Writers Circulate Letter of Concern About Saudi Worldcon Bid

Anna Smith Spark, a grimdark author from London, has organized an open “letter of concern” with several dozen co-signers, including Charles Stross, about the bid to bring the Worldcon to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2022, which will be voted on this week. The competition is a bid for Chicago in 2022.  

Anna Smith Spark sent File 770 the letter, and “Also (and I will be dead in the eyes of the WSFS for this) the email they sent me washing their hands of this and having a quick pop at those involved in the anti-Puppies work as well for good measure,” which is a reply received from WSFS webmaster Kevin Standlee.   


An open letter to the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and to Norman Cates as the Chair of the 2020 WorldCon

Dear WSFS, and dear Norman,

As writers, publishers and readers of science fiction and fantasy, we are writing to express our concern that Saudi Arabia has been accepted as a potential host site for the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon).

SFF is the great genre of possibilities and pluralities. As readers, writers and publishers of SFF our task is to inspire wonder: we look up at the stars to seek out other ways of being, we look down at the earth around us to find enchantment, beauty, romance, horror, hope. We create new worlds because we believe that in doing so we can make this world a better and intellectually richer place. A Jeddah WorldCon would allow fandom a chance to visit a breathtakingly beautiful city, Jeddah. It would break new ground for SFF Fandom, open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. It’s therefore with great sadness that we must face reality for what it is, that the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.

The most recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia states that in 2019 the Saudi government ‘escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of government critics, human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists.  […] Some people, most of them members of the country’s Shi’a minority, were executed following grossly unfair trials.’[1] Saudi women face systematic legal discrimination, while identifying as LGBQT+  is illegal and can be punishable with corporal punishment and even execution. Saudi Arabia is a key player in the war in Yemen that has left 80% of the Yemeni population in need of humanitarian aid, and has been accused of war crimes in the region[2]. The UN concluded last year that it was ‘credible’ that the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the crime of writing words[3]. It cannot and must not be acceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop. Indeed, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alone should be enough to render the concept of a literary convention in the country an absurdity.

On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms. We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.

We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Smith Spark (organiser), Justin Lee Anderson, Andrew Angel, Helen Armfield, Allen Ashley, Graham Austin-King, Ali Baker Brooks, Andrew Bannister, RJ Barker, Alan Baxter, Donna Bond, James Brogden, Mike Brooks, Angela Cleland, Tom Clews, Adrian Collins, Lee Conley, Emily Cornell, Sarah Doyle, Margaret Eve, Mike Everest Evans, The Fantasy Hive, Fantasy Faction, Nick Ferguson, Karen Fishwick, Carol Goodwin, T. L. Greylock, Joanne Hall, Patricia Hawkes-Reed, Bethan May Hindmarsh, Stewart Hotson, Shellie Horst, Steve D. Howarth, Humber SFF, Barbara James, Cameron Johnston, Daniel Kelly, Simon Kewin, Alex Khlopenko, Shona Kinsella, Alex Knight, David Lascelles, Ulff Lehmann, Dale Lucas, Eloise Mac, Steve McHugh, Juliette McKenna, Peter McLean, Kevin McVeigh, Kareem Mahfouz, Masimba Musodza, Andy Marsden, GR Matthews, Simon Morden, Alistair Morley, T. O. Munro, Stan Nicholls, Chris Nuttall, Scott Oden, Graeme Penman, Peter Philpott, Steven Poore, Gareth L Powell, Robert V.S Redick, Ian Richardson, Courtney Schaffer, S. Naomi Scott, Ian Segal, Mike Shackle, Steve J Shaw, Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, , Rita Sloan, Sammy HK Smith, Vaughan Stanger, Mark Stay, Charlie Stross, Allen Stroud, Amanda M Suver Justice, Clayton Synder, Sue Tingey, Three Crows Magazine, Tej Turner, Catriona Ward, Matthew Ward, David Watkins, RB Watkinson, Adam Weller, Graeme Williams, Phil Williams,  Deborah A Wolf.

Copied to the Board of the SFWA, Locus Magazine, Tor.com, Starburst, the UK Guardian newspaper


WSFS Web Site Team Reply

Anna:

There is no such entity as the “Board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).” WSFS is an unincorporated literary society that has no Board of Directors, no ongoing chief executive, and no “Head Office.” I am copying the co-chairs of ConZealand on this reply.

The rules of WSFS, which are made by the members of WSFS (the attendees of the Worldcon), set very minimal technical requirements for any group to bid for a Worldcon. The selection is not made by a Board of Directors or Executive Committee, but by the entire membership of WSFS, who vote on the choice, just as they vote on the Hugo Awards. Indeed, the process is very similar in both cases, in that Worldcons are not supposed to make subjective value judgments about nominees for the Hugo Awards. This decision is reserved to the entire membership, exercising their right to vote.

If you are interested in more information about how WSFS works and how you can propose changes in its rules, I can explain things in further detail.

This is not intended as being dismissive, but to try and explain that Worldcons and WSFS as a whole does not give anyone the right to make subjective judgements about either Hugo Award nominees/finalists or prospective Worldcon sites other than the entire membership.

Kevin Standlee, WSFS Web Site Team


[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/

[2] https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24713

129 thoughts on “Writers Circulate Letter of Concern About Saudi Worldcon Bid

  1. @Nicholas Whyte

    You say that like [organic enthusiasm of the locals] would be a bad thing.

    I find it absolutely preferable to have genuine enthusiasm rather than astroturfed. But all the genuine enthusiasm did not make the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin unproblematic.

  2. @Heather Rose Jones

    that would have been $150NZ, which comes to around $100US

    Wouldn’t a supporting membership @ $75NZ / $50US be sufficient?

    So a total of $150,000-$200,000US to acquire the votes.

    Not a large sum for a state level actor, it seems to me.

    I believe the language about memberships requires that voting memberships must be held by “individual natural persons” so you’d also need to organize 1500-2000 individual natural persons to cooperate.

    You’d see some extra enthusiasm from Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Delaware, the British Canal Islands, Panama, the Cayman Islands, etc, and only after the vote (if then) would it become evident that the new voters happened to be employees of companies like Mossack Fonseca. Today’s class of international supervillains has lawyers/flunkies all over the world.

    Who do you think will attend your convention once it becomes obvious that it was purchased? In the end, what would you have bought?

    That may be true (although Olympic game and FIFA championship locations regularly get bought, and attendance does not seem to suffer).

  3. Wouldn’t a supporting membership @ $75NZ / $50US be sufficient?

    You need both a supporting membership to the current Worldcon and you purchase the supporting membership to the future Worldcon. So people who didn’t have already have a membership to the current Worldcon would pay $75NZ / $50US times 2.

  4. @microtherion:

    That may be true (although Olympic game and FIFA championship locations regularly get bought, and attendance does not seem to suffer).

    The Worldcon members are more analogous to the athletes than to the audience, though, and there have been cases where athletes refused to attend Olympics because of conditions at the site.

  5. @Chip:

    @Andrew: the trouble with that MfAS quote is that too many people are convinced that their righteousness is sufficient armor, with no need for laws that interfere with their judgment.

    Yeah, the people who need to hear the quote most are probably immune to receiving it.

  6. @JJ

    ….in my opinion the letter’s author is someone who should never be listened to, about anything.

    I’ve read one of Ann Smith Spark’s books. It was pretty good even if it wasn’t my speed. I’ve heard her interviewed on a couple of podcasts. We are both members of a FB group focused on the grimdark subgenre. She is a nice and reasonably intelligent person that has exposed her lack of understanding regarding WSFS bylaws, procedures, and site voting.

    Maybe WorldCon would be better off if people were working to engage her with information (and several did) rather than summarily dismissing her? Wouldn’t having a new person….particularly a new and popular author…enthusiastic about participating in WorldCon be a net benefit?

    Separately….

    The trend of misrepresenting conditions in the US is a long term problem. The US is a large and diverse country. None of it has conditions that are reasonably comparable to Saudi Arabia, North Korea, China, or Venezuela. The differences between the US and other modern western nations range from modest to insignificant.

    There areas where there is a possibility of someone experiencing significant trouble are not areas where holding a convention for ~10k people is really a viable option due to the lack of appropriate facilities.

    At the very least, the character of America has not significantly shifted over the last decade. I don’t recall this sort of concern for locating a WorldCon in the US when we had a Nobel Peace Prize-winning President that was launching drone attacks around the world on a weekly basis.

    And, yes, I’ve read enough horror stories involving people visiting the US having to run the CBP gauntlet to be aware that we really need to work on that process.

    Regards,
    Dann
    The Africans know I’m not an African. I’m an American. – Whoopi Goldberg

  7. Dann665: Maybe WorldCon would be better off if people were working to engage her with information (and several did) rather than summarily dismissing her?

    At this point, I am quite sure that she is well aware that the woman co-chair of CoNZealand was erased by her letter, and that her letter contains several errors of assumption… and yet, no apology or correction has been forthcoming from her. This indicates to me that it’s extremely difficult at this point to continue giving her the benefit of the doubt.

    She’s also not listed as even being a member of CoNZealand. So it seems to me that this letter, on her part, is a lot of posturing and very little action.

  8. @JJ

    To be fair, there’s an apology from her re: leaving out the co-chair in the tweet thread I linked about the issue. Not @‘d at the co-chair in question, and not exactly front-and-centre on her feed, but that bit exists.

  9. Meredith: To be fair, there’s an apology from her re: leaving out the co-chair in the tweet thread I linked about the issue. Not @‘d at the co-chair in question, and not exactly front-and-centre on her feed, but that bit exists.

    I’ve gone back and looked, and all I can say is that it’s not actually an apology, and is extremely weak sauce: it makes an excuse, fails to acknowledge any duty of care on her part (which she failed), and fails to — you know, actually apologize to the person who was erased in her letter. 😐

  10. JJ: Anna Smith Spark sent me an email (yesterday?) asking me to make a correction to the letter. Perhaps I should have posted it before FYI.

    I missed Kelly Buehler’s name off the letter as WorldCon NZ’s co-chair. We’ve very embarrassed about this, obviously. We were working very quickly and there was a great deal of uncertainty about where on earth the letter should go, we were given Norman Cates’s name but not Kelly’s. Would it be possible to amend or add a correction just saying that?

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  12. @Andrew:

    When will site selection results be announced?

    If I understand correctly, a little more than three hours from when I’m writing this message.

    That’s Friday at 10 AM New Zealand time, but I figure that a relative time may be easier to work with.

  13. Mike Glyer: Anna Smith Spark sent me an email (yesterday?) asking me to make a correction to the letter. Perhaps I should have posted it before FYI.

    Well, that’s something, anyway. Not enough, but at least it’s something.

  14. “She is a nice and reasonably intelligent person that has exposed her lack of understanding regarding WSFS bylaws, procedures, and site voting.”

    This doesn’t explain why on earth she would possibly think that holding the same position as all but a few WSFS members — that a Saudi Arabian bid was not viable while its government remains what it is — would make her “dead in the eyes of WSFS.”

    Also,is it usually a good idea to make a big public fuss about something that you have a “lack of understanding regarding WSFS bylaws, procedures, and site voting” of? Is it usually a good idea to draw up an Open Letter about something that you completely “lack … understanding” of? Common sense would tell most people to try looking into something BEFORE making a worldwide spectacle of ignorance of yourself.

    Setting aside that this is total and complete nonsense with zero basis in reality, she seems to be awfully self-dramatic and also think terribly well of herself to believe that she’s bringing news of “human rights issues” to heathens who have never heard of them. Why make such a deeply insulting and offensive presumption when there was zero use or need for it?

    “we were given Norman Cates’s name but not Kelly’s.”

    Is she incapable of using Google? Why would she have to be “given” a name she can look up for yourself in 30 seconds of googling? “New Zealand, world science fiction convention committee” — how hard is it to figure out those words?

    Of course, she should also know that she remains welcome to volunteer for any Worldcon committee and free to bring her ideas and suggestions and requests to all active Worldcons.

    Meanwhile, I haven’t seen anything from ConNewZealand about it, but the Chicon page announces the Worldcon and their GOHs, to whom congrats.

    https://chicon.org/

    “September 1-5, 2022
    Guests of Honor

    Author Guest of Honor
    Charles de Lint

    Artist Guest of Honor
    Floyd Norman

    Fan Guests of Honor
    Edie Stern and Joe Siclari

    Erle Korshak
    First Fandom Guest of Honor

    Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders
    Toastmasters”

  15. @Gary Farber

    Why make such a deeply insulting and offensive presumption when there was zero use or need for it?

    We’ve grown a culture that approves of a quick and divisive response to even mild disagreements. Taking the time to understand the facts just gets in the way of the response. The mere act of responding is sufficient proof of accomplishing the desired objective.

    While Anna’s response begins from a good place, it ends poorly. That failure shouldn’t detract from her positive qualities, IMHO.

    Regards,
    Dann
    No way, I took call waiting of!@#$!(!@ ) #$! NO CARRIER

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  17. I just saw the most bizarre tweet on Twitter, where the person claimed that the Traditionalists in WSFS are Puppy supporters and the “Newbies” were responsible for ousting the Puppy slates.

    First of all, because while I’m sure that some of the Worldcon Traditionalists secretly (or not so secretly) sympathized with the Puppy agenda, a lot of them were just as angry about the Puppy cheating and also participated in downvoting the cheated works and working out new rules which greatly diminish the effectiveness of slating.

    Secondly, because there’s a very large group of people at Worldcon who are neither Traditionalists nor Newbies, who also participated in downvoting the cheated works and working out new rules which greatly diminish the effectiveness of slating, who this person has totally erased.

    So you know, maybe it’s not a good idea to vilify and dismiss the people who have been trying to fight this battle with you — the people who you don’t even notice. 😐

  18. JJ: where the person claimed that the Traditionalists in WSFS are Puppy supporters and the “Newbies” were responsible for ousting the Puppy slates.

    They’re pretty ignorant if they imagine that a bunch of people who had only just read online what the Puppies were up to flocked by the thousand to buy first-time supporting memberships in Sasquan so they could vote No Award. (Although we were all in suspense watching the supporting membership numbers blow up til that result finally came out.)

  19. Tammy Coxen Said:

    If there ever looked like a campaign to “buy the worldcon” was in action (and we would know about it – while that info might be confidential, someone would let it slip), then I think fandom would mobilize, buy supporting memberships and vote – just like Sasquan hit 10k members who wanted to vote down the Puppy slate.

    Breaking my long posting silence as well.

    The information need not even be confidential. Many Worldcons publish a demographics page where they count how many of each sort of membership has been purchased from each country. Sasquan even had one from Outer Space!

    I can’t find such a page on Discon III’s web site. I hope they add one, as does Chicon 8. I note that Glasgow in 2024 already has one showing their supporters.

    To those who are so concerned about the politics of the country of a Worldcon Bid, I BEG you to pay attention to who is bidding when and act when it will do some good. I said this to the people who opposed San Jose and DC (also at the very last minute) because they were in the USA, and I say this to anyone opposing a 2023, 2024, 2025 or 2026 bid. Look at the bids. Volunteer your time, or money, or both to the bid you support each year. Or if you can’t support any of them, see if creating your own bid would work. Or create a bid for a Minimum Viable Worldcon. Or a bid for a mostly on-line Worldcon.

    Alternatively, use the reaction to Jeddah to find fans who feel the same way you do and work together to propose a Constitutional change at next year’s Worldcon. There are a lot of Business Meeting regulars who will help you get the wording right if you ask. It only takes two members–one of whom must attend the BM–to get your proposal on the agenda. (And a lot more to pass it. Start drumming up interest now.)

    Here are all the bids declared to date.

  20. @ULTRAGOTHA

    Alternatively, use the reaction to Jeddah to find fans who feel the same way you do and work together to propose a Constitutional change at next year’s Worldcon.

    The voters do a fine job placing the convention at the right location. No constitutional change is needed.

  21. @ULTRAGOTHA:

    The information need not even be confidential. Many Worldcons publish a demographics page where they count how many of each sort of membership has been purchased from each country. Sasquan even had one from Outer Space!

    That information is self-declared (rather than been based of origin of payment method or anything) and optionally publicly displayed, so there is scope for masking in the case of a large-scale “buy the WorldCon” attempt. The Con may well in that case say ‘golly we are really amazed by all the new memberships, but so many of you are shy {wink}!”

  22. SF2 Concatenation: Regarding civil rights concerns about the Saudi bid, this was something we at SF² Concatenation raised months ago back in April (2020).

    Concerns about the Jeddah bid were discussed at great length on File 770 here and here many months ago back in the beginning of February. And again in June.

    The authors who signed this letter didn’t bother checking to see if this had previously been discussed, they just assumed that no one else had noticed the bid or pointed out the problems with it.

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