Approaching the Event Horizon: The Pre-Sasquan Report

A File 770 column by By Chris M. Barkley:

“There will be a convention. There will be function rooms at the convention. Some will be right and some will be wrong. And then, IT WILL BE OVER!”

Daily mantra at the daily meeting of the Chairman’s Staff at Chicon 2000, attributed to super-fan Bridget Joyce Boyle.

I’m not gonna lie; if you are the Chair, Division Head, staff member or gopher of World Science Fiction Convention, right about now, you’re equal parts of excitement, nervousness, dread, nausea or any combination thereof.

At this very minute, three and a half days before the Opening Ceremonies and a full week before the Hugo Awards Ceremony, those working the convention may be feeling like astronauts approaching a black hole. It is inevitable, it’s happening and once you get to the event horizon, you don’t know what happen next and there’s NO GOING BACK!

And now, I find that Juli and I will be a little bit closer to all the action than we planned to be. Our original plan for Sasquan and I just planned to attend.

Several months ago, after the nominations came out, I made the acquaintance of Rajnar Vajra, author of the Hugo nominated novelette, “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Story.” Although nominated on the Sad/Rabid Puppy slate, he has vehemently disassociated himself from them. When other nominees dropped out of the Hugo Awards race, he bravely stayed in, because he believed in his story and vacating the nomination slot may have given the ballot yet another puppy candidate.

I half jokingly told Raj that I would be happy to accept the Hugo on his behalf if it became necessary. He laughed it off at the time but a month ago, he found out that he could not attend.

I was slightly aghast when he emailed me but I accepted because I knew what he had in mind.

I believe that Rajnar’s only loyalty is to his craft and to his readers. In his absence, he chose a person of color represent him at the Hugo Ceremony as a pointed reminder of fandom’s diversity. Mr. Vajra has emailed his eloquent acceptance speech and if needed, I will proudly deliver it verbatim.


Earlier last week, my partner Juli and I were asked to assist in the Sasquan Press Office when a staff member found out he could not attend. We readily accepted. Because that is what fans do in a pinch. The staff has already done a tremendous amount of groundwork and we are merely stepping in to implement it.

Being part of the Sasquan staff has certain responsibilities. One of them is a pledge to be neutral about Puppygate during the convention. So this report will the last one about the convention from me.

Juli, the staff and I (especially me) will provide the media with anything they need to help cover Sasquan, and not be part of the story.


During this last week leading up to Sasquan, I have had diversity on my mind.

I work full time at Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, the best retail bookstore in the metropolitan area. I was driving colleague of mine, Kim, home when she shared the following story:

A woman customer who had seen HBO’s Game of Thrones asked Kim about purchasing the first book in George R.R. Martin’s saga

When presented with a copy of A Game of Thrones, the woman asked her if that was the first book of the series. Of course, Kim replied. But the customer asked twice more about the the title of the first book and finally relented when Kim assured her that she had READ all five books.

There is nothing unusual about this exchange except for this: Kim is black and the customer is white.

Would this have happened to Claire, who is white and in charge of all of the genre fiction titles? I seriously doubt it, based on Kim’s assessment.

Alas, after the two election cycles with a African American President, any talk of this being a post racial era in America is about as real as a unicorn sighting in Yosemite National Park. Incidents like what happen to Kim continue to happen every day and will continue to happen as long as people of different races, and I do mean ALL races, continue to evaluate each other based on initial visual perceptions and an underestimation of each other’s intelligence.

Kim, I and other people of color working at Joseph Beth do our best to struggle against this disadvantage every day we step on the sales floor. With each passing day, we win doubting customers over, one at a time.

Which brings me to this item, posted on Tobias Buckell’s blog this week:

In summation, Mr. Buckell wrote:

So yes, Virginia, POC *do* read SF/F, and it’s common. To remain ignorant takes serious work.

Insisting we don’t exist is a tactic in making us invisible, and a huge part of the problem. Please stop this ignorance.

There is much more ignorance in this comment as well. “There are no African nations interested in space flight, exploring space, etc.” Seriously, 30 seconds with Google easily disproves this.

And this was posted by Jim Hines:

And Mr. Hines wrote:

This is not meant to criticize any individual convention. My frustration is with the trend as a whole. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with inviting John Scalzi or S. M. Stirling or David Weber or Jim C. Hines to be your author guest of honor. The problem is when conventions as a group stop looking beyond a narrow pool of potential guests, and when fandom focuses on honoring white authors to the exclusion of others.

To which I add a: C’MON, MAN! We collectively, as fans, are better than this. We don’t have to be part of the problem, we are part of the solution.


Finally, there are a few issues I need to address before signing off for duty at Sasquan…

First, I’d like to thank all of the people who responded to the previous column in the File 770.

While I have NOT READ ANY OF THE COMMENTS, as David Gerrold advised, word has filtered back to me that there was an unusual amount of verbiage dedicated to speculation about my sexuality, relationship status and my being able to wear pants. I want to thank everyone for your concern for my well-being. It’s really touching…

Lastly, there was this, which Juli found in my inbox this morning, dated two days ago:

Brad R. Torgersen | August 14, 2015 at 11:25 am | Reply

Someone I trust to know the inside business of the thing, told me that Chris Barkley was Patrick Nielsen-Hayden’s stalking horse, for getting the pro editor category split — Patrick was tired of seeing Gardner take it every year. So, the long-form is born, and not coincidentally, TOR editors begin taking the trophy.

First of all, I REALLY need to check my email more often.

Secondly, to Brad Torgersen: look dude, has watching All The President’s Men taught you anything? I don’t know who your “source” on this fascinating tidbit of history, but s/he is totally and utterly WRONG about this.

Do you have any idea how these ridiculous conspiracy theories get started? When some person, is deluded in to believing that the historical record is inaccurate, incomplete or just plain wrong.

Then, a fevered imagination takes over and tries to fill in the gaps with “the truth” as they see it. Something literary scholars, writers and the general reading public call fantasy.

Here are the facts; I am NO ONE’S “stalking horse”; I alone was the creative force behind the creation of the Long Form-Short Form split of the Editor’s category. The reason this is not a generally known fact is that until now, I have chosen not to actively publicize any of my activities regarding the Business Meeting and the Hugo Awards. I value my privacy and frankly, I don’t need my ego pumped up because I supported something that I feel that deeply about.

It is true that my motivation for the change was due to concerns about the editor’s category; no book editor had won the award since 1987 and Gardner Dozois was dominating it. I and other like-minded fans wanted to attempt to bring some parity to the category.

Also, I sought out Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s support for the Editor’s split and brought him into the fold; I needed a prominent editor to co-sponsor the amendment or it would never have been taken seriously by the Business Meeting. He was reluctant to do so at first but eventually, he concluded that a split of the category was the best option available at the time. Until I finally shook his hand at the LACon IV Business Meeting in 2006, I think he had doubts that it would ever pass.

And, the very next year, it was he who was the recipient of the very first Long Form Editor Hugo Award. Was this a coincidence? Yes; Patrick Nielsen Hayden did not conspire to win his Hugo Award, he EARNED it from the voters for his superlative work.

Brad, what you really need to do is poll the editors nominated over the past nine years if they have they benefited from the Best Editor Split. I am willing to bet that a majority of them will answer in the affirmative.

I am also of the opinion that the Split may have outlived its usefulness at this point and that a better alternative may be in store. I welcome change because innovation is preferable to stagnation.

And no one wants that, Brad, not even you.

9 thoughts on “Approaching the Event Horizon: The Pre-Sasquan Report

  1. Pants question? Huh, now I want to go back and read through the comments to see what was said. I only remember agreeing with someone else about the whole No Awarding thing.

    I really don’t understand the kind of thinking that POC wouldn’t enjoy SFF anymore than anyone else. I went to grade and high school at schools where white people were the minority and was introduced to various SFF mediums from other nerds. Introverts finding each other to discuss the effectiveness of lightsabers knows no race. I always thought it was odd that more people didn’t think this stuff was cool rather than surprise that someone not like me might find it interesting.

    Hope you have fun as Sasquan! I wasn’t a particular fan of the story since I felt that the underlying idea wasn’t clever, which it needed to be in order to make the story work. But you might still get to say the victory speech, and if not you’ll probably still have some stories to tell from the event.

  2. I have bought books for over 40 years. I really do not care what color of the clerk, whether they were green, purple ,albino , yellow or brown. If this clerk is at a SF convention I would expect them to know the subjects and to have a interest in SF, otherwise why would they be there?. To suspect racism seems to me pure speculation. The customer obviously was less knowledgeable and probably wanted to know if the clerk thought the series was worth buying and getting into with 5 books so far. The clerk answered that by saying she had read them all.

    Seems that this is wanting to see racism where none may exist. How can the writer know at 3 person what was in the customers head? That seems to be stereotyping based on color of the customer

  3. First I would like to thank Chris and Julie for volunteering, working in the field/trenches and for Chris’ acceptance of acceptance contingency for Vajra. Hopefully by 2017 all or most of the slate voting crap WILL be behind us all.
    Second, MY pre-con report…I volunteered 4 1/2 hours at Load Up in Seattle of the SWOC/RustyCon/Furrest/NorwesCon stuff being used at con. But this leaves me with one hour of volunteering to go or I don’t get access to the Staff Den. Since I am on disability pension (meager), that hour will let me eat at con-the con is a bucket list thing so I’m costing things out to the bone. Also I am arriving at 1 am via Amtrak on Wed….therefore would LOVE crash space if anyone is willing. My check in is at Red Lion at Noon so after that I am willing to help people; accepting roommates during con. Badge #/name 424- Ulric V. Dorais III, Esq. Any help will be appreciated. BTW Bobbie Dufault’s (our illustrious co-chair) memorial service is at 2 pm; and I am supplying the sonic screwdrivers and rayguns we will salute her with. Y’all come!

  4. Please invite Cixin Liu to be guest of honor in the near future. He has 3 levels of diversity… Lives in a non western country, chinese, and he writes hard science fiction with actual science in it.

    All SF doesnt have to be do you want fries with this fiction.

  5. I’m glad you’re coming to Sasquan and relieved you are helping with press relations. You’ve done a great job in the past. I’m sure you will work well with Margaret Organ-Kean, she’s good people too. See you when you get here.

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