16 September 2015
Continuing my report on Sasquan, the World Science Fiction Convention, held in Spokane in the middle of a wildfire disaster last month.
To the best of my knowledge the biggest squabble that ever occurred in the mystery world happened in the 1980s when some people complained that women were underrepresented in reviews, sales, and awards. This was one fact that led to the creation of Sister in Crime, and caused MWA to change the way they formed award committees.
Well, trust me, that struggle was a pebble compared to the Mount Rushmore that hit Worldcon this year.
If you want details search the internet for "Sad Puppies." As I understand it, one group of SF readers/writers was unhappy about what they saw as the field becoming more political and favoring certain stories and authors. Frankly, to my ignorant outsider eyes it looked like they were complaining that an insufficient number of straight white men were being nominated. But what do I know about science fiction?
In any case, they created a slate of candidates for the Hugo nominations and, in a quite legal way, gamed the election. The Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by people who register for the con (like our Anthony Awards), but for $40 you can buy a supporting membership. That doesn't entitle you to attend, but it does let you vote. I am told that approximately 400 people bought memberships so they could support the Sad Puppy slate.
One hundred and sixty grand can build an awfully high spite fence.
In some categories all the chosen nominees were part of the Sad Puppies slate. (And some of these writers chose to remove their names from the ballot, rather than be associated with the Puppies. Imagine waiting for years for a nomination and then feeling you have to turn it down!)
It got even weirder. One writer on the Sad Puppy slate wrote to the Spokane Police Department, warning them that one of the guests of honor was "insane" and might incite violence. (This wasn't a secret, by the way: he announced on a podcast that he did this.) He later apologized.
The actual Hugo Awards voting is complicated and allows for No Award (i.e. none of the above). In five categories the voters rejected all the candidates, and in no cases did anyone supported by the Sad Puppies win. Now the fans have to figure out a way to clean up the mess and I hope that none of this will repeat net year.
Oh! Remember the con? Panels and stuff like that? Let's talk about that, shall we? I will stick to stuff that can reasonably be tied to mystery fiction.
misunderstanding between sweethearts. If they can read each other's minds... She set her self a challenge didn't she?) But Willis also announced that for a future project she is rereading all of Agatha Christie. She is convinced that Dame Agatha left clues behind concerning her famous disappearance in 1926. I look forward to Willis's future reports.
There was a panel on fantasy and horror noir which I enjoyed a lot although there was the usual confusion between hardboiled and noir. Panelist John Pitts made the proper distinction, although he later blotted his copybook by calling Han Solo an anti-hero. A rogue is not an anti-hero.
I attended three panels on short stories. It was at one of those that I picked up the best piece of writing advice I heard that weekend, from Daryl Gregory: "Stop just short of the ending. If you act like Tom Sawyer and let your readers do the rest of the work, they'll be more connected to the story, and thank you for it."
And speaking of quotations, here are a few gems I picked up. As usual, if you want context, you're on your own.
"Style is what the writer does. Genre is what the marketing department does." - Richard Vadry
"Why is some short fiction better than novels? Because it's riskier." -Stefan Rudnick
"Other people have 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders. I have 'No One Edits My Manuscript.'" - -Connie Willis.
"There's no platonic ideal of story." -C.C. Finlay
"Every other writer's process is sort of vaguely scary and appalling." - Daryl Gregory.
"I can't say hello in less than five thousand words." -Mark J. Ferrari
"What relationships need is less communication, not more." -Connie Willis.
"I vote for more pretty boys reading the weather." -Janet Freeman-Daily
"'Theme' is what the critics use to describe what you did." - Eileen Gunn
"Writing a short story is a tightrope walk. The craft is getting from one end to the other. The art is doing a backflip in the middle." - C.C. Finlay
"We need eco-zombies." - Gregg Castro
"The literary market does not believe in money. At least, not for you." - Mir Plemmons.
"The happy ending is sadly underrated. But it has to be earned." -Connie Willis.
02 September 2015
Two weeks ago my family cruised across Washington state to Spokane to attend Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. It was quite an experience, not least because it was the first such con to be held in the middle of a federal declared natural disaster. On the way out through what has never been more accurately described as the Dryside of the Evergreen State we were listening to NPR. The announcer came on and, quite out of the usual calm public radio persona, announced "The towns of Winthrop and Twisp are being evacuated. If you are in Winthrop or Twisp head south immediately." We were already one hundred miles south. That was the day three brave firefighters died.
The night before this I realized that I was coming down with a cold so, hoping to spare my car-mates my germs, I picked up a box of paper masks like the one above. Little did I know that I had scored the most popular fashion accessory in Spokane that weekend. All the members of my group were wearing them and people were asking where they been acquired because the city was sold out.
This is what the view from the Conference Center is supposed to look like:
And here is how it looked on Thursday afternoon just after I left a panel on climate change:
My first thought was, jeez, the panel was convincing enough without the visual aid.
But this is supposed to be a blog about crime fiction, so I want to concentrate on the difference between the mystery fan world and the science fiction fandom, which is larger and has been around longer. You will notice that some of these differences relate to each other (especially to the first)..
* The median age at a Worldcon is much younger than at Bouchercon.
* There is much less emphasis on books. I would estimate that at last year's B-con seventy percent of the energy (panels, special events, etc.) went into fiction with ten percent going to true crime including forensics), the same amount to media (film and TV), and ten percent to other. At Worldcon I would estimate forty percent was about fiction. The rest was scattered among real science, media, gaming, art, costuming, etc.
* Speaking of costuming… At B-con you will see a few trenchcoats and fedoras, some deerstalker hats, and occasionally a woman dressed for tea in St. Mary Mead. But at any given moment at Worldcon at least twenty percent of the crowd was in costumes ranging from full Boba Fett armor to fairy princess complete with wings to a simple set of wolf ears poking out of one's hair.
* Free food is much more plentiful at Worldcon. In orbit around the main hospitality suite were rooms for gluten-free/vegan, nutfree, kosher, and simply overflow (That's where the hot dogs were turning on rollers.)
* They have tech problems just like us! I walked out on one panel because there were no microphones and I couldn't hear a thing.
* The swag bags are much better at B-con. There you expect to find free magazines and half a dozen books you can swap at the multiplying freebies tables. Nothing like that at Worldcon.
* A few times a year (like B-con and Edgars Week) the mystery writers and readers turn into a community. But science fiction fandom is a culture, all year round. There were actually workshops on the history of fandom, to help newbies get on board, and separate discussions of what should be collected now so that fen (SF people like their deliberate alien-y misspellings) in the future will have a record of fandom in the dim distant past of 2015.
And speaking of culture, every family has its feuds and this year a big one broke out. Next time I will talk about that, and some of the panels as well.