**Update: For the safety of our attendees and the members of our community in Washington, DC, we have changed the date of this event to Saturday the 11th in order to prevent any encounter with a hate-group affiliated march on Sunday. Thank you for understanding.**
August is hot out here, so to highlight The Renwick’s Burning Man exhibit, we’re hosting a photo-scavenger hunt, we’re calling Burning’Mon GO!
Meet in front of the Renwick to gather your teams and get your maps (or download them here https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/burning-man/beyond ). Once you check in, you can start your adventure! Your mission is to use your AR Camera to capture Eevee at the 7 stops on the NO SPECTATORS: BEYOND THE RENWICK WALKING TOUR. You must capture a photo of Eevee next to each of the exhibit’s public artworks.
At 5, we reconvene at the meeting place to review photos and collect prizes (Who wants to win Flame Con tickets?).
Bring bottled water, sunscreen and parasols, and whatever else you need to enjoy Burning’Mon GO!
With Tom Lotito of Geeks OUT, author Robb Pearlman, Maria Aragon, founder of Reading Rainbow at University of Maryland, College Park, and Rob Gates of Lambda Sci-Fi. Our panel explores creating both content and fostering space for queer content. What does queer fandom look like, and how do we make it happen? Moderated by Benjamin Beaury.
You’re not going to want to miss The Cardboard Kingdom, the new anthology-style graphic novel by Chad Sell. The listed age recommendation for Middle Grade is 8–12, but I read the book with my six-year-old, and he was just as enthralled as I was—which is no easy feat! We talk about acceptance a lot in our household, enough that my son has already got the “Yes, mom. I know.”/ eye roll combo down pat, but the lighthearted way The Cardboard Kingdom covers some heavy topics never provoked that reaction. The colors are bright, the endings are happy, and while not every kid achieves #UltimateGlory in the story, it does offer lots of authentic insight. I felt comfortable reading it with my child, both of us eagerly turning each page, anticipating each new adventure.
The book itself is made up of several vignettes, each highlighting a new or returning character and their journey into the “kingdom” (literally fabricated with cardboard) of neighborhood friendships and play. The book is diverse without resorting to tokenism, and each of us found more than one character to see bits of ourselves in. My son found a kindred spirit instantly in Jack, a young boy who chooses to dress up as a sorceress during imaginative play, and I felt more than a few heartstrings get tugged while reading about Big Banshee and The Gargoyle.
While the tenderly crafted stories are what made this book memorable for me, the art is an absolute joy to behold, effortlessly blending the running theme with the tone of the book, without ever weighting the story down, or taking it out of acceptability for child readership. Each character is lovingly illustrated, and the comic switches from real life to fantasy are just fun. I giggled. Out loud.
So if you’re looking to bring a little sweetness into your reading diet, or if you have a child in your life who’s maybe been feeling a little too shy, a little too loud, a little too weird, or just a little too different from everybody else, this is a diverse though never heavy handed look into what childhood could be like if we all taught our kids acceptance and that differences are what make us special. I’d say it’s suitable for ages 6–60, and if you have an old bigoted 65 year old aunt? Buy her a copy!
Racism in Speculative Fiction is nothing new–it has been there since the beginning. Gene Roddenberry may have opened minds when he envisioned a future of inclusion, but there have always been the likes of Jerome B. Holgate in the midst. Moderator Phil Kadish opened the evening’s discussion with a plot synopsis from Holgate’s A Sojourn in the City of Amalgamation, one of the first Speculative Fiction books ever published. Written in 1835, it was critical of the Abolitionist movement and painted a dystopic future where slavery was no longer legal and race mixing was mandatory. In this future society, people had to build special devices to make their interracial society work; namely a sheep dip for the black partners so that their white counterparts could “stand the smell.”
Expanding on Speculative Fiction’s often problematic history, Andre Carrington talked about the paradox of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. “He was a man ahead of his time, but he was also very much a man of his own time,” Carrington remarked. While Star Trek is well known for breaking new ground by featuring a black female lead as a ranking officer and having TV’s first interracial kiss, it also had episodes that displayed gross misogyny and was very much a product of its time. Yesterday’s progressive entertainment looks very different to today’s audience, and likewise today’s progressive fiction is likely to look very different in the future.
Another paradox in the genre that he spoke about was how Speculative Fiction today is “simultaneously popular and marginal at the same time.” He explained this by contrasting the massive success of superhero and franchise films like Star Wars, with the diminished respect that genre writers receive in favor of more traditional ones. Prestigious awards like the National Book Award have historically shunned genre fiction, and that is one of the reasons we have the Hugos and World Fantasy Awards in the first place. We can see things splinter further as the Hugos and it’s contemporaries have historically favored straight, white, cis-male writers. This precedent has lead to the creation of organizations like the Carl Brandon Society (a group focused on awarding writers of color) and the James Tiptree Jr Awards (an award encouraging the exploration and expansion of gender).
Keeping the topic of literary awards going, Craig Laurance Gidney took the first deep dive into the 2015 Hugo Controversy. He opened his remarks by reading an excerpt from Sad Puppies leader Brad R. Torgersen, in which Torgersen admonishes today’s Science Fiction for containing too much subtext. He glamorizes the days when books with spaceships on the cover were just books about space adventure, and not allegories for slavery or other things he’d rather not think about. Gidney then tore into this short-sighted logic for its fundamental flaw: there has always been subtext in Speculative Fiction. He specifically cited Andre Norton’s Witchworld series as a series he read as a child that was layered in subtext. A more mainstream example might be The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, which is widely known for it’s Christian subtext.
One of the stories believed to have triggered the Sad Puppies backlash was the 2014 Short Story Hugo winner “The Water that falls from Nowhere,” a magical realism story in which a young man comes out to his traditional Chinese family. The Sad Puppies claim they felt that conservative authors were being blacklisted, and so they gamed the system with their ballot list. Gidney’s theory is that the Sad Puppies are less about principle, and more about selling books by appealing to a targeted audience. He argues that they are trying to appeal to the Glen Beck listeners, Trump voters, and Fox News watchers. The demographic that loathes “politically correct” language and has the money to buy books. If it were about principle, he argues, they would have focused on actually nominating good conservative writers. Instead they nominated some of the most inflammatory writers they could find, namely three works by John C. Wright who is best known for his homophobic views. More of Gidney’s thoughts and writing on the Sad Puppies can be found on his website.
Jennifer Brissett then took the conversation in a different direction, choosing to focus on the issues with the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). SFWA is supposed to represent Science Fiction Writers. In 2009, then SFWA President John Scalzi stated “any market not paying pro rates shouldn’t even be publishing.” In reality, a lot of small presses that pay below the pro rate (which is $0.05 per word) are the only ones publishing minorities and women. When SFWA uses primarily mainstream publishers to decide their criteria for membership, you have a system that shuts out historically unrepresented writers on a systemic level.
One root of this problem is the lack of diversity on editorial boards. Brissette laid out a hypothetical example of a present day editor starting out as an unpaid intern, as many of them do. Only those who have family to support them living in a place as expensive as New York City without a paying job are able to get their foot in the door. This in turn perpetuates only the status quo getting published. The real issues are systemic and embedded in the foundation of the structures that writers rely on. It’s not just that the Sad Puppies gamed the system; it’s that no changes were made to prevent it from happening for a second year.
Left unchecked, these issues are going to lead to a great split in the Speculative Fiction community. Groups representing the LGBT Community and People of Color are successfully launching their own conventions and awards. George R. R. Martin organized The Alfie Awards in protest of the tainted 2015 Hugos. Alternative conventions are beginning to make strong impacts, such as FlameCon and the Afrofuturism Conference. To paraphrase the point Jennifer Brissette made: the future is in creating the support structures we need through alternative means instead of just relying on existing organizations.
In summary of the night, Andre Carrington remarked ” we are living in a golden age and a bronze age at the same time.” Brissette added: “It’s a reflection of this country. From the outside we look like a hot mess. We are in the age of Obama and the age of Trump.”