Kowal To Assist Changing Worldcon 76 Program

The Worldcon 76 program revisions promised yesterday will be aided by Mary Robinette Kowal and a team she is in the process of assembling.

Chair Kevin Roche tweeted –

Mary Robinette Kowal asked for breathing space to get started. (Thread begins here.)

John Picacio announced on Facebook:

Well, here goes nothing. I just got off the phone with my friend Mary Robinette Kowal and agreed to join her select team to help Worldcon 76 in San Jose with programming. Yes, all of us have witnessed problems in recent days, but there’s a lot of AMAZING work that is in the foundation that Christine Doyle and team has constructed, with the support of Kevin Roche. Our team is not here to trash and burn, but to chisel, refine, and include. LET’S DO THIS. #GameOn #Worldcon76

Despite the dramatic statement “We are tearing the program apart and starting over,” as John Picacio indicates, the program is being fixed, not done over from scratch.

PANELS DECLINED. Additions to File 770’s list of creators who tweeted yesterday that they were dropping off Worldcon 76 program:

  • Charlie Jane Anders


  • Annalee Newitz


  • Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden


PERSPECTIVES. Representative examples from a broad spectrum of responses to the controversy that have appeared since last night —

Foz Meadows: “Worldcon 76: More Than Technical Difficulties”

Right now, my personal suspicion is that Worldcon 76 has been afflicted by a combination of bigotry – some likely subconscious, some very likely not – and poor coordination, with the latter significantly enabling the impact of the former. As much as I appreciate Kevin Roche stepping in to issue apologies and redo the programming, that these actions were necessary at all speaks, at absolute best, to an administrative setup wherein the right hand didn’t know what the left was doing, and at worst, to a gross case of insincere, post-facto ass-covering.

Even from the outside, it seemed clear well before yesterday that the programming for Worldcon was disorganised and running behind schedule. The “very preliminary programming” email I received on July 9 had me listed for no panels at all, confirming only that I’d be attending the Hugo Awards. When I queried whether I’d be on any panelling, the reply I received from Christine Doyle stated that, while I was “pencilled in” for some panels, “We were in the “get something out now” vs “get everyone scheduled” phase — and opted for the get something out now.” This didn’t exactly alleviate my worries, given that the con is due to start on August 16. (By comparison, the first full program schedule for MidAmericon II in 2016 was sent out on July 6, well in advance of the August 16 start date, with final corrections issued by August 4.)

I was more encouraged by the July 22 email I received from Leigh Ann Hildebrand, the LGBTQ+ content lead for programming, which listed 27 separate queer panel topics and asked which ones I’d like to be a part of. Thinking that these would be the only panels on which I might appear, I listed four but gave no order of preference; when the original program was sent out yesterday, I was therefore surprised to find that I’d been given two of the four, plus three other panels and a reading. In honesty, I was happy with the panels I’d been given – both in terms of topics and fellow panellists – but once it became apparent that other Hugo nominees had been offered far less, it was difficult not to feel angry on their behalf. Campbell Award nominee Rivers Solomon, whose expenses for attending Worldcon were crowdsourced by the SFF community, was offered only one item; to the best of my knowledge, JY Yang was given only a reading – or at least, this is what I inferred from their saying that they’d been left off the panelling items that they requested. Either way, it ought to be Worldcon 101 to try and accommodate both guests and award nominees from the outset instead of letting their contributions be afterthoughts, and whatever other factors are in play, it doesn’t escape notice that, overwhelmingly, those slighted by the programming are POC, non-American, queer or a combination of all three.

L.E.H. Light of Black Nerd Problems responds to the controversy and proposed solution in “Worldcon Starts Over: But Will It Be Enough?” . (I’m linking to this even though the post was publicized in a tweet with a dumpster fire GIF…)

…With only a month left to the convention, can the trust be regained? Can WorldCon 76 get itself together and present the event they promised us?

I’m not feeling hopeful.

Full disclosure, I’m attending WorldCon 76. I’ve paid my money, booked my room, and planned my cosplay. WorldCon is the best chance for me to meet some of my favorite authors without me having to book an international flight. And to attend the Hugos? That will be fantastic. I submitted panel ideas and have been placed on a few. Every step of that process has been delayed and challenging far beyond what I expected, even from a volunteer-run event. All along I had a voice in the back of my mind telling me something was wrong, and now, with all the evidence in front of me, I have to confront a real possibility: That my presence at the con is one of tokenism and not inclusion.

I say that while keeping in my mind all of the white people, whom I know personally, who invited me, and the people of color who stood up for me to get the placements I did. I don’t want to insult their work or say they did this purposefully. I do want to say that when they added me to a panel, for some the “Black critic with a sassy mouth” box was checked and they went on to schedule a bunch more white guys with conscious clear.

The old gatekeepers of book sci-fi/fantasy continue to be in full control of the keys to mainstream readers. I say that knowing that many of these people consider themselves “allies”, but they remain small-c conservative. They are fundamentally change resistant. While we readers may nominate an inclusive slate of writers and artists for the Hugo awards, the folks planning the conventions don’t really want to have us around, to socialize with queer fans, fans of color, immigrant fans. How can people who haven’t put out new fiction in 10 years have panels, but you can’t find room for new talent? They want our art, but they don’t want to make room at the con table for our concerns, our fan fiction, and our #ownvoices panels.

Larry Correia is one of several Sad Puppy authors delighted to hear about these problems — “My Official Comment on WorldCon 2018’s Social Justice Cannibal Feeding Frenzy” [Internet Archive link].

James Pyles: “An Outsider’s Point of View: Why Did WorldCon 76 Implode?” Despite taking Declan Finn’s and Richard Paolinelli’s posts as his jumping-off point, Pyles is an unusual commenter from the right who isn’t verbally abusive.

So far, I have no skin in the game, but if I ever have some body of my work published and become even marginally established, the Cons will start to become more significant in my life. My concern, and I’ve expressed it before, is by the time I get there, I will be considered an artifact from the “bad old days,” unworthy to have my #OwnVoice.

I don’t think it ever occurs to very many people that you don’t have to exclude “traditional” voices to include “underrepresented” ones. However, in this era of reflexive and wholly visceral panic attacks demonstrated on the far left side of the aisle, it seem virtuous to exclude, marginalize, or even actively express hostility toward “white baby-boomers,” if for no other reason than we’re old and white. And as those who tout the values of social justice and progressiveness continue to dominate the entertainment industry (including publication of SF/F genre material), the shoe, very much, is being put on the other foot.

The answer? I’ve said this before, too and it’s so, so simple. Definitely include Bogi Takács, JY Yang, and others who are from “marginalized” groups, and treat them in a humane manner and with respect, but do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t torpedo those writers and editors who aren’t considered “marginalized,” even if you feel that somehow they (we/me) have “done you wrong,” because, in all likelihood, the vast majority of us haven’t. At the end of the day, all we want to do is tell a good story.

David Gillon’s suggestion —

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46 thoughts on “Kowal To Assist Changing Worldcon 76 Program

  1. To echo something someone said on Twitter: we should not expect perfection.

    Mary and her team are coming in to generously help clean this up. Huzzah! But there’s only so much they can do in the time they have. (23 days to go! Less than that, presumably, before they have to have the Pocket Program ready to print.)

    I hope this works out so very, very, well and the joy that has been tarnished from those affected can be restored as much as possible.

  2. Having worked on programming once in the past, I know how long it can take and how hard it is… and that was for a TINY convention. I wish them the best of luck and hope people will be gentle with them as they work to fix the issues.

  3. The addition of Kowal to the team is quite possibly the best thing they could have done, simply because she has an enormous weight of good will and past performance to bring to the table. She’s not a miracle worker, but she’s one of the few people who has a hope of gaining the convention enough breathing room to fix things.

  4. Pyles may not be outright abusive, but he’s taking massive liberties with the truth.

  5. Mary Robinette Kovacs has seen the true face of programming, and it is afraid of her.

  6. Chip Hitchcock: Pyles may not be outright abusive, but he’s taking massive liberties with the truth.

    Oh, yes.

  7. Chip Hitchcock: Pyles may not be outright abusive, but he’s taking massive liberties with the truth.

    And in a really uninformed way.

    James Pyles: I don’t think it ever occurs to very many people that you don’t have to exclude “traditional” voices to include “underrepresented” ones.

    Of course this occurs to many people. The problem is that when more underrepresented voices are included, it means that there is not going to be room for all of the traditional voices who used to be included — and those voices get very loud and angry when something to which they feel they are entitled is not offered to them.

  8. I myself am looking forward to the programming assistance which is going to be provided by the well-known Australian author Mary Robinette Koala.

  9. All these typos or whatever-o’s about Kowal’s name are meant as innocent humor, I know, but let’s move on. People with names where any kind of mistake can be commonly made have seen them pretty often, so it’s not fun for them.

  10. You’re right, of course, Mike. I know with me, and probably with a lot of other people, that it’s a need to find something lighthearted to talk about right now, as an antidote to grief about problems with Worldcon.

  11. I myself am looking forward to the programming assistance which is going to be provided by the well-known Australian author Mary Robinette Koala.

    And if Mary Robinette Koala and the afore-mentioned Mary Robinette Kodiak had a child – that chid would make sure WorldCon programming would be whipped into shape in a thrice!

  12. I’m very pleased to hear this, and see Worldcon 76 taking the necessary (and possible) steps.

    Wrangling a convention of this scope, and volunteer work on this scope, is an incredible undertaking. The problems that arose this time were really, really bad. But I’m deeply heartened by how quickly and how fully they’ve taken responsibility for the problems, and I think their initial steps are very good ones.

    I don’t know what the convention itself will wind up looking like, or what flavor it’ll be leaving in people’s mouths and minds. “Able to step up when there’s a fire to fight” is not as good as “Keep fires from breaking out to begin with,” and real harm is done by the gap there. But it’s very evident there are a lot of dedicated people here, who didn’t prevent the problem but are willing to fight it tooth and nail, and I appreciate that to no end.

  13. Mary Robinette Kowal is a good egg, and I applaud her for helping with this mess.

  14. Interesting for the paragon of male fragility to wade into this issue, given that he tried to rig the Hugos several years in a row for the grievous crime of only shortlisting him for a prestigious award instead of handing it to him on a silver platter. (Hi Larry!)

  15. One to fix the program, two to make a dress,
    Three to narrate bookses, and four the Hugos bless
    Got to find new fandoms, cause it’s fandoms that we shares
    Don’t know when we’ll get there, but we’ll get there cuddling bears.

  16. Karl-Johan, <applause> I do hope that Mary Robinette Kowal sees and appreciates this! (No cuddling Kowals OR Kodiaks without their express permission, of course; however I think virtual cuddles are entirely appropriate in this case…)

  17. Oh the fun you’ll have with auto-correct!

    But I’m now confused-I’m a baby boomer old white guy who belongs to a marginalized group. So which bowling shirt do I wear on league night?

    Maybe I should form a team with the kodiaks and koalas.

    Here in 8405, our feline overlords have decreed all Worldcon panels be cat-related.


  19. @Oneiros That was about what I was going to say about LC’s response(Which I won’t read because I like having brain cells). Let him and the other weary canines enjoy DragonCon with a bunch of sycophants until that Convention eventually comes to its senses and boots them too (I hope).

    All these problems tell me that WorldCon like the community at large still has growing to do.

    Despite all of this, I am still going to this WorldCon because it is happening in my neck of the woods. It will be my first WorldCon too so I have to go.

    I am disappointed the leadership has messed up this much but I am impressed by the fact that they are taking responsibility and corrective action immediately. Offering apologies is great, but the taking of immediate action impresses me because it is what needs to be done.

    I applied for the Writers Workshop stuff there because I am unpublished and unrepresented and I’d like feedback from the cool folks who are going to WorldCon. I still haven’t heard back yet, but I can hope this craptastic situation gets to a better place by the time the Con is on because I already put in for PTO for this thing.

  20. @Mark

    I’m particularly impressed that MRK is doing this when she has a new book coming out within a month and will undoubtedly have been planning to work on promoting that.

    Good news, everybody! All Worldcon panels will now also be about astronauts!

  21. And joining in with everybody else: huge thank-you to MRK. For stepping up, for taking point. For willing to be one of the faces on the “Let’s Fix This” bannerhead.

  22. @John F. Ziegler: Sumner in Kos is writing what he knows (just as writers used to be told to do); given his con experience, it’s unsurprising that he talks about cons. (Fans — they’re everywhere!) The article is interesting, but I really wonder about his claim that publishers are cramming on a few bestsellers and ignoring everyone else; the last I looked, there were so many books coming out that top authors couldn’t write nearly all of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of authors got dropped due to the infamous bookstore-order death spiral — but just maintaining tolerable sales is a long way from best-sellerdom.

  23. All these authors dropping off the panels entirely seems a bit counterproductive. If you’re a “name” and want to help newer writers get some exposure, appearing on a panel with them is a good way to get at least some of your fans to see and hear from these people.

    Who is on the panel is one of the biggest factors I use in deciding which panels to attend. Subject is a factor, but nowhere near as big. (And I generally have plenty of other stuff I want to do at a con–especially Worldcon–other than attending panels, so if the panels don’t have some draw, chances are I won’t be there at all.)

    Bottom line, it seems like it would be more useful to say “only put me on one panel” than to say “don’t put me on any panels.”

    (This suggestion may come a little too late for this years con–the rescheduling of panels is already going to be chaotic enough without more last-minute alterations–but I hope some “names” will think about this for future cons.)

  24. I have had such drastically different experiences with this sort of thing, I think of WorldCon programming like a Wheel of Fortune that’s operated differently every single year.

    I rarely go to WorldCon (or any cons, really). I think I have have attended once in the past decade.

    One year, I applied for programming…. and I was assigned no programming at all. I was puzzled by that. Especially after I got to the con and met people there, for example, who had published a handful of short stories and who had been assigned to 5-6 panels there, while I was assigned to none; I had by then published about 60 sf/f short stories, as well as 9 fantasy novels. At the time, I thought, well, maybe it’s because I’m not controversial. I’m a conventional middle-of-the-road commercial fantasy writer. I don’t write fiction that “challenges the form,” or “pushes the envelope,” or “generates discussion,” etc. So I thought, hey, maybe all these writers who’ve produced a lot less work than I have but who are on lots of programming here, while I am on none at all, are just perceived by the committee as potentially more interesting panelists. Okay, fair enough. Or maybe they’re much better known in fandom than I am, since I seldom go to cons and don’t participate that much in the online sf/f world.

    After that, the next time I planned to attend, I again didn’t get assigned any panels (and figured, okay, I’m still regarded as uninteresting). That was such a busy summer that, once I found out I was not on programming, I decided to cancel my m’ship, figuring that I wasn’t inconveniencing anyone by doing so. About a week later, the committee wrote to me ask if perchance I had canceled my m’ship because I wasn’t on programming. I said yes, but it wasn’t in a “storm off in anger” way, it was in a “since this won’t cause problems, anyhow” way. The committee apologized, told me they’d had big software errors (or something) when sending out program notifications, I was actually scheduled to be on LOTS of stuff, would I reconsider and attend? Surprised, I said, ok, sure, I’ll come. Can I have my schedule, please? Well, I wasn’t able to get my room back (which I had also canceled), or find a room I liked, and after a week or two of juggling that logistical matter… I realized I STILL didn’t have my programming… And when I asked, they still didn’t have a schedule for me (apart from the one they’d originally sent, in which I had no programming). At which point, i decided I was tired of messing with this and would just stay home, and I canceled AGAIN.

    Haven’t tried to attend since then. In large part, because summers have been insanely busy ever since then. (Also in part because I’m just not much of a con-goer.) And if I attend in future, what with one thing and another (including this year’s programming problems, which have absolutely nothing to do with me, but which are exhausting even to read about)…. I don’t think I ever want to apply to WorldCon programming again. Because I don’t ever again want to deal with that rather pointless energy-drain again of, “Did I or didn’t I get assigned to WorldCon programming?” I think I just want to opt out forever. I think that “will I or won’t I be assigned programming” turns WorldCon attendance into too much of a crapshoot, because it makes the value of the excursion depend far too much on processes controlled entirely by other people–and which appear to be unpredictable and inconsistent, too. So I don’t think I’ll even apply for programming if I attend a future WorldCon. Which is a decision that also makes it much easier to plan one’s time in advance when attending.

  25. Robert Reynolds: Here in 8405, our feline overlords have decreed all Worldcon panels be cat-related.

    I would totally attend that Worldcon.

  26. This one thing I know for sure about WorldCon programming:
    The three panels I really, really, REALLY want to attend will all happen on the same day at the same time and the rooms will be located as far away from each other as possible.

  27. Panels with cats are always impossible to get in to. My proposal is instead that each Worldcon sets up a corner with chairs and tables where they constantly display cat memes and cat pictures volunteered from members. Best displayed with books, movies and SFF paraphernalia.

    I think that is a position I could volunteer for at a Worldcon. Responsible Cat Programmer Hampus. That would be a great title.

    EDIT: To be inclusive, I guess it would be better with Responsible Pet Programmer Hampus.

  28. Hampus Eckerman: I think that is a position I could volunteer for at a Worldcon. Responsible Cat Programmer Hampus. That would be a great title.
    EDIT: To be inclusive, I guess it would be better with Responsible Pet Programmer Hampus.

    One of the best job titles ever!

  29. Mike Glyer on July 26, 2018 at 8:12 am said:
    Hampus Eckerman: I think that is a position I could volunteer for at a Worldcon. Responsible Cat Programmer Hampus. That would be a great title.
    EDIT: To be inclusive, I guess it would be better with Responsible Pet Programmer Hampus.

    That would at least resolve the issue of people turning up and being disappointed to discover that Hampus is not (I think) actually a responsible cat.

  30. But wouldn’t help the people showing up to find which pet eigenvalue Hampus is in while programming responsibly.

  31. Pingback: Worldcon 76 Program Online | File 770

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