Monday, August 22, 2016

Worldcon Report 2: Fun Times, Hugo Results, and the Incoherence of the Puppies

The 74h Worldcon (MidAmeriCon II) has ended.  After a brief impromptu bonus vacation in Charlotte, North Carolina (due to missing a connecting flight), I'm back home in Chattanooga.  So here's Worldcon Report 2! (See Worldcon Report 1, which includes my first George R. R. Martin sighting of the con).

Luckily I had a shirt to wear for
my bonus vacation
Here are some of the highlights from Saturday and Sunday.

  • I saw George R. R. Martin around several more times.  He was even dressed up sans Greek fisherman's hat for the Hugo Award Ceremony.  More on the Hugos below.
  • I went to a lot of great panels.  Some of my favorites were Alienation in Science Fiction (which included Robert J. Sawyer, who I met later), The Art of Worldbuilding (which included Greg Bear and Carrie Patel), Alienbuilding (which included Larry Niven, Sheila Finch, and Caroline Yoachim), and a panel on Sense8 (which included Mark Oshiro, Sunil Patel, and Kate Elliott).
  • I bought several books, thus fueling my bibliophilia.  I made sure to buy a few books from smaller presses like Rosarium and Apex.
  • I met a lot of interesting people, some of whose names I unfortunately can't remember!  A few people whose names I do remember are Shiv Ramdas (whose work I hope to check out soon), Mike Substelny, and Chester Hoster.
  • Jo Walton signed a book for me, and I told her that as a SF fan and philosopher who regularly teaches Plato's Republic, I thoroughly approve of her Thessaly series, which is about the time traveling goddess Athena setting up Plato's Republic in the distant past (with robots and Socrates!).  She signed Necessity, the third book in the series, which I hope to review soon (see my reviews of the first two books here and here).
  • Before the Hugo Awards Ceremony, some friends and I ate at the Flying Saucer restaurant, which seemed like the most appropriate place to eat (the food was good and the beer selection was amazing; check it out if you're in downtown Kansas City).
  • I attended my first Hugo Awards Ceremony.  The Toastmaster, Pat Cadigan, is hilarious.  She should go on a stand up tour.  I'll say more about the results below.
  • My panel was on Sunday (see my abstract here).  My friend and fellow panelist, Josh Zimmerman, gave a talk on the trope of ancient alien technology in video games, which he argues reveals our hopes and anxieties about technology.  The panel went really well.  We had good attendance (better than I've had at many academic conferences!), and the audience had great questions.  Thanks to everyone who attended!  I hope to do more work like this in the future, both as a way to find new insights at the juncture of philosophy and science fiction and as a way to popularize philosophy (something my discipline badly needs to do).
  • Toward the end of the conference I saw Robert J. Sawyer, the author of numerous deeply philosophical science fiction works, and I decided to introduce myself.  I've been a fan of his books, especially the Neanderthal Parallax and Mindscan (which I reviewed here).  We had a pleasant but short conversation.  We even exchanged cards, which made me feel like some kind of professional or something.
  • Shortly after I had a snack in the con suite and bid a fond farewell to friends old and new as well as the sublimity of the nerd heaven that is Worldcon.

My Hugo Ballot Versus Reality

Where else does one eat before
the Hugo Awards?
My own Hugo ballot was pretty close to the official results.  My picks mirrored the winners for Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Graphic Story, Professional Editor - Long Form, Fanzine, Fan Writer, and Fan Artist.  Although I didn't vote for Andy Weir for the Campbell Award, I was so sure he'd win that I voted for Alyssa Wong, so technically I should count that one, too.  Not bad for my first try!  

You can read about my voting process here and here.  The one big surprise for me was The Martian winning for Dramatic Presentation - Long Form.  Since it was up against Star Wars: The Force Awakens and my personal favorite, Mad Max: Fury Road, not to mention other good ones like Ex Machina, there was some stiff competition.  

I guess the fans went with the humorous Engineers' SF this year (see my review of The Martian for what I mean by that).  I don't mind that The Martian won.  It's a good movie.  I personally didn't think it was the best (my preferences unsurprisingly run toward Big Ideas SF rather than Engineers' SF), but the award was accepted by real astronaut wearing a tiara, so that made it all worthwhile.

On the Incoherence of the Puppies

The Hugo Awards Ceremony was in itself quite an affair -- it's Oscar night for SF/F nerds!  But it was also an important event in the ongoing saga of fandom and the Puppies Sad and Rabid.  As you may have heard elsewhere (here, here, and here), it was a bad night for the Rabid Puppies and a good night for fandom.  The acceptance speeches from Jemisin, Okorafor, and Gaiman were inspiring rebukes of the Puppies and their efforts.
My friends Jay, Cheryl, and Janelle
 at the Sense8 panel

The moral failings of the Puppies, especially of the Rabid variety, are well known.  I don't need to go into them here.  Last year I noted the irony that in their attempts to overcome an imaginary conspiracy of SJWs, the Puppies engaged in real conspiracies of their own.  I also suspect that many in fandom, including me, simply enjoyed the non-Puppy favored works for purely aesthetic reasons.  Nonetheless, the lines between aesthetics, politics, and morality are blurred when some Puppies seem to assume that no works by women or people of color or those that tackle themes of social justice could be good.  Maybe you personally didn't like N. K. Jemisin's Hugo-winning The Fifth Season (I loved it!), but there's no denying its novelty and artistic merits.

One issue that occurred to me at Worldcon was that the Puppies aren't just at fault morally and aesthetically, they're logically incoherent.  Allow me to explain.

Most people who go to science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions do so because such spaces are accepting of differences: differences from the world of "normals" who for reasons I can't comprehend don't want to obsess over Star Trek or Star Wars, differences from a world that tells you that adults can't love this stuff with pure, childhood glee.  Above all this community consists of members who are different among themselves but who recognize that these differences enhance the community: we don't all have to be the same to love these genres.  We can all let our nerd flags fly proudly and freely, but these flags need not be identical.  The whole idea of fandom is the acceptance of people who are different, people who are ridiculed elsewhere for being who they are and loving what they love.  This was a big theme of the Alienation in SF panel mentioned above.

Of course, we need to recognize that fandom doesn't always live up to these ideals of acceptance.  Some differences have been more equally accepted than others, especially when it comes to gender, race, sexuality, ability, and so on.  But I think fandom is for the most part imperfectly working toward a more perfect unity in diversity.

The fundamental incoherence of the whole idea of the Puppies, and here I include the Sad and Rabid alike, is this: by declaring what kinds of topics or sub-genres fans should like and by claiming that it's unthinkable that fans might simply enjoy more diverse perspectives and literary innovation, they are contradicting the openness and acceptance of difference that forms the existential Constitution of fandom's very being.  

Maybe the Puppies have forgotten that the whole reason we have fandom is to celebrate our differences from the normals as well as the differences among ourselves.  Maybe they never understood what fandom is all about.  

Whatever the case, the Hugo voting last year and this year as well as the openness of most fans I've encountered at Worldcon and other cons make me confident of one thing: although their yapping will most certainly continue, the Puppies do not represent fandom.  No one contingent of fandom does.  That's what makes it beautiful.


  1. I have so many jealous feelings! *sigh* I miss going to cons. It's been probably 7 years since I attended anything, and they used to form a central core of my life (of course, the last few years I was working my booth at cons, so they weren't quite as much pure fun.)

    As for the various Puppies -- as diverse as Fandom sets out to be, there's much evidence that, at its core, it formed around the preferences of white, middle class, straight men who gradually "allowed" others to join in at the edges. Those others are now migrating inward and settling down, becoming central. There are those who view the situation as having limited seats at the table -- their views, preferences, and opinions no longer dominate, which feels to them like they are not being heard (when one is privileged, loss of privilege feels like discrimination). So, as they have to share with others who aren't like them, think differently, have different experiences, and want different things, they are going to squawk and fight to maintain their dominance.

    MOAR STORY! Come on, there has to be some good stuff you aren't talking about. :) I need entertainment, as I'm about to dig out my old copy of Socrates to Sartre to read about David Hume (he's been quoted a lot in what I'm reading, and I feel ignorant).

    1. I hope you get to a con again sometime soon. They are a lot of fun!

      I think your analysis of the history of fandom is right. We are now experiencing a reactionary movement against more people getting seats that the table as you say. I didn't so much mean that fandom has actually been fully accepting of diversity, although it may have sounded that way (sorry!). I meant that, at a core philosophical level, the whole idea of fandom is that it's a place where people who are different and not accepted by the "mainstream" can be comfortable. I think the Puppies' vision is fundamentally at odds with this basic idea, but not so much with fandom's actual past.

      An analogy: the European Enlightenment, which gave us wonderful ideas about human rights, equality, and freedom while the actual Enlightenment figures were pretty misogynist racist bastards. That's why a famous Enlightenment document, the US Constitution, can on the one hand promise equality before the law for everyone and on the other hand declare that slaves are 3/5 human while not mentioning women at all. The practice is at odds with what the theory ought to imply. Likewise, the Puppies may be in line with the actual history of fandom while they are at odds with what fandom theoretically ought to imply.

      David Hume is one of those Enlightenment figures who had great ideas! He's one of my favorite philosophers. Enjoy!

    2. As for stories, let me think. There was this whole fiasco with Dave Truesdale. I wasn't at that panel, but you can read a reasonably thorough story about it here:

      Kate Elliott, the moderator of the Sense8 panel held the next day (which I did attend), made fun of this incident when she started the panel by saying she was going to begin with a 15 minute monologue as all moderators are supposed to do.

      At the panel I mentioned on alienation, Robert Sawyer had to shut down a guy in front of me who was rambling on and insulting Sawyer's work. Sawyer was pretty aggressive about it (especially for a Canadian!), but I see why he did it. He even made fun of the guy's beard after he told him that the book he was panning (Calculating God) has been nominated for a Hugo. In Sawyer's defense, he was super nice and stereotypically Canadian when I talked to him the next day.

      There was an Iron Throne for photos. That was kind of cool.

      The Masquerade was fun. I watched it with friends from the con suite. I never found out who won because the judges took so long and there was this seemingly interminable improv troupe. My favorite costume was Rambo Bright, which is pretty much what you'd think, but with rainbow underwear.

      The room party situation was weird because of the hotel rules. There were "room parties" in the big hall by the con suite where the drinks had to be served by Aramark employees. It was okay. The party for Dublin 2020 was serving Irish whiskey, of which I wholeheartedly approve. I think there were also real room parties that I wasn't cool enough to get invited to.

      I learned about this whole thing with the ribbons on the badges. My proudest acquisition was a ribbon that says "I am Chuck Tingle." Maybe I'll see if I can get a picture of that.

      If I think of any more random stories, I will share them. Was there anything in particular you're wondering about?

    3. Dublin 2019. New Zealand 2020.