem at all.
What was good about Anaheim? The hotel rates for a start. And if you donít believe me just go and check how much youíll be paying in Yokohama next year, should you choose to go. The site is also quite compact, and is well served by escalators, ramps and the like. Even the elevators coped passably well. I only noticed one of the eight on offer in the Hilton sulking in the basement all weekend. Certainly there was nothing like the chaos of Chicago 2000.
The party floor at the Hilton also has definite advantages. If the parties get too crowded then they can spill out onto the various decks and enjoy the balmy Los Angeles weather. Unfortunately the place is also something of a maze of passages, and many people complained to me about getting lost. A map of the party floor might have been a very useful addition to the registration packs.
One of the potential advantages of the site is also something of a drawback: there is simply too much space. I never saw a panel room overflow. I never saw a jam in a corridor (except on the party floor). Of course some such events probably did happen, but there was nothing like the crush in Glasgow, or indeed at Finncon the weekend before. The Anaheim Convention Center is so roomy that there were times you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had come to the wrong place. 5000+ people simply vanished into the program rooms. It seemed like there was no one there.
But the real drawback of Anaheim as a site is that, just like the rest of the L.A. region, it is designed for people with cars. There are a few restaurants within walking distance, but not many, and you canít find them without a map. There are a few shops and banks and the like, but again not many. In L.A., if you want to go somewhere, you drive. Compare this to Philadelphia or Boston where the city center is on the conventionís doorstep. I donít think that Anaheim has a city center.
That is, Iím afraid, just one of those things. Iíd love Anaheim to have a Boston-style shopping mall next door, but it isnít going to happen. As Worldcon venues go, Anaheim is maybe 80% of what weíd want, but I donít think anywhere else does any better.
There were no queues. That might seem a trite observation, but once it was not so. Worldcon Registration is, it would seem, a solved problem. Well it is if the people running it learn the lessons of what has gone before. Mostly L.A.Con IV did, but they still managed to forget that it is not smart to have an entirely separate registration area for program participants than for ordinary members. It is even less smart to have that area a long way away from main registration, and not open for the same hours. What you do is have a separate table in the main registration area. When the program participants check in the registration staff will see a note on the membersí records and tell them to go to the special table as well. Done like that it works well. Done L.A.Con IVís way it leads to confusion, missed messages, and wastage.
Program participant registration was closed when I arrived. So I went to ordinary registration and was checked in. No one told me I had to do anything else. Fortunately I knew that I did. The next morning I went to the green room to get my schedule, ribbons and Hugo pins. I also got a brand new badge, because I shouldnít have been given one the day before. OK, minor problem. But other people might have not been as savvy as me. And at least one major goof was caused. Mike Glyer, who chaired L.A.Con III, didnít get his invitation to the Past Worldcon Chairs party, apparently because he didnít go to the right registration site at the right time. Oh dear. Poor Christian McGuire will never live that one down. Good job Mike is such a nice, understanding chap.
The one statistic that all SMOFdom was waiting to hear from the convention was how many people took advantage of the so-called "taster memberships". As you may recall, L.A.Con IV adopted a system whereby people could buy a day membership but, if they had seen all they wanted to see after three hours, they could get a refund of all but $20. So how many people did this? 418.
Of course what that means is very much open to debate. On the one hand people will claim that here were 418 folks who might not have come to the convention otherwise, or would have left highly disgruntled about the waste of money on a $50-$75 (depending on the day) day membership. Others will claim that here were 418 people who would have paid $200 for a full convention membership had it not been for the disgraceful financial mismanagement by the convention committee, leading to a massive loss of over $75,000 in revenue. I know which version I prefer to believe, but as no one seems to have through to ask any of the people who claimed the refund what they thought of the convention I guess weíll never know the truth.
The other headline figures are 5913 warm bodies and 919 no shows (the latter includes supporting members). These figures are provisional and may be modified once those in charge of keeping the statistics have checked how they were compiled.
There was lots of it. I must admit that looking through the schedule beforehand I found it a little dull. Maybe I have gone to too many of these events, but it seemed to me that the panel selection had involved rather too much looking at what topics had been used before and not enough thinking of new ideas. On the other hand, judging from conversations at the convention, and those people blogging from the con, lots of people really enjoyed lots of panels. There werenít any particular panels that stood out as being talked about more than others, but there appeared to be a high level of satisfaction.
Because of the nearness of Hollywood, more movie people than usual showed up (although some pulled out at the last minute: JMS, where were you?) The 40th Anniversary of Star Trek got us the likes of Walter Koenig and Marina Sirtis. It was great to get to meet D.C. Fontana. One of the few panels I attended was about writing for TV. (I was, as usual, too busy most of the time to go to panels.)
Newcomers to the convention might have gone away with the impression that program was in a state of continual chaos, with panels being re-arranged and panelists going missing with alarming regularity. That, however, was not the case. It was an illusion created by the fanatical devotion of Chaz Baden and his newsletter team to getting the word out. This was one area where the convention communicated so well that people were complaining it was too much.
Unfortunately program was also the area in which the conís one major screw-up occurred, and it appears to have been the result of communication problems. Or at least of people not listening.
It isnít entirely stupid to put the kaffeklatsches in exhibit space. It has been done before, and it can work. Noreascon 4, for example, had some kaffleklatches in the Broken Drum pub. But if you are going to put kaffeklatsches in exhibit space you have to put them somewhere quiet. Erecting a pipe and drape "wall" around them does not keep out the sound. Was there no one on the L.A.Con IV committee who remembered Glasgow in 1995? Or who saw the "Once more with ceiling" ads we ran for 2005? Apparently not. Or rather, those with that crucial piece of Worldcon lore at their disposal never spoke to those responsible for siting the kaffleklatches.
And still with the Glasgow comparison, we communicated. We knew that we had to. People like Ewan Chrystal and Dave Tomkins did a great job drawing up floorplans and distributing them. If someone on the L.A.Con IV committee had done that then surely people would have noticed that the kaffeklatches, supposedly safe and quiet in their pipe and drape walls, had been located right next to the filk stage with its enormous sound system.
Alex von Thorne, who was in charge of Kaffleklatsches, claims that he didnít know theyíd be next to the filkers until he got to the convention, by which time it was too late. Christian McGuire didnít know either. Presumably neither did Craig Miller, the head of program. He certainly knows all about Glasgowís pipe and drape "rooms". And those, I think, were the only people above von Thorne in the convention hierarchy. If only people had talked to each other a bit more Iím sure this would not have happened.
(There is, of course, a matter of committee culture here. Interactionís staff were very good at cross-departmental communication, at least the divisional level which is where I worked. I recall from ConJosé that attempts to comment on what another department was doing were often greeted with fury by the people responsible for that department.)
The other major criticism leveled at programming was also something of a communication issue. There have been a number of complaints about well known writers not being able to get on program: most notably David Marusek and R. Scott Bakker. The programming staff are reported as having admitted to not knowing who they were. But, as Patrick Nielsen Hayden has pointed out rather forcefully, all they had to do was ask. I got a couple of people on program by being proactive and writing to the programming staff on their behalf. Had someone in that group written back to me, or to Patrick, or to one of many other well-informed people around the industry, they could have got better information as to which program volunteers to pick. They didnít. They needed to communicate more.
(By the way, congratulations to David Marusek for attending anyway. A lot of authors in his position might have got in a huff and blown off the convention, but he asked to be on program, was told "no", and came anyway. I donít know about Bakker ó as far as I know he didnít personally ask to be on program, and quite likely he had no plans to attend anyway.)
The Exhibit Area
The one area where the influence of Hollywood was most clearly felt was in the exhibits. As you entered the main convention hall you were confronted by a collection of robots and similar beings. R2D2 and C3PO were there. A dalek and a cylon shared guard duties, putting aside their Hugo rivalry for the convention. Governor Schwarzenegger had sent along his relative, T2, to welcome visitors to California. Oldsters like Gort turned up as well. As far as I could make out, these were not original props but very impressive replicas made by a local enthusiast.
Further into the exhibit hall were other familiar sights. Is that Spirit or Opportunity? No, they are both still on Mars, that must be a life-size replica. Oh, and thereís the Lunar Rover. Indeed, there was an entire car park full of famous vehicles. You could have your photo taken in the Batmobile, or on the bridge of the Enterprise surrounded by waxworks of Kirk & co. There was an exhibition of Star Trek costumes. It was awesome. Whoever put that show together deserves special congratulations. It was just lacking one thing: a decent map.
The exhibit hall was big enough to hold all of that stuff, the Art Show and the Dealersí Room as well. The Art Show was, I thought, something of a mixed bag. There was some really excellent material in it; Guest of Honor, James Gurney, and John Picacio, being obvious examples. But the exhibit also seemed to be bulked out with rather a lot of rather less competent work. Cats with wings. You know the sort of thing. I suspect that the Art Show at World Fantasy will have a much more even quality to it.
There were lots of dealers. A fair number of them sold books. And what is more, most of them seemed happy. No one was leaping up and down with joy, but everyone I spoke to made at least grudgingly approving noises. In dealer speak that means the convention was well worth attending. The only things they complained about to me were the concrete floor (the smart ones had brought rugs) and the lack of a map to show which stall was where.
The Business Meeting: Editors
One of the main reasons I had so little time to attend panels was because this year had one of the busiest WSFS Business Meetings in a long time. Iím in the fortunate position that Charles Brown pays me to go to Business Meetings so that he doesnít have to. But that did mean that I had to be there most of the time. I couldnít really cheat and rely on Kevin to tell me what happened afterwards.
We should probably start with the Best Editor Hugo split. That went through as expected, but not without a little drama. Jared Dashoff, who looks set to continue the Dashoff fannish dynasty, noticed at the last minute that the motion as written excluded editors of non-fiction works, whereas previously the editor of, say, a biography was in theory eligible for the Editor Hugo. Not that such a person would ever have won, I suspect, but in the spirit of fairness it was decided that something had to be done. Thankfully some quick committee work came up with a re-write at the meeting and the amendment was ratified.
So next year we have two Editor Hugos, one for people who edit magazines, anthologies and collections ("Short Form"); and one for people who edit "novel length" books ("Long Form"). If you have no idea who to vote for, John Klima has very helpfully set up an editor wiki. Assuming the editors all register themselves, the data you need will be in there. You can find the wiki at: http://besteditorhugo.pbwiki.com/. The last time I looked there were 30 people there, including most of the usual suspects.
Quite how the categories will develop is still an open issue. But hereís something to think about. The wording of the Constitutional Amendment very deliberately removed the word "professional" from the category definition. That means that all of those semi-pro fiction Ďzine editors are now eligible. And because non-fiction editors have been explicitly included I guess that non-fiction magazine editors are eligible for the Short Form award too. That means Charles Brown. And me. And Dave Langford. Oh dear.
(And it gets even more complex than that, because the mention of a 10,000 copy rule in the old Best professional Editor definition was the only place in the Constitution where the concept of "professional" was explicitly defined. From now on, it would appear, "professional" is purely a matter of Vox Populi, Vox Dei. If you think that someone is a "professional" rather than a "fan" then you should nominate appropriately. The area most affected here is presumably artists where there are two very similar categories separated only by the idea of "professional".)
The Business Meeting: Artists
The next major piece of business was the Professional Artist amendment that I talked about last issue. This proved to be a magnificent example of WSFS participatory democracy in action. As I noted last month, some of the ideas that the art community had for ensuring that only people genuinely active in the field got nominated were somewhat extreme and likely to irritate WSFS regulars. It probably didnít help that Irene Gallo bravely signed up for the SMOFs mailing list and was exposed to the full force of SMOFish idiocy as well as the sensible arguments being directed at her. However, once at the convention, she and John Picacio spent a lot of time sat down with experts on the WSFS Constitution and on running the Hugos, and as a result a compromise agreement was prepared. This is a little technical, so please read carefully.
The first thing that was done was to convert the Constitutional Amendment to a Resolution. This has the advantage of coming into force immediately, meaning that we can trial the new system at least once before it gets set in stone (assuming the Japanese decide to take notice of the Resolution Ė they are at liberty to ignore it if they wish, but I hope they donít). The artists get action immediately, rather than having to wait for ratification in Japan. And because it is only a Resolution, no one is going to have their nomination taken away, or their vote disqualified, during the trial.
In parallel, a Constitutional Amendment was passed that would give the resolution legal force if it is ratified in Japan. I suspect that having had another year to think about it, WSFS may well vote it down. Hereís why.
The system as currently being trialed involves asking each artist nominee to submit at least three "reference works" that can be displayed or linked to on the administering Worldconís web site. Those works would have to be created in the year of eligibility. There is no obligation to do so, but obviously any nominee who failed to submit those works would look bad in front of the voters and would damage his chances of winning.
Note that there is no requirement whatsoever for nominators to list reference works. The onus is entirely on the nominees, which is where it should be. However, space will be provided on the ballot for nominators to provide the name of a reference work. Hopefully that will encourage some of them to think about what work the person they are nominating has produced recently.
The Constitutional Amendment makes it a requirement for the Professional Artist nominees to submit the three reference works. If a nominee does not do so then he or she will lose that nomination and it will go to someone else. This, I think, is a bad idea. Hereís why.
At the moment, although nominees are given the opportunity to decline nomination, this is a courtesy only. You are not required to accept nomination. And this is just as well, because if acceptance was required then the Dramatic Presentation categories would look very strange indeed. Hollywood people donít care about minor details like accepting nominations. They take no notice at all of the awards unless they win.
Now of course we are only talking about artists here, not about movie directors. But the point is that the whole Hugo process is built around the idea that acceptance is the default. If it isnít, if failure to respond to a nomination notification in the correct way means you lose the nomination, then suddenly things get a lot more difficult. How much time should the Hugo Administrator allow for a nominee to get back to him? What if he canít find an email address for the nominee? Or a phone number? How hard should he try? These all suddenly become very contentious issues. I really donít think we want to go there. And consequently I very much hope that the voluntary system proves a success.
The Business Meeting: Other Stuff
There was one other Constitutional Amendment submitted to the meeting. This was the one about the maximum allowable price for initial memberships. Iíve talked about that in the article on the Hugos, so I wonít go there again.
In addition the meeting passed a collection of administrative resolutions. Committees looking into things like Hugo eligibility outside the US, and a possible web site Hugo, got continued. The meeting also gave the Mark Protection Committee the go-ahead to look at strengthening the Hugo service mark. What this will probably mean in practice is the creation of a Hugo logo that bookstores can slap on a book to make it easily recognizable as something special. Other literary awards do this, I donít see why the Hugos canít do it too.
The Business Meeting: Pluto
And then the dog wagged the tail, so to speak.
All weekend a few astronomically-inclined fans had been trying to get the Business Meeting to discuss the demotion of Pluto from planet status. For some inexplicable reason, these people thought that the outside world might actually care if WSFS expressed its opinion on this matter.
Now, because the meeting had a lot of important business to get through, this potential piece of light entertainment kept getting put to the back of the agenda. I thought that was entirely reasonable. After all, most people attending the convention do like to see some of it. They donít like to be stuck in the Business Meeting all day.
(There is another point here in that if you care about WSFS democracy you canít leave. If a pointless debate about Pluto had caused enough people to give up and go, a determined group of radicals could have forced through some highly contentious resolutions. Trotskyists know all about this sort of meeting manipulation.)
Anyway, the meeting kept postponing discussion of Pluto, and the people to whom that discussion was important got steadily more and more angry about it. Finally we got to the end of the last meeting of the weekend. That should have been the point at which we spent 15 minutes or so talking about poor old Pluto, making a few silly points, and getting it over with. Except that by this point some of the attendees had got so carried away with parliamentary procedures that they decided they would try to prevent any debate on the subject at all. Naturally the Pluto camp was incandescent with fury. On the one side people were yelling at Kevin that he was denying them their democratic rights, when in fact all he was doing was trying to follow the rules fairly. On the other people were coming up with more and more obscure points of order because, well, there were some angry people in the room and it was fun to bait them. (Or perhaps because they held equally bizarre and equally passionate views that it would be a major disaster for the Society if WSFS debated the issue of Pluto.) The debate sounded very much like a flame war.
The whole debacle was really quite depressing. I have no idea how Kevin and the rest of the Business Meeting staff managed to keep their tempers. And after all the good work that was done with the Editor and Artist motions, people could be forgiven for going away thinking that the Business Meeting really was a bunch of idiots arguing arcane points about trivial matters just like everyone had always said. It was a very sad end to what had actually been a very successful meeting.
As you probably know by now, the 2008 Worldcon will be held in Denver. The current Guests of Honor are Lois McMaster Bujold and Tom Whitmore, with more to be added later. Wil McCarthy is the Toastmaster. The dates of the convention are early: August 6-10. More information is available here.
The voting was very close indeed. The spread between Denver, Chicago and Columbus was only 61 on the first round of counting. In the end Denver won out over Chicago by just 12 votes.
Many reasons have been put forward as to why Chicago, the pre-convention favorite, failed to win. Iíve heard people talk about the Chicago bid being too arrogant, about it being too soon (only 8 years) after the last Chicago Worldcon, and about the proposed site being a poor selection of those on offer in the city. I even had one person tell me that she wouldnít vote for any bid that had Alex von Thorne on the committee. In the end I suspect that a multitude of small reasons stacked up against Chicago, and that was why they lost.
As for Columbus, considering how utterly inept their campaign was, I keep thinking that if only they had tried they could have won easily.
Montreal and Kansas City are still slugging it out for 2009, and Iím delighted to see the two bids getting on very well together. The Australia in 2010 bid is now official and will probably be unopposed (except for the entertaining XERPS folks). Washington has withdrawn its proposed bid for 2011 due to lack of suitable facilities, but Seattle has launched a bid for that year.
As usual I spent one evening of the convention backstage at the Masquerade. It was a very strange experience. L.A.Con IV had apparently been unable to find a willing and experienced masquerade director from amongst the usual Worldcon community, so they brought in a team of people who have successfully run masquerades for many years at the San Diego Comicon. The show itself actually ran very well, save for one contestant whose costume never quite got as far as the stage, but backstage all was not well.
It was a communication issue again. All of the costumers, all of the volunteers, were expecting a normal Worldcon masquerade run in the usual way. The people in charge were going to run the event their own way. That apparently meant not bothering with nonsense about den moms and the like. It meant giving the contestants orders and expecting them to be obeyed. Or at least thatís the way it seemed to me.
Of course had we done that things would have gone badly wrong. At Worldcon masquerades some of the contestants need help. Having met him on the shuttle from the airport, I knew that Jeff Daniels was one such person. His costume was going to be very hot inside, and hard to walk in. Heck, Jeff had deliberately built pockets inside the costume into which he could put ice to help keep him cool. The assistant he brought with him was a doctor, though I donít think that was a consideration in the choice. All of which is why I spent the evening looking after an eight-foot-tall cyborg llama. I did a lot of queue jumping: "my llama needs to get his photo taken now, so he can go sit down in front of a fan again." I suspect the masquerade management had me marked down as a major troublemaker, but we got Jeff through the evening without any medical emergencies (he was wearing stilts to get the llama legs right, and I still remember Dave Wakeís Alien costume). Whatís more he won Best in Show for Workmanship, which he thoroughly deserved.
A classic example of how communication between the convention and the masquerade team simply didnít happen was provided by the Japanese prize. Our friends from Nippon 2007 had decided to donate a special prize to be given to the entry that won the overall Best in Show. I knew this in advance. I had helped Kevin proof-read the announcement in one of the Progress Reports (an announcement which, thanks to a less than perfect translation from Japanese, could have been interpreted as saying that the Japanese were going to choose who won Best in Show, so it is a good job I did see it). But, when the Japanese delegation arrived backstage at half time, no one in the masquerade management team was expecting them.
At this point Worldcon connections click into gear. Glenn Glazer was shepherding the Japanese. He spotted me and knew that Iíd be able to find the right people to talk to. And so I did. I talked to the backstage manager, and to Martin Jaquish, the masquerade director. We agreed that what would happen was that the Japanese would come on at the start of the prize-giving to show off what they had brought (a stunningly beautiful wedding kimono). They would then go away, but someone would come back at the end of the show to give the prize to the winners. And that should have been that.
But it wasnít. Come the start of prize-giving, a whole load of other things happened first. Glenn and I had no idea what was going on, or what to tell the Japanese. Then they were called up, but no one had told Phil Foglio what to expect. Thankfully Phil is a master at extemporizing and got through it. Come the end of the prize-giving, the Japanese were forgotten again. It was embarrassing.
There were other backstage problems too. Some people didnít get their workmanship judging done, apparently because, entirely unexpectedly, the workmanship judges were summoned to help judge presentations during the show. As for the contestant who scratched, he hadnít managed to get his costume to work in rehearsal either. He probably shouldnít have been allowed to compete. But so it goes, the audience didnít notice most of the panic, which is the important thing.
The half time show also kept the crowds in, which is always good news. It was apparently quite funny. Hopefully it was more tuneful in the auditorium as well. Backstage it often sounded like a pack of wolves howling in pain. Sounds systems can do horrible things at times.
Best in Show was won by a group of four wearing costumes from the anime series, Trinity Blood. They were well deserved winners.
The Hugo Ceremony
No records for brevity were going to be set this year, not with Connie Willis as writer Guest of Honor. Connie needs time to do her thing, but it is well worth it, especially when she enlists Robert Silverberg to help out. So we were a little late starting and we maybe ran a little long, but with one notable exception it all went very smoothly. It was wonderful to see Betty Ballantine presenting one of the Hugos, many of the winners were very popular, and it would have been a triumphant night had it not been for Harlan.
Far too many words have already been expended on Gropegate for me to want to add to them, but I guess people will be expecting me to say something, the starting point for which will be that it was clear right from the start that Harlan was planning to behave badly. It was just that no one quite realized that behaving badly would include trying to swallow the microphone and groping one of Connieís breasts during the ceremony. Harlan, I suspect thought it would be funny.
The next thing to say is that reaction in the auditorium to the grope was fairly muted for some obvious reasons. Some people had already tuned Harlan out and didnít even notice. Others probably couldnít believe what they had seen, especially as Connie behaved so professionally as if nothing had happened. And I for one was prepared to let Connie take the lead on any action rather than initiate it myself. Perhaps more to the point, I suspect that if some of us had disrupted the ceremony in protest we would have been quietly asked to leave the arena, and we would have been the ones getting pilloried in the blogosphere for days afterwards. Public opinion can be very fickle like that. Apparently some people have since claimed that the audience in Anaheim, because we didnít leap to our feet shouting in protest, or immediately rush to our keyboards and vent our fury to the online world, are somehow complicit in Harlanís offence. I guess they are honestly outraged, but I refuse accept guilt for this. Iíd like to see what they would have done if they were there.
I also want to say that I completely support Connieís right to deal with the event in whatever way she sees fit. That should always be the case with sexual assault. Those people who have been demanding that Connie should sue Harlan, or even more bizarrely that she should sue the convention, donít seem to me to necessarily have Connieís best interests in mind.
And finally, to those people who have been saying that they didnít believe that a man could get away with this sort of dreadful behavior in this day and age, for goodness sake come out of your little boxes and look at the world around you. Violence against women happens. It happens down the street from where you live. And it isnít just groping, it is beating and rape and murder. So yes, Harlan behaved like an idiot, and weíll be reminding him just how much of an idiot he was for the rest of his life. But if you want to show outrage, please do so evenly. Celebrities are not the only people in the world who matter, and making them behave properly wonít make the problem go away. It is much more deep-seated than that.
Naturally the convention has come in for a lot of criticism, but it is easy to be wise after the event. If Harlan had stopped at the microphone swallowing then it is likely that there would have been very little fuss indeed. Many people would have written about how funny he was. Others would have congratulated the convention for getting such a prestigious author as a presenter. When you invite a known trouble-maker like Harlan you are always taking a bit of a risk. I have no idea what discussions went on amongst the committee regarding the invitation to Harlan. What I do know for sure, however, is that every time Harlanís name comes up in a convention committee discussion, any convention committee discussion, in the future, people will remember what he did in Anaheim and, if they have any sense at all, will not want anything to do with him.
One more quick comment on the Hugo ceremony. Last year Kevin and I made certain that the photographers got good shots of the winners. This year the whole post-ceremony photo shoot degenerated into a shambles once again. Some of us were being paid to take those photos. Weíd appreciate a little more organization, please.
Hint: if you want good press coverage of your convention, do not hide your press office away so thoroughly that even experienced Worldcon attendees like me have trouble finding it. It is not the Treasury office; it is a place people need to be able to get to.
Having said that, the Orange County Register did give us some pretty good coverage. Unlike most local newspapers, it mainly eschewed the "sci-fi geeks beam down" angle and instead mentioned things like the enormous contribution that science fiction movies make to the local economy. They could have done better. When not tending Jeff in his llama suit I spent a fair amount of time looking after a Register reporter. I found her some good stories, but I donít think any of it got used.
National Geographic had a film crew at the masquerade. I have no idea if anything they did has been aired.
Wired had a couple of short pieces about the convention, in which they tried very hard to out-do the mainstream press in looking down on fandom. That should be enough to fix Wired journalists firmly below Furries in the fan hierarchy.
Aside from that Iíve seen very little. John Scalzi, who took the trouble to tell his local paper about his Campbell win, and a group of kids who had put a lot of effort into the younger writersí competition, managed to get at least as good coverage for the convention as the con did itself. Could try harder?
At this point I am going to assume that you have all read the review of the Lynne Truss book and that you are familiar with Robert Putnamís division of social networking into Ďbondingí and Ďbridgingí.
As I said in the introduction, L.A.Con IV was a successful convention. It is above average in terms of Worldcons I have attended, and if it didnít manage anything particularly spectacular then at least it didnít do too many things badly wrong. And yet it still got horribly panned in the blogosphere.
Thereís little doubt that Worldcon started out as a bonded group. Back in the 1940s, science fiction fans were a much more lonely and despised group than they are today. But in the 1970s things changed. The advent of Star Trek in particular, not to mention the first moon landing, caused a massive surge in interest in science fiction. Noreascon 1, in 1971, attracted 1,600 people. Noreascon Two, in the same city nine years later, attracted 5,850.
This vastly increased membership forced Worldcon to change from a tightly focused group in a by-then self-imposed ghetto to the Ďbig tentí event that we see today. Inevitably the convention is much more of a bridged community. At least in theory, it welcomes anime fans, media fans, comics fans, gamers and goodness knows what else alongside the traditional book readers. Iím convinced that it could have grown much bigger if not for its commitment to internationalism and its determined avoidance of any sort of formal organization.
There has, of course, always been a segment of fandom that has wanted to keep Worldcon a small, bonded group. These are the sort of people who claim that potential newcomers are "not part of our community" and must be turned away. Iíve spend much of the last eleven years railing against these folks. But now I have given up. Why? Because I no longer believe that the barbarians at the gate want to get in, or that they would be any happier if they did.
As I noted in the Lynne Truss review, interest in and respect for volunteer communities is declining rapidly. So yes, fandom is graying because there are those in fandom who donít want to see any new blood admitted. But it is also graying because the new blood doesnít care. An increasing number of people (and not just young people) donít want to work on conventions, and if they do theyíll only do so if they "get something out of it" (by which they do not mean the satisfaction of a job well done). Perhaps more importantly, those who actually put a lot of effort into running such events are inevitably seen as authority figures whose mere existence is seen as "an insult which must be challenged." No matter how hard we try to get new people involved, it doesnít seem to be acceptable. We get told that we didnít try hard enough, and that such lack of effort is evidence that we are secretly trying to keep new people out. And if we protest at such treatment, why, we are told to "Eff-Off!"
This sort of thing isnít restricted to Worldcon either. There was all of the abuse hurled at the Tiptree jury earlier this year. John Scalzi recently tried to raise the standard of commenting on his blog, and was of course flamed for it. In responding to complaints about Clarion East moving to San Diego, Walter John Williams wrote, "The Clarion Board is not some shadowy ĎThemí who make decisions based on arcane, incomprehensible formulae. We are your friends, teachers, and colleagues, and we based our decision on what we felt were the best interests of the workshop. We have been discussing all these issues for months."
That is, of course, how most people who do volunteer work feel. They are trying very hard to do good for the community. But as soon as anyone steps up to the plate to offer their services it seems that they become part of the mysterious ĎThemí ó people who have a bounden duty to work every hour of the day to provide nothing less than a perfect service for those who are too important to do the work for themselves. And of course you should expect no reward for this service other than perhaps to be accused of idiocy, incompetence, total lack of ethics, and lining your own pockets at the expense of the people you are supposed to be working for.
Fortunately for Worldcon, there are people who have thick enough skins, or who are sufficiently oblivious to what goes on around them, that they are still prepared to carry on running the event. And doubtless the "not part of our community" crowd are delighted at any evidence that the barbarians are indeed barbarian. How much longer this will continue I donít know.