Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #56

Exiting Trumplandia, November-December 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

Scott Heins/Getty Images

FOUR YEARS AGO, 22 November 2016: “Barkley — Since You (Didn’t) Ask — Trumplandia, Weeks One and Two”.

On October 28th, 1937, astronomer Karl Reinmuth of Heidelberg University made a momentous discovery, a fast-moving asteroid with a diameter of 2700 feet, which he dubbed Hermes. Reinmuth lost track of Hermes after a few days but it was estimated to have come within 300,000 miles of the Earth’s orbit. 

Students of astronomy would be happy to point out to you that in terms of magnitude, the Earth just barely escaped being hit by a devastating, possibly even an extinction level event.

On November 7th, at 11:38 AM EST, America dodged its own version of Hermes, when the Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., projecting a total of 279 Electoral Votes and the right to be called President-Elect.

All across America, celebrations sprang up spontaneously in several major cities. As the news broke that afternoon, church bells across Europe rang continuously for hours.

And Monday, December 14, 2020, will go down as one of the momentous days in American History,

-At 2:28 PM Pacific Time, Electoral College delegates at the state capitol of California cast 55 votes for Joseph R. Biden for President of the United States and Kamala Harris as Vice President, officially and legally confirming both to serve a four-year term starting next month.

– In the early morning hours of the same day, thousands of frontline health care workers and elderly patients all over North America began receiving a COVID-19 vaccine developed (at “warp speed”, as it were) by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.

– And, on the other side of the coin, the United States officially recorded its 300,000th death of the pandemic (although that total may be significantly higher once other unrecorded deaths are factored in at a later date. 

But it hasn’t been all sweetness and light In the six weeks since Associated Press called the state of Pennsylvania Biden, unofficially sealing the election for Biden and Harris.

I remember the moment very well; Juli, having been driven stir crazy by our county’s Covid status (RED, verging on PURPLE) and the drawn out election results, had opted to go to Trader Joe’s to do some safely distanced shopping. I, on the other hand, decided to stay home and putter around the house to keep tabs on statistician/reporter/cult nerd obsession Steve Kornacki on MSNBC. (NOTE: He became so popular, NBC Sports ‘promoted” him to their NFL telecasts to provide football playoff forecasts and predictions.)

At around 11:30 AM Eastern time, I was busy vacuuming the living room the AP call was announced. I YELLED out my delight and sent Juli a text IN ALL CAPS! When she got hope, we popped open a bottle of champagne, toasted and got slightly drunk. Similarly, when California cast its Electoral votes last Monday, some celebratory day drinking was called for…

The current occupant of the White, whom I described in a 2016 column as a “racist, sexist, xenophobe, and the alleged perpetrator of numerous sexual assaults,” has not gone quietly into that good, political night. In fact, in the weeks that have passed since November 7th, he has claimed, falsely, that he actually “won” the election because of voter fraud, faulty voting machines and a myriad of other untrue musings, unproven conspiracy theories and outright lies. 

Additionally, he has shown VERY little interest in actually governing since the election, even as the number of infected people is rising perilously, both branches of Congress have been deadlocked over a pandemic relief package, virus vaccines are in short supply due to lack of government intervention and most of the country’s systems have seemingly been penetrated by Russian backed hackers who were just detected this past week after several months of activity.  

And while the Biden-Harris ticket garnered more than 81.2 million votes, the opposition ticket racked up 74.2 million votes. I used to believe that there were more of us than there were of the odious “them”, who have no qualms supporting a man and administration who are seeming hell bent on undermining the foundations of democracy itself. 

But, on the bright side, we’re within sight of the end of this political and health crisis and I am cautiously optimistic.

I say cautiously because we are possibly eight or nine months away from having a majority of the country vaccinated, which would mean that DisCon III might be able to hold the Worldcon in Washington D.C. safely, with the country under better management.

I, along with thousands of other con-going fans, writers, editors, artists and publishers will rejoice when the all-clear is given and will happily resume flooding hotels and convention centers around the world. 

Looking back over the past four years, I can also point to the things that kept us all inspired (and somewhat sane) during this tumultuous period. The podcasts and fanzines. The novels and collections. The fan and professional magazines and artists. The comics, manga and graphic novels. 

And, of course, the television and films; Star Trek Discovery and The Mandalorian (both of which I’ll be reviewing by the end of the year), The Expanse, Wonder Woman and The Midnight Sky (BOTH opening Christmas Day!), The Good Place, Good Omens, Doctor Who, the films of Marvel Studios and much, too much more to list here. 

And when we do reconvene, we should all pause, give thanks for surviving and reflect on what happened during this pandemic. We should also mourn our dead, from natural causes, accidents, or the virus, who were some of our best and brightest souls. 

Ad Astra to the departed and Happy Holidays to us all. The BEST is yet to come. (Fingers Crossed!)

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #55

Remain In Light 

By Chris M. Barkley:

(Author’s Note: I had originally wanted to write a three part retrospective history on the past four years, with the first two parts cleverly titled “Stop Making Sense” and “Life During Wartime”. But, as we all hurtle towards the MOST important federal election in the history of America, I thought a change of tone and focus was sorely needed. NOT that I’m going to ignore that completely, though. Thank You for your time and attention…Chris B.)

Photo by Charlie Moorman
Photo by Laura Moorman

We live in a very fractious and troubled age. And that’s putting it mildly. 

I have been suffering through many sleepless nights over the past nine months; very often I have awakened for no reason at all at three or four in the morning with tears in my eyes. 

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and its ever growing death count, the subsequent economic turmoil it caused, the social unrest that followed in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and many other African Americans and the lack of coherent leadership from the current administration is enough to keep any sane person up all night.

And for me, it begs several questions; was America EVER great, or were we collectively just fooling ourselves all along? Do we have a future? And most importantly, where is America headed next after the end of the election season on Tuesday, November 3rd?

With all of this going on, the moments of joy or hope were few and far between. But they were there, and I was lucky enough to have a life-affirming miracle come to me.

On April 1st, my daughter, Laura Moorman (nee Barkley) and her husband, Charlie Moorman, announced that they were expecting a child. This was met with widespread skepticism by myself and my partner, Juli, since Laura has professed on many occasions over the years to her mother, myself, her siblings and friends that she was perfectly happy being childless. 

This belief was reinforced because of the image of an alien baby accompanying the “announcement”on her Facebook page. 

So, you can imagine my shock and surprise when Laura posted an image of a very REAL photo of a pregnancy test with a positive result later that same day. Welcoming a pandemic baby was definitely not on my 2020 bingo card, but it was a welcome and heartening one, to be sure.

(Also: This is proof positive that my daughter inherited my sense of humor. Because I LOVE a good prank and I totally would have done something like this if I were in her situation. So, Yay!)

A sign recently posted near a synagogue around the corner from my home. Photo by Chris Barkley

But what sort of world has little Navia been born into? Well, I feel as though that collectively, we have failed her in many respects.

Currently, our planet is undergoing climate change. More heat, more severe storms and other sorts of inclement weather. We have a BIG pollution problem, especially with plastic. Southwest Ohio has a plentiful supply of water at the moment, but that could change in the next decade or so. If she or her parents decide to move, they will have to take droughts, susceptibility to forest fires, mudslides and flooding. I hate to even mention the long overdue earthquake from the New Madrid Fault along the Arkansas-Tennessee-Missouri border or the faint possibility of a major volcano erupting somewhere in the United States in her lifetime.

We are still a long way from solving widespread poverty, affordable housing and income inequality. The running culture wars between the two main political parties will probably continue for some time.

And even if there is a change of administrations in the next two and a half months, there are other obstacles for Navia to face. Being bi-racial, there will still be people out there who will hate her on sight because of her parentage. 

As she grows up, she will still face racism and sexism. There will be people who will try to regulate or restrict her reproductive rights. And if she finds that she is gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary or just queer, there will still be side glances, unwanted attention and anger over her decisions.     

Then, there’s the COVID-19 pandemic. As I write this, in November of 2020, we still have a significant number of the populace unwilling to socially distance AND wear a mask, lack a simplified and effective treatment for the disease or, most importantly, a vaccine to prevent the further spread and future outbreaks.

That’s MOST of the bad news. But, there is some good news.

First of all, Navia has two loving parents, Laura and Charlie. And backing them up are several sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives. Whatever she decides to do, she has an army of love backing her up.

And in that army, Navia will have the benefit of several hundred years of wisdom and advice. And in addition, she will have access to the most modern technology and information retrieval. She’ll also have the opportunity to get the best education and advice on what she might want to pursue in her lifetime.

But, there’s more. Much more.

Navia’s name came from her father, Charlie. He told me that it came to him in a dream, shortly after Laura found out she was pregnant and they began discussing what to name their baby. 

Her name, derived from the Sanskrit language, means “Rose that has blossomed”. The Urban Dictionary weighs in with this definition:

Navia is a kind, fun, nice loving, beautiful girl. She’s also a badass, if you piss her off, you’re screwed. She’s the best girl you’ll meet, and everyone will be after her. Navia also means success. She will achieve her goals no matter what gets in her way.”

So, future suitors should beware.

Navia Moorman was born on October 7th, 2020. My partner Juli and I had the pleasure of meeting her in person two and a half weeks later. 

As my daughter placed her into my arms, I felt an enormous amount of pride and love for Navia and her parents. It rather boggles my mind that in the years after I have passed on, one quarter of my genome will still be wandering around, having adventures as Navia discovers herself and her purpose in life. In turn, I am humbled and honored to be alive to bear witness to a new light being kindled in this universe. 

It is the light she brings into this world that gives me hope. A hope that cannot be extinguished by all of the horror, madness and suffering that preceded her birth a few weeks ago. 

A hope that Navia, and the newly born members of this generation can and will heal the Earth and bring people closer together. 

Photo by Juli Marr

Several days later, I awoke again in the middle of the night. But this time, instead of tears and fear, I came to realize that I had more to offer than my wisdom and knowledge.

The very next morning, I began planning to make a Time Capsule for Navia.

Over the four decades that I have been in fandom, I have collected a lot of stuff.

And now, like grandparents throughout history, I have someone to pass these precious heirlooms along to.

There is (or rather, was) a common belief in fandom that the ideal age for a child to be formally introduced to the concepts of fantasy and science fiction is when they reached ten years old.

I’m almost sure that probably isn’t exactly true for most 21st century children nowadays because they are exposed to many more sources of media that I could have imagined when I was ten.

I will leave the timing to her parents, but essentially, I am planning to stock the time capsule with a cornucopia of cultural items I would imagine might appeal to a ten year old.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling: NEVER MIND her recent transphobic comments, the value of her creation far outweighs and supersedes any her personal problems. The adventures of Harry, Hermione and Ron have been proven to be universal and timeless. And I have no doubt that they will remain so for some time to come.

Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine by Jay Williams and William Abrashkin: The third book in the Danny Dunn series finds the would-be boy inventor and his friends “borrowing” the computer of his scientist mentor to DO THEIR HOMEWORK! I loved this book as a kid because of the audacity of the story and the consequences they faced when their plot was discovered by their very wise teacher. 

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov: If you’re going to be formally introduced to robots, why not read the classic that codified how robots were perceived in the mid-20th century. The stories may be a bit creaky to some but I think a young person could still be entertained by them.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (YA novel and 2018 film): The Oprah Winfrey produced film was panned and underrated at the time of its release. But Storm Reid, a biracial actor who plays the lead, Meg Murray, is brilliant in the role and is the beating heart of this movie. I think Navia will be thrilled to see someone just like her in the middle of a fantasy movie. I can only hope that she will also be enchanted by the novel as well. I know that some people find the christian subtext and allegory a bit troubling but I didn’t have a problem with it when I re-read it. We’ll see, I suppose.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman (novel and the classic 1988 film): I really don’t have to explain this, do I? Enough said.

What movies could possibly scare a ten-year-old a decade from now? I’m betting that Ghostbusters (1984 and 2016 versions), Poltergeist (1984), ET (1982), Labyrinth (1985) and, of course, Beetlejuice (1988), can still get the job done

In addition to all of this, there will be comics and graphic novels, buttons, DVDs of Star Trek (Season One of the Original Series), Star Wars (Episode One: The Phantom Menace), Doctor Who (Eccelston and Tennant’s episodes), some fannish clothing, hats and a few other surprises.

I’m also going to put a note in the time capsule as well. It will say:

Dear Navia,

We know you may not like every single thing in this little package from your grandfather’s past. These are the things that he knew and loved from the time we were your age upwards to when we both became adults.

If you have any siblings by the time you read this, we hope that your parents have taught you that it is always better to share your things with them than hoarding them all for yourself.

Always remember, it is better to give than receive and that the love you make for others should always be equal (or more) than the love you take.

Be Well, Live Long and Prosper,

Your Grandfather and Grandmother

Chris B. & Juli

PS: We also included a 500 Lumen (that’s REALLY BRIGHT, trust us on this) so that you may enjoy some of your books under your bedcovers after mom and dad go to to sleep.

If you’re into that sort of thing. Which you just might be.

PPS: Batteries Not Included.

C &J

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #54

Crisis Point: The 2020 World Fantasy Convention 

By Chris M. Barkley: On the few occasions that I was privileged to head up the World Science Fiction Convention’s Press Office, I gave my staff members a great deal of latitude in their duties. However, I had only one directive that was absolutely sacred; if they spotted a member, staffer or volunteer that was in need of assistance, they were to stop whatever they were doing and render assistance.   

In my 44-plus years of congoing, volunteering and activism, I have come to believe that fandom is family; we may not all be related on a familial basis and we all may not agree on certain points or get along with each other, but more often than not, we try to be available to each other and when the offer of help is made, it is be heartfelt and genuine. 

So I felt more than a bit of discomfort when I initially heard about the travails of the 2020 World Fantasy Convention. 

The controversy surrounding the Salt Lake City based bid started when the preliminary list of convention programming items were posted online, which is chronicled here. miyuki jane pinckard, an eminent writer and game designer offered her concerns in an open letter that was published on a Google Docs page.

The most immediate reactions to the posting were swift and harsh, charging that the programming staff was elitist, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and generally tone deaf.

Well known author and editor K. Tempest Bradford has an extensive history of difficulties and criticisms of WFC which she lays out here. Bradford, and others whom she offers evidentiary links to, are spot on about how previous World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors and convention committees have repeatedly failed to address a variety of issues. Mainly of accessibility for disabled members, sexual harassment and a lack of diversity in programming and staffing at conventions among MANY other things.

Ms. Bradford did not pull any punches in her commentary; condemning the Chair, Ginny Smith and WFC’s Board of Directors for not responding sooner to her email entreaties about systemic problems they continually seem to suffer from over a long period of time. In an addendum to her blog post, dated October 10th), Ms. Bradford wrote the following:

It has now been almost 10 years of this. At this point, if you are attending and/or participating in WFC 2020 you are participating in a system that is unsafe for BIPOC and other marginalized attendees and has been for a long time.

And yes, even if they “fix” the many program items with problematic content thanks to help from panelists, I still say: don’t go. Remember, we’ve done this dance before. More than once. And they were offered help and guidance on how not to have this happen. Don’t reward them by accepting last-minute changes that had to be spearheaded by folks who have probably already done too much emotional labor around this.

It should not be on BIPOC and other marginalized folks to clean up after white people who refuse to do right unless Twitter gets mad at them.

I asked folks on Twitter not to help them with programming for these reasons and then I said:

Hey there white, able-bodied, cishet ppl of SFF who constantly claim allyship with marginalized folk: Now’s the time to prove it.

WFC depends on you to come even if BIPOC don’t. Therefore: drop your membership or, at least, rescind participation on panels. Take a stand.

I stand by this ask. Even though I’m apparently being too “extreme“. This hella long post is my testament to why.

So, it appears to me that Ms. Bradford, and many others it seems, have come to the conclusion that the World Fantasy Convention no longer has any value and must be boycotted or ended completely. Doors are to be slammed closed, roads completely destroyed and bridges are to be set alight and burn brightly.

I am going to beg to differ.

But, before I do so, I am going to point out a few things.

I have only attended one and a quarter World Fantasy Conventions in my life. I went to the 1983 convention in Chicago, which featured Gene Wolfe and Manly Wade Wellman as the author guests, Rowwena Morrrill as the Artist GoH and Robert Bloch as the Toastmaster. It was a very relaxed and rather subdued convention in comparison to the six Worldcons I had previously attended. And hey, I got to meet and chat with Fritz Leiber! I had a good time.

As I became more involved with attending and working at Worldcons, I just couldn’t fit the WFC into my schedule, either economically or timewise. I did have the opportunity to go on a day trip to the 2010 Convention in Columbus and hang out in the public areas for a few hours and chat with a few friends, but that was about all. This is the extent of my involvement with the WFC.

Reader, this past Thursday evening, I received an email from Ginny Smith, asking for my help. I got around to reading it Friday morning. 

At this point in time, I was unaware of miyuki jane pinckard’s letter nor had read Ms. Bradford’s or anyone else’s comments on Twitter.

It wouldn’t have made any difference if I had. Ms. Smith, a person who I had never heard of or met before, asked for my help. 

And I, without hesitation said yes. Why?

First, because it is my nature to help. Maybe it’s a remnant of my Catholic grade school upbringing, my Boy Scout training or my unbreakable convention rule. My first instinct is to render assistance, if possible. 

Secondly, I live by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr., whose framed picture hangs prominently on my office wall and features the following quote, “The time is always right to do what is right.”  

I Immediately sought out and found the File 770 post, pinckard’s letter and Ms. Bradford’s comments. Frankly, none of what I found looked good for Ms. Smith or the convention. She explained to me in a follow up email that she was a complete novice at con-running and was in way over her head from the start. She also told me that she had made several apologies about the snafu and that others beside myself were helping out as well.

One of those people is Christine Taylor-Butler, an African-American author who is a graduate of MIT and Art & Design. She is the creator of the The Lost Tribes young adult series and an impressive number of other fiction and non-fiction books (80!) for children whose various subjects range from a biography of Michelle Obama, to the physical sciences, geography and United States History and Civics.

The other person declined to be identified. The reason she specifically stated was that she doesn’t want others to assume that she is available to perform a similar function for dozens of other conventions. Actually, what she was quoted saying, “I’m simply taking the principle of white people helping to clean up the messes white people have created.” So, respect.

Ms. Smith specifically asked me to review a number of the program items that people found objectionable and offer some insights on how they could be revised to be more inclusive and not offensive. 

I spent a majority of my day Saturday writing up critiques of the titles and descriptions of the panels. I also gave her a few pointed comments on how the Board could have been more helpful in her endeavors. Here are two of the examples:


  • Program Item 30: Norse and Germanic Fantasy: The Northern Thing

Original Description: “Beowulf to the Niebelungenlied, Norse and Germanic myth have been one of the major notes sounded by European and Anglophone fantasy and arguably the basis of sword and sorcery as we know it. We find such echoes from the works of William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkein, Paul Anderson From to more recent works like David Drake, Diana Paxson, George R.R. Martin, and Marvel Comics Thor. Let us explore this particular magic…“

Criticism: “The disparity present in compiling the cultural traditions of the entire rest of the world into one panel while devoting an entire panel on Norse and Germanic tales is telling. This is the most highly detailed panel, with specific authors mentioned, a courtesy that was not afforded the other panels. There is also no attempt to address the problematic side of Norse mythology and its co-option by white supremacists and fascists, including the Nazis. This should absolutely be part of any panel about being inspired by Norse mythology. And yet, the panel fails to actually name any Nordic writers and focuses entirely on Anglophone writers.”

Revised Suggestion: “From Beowulf to the Niebelungenlied, Norse and Germanic myth have been one of the major notes sounded by European and Anglophone fantasy and arguably the basis of sword and sorcery as we know it. Let us explore this particular magic.”

My Commentary: It seems to me (at least) that the critics of this description doth protest TOO MUCH. (Climbs onto soapbox). I may be Black, but even I am aware of the Norse and German influences generally in Westen culture. And YES, it is both intriguing, thrilling AND problematic. Do the critics think that the panelists are unaware of those problems or wouldn’t actually discuss them? Do the racist undertones really NEED to be described in the panel description? (Climbs off soapbox). So, what the objection is REALLY about is that this is yet another panel about the subject, which they are probably tired of seeing. Point taken. So, the panelists can either have a discussion about how those writers have influenced modern fantasy or they drill down on the older regional writers of the genre. The new description could be adapted to go either way, in my opinion. By the way, it’s Poul Anderson, not Paul Anderson. You’ll get a ton of side eye from eagle eyed fantasy fans for a mistake like that and deservedly so.


  • Program Item 54: Female Tropes and Archetypes

Original Description: “Women characters for years were mostly helpmates and love interests or the reward for an adventure well done. But changes in society have brought a welcome change to this restrictive way of viewing half the populace. How are today’s authors pushing past the old, tired tropes to bring a more real and interesting take on their female characters?”

Criticism: “Female Tropes and Archetypes” feels like a topic that was covered twenty years ago.

Revised Description: None, with this note: “Again, we’re not sure how to respond to this. Yes, it’s a topic that has been covered but continues to have an impact on the genre. So… we’re inclined to leave this one alone?”

My Commentary: OK, this is an easy fix; the problem here is that the panel is gender specific and not very inclusive to other people. So,my suggestion would be: remove “Women” from the title and description and call it Tropes and Archetypes in Fantasy (Modern or Otherwise): Fantasy  characters of all ages, genders and a spectrum of sexualities populate the landscape of Modern Fantasy. Gradual political and societal changes over the past few decades have brought a welcome change to the restrictive way of viewing others who had not previously been considered in the genre. How are today’s authors pushing past the old, tired tropes to bring a more real and interesting take on their fantasy characters?”


In total, I offered my suggestions for eight other programming items that were point of contention.

After the disastrous fiasco of the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony, it would have been very easy to heed Ms. Bradford and others, and just let the WFC crash and burn on the tarmac and left as a stark warning to other con-runners. 

I, for better or worse, am not one of those people. I believe that the Hugo Awards Ceremony could have been saved with some last minute intervention. I also believe the same can be said of this year’s World Fantasy Convention. 

Ginny Smith, her convention committee and, I hope, its Board of Directors, are working night and day to try to put on a convention that is worthy of attending (albeit virtually) and not fall victim to their earlier mistakes.  

If they were truly as racist and insensitive as their critics have claimed, they could have thrown up their hands and said, ‘This is OUR convention, WE run it as we see fit and YOU  can take it or leave it.” That’s not what I have experienced over the past several days.

Earlier today, the World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors released a statement to me, via an email from Ginny Smith:

“The WFC Board is sensitive to the criticisms by members from marginalized communities within the fantasy and horror genres. We acknowledge the minimal representation of these diverse populations on the Board and are taking steps to rectify that lack of perspective. We have voted to add at least one ex officio member to our number to review future WFC programs. We are currently reaching out to proposed candidates to discuss and will release a statement when the new Board member(s) are chosen.” 

– The World Fantasy Convention Board of Directors 

2020 marks the forty-sixth year for the World Fantasy Convention. In spite of its ongoing problems, I still believe that it still is a vital part of our fannish community and should not be canceled or abandoned. 

I HOPE that the calamitous events and harsh, but justifiable criticisms leveled this year’s edition can finally be the tipping point that finally puts this convention on the right path. This will also involve a lot of introspection AND changes by the Board of Directors, which, among other things, being more transparent about the bidding process, staffing, volunteer memberships, programming, the awards and most importantly, how they operate. 

Because it’s always the right time to open the doors of inquiry, build cultural roadways and reconstruct those emotional bridges.

Right here, right now and without delay!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #53

Some Birthday Thoughts – 64th Annual Edition

By Chris M. Barkley: 

Chris M. Barkley. Photo by Juli Marr.

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four

– John Lennon and Paul McCartney, circa 1967.

One of my earliest childhood memories occurred fifty-seven years ago this week; on Wednesday, August 28th 1963, I clearly remember parking myself in front of my grandmother’s Philco television for an afternoon of cartoons and silliness that I was accustomed to.

Instead, I saw a sea of faces. All gathered at that time by what I took to be a large lake. The faces, mostly of black people but with a sprinkling of others mixed in, all gathered near a domed building. I tried other channels. It was on all three major network stations. I was so mesmerized by this mass of humanity that was speaking and cheering that I gave up on seeing cartoons and watched for a while… 

What I was witnessing of course, was the March on Washington For Civil Rights, centered around the Lincoln Memorial, was one of the most galvanizing events of American history at that time. I had just turned seven years old.

When I was that small child, I was totally oblivious to the troubles of the world: racial prejudice and strife, lynchings (still a THING back then, people), stranger danger or pedophile priests, redlining, segregation and the ongoing Cold War with various Communist entities. 

I’ve been told that when I was a boy, I was very shy and often seeking solitude, either by myself or curled up with any of a number of Dr. Seuss books my parents bought for me. 

There’s also this: sometimes, I would inexplicably wake up in the middle of the night and wonder about the future. Would I be alive to see it? What would it be like? Where would my parents and siblings be? I spent countless nights wrestling with these existential questions…

Now, on this end of the timeline and on the occasion of my 64th birthday, I can stand back and recall all of those struggles and how I dealt with them, one by one. There was a steep learning curve as I navigated through life; with school, dealing with other people, raging hormones, the bullies, beatings, self-doubt and several bouts of deep depression.

And against all odds, I survived, alive, well and somewhat healthy for my age.

And as I sit and write this, I see history repeating itself. This past Thursday, August 28th 2020, I again saw a sea of faces, a glorious rainbow of skin color, in high definition, all calling out for justice, equality and peace. But this gathering was concerned with the same sorts of basic issues that could have been ripped from a mid-20th century newspaper; racial strife, gun violence, police brutality, rioting in the streets and voter suppression. 

America today seems more like the America of 1968, when we seemed to be a mess, politically, physically and socially divided to the point of militancy, with the added complication of a pandemic disease which has no known effective treatment, vaccine or cure.  

All this leaves me wondering, after nearly sixty years, why do a substantial number of American white people still loathe, discriminate and outright hate people of color such as myself, simply because we look different or have differing attitudes and opinions. We may not have originated on this continent but neither did they!

THIS is not the science fictional future I signed up for.

And the answer is this; we, collectively, have not had a reckoning with our past history of the illegal taking of land from Native Americans, the enslavement of African natives and the combination of systemic racism that on the surface,  promises an abundance of freedom and opportunity but, in fact, has created a de facto caste system of poverty and income inequality.

The ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and the less than adequate response to the emergency (and other malicious missteps) by the current administration has shorn away the thin veneer of propaganda that the United States is a shining monument of freedom. 

And yet…

People, immigrants, illegal or otherwise, still want to come here. They want to come even though the President can’t string two coherent sentence together without the help of a teleprompter, the people he has chosen to guide governmental policies are incompetent or corrupt, the Majority Leader of the United States Senate deliberately subverts the process of democracy on a regular basis and a good portion of the white population doesn’t want them there.

Why? Because they have seen glimpses of how great we can be. 

We have enacted civil rights legislation. Our collective efforts put twelve men on the moon and returned them all safely to Earth. Our technological innovations are still admired to a certain extent. We continue to fight against climate change and environmental reforms even when the government refuses to acknowledge it. Our athletes are showing that they are politically aware and active. Our artists still have the right to express themselves freely, through books, paintings, sculptures, music and architecture.

And when black people, like Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Atatianna Jefferson, Philando Castille and George Floyd and are murdered in their homes or in the street by the police, the collective outrage is felt by many more than just the Black Community alone.

And then, most notably, there are the visual arts: Star Trek. And Star Wars. The Marvel Universe of films. Babylon 5. The Expanse. The Good Place. Rick and Morty, And, yes, The Orville and Galaxy Quest as well.

These films and television shows are our true brand and main calling card; the possible futures that may not be pretty, desirable or very easy, but they are thrilling to experience and definitely show that we have some sort of future to look forward to and it is worth living for.

I still wake up in the middle of the night, moreso in the past six months. As I lie in bed, I still worry about the future. Although now I mostly wonder what will happen in the November elections, if I have taken enough precautions so I don’t become ill and what sort of future my grandchildren will inherit from us. And, more morbidly and with growing distress, how much time I may have left to live.

Somehow, some way, I still believe that there is hope for myself, our country and the world. That’s probably due to my lifelong love of science fiction and fantasy. 

That spark of optimism, buried deep within even the darkest of the novels, stories and films that I have loved and enjoyed all of these years, has kept my own spirits alive and well. I have chosen to embrace the future, not be consumed by it.

Because ready or not, the future is now. 

This column is dedicated to the memory of Chadwick Boseman, a splendid human being and an extraordinary actor. Best known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Black Panther, he spoke the following lines, which resonates, for America and the world at large, NOW, more than ever. Rest In Peace, My King; we will always be inspired by you and the many roles you played, to make this a better world…

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #52

A Few (Pointed) Observations of the 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony

By Chris M. Barkley:  I usually don’t offer any commentary after the Hugo Awards are given out because the will of the voters has been expressed and as the song goes, “Some will win, some will lose, some of them will sing the blues.”

And when you consider what happened last Saturday morning in Wellington, New Zealand, I think what unfolded may have looked really bad, but it could have been far, far worse.

Having said that, I think the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony team deserves a modicum of credit for bringing us a telecast of the awards at all under somewhat grueling circumstances;  even though there were a number of other glitches that were glaringly evident as time went on.

And on.

AND ON…

THE HUGO AWARDS CEREMONY

Yes, the CoNZealand Hugo Awards Ceremony will probably go down as one of the longest and most poorly executed as of now and well into the near future. I am quite sure that everyone involved, and I definitely include George R.R. Martin and the CoNZealand production team had the best of intentions.

I believe that he, and Robert Silverberg, were trying to convey to a global audience the grand, sweeping history and the importance of the award, which is still, after sixty-seven (67!) years, the only prestigious literary award given to authors and artists by readers. But they took an awfully long time to convey that. 

When planning something as arduous as the Hugo Awards Ceremony, the uppermost thing to keep in mind is that brevity and conciseness are your friends and droning on and boring your audience is not what you want under any circumstances. A VERY tight script would have redeemed this broadcast.

Also, and more importantly, GRRM and the producers on his end completely misread the audience tuning in. While his folksy reminiscing and cute anecdotes about the good old days of pre-internet fandom may have been entirely appropriate on a Worldcon panel (of which I have no doubt he has done countless times beforehand) his comments were perceived by the somewhat younger crowd as meandering, problematic and boring. His stories were about as meaningful and relevant as Henry Ford regaling Elon Musk about what a genius idea the production line was.

I am rather puzzled how GRRM, a seasoned writer/producer of several tv shows, could have possibly not foreseen this Titanic-sized iceberg in the making. And with at the very least five or so months of advanced planning, it was entirely avoidable. 

But there’s the rub; this fiasco was NOT entirely GRRM’s fault. He had plenty of help. 

Someone in CoNZealand’s end of the production and the producer in charge of GRRM’s studio, whom I do not know and cannot readily find,  should have recognized the problems at the scripting stage and should be held ultimately responsible for this fiasco. And whomever they are, they should have provided GRRM with the proper pronunciations of the nominee’s names far in advance of the start of the Ceremony.

Very little responsibility should fall on the line producers of the broadcast, Directors Alan Bond and Dragos Ruiu, who were recruited late in the process.   

The script GRRM and his producers had drafted by early July had a proposed running time in excess of OVER THREE HOURS, and that was without the recipients’ speeches! That’s as long as some of the more egregious Academy Awards telecasts of recent years. The final running time of the Ceremony (including the Hugo Award recipients’ speeches) clocked in at three hours thirty-four minutes and fifty-eight seconds. (And for those of you keeping score at home, no, it was not as long as Gone with the Wind; it would have needed yet another 24 minutes to accomplish that. But it sure FELT like it…)

Several days after CoNZealand ended and the bloody autopsies of the broadcast were in full swing, I came across a Facebook post that claimed that the original tech crew had been unceremoniously sacked and had to sign non-disclosure agreements to boot.   

And then there was also this curious post from a recent File 770 comments page:

Chip Hitchcock on August 6, 2020 at 8:30 am wrote:

“@Soon Lee: I’m sympathetic to the issues brought up by having to pivot so close to curtain time. ISTM that the program book should not have been one of those, but the slow connections in the Hugo ceremony (explained in another thread as having been picked up on 3 days’ notice because the original team crumped) is understandable.”

Curious about these claims, I spent several days seeking out, contacting and speaking extensively with a source who worked on the convention. I can completely debunk and dispose both pieces of gossip:

The original technical crew did not “crump”. Nor were they sacked or forced to sign NDAs.

According to my source, the decision was made to replace the New Zealand crew by the American based production team on the evening of July 29 (the first day of the convention) at the request of the US-based producers. This request was made directly by them to the Events Division Head, Mel Duncan. The explanation that was offered was that the tech crew was too widely distributed across several time zones (AEST/NZST/PDT/EDT) and the producers wished to use a centralized crew based solely in the Pacific Daylight Time zone.

That is all fine and well in theory, BUT the original crew had already gone through several rehearsals already and may have been in a better position to handle the technical issues or difficulties that occurred. Or not. We’ll never know for certain.

One thing is certain, GRRM and the production team haven given the World Science Fiction Society a big, black eye. Needless to say, this terrible program has churned up a considerable amount of negative reactions from a wide spectrum of fans and critics. How bad? One acclaimed Hugo Nominated Best Series author, Tade Thompson, was so disgusted by the perceived racism (in praise of problematic writers and editors from generations ago) that he publicly announced on Twitter that he would no longer accept any future nominations from WSFS. So yes, really bad.   

(For those of you who are curious, there is a fan edited version of the Ceremony that is an hour and forty two minutes long.)

BEST RELATED WORK and BEST NOVELLA

The BEST part of the broadcast was the acceptance speeches by the recipients, they were fantastic! In particular, I was especially happy for Jeannette Ng, whose speech at the Dublin 2019 Worldcon accepting the (now former) John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer won the 2020 Best Related Work category. I was privileged to be in the room when it happened; her scathing condemnation of white privilege, fascism and racism was truly one of the most electrifying moments in modern literature and subsequently made headlines around the world. Ms. Ng’s acceptance speech was also heartfelt and stirring, too. 

Of all of the fiction award winners, my only lament is that Ted Chiang’s magnificent novella, “Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom”, was bested by “This Is How You Lose the Time War”. But Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s story was an epic tour-de-force and just as deserving.

THE 1945 RETRO-HUGOS

I had other concerns. 

When the Retro-Hugo Awards were first established in 1996, it was generally thought that it would be a good idea to honor works of fantasy and science fiction from 50, 75 and 100 years ago. And now after honoring eight years (1938,1940, 1942-1945, 1950 and 1953), folks are having second thoughts about the whole endeavor.

The good news is that the late Leigh Brackett and artist Margaret Brundage were big winners. Brackett won twice, the first for her novel Shadow Over Mars (aka The Nemesis From Terra) and in the Best Related Work for her Writer’s Digest article, “The Science Fiction Field”. The late Ms. Brundage was honored as the Best Artist of 1944, primarily for her artwork that year for Weird Tales

The bad news, as far as I was concerned, was yet another Short Form Editor award for John W. Campbell, Jr and a Best Series award for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

It seems to me it’s as though when the Retro-Hugos are handed out, the nominators and voters seem to punch Campbell’s award ticket EVERY SINGLE TIME. I freely admit that, without question, he was one of the most influential editors of 20th century sf literature. And despite being a bit of a weird, cranky, an eccentric and a virulent racist, he was revered by his peers and fans alike for decades.

And because of those beliefs, I don’t think that Campbell is held in such high regard by a majority of contemporary fans, writers and editors. But the Hugo Award is not given for a person’s beliefs and character, they are given for the work that has been done. And as much as I may dislike JWC as a person, there is no doubt he did some admirable work, in his era.

By my count, Campbell’s work has netted him fifteen Hugo Awards, eight of those being Retro-Hugos. The question I have is this; how much adulation is enough? Because it seems to me that even with some of the more recent revelations of Campbell’s true nature, there is a die-hard cadre of enthusiasts who will continue giving his surviving family members a Hugo Award in spite of those personal criticisms of his character.      

Well, I stopped nominating and voting for John W. Campbell, Jr.on my Retro ballot years ago. Because there were other editors of that early era who deserve recognition, too. 

As for H.P. Lovecraft, I also recognize that he has had a lasting influence in modern day fantasy and horror. He is also a very disturbing individual and racist whose writing style was admired by his contemporaries and many, many others after his death. Despite that, I have no love or admiration for his work, no matter what his personal views were.I find his works turgid, stomach-turning and generally unpleasant. So my opposition to honoring Lovecraft’s work is strictly aesthetic not personal.

In closing, I will note that Clifford Simak’s “Desertion”, the runner up in the Short Story category, was one of the most enthralling tales that I had ever read in my youth.  It is a far superior story in comparison to the winner, Ray Bradbury’s “I, Rocket”. I think that Bradbury’s long literary shadow was at work here and I believe that honoring such an inferior story would shock and dismay him.

BEST SEMI-PROZONE and BEST EDITOR, LONG & SHORT FORM

Somewhere in the middle of this miasma of an awards show, both GRRM and author Robert Silverberg mused at length about the Best Semiprozine and the Long and Short Form Editing categories. Specifically, why were these awards named in such a manner.

Well, if they knew their Hugo Awards history, they would have known that the Semiprozine category was first awarded in 1984 and, according to Wikipedia, “…is given each year for semi-professionally-edited magazines related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues, with at least one issue appearing in the previous calendar year.” The award was dominated for decades by Locus Magazine (with 8 wins as Best Fanzine in the 13 years before the creation of the Semiprozine category, followed by another 22 wins until a WSFS Constitution rules change in 2012 made it ineligible in that category.)

I was so disgusted by this category and Locus’ repeated wins that I was once recruited by Discon III Fan Guest of Honor Ben Yalow to try and KILL it altogether at a WSFS Business Meeting. Obviously, we did not succeed, at least, in this timeline. But that’s another story for another day…

In the past decade, there have been meaningful attempts to draft a constitutional amendment to make this category more relevant (and ditch the unwieldy name as well). 

This rather dovetails with Mr. Silverberg’s comments about how odd it was to have a long and short form award for editors. Having labored for three agonizing years in the conclave of SMOFs email lists and the Business Meetings, I can tell Mr. Silverberg that I was in the room where it happened and that he really, REALLY, doesn’t want to know how this particular sausage was made. 

What I can tell you is that the intent of splitting up the Editing category was to find a way to honor magazine/anthology editors and book editors, who had been sadly neglected over the decades. How neglected, you may ask? 

The last two Hugo Award winning book editors were Judy-Lynn Del Rey (1986) and Terry Carr (1987). Both were deceased by the time they were honored..

Ideally, in the 21st century, this mess can be easily solved by establishing the following categories:

  • Best Magazine: Any magazine (in print or online) related to science fiction or fantasy which had published four or more issues or edited volumes in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Anthology or Collection: Any Anthology of original stories or a single author collection related to science fiction or fantasy published in the previous calendar year.
  • Best Book Editor:The editor of at least four (4) novel length works primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy published in the previous calendar year that do not qualify as a magazine or a website.

The only thing needed for the last category to work is the establishment of a uniform commitment by publishers to credit the novel’s editor in every book. Besty Wollheim of DAW Books has been working for the past two years to make this happen. Bravo to her!

There has been some disturbing news in the past few years that certain members of the Business Meeting might be open to abandoning the Book Editor category in favor of a Best Publisher or Imprint Award. I think that would be a terrible shame to shunt book editors back into the shadows after thirteen years in the limelight.  

BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION LONG & SHORT FORM

One of the most egregious oversights this year was the omission of the HBO mini-series, Chernobyl from the Long Form category.

If fans had enough gumption to nominate a film like Hidden Figures, which brilliantly dramatized the work of African-American “calculators” who helped guide the Mercury spaceflight program of the 1960’s, what was the impediment to nominating the chilling and dystopian epic of the worst nuclear disaster on record?

In a similar vein, I practically shouted to anyone who would listen that fans should NOT nominate individual episodes of Watchmen, the acclaimed ten part series that served  as a “indirect sequel” to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s 1986 Hugo Award winning graphic novel.

And it ALMOST worked; an official statement from CoNZealnd’s Hugo Award Administrators posted on the voting results read as follows:

Watchmen gained enough votes to qualify in this category (81), but two individual episodes also qualified for the Short Form category (“A God Walk Into Abar” 81, “This Extraordinary Being,” 54) with more votes collectively. The Administrators therefore removed Watchmen from this category.”

UGH!   

With Watchmen relegated to two episodes in the Short Form Category, the beneficiary of that move was The Rise of Skywalker, who slipped into the sixth spot with 75 nominations. Next in line was Spider-Man: Far From Home with 74 nominations. (See the 2020 Hugo voting statistics here.)

And what’s this? The entire season of Russian Doll was nominated????? Russian Doll but not Watchmen? That’s the year 2020 for you; all crazy, all of the time. 

So with Chernobyl nowhere to be seen and Watchmen regulated out of the Long Form competition, is anyone surprised that the adaptation of Neil Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens (also nominated as a series) was the eventual winner? A good choice, yes, But personally, I’d like to think that Watchmen would have given them a run for their money.

In the Short Form category, the same story, same show, a related result:

“Good Omens: Hard Times (Episode 3)” gained enough votes to qualify in this category (108 nominations), but the entire series of Good Omens also qualified for the Long Form category, with more votes. The Administrators therefore removed “Good Omens: Hard Times” from this category.”

The beneficiary here? The Doctor Who episode “Resolution”, which was promoted on the ballot, just ahead of an episode of The Good Place, “Pandemonium”.

And as much as I like Michael Shur’s comedy of moral philosophy and demonic manners, I heart simply aches that “The Answer” was given the nod over two of Watchmen’s incredible episodes, “A God Walks into Abar” and “This Extraordinary Being.” 

This sort of heartbreak could be avoided if the WSFS Business meeting would come to its senses and adopt the common sense solution that fellow fan Vincent Docherty and I formally proposed two years ago at ConJose (and can be found in Appendix B: 2018 Report of the Hugo Awards Study Committee, on page 27). 

Best Dramatic Presentation: Series – Any TV or streaming series of four 60 minute episodes or more than 240 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Episodic Form – TV or any other dramatic form, 30-89 minutes.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form – For films, audio books, theatrical productions, 90 minutes or more.

Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form – Any dramatic form of 30 minutes or less.

Yes, FOUR categories of Dramatic Presentation. If anyone has a better idea, please step forward at the Business Meeting and be prepared to be hammered down.

So, until the proposal above comes to pass (or something like it), my advice to all of you nominating voters stands; if you love this year’s series of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Homecoming, Lovecraft Country or The Umbrella Academy, DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT nominate individual episodes, nominate the whole series. That’s what the Long Form Category was created to honor in the first place. 

THE LODESTAR AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK

No one has EVER explained to my complete and utter satisfaction as to why this cannot be a Hugo Award category.

NO. ONE.

I hope it happens one day. Soon.

In the meantime, CONGRATULATIONS to Naomi Kritzer for her winning book, Catfishing on CatNet. Well Done! 

THIS award should be either a Hugo Award category OR renamed to honor the works and memory of  Ursula K. Le Guin. At this point, either would suit me just fine. Just Sayin’…

Cats Sleep on SFF:
Hamilton: The Revolution

Chris Barkley’s cat must be the only creature who ever went to sleep in the middle of something by Lin-Manuel Miranda!

I was working on the article in my office and when I turned around to take a break, our cat, Nova, was curled up with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tome about the hit musical. 

If you accept the premise of it being a I work of alternative history (which I ardently DO!) then this should easily qualify for your ongoing series…


Photos of your felines resting on genre works are welcome. Send to mikeglyer (at) cs (dot) com

Pixel Scroll 7/29/20 It Appears To Be Some Sort Of Pixel Scroll

(1) RED HOT RETRO-HUGOS. The 1945 Retro-Hugos were presented at CoNZealand today – see the winners here.

The full voting stats are online, and Deputy Hugo Awards Administrator Nicholas Whyte also has done a quick analysis of the results.

(2) PETITIONS AND PUBLISHING. Seanan McGuire has a quite interesting series of tweets inspired by social media petitions flogging certain authors to produce their next book now, in which she tries to open readers’ eyes about the traditional publishing process. Thread starts here.

(3) ABOUT THE GUARDIAN’S “OPEN LETTER” COVERAGE. Chris Barkley posted his letter of complaint sent to The Guardian’s Reader Service about their article.

Hello,

I am writing to complain about Alison Flood’s article on the Saudi Arabian bid to hold the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention.

While Ms. Flood’s reporting was informative, it did lack ANY reaction directly from the current co-chairs of the current Worldcon in New Zealand (Kelly Buehler and Norman Cates) or any member of the Worldcon who could explain the function of the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Convention and how it relates to the multi-year bidding process works.

Nor had she any quotes or commentary from any other fans who could have offered additional information or insights about sf fandom.

It would be very much appreciated if she were to update this important story with more of these elements rather than the somewhat sensationalized version that was posted.

Chris M. Barkley
Cincinnati, Ohio
USA

I have worked in Worldcon Press Offices since 1983. In this day and age there is NO EXCUSE for sloppy reporting…

(4) TOASTMASTER WARMS UP THE AUDIENCE. George R.R. Martin previews the CoNZealand Hugo Ceremony in “Worldcon… Virtually” at Not A Blog.

…Anyway, here is how the Hugos are going to work…  I have already pre-recorded all of my opening remarks, introductions of the guest presenters (we will have several), amusing (one hopes) anecdotes and bits of history, discussions of each category, and readings of the names of the finalists (in the cases where I am presenting myself, rather than throwing the ball to a guest presenter).  ConNZealand has all those videos.  The rest of it will be live streamed from my theatre in Santa Fe, the Jean Cocteau, where a member of worldcon’s tech team will be helping me Zoom.   I will have the envelopes with the names of the winners sealed therein.  I may actually have a Hugo to wave about.

So the drill will go like this: for each category, you will get a pre-recorded video of me as a lead-in.  Then I will either read the finalists, so throw it to another presenter who will do the same.  Most of their remarks are pre-recorded as well.  Then back to me, this time live at the JCC, where I will rip open the envelope and announce the winner.  Then we cut to the happy winner, somewhere in the world…  assuming they are in front of their computers and know how to Zoom and all.  (No, unlike the other major awards shows, we have no plans to show the fake smiles on the faces of the sad losers).  The happy winner will make an acceptance speech, long or short as may be, that is entirely up to them.  Then back to me… either live me at the JCC, or pre-recorded me for the next category.

And on and on, starting with the Lodestar and ending with Best Novel….

(5) CONZEALAND DAILY NEWZINE. Cruise Log has found a substitute for the Worldcon daily zine’s usual “warm body count” —

1400 people have logged into the CoNZealand discord server as of 09:00 Thursday morning!

(6) POCKET CHANGE FOR NEVERNEVERLAND. “New Peter Pan and Tinkerbell 50p coins launch – and they look magical” in the Mirror.

The new collection of Peter Pan British Isles 50p coins have been developed in partnership with Great Ormond Street Hospital to celebrate 90 years since author, J.M. Barrie, gifted all future rights of the book to them.

The new set will be the first ever collection of its kind in the UK – but won’t be released by the Royal Mint and therefore won’t be entering circulation.

Prices start at £6.25, and for every coin sold, a donation will go directly to GOSH Charity to support the hospital’s most urgent needs: fund support services, pioneering research, equipment and refurbishment.

(7) DREAM FOUNDRY WRITING CONTEST. The Dream Foundry Writing Contest will be open for submissions from August 10 to October 11, 2020. Full guidelines here.

We’re looking for complete and finalized stories of speculative fiction of up to 10,000 words. This year, we’re proud to announce monetary prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places.

1st: $1000; 2nd: $500; 3rd: $200

There is no submission fee. All rights remain with the creators.

(8) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

  • July 29, 1953 — George Pal’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War Of The Worlds premiered in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was directed by Byron Haskin from the screenplay by Barré Lyndon. It starred Gene Barry and Anne Robinson. It was narrated by Cedric Hardwicke. The film was both a critical and box office success earning back its budget in its first release. And it would win an Academy Award for Special Effects. Audience reviewers at Rotten Tomatoes currently give it a 71% rating. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born July 29, 1876 Maria Ouspenskaya. In the Forties, she did a run of pulp films, to wit The Wolf ManFrankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Tarzan and the Amazons. A decade or so earlier, she was in Beyond Tomorrow. (Died 1949.) (CE) 
  • Born July 29, 1878 – Don Marquis.  (name pronounced “mar-kwis”)  At The Sun, New York, a column “The Sun Dial” 1912-1922; at The Herald Tribune, “The Tower” (later “The Lantern”); three novels; plays, poems, essays, sketches.  Introduced, famously and of interest to us, a cockroach whose writings DM found in the typewriter next morning; the cockroach wrote by diving onto the keys, could not get capitals, and so is known as archy; in turn archy knew a cat, mehitabel; they, illustrated by George Herriman who meanwhile drew Krazy Kat, outcreated everything.  (Died 1937) [JH]
  • Born July 29, 1888 Farnsworth Wright. Editor of Weird Tales. editing an amazing 179 issues from November 1924–March 1940. Mike Ashley in EoSF says, “Wright developed WT from a relatively routine horror pulp magazine to create what has become a legend.”  His own genre fiction is generally considered undistinguished. He also edited during the Thirties, Oriental Stories and The Magic Carpet. The work available digitally is a poem, “After Two Nights of the Ear-ache”. (Died 1940.) (CE)
  • Born July 29, 1907 Melvin Belli. Sole genre role is that of Gorgan (also known as the “Friendly Angel”) in the Star Trek “And the Children Shall Lead” episode. Koenig objected to his playing this role believing the role should have gone to someone who was an actor. (Died 1996.) (CE) 
  • Born July 29, 1927 Jean E. Karl. She founded Atheneum Children’s Books, and she edited Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. As an author, she wrote three genre novels, Strange Tomorrow Beloved Benjamin Is Waiting and But We Are Not of Earth, and a reasonable amount of short fiction, all of which is In the Clordian Sweep series. Nine of those stories are in The Turning Point collection. (Died 2000.) (CE) 
  • Born July 29, 1939 Curtis C. Smith, 81. Editor of Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers, plus two genre biographies, Olaf Stapledon: A Bibliography with co-author Harvey J. Satty, and Welcome to the Revolution: The Literary Legacy of Mack Reynolds. Not active since the mid-Eighties as near as I can tell. (CE)
  • Born July 29, 1941 David Warner, 79. Being Lysander in that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was his first genre role. I’m going to do just highlights after that as he’s got far too extensive a genre history to list everything. So he’s been A Most Delightful Evil in Time Bandits, Jack the Ripper in Time After Time, Ed Dillinger / Sark In Tron, Father in The Company of Wolves, Chancellor Gorkon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Creature in Frankenstein, voice of Ra’s al Ghul on Batman: The Animated Series and Abraham Van Helsing on Penny Dreadful. (CE)
  • Born July 29, 1945 – Sharon Creech, 74.  First person to win both the Newbery & Carnegie Medals.  Three novels for us, many more (two, for adults, under another name).  Some verse, some prose.  “While teaching literature I learned so much about writing”; Website here.  [JH]
  • Born July 29, 1948 – John Harris, 72.  Two hundred covers, as many interiors.  Two artbooks.  Chesley for Lifetime Achievement.  Commissions for NASA, Royal Caribbean cruise ships, Philips, Shell.  Here is Stand on Zanzibar.  Here is The Ringworld Throne.  Here is Ancillary Mercy.  Here is The Best of Gregory Benford.  [JH]
  • Born July 29, 1953 – David Lee Anderson, 67.  A score of covers, half that many interiors.  Lately Oklahoma landmarks and landscapes.  Here is the Oct 93 Tomorrow.  Here is A Glimpse of Splendor (collection).  Here is ISS Repairs (Int’l Space Station).  Here is Rioghain (“ree-ann”) from Afterwalker (D. Glaser dir.; in post-production as of Mar 2020).  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born July 29, 1956 – Chitra Divakaruni, Ph.D., 64.  Five novels for us; much more.  The Palace of Illusions, her re-telling of the Mahabharata from Drapaudi’s perspective, was an India best-seller for a year; here (Web archive) is an India Reads review whose author confesses having known the Mahabharata only from television.  American Book Award, Light of India Award, Pushcart Prize, Ginsberg Poetry Prize.  Website here.  [JH]
  • Born July 29, 1969 – Forrest Aguirre, 51.  Two novels, five dozen shorter stories in ApexAsimov’sVasterien.  Edited two Leviathan anthologies (one with Jeff Vandermeer; World Fantasy Award).  Speaks Swahili.  Collections, The Butterfly ArtistFugue XXIX.  Ranks Thank You, Jeeves above Gorky Park (agreed).  Interview at SF Site here.  [JH]

(10) COMICS SECTION.

(11) POPULARITY CONTEST. Camestros Felapton produced a highly scientific graph that confirms “Martians are more popular than Venusians”.

…However, I realised that the Google n-gram site would provide a neat empirical confirmation of Mars bias in popular culture. I did a search on Martians and Venusians, choosing the inhabitants rather than the planets to avoid hits about astronomy or the gods….

(12) WHAT A CONCEPT. “You can now boot a Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft and play Doom on it” reports The Verge.

If you’ve ever wanted to build a real and working Windows 95 PC inside Minecraft, now is the time. A new VM Computers mod has been created for Minecraft that allows players to order computer parts from a satellite orbiting around a Minecraft world and build a computer that actually boots Windows 95 and a variety of other operating systems.

The mod uses VirtualBox, free and open-source virtual machine software, to run operating systems like Windows 95. Within Minecraft you simply place a PC case block and then use it to create virtual hard drives to install operating systems from ISO files….

(13) SMALL MONSTER STORY. NPR’s Jason Sheehan writes that the ~interstitial “‘Empire Of Wild’ Tells A Small Story — But Not A Slight One”.

I like a small book. I trust a small book. I appreciate a small book for all the things it doesn’t do, for all the stories it does not tell.

Big books? They’re dangerous in their excess. Bloated (often) with words they do not need and larded (often) with detail that no one asked for. You can slip into a big book and lose your way too easily. But a small book is intimate. Close. Every word it says matters. The writer of a small book knows that every page has to count.

Cherie Dimaline wrote a small book called Empire Of Wild. It isn’t small in pages (320, give or take) or in words (it has the normal amount), but it is tiny in consequence. In the scope and reach of the story it tells.

It is about Joan, who has lost her husband. And who means to get him back. That’s all. There are no worlds to be saved, no history to be altered. Joan’s actions, and the reverberations of those actions, are felt only close by. Her family, her community, the barrooms and living rooms and Walmart parking lots of the small towns around Georgian Bay, Ontario are the only places where her footsteps are felt. And that’s enough. That’s more than enough.

…Down in its bones, Empire Of Wild is a monster story. Mythic but not epic, swimming in Indigenous medicine, not magic. Calling it urban fantasy gives it a gloss it doesn’t possess. Magical realism implies something absurdist, asynchronous, and doesn’t speak to the way that the medicine of the Métis elders is woven into every breath and line.

Here, Dimaline uses the Métis legend of the rogarou to square her narrative architecture — to give weight and nightmares to Joan’s private hurt. The rogarou is the bogeyman that scares children home before it gets too dark outside. It makes Métis girls walk home in pairs. It keeps men from doing wrong by women, each other or the community. The rogarou is part man, part dog, a wolfman that makes itself through bad choices. And Joan believes in the rogarou because she’s seen one before. She knows the smell of one when it’s close — and with a cell phone, some salt bone, her aunt Ajean’s medicine and her chubby, mopey nephew Zeus by her side, she knows that she’s going to have to meet one, fight one, slay one to bring Victor back home.

(14) LANDSHIP TROOPERS? Yahoo! News reports “Marines to Test Exoskeleton Suit That Can Do the Work of Up to 10 Troops”. Includes a photo.

The Marine Corps is moving ahead with plans to test a wearable robotic exoskeleton that conjures up images of that power-loader suit Ellen Ripley wore to take down a space monster in the movie “Aliens.”

By the end of the year, the service will have a Guardian XO Alpha full-body robotic exoskeleton that allows one person to do the work of four to 10 people, depending on the task. The wearable suit can do hours of physical labor that would otherwise be impossible for a Marine to do alone, lifting and moving up to 200 pounds of gear repeatedly for eight hours straight.

(15) I WALK TO THE TREES. NPR declares,“Believe It Or Not, Forests Migrate — But Not Fast Enough For Climate Change”.

We’re all familiar with migration: Wildebeests gallop across Africa, Monarch butterflies flit across the Americas … but did you know that forests migrate, too?

In his new book The Journeys of Trees, science writer Zach St. George explores an agonizingly slow migration, as forests creep inch by inch to more hospitable places.

Individual trees, he writes, are rooted in one spot. But forests? Forests “are restless things.” As old trees die and new ones sprouts up, the forest is — ever so slightly — moving.

“The migration of a forest is just many trees sprouting in the same direction,” St. George writes. “Through the fossils that ancient forests left behind, scientists can track their movement over the eons. They shuffle back and forth across continents, sometimes following the same route more than once, like migrating birds or whales.”

(16) NOT SO FAR. We knew the smaller stones came from Wales, but now the BBC reports “Mystery of origin of Stonehenge megaliths solved”.

The origin of the giant sarsen stones at Stonehenge has finally been discovered with the help of a missing piece of the site which was returned after 60 years.

A test of the metre-long core was matched with a geochemical study of the standing megaliths.

Archaeologists pinpointed the source of the stones to an area 15 miles (25km) north of the site near Marlborough.

English Heritage’s Susan Greaney said the discovery was “a real thrill”.

The seven-metre tall sarsens, which weigh about 20 tonnes, form all fifteen stones of Stonehenge’s central horseshoe, the uprights and lintels of the outer circle, as well as outlying stones.

(17) PERSEVERING THROUGH THE PLAGUE. FastCompany tells how “Even amid COVID-19, NASA’s Mars 2020 rover is ready for takeoff”.

…“Putting together a spacecraft to Mars and not making a mistake is hard no matter what,” said NASA deputy project manager Matt Wallace. “Trying to do it during the middle of a pandemic is a lot harder. Everyone told us we could not have come up with a better name than Perseverance.” (Wallace and others in this story spoke during or in videos presented at a virtual June press conference.)

Despite this seismic hurdle, the Mars 2020 rover is on track for a July 30 launch toward its seven-month, 314-million-mile journey to the Red Planet. Its two-year mission is to gather samples suggesting past microscopic life for subsequent retrieval and return to Earth, explore the 4-billion-year-old geology of the Jezero Crater landing site, and demonstrate technologies for future robotic and human exploration. The mission has cost $2.4 billion from development through launch, with another $300 million earmarked for operations and surface science.

(18) MOVING UP. “Airbus to build ‘first interplanetary cargo ship'”.

Airbus-France will build the huge satellite that brings the first Martian rock samples back to Earth.

This material will be drilled on the Red Planet by the US space agency’s next rover, Perseverance, before being blasted into orbit by a rocket.

It’ll be the Airbus satellite’s job to grab the packaged samples and then ship them home.

The joint American-European project is expected to cost billions and take just over a decade to implement.

But scientists say it’s probably the best way to confirm whether life has ever existed on the Red Planet.

Any evidence is likely to be controversial and will need the powerful analytical tools only found in Earth laboratories to convince the doubters, the researchers argue.

(19) SORRY CHARLY. No longer smart, these glasses soon will be mainly useful as paperweights: “Google offers refunds after smart glasses stop working”.

Smart glasses company North has told customers that their $600 (£460) purchases will stop working in a few days’ time.

The Canadian company, recently purchased by Google, says its Focals glasses will cease functioning on Friday.

From then, owners will not be able to use “any features” of the glasses, or connect to the companion app.

But the company has also said it will automatically refund all customers.

It promised to send the purchase price back to the original payment method, and to contact those customers whose refunds it could not process.

At the end of June, North announced it was being acquired by Google, and would not release a planned second-generation device.

It also said it would “wind down” its first generation smart glasses, released last year.

(20) VIDEO OF THE DAY. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] The YouTube algorithm says I should watch “The Secret Every Tolkien Nerd Knows” by Diana Glyer.  What do you think of the algorithm’s judgment?

[Thanks to Rich Lynch, JJ, John King Tarpinian, Daniel Dern, Chip Hitchcock, Martin Morse Wooster, Michael Toman, Mike Kennedy, Cat Eldridge, John Hertz, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Cliff.]

Dern — File 770’s Dublin 2019 Coverage

BY DANIEL DERN: Between September 2017 and mid-July 2020 (when I very-belatedly filed my own final Dublin 2019 report), File770 had, according to my searches and calculations, roughly 90 “Scrolls” (posts) either completely about, or with “Items” (sections) relating to the August 15-19 Dublin 2019 Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention).

This included roughly thirty dedicated Scrolls with 300+ photos and roughly 12,000 words of reports (not counting comment wordage, nor this post’s) from various Filers (Chris Barkley, Cora Buhlert, yours truly, Hampus Eckerman, and Rich Lynch), some of who sported Media ribbons that gave us front-row (and line-skipping) access to events and sessions. We covered a mix of official stuff like the opening press conference, the Masquerade, panels and readings, and the Closing Ceremonies, along with pictures of fans schmoozing, wearing hall costumes, buying books, and having fun, and of and around the fair city of Dublin.

The other sixty dedicated-to-Worldcon Scrolls and non-dedicated Scrolls with one or more Worldcon-related items included everything from announcements and reminders (Hugo voting deadlines, “Program is posted!”) — of interest not only to Attending (going to/at the convention) and Supporting (can vote for Hugos) members, and to the generally-curious, along with reports regarding and from Hugo and WSFS (World Science Fiction Society) planning and meetings, along with meet-up plans, restaurant guides… and yet more reports, plus links to other reports posted to Facebook, peoples’ sites and blogs, and elsewhere. So not all might be considered “media coverage,” admittedly.

(And I’ve made some judgement calls, such as not including all of Hugo items where they weren’t also about or at the Con, and also haven’t factored comment content in.)

Here’s a list of File770’s coverage of (and from!) the Dublin 2019 Worldcon:

(If you feel I’ve omitted something that belongs, let Mike Glyer know.)

Thanks again to Mike Glyer for all the work he did getting all this into File770 — and to everybody else for there being stuff to write about, and for reading about it!

DUBLIN 2019 WORLDCON REPORTS AND PICTURES FROM FILERS:

From Chris Barkley:

From Cora Buhlert:

From Daniel Dern:

From Hampus Eckerman:

From Rich Lynch:

FULL LIST OF FILE770 DUBLIN 2019 WORLDCON COVERAGE (CHRONOLOGICALLY):

Again, if you think something’s missing, let Mike know.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #51

An Independent Opinion of Science Fiction: A Declaration

By Chris M. Barkley:

I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they might be.

-Alexander Hamilton,  from a letter written on August 13, 1782

As a frequent user of Facebook, one of my daily (and habitual) delights has been posting fantasy and sf items of interest to many, MANY pages. (And YES, some of those items have been cribbed from this very website). 

One of my favorite pages is simply titled Science Fiction, a private group with nearly 68,300 members. The page was established in February 2008 and describes itself as:
“Science Fiction in all forms: Movies, books, t.v. shows, comics, video games and other media. Discussions of science and technology of the future in fiction.”  

It is clearly stated in the Group Rules of the Forum that:

1) Be polite, courteous, friendly. Be Polite. No disrespecting each other (even via pm’s)
2) Stay on target. Posts must be Science Fiction (or close to it) in nature. Discussions & comments must be about Scifi.
3) No irl politics & religion. Polite discussion of politics & religion must be in the context of specific usage in a specific scifi I.P. No discussions of real world politics or religions are allowed here.

During my time as a member, I’ve had some general disagreements with others that all fan groups have experienced since the Big Bang.  familiar with some members but it was all amiable and non-confrontational. That is, until recently…

Over the past two weeks I posted four items on the Science Fiction page which have drawn a LOT of attention:

On June 20th: “10 awesome science fiction and fantasy books by Black authors” by Daniel Devita

Almost immediately, several commentators, all of them white, accused me of racism. The primary reason seemed to be that I, an African American, was openly calling attention to black authors. Why wasn’t I promoting white writers? That MUST be racist. This was a peculiar bit of illogical thinking to me since NO ONE seemed to be objecting to memes and images about white actors, writers and authors that anyone (including myself) were posting on a regular basis everyday.

On June 22nd, these two posts: “Octavia Paved The Way” and “If You Really Want to Unlearn Racism, Read Black Sci-Fi Authors” by Cree Myles.

In the former, I was chastised for posting about the birthday of a celebrated Black woman sf writer because, well, she’s Black and dead. What? In the latter, AGAIN, I was called to task for “just promoting” Black writers. Who the hell was I to do THAT?

Lastly, there was this Instagram post of several reimagined illustrations of a Black Wonder Woman (titled Nubia By Render Goddess), which in turn was posted on The Secret Society of Black Superheroes Facebook Page:

Again, there was a constant barrage from white commenters, who either made disparaging remarks about the images, the darkness of her skin that were overtly racist or adamant claims that Wonder Woman could be either Lynda Carter or Gal Gadot but NEVER A PERSON OF COLOR.  

When I joined the Science Fiction page, it was my expressed goal to offer opinions and observations about science fiction that go beyond “what are you watching”, “what game are you excited about” and “who has the faster/cooler spaceship.” My intent was to offer an opportunity to think outside the perimeters of the culture the people were familiar with and expand people’s awareness of the larger universe of possibilities that sf literature, art and film has to offer. Because, it is generally thought, sf is supposed to be ‘fun”. Well, the moment people say something derogatory about someone’s race or gender, BOOM, you just made it VERY political

There has been a lot of support for my postings, from like-minded fans and people of color. But, as it has become readily apparent to me that there are a number of members who seriously object to discussing or considering diversity and instead have decided to reply with some rather defensive and disparaging comments on these posts.

To those members of Science Fiction forum, I have a very simple message for you: You’re WRONG.  HOW WRONG? Let me quote one of our greatest fictional Presidents (and THANK YOU VERY MUCH, Aaron Sorkin), Josiah Bartlet: “No. No ‘however’. Just be wrong. Just stand there in your wrongness and be wrong and get used to it.”

Furthermore, I was very heartened by the force of those who rose in defense of my posts. The message was very clear to the detractors: your time is up. It’s over. Collectively, we will no longer “bend the knee” and passively accept your boorish stances and hate speech.

Yes, you have a right to your opinions, as incredibly uninformed and crude as they are. But as an enlightened and educated person, I and other like-minded fans don’t have to stand it.When I post a link celebrating a great author of color, it is not an invitation to say, “Why are you posting THAT? I don’t see race and it’s an insulting to me to inject the subject onto a discussion on science fiction.”

Well, when someone claims something isn’t about race or ethnicity, it’s definitely about race and ethnicity. When I see those comments, I honestly have to question their credentials to be fans of science fiction (or fantasy, for that matter).

I once attended a 2007 guest lecture given by actor and social activist Edward James Olmos (who is either Lt. Castillo or Commander Adama, depending on how old or actor savvy you are).  The title of his talk was “We’re All In The Same Gang”, a meditation on how America has treated ethnic minorities over the centuries and how we can come together as a nation in these divided times. The capstone quote I remember the most was “There is only ONE race; The HUMAN race.” And he is correct, every single human that has ever lived can be traced back to a single area of land that eventually broke off and is currently the continent of Africa.

So since it is a scientific fact that we are ALL of African descent, is being colorblind to one’s race an acceptable attitude? Not in my opinion. And that was not the point of Mr. Olmos’ quote. Yes, we’re all in the same gang but as of today, not all of the gang are being treated or respected as equal. When white people, well-meaning or otherwise say that damning phrase, it is not true by any stretch of the imagination.

White people In America are, on the whole, are apt to be by default, given more of the benefit of doubt in social situations and more financial, educational and social opportunities than people of color. There’s that term, “white privilege”, that you keep hearing about. That’s what it is; an (almost) imperceptible program of racist bias running in the background of our everyday lives. 

When most white people walk out their front doors, they can be relatively assured that barring some unfortunate circumstance, they’ll be home after work and catch that new episode of House Hunters on HGTV. However, I step outside my door, I am marked by the color of my skin. I can’t even walk into Target, Kroger or WalMart without having at least one set of eyes lasered in one me, assessing my six-foot frame as to whether or not I’ll be shoplifting or robbing the place. (And the fact that I’m wearing a mask against being infected by COVID-19 only adds to their anxiety.)

And while we all strive to live, work and survive together in these difficult times, there are a number of white people who conveniently forget or have chosen to ignore America’s unreconciled racist past. And to this very day, America, as a nation, has NEVER come to terms with its racist past or its untenable, unsustainable present.

That the Native Americans had their lands stolen wholesale to be plundered and that Africans were trafficked as human chattel starting four hundred and one years ago by and for white settlers from Europe. You cannot wash away or forget that much racism, terrorism, theft and genocide without acknowledging these heinous wrongs. 

The lack of representation by people of color in every facet of life has been in the forefront of our swiftly evolving culture over the past generation. And the white people who have repressed their feelings about this for decades are clearly nervous by the tenor of the terrible comments my posts have garnered. 

The racists CLAIM to like science fiction but only if it is populated with the safe, comforting presence of white actors portraying Luke, Leia and Han or Kirk Spock and McCoy. And if, perchance, aliens land or AI’s gain full sentience, what would happen? I firmly believe that they would be among the first to grab the nearest weapon, start firing first and asking questions late.  Because if you can’t handle the thought of people of color writing popular novels, or Latinx leads on television or Asian folks in sf movies, you sure as hell aren’t the sort of material the human race needs to be picked for anyone’s “first contact” team. And when they act out their racial insecurities in this fashion, they do a big disservice to other sf fans who celebrate and welcome diversity. These racists try and hold themselves up as paragons of virtue, and talk about “saving” science fiction from those despicable liberals and progressive snobs.

Congratulations; you may like Star Trek, but your posts have proven that you are incapable of understanding the meaning and underlying philosophy behind what Gene Roddenberry, and those who followed in his wake, were actually espousing. That sf is more than cool spaceships jumping into hyperspace, blowing up planets or battling alien invaders intent on wiping out humanity. That’s only a very small part of what sf is actually about.

What is a good definition of science fiction? The best quote I ever read came from my friend, the late SFWA Grandmaster Frederik Pohl: “Science Fiction is the very literature of change.”
SF also concerns itself with the wonder, terrors and fears of the human, or alien, condition. It is an adventure into the soul of existence, that we may, if we’re lucky, get to know the unknowable with a judicious application of wisdom, compassion, empathy and experience.

Change is unavoidable. Change is inevitable. Change is happening, whether you like it not.

In the distant past, societal change, such as democracy, the Civil Rights Movement, artistic and scientific advances were incredibly glacial. Sometimes centuries would pass before anything meaningful would happen to change the human condition. But not in this day and in this age. Changes today can occur faster and with more meaningful impact than ever before. On May 25th, a Black man was murdered in the streets of Minneapolis and died right before our eyes. A month later, millions of people from all over the world, of all races, genders and political persuasions were shouting his name in those same streets, calling out for justice and to hold the responsible parties of systemic racism to be held to account for their tyranny.

We all know the name of George Floyd because he died horribly and became a martyr on the altar of racial injustice and intolerance. But you have seen what has happened in the wake of his death. Change is coming.

In fact, some change has already been felt on the Science Fiction page: more than a dozen people have been removed from the group for gross violations of the page’s policies by the administrators of the page. I have no doubt that the administrators of the Science Fiction page were shocked by these wretched and volatile comments. These removals weren’t done because of “political correctness”, they were done because “free speech” is not a license to be irresponsible or cruel. They were vile. They were indecent by any measure of the word. Because the freedom to post comes with responsibilities and consequences as well.

To my fellow page members, I say this: Continue to post what you like and what you love about sf. Whether it be online, in bookstores, in the streets, at parties or at conventions, we all should welcome diverse political, scientific and philosophical viewpoints and debates. But irrational hate speech, insensitivity towards the racial identity, gender or sexual preferences of others is not welcome, now, or ever.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #50

Juneteenth 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Won’t it be wonderful when Black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

On this, the 155th anniversary of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston Texas, the one word that is uppermost in my mind is…endurance.

Endurance can be the only word that can be applied to my African ancestors, brought here involuntarily, the Native Americans of this continent, and all those others who have migrated or immigrated here from other lands.

For we have endured despite the numerous and myriad attempts by, let’s just say, other, richer, less melanin enhanced Americans, who have done their damnedest to dominate, assimilate, and commit waves of genocidal acts and otherwise erase us from history.

And, for long stretches of our mutual history, they succeeded. But the funny thing about history is that it can never completely be erased or forgotten, especially by those who are the ones being oppressed.

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Jubilee Day, started out as a regional celebration in Texas state holiday. Though it was somewhat eclipsed by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, the celebration began anew in the 70’s, particularly in the American South.

I first became acquainted with Juneteenth in the 1990’s when National Public Radio’s All Things Considered did a lengthy feature story about it. Having grown up in a Catholic grade and high school, I was never taught about the contributions of people of color to American History, with one single exception, the death of Crispus Attucks, an African-American stevedore who was killed by British troops at the Boston Massacre of 1770. He is widely regarded as the very first casualty of the American Revolution.

As I progressed through high school and into college, I discovered even more tidbits of hidden Black History, explorers like Matt Henson, journalist Ida B. Wells, scientists and engineers such as George Washington Carver, Granville Woods, and Willie Hobbs Moore. This was during a time when the hidden figures of Black History were being rediscovered and elevated by revisionist historians at universities all over America.

This was also the era when I discovered sf fandom.

I had been reading sf authors like Bradbury and Asimov since the eighth grade and had discovered the first two volumes of The Hugo Winners (the book club edition) when it was first published  during my sophomore year in high school. 

As I recounted in File 770 over twenty years ago, I was puzzled by the mention of conventions where the Hugo were given out but there were practically no information on how to attend them. Little did I know that I was living in one of the hotbeds of sf fandom at the time, Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I came across a notice of Cincinnati’s annual convention, Midwestcon, in an issue of Analog in the summer of 1976, I persuaded my best friend and neighbor, Michaele Jordan, to come with me to a small hotel less than five miles from our homes.

It just so happened that Midwestcon 27 had a rather high number of professional writers and fans attending that weekend. I not only found myself surrounded by writers whose books I had read, I also were with people, for the very first time in my life, who did not judge me by the color of my skin but by the content of my character.

In the forty-four years since that joyous weekend, I have been to nearly two hundred conventions (YES, I saved ALL of my badges) including twenty-nine Worldcons.

I did notice that unlike today, there were not a lot of African Americans attending conventions in those days. As I made my way around the east coast conventions I did encounter three African-Americans I looked up to and admired from afar.

Samuel R. Delany.
Photo from SFWA website.

Samuel R. “Chip” Delany still walks among us. We met in 1986 when I chaired and organized a one-shot sf convention, Cinclave, which was done in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati. Despite my best efforts, the convention was a financial disaster for me but Chip Delany was a delight to converse with and he graciously signed all of my books. I recently made it a priority to spend some of my COVID-19 stimulus cash on acquiring all of his most essential works. You know them; Babel-17, The Einstein Intersection, Dhalgren, Triton, Nova, Distant Stars. A tremendous writer, he was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 2014. 

Elliot K. Shorter at HexaCon, in 1980, a convention in Lancaster, Penna. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

Elliot K. Shorter (April 2, 1939 — October 1, 2013) was an impressive looking man; an ex-marine MP, he stood at 6’4” he was easy to spot. He won a TAFF race against Charles N. Brown and Bill Rotsler and was the Fan Guest of Honor at Heicon in West Germany, the first Worldcon held on mainland Europe. He was a regular conrunner at many east coast conventions and very active in the Society for Creative Anachronism. When I found out who he was and how accomplished he was, I wanted to be just like him.

D Potter (who died October 25, 2017) was a very tall, funny and effusive soul, who ALWAYS seemed to be having a good time wherever she was. She was an avid and prolific fanzine writer and apazine editor. I never got to know her very well and that was my loss. But I remember her vividly as a welcoming and good soul. 

D Potter at “New York is Book Country,” mid-1980s. Photos by and copyright © Andrew Porter

My time in fandom, has, for the most part, been a very good journey. It has not been without a few controversial moments and bruised toes but overall, there are very few things that I regret doing or experiencing.

My first volunteer effort was a brief stint in the Iguanacon Art Show in 1978. I started appearing regularly on Worldcon panels starting at Noreascon 2 in 1980. I have mostly been either staffing or running Worldcon Press Offices starting with ConStellation in 1983 to MidAmericon 2 in 2016.

In addition, there was the twenty-year odyssey at the Worldcon Business Meetings, wherein I labored to persuade members to change, modify or create new Hugo Award categories. Although I have been the subject of derision and abject scrutiny because of my efforts, I am quite proud of the work I and the like-minded fans who either supported these efforts and gave up their precious time at various Worldcons to come and vote on measures, motions and amendments.  

So, where does fandom stand today?

Goodness knows we can safely say, we are in VERY INTERESTING TIMES. Most cons have been either canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there is no end in sight. 

Add on the uncertain and unsteady leadership in our government, the economic crisis that came as a result of the disease and the incredible social upheaval in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, every branch of fandom has reason to worry about their future endeavors.

Which brings me back to that word.

Endurance. 

Fandom has been here before. In 1968. In 1972. In 1980. In 2001. In 2016.

Oh yes, we have been here before and we will endure, as we have always have.

Fandom has never been more diverse, more aware and as WOKE as ever.

On this Juneteenth, I may be wary of what may lie over the horizon but I do know that we, as fans, writers, editors, artists and conrunners are ready to weather almost anything that may be coming.

Right now, our institutions, fan groups and individuals are rallying around the victims of COVID-19, economic distress, police murders and riot damaged businesses. And we didn’t need to be told that Black Lives Matter, we ALWAYS knew that.

More than ever, like the generations of black and other minorities we call our allies and brethren, we cannot be silenced. We will not obey. We will not comply. We will always ask the next question. We will always question authority.

We will endure. No matter what comes next.

“If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” — James Baldwin