The Wonderland Book Awards 2020

The winners of the 2020 Wonderland Book Awards for “excellence in bizarro fiction” were announced December 23.

The results were decided by a vote of people who have attended Bizarrocon.

NOVEL

  • Unamerica by Cody Goodfellow

Other finalists

  • Impossible James by Danger Slater
  • Girl Like A Bomb by Autumn Christian
  • Mouse Trap by Carlton Mellick III
  • The Drive-Thru Crematorium by Jon Bassoff

COLLECTION

  • To Wallow In Ash And Other Sorrows by Sam Richard

Other finalists

  • The Worst That Could Happen by S.G. Murphy
  • In Dreams We Rot by Betty Rocksteady
  • Whispers In The Ear Of A Dreaming Ape by Joshua Chaplinsky
  • Cyberpunk Zombie Jihad by Mark Zirbel

Pixel Scroll 4/24/19 The Scroll Of The File King From Pixel Gynt

(1) AO3’S HUGO PACKET ENTRY. Archive of Our Own has publicly released its Hugo Voter Packet Submission. The two-page writeup is here [PDF file]. The following intro comes from Firenze to Therum:

AO3 was nominated for a Hugo Award this year for Best Related Work! This is an amazing achievement and we’re overjoyed that Hugo voters have recognised the incredible collaborative work that is the Archive.

Here’s some information about AO3, including its origins, some key features, and the team that makes it all possible. You can also check out the shiny PDF we submitted for the 2019 Hugo packet!

(2) AVENGING ECONOMIST. Behind the Financial Times paywall, economics columnist Tim Harford offers his thoughts on Avengers: Endgame.

Thanos fascinates me not only because he’s the best bad guy since Darth Vader–but because the muscular utilitarian is an economist on steroids.

Thanos’s claim to the economists’ hall of fame lies in his interest in scarce resources, his faith in the power of logical analysis, and a strong commitment to policy action–specifically, to eliminate half of all life in the universe, chosen at random…

…Thanos has convinced himself that he’s seen something nobody else can quite understand.  The truth is that he sorely needs peer review.  Like many powerful people, he regards himself as above his critics, not to mention every sapient being in the universe.  He views humans less as free-willed spirits capable of solving their own problems, and more like overbreeding rabbits, needing a cull for their own good.

(3) ENDGAME REVIEW. NPR’s Glen Weldon tells us “Mourning Has Broken Them: ‘Avengers: Endgame'”.

Going into Avengers: Endgame, one would be well-advised to manage both one’s expectations, and — given its three-hour-plus, intermissionless runtime — one’s fluid intake.

…The Russos’ decision to stick close to the experiences of the remaining Avengers proves a rewarding one, as they’ve expressly constructed the film as an extended victory lap for the Marvel Cinematic Universe writ large. Got a favorite character from any Marvel movie over the past decade, no matter how obscure? Prepare to get serviced, fan. Because the film’s third and final hour contains extended references to every single Marvel film that has led up to this one – yes! even Thor: The Dark World! I’m as surprised as you are! – and part of the delight Endgame provides to the patient audience member is gauging the size of the cheer that greets the entrance of any given hero, locale or – in at least once instance – item of super-hardware.

Make no mistake: There will be cheers. And boos. And gasps. The final, climactic battle (come on, you knew there’d be one) is legitimately thrilling, because every one of its manifold delights is fueled by (a cynic would say coasting on) the warm familiarity that spending a decade with these characters has engendered….

(4) GLEN WELDON HAS COMPANY. BBC does a roundup of the immediate reaction — “Avengers: Endgame ‘satisfying’ and ‘glorious’, say critics”.

Critics have been left dazzled by the latest Avengers film, describing it as “glorious”, “irresistible”, “intensely satisfying” and “masterful”….

(5) DON’T MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY. Clarke Award director Tom Hunter, seeing how few award submissions are by writers of color, says “Diversity in science fiction needs action now”.

…Many authors and industry spokespeople have talked more eloquently about the need to address this disparity in publishing than I will ever be able to. But I also suspect more than a few publishers will quietly check their new submissions piles or log into BookScan after reading this, and suggest that in order to affect any real change they need to submit more books by writers of colour.

They may argue, of course, that there needs to be more evidence of sales potential first to get those books past gatekeepers in marketing, finance and other departments. They might (just) have a short-term point, but to me this sounds more like using data to justify a current position – and I think it also misses the bigger publishing opportunity.

Here are four cultural tipping point trends that show what I mean.

  • From the SF&F bookshelves: N.K. Jemisin wins a record-setting third consecutive Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Novel with the final part of her Broken Earth trilogy (parts one and two having taken the prize in their own respective years).
  • From the ‘respectable’ bookshelves: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad wins the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature.
  • From the Box Office: The Marvel Universe film Black Panther makes over a billion dollars at the box office in record time and gets nominated for seven Oscars including Best Picture (it doesn’t win that one though, of course).
  • From an adjacent cultural sector: The Musée d’Orsay in Paris opens their major exhibition Black Models: From Gericault to Matisse, challenging our historic perceptions of French masterpieces by reframing and renaming them to foreground attention on their black subjects, gaining both critical acclaim and a big upswing in first time visits from new audiences (new readers to you and me) along the way.

(6) HOPEPUNK AND HUGOS. Yes! takes a look “Inside Science Fiction’s Compassionate Revolution”.

…In 2018, almost every category of the Hugos were won by women, including N.K. Jemisin, who became the first person ever to win the Hugo for Best Novel three years in a row. Before Jemisin, no Black person of either gender had ever won the top award.

Then came this year’s historic collection of nominees, which are notable not just for the elevation of a more diverse field of storytellers, but for the specific type of story that many of them represent.

Rowland coined the term “hopepunk” on a whim in a 2017 Tumblr post, having no idea that it would catch on so strongly within the community. She defined it initially as “the opposite of grimdark,” referring to a popular dystopian subgenre characterized by nihilism, amorality, and a negative view of human nature. Hopepunk, in contrast, is optimistic about humanity and sees kindness as “an act of rebellion” against a power structure that benefits from people giving up on compassion.

In an essay for the Winter 2019 issue of The Stellar Beacon zine, Rowland expanded on hopepunk, emphasizing the resistance element. Unlike another subgenre dubbed “noblebright”—characterized by the belief that righteous heroes can and will prevail over wicked villains—hopepunk does not deny the inherent injustices of the real world. However, it also recognizes the potential for justice within humanity. Compassion and empathy are weapons in the eternal fight between good and evil within the human heart. Hopepunk acknowledges that that fight will never be won, but insists on fighting anyway, because, as Rowland wrote, “the fight itself is the point.”

(7) BIZARROCON PERSPECTIVE. Brian Keene interviewed Jeff Burk on a recent episode of The Horror Show With Brian Keene (“Jeff Burk Unchained – The Horror Show with Brian Keene – Ep 215”.)  Part of the discussion centered on the events at BizzaroCon where Chandler Morrison performed a section of one of his works; complete with a dead (toy) baby covered in blood (ketchup) — events covered in File 770 posts “A Reckoning for BizarroCon” and “Changes in Store for Bizarrocon”.

Dann listened to the podcast and sent along these notes —

During the interview, Burk categorically denied having anything to do with abusive/predatory behavior that had been an issue at past cons.  He was incensed at the post-con attempts to tie abusive behavior with himself or Morrison.    Burk suggested that the tone/perspective of comments that he received at the con were decidedly different from what was seen on the Internet in the days that followed.  The people complaining most loudly online had appeared to have substantially different perspectives while at the con.  He also denied that Morrison ever exposed himself during his performance.  A prosthetic/prop was used during the performance.

Burk acknowledged that he had made the mistake of thinking that BizarroCon was an appropriate venue for Morrison’s performance.  Similar (and perhaps more gross) performances have been a long tradition at KillerCon.

Brian Keene indicated that he had acted as a consultant/mediator after the BizarroCon performance, but he had no direct input on Deadite Press’ decision to fire Burk.

Burk indicated that he disagreed with the decision by Eraserhead Press’ decision to terminate him.  But he also said that he is still on good terms with the executives in charge and has a positive opinion of them.

He also discussed his new imprint “Section 31 Productions”.  Star Trek fans will recognize the homage in the company’s name.

(8) DRAGON CHOW. Eater’s article “How Much Do the ‘Game of Thrones’ Dragons Actually Need to Eat? An Investigation” kind of reminds me of the Lilliputians trying to feed Gulliver.

In the Season 8 premiere, Winterfell leather goth Sansa Stark questions her brother Jon Snow’s decision to bring his pushy new girlfriend (and aunt!) Daenerys and her two dragons to the north, wondering out loud what precisely the dragons are going to eat. The Mother of Dragons smugly replies, “Whatever they want.” (Which, judging from past episodes, includes a lot of animal herds and the occasional shepherd boy.)

Later in the episode, two of Dany’s Dothraki footmen inform her that her dragons only ate only “18 goats and 11 sheep” for lunch, a sign that they are losing their appetite as a result of the move up north. Considering that Game of Thrones scribes D.B. Weiss and David Benioff love foreshadowing, we couldn’t help but wonder if the dragon’s dietary needs will play some key role in the upcoming Battle of Winterfell. To better understand the dragon hunger situation and how it could impact the impending war with the Night King, Eater got in touch with a bona fide expert on large reptiles and flying animals, and asked her a few questions about how these aerial beasts might act during the epic battle ahead.

(9) CONNOR TRIBUTE. Graham Connor (1957-2018) co-founded SF² Concatenation at the 1987 Eastercon and remained one of its co-editors until his death in December 2018. Jonathan Cowie and other friends have assembled an illustrated profile of his life in SF and space communications in “A life in SF and space”, an advance post ahead of SF² Concatenation’s summer edition.

Graham was born in the Cumbrian, coastal town of Workington, in the shadow of Windscale (now Sellafield).  1957 was the year of the Windscale nuclear disaster.  And so the scene was set for Graham to potentially have been bitten by a radioactive spider and become a superhero. But, alas, that did not happen….

He did make it to several Worldcons — Brighton (1979), Brighton (1987), The Hague (1990) – he subsequently worked a couple of years for ESA nearby, and Glasgow (1995).  Sadly, chronic illness prevented further attendance beyond the mid-2000s.

(10) BARNES OBIT. From BBC: “Dick Barnes, pioneer behind oldest working computer, dies”. The 98-year-old died April 8.

One of the co-designers of a machine later recognised as the world’s oldest working digital computer has died.

Richard “Dick” Barnes helped to create the Harwell Dekatron, which was first put to use in 1951 by Britain’s fledgling nuclear research establishment.

He was also involved in the 2.5-tonne machine’s restoration, which saw it switched back on in 2012.

…He and two colleagues, Ted Cooke-Yarborough and Gurney Thomas, began their work on the Harwell Dekatron in 1949.

It was initially used by the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Oxfordshire, where its tasks involved solving equations used to design the structure supporting the world’s first commercial nuclear reactor at Calder Hall.

…In November 2012 the machine was successfully switched back on after a three-year restoration project.

The revived machine functioned as planned, which is to say, very slowly.

It could take up to 10 seconds to multiply two numbers – but Mr Barnes and his co-designers had wanted a machine that could run continuously, not necessarily quickly, in order to be useful.

Indeed, it was known to calculate continuously for periods of up to 80 hours.

(11) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born April 24, 1930 Richard Donner, 89. Oh, now he’s credited in directing Superman as making the modern superhero film. H’h. Well I’m going to celebrate him instead for ScroogedThe Goonies (really not genre but fun) and Ladyhawke. Not to mention the horror he did — Tales from the Crypt presents Demon Knight and Bordello of Blood. Oh and the first X-Men film which was superb.
  • Born April 24, 1936 Jill Ireland. For her short life, she was in an amazing number of genre shows. She was on Star Trek romancing Spock as Leila Kalomi In “This Side of Paradise”. She had five appearances on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well as being on Night Gallery,  My Favorite Martian, Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaThe Voodoo Factor and the SF film The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything based on the 1962 novel of the same name by John D. MacDonald. (Died 1990.)
  • Born April 24, 1946 Donald D’Ammassa, 73. Considered to be one of the best and fairest long-form reviewers ever. His Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2005) covers some five hundred writers and as can two newer volumes, Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Horror Fiction (2006) and Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction (2009) are equally exhaustive. I can’t comment on his fiction as I’ve only ever encountered as a reviewer.
  • Born April 24, 1947 Michael Butterworth, 72. Author with Michael Moorcock of, naturally, two Time of the Hawklords novels, Time of the Hawklords and Queens of Deliria. He also wrote a number of Space 1999 Year 2 novels, too numerous to list here. He also edited Corridor magazine from 1971 to 1974. He also wrote a number of short fiction pieces including one whose title amuses me for reasons I’m not sure, “Circularisation of Condensed Conventional Straight-Line Word-Image Structures“. 
  • Born April 24, 1953 Gregory Luce, 66. Editor and publisher of both the Science Fiction Gems and the Horror Gems anthology series, plus such other anthologies as Citadel of the Star Lords / Voyage to Eternity and Old Spacemen Never Die! / Return to Earth. For a delightful look at him and these works, go here. Warning: cute canine involved! 

(12) WILSON FUNDRAISING UPDATE. The “Help Gahan Wilson find his way” GoFundMe is now up to 1300 contributors and just over $60,000 raised. Gahan Wilson is suffering from severe dementia, and the goal is to pay for his memory care.

Gahan and my mother had been residing in an assisted living facility in Arizona. With my mother’s passing, he must move to a memory care unit.

…Gahan will be in our care at the casita, and we will also find him a memory care unit in Santa Fe since he also needs daily medical care.

Memory care is wildly expensive. More so than assisted living. If we could cover the cost ourselves, we would. We can’t, and Gahan and my mother did not save for anything like this. We are asking his fans to help us, help Gahan.

That’s what this is all about. Making the rest of Gahan’s days as wonderful as they can be.

(13) OVERLOOKED. In its review of a new sff collection, The Hugo Award Book Club faults “A People’s Future Without Labour”.

…Any author or editor attempting to claim the mantle of [Howard] Zinn’s work has an unenviable task ahead of them. But when SF luminaries John Joseph Adams and Victor LaValle — both of whom have produced top-quality works — announced a short story collection whose title is an homage to Zinn, we were very excited. 

Given the provocative and timely premise of A People’s Future Of The United States, we approached the collection of stories with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the collection as a whole failed to live up to the grand ideas described by the editors.

…Questions of race, class and gender are important to explore and have all-too-often been ignored in science fiction. 

We would argue that because science fiction is an inherently political genre, it is of paramount importance to create inclusive futures we can believe in. Some of the stories in this volume do indeed ably tackle topics of race, class and gender. But the topic of labour is almost entirely neglected. 

It is disappointing that an anthology that so explicitly aims to address cultural blindspots has reproduced one itself. 

In comparison, the index to Zinn’s classic history book includes a full page of references to organized labour movements. At a rough estimate, 30 per cent of the book deals with the struggles of traditional union movement organizing, and workers rights are integral to much of the rest of the text…. 

(14) ROBOTS LIKE ME. James Wallace Harris reviews Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me in “Why Should Robots Look Like Us?” at Auxiliary Memory.

McEwan’s story often digresses into infodumps and intellectual musings which are common pitfalls of writing science fiction. And the trouble is he goes over the same well-worn territory. The theme of androids is often used to explore: What does it mean to be human? McEwan uses his literary skills to go into psychological details that most science fiction writers don’t, but the results are the same.

I’ve been reading these stories for decades, and they’ve been explored in the movies and television for many years too, from Blade Runner to Ex Machina. Why can’t we go deeper into the theme? Partly I think it’s because we assume AI robots will look identical to us. That’s just nuts. Are we so egocentric that we can’t imagine our replacements looking different? Are we so vain as a species as to believe we’re the ideal form in nature?

…Instead of writing stories about our problems of dealing with facsimiles of ourselves, we should be thinking about a world where glittery metallic creatures build a civilization on top of ours, and we’re the chimpanzees of their world.

(15) POWER VOCABULARY. BBC’s science news “‘Exhilarating’ implant turns thoughts to speech” includes recorded sample.

Scientists have developed a brain implant that can read people’s minds and turn their thoughts to speech.

The team at the University of California, San Francisco says the technology is “exhilarating”.

They add that their findings, published in the journal Nature, could help people when disease robs them of their ability to talk.

Experts said the findings were compelling and offered hope of restoring speech.

The mind-reading technology works in two stages.

First an electrode is implanted in the brain to pick up the electrical signals that manoeuvre the lips, tongue, voice box and jaw.

Then powerful computing is used to simulate how the movements in the mouth and throat would form different sounds.

(16) KRUGMAN’S WORLDCON TALK. At Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon in Montreal, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman spoke and then took questions. Scott Edelman has posted an audio recording on YouTube.

(17) PROP MAKER. Kenneth Spivey is “The Swordsmith to the Stars”. Great Big Story has a video (just over 3 minutes) about this artist and prop maker who is “working on Hollywood films like the ones he’s always loved—and likely inspiring the next generation.” Chevy trucks are featured prominently since they are the corporate sponsor.

(18) GEMINI MAN. The Hollywood Reporter asks “Can ‘Gemini Man’ Revive the Golden Age of ’90s Sci-Fi?” That is, can it be “an event unto itself?” Will Smith stars opposite a CGI-ed 23-year-old version of himself in Ang Lee’s Gemini Man—a property with a long history of previous stars being attached. The movie opens October 11.

This morning Paramount had us seeing double with the first trailer for the Ang Lee-directed sci-fi/action film Gemini Man, starring not one, but two Will Smiths. The long-gestating film, which began development as a Tony Scott feature in 1997, centers on assassin on the verge of retirement Henry Brogen (Smith), who is forced to combat a younger clone of himself (Smith) in the not-too-distant future. Since the film’s inception in the late ’90s, a number of big names have been attached to star, including Harrison Ford, Nicolas Cage, Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery. When Ang Lee took over the project in 2017, he cast Smith in the lead role, giving the actor the unique opportunity to play both his current 50-year-old self and his 23-year-old self, who, thanks to the film’s revolutionary technology, looks like he just stepped right off the set of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. If the trailer for the film, which also stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wong, is any indication, Gemini Man may be just what the science fiction genre needs.

[…] Big-budget original science fiction needs a win, and hopefully Gemini Man can recapture the spirit of the ’90s where a big-name director, producer and actor were an event unto themselves, regardless of preexisting material. Gemini Man looks appealing not simply because of its concept and slick action sequences, but because it looks to simultaneously tap into our nostalgia with a sunglasses-wearing Smith, and also our desire for an original, high-concept property that doesn’t require any prior knowledge. It’s a double threat.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster, Dann, Carl Slaughter, StephenfromOttawa, Jonathan Cowie, Scott Edelman, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Jack Lint.]

Changes in Store for BizarroCon

BizarroCon Director and Eraserhead Press publisher Rose O’Keefe today posted an “Open Letter To The Bizarro Fiction Community”, a thorough and detailed apology for the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown at BizarroCon 11, and for failing to take appropriate steps when informed about the online conduct of some authors she publishes. She outlined a series of actions she’ll be taking.

About the Showdown, O’Keefe wrote:

On a personal note, I need to deeply apologize for things that have gone on in our community.

First, to the people who witnessed or heard about The Ultimate Bizarro Showdown performance at BizarroCon 11 and were hurt by it, and in particular to those of you who experienced PTSD responses, I’m so sorry. This should have never happened. The Showdown event is intended to be a fun, interactive, entertaining time and I deeply regret that didn’t happen this year.

These were responses to Chandler Morrison’s act at the Showdown two weekends ago (described in “A Reckoning for BizarroCon”).

O’Keefe announced many changes are in store, some already implemented:

I am dedicated to making BizarroCon, Eraserhead Press, and our online communities safe and comfortable for all. To that end, I’m announcing the following changes, in response to your concerns:

  • Effective immediately, I will step down as coordinator of the current Bizarro Writers Association, and encourage the formation of a new BWA to be run by writers.
  • Effective immediately, Jeff Burk has stepped down as Head Editor of Deadite Press and is no longer employed by Eraserhead Press.
  • Effective immediately, Chandler Morrison’s DEAD INSIDE has been removed from Deadite Press’s 2019 publication schedule, and the book contract has been canceled with all rights reverting to the author.
  • Effective February 28, 2019, G Arthur Brown’s KITTEN and GOD’S MEAN OLDER BROTHER will no longer be published by Eraserhead Press. The titles will be removed from distribution and all rights will revert to the author.

Jeff Burk, no longer editor of Eraserhead’s Deadite Press imprint, told Facebook readers that he parted ways with them “due to artistic and creative differences.” According to Chandler Morrison, one of those differences was the cancellation of Deadite’s plans to publish his book.

O’Keefe also said Eraserhead Press was dropping two books by G. Arthur Brown. Brown has been a past subject of sexual assault allegations. While Brown is not addressed by name in today’s statement, part of O’Keefe’s apology is addressed to Tiffany Scandal, whose extensive comments about BizarroCon’s latest issues included this said about “Gary” (Brown):

But this performance [Morrison’s] is just one of many events that brought people to this point. The people who have exhibited predatory behavior at past cons have never been officially banned from the con, a person [Brown] who had legal action taken against him for predatory behavior not only gets a new book out, he also got a beer to celebrate him! And everyone who has experienced something less than pleasant at this con has been told to not talk about it, to not fan flames, and we don’t, and it’s like all that happens with this shit gets swept under the rug.

O’Keefe addressed her today:

To Tiffany, I want to clarify I had no intention of maintaining a working relationship with the person who harassed you. I barred him from the convention and have had no contact with him. The reason I advised we not burn bridges with him was because I was trying to avoid creating a hostile competitor. I appreciate you calling me out over this. It revealed to me the conflict of interest in being a book publisher and also being in charge of determining appropriate action related to harassment.

O’Keefe says she will be making other changes to BizarroCon and Eraserhead Press.

Going forward, I will also institute the following changes.

  • The creation of a BizarroCon Safety & Inclusion Committee.
  • Myself, the committee members, and the staff of Eraserhead Press will enroll in diversity, inclusion, equity, and crisis management training.
  • Revisions to the format of the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown.
  • The creation of new positions on the BizarroCon Planning Committee, and clarification for the roles and responsibilities of each position including the Book Nook Coordinator, Guest Liaison, Fundraising Director, Workshop Coordinator, Program Booklet Editor, Clean-up Crew, and other volunteer positions.
  • Creation of a Social Media Policy for Eraserhead Press which will outline best practices and standards for online conduct of our editors and authors.

Meanwhile, Chandler Morrison wrote a blog entry today trying to ameliorate public reaction to his BizarroCon Showdown performance by explaining its symbolic meaning.

In light of recent events, the time has come for me to directly address the controversial performance that has now brought about the pulling of my book, Dead Inside, and the subsequent termination of Jeff Burk, head editor of Deadite Press. Up until now, I’ve been clinging to the admittedly pretentious hope that someone was going to “figure out” the message I was trying to convey with the skit in question. As I watched hundreds of people…some of whom had been at BizarroCon, most of whom had not…take me to task in dozens of various social media threads, I ping-ponged back and forth in my head about whether or not I should respond. It was tempting for me to jump in and say, “Wait, no, you didn’t get the allegory, what I meant was…” Whenever I started to type, though, I would think to myself, “No, dammit. I’m a capital-A Artist. I shouldn’t have to explain myself. I will not explain myself. If they didn’t get it, that’s not on me.”

What I’ve now realized, however, is that the fact that nobody seemed to get it…even the ones who weren’t actually offended by it…means that I failed in my attempt at creating capital-A Art. The audience isn’t the problem. I am. I was trying to make a statement about a very specific cultural phenomenon, but the statement was so obscure and mired by my own affectations that it failed to resonate. I demanded too much from my audience. Because of that, the hidden meaning (the fact that I didn’t think it was all that hidden is a sign of my own arrogance) of my “statement piece” flew right over everyone’s head like a comet on a cloudy night.

Morrison says his act symbolized his feelings about the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theories bandied about in the media.

A Reckoning for BizarroCon

Chandler Morrison’s performance during the “Ultimate Bizarro Showdown” at BizarroCon 11, simulating sex with an aborted fetus, not only provoked a flurry of protests, it ignited a wider discussion of predatory behavior at the convention which one commenter says “has been insufficiently addressed for years.” (Warning: this article includes some descriptive details.)

The annual BizarroCon, held last weekend near Portland, OR, celebrates the work of various small press publishers of “bizarro” fiction, described by some as transgressive surrealism and associated fantasy/crime, and by Eraserhead Press publisher Rose O’Keefe, the Director of BizarroCon as something that “clearly wasn’t horror, science-fiction, fantasy, or even experimental fiction. The only real way to describe it would be: weird,” and as “the literary equivalent to cult movies. Our books are quirky, campy, freaky, funny, lewd, rude, and just out there.”

The “biggest event at BizarroCon” is The Ultimate Bizarro Showdown:

[The] banquet hall is transformed into Bizarro Thunderdome! 20 authors enter, only one leaves victorious. Each author gets 2 minutes to tell the weirdest story they can come up with to a drunk and impatient crowd. After 2 minutes, if the story entertains the audience enough they are allowed to continue. If their story fails they are fucking decapitated! The distinguished bizarro judges will choose the top three readers. Winners will receive fabulous prizes and bragging rights for a year.

Author Chandler Morrison spent more than three minutes simulating sex with a doll covered in fake blood to look like a recently extracted fetus, using a dildo positioned adroitly enough to lead some to believe he had used his penis.

Morrison is a young writer who thinks of himself in these terms:

In today’s overly sensitive snowflake society, in which art of a transgressive nature tends to be derided and scorned, Chandler brazenly dares to speak truths that others are afraid to even acknowledge to their innermost selves.  He sees the writing on the wall, and transcribes it for the world in a language as breathtaking as it is blasphemous. 

Brian Keene, a BizarroCon guest of honor and one of the event’s judges, wrote on Facebook:

Personally, I did not care for the performance.

It wasn’t because of the prosthetic penis, or because of the baby doll (the view from the judges table was that the doll looked dead and bloody — which mirrored the dead fetus of the story in question. It wasn’t until the next day, in listening to the privately shared concerns of others, that I understood that some interpreted the doll’s color as a skin tone).

The reason I didn’t care for the performance was the same reason I have never watched A SERBIAN FILM — sexual violence against children is something I abhor, and I don’t care to be exposed to the imagery, even if the imagery in question is in the context of a fiction, be it film, prose, or performance art.

My other personal issue was that, as a parent who lost three children before birth, I don’t dig dead baby jokes.

In addition, Keene now feels compelled to apologize for not putting a stop to it:

Watching the crowd from the judges table, I saw people who were clearly entertained by the performance in question. But I also saw people who were clearly upset by it. And seeing the looks on the latter group’s faces, I thought to myself, “I should stop this.” But I didn’t, and for that I apologize. I didn’t because I thought, “You’re 51, Brian. Maybe you just don’t get it.” I also think that I — quite stupidly — mistook the uneasy laughter by some in the crowd as complicity. In hindsight, it clearly wasn’t. I can’t speak for all the judges, but I echo what Gina said above about sitting there sort of stunned. I kept thinking, “Okay, this is going to go somewhere. There’s going to be a truth, or a twist, or maybe just a punchline.” But there wasn’t.

I thought perhaps the crowd would speak up at the 3-minute mark. When they didn’t, I again mistook this for “Well, they are into it, Brian, and you’re just an old mainstream guy who doesn’t get it. You speak up and vote no, and it’s just going to be another case of, ‘Brian Keene was an asshole and ruined BizarroCon’. So I didn’t.”

… I hope that the dialogue and conversation will take precedence over the finger-pointing and blame game. If anyone still needs someone to blame, then blame me. Like I said, I should have spoken up…and I didn’t, because of my own personal insecurities.

Since the convention Facebook has played host to discussion threads with hundreds of comments protesting and defending Morrison’s performance, while raising wider implications for the BizarroCon community.

Author Jennifer Robin wrote on January 21:

The realism of the performance is an issue here. The performer said he was having sex with an abortion as part of his narrative. The doll was a full-grown baby shape, not a cluster of cells. The color of the doll was a darker brownish color, not a bright blood red. Several people were taken aback by the uniform brown color of the doll and assumed that it was a racial statement meant to be shocking. As for the dildo, even men close to the stage have said it was hard to tell whether it was real or a prosthetic, and the same with the eventual cum. So I’ll shift the question to this: If the performer didn’t want to say “brown skin” he should have put more care into picking a red fake blood to cover it, because many audience members saw brown. If the performer wanted to say “abortion-fucking” and not trigger PTSD or other violation-related reactions in the crowd, a full-blown baby doll is not how to say it. How many ways can there be to say babyfucking is not a good thing to show with these props at a literary convention? The number of audience members who have condemned it should be bringing the organizers to seriously consider what damage has been done, and what they want to encourage as free speech in the year 2019.

And in case that sounded inconsistent with what people are used to from her, Robin explained:

How can I, who regularly has explored surrealist and dadaist and cathartically ritualistic performances over the course of my life, who has almost ALWAYS played devil’s advocate for free speech, how could I suddenly make a declaration that shocking for shock’s sake is low, is crass, is a form of sadism?

Well, I did. And I haven’t gone soft at all. It isn’t soft to talk about consent of an audience, or about whether the artist’s intent is to dominate a crowd and hurt them—versus illuminating concepts about the barbarism and strangeness of the human psyche.

… After a century of artists exploring actions like this, it is no longer innovative, no longer something that enhances our awareness of taboos, or starts up fresh conversations about “what the human race really is.”

It’s no longer an innovation to be naked, or cut your chest open, or have an orgy on stage, or do anything regarding blackface or incest or involving suspension or projectile vomiting or threatening to cut off an audience member’s hand. For a lot of performances like this, the idea that you are “SHOWING PEOPLE” what fear or darkness or reality or a soul is made of…is…expired.

I strongly value the existence of ritualistic theater, avant-garde art, horror and gore and darkness, but I feel that in 2019, the “edges” aren’t what they once were, and that we are facing the deepest global and existential crisis a sentient species on this planet has ever had to face.

Yes, everything we took for granted is going extinct, as are we.

Meanwhile, Morrison is not without his defenders. Monica J. O’Rourke, an author published by Eraserhead Press’ Deadite imprint, wrote on Facebook:

This is NOT directed at anyone specific. And for those who don’t know me, I’ve been around for decades and have either organized or participated in (or both) gross-out contests at several major conventions, some of which i’ve chaired or co-chaired.

Sorry, and maybe I am SOOOO not PC on this one … but if you go to a horror convention, and a gross-out contest (or even an open mic — what do you believe you’ll get at a horror convention???? especially a bizarro convention), why do you get to pick and choose what’s considered offensive? You seriously go to a gross-out contest and have triggers? Really? Were your legs broken, sweetheart, that you couldn’t get up and walk out? Have you not seen a gross-out contest before? Jesus.

O’Rourke also commented:

Censorship is censorship, regardless of the topic. This was about feelings and sensibilities being hurt in a venue where people could have walked out. BTW, some of the people in that thread complaining the loudest about that performance either 1. weren’t even in the room during the event or 2. congratulated the author at the end on his performance. Suddenly they’re all offended. And in another juicy bit of irony, these same people decrying censorship are calling for the author to be banned from future conventions and are even trying to get his book pulled. Sure doesn’t sound like kneejerk overreaction!

In contrast, Chandler Morrison has now publicly apologized:

I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I hurt with my performance at the BizarroCon Showdown. I have remained silent until now because I was listening and reflecting. I made a lot of new friends over the course of those very special few days, and I am deeply troubled that some of those friends were hurt by an act that was clearly in poor taste and insensitive to the audience to whom I was presenting. It was truly never my intent to inflict mental harm or emotional distress, but that’s no excuse, and I am genuinely sorry.

And Brian Keene offered:  

One final thought on the young author in question. I’ve seen some characterizing him as an “edgelord”. Having met him, I don’t think that is a fair characterization… From what I know of him I think this young man has a good heart, and I hope he learns from this and is given that time.

However things play out for Morrison individually, the lid has come off a much wider discussion about BizarroCon’s handling of antiharassment issues.

Michael Kazepis wrote on January 23:

There’s never really been a scene like bizarro before—genre literature that often overlaps themes of violence, fetish, fantasy, sex, and the grotesque, while encouraging people to let out their inner “weirdo/cult” selves without being shamed for what they’re into. But it’s also a scene that’s got almost no firm boundaries for what’s acceptable, for consent and respect, because all scene performances or art/literature exists in the name of free expression. And that’s what’s at the heart of all this, right? It does require noting that Rose O’Keefe, after endless criticisms of the bizarro scene being a “boy’s club” over the years, did make great effort to bring more women into the scene and largely succeeded. But with the arrival of more women, also came the arrival of some predatory shitbirds. I won’t list them here, but it’s become a thing. A similar compliment can be made of Rose reaching out for more diverse voices, LGBTQ authors.

That in mind, there is an institutional problem (and now a proportional backlash to that problem) that’s only grown over the past five or so years. Both are reinforced by those infirm boundaries, as well as inadequate responses to inappropriate conduct and a tacit enabling of the accused. Also, shutting down concerned voices as a first response has been the worst possible move this week. I realize that folks want to defend the scene from any attack, and there have been needless ones in the past, but now an outcry over a performance has become an outcry over trending sexual impropriety and is on the verge of becoming an exodus of those concerned voices etc etc etc. On a long enough timeline, no one benefits but predatory shitbirds. This seems a conflict of “Do you try to keep the peace?” or “Do you take major corrective actions?”

BizarroCon Director Rose O’Keefe has answered with her own apology and told what she’ll do to heal the community and keep the con viable:

What I understand is that people are feeling unheard and are dissatisfied with my response and/or lack of response to past as well as to present grievances related to their experiences at BizarroCon and in our community. I am truly sorry. Especially to my fellow women and to anyone who has felt harassed in any form. I let you down.

…I acknowledge that I have made mistakes and that there are problems in our community. Actions such as establishing an anti-harassment policy, appointing a trained counselor to handle issues that arise, recruiting the assistance of security professionals and military veterans from within our community to help during the event, banning offenders and unwelcome individuals privately rather than publicly and making unilateral decisions on who to welcome into our scene have not eliminated the sense of unease that many are expressing. Moreover, they haven’t sufficiently prevented instances of harassment and trauma from continuing to occur at our event. Therefore these things are insufficient and are in need of improvement. I am deeply regretful for this and it is my greatest wish to continue to work together to find meaningful resolutions to those problems and develop actionable plans to improve our future.

…Additionally, effective immediately, I would like to establish a Safety and Inclusion Committee for BizarroCon. It could be a group of 3-4 people whose responsibilities include fielding any complaints pertaining to our anti-harassment policy and creating very clear and specific protocol for handling and addressing these complaints. They may also audit panels for diverse panelists and topics.

I will also be expanding and improving the BizarroCon committee, establishing clear lines of responsibility, and delegating some of the roles and responsibilities that are in the best interest of the community. There is a lot that goes into running this thing and I know I am not alone in my desire to see this genre expand and improve and its level of professionalism increase. I see this moment as an opportunity for change and I am ready to embrace it.

…For now, one thing we can share is that in addition to the creation of the Safety and Inclusion Committee we will be crafting changes to the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown that will fully empower the hosts, the judges and the audience. I’d also like you to know that I have sent a letter to Edgefield apologizing to the staff who were on-duty at the Showdown last week.

Postscript: In case you wondered what artistic achievements are ordinarily presented at this event, author Zé Burns’ (“BizarroCon 11”) conreport describes 2019’s winning entries:  

Then came the highlight of the convention: the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown. Each participant was allotted six minutes to perform their weirdest story or sketch. These ranged from amusing monologues to such depravity that I dare not soil this page.

Cameron Pierce won, rapping humorous poetry under the moniker “Young Stepdad.” Danger Slater sang “Rainbow Connection” in a Kermit the Frog voice, wearing a green bodysuit and face paint and strumming a cardboard banjo, while Karl Fischer gave a pitch about teaching horses to ski, stopping here and there to moon the audience who in turn pelted him with oranges.

Update 01/26/2019: Dropped the comparison to the WHC “gross-out” contests after further comment from Brian Keene: “The Showdown was inspired by the old World Horror Gross Out contests, but they have always been separate things. Sometimes there has been some crossover content (Shane Mackenzie’s The Aristocrats, for example) but by and large, very different material for very different audiences. Only reason I compared them was to illustrate the Showdown’s origins. Didn’t mean to imply they are similar.”