How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Last week I took my life into my own hands, got on a plane, and went all the way to California to attend the World Science Fiction Convention, known to those in the know as WorldCon. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an SF/F fan and that I’m a writer, so this shouldn’t shock most of you. WC is one of the biggest gatherings of SF fans of the year with about 6,000 attendees. Not only will you find scores of folks dressed up as their favorite characters/species/machines, but you’ll also find great writers such as Ray Bradbury mixing it up with up-and-coming and midlist writers.

You won’t find too many black people, though.

This isn’t a post all about the lack of black people at SF cons, though. There are a lot of reasons for this phenomenon and the biggest one isn’t racism, really. Many black fans just don’t want to go to cons like this. The culture doesn’t appeal to them. However, as more and more black folks get involved in fandom, writing SF, and being on SF shows, more black people show up at conventions.

I found myself taking note of the # of minority faces I saw and was pleased that it was significantly more than the last time I was at WorldCon, three years ago. I know there was at least program item dealing with the topic of “Where are all the black fans?” They were probably all at that panel. I stayed in the Dealer’s Room, myself, as I was there to sell a magazine (Farthing Magazine, specifically. Go buy an issue).

WorldCon isn’t as conscious of this issue as WisCon, and I don’t know that it’s necessary for it to be. WorldCon is more about trying to throw the net as wide as possible. Writers, readers, media fans, gamers, everyone is invited. With most other cons, the draw is a little more selective. Gamers mostly, readers mostly, media fans mostly, etc. I think getting more black people involved with those cons is the key to diversifying fandom.

Several significant things (in my eyes) happened this year.

First: for the third year in a row a good friend of mine won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The highly esteemed John Scalzi was the recipient this year, and he truly deserves it. Scalzi’s blog is good reading, and most of the recent posts are about WorldCon and the award. Go see his tiara.

(sidenote: I’ve started to notice the number of minority writers and, more importantly, books with significant minority characters on award lists. There aren’t many (a cursory look tells me this year there were none with the dubious exception of “Spin”). And people wonder why we need the Carl Brandon Awards…)

Second: At this same award ceremony Harlan Ellison (a writer of ill-repute) grabbed Connie Willis’ (a writer of stunning wonderfulness) breast as a joke. It was not his greatest moment. Connie herself has apparently said that she knows how to handle Harlan, and I don’t doubt her. She’s known him for a long time. It hasn’t stopped people condemning him, though. Rightly so. PNH says it best:

the basic message of Ellison’s tit-grab is this: “Remember, you may think you have standing, status, and normal, everyday adult dignity, but we can take it back at any time. If you are female, you’ll never be safe. You can be the political leader of the most powerful country in Europe. You can be the most honored female writer in modern science fiction. We can still demean you, if we feel like it, and at random intervals, just to keep you in line, we will.”

It’s not okay. It’s not funny. It wasn’t a blow against bourgeois pieties or political correctness. It was just pathetic and nasty and sad and most of us didn’t want to watch it.

Yes.

I wasn’t at the awards (I detest awards shows and ceremonies, therefore…) and thus only have second-hand disgust to go on. But, at this point, I feel that Harlan has moved from tolerated elder to dirty old man. Perhaps he needs to swing back the other way a bit.

Third: (and this was the highlight of the con for me) During the awards I was hanging in the bar with my friends and came across my one-time teacher, writer Kathleen Goonan. She was sitting next to a black woman with awesome hair that I’d seen trying on a very heavy chainmail dress earlier. I can’t remember what Kathy said to me when introducing us, but somehow the name Pam came out and my brain immediately lit up.

“Wait, are you Pam Noles?” I asked.
“Yes!” she answered.
“OMG! I’m [whichever name I said.. I have so many]!” I screamed.
“OMG! You’re the Angry Black Woman!” she screamed back.
We then did the girl thing with the bouncing and the screaming for about five minutes.

I’ve been dying to meet Pam for a long time – ever since her excellent essay about SciFi’s Earthsea. I thought she might be the type to come to conventions, but expected to find her at WisCon or ReaderCon or something. But here she was at WorldCon (counting black people, ha!).

I was also psyched that she knew who I was! That’s the first time someone’s recognized me as ABW. Made me feel good inside. Of course, she told me I had to start blogging again. That made me all happy, too. I love Pam’s blog and I think everyone should read it.

Unfortunately I only got to spend a few hours with Pam since she was only at the con for one day. But, I must say, she reminds me so much of my favorite cousins that I would swear we’re related somehow. I like that woman a lot.

All in all, it was an okay weekend. Seeing my friends who I only ever see at conventions was really nice. Seeing my friends win awards is extra wonderful. Surrounding myself with people I care for and who care for me is good therapy. But when I take a step outside of my comfortable envelope and look at the con at large, I feel very lonely. I am singular, outstanding, and easy to spot. Not because of my writing, or even my personality, but because of my skin. And that’s a very uneasy realization to have.

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7 Responses

  1. The irony: here we have a science-fiction convention, where people dress up as extraterrestrials, where people read stories and watch TV shows where humans are friendly (even intimate) with extraterrestrials…

    …but a lone black (human) visitor in this crowd might feel like… well, coming from another planet.

    Actually, I suspect that a similar sense of alienation in a crowd is something that happens to many fans, regardless of skin color: The sensation of being an alien visitor who feels disconnected from others, without being able to explain why…

  2. It is entries like this that make me envy the authors of the US blogs I read.

    :(

    Our cons suck.

  3. Ah! I followed your link and found a blog by a woman obsessed with transformers!

    I am a happy hexy with a new blog to read. :)

  4. That would be Pam’s blog. She’s obsessed with being an extra in that movie. Go her!

    You know, you could contact one of the Australian science fiction associations and see about puting in a worldcon bid. That would be cool! I think that, if they’re going to call it WorldCon it should be in the WORLD more. I would definitely save up to come to Australia.

  5. OMFG you updated your blog! Back to the daily check-in for TABW for me. I was very pleased to meet you; thought hadn’t hit that you might be there. All praises unto Goonan, because she’s the only reason I went to WorldCon. By clinging to her I met you. Score!

    Being an extra in the Transformers movie is my DESTINY. Even if I completely fail in this attempt … which is how it looks like it’s gonna end up unless I break down and call one of the Hollywood Exes WHICH I WILL NOT DO … it has been a massive amount of fun trying.

    More later.

  6. OMFG you updated your blog!

    Of course I did. You told me to!

    Kathy is the nexus for all good things, I agree. If we stick with her we may be able to rule the world someday.

    Maybe she can get you in the movie… hmmm…–>

  7. I’ve posted this elsewhere, in one form or another, but here’s a little “Harlaniana” for you.

    Ray Palmer, undeserving target of Harlan Ellison’s meanness for many years, is laughing somewhere.

    Ellison has largely made himself a pseudo-celebrity by his outrageous actions. As many older writers and fans remember (but do they DARE to speak?) Ellison intentionally recruited fans to harass and ridicule an aging and already crippled Palmer at SCIFI Conventions in the 60s and early 70s (cornering him in an elevator and causing him to fall and hurt himself, in one instance), intentionally distorted and took out of context what the man said, and did everything he could to ruin him. Palmer, of course, was the one-time editor of Amazing Stories who started the whole “Shaver Mystery” rolling. In addition to being a legendary force in early scifi and fantasy publishing, he was a kind-hearted gent who loved the fans and also committed the Harlan-ordained ’sin’ of having an interest in exploring the paranormal, UFOs, and other strange phenomena.

    Yep, Palmer is laughing somewhere, and given Ellison’s history, it’s probably a lot more pleasant somewhere than Harlan will end up–despite all the ass-kissing from pros and fans alike.

    Despicable, but everyone pretends not to remember, and kisses his ass.

    -Bubba

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