Americans are crazy people. I’m allowed to say that right? Considering I went a long way to become one.
Which doesn’t make Americans, born and bred, less insane to me. Particularly when it comes to organizing your fun. I mean, that’s something you expect from Germans, maybe, but I’m not even sure Germans did it. (Not that I could discover in my visits, at least.)
What do I mean by that?
Okay, first be aware I spent my formative years in a country that could not organize a piss up in a brewery, a country that not only can’t make buses run on time, it doesn’t even try. I was once shocked to find there was a schedule for public buses. This after ten years of using them to go to school and being used to the usual “Wait however long – more than an hour if it was raining, for sure – then get five buses in a row” style of public transportation. A glance at the schedule told me it was lovely fantasy. My brother calls the national style “pile in, may G-d help us.” There was a meme floating around the younger members of my family on facebook showing “the queue” with a bunch of people standing in line and then “the Portuguese queue” with a pile on with arms and legs protruding. And yeah, that’s more or less true.
And then I came to the states at 18 as an exchange student. And I was flabbergasted.
It wasn’t just that the local chapter of the organization that brought me over was… organized. No, we tried to do that even in Portugal. When you’re shipping someone’s sons and daughters over the Atlantic (and sometimes the pacific) you need a modicum of organization.
No, what shocked me was that – as I got invited to speak to a lot of clubs – all hobby-clubs were organized: the local Scottish ancestry club? Organized. The local stamp collecting club? Organized. The local bird watching club? Organized. The local sewing circle? Organized. All of these had refreshments, a punctual time of meeting, sometimes competitions or conventions, and all of them followed Robert’s rules of order. The SEWING circle had motions and seconded them and followed rules. I was amazed.
Now, I’ll admit I don’t know if it’s the same in other Anglophone countries. I suspect it’s the same in Canada (motto: “We are not America. No. We really are not. Don’t make us dip you in maple syrup, you cheeky little person. Stop saying we’re just like America. We say “eh””) but I’m not sure about England and Australia.
I know, however, that in fandom the US is unique.
Yeah, yeah, yeah “World fantasy” and “World sf” go off to England, Australia, Scotland and sometimes Japan. (Pinches bridge of nose.) Guys it’s like “World baseball tournament” okay? You remove the US from the equation and the other “organized fandoms” would never have happened. They are mostly in imitation of those crazy Americans who organize their fun.
And because the future comes from America, people DO try to imitate American things, and I understand there’s even SF conventions in Portugal. Some day I’ll have to attend one and see how it is, because the mind boggles at the thought. (It’s not just the organization, it’s the ethos of sf/f conventions. For instance, in a country in which wearing last year’s fashion on the street is a solecism and everyone tries to be “normal” just like everyone else, I wonder how Spock ears are worn. I’d bet money not just costumes but anything out of the ordinary is worn only at a designated time or in a designated room, so people can avoid being “ridiculous” or looking “crazy” – in other words to save face.)
I want to say right here, not only don’t I have anything against people who organize and run conventions – some of my best friends, quite literally, spend considerable portions of their lives doing that – nor do I think it’s a bad thing to do. I think it’s a crazy thing but then I think organized sewing circles are crazy things, and all of it, including other crazy things like diners that will serve you breakfast at midnight, and drinking fountains in public buildings, and all the things that are uniquely American are a little crazy: in a wonderful way. They’re part of the reason I wanted to be one of you.
Of course, just like I became a lunatic about diners, I have this “thing” for hobby clubs. They have a huge advantage, too, because for a reclusive writer, they FORCE me to interact.
At one time I was a member of a cat rescue group, two writing groups, an exchange student program group and a needle arts group.
The last few years I simply haven’t had time, but I can tell you something: if I ever have a writers’ group again, it will go according to Robert’s Rules of Order. (By which I don’t mean my son. – rule one, everybody wear ties!)
That said… There is a difference between sewing and being in a sewing club. You can be a fanatic seamstress and cover your house in yards of stuff to the point of making a broom cozy for your broom, and not belong to a club. You can be one of those genealogists who are descended from a dinosaur G-d himself (Through Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Very common thing for European crazies. No, really) on his mother’s side, but never belong to a “divine ancestry” club. And you can have cut your teeth on your mom’s Heinlein collection (and if she was like me she still has the chewed up books AND the replacements), read everything new that you can get your hands on, watch every sf movie, AND have a light saber in your closet, and yet not belong to an organized fandom club. In fact, I’d say that probably comprises 90 % of sf/f readers/gamers/watchers/fans.
That is fine. You don’t have to belong to a club. And you don’t have to organize conventions. You might go to one every once in a while, or three every year, even, without belonging to anything.
And you can be very grateful to the people who organize conventions without thinking they are the arbiters of taste, or all that matters.
Look, let’s be blunt: in belonging to all these organized clubs over the years, there are some things I learned, which I think go back to “human social dynamics” and economics.
The first one is that most people in the club are not themselves particularly organized, though they’re often nuts about their hobby/interest. The second is that some of the people aren’t very interested in the hobby/interest but they are amazing organizers (they might have started out interested, and then got sidetracked into organizing. Or they might have come because spouse/child/cat does this, so they might as well come along.) The third is that the groups are almost always run by the second kind (not always mind. I think the Liberty con organizers read/watch more than I do) and that the super-organizers, poor things, slammed under demands and work, will often be susceptible to outside influences.
In science fiction organized fandom, specifically those that organize cons, the outside influence is often publishers. Look, as Liberty con can attest it’s a good thing to have a publisher that likes you. You get more authors coming, you get a publisher attending, you get free books for giveaways, and suddenly you’re much more than a little regional con.
This is fine, since Liberty con doesn’t give any prizes and doesn’t declare itself representative of all fandom. (Maybe Southern fandom. Or fandom that likes shooting ranges, but they don’t even declare themselves that. Oh, and if they gave a book prize, it should totally be the zap and it should be a tricked out, amazing futuristic-looking gun sculpture.)
But when you have titles like “worldcon” and “world fantasy” the unwary might think you really represent all the fandom everywhere. Heck, you might start believing it too.
Hence, the insane stuff we’ve gotten lately about how the Hugo is the award of all fandom and then, when pressed, how the hugo is the award only of ORGANIZED worldcon fandom.
It’s certainly what it has been the last few years. And that’s a bad thing. A very bad thing. What it contains is not what it says on the tin.
Organized, mobile cons are subject to pressures from publishers, to really good campaigns, and to what I call “the mind of the organizer” which means they’re susceptible to the sort of push that says “you don’t have enough one-legged Thai Lesbians winning this award, you horribly racist person.” Because organizations requires a certain by-the-numbers mentality.
Yesterday one of my eyes on twitter sent me something from a past Worldcon organizer, which was in the main sensible “we can’t stop Sad Puppies and they’re not violating any rules” except for two things: he seemed to think that someone was paying for all these memberships for everyone. (I’ve heard this nonsense floated about Larry and I wonder if they’re barking mad. I DON’T know if Larry bought a membership for his wife, but if he did I bet you that’s the extent of his buying. Yes, he’s doing fairly well from writing, which means he’s making an upper middle class income. He has five young kids and obligations. He’s not Uncle Scrooge swimming in a money bin, and he’d neither be able to buy – nor, for heaven’s sake WHY should he? – memberships for all his fans, nor is that a sane thing to posit. This is an example of “Stop drinking your own frigging ink in an effort to find wrong doing.” Campaigning is what all your side has done for years, and it’s all we’re doing.) And he seemed to think the goal of the Sad Puppies campaigns was ultimately to destroy the credibility of the Hugos.
Will someone please grab my eyes? They rolled so hard they must be in the next county.
What we actually want to do is restore the Hugos. We want winning a Hugo to mean something. Not, mind you, necessarily “This is the best sf ever” or even “best of the year” NO ONE can keep up with everything published, particularly now that indie is in. BUT we want it to be “this is memorable SF” “This is sf that a significant portion of fans will find amazing if they stumble on it years from now.”
Take as an example of something that should have won a Hugo but didn’t Barry Hughart’s Chinese trilogy. It didn’t sell much (marketing and distribution being crazy then – and now, but worse then.) It won a World Fantasy, but his publishing house didn’t even take notice. He’s written nothing else. However now that the word of mouth has had time to percolate, there are very few intense sf/f fans, of the kind who reads books, who hasn’t heard of it. And there are fewer who, reading it, don’t go “oh, wow.”
That is the sort of thing that should be winning the Hugo.
That is the kind of award that the Hugo was when Heinlein, Asimov and Ursula leGuin won it.
It wasn’t a “oh, you’re so nice, and you attend all these cons, and you’re nice to us, and your publisher sends tons of books.” No. It was a “This is science fiction that won’t be forgotten in ten years.”
Now, was ALL of it that great? — shrug – humans ran the award now as then. Some of their guesses at what was amazing backfired.
But they were by and large that type of book.
They weren’t chosen because the authors were purple one legged bi-gender dinosaurs. They weren’t chosen because the books were about the plight of purple, one legged b-gender dinosaurs. They were chosen because the books impressed the readers.
I can’t say about the other people pushing it. Some are my friends, but we’re not organized fandom (or organized anything. For crying out loud, two of us have Portuguese ancestry and that’s the sort of thing that washes out of family culture SLOWLY) so I don’t know. I know I’ve never heard anyone talk of “destroying the Hugo” as a goal. Unless “make it awesome again” is destroying it, because that’s all Sad Puppies aims to do. It aims to make the Hugo an award worth winning.
An award that is the signal of a good read.
And that’s all.