Youthanizing SFF

The days since WorldCon have been pretty interesting, not because I was back home and back to work, (cue MST3K ‘yay…’) but rather because of the discussion that’s popped up on both writer blogs, and then twitter about World Con and the lack of diversity. It’s not just a POC (People of Colour) issue, though that’s a huge chunk of it, it’s also an age issue.

I regularly go to cons, in fact I write another blog, Cosplay Calamity, that deals with my costuming and adventures attending the Anime, Comic and Game Con circuit. I’d been to Ad Astra earlier this year, but I think it didn’t really sink in how DIFFERENT the two worlds of Cons are until World Con.

I will explain how different with a visual aid:

How I feel at Conventions

Anime/Comics/Gaming

Worldcon/Ad Astra/SFF

How-do-i-download-an-internet incredulous-baby-meme

I make light of it, but as someone who’s in her mid-twenties I get teased for being a ‘Grannie’ at one circuit and getting carded at the other. Not that I particularly mind, really.  But one of these con types is regularly packed, with hours-long line ups to get your pre-registration pass, while the other’s dealer room was empty, quiet and the aisles wide enough to get around the abandoned mobility scooters left there.

Now don’t get me wrong, I had a great time. I met tons of other authors, all of whom were more established, editors who were working as such full time and even the odd Agent who I quietly hassled in my Canadian way to get a card. (I’m sorry, thank you). But reading the various blogs and #DiversityinFF tweets, I realised that all this I did outside the con proper.

I went to one panel, one reading and then did a bit of shopping and got a book signed by my friend Marie Bilodeau. Everyone I met I did by hanging out in the lobby bar, going to room parties or stalking following people I’d met earlier and latching onto them lamprey-like to suck out their networking skills introducing myself to their contacts.

Sea Lamprey

This is my ‘networking’ face.

I had meant to attend more panels, but gosh darn you people I met were so awesome I kept missing them to attend gatherings and dinners and drinks and other shindigs that were quasi-official.

Also, the people i was hanging out with were closer to my age than the people who were sitting on the panels. They didn’t have grey beards, and they could talk about authors I was familiar with.

Who’s Heinelin? I actually had to google him to get his name right, and figure out who people kept talking about and why there was a panel on if he was still relevant.

Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say…

oh god why rage face

The treatment of these themes include the romantic relationship and eventual marriage (once the girl becomes an adult via time-travel) of a 30-year-old engineer and an 11-year-old girl in The Door into Summer or the more overt inter-familial incest in To Sail Beyond the Sunset and Farnham’s Freehold.

NEVERMIND.

I don’t need to argue for the Hugos to have a YA category, enough people with bigger voices have done so already in more compelling ways than I could. Instead, I’ll just rattle off a couple ideas to youthanize the con and hugos as a whole. I hope they take route, because I’ll be at Dragon*Con next year, getting called ‘grannie’ for going to bed at midnight.

Youthanize, Activate!

  • Have a YA track, not just a single panel. Suggested topics as follows:
    • Where’d my utopia go? Discussion on current events and the trend of Dystopic novels
    • Ladies first: Action heroines
    • New releases, hot topics, etc.
    • Manga-ka and video game discussions (don’t tell me Bioshock isn’t literature, I will cut you. Metaphorically. With words.)
  • Include POC in the discussion and panels.
    • Native american/First nations storytelling workshop
    • Where we were, where we are: a historical discussion of POC in fiction
    • Suggested readings
    • chinese sci fi, indian sci-fi hell, ALL THE SCI FI’s.
  • Have panels about the LGBT community hosted by the LGBT community about LGBT characters who aren’t just the ‘token hot bi female’ or ‘token gay friend’.  And yes, this WorldCon was in the heart of the southern United States, but just because there’s some unfortunate misconceptions held in the region doesn’t mean that you have to bow to them. If they don’t want your business, that’s cool. Find another city that does.
  • Dances that aren’t Regency dances or square dances. You are a SFF convention, where’s my Tron themed rave? Where’s my Futuristic Armageddon themed Dubstep? Having a steampunk ball is okay, hell, it sounds fun, but the other two options this year were a pass.
  • Technology. again, it’s a SFF Con right? Why not look into cool projects that local artists can showcase? Think Nuit Blanche in Toronto, or Luminartists in Ottawa. Light Graffiti on one of the big concrete walls would have been awesome.
  • The website. ‘Nuff said. Loncon’s looks a little better at least, but it’s so boring. Is there a tumblr for it? Twitter?
  • Young Authors Showcase. Hold a competition for flash fiction by authors under 21, and then choose the top 5, pop ’em into the handbook and give them a free membership for that year and/or a special koffe-klatuveratanicktu with the GOH of that year.
  • Also, what the hell is a Koffeeklatch thing? What’s with all the ribbons that people have? The programming I get, the Hugos I get, but the whole ‘come to our party and get a ribbon’ was weiiiiird.
  • Treat the ladies with respect and offer a welcome place for youth, POC, the lbgt community and women.
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4 thoughts on “Youthanizing SFF

  1. Good points…but I have to admit you made my heart hurt when you said “who’s Heinlein?” And skip those three of his you mentioned from Wikipedia (lord, don’t even want to imagine the discussion someone would have about Farnham’s Freehold in today’s world) — look at his juvies (back before anyone called it YA). Podkayne of Mars (either ending) for one.

    • I would consider looking into his other books, but unfortunately the impression of him from the critiques I’ve skimmed of his works have left a bad taste in my mouth. Yes I might be able to ignore the man behind the curtain, but there are so many good, interesting, exciting other books out there that are not tainted by deeply unsettling treatment of women. There are new authors that I want to support.

      A lot of discussion since Worldcon has been about ‘well if you want diversity, why don’t you DO something about it?’ Choosing what to read and purchase is the most effective way of enacting change as a consumer. If I purchase new authors and encourage others to through reviews or berating my friends until they give in, I’m contributing to change in a meaningful and ultimately positive way.

  2. Pingback: Hugos and Worldcon Redux | Cora Buhlert

  3. One of the heads of Worldcon program for London (or as they call it, programme) is heavily involved in youth and teen programming.

    I would normally be more involved in queer program, but I was a bit busy this year running Westercon 66 and working on the Helsinki in 2015 campaign.

    There was quite a bit of good real science and technology program.

    London has a Twitter and a Facebook page. They’re pretty active. But running a good social media campaign is a lot of work. I know the young woman who ran social media for Chicago and San Antonio, and she’s a bit crispy after 2 years.

    The young authors showcase contest could collide with the “don’t work for free or on spec” creators movement. Just an observation.

    Kaffeklatch (and literary beer) events are small intimate discussions with a single pro. It’s Yiddish.

    Ribbons are fun and silly, but Worldcon has nothing on Gallifrey One, where many attendees have funny ribbons to trade. It’s a very youth-oriented activity there.

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