Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #63

My 2022 Hugo Awards Nomination Ballot for the Best Dramatic Presentation Long and Short Form Categories 

By Chris M. Barkley:

This year’s 80th World Science Fiction Convention, Chicon 8, will mark the twentieth presentation of the Best Dramatic Presentation Long and Short Form Hugo Award categories.

Last year around this time, I presented our loyal File 770 readers with a remarkable (and lengthy) plethora of choices for both awards. 

This year, on the day before the close of the nomination period, I have decided to change things up and offer readers a look at my BDP Long and Short Form nominees on my own ballot.

To be sure, I don’t think my roster of nominees is in any way definitive to anyone else except myself. Like many of you, I agonized over my choices because while I try to see (and in some cases, hear) the best of everything, my choices still barely scratch the surface of the number of Hugo Award worthy productions that saw the light of day last year.

This year’s list is divided into two; the first will cover eligible theatrical and streaming films that I feel should be firmly ensconced in the Long Form category, the second will cover choices from television or streaming series. 

(AND, as I do on an annual basis, IF an entire run of a mini-series or a season of a series is deserving of a nomination, I URGE you to do that, even at the expense of a slot for theatrical film. If that happens often enough, MAYBE the folks in the Business Meeting will seriously consider reformatting the BDP categories to primarily separate series from films, as I, and others, have advocated for in the past few years).

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form Nominations

  • I’m Your Man – Netflix
  • Zach Synder’s Justice League – Warner Brothers
  • Foundation Season One – Apple +
  • The Witcher Season 2 – Netflix
  • The Matrix Resurrections – Village Roadshow/Warner Brothers

I went into the selection process thinking that I would not be nominating some of the heavy hitters in this category, namely Dune, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Don’t Look Up or The Suicide Squad. I would be incredibly surprised if one or more of those films didn‘t make the cut this year.

But my reasoning is this; some fans who take the time and effort to nominate seem to gravitate towards the large, tent pole franchise movies more often than not. In some years, I’m no different than anyone else but, I would say in the last decade or so, I tend to throw my support behind projects that rely more on excellent writing and acting than explosions and witticisms.

I’m Your Man

From the nominees listed above, if I’m Your Man (Written by Jan Schomburg and Maria Schrader, Directed by Maria Schrader) were nominated, I would have no problem whatsoever listing it as my first choice on the final ballot. 

Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne over at the Hugo Book Club Blog reviewed I’m Your Man in their February 2nd post: “Please give the German android gigolo movie a Hugo nod”.

Alma (Maren Eggert), an archaeologist, is tasked with spending three weeks with an experimental android, Tom (Dan Stevens, speaking with a delightful German accent, IN GERMAN!) in order to beta test his interactions with other human beings. Tom has been programmed to be a perfect match with Alma, who, at the very outset of the film, is having second, third and fourth thoughts about the prospect of living with Tom for any amount of time.

I really can’t add anything else to the Hugo Book Club Blog’s stellar review except to say this: I’m Your Man is the sort of film the Hugo Awards should be honoring; a elegant, funny and dramatic story about the human, and android, hearts in conflict with themselves.

Justice League, Written by Chris Terrio, William Beall and  Zack Synder, Directed by Zack Synder.

The sheer will of millions of fans worldwide brought Zack Synder’s Justice League back from an early (and infamous) cinematic death. Clocking in at near four hours, this mammoth movie is the direct sequel to his previous film, 2016’s Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as The Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) join forces to bring together Earth’s meta-humans to battle an alien menace. When they fail to do so, they desperately enact a very dangerous and unorthodox plan to revive their recently deceased colleague Superman (Henry Cavill), from the grave.

No one, least of all the executives at Warner Brothers, thought that the unfinished, grayscale version that only existed on Snyder’s personal harddrive would ever see the light of day. But, after a persistent and exhaustive campaign by many fans (myself included), the suits gave him $70 million to properly finish the film. The result was not only substantially different from the version substitute writer/director Joss Whedon delivered in 2017, it was vastly and infinitely superior as well. Bravo. 

Foundation, created by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman.

Apple TV teased about its adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series for nearly a year before it premiered. I subscribed to Apple + specifically to see it. And I must say, I was not disappointed. 

Using Asimov’s story as a basic framework, writer/producer/director David S. Goyer (Dark City, Batman Begins, Terminator:Dark Fate) weaves a fascinating mosaic that shifts between the struggles of psycho-historian Hari Seldon (Jared Harris) and his persecuted followers as they try to stave off the total disintegration of the galactic empire and the various triads of cloned Emperors (Lee Pace, Terrence Mann and Cassian Bilton) who will stop at nothing to maintain their despotic grip on power.

Beyond these two white male leads, there is an astonishingly diverse cast, which includes two women of color, Lou Llobell as Gaal Dornick and Leah Harvey as Salvor Hardin, playing two of the main protagonists throughout the first season. 

The first season of Foundation is not only an excellent work of visual sf, it is also an outstanding work of television drama.

The Witcher Season 2, created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich.

Before 2019, I had never heard nor read any of the works of Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, who created the complex medieval world of “The Continent”. Here, magic is the key to power and monsters, both human and otherwise, roam the lands.

Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) is a Witcher, a magically enhanced warrior who patrols the Continent to eradicate both the savage beasts and anyone who might be controlling them.

In the second season of The Witcher, Geralt and his ward Princess Ciri (Freya Allan) seek shelter from both the oncoming winter season and the ongoing war between the kingdoms of Cintra and Nilfgaard. They go to Kaer Morhen, the home base of the remaining witchers, where they find they are not as safe as they thought from old rivalries and new dangers within the castle walls.

In the meantime, Geralt’s former companion Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) the mage, has inexplicably lost her powers and comes under the thrall of Voleth Meir (the Deathless Mother) a demonic entity that promises to restore her powers if she can capture Ciri, so she can possess her human body and return to the Continent. 

The entertainment landscape is filled with fantasy series that have pretenses of being epic, but The Witcher is one of the rare television projects that actually delivers the goods. And while Henry Cavill may be billed as the lead of the show, all of the supporting cast can match his brooding and charismatic presence, scene for scene. 

I think that The Witcher is easily the most Hugo-worthy fantasy series since the early seasons of Game of Thrones. Let’s not wait for the third season to put them on the final ballot.

The Matrix Resurrections, written by David Mitchell, Aleksander Hemon and Lana Wachowski, Directed by Lana Wachowski.

For a long time, it seemed as though The Matrix Resurrections would never happen. For many years after The Matrix Revolutions (2003), the series creators, Lilly and Lana Wachowski, repeatedly insisted that the adventures of Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss) and Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) had come to an end. 

While the immersive world (and a few of the surviving characters) lived on through officially sanctioned video games like The Matrix Online, studio executives at Warner Brothers mulled over the possibility of another film without the Wachowski’s involvement. Finally, Lana Wachowski agreed to write and direct a new film, but without any creative input from her sister Lilly, who begged off for personal reasons.

Neo and Trinity are alive, well thriving in The Matrix; he as the chief game developer and she as a wife, mother of two and a part time motorcycle mechanic. But, as before, Neo begins to suspect that there is something else just beyond his perception of reality. And when he is visited by a hacker named Bugs (Jessica Hardwick) and a digital reincarnation of Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen), Neo once again accepts the Red Pill and is thrown headlong into a battle that will determine the ultimate destiny of both the real and digital worlds.

Lana Wachowcki and her screenwriting collaborators, novelist David Mitchell (who wrote 2004 masterpiece, Cloud Atlas) and Aleksander Hemon (the 2002 novel, Nowhere Man), took pains not to make Resurrections a routine reboot or a remake of the first Matrix film, although there are certainly some winks and nods to the original if you look hard enough.

What the story really concerns itself with is about loss, remorse, memory and ultimately, redemption. The director is very familiar with these themes; she has gone on the record several times stating that the making of Resurrections was a form of therapy in dealing with the 2019 deaths of her parents, Ron and Lynne Wachowski and of another close (and undisclosed) friend around the same time. 

Personally, I think it’s a fine testament from a loving daughter and a good friend.

BDP Long Form: Honorable Mentions:

  • Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings (Marvel Studios)
  • Black Widow (Marvel Studios) 
  • The Eternals (Marvel Studios)
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (Marvel Studios)
  • The Suicide Squad  (DC/Warner Brothers)
  • Dune (Warner Brothers)
  • Don’t Look Up (Netflix) 
  • Swan Song (Apple +)
  • Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia/Sony Pictures)
  • The Green Knight (A24 Films)

 Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form Nominations

  • “Koybashi Maru”; Star Trek Discovery, Season 4, Episode 1.
  • “Cowboy Gospel”; Cowboy Bebop, Season 1, Episode 1
  • “True”; The Nevers, Season 1, Episode 6
  • “For All Time. Always.”; Loki, Season 1, Episode 6
  • “One Lucky Day”; Squid Game, Season 1, Episode 9

Star Trek Discovery, Season Four, Episode 1, “Kobayashi Maru”, Written by Michelle Paradise & Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman, Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi)

Star Trek: Discovery has only a single BDP Hugo Award nomination in its previous three years of eligibility. I’m hoping that the first episode of their fourth season,”Kobayashi Maru” (Written by Michelle Paradise & Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman, Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi) will nab one this year.

When Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the Discovery are sent to aid a deep space base in distress, she and the crew are confronted with tough choices and imminent peril as they try to rescue the survivors of the disaster. 

Meanwhile, her partner Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) is faced with a more dire situation; his homeworld of Kwejian is engulfed in a strange energy anomaly that ultimately destroys the planet and nearly kills him as well. 

These two incidents set up a simmering, season-long clash between Michael and Booker, as she tries to find and contact the entities that created the anomaly, and he seeks to destroy it before it causes another calamity. 

Cowboy Bebop, Season 1, Episode 1, “Cowboy Gospel”, Written by Christopher Yost, Directed by Alex Garcia Lopez. 

Netflix’s live action adaptation of the popular Japanese anime series Cowboy Bebop was an eye popping surprise to me, since I was totally unacquainted with the story and characters. And that may have been a factor in why I like it because all of the criticisms I read about it after it dropped on Netflix, loudly complained about how unfaithful it was to the source material. 

Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) are rough and tumble interplanetary bounty hunters, but most of the time, they seem to be down on their luck as well. After botching a job that leaves a casino in shambles and them in more debt than ever, they try for a bigger, easier score, a fugitive couple on the run, to get them out of the hole. 

Needless to say, their quarry turns out to be more clever than they thought and unfortunately, for them, a rival bounty hunter, Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda), is also after them. And when all of the involved parties finally cross paths, Spike and Jet’s problems are just starting.

The pilot for Cowboy Bebop, “Cowboy Gospel” (Written by Christopher Yost and Directed by Alex Garcia Lopez), has EVERYTHING I want in a tv show; great acting, characters with hidden motives, snappy, snarky dialog and it’s all backed up with great action, a smashing good acid jazz score, vivid graphics and production design to kill for (literally). 

It’s too bad Netflix canceled it after one season, though I imagine that fans of the original series were hoisting their beverages of choice in the air when they heard the news. To hell with all of them; give Cowboy Bebop a Hugo nomination and the last laugh.

The Nevers, Episode 6, “True”, Written by Jane Espenson and Directed by Zetna Fuentes.

The Nevers, the very last project that disgraced creator/writer Joss Whedon has worked on, took me by surprise. Some may think that his well documented toxic behavior might automatically disqualify this particular work from consideration. And they’re all quite wrong! 

Whedon was fired during the latter portion of the production of the first six episodes and the project was turned over to veteran writer/producer Jane Espenson. She won Hugo Awards for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BDP Short Form,“Conversations With Dead People” 2003) and Game of Thrones (BDP Long Form, writing Episode 6, “A Golden Crown).

And look, I get it, many of you don’t want to give Joss Whedon another shot at a Hugo Award. Here’s an alternative course of action; nominate the last episode of the first half of season one, “True”.

On a smoggy London morning in 1896, a strange aircraft in distress is spotted overhead, dispensing a strange substance that gives those who are directly exposed to it extraordinary abilities.

After several years, “The Touched” (as they are called), are both reviled and viewed with suspicion by the public and the government as well. St. Romaulda’s Orphanage has been converted into an urban sanctuary for them, established by two “touched” compatriots, Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and Pennace Adair (Ann Skelly). When the duo help a young woman escape a band of thugs from being kidnapped, it sets off a chain of events that soon reveal a deadly conspiracy that spans the full length of British society.

Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Zetna Fuentes, “True” reveals the true origins of Amalia True (not her real name), where she really came from (not from Leeds, to be sure) and what her real mission is (to save the WORLD, silly).

Since The Nevers is set in the Victorian Age, I was delighted to see that this series is fully and richly immersed in a steampunk ambiance, in its writing, acting and production design.

The production of Season One was suspended after the first six episodes were completed.

Naturally, I can’t wait for the next six episodes to drop. But I’ll have to, Damn it!

Loki, Episode 6, “For All Time. Always.”, Written by Michael Waldron & Eric Martin, Directed by Kate Herron.

Marvel’s Loki mini-series debuted in the summer of 2021, promising a new and mind blowing exploration into some of the undiscovered corners of the Marvel Universe that would change the course of all of the tales that soon follow.

Spoiler Alert: THEY WERE NOT KIDDING!

As many of you may know by now, a variant of the Asgardian god Loki (Tom Hiddleston), escaped the custody of the 2012 Avengers with the Space Stone during the 2024 Avengers time heist of the Infinity Stones in their attempt to reverse the universe shattering decimation caused Thanos. That part of the story eventually works out. But…

The amoral variant of Loki is easily captured by the Time Variance Authority because his escape has created an unauthorized timeline. The TVA usually disposes of the timeline and anything that may have been created from it. 

But Loki’s capture has come to the attention of TVA agent Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson), who is obsessed with the lives of Loki and his variants. Mobius arranges to spare Loki’s life in exchange for his help hunting down a dangerous variant who is eliminating TVA agents across all of the time lines.

As keen that he is to stay alive, Loki begins to question everything about his mission and the TVA itself when he finds out, to his dismay, that their quarry is another variant of himself (Sophia Di Martino). 

And then, things get really CRAZY!  

If you love the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki is required watching because everything that came afterwards, from the recently released Spider-Man: No Way Home and the upcoming Doctor Strange: In the Multiverse of Madness and beyond, stems from the monumental final episode, “For All Time. Always”,which  brings both variants of Loki face to face with the founder of the TVA, Kang (Jonathan Majors), who presents them with a terrible set of choices that may decide the fate of all of the universes. 

Brilliantly written, staged and acted, I have no doubt that the Emmy Awards will honor this series (as they did with WandaVision) at their ceremonies later this year. We in sf fandom need not wait as long as they do.  

Squid Game Episode Nine, “One Lucky Day”. Written and Directed by Hwang Dong-hyuk.

When Netflix released the South Korean drama Squid Game last September, no one could have predicted what a stunning, worldwide success it would become. This dystopian nightmare touched a raw nerve with nearly everyone who saw it, including me. If my Long Form nomination dance card hadn’t been filled to the brim already, I would have nominated all nine episodes. 

Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-jae) is an unemployed, divorced father who has been forced to live with his elderly mother. What’s worse is that he’s a compulsive gambler and is deeply indebted to some local loan sharks who are getting very impatient with his pathetic excuses for not paying.

A chance encounter with a stranger in a subway leads to a startling proposition; play a series of children’s games against 455 other anonymous players and he will win an enormous, life-changing sum of cash. 

After being drugged, kidnapped and taken to an undisclosed location, Gi-hun awakes to find out that he is now involved in a cruel and unusual survival contest, where if you lose any of the sadistic games, you will lose your life as well.

Some may argue that this sort of drama series has no place on the Hugo Awards ballot. I would certainly beg to differ; other cinematic dystopian works such as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1972), Soylent Green (1973), A Boy and His Dog (1974), The Road Warrior (1982), WarGames (1984) and Brazil (1985) were all nominated for the Best Dramatic Presentation Award. And some will note that several of these productions won it as well.

To me, Squid Game clearly is a brutal and timely continuation of the examination of how, after a few unfortunate events, how easily people can easily be stripped of their empathy and humanity and how hard it is to regain any semblance of it after surviving such an ordeal.

I once wrote on Facebook recently that watching the best South Korean dramas is like having various organs removed from your body without anesthetic, and then having you watch helplessly as merciless gangsters sell your vital organs on the street to the highest bidder. 

And I have no doubt that some industrious South Korean production company is hard at work on this very scenario, right now…

BDP Short Form and Series: Honorable Mentions:

  • WandaVision (Marvel Studios, 6 Episodes)
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Marvel Studios, 6 Episodes)
  • Loki (Marvel Studios, 5 Other Episodes)
  • What If… (Marvel Studios, 9 Episodes)
  • Hawkeye (Marvel Studios, 6 Episodes)
  • Star Trek: Discovery (CBS, Paramount +, 6 Other Eligible Episodes)
  • The Expanse (Amazon, 5 Eligible Episodes)
  • Snowpiercer Season 2 (CJ Entertainment/TNT, 10 Episodes)
  • The Book of Boba Fett (Lucasfilm/Disney +, 1 Eligible Episode)
  • Star Wars: The Bad Batch (Lucasfilm/Disney, 16 Episodes)
  • Midnight Mass (Netflix, 7 Episodes)
  • Resident Alien Season 1 SyFy/Amblin, (10 Episodes)
  • The Underground Railroad (Amazon, 10 Episodes)
  • Y, The Last Man (Hulu/FX, 10 Episodes)
  • Station Eleven (HBO MAX, 7 Eligible Episodes)
  • Invasion (Apple +, 10 Episodes)

Pixel Scroll 2/28/22 The Long and Winding Scroll

(1) SCHOOL NAMED FOR BUTLER. They were thinking about renaming the school library – in the end, they decided to rename the whole school for her: “Pasadena Unified Renames Washington Middle School As Octavia E. Butler Magnet”ColoradoBoulevard.net has the story.

…Dr Shannon Malone stated that “Octavia’s love of science research combined with her love of writing is exactly what STEAM integration is about at our school. We don’t teach things in isolation we show that all things can come together such as a love of Science Fiction and a love of writing.” The school will be hosting the 2nd Octavia Butler Writing and Art Contest with novels and poetry. The Pasadena Library will feature a virtual tour about Octavia Butler and proudly showcase the school’s mural….

The district announced the decision with this statement:

In appreciation of Octavia E. Butler for her outstanding achievements in literary science-fiction and for representing the qualities of a PUSD graduate that will inspire our youth and greater community, Washington Middle School shall be known henceforth as the Octavia E. Butler Magnet. Board President Elizabeth Pomeroy declared “let’s all pledge to read a book by Octavia Butler!” The motion was passed, approved, and adopted on February 24, 2022, at a special meeting of the Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.

(2) PRAISE FOR BARKLEY. At the Hugo Book Club Blog: “So Glad We Asked: an appreciation of Chris M. Barkley”.

… In retrospect, Barkley has shown a remarkable amount of foresight. He warned in 2004 (a full decade before it happened) that there was the possibility that a slate of politically motivated malcontents might attempt to disrupt the Hugos. This was followed by his urging in 2013 that “The only way traditions like the Worldcon and Hugos will have any future is if the people who are interested and feel frozen out of the process continue to provide civil and constructive criticism and stay involved in fandom … What we need is MORE dissent, MORE thinking outside the box and MORE diversity in fandom, not less.”

The first time the editors of this blog encountered Chris M. Barkley, we were volunteering as photographers for the 2015 Hugo Awards ceremony. For years after, we assumed that he had received a Hugo Award nomination for his blogging, and this seemed like a reasonable assumption to make: his work is consistently good, he writes about fannish activities, and he’s well known in the community.

It was to our great surprise when we learned that he has never been on the Hugo Award ballot as a fan writer. It’s time to rectify that oversight, and 2022 should be his year….

(3) WHEN EUROCON WAS IN KYIV. SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie reports, “Currently thoughts elsewhere. Just heard that one of our team members, Boris Sidyuk, is alive. (A little scared — I think suffers from British understatement —  but alive.) Some might know him from the 2006 Eurocon on which he was a senior committee member organising the international dimension.”

Jonathan attended the Eurocon held in Ukraine in 2006. Read his account of making fannish connections there in “The 2006 Eurocon, Ukraine”.

…The need for an outlet for Ukrainian SF is not a trivial point. Though the Ukraine is the latest country to break close ties with Russia (meaning that up to recently Russia dominated most activities including publishing), it is effectively a bilingual nation with nearly all the population speaking both Ukrainian and Russian. So getting SF professionally published actually in the Ukrainian language within the Ukraine has in the past been difficult, though matters are now slowly getting a little better. Prior to 1990 and the fall of the Berlin wall, if you wanted to write professionally you had to belong to the Writers Association of the Ukraine. However the Association did not consider SF as a serious genre, furthermore the Association was closely tied to the communist party. So potential writers had to be inventive, such as trying to get published in popular science/propaganda magazines. Needless to say SF conventions also were few prior to 1990 and that did not help. Today Ukrainian writers still have problems. For example, the Ukranian writer Sergey Slyusarenko has had several short stories published but only recently his first novel [Tactile Senesations]. However this was through a Russian publishing house that distributed his book in Russia in Russian. No bulk copies were sent to the Ukraine. Fortunately though, this year Slyusarenko was one of those to receive a Eurocon Encouragement Award and it is hoped that this will prompt an Ukrainian publishing house to produce an Ukrainian edition….

(4) WHERE TO READ UKRANIAN SFF WRITERS IN ENGLISH. Alex Shvartsman has compiled “A List of Ukrainian-born SF/F Authors Whose Fiction is Available in English” and posted it at Future Science Fiction Digest. He will continue to update it as he finds more qualifying works.

Are you curious about science fiction and fantasy works written by authors who either currently reside or were born in Ukraine? There are a number of such works available in English. Interestingly. the authors I was able to come up with for this list lean heavily toward fantasy over science fiction. And they tend to write excellent stuff–I’m a long-time fan of many of these authors, though I did find several short story writers in the course of researching this post who are new to me as well.

(5) LESSER CONSEQUENCES OF INVASION. “Disney to Pause Theatrical Releases in Russia, Including ‘Turning Red’” reports Variety.

The Walt Disney Company announced on Monday that it will be pausing all theatrical releases in Russia, including that of “Turning Red,” which was previously set to premiere in the country March 10.

“Given the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine and the tragic humanitarian crisis, we are pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia, including the upcoming ‘Turning Red’ from Pixar,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation. In the meantime, given the scale of the emerging refugee crisis, we are working with our NGO partners to provide urgent aid and other humanitarian assistance to refugees.”

Disney is the first of the major film distributors to pause its theatrical releases in the region, which will likely cause others to follow suit. However, it seems that Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” will still have a Russia release for now, with the film set for a worldwide premiere on March 3.

(6) CHERNOBYL IN THE NEWS AGAIN. The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage discusses “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes – stunning TV that is suddenly unmissable” with filmmaker James Jones.

Had it been released at any point in the past few years, Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes would have been an important documentary; a feature-length blend of audio interviews and largely unseen archive footage that puts the 1986 disaster into horrifying new perspective. That it comes out now – just days after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including an attack on the Chernobyl site itself – makes it as unmissable as it is harrowing.

…One contained a footnote that caught his eye. “It referenced footage that was shot in Pripyat [in northern Ukraine] the weekend after the accident,” he says. Despite the fact that the worst nuclear disaster in history had happened down the road hours earlier, releasing 400 times more radioactive material into the atmosphere than the Hiroshima bomb, the footage showed residents milling about as if nothing had happened.

“You can see mothers pushing babies around and kids playing football in the sand,” says Jones. “Then you start to see these white flashes on the film because of the insanely high level of radiation. It was so chilling.” Nevertheless, the existence of this footage spurred him to seek out more. Via a wealth of sources – national archives, propaganda films, collapsed Soviet documentary studios, western news reports, children and soldiers who happened to have video cameras at the time – he began to piece together a blistering documentary that draws a straight line from the USSR’s attempts to play down the disaster to the fall of the Soviet Union itself.

Although Chernobyl is one of those historical punctuation points on which everyone thinks they have a decent overview, not least due to Sky’s recent drama series, The Lost Tapes is studded with moments of footage so extraordinary that you are unlikely to forget them. A clean-up helicopter crashing to the ground over the explosion site. Searing footage of injuries and mutations to humans and animals. Wooden grave markers in an irradiated forest.

(7) AT THE TOP OF HER GAME. Congratulations to Cat Rambo for being named a guest at Origins Game Fair.

(8) FREE TAFF BOOK. The Harrison Saga: The Extraordinary Exploits of Sir William Makepeace Harrison by  “Harry Hurstmonceaux and Cyril Faversham”, ripping yarns written from 1957 to 1975 by the UK fans John Owen and Stanley Nuttall, is the latest addition to TAFF’s library of free downloads. The collection is available in multiple formats at the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund’s website, where they also hope you’ll make a little donation to the fund. 

In these ripping yarns written from 1957 to 1975 by the UK fans John Owen and Stanley Nuttall (writing as Hurstmonceaux and Faversham), the awesome figure of Sir William Makepeace Harrison bestrides the world like a Roman-nosed colossus. The British Empire’s last unflinching bulwark against Nazis, Commies and duplicitous foreigners in general, Harrison upheld the banner of Civilization – or at least the Union Jack – o’er palm and pine. His magnificently silly adventures are threaded with tongue-in-cheek echoes of Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan, “Sapper” of Bulldog Drummond fame, Dornford Yates, Ian Fleming, Raymond Chandler, Frank Hampson and a million Victorian/Edwardian boys’ adventure stories. It would be wrong to giggle at such unstinting heroism, swordsmanship, gunplay, gourmandizing, fine-wine-bibbing and deus ex machina escapes, but nevertheless one does.

For The Harrison Saga, Rob Hansen has assembled all Owen’s and Nuttall’s tales of Sir William Makepeace Harrison with an explanatory Foreword, an Afterword and (assisted by David Langford) some learned notes on literary references and in-jokes. For readers who crave something “a little stronger”, there is also a bibliography.

(9) MEDIA BIRTHDAY.

2002 [Item by Cat Eldridge] Twenty years ago, Altered Carbon was published in the UK. Written by Richard Morgan, it would be followed by two sequels, Broken Angels and Woken Furies. It’s a series that I really, really liked and I thought was wrapped well. 

It would win the Philip K. Dick Award. Other nominated works for the Award that year were Mark Buds’ Clade, M.M. Buckner’s Hyperthought, Chris Moriarty‘s Spin State and Ann Tonsor Zeddies‘ Steel Helix

The novels would become the basis of the Netflix Altered Carbon series which ran for eighteen episodes over two seasons before being canceled plus an anime prequel film. Originally the first novel was going to be a film and those rights were sold for a million dollars which allowed Morgan to become a full-time writer but it never went anywhere which is how Netflix ended up with it. 

(10) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born February 28, 1913 John Coleman Burroughs. An illustrator known for his illustrations of the works of his father, Edgar Rice Burroughs. At age 23, he was given the chance to illustrate his father’s book, The Oakdale Affair and the Rider which was published in 1937. He went on to illustrate all of his father’s books published during the author’s lifetime — a total of over 125 illustrations.  He also illustrated the John Carter Sunday newspaper strip, a David Innes of Pellucidar comic book feature and myriad Big Little Book covers. I remember the latter books — they were always to be found about the house during my childhood. (Died 1979.)
  • Born February 28, 1928 Walter Tevis. Author of The Man Who Fell to Earth which became the basis of the film of the same name starring David Bowie. There’s apparently a Showtime series planned off it. He also wrote two other SF novels, The Steps of The Sun and Mockingbird. All off his work is available from the usual digital sources. Though far from being genre, The Queen’s Gambit is most excellent. (Died 1984.)
  • Born February 28, 1947 Stephen Goldin, 75. Author of the Family d’Alembert series which is based on a novella by E.E. “Doc” Smith. I think the novella is “Imperial Stars” but that’s unclear from the way the series is referred to. Has anyone read this series? How does it match up to the source material?
  • Born February 28, 1948 Bernadette Peters, 74. Performer, stage, film and television, so this is selected look at her. She was A Witch in Into the Woods on Broadway and reprised the role in a tv film. It is a Stephen Sondheim musical based on the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. She’s in The Martian Chronicles as Genevieve Seltzer. She does a lot of voice acting, to wit in Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted ChristmasWakko’s WishLegends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return, Rita, a recurring role on the Animaniacs and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The most recent genre role I see her doing is Circe on The Odyssey series several back. 
  • Born February 28, 1966 Philip Reeve, 56. He is primarily known for the Mortal Engines and its sequels. I read the first three novels before deciding that was enough of that series. Not that it’s not a fine series, it just wasn’t developing interestingly enough to warrant me reading any more of it. 
  • Born February 28, 1958 John Barnes, 64. I read and really liked all of the novels in his Thousand Cultures series which are a sort of updated Heinleinian take on the spread of humanity across the Galaxy. (My take on it. Yours may well differ.) What else by him do y’all like? I see he’s not put out a novel in a decade now, a pity that. Some of his fiction is available at the usual suspects though not the Thousand Cultures series.
  • Born February 28, 1977 Chris Wooding, 45. If you read nothing else by him, do read the four novel series that is the steampunkish Tales of the Ketty Jay. Simply wonderful. The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray plays off the Cthulhu Mythos that certain folk don’t think exists and does a damn fine job of doing so. 

(11) COMICS SECTION.

  • Blondie finds the key to selling books.  

(12) STONED. Atlas Obscura knows where to find the “Pop Culture Gargoyles Hidden in Gothic Architecture” (published in 2018).

…If you’re curious enough for a gargoyle safari, stay around the edifice! You will not be disappointed, as Darth Vader is just one of many pretty unusual creations conceived to adorn the National Cathedral. The 112 sculpted gargoyles include those by Walter S. Arnold, who envisioned gargoyles as portraying the specific hopes and fears of their era. Arnold’s sculptures have name like “The Crooked Politician,” “The Fly holding Raid Spray,” or the “High Tech Pair,” representing a stylized robot and surveillance camera….

(13) WALK ON THE WILD SIDE. Can these be “The 10 Goofiest Sci-Fi Movies Ever”? Screen Rant thinks so.

Idiocracy (2006)

While the movie could be considered a gruelingly accurate prediction of a dystopian future, Idiocracy is actually a satirical and hilarious sci-fi flick. The film is about a man with a below-average IQ who is frozen in a government experiment, but he’s then thawed out in the future and is treated like a genius.

It’s a silly concept, but Idiocracy also attempts to tackle so many subjects, such as people’s obsession with celebrities, entertainment and media consumption, and politics. Based in a world where the President of the United States wears an American flag as a cape and carries a machine gun at all times, the 2006 movie is so over the top.

(14) THE OLD TICKER. “Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch among donations to museum” reports the Guardian.

The pocket watch owned by Edgar Allan Poe while he was writing his famous short story The Tell-Tale Heart, in which the murderous narrator compares the thumping of his victim’s heart to the tick of a clock, has been donated to the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

Literary collector Susan Jaffe Tane gave the watch along with almost 60 other artefacts, including letters and rare first editions. Curator Chris Semtner said Poe’s timepiece was “especially important” because the author owned it while writing the story…

(15) APPRENTICED TO A PIRATE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] This Korean pirate movie sounds like fantasy to me! The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure comes to Netflix on March 2.

Lured by the promise of fortune and riches, a band of pirates set off in the hopes of uncovering hidden treasure. But when the elements turn against them and the lines between folklore and reality wear thin, they soon realize that some quests are better left unconquered.

(16) VIDEO OF THE DAY. Saturday Night Live’s “Subway Churro skit” with John Mulvaney covers most Broadway musical bases.

[Thanks to JJ, John King Tarpinian, Andrew Porter, Chris Barkley, Alex Shvartsman, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, David Langford, Daniel Dern, Michael Toman, Cat Eldridge, Mike Kennedy, Martin Morse Wooster for some of these stories. Title credit belongs to File 770 contributing editor of the day Chris.]

Never Mind The News – File 770’s Best Feature Articles of 2021

Was the year too heavy, deep, and real? Yes, but it was also rich in creativity, humor, and shared adventures. It’s a gift and privilege for me to be continually allowed to publish so many entertaining posts. Thanks to all of you who contributed!

FEATURES

David DoeringMost Remote SF Bookstore in the World?

Meet “Book Island” in the town of Saint Denis on Reunion Island—a small speck in the vast Indian Ocean

Pierre E. Pettinger, Jr.Never Too Late To Start: Guest Post by Pierre E. Pettinger Jr.

… Like many fans, I had tried my hand with writing, especially as a teenager. I wrote notes, drew weird aliens, and even wrote a novel which will never see the light of day. But during all this I did noodle, consistently, with several recurring characters and a story line. It shifted and changed, of course, as I matured and different interests came into my life, and eventually they just settled in the back of my mind.

John HertzAt the Height of His –

… Once when [Tim] Powers was being interviewed at an SF convention someone asked “Do you actually believe in this stuff?”  He said “No.  But my characters do.”  As Gordon Bennett wrote, and Frank Sinatra sang, “This is all I ask, this is all I need.”

JJ2020 Novellapalooza

… I’m a huge reader of novels, but not that big on short fiction. But the last few years, I’ve done a personal project to read and review as many Novellas as I could (presuming that the story Synopsis had some appeal for me). …

Patty WellsLearn About SAFF, the Space Agency Fan Fund

… The mission of SAFF is to keep the factual progress of space exploration out there for our community and to help individual Worldcons and other conventions in dealing with the arrangements and funding of space experts as special guests. 

JJWhere To Find The 2020 Nebula Finalists For Free Online

To help propel you into your awards season reading, here are links to excerpts or complete works from the 2020 Nebula Award finalists.

John HertzGood Names for Bad Guys

 During 1937-1956 a radio program called “The Answer Man” was broadcast over the Mutual Broadcasting System….  

Wolf von WittingInexplicable Phenomena and How To Approach Them

… Another solved mystery was that of the vanishing pancake. A friend of mine, by profession police officer, was standing at his stove, frying pancakes. As we both did with pancakes, we flipped them around in the air. So did my friend on this day.

His mystery was that the pancake never came back down. It vanished. There was no trace of it….

A Multitude of FilersOpening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic — By Filers

Eli Grober’s “Opening Lines Rewritten for a Pandemic” in The New Yorker humorously changes the beginnings of famous books to suit life as we knew it in the plague year of 2020…. Filers answered the challenge to add to the list. Here is a collection from yesterday’s comments….

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed, being careful to maintain a distance of at least six feet.

–Nina Shepardson

Brendan DuBoisIn Happy Pursuit of Jeopardy!

… It was the Jeopardy! gameshow display screen one saw all the time on television, in real life, just yards away, here inside the cool Sony studios.   Six rows across with the categories, columns of five numbers under each.  To the right of the large display was Alex Trebek’s podium, and nearby were the three contestant stations. 

There were sixteen of us here, and before the end of the day, all of us but one would have our thirty minutes of fame — or infamy — in this very special place.

But how did I get here?

John HertzAnother Well-Titled Book

Glorious, the Greg Benford – Larry Niven novel appearing last year, is one of the more ambitious SF stories.  

Rich LynchRocket Boy

… The model took off and rose straight up for maybe 100 feet or so before the second stage kicked in, but then there was trouble.  Instead of continuing its upward flight, the thing veered to the right and zoomed away horizontally, slightly descending all the while.  It went directly over a house across the street and continued on, neatly bisecting the span between two tall trees behind the house.  And then it was gone from sight.  I remember that my uncle gave me a quizzical look and asked, “Was it supposed to do that?”…

IphinomeFour Reviews by Iphinome

Reading. That’s what I do, I read and I snark things.

IphinomeIphinome Reviews Novik’s A Deadly Education

El (Galadriel) is pissed off. Her classmate Orion just rescued her for the second time –needlessly. She’s capable, more than capable, El’s powerful – El, power, get it? Get it?…

Lyrics by Aydrea Walden and Jocelyn Scofield“All Because of You” Lyrics from the Nebula Awards Ceremony

But then I had a spark, a realization
While floating here all by myself
I’m actually in the best of company
Because you’re on my shelf

Mark L. BlackmanDeath and Doom (and Cats) at the KGB Bar with Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin

On the evening of Wednesday, June 16, 2021, the Fantastic Fiction at KGB Reading Series, hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel, presented authors Seanan McGuire and Nadia Bulkin in livestreamed readings on YouTube. (Neither reader is running for Mayor of New York.)

This is the 16th month of virtual readings, in place of in-person reading at the eponymous bar in the East Village in Manhattan, noted Kressel. New York City may be “open,” added Datlow, but they don’t yet feel comfortable “going into the crowd” at the Bar for at least a few more months….

Mike GlyerSmell Like A Superhero

Is there a science fiction movie character you want to smell like? Forget Swamp Thing, c’mon, he’s not in Fragrance X’s catalog. Otherwise, there’s no end of superhero and genre branded colognes you can buy.

Sara FelixWhy I Work on Worldcon: Guest Post by Sara Felix

There was a post a while ago on twitter that asked, “So what motivates y’all to continue entering bids to host Worldcons? Genuinely curious.”

And I responded with, ”I think there are some great bids out there like Glasgow 2024 that you can genuinely tell they are enthusiastic and want to put on a good show.  Working on Dublin was like that for me as well.  I am not saying they are perfect but the excitement is really important.”

But that is just the tip of the iceberg of what I wanted to say…

Cat EldridgeLeague of Extraordinary Gentlemen Film Anniversary: Celebrate or Not?

… Now back to Connery. The film would leave him with such a bad experience that claimed he the production of the film and the film’s final quality was what he caused his decision to permanently retire from filmmaking, saying in an interview with The Times that, “It was a nightmare. The experience had a great influence on me, it made me think about showbiz. I get fed up dealing with idiots.”

Martin Morse WoosterSpace Jam: A New Legacy – A Review

Space Jam:  A New Legacy is a fun-free synthetic entertainment substitute.  Its many writers (six are credited) created a screenplay from artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and gas….  

Mark L. BlackmanTwo Too-Near Futures from Kim Stanley Robinson and Nancy Kress

… Datlow asked Robinson, “How can you be so optimistic?” He replied that his mother was; she felt that it was our duty to be optimistic and to help people….

Mike GlyerLe Guin Stamp Issued Today

The Ursula K. Le Guin commemorative Forever stamp was officially unveiled today during a ceremony at the Portland (OR) Art Museum.

Steve VertliebCelebrating The Wonderful Nehemiah Persoff At 102

… I began to wonder whatever became of this marvelous actor and so, before retiring for the evening, I started to research Mr. Persoff’s whereabouts on my computer. As luck would have it, I found him and wrote him a rather hasty letter of personal and lifelong admiration. To my shock and utter astonishment, he responded within five minutes….

Melanie StormmEmails From Lake Woe-Is-Me: Links To Every Installment

Stormm began her humorous series about the misdirected emails she gets from Writer X in August and has done 17 regular and two bonus installments. It swirls together comedy, horror, and the pitfalls of being a writer.

Robin A. ReidWriting Against the Grain: T. Kingfisher’s Feminist Mythopoeic Fantasy

The purpose of this presentation is to place Tolkien’s theory of mythopoeic fiction in dialogue with fantasy series by T. Kingfisher in order to argue that her work is feminist and mythopoeic. While there are a number of elements of Kingfisher’s fiction that are relevant to my purpose, I’ll be focusing on two: her version of Faërie and system of magic, and her portrayal of female characters whose relationships are with failed warrior heroes….

Brian Z.A Modest Proposal for the Very Retro Hugo for Genre-Related Work

The talk of time capsules and 1000-year M-discs in the Pixel Scroll 8/12/21 discussion of item (16), the Louis XIII Cognac 100-year sci-fi film vault, got me thinking that Worldcon should do Hugos for Best Genre-related Work Created 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 and 40,000 years ago….

Sultana RazaHergé’s Multi-Layered Worlds

… Considered to be a genius by many, not only was Hergé skilled at drawing, he was also good at fascinating his readers with mysteries, and intriguing situations. For example, why was Prof. Calculus going into the heart of a volcano, following the agitated movements of his pendulum, instead of running away, like all the others? Perhaps he was so oblivious to his real surroundings, and was so desperate to find the cause of the wild swinging of his pendulum for the sake of science, that inadvertently, he was willing to risk his very life. Or was he running away from mundane reality? And why did Tintin rush back to save his friend from going deeper in the maze of the mountain? Possibly because that was Tintin’s nature, to rescue not just the innocent people of the world, but it also showed his deep friendship with the absent-minded professor….

Robert RepinoConsequences as an Engine of Storytelling: A Guest Post by Robert Repino

…After watching [John Wick: Chapter 3], my friends and I got some drinks at a nearby bar. There, I found myself repeating a single word from the movie: “Consequences.” Wick utters this word whenever one of the characters points out that his past may have finally caught up with him. Since I like to drive jokes into the ground, I began to say “Consequences” in response to everything that night, in a poor imitation of Wick’s scratchy voice. Why did we need to buy another round? “Consequences.” Why should someone else pick up the tab? “Consequences.” And maybe I should call out sick tomorrow? “Consequences.”…

Mike GlyerHallmark Rolls Out 2021 Ornaments

Right after the Fourth of July might not be when I shop for Christmas ornaments, but somebody does, because that’s when Hallmark runs its Keepsake Ornament Premiere.

If the timing is for the convenience of retailers, there is also a certain logic in picking a spot on the calendar that is as far away as you can get from a date associated with Christmas trees. It’s plain some of these ornaments are intended for a Halloween or Thanksgiving tree, while others probably are destined never to decorate a tree at all but to remain pristine in their original wrapping on collectors’ shelves….

Craig MillerPreview of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

In, I believe, 1927, the Academy of Motion Pictures was founded.

In 1929, they decided there should be a museum of motion picture history and memorabilia.

In three days, a little shy of a hundred years later, the Academy Museum will open to the public….

Martin Morse WoosterReview: Museum of the Bible

Continuing my reports on museums that might be of interest to Filers coming to Washington for DisCon III, I offer a report on the Museum of the Bible, which I visited recently.  (I had a Groupon!)…

Glenn HaumanOh, The Place We Boldly Stop.

The Dr. Seuss Enterprises lawsuit against us is finally over….

Esther MacCallum-StewartCOP26 and Glasgow in 2024

… COP26 has produced an enormous impact on Glasgow….

Sultana RazaFan or Spy?

… I couldn’t help thinking of the passage from The Lord of the Rings, where the Crebain go searching for the Fellowship. In fact, there are many birds as spies in fantasy fiction, such as the Three-Eyed Raven, the, One-eyed Crow, or Varamyr Sixskins warging into an eagle in A Song of Ice and Fire, to mention a few…. 

Mike GlyerShould the Best Series Hugo Category Be Kept?

The Best Series Hugo category was added to the WSFS Constitution in 2017 with a sunset clause requiring a future re-ratification vote to remain part of the Worldcon Constitution. That vote happens next week at the DisCon III Business Meeting. If you were there, would you vote yes or no on keeping the category?

Shana WorthenTwas the Night Before DisCon III

Then down the long hall there arose so much chat,
that I sprang from my chair to see what was that?
Through archways, past plant pots, I slipped through the throng
as the loud murmuration came strolling along.

Colin HarrisThe World in Worldcon

… In reality, China is a huge country with a vast population and an expanding middle class; an enormous SF field and well established fandom. Chengdu is an established international convention site as well as a centre for science and technology.

I rather suspect that from the Chengdu bid’s viewpoint, the US-centric history of Worldcon is at odds with the very name of the event and its claim to be the leading global celebration of the genre. I do not need to believe there is anything suspicious about the bid, because it only needs a tiny percentage of Chinese fans to get behind it to make it a success….

Sultana Raza (and others)International Interactions with Tolkien – A Roundtable

Though Tolkien’s novels were very successful in the last century, after the Peter Jackson trilogy in the early 2000s, their reach increased to encompass the globe. Irrespective of geographical or linguistic differences, they spoke to us in different ways. In an informal Discussion Group at Oxonmoot 2021, (held online), participants were welcome to share their thoughts/reactions/ take on various aspects of Tolkien’s works, mainly his Legendarium….

Mike GlyerThe Twenty Percent Solution: A Self-Published Science Fiction Competition Judge’s Upvotes

… Based on reading 20% of Team File 770’s assigned books, I found there are actually 12 I’d say yes to – so I am going to need to cut two more before I finalize this list….

TRIGGER SNOWFLAKE

The saga of Sheriff Trigger Snowflake, the lovely Coraline, and the shenanigans of the Solarian Poets Society added several chapters this year that were not so much ripped-from-the-headlines as amused by the news.

Ingvar Trigger Snowflake and the Election

… Trigger put his cup down, as he saw Coraline wave a paper in the air.

“Trigger!” she said, “Look at this! Look who’s standing for president!”

IngvarTrigger Snowflake and the Dessert

A few days later, down at the Coffee Emporium, Trigger was having breakfast. A nice cup of Bean of the Day and a grilled synthecheese. As he finished the last bite of the synthecheese, Barbara Dimatis walked up to his table.

“Sheriff Snowflake, may I sit?”

“Why, sure, Ms Dimatis. What troubles you?”

“You’ve heard of Bistro Futuristo? Well, turns out that the editor and owner of Futuristo Magazine has made an announcement.”…

Ingvar Trigger Snowflake and the Grand Reopening

“Sheriff! Sheriff! Have you heard?”

“No, Ms Dimatis, I don’t believe I have?”

“The Bistro has re-opened!”

“Bistro Futuristo?”

INTERVIEWS

Brandon Sanderson WFC 2020 Interview Highlights – Conducted by David Doering

Far Sector Round Table with N.K. Jemisin – Conducted by James Bacon and others

CHRIS BARKLEY

ConStellation Hat. Photo by Craig Glassner/Pinterest/Hat of the Day

… Needless to say, I have witnessed or participated in a number of remarkable, bizarre and historic incidents during my tenure working at Worldcons. I not only know how the sausage was made, I helped make it as well….

… Before I reveal my BDP Hugo Nomination Ballot choices, let’s contemplate these ten outstanding films from 2020…

So forget about what the naysayers are saying; Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a big, exciting, sprawling, violent, intense, profane, beautiful and ultimately moving film.

DECLASSIFIED! Seven Secret and Untold Stories From the Worldcon Press Office

CONVENTION REPORTS

Commemorative button.

CHRIS BARKLEY’S DISCON III REPORTS

Ride along with Chris at this year’s Worldcon, everywhere from major events to favorite restaurants.

JAMES BACON

In addition to reviewing comics and graphic novels, James used his camera and descriptive abilities to take us along on visits to all kinds of fascinating exhibits and pop culture events.

CATS SLEEP ON SFF

OBITUARIES

[date of publication]

Barkley: DisCon III Reporter’s Notebook and Observations

A gingerbread Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater house, originally posted by artist David Naiditch, December 8, 2020 on Facebook.

The 79th World Science Fiction Convention: My DisCon III Reporter’s Notebook and Observations

By Chris M. Barkley: Right now, a week and a few days after DisCon III began, seems like a distant dream. My partner Juli and I actually went there, participated and went home.

As dreams go, it was pretty good. At least for us. I have a few thoughts about that and other things…

Mary Robinette Kowal was right in that the World Science Fiction Convention, as an institution, was saved by the heroic efforts of the volunteers who worked tirelessly to pull it off with her as their unflagging and almost indefatigable leader. My two main takeaways are that: (A) Virtual participation in the Worldcon should become a standard operating procedure from now on, and (B) No disabled person should be subjected to any WSFS venue or facility that is not fully accessible to everyone. Juli and I saw far too many people struggling to get to panels and events. I know that DisCon III had to make do with the venue that had but I think that future Worldcon committees are on notice; THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

As I was writing this passage, Mary Robinette Kowal issued this statement through on the DisCon III website: “Kowal Apologizes for Raytheon Sponsorship of DisCon III”.  

Speaking of participation, I had a whole list of panels that I wanted to report on but things did not shake out as I had planned. For that I profusely apologize. Maybe next year. (Yeah, RIGHT!)

In looking over the longlist of Hugo nominations, I was somewhat surprised to see that Baen Editor-in-Chief Toni Weisskopf qualified to be a finalist in the Best Editor – Long Form category. Ms. Weisskopf declined the nomination. And after being uninvited as a DisCon III Guest of Honor earlier this year, and who can blame her. As I have stated elsewhere, while Ms. Weisskopf and I may not see eye to eye politically I was appalled that she was removed as DisCon III’s Guest of Honor; once upon a time, she was originally chosen by the convention committee solely for her sterling editorial work at Baen Books. This wasn’t the first time the Worldcon community has let her down, but I am quite sure it will be the last time.    

Speaking of voting results, I CAN’T BELIEVE TENET CAME IN LAST PLACE! What the HELL, man?

Also disappointing; that a Worldcon took place three and a half miles away from the headquarters of National Public Radio and they did not send a single reporter to cover DisCon III. I, on the other hand, was wearing a NPR baseball cap when I (briefly) attended the historic Site Selection Meeting Sunday morning. Because I cared, even if they did not…

 Late Saturday evening and early Sunday morning, there was the now annual round of bitching from incels, racist malcontents and overall nitwits that the Hugo Awards are dominated by women, minorities and marginalized people, and that it was pretty obvious (to them) that they write “superior” sf and fantasy. 

Well, first off, the dominance of white male writers as the sole influence in the fannish and professional writing is quite over. And here’s an additional pro tip: GET OVER YOURSELVES. Your day (and night for that matter) is DONE. A majority of the people who vote for and care about the Hugo Awards have soundly rejected, repeatedly, year after year, your mostly male, mostly white, hetero-normative, sexist, racially insensitive and non-inclusive narratives. Just keep marinating yourselves in hate and bullshit, we’re getting pretty good at ignoring you.  

One such person who will not be heeding this advice is one Jon Del Arroz, whom well known fantasy and sf writer Adam-Troy Castro critically eviscerated is a Sunday morning Facebook post

Enough Said on this subject. For now.

One of the odd things about the act of observing or reporting, is that once people know you are doing either, more often than not, people change their behavior. In one such instance, my partner, Juli, had vacated her room so the hotel attendant (I REFUSE to merely call them ‘maids”) could change the linen and towels. 

While she was seated in one of the many comfy chairs located around the elevators, a man and woman approached to wait. When the man glanced over and noticed the press ribbon on her badge, he became very animated and friendly. He explained that he was an author and had a book out that he was selling at the convention. When he whipped the book out of his bag, Juli took a photo of him. Here it is:  

This also happened right after the conclusion the Hugo Awards Ceremony; while I was busy snapping pictures of the winners as they took the stage, Juli was approached by the well-known Italian sf artist and Hugo nominee Maurizio Manzieri, who took the opportunity to introduce himself and tell her all about himself and how HAPPY he was to be there. She took a photo of him as well.

In both instances, she promised to include them in my reporting. And here they are. We were happy to include you. You’re Welcome.

I’d also like to take a moment to personally thank one of DisCon III’s Advisors, Randall Shepherd. Mr. Shepherd sent me a text early last Saturday morning, asking if I had a suit. At that time, I was hard at work finishing Day 3 of these chronicles and didn’t see it until about an hour and a half before the Hugo Award Ceremonies. 

Little did I know that had I promptly answered that text, I could have been a part of the Ceremony. Mr. Shepherd was responsible for a skit that took place at the beginning and the end of the Ceremony, wherein several people, impersonating Secret Service agents, took the stage and pretended to cordon off the area as a pretend motorcade interrupted the hosts with blaring sirens and flashing lights (just as residents of the District tolerate and loathe practically every day.)  

I don’t think being in the skit would have worked out for me because one of the things I forgot to bring to DisCon III were my clip-on sunglasses. But I THANK YOU, Mr. Shepherd, for thinking of me. Maybe next year…

I, for one, missed having Daniel Dern at DisCon III. That kid could cover some ground at a con. He was sorely missed.

For anyone who cares, I weighed the gigantic Krazy Kat collection of Sunday pages purchased from Mike Walsh on a digital scale upon our arrival at home. It was 13.8 pounds…OOOFFFF! 

The one thing I think future Worldcons should do on a mandatory basis is having open receptions for the convention goers to meet the people they nominated for the Hugo Awards. I think that was a brilliant idea that every committee should consider. Period. Full Stop. 

Our cat, Nova, seemed to be glad to see us after being gone for nearly five full days. So far.

I would be remiss if I did not comment on the 2023 Worldcon being won by the Chengdu bid. For the record, I voted for the Winnipeg bid. Because Winnipeg is a lot closer than Chengdu, China.

A lot of fans were openly lamenting that the 81st World Science Fiction Convention was going to be held in what many, including myself, consider a totalitarian, one party police state. 

On the other side, the Chinese government has not only been encouraging people to read, they have been vociferously promoting the reading and writing of science fiction. Chinese fandom has grown exponentially in the past twenty years and the group that put together the Chengdu bid has been working towards this year’s Site Selection for the better part of a decade.

I would also remind people of two very salient and sobering issues; first, that a lot of fans, both here and abroad, were actively talking about boycotting DisCon III if the previous (and heinous) administration had been reelected. The other is that the United States of America came within mere minutes of becoming a one party dictatorship itself nearly a year ago. And just because that attempt failed, doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods yet.  

The fact of the matter is that Chengdu won the bid. The responsibility for holding the Worldcon is in their hands. And personally, I think they take this responsibility very seriously.

The biggest obstacle for everyone involved is whether or not the government of the People’s Republic of China will be involved with the Chengdu Worldcon. 

Because if the powers that be in Beijing decide to interfere with the programming, who may or may not attend or the administration of the Hugo Awards, I can pretty much guarantee that fandom will make sure that the first World Science Fiction Convention on Chinese soil will definitely be the last, at least in my lifetime. 

One last thing. 

While Juli and I were out and about the convention, several people stopped us and highly commended me on my frequent postings on the DisCon III Facebook page and my columns on File770.com. All of them mentioned that I should be nominated for a Fan Writing Hugo.

And I thanked them for thinking of me.

Which got me thinking when I got home. 

There was a time, when I began these columns several years ago, that I WAS doing it for the chance at a nomination. But as the years went by, I began to notice that my name has never been among the long list of nominations. And as time has passed, I became resigned to the fact that I may never be nominated, much less win a Hugo Award.

I happen to believe that File 770 is one of the largest fannish platforms on the internet. And I do believe that my writings and opinions have been heard, that people are reading me and that I have had some impact in fandom. 

But at this point in my life I am doing it for the love of writing and for the chance to be heard, not for my ego, the recognition or the glory. 

So, while I feel incredibly good that people are noticing my work, I cannot and will not either campaign for the honor or ask anyone to vote for me.

Thank you for spending some of your time with me. 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Very Happy New Year to you ALL.

Barkley: DisCon III, the Fifth Day

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, Discon III – Day Five

By Chris M. Barkley:

DAY FIVE: THE LAST DAY

Sunday, the very last day of Discon III, was a VERY busy day.

Juli and I had finished packing the night before.

I was also up early (again) because I had a 10am panel; “Inspired Or Copied, The Ethics of Art”, featuring artists agent Jane Frank, attorney at law Harold Feld, and authors Keith DeCandido, J.T. Greathouse and myself. As I looked in the program book, I did not see anyone listed as a moderator. Which made me wonder why I was on this panel to begin with. Oh well, I thought…  

But first, there were two other issues on my plate that morning. As I got dressed, Juli informed me that I maybe in hot water with our friend, author Jonathan Brazee. Apparently, I misstated his rank in the United States Marine Corps as “Lt. Colonel” instead of his actual rank upon retirement as full Colonel. 

If you think the distinction is rather minor, think again. Consider this; my brain fart is the equivalent of mistaking the rock band Nickelback for The Beatles. I have several friends and relatives who have served in the armed services and nothing upsets them more than civilians like myself getting aspects of their lives dead wrong. So, I got dressed, dreading the prospect of running into the Colonel.

The other thing that caught my attention was a Facebook post by Adam-Troy Castro. In it, Mr. Castro totally eviscerates Jon Del Arroz, a internet provocateur (troll) mostly known for his incredibly egotistical boasts of writing talent and notorious passive-aggressive attacks on progressive writers, women, the LGBTQ community and practically anyone else who casts doubts his on his “greatness”.

Needless to say, I picked up Mr. Castro’s post and spread it all over Facebook (including the DisCon III page) and on my Twitter page with the caption (gleefully borrowed from Game of Thrones): “He who SHOUTS that he is a King, is no king.”  

THAT, dear readers, felt very, VERY satisfying.

On my way to my panel, I decided to grab a quick bite of something in the DisCon III Green Room (located just off to the side of the hotel’s main restaurant) to tide me over until I could eat a fuller breakfast. And guess who was there, having coffee with a friend —

As I started to apologize profusely, he laughed and said that he actually got a kick out of being one of the “luminaries” spotted at the bottom of the first column of this series of DisCon III reports. Totally relieved that I would not be set upon by angry veterans or service members of the armed forces, I grabbed a cup of tea and made my way to my panel. (Subsequently, Col. Brazee contacted me via text and said that no further public apology was necessary but I must disagree. When a mistake of that magnitude is made by a reporter, a correction is not only called for, it’s mandatory as far as I’m concerned.)

As I passed through the lobby, I stopped by the Information Desk for the last newsletter and the traditional hoax parody as well. I also saw that there were several dozen silver colored, Flash Gordon shaped foam rockets on the next table over. Curious, I went over and examined one and saw the red and black label, which is how I found out that the defense contractor Raytheon was an official sponsor of DisCon III. (WHAT? I should have been paying more attention during the con! In my defense, I was unsupervised…)

Thinking that these would make a nice trinket for my four grandchildren, I grabbed several of them. As I passed by Ellen Datlow, who was seated in the East Promenade eating from the grab and go buffet, I gifted her with one as well. She was very appreciative since this rocket was MUCH lighter than the Short Form Editing Hugo Award she had won yesterday evening.

[Chris Barkley’s report continues after the jump.]

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Barkley: DisCon III,
The Fourth Day

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, DisCon III – December 19-20, 2021

By Chris M. Barkley:

DAY FOUR

(Author’s Note: As of this writing, I misplaced all of my notes for Day Four. The things I write about here may be a bit truncated, so please bear with me with this day’s events…)

I woke up relatively early (for a Worldcon), at around 8:45 a.m. Dapperly dressed in my Chelsea FC pajamas and socks, I decide to go down to the Information Desk for the latest Dis N’ Dat newsletter for the latest news and Programming changes.

Just as I exited the elevator, I encountered Laurie Mann and Dave McCarty in deep conversation. Mr. McCarty told me that he was on his way to the Site Selection Meeting and was particularly vexed because the contest between the Chengdu and Winnipeg bids was, as of this morning, in doubt.

 This was a little peculiar because under normal circumstances, the identity of the winning bid would have been leaked the previous evening by unknown sources and would have been circulating among the parties last night.   

But as I inferred from my earlier conversation with Ms. Mann and Mr. McCarty, this did not happen. By now, most of you may know that the statement from Kevin Standlee a few days earlier cast the election in doubt due to what was perceived by some as an infraction of the rules regarding the lack of valid addresses by those voting for the Chengdu bid. 

To my understanding of the matter, a majority of  the Chengdu voters used as email address because that is how they interpreted the use of that term in China 

Mr. McCarty, who is associated with the Chengdu bid, had no idea whether or not the disputed ballots would be allowed or not this morning.

Quickly realizing that either history, a controversy, or both was about to occur, I bolted to my room, got properly dressed, grabbed a tea and a protein bar and raced down to the Palladian Ballroom for the reveal.

The Site Selection Meeting had been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. but that passed by as the room slowly filled with interested parties.

[The rest of Chris’ report follows the jump.]

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Barkley: DisCon III, the Third Day

The File 770 DisCon III News Desk

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, DisCon III — December 17-18, 2021

By Chris M. Barkley:

DAY THREE

After yesterday’s events, I decided to sleep in a bit, until about 9 a.m. Because, you know, Worldcon.

The first bit of news came from Newsletter Number 3, which was published late Thursday evening. The middle column had the BIG news: that the proposal to create a Best Audiobook category had passed muster at the Preliminary Meeting and would be debated at the Main Session on Friday. After my blistering attack on the Business Meeting I feel slightly encouraged. But let’s see what happens next. Watch This Space, as Rachel Maddow intones on a regular basis…

At 10 a.m., I was on the move; today was the day I was going to race around like a whirling dervish and get books signed, come hell or high water!

I dashed down to the Dealers Room eagerly to seek out Mary Robinette Kowal, only to find out her signing session had been rescheduled due to a conflicting panel. So, you may wonder, who else would be crazy enough to get up that early in the morning to sign autographs? Yeah, THIS GUY, fellow Ohioian John Scalzi…

On my way back to my room, I made a stop at the Press Office. Peter Thomas was there and he informed me that a dozen media reporters had registered and that he did not have a firm number on how many warm bodies were on site, but had heard unofficially form the folks in Registration that the figure may or may not be around 2,500 people. He promised to text me directly if he got any solid information. (As of Friday evening, he did not have any additional information.)  

After tempering my disappointment, it was time for breakfast. The weather remained unusually warm with moderate winds and an overcast sky. Our destination was Open City again because our companion Anna, Juli and I were wondering if their breakfast menu was as good as their dinner menu. Readers, we were not disappointed!

Juli had the Chorizo Scramble with an arugula salad, Anna had the California Scramble with a side of fruit. I decided to go big and have the Biscuit (singular!) and Gravy with a Breakfast Burrito. And yes, they serve animal crackers with their tea and coffee!

[Chris Barkley’s report continues after the jump.]

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To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: DisCon III, Day Two

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, Discon III – December 16-17, 2021

By Chris M. Barkley: There are some days, you just feel LUCKY.

On this fine day, Juli, our friend Anna and I decided to try the Omni’s restaurant for breakfast. After ordering coffee and tea, I suddenly remembered that I had not taken my diabetic meds. 

I excused myself and walked back to the elevators. There was a bit of a crowd there so I decided to take the steps up one flight to our room. There are two sets of steps and the convention had posted signs indicating which ones to use going up and which to go down.  I went to the right and  up the steps.

As I opened the door, I looked down and became very surprised; there on the floor right at the entrance was my convention notebook! Apparently, it dropped out of my pocket as we left our room. I scooped it up and immediately wrote my name and phone number on the inside of the front cover. If I had the cash for a lottery ticket, I would have gotten one today. I was smiling for the rest of the morning…

We were joined at Breakfast by Chicago area super-fan Sandra Levy, who was having a splendid time at Discon III.

After breakfast, Juli and I decided to go Vote at the Site Selection area in the Dealer’s Room. Along the way, we encountered Laurie Mann at the Boskone Fan Table, who exhorted us to VOTE! 

At the Site Selection Desk, Sharon Sbarsky reported that had been a steady stream of fans coming to vote, both yesterday and today. 

As we wandered through the Dealer’s Room (which I found out later in the day was actually the Omni’s Parking Garage and looks very reminiscent of the sets they used on The Matrix films…) we came across the table of former Worldcon Chair (ConStellation, 1983) and bookseller Mike Walsh.

My eye was immediately drawn to a BIG collection of Krazy Kat comic strip Sunday pages. And when I mean big, I ACTUALLY MEANT GIGANTIC!

Being an ardent fan of George Herrimann, the late creator of the classic comic strip, I was immediately smitten with it. As I frantically wrote out a check to make the purchase, the Best Girlfriend in the World had already whipped out her credit card and gave me a very early Christmas gift. I LOVE you Juli and I thank you for loving my stupid face every day. At 3:00, we checked out the Con Suite, which was located on the 8th floor of the East Wing of the hotel. The food and drink were quite varied and plentiful but due to the pandemic, no one was allowed to eat in the suite. The suite’s balcony was open and a few people at a time did go out to take in the captivating view of Washington D.C.

At 4:00 p.m., we caught up with Hugo Award-winning author Jo Walton (whom we last encountered at the Dublin Airport on the way home) and the Hugo Award winning editor-in chief of Clarkesworld, Neil Clarke. Since I could not bring the many books I’d like to have signed, both happily consented to signing several book plates instead.

Also in the Dealers Room, Dave McCarty introduced me to writer/director Eric Brammer, who is shooting here with a crew for a documentary on Worldcons. He hopes to have either a rough cut or finished version done to show at Chicon 8 next year.

Later in the day, Juli and I sat for a while with fan writers and editors Nicki and Richard Lynch, who live about an hour away from D.C. They are longtime attendees of our local Ohio relaxacon  Midwestcon and asked about its status for 2022. (It is currently unknown to me.) We were lucky to catch them because they are lovely people (i.e.: baseball fans) and were only attending for the day…

Nearby, The Hugo Nominee’s reception was in full swing…with The Little Big Band, an ACTUAL swing band!

In the reception area, constant Filer (and Hugo Nominees) Olav Rokne and his partner Amanda Wakaruk were holding court with Skiffy and Fanty podcast host Shaun Duke.

We had dinner at the Open City restaurant, a delightful eatery located a half a block away from the hotel. Dinner was so delicious that Juli and I agreed that we would make that our destination for breakfast the next day.

As I began writing up the day’s events (and keeping an eye on the Eagles-Chief game on Fox) we tried to find a first run copy of Day One’s Dis ‘N Dat, which featured the first mention of the Site Selection controversy. We examined all the copies we had on hand but they were all the redacted versions.

We eventually surmised that by the time we arrived on Wednesday, ALL of the offending copies had already been rounded up and destroyed.

But anyone who does have an original, is in possession of one of the rarest of all ephemeral artifacts, ground zero of this year’s biggest fannish scandal. I can only imagine seeing it on Antiques Roadshow twenty or thirty years from now…

An Editorial About the WSFS Business Meeting. On the second day of DisCon III, a Preliminary Business Meeting of the World Science Fiction Society was held to confirm the agenda for the Main Business Meeting, which will be held on Friday. 

I did not attend the Preliminary Meeting nor do I intend to go to the Main Business Meeting. 

The Business Meeting and I became first acquainted in 1999 at Aussiecon 3 and parted bitterly at the Dublin Worldcon in 2019 and I, dear reader, was the plaintiff.

Back on November 22nd, File 770 published a link to Nicholas Whyte’s analysis of the 2021 WSFS Business Meeting’s Hugo Award Study Committee, which, over the past several years, has been charged with recommending rule and category changes to the WSFS Constitution.

What they have done is left a trail of obfuscation, hand-wringing and utter disdain for the proposals that came before them. I should know, I was one of the people doing the proposing. 

It was only through the persistence of myself and a dedicated group of supporters and collaborators that any changes have been made at all. They have my undying gratitude for all the time and effort they have put into getting those changes through the arduous process of being ratified.

As many of you regular readers may know, I was one of the main proponents of the Young Adult Book Award, now known as the Lodestar Award. 

And, as one of the more recent additions to the WSFS Constitution, the Lodestar Award is up for re-ratification this year. I support its continuation, even though I, and many other people, would prefer it be recognized as a full-fledged Hugo Award category, as it was originally intended.

Reading Nicholas Wyhte’s comments on this year’s Business Meeting agenda stirred up some strong feelings within me.

Specifically, I have found that many times, the proposals that had been made and debated online in advance of the Business Meeting, most egregiously in the case of the Young Adult Book Award, there were motions to delay debate on or outright reject proposals with BM sanctioned committees, like the Hugo Award Study Committee mentioned by Mr. Whyte, for the sole purpose of obstructing and eventually killing any possibilities for new award categories. 

There have been arguments that any new award proposals should be accompanied by evidence or statistics that would support a new award. The people making these objections claim they are doing so to protect the integrity of the Hugo Awards but know that such evidence is either hard to collect or nearly impossible to produce. 

As any mathematician worth their salt will tell you that a negative cannot be proven. The only appropriate way to see if a proposal is viable is to persuade a Worldcon committee to use its special award privilege as specified in the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.19: Additional Category. Not more than one special category may be created by the current Worldcon Committee with nomination and voting to be the same as for the permanent categories. The Worldcon Committee is not required to create any such category; such action by a Worldcon Committee should be under exceptional circumstances only; and the special category created by one Worldcon Committee shall not be binding on following Committees. Awards created under this paragraph shall be considered to be Hugo Awards. 

In the past decade, the members of the Business Meeting have taken very swift action on some issues when there has been a consensus that something needed to be done.

Per wit; the Fancast Award and Best Series Award were fast tracked through the process without too much resistance and legislation was quickly passed and ratified during the Angry/Sad/Rabid Puppy Crisis to deter a rash of slated voting.    

In the meantime, the Young Adult Book Hugo Award proposal languished in committees and discussion groups as they argued over the worthiness of honoring a branch of literature that the Locus and Nebula Awards have no problem honoring previously for many years. 

The Lodestar Award, sans it’s Hugo Award status, finally debuted in 2018. 

As I have argued over the past twenty one years, the Hugo Awards NEED to evolve and change with the times lest they become irrelevant and obsolete in our cultural landscape. And when I say change, which includes the categories I had a hand in creating, the Long and Short Form Best Dramatic Presentation, Short and Long Form Editing and Best Graphic Story or Comic (which, upon further reflection, NEEDS the term Manga added to the title to expand and clarify the category’s reach).

In examining its record over the past few years, I too have concluded that the Hugo Award Study Committee has been a dismal failure, having accomplished nothing except squelching debate on new categories and delaying vitally needed reforms for a whole host of issues, including categories I mentioned above and the Best Fan and Professional Artist categories as well. 

As Mr. Whyte mentioned in his blog post, the Lodestar Award is up for a final ratification for a permanent spot on the Hugo Awards ballot. I have every expectation that it will be ratified, seeing that it has more than proved its worthiness having averaged well over 500 nominating ballots over the past four years. 

I am also of the opinion that if the Lodestar Award were struck down by the Business Meeting, it would not only be a black eye for the fannish community and it would also invite a backlash from the wider Young Adult readers around the world.

The other measure up for re-ratification is the Best Series Award; I expect that it too, will be a permanent fixture on the ballot, at least until the literary quality of the series being nominated falls off.

The move to limit a television or a streaming series to a single nomination (instead of the current limit of two) is probably a mistake because it will restrict the voting for two connected, serialized episodes, which I think would be profoundly unfair. The only upside I can see is that more people will start nominating an entire mini-series or a season of a series in the BDP Long Form category, something that I have been advocating people to do, even at the expense of some of the longer eligible films. 

The solution to this particular conundrum would be to redefine the Best Dramatic Presentation into Best Series and Best Film categories, with a third category for very short items of under one hour’s running time. (This solution was actually submitted to the Business Meeting by myself and Vincent Docherty way back in 2015 when we were both members of another “Hugo Award Committee”. It was summarily dismissed and subsequently ignored.)  

While I enthusiastically support the idea of a Best Audio Book award, I am afraid that it will either be voted down not to be considered or, if they’re lucky, relegated to a study committee where it will either be hashed around for several years or ignored and discarded. 

I have a word of advice to Michele Cobb and Nicole Morano, the fans who proposed the Best Audio Book Award. The only way to advance your idea is to show up with enough supporters to advance your amendment past the Preliminary Meeting to get to the Main Meeting and hope for some spirited debate between yourself and them. 

If you fail, my advice to you is to be PERSISTENT. Show up and keep showing up.

If not this year, then next year and the year after that. Wear them down until they actually listen to you. Persuade people. Build coalitions. Spread the word. Build a groundswell of support among fans of audio books.

And, if you love your idea and believe in it, do not retreat and never, ever, surrender to the naysayers.

Good Luck!

Estimated Onsite Head Count: Still unknown

Luminaries Sighted: Geez, EVERYBODY, I think.

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, Discon III

By Chris M. Barkley:

DAY ONE

The day started out as pretty dreary to fly out of Cincinnati. The morning was punctuated by heavy rain showers and overcast skies. But, as the morning progressed, the skies cleared from the west and the sun revealed itself in full splendor.

My partner Juli and I received our first bit of DisCon III news just before we boarded our plane. Kevin Standlee reported on the geographic distribution of the 2023 Site Selection ballots in advance of the end of voting on Friday. The fact that this dispatch reflected that the Chengdu bid was projected to win in a landslide caused a HUGE kerfuffle online and at DisCon III. So much so that the upper management of DisCon III, asked that the post be removed and/or redacted online. And shortly thereafter, it was.   

I must note here that Kevin Standlee has been a very good friend of mine over the past twenty plus years and that my heart goes out to him. But I fear that he has done the Worldcon and the Site Selection process a great disservice by his actions. 

This development came on the heels of an editorial published Tuesday on File 770 by the distinguished UK fan Colin Harris, who suggested that if the bid from Chengdu did win that the fan community should take a deep breath and accept the results of the election. 

I have heard a great many good things about the members of Chengdu bid, in the earnest efforts to become a part of the worldwide community of fandom and their work towards winning the 2023 bid. I applaud their efforts, but I must say that my only fear, along with many others, is not any racial animus towards Chinese fans but that the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of China may interfere with the convention committee, its members and its programming.
 
(Thursday morning addendum: Kevin Standlee has been removed as the Chair of WSFS Business Meeting and also been fired as an advisor from 2023 Winnipeg bid for in an announcement on the JOF Facebook page, “acting without consulting the bid’s senior management”. )    

Well, counting Wednesday, there are three more days of voting to go. As NBC’s statistical analyst (and khaki pants advocate) Steve Kornacki will tell you, the early vote may be in but all of the precincts have yet to be heard from and that it’s still anyone’s race. We’ll find out for sure by late Friday night or very early Saturday morning. Watch This Space. 

The flight was smooth and the landing was only slightly terrifying. Being seated on the left side of the plane, Juli and I were treated to a 45 second tour of all of the classic tourist sights anyone could want; the Capitol Building, the National Mall, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials AND the Watergate apartment and business complex. So much for sightseeing! 

As we were strolling through National Airport in search of the taxi station, we spied a cute CNBC kiosk. We didn’t stop to shop but I am imagining that all of the Brian Williams items have been marked down ninety percent. Just Sayin’…

At first sight, the Omni Shoreham Hotel looks quite massive; it is at least several hundred yards long and ten stories high. The exterior looks rather modern but the interior has the feel of an older hotel. Inside we found a spacious area around the lobby but it feels rather smaller as you journey inwards. Which leads me to the first of several criticisms of the hotel, the elevators are dreadfully small. So I can only imagine how chaotic things are going to get as people want to go to parties, programming events or checking in and out. 

Accessibility for the disabled was a hot topic before the convention and the Omni Shoreham’s deficiencies were on full display as I noticed many individuals struggling to get to Opening Ceremonies. This is not to say that accessible services are non-existent, but it is sorely in short supply abound the entire hotel. Did I mention that those elevators are REALLY SMALL?

Easily getting through Registration has never been a hallmark of any convention and DisCon III was no exception. The incredibly long line stretched from the Western part of the Promenade all the way to the Eastern Promenade elevator bank. Juli and I entered the end of the line around 2:30 p.m. After fifteen minutes, I decided to go forward to investigate why. 

What I found were two people seated at a station near the Registration Desk checking everyone’s Covid-19 vaccination cards. Only two. Around the corner, there were only two or three people relentlessly processing convention badges. 

It was at this moment that DisCon III was critically short of volunteers. Everyone reading this knows that Worldcons are run by volunteers. 

I, for one, refuse to completely blame DisCon III for the shortage of people working the convention. They have been begging for help for months and due to the pandemic and moving the convention date to December has decimated the number of people who normally would have volunteered. 

(Personal Note: I was asked to head up the Press Office earlier this year but I declined because I was unable to persuade the people I usually work with to come to DisCon III. This was the impetus for me to write the Press Office Manual and its anecdotal notes that were published here several months ago.)

But here we are. And we will have to make do with the resources we have on hand.   

ON the bright side, EVERYONE was masked and distancing as well as they could. 

At around 3:30 p.m., I was beginning to think that Juli and I wouldn’t make it to Opening Ceremonies so I took some drastic action. I hated to cut through the throngs of people waiting but I went to the Press Office (which was conveniently located near Registration), made the acquaintance of Kevin, the Deputy Head of the office, who provided us with press ribbons and made sure Juli and I got our badges. We then rushed off to find the Regency Ballroom, which was located on a lower level of the hotel.

And Opening Ceremonies were a splendid affair, hosted by Ulysses E. Campbell, and featuring a performance from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Show Choir (who serenaded the group with a medley of Christmas carols, complete with choreography!) and an honor guard as well. I was personally delighted that the recipient of this year’s Big Heart Award was given to longtime fan Linda Deneroff, who was absolutely stunned and speechless (a rare occurrence, I assure you) as she accepted her plaque. 

The event climaxed with Sebastian Martorana’s incredibly informative presentation on how he fashioned this year’s Hugo Award base, which were made from the same sort of marble from Baltimore that was used to construct the top portions of the Washington Monument.  

Unfortunately, we had to leave right afterwards because it was 5:15 p.m. and my first panel, “What Makes A Classic A Classic,” was due to start at 5:30. There was another mad dash to find the Calvert Room, which we found with minutes to spare.

What followed was a wild and wooly hour about how the panel felt about what makes our favorite works of sf and fantasy classics. Our Moderator was Shaun Duke of the Skiffy and Fanty podcast and featured myself (singing, wut?!?!?), author, scholar and editor Ellen Kushner, collector and writer Bradford Lyau and the legendary fan editor and writer John Hertz. A full audio version will be posted on File 770 sometime in the next day or so.     

Finding dinner was strangely fortuitous; Robert’s, the restaurant located in the atrium of the hotel, told Juli that they were closing at 7:00 p.m. due to a lack of serving personnel and supplies. You would have thought that the hotel would have made plans for extra service with a major convention starting that week. Well, noted and logged… 

That threw us both for a loop. After seeing the meager offerings at the pop up takeaway in another corner of the hotel, we decided to go to one of the eateries on the corner of Calvert Street and Connecticut Avenue.

On our way out the door, we encountered mega-fan Bobbi Armbruster, her husband Warren, Kathi Overton and her partner John Pomeranz. They all enthusiastically endorsed going to The Gourmand Grill, a Mexican American place that was a short walk right around the corner.      

It was a rather small place down a steep set of stairs but Juli and I were totally enchanted by the atmosphere, the affordable menus and the incredibly helpful wait staff.

When someone canceled an order of Chipotle Shrimp, our server offered it to us at no extra charge. I had the Fish and Chips and Juli had the Meatball appetizer with a small side salad. Everything was eagerly devoured. I am quite certain we will be returning before the end of the convention.

At around 8:30 p.m., I wanted to go find the Con Suite. Juli was feeling rather tired and decided to retire to our room.

After a bit of confusion about its location, I was told that the Con-Suite was located in Room 840 in the Western part of the hotel. Upon arrival, I was informed that they had closed at 8:30. A passerby did mention that there was a party being held by a group called TANSTAAFL on the fifth floor.

While I was there, I was asked by Dave McCarty to engage in a contest. Once he outlined what it was all about, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. What is it? What is it all about? I’ll explain in a future post, AFTER I have performed my part. Laters!

I snacked on a few dessert items and then I decided to call it a day at around 10 p.m.

After seeing what happened today, I knew tomorrow would be more of the same, if not more so. 

More As It Happens, Your Faithful Correspondent

Chris B.

On Site Head Count: Not Available.

Luminaries Spotted Today: Nancy Kress, Dave McCarty, John Picacio, Marah Searle-Kovacevic, Tammy Coxen, Greg Ketter, Ellen Kushner, John Hertz, Andrew Porter, Lt. Colonel Jonathan Brazee (Ret.), Kathi Overton, John Pomeranz and Michael J. Walsh.

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #62

DECLASSIFIED! Seven Secret and Untold Stories From the Worldcon Press Office

By Chris M. Barkley:

Chris M. Barkley. Photo by Juli Marr

For many, many years, I have wanted to write a manual specifically to pass along my knowledge, feeling and opinions about working in and operating the Worldcon Press office.

For most people who attend any convention, they only see a fraction of what is going on behind the scenes, much like the tip of an iceberg. If those who complain about the things they see going wrong had any idea of the complex goings on that happens behind the scenes, it would certainly turn more than a few of their hairs white from shock.

And believe me, I’ve earned my share over the years but fortunately, I shave every other day so I’m not reminded of how I earned them.

From the 1983 Worldcon in Baltimore (ConStellation) to Kansas City in 2016 (MidAmericon II), I worked in the Press/Media Relation offices for the World Science Fiction convention a total of nineteen times; fourteen as a staff member, five as the head of the office — three of those times I was asked on a last minute, emergency basis.

After MidAmericon II in 2016, I loudly announced (and not for the first time, mind you) that I was permanently retiring from the position.

I might as well have been shouting into the winds of Arrakis because I seriously considered taking the Press Office position this year at DisCon III at the request of a senior concom member.

After discussions with the members of my MidAmericon II (whom, I might add, was the BEST team of con-workers I had ever assembled), I quickly found that none of them could attend the convention during the alternate date in December.

I declined the offer and felt some considerable remorse, since it would leave the convention without anyone to handle media relations. Conversely, seeing that there was still an enormous amount of time until the start of the convention, I realized that this would be an excellent opportunity to impart and pass along a considerable amount of my knowledge and wisdom and still help the convention. (In addition, I also offered my services as a consultant to whomever took the Press Office position.)

So, for the past five months I have been hard at work, remembering, compiling, writing and editing a concise manual that could be utilized for practically any convention, regardless of the genre or fan base.

In doing so, I also chronicled several incidents, humorous anecdotes and near apocalyptic stories that happened along the way. I have NEVER shared many of these stories publicly before due to the privacy issues and the delicate nature of some of these encounters. But, I feel as though enough time has passed that discussing them now will not cause too much embarrassment or shock to anyone in particular. Even so, in some cases, I have omitted the names of the participants for the sake of privacy.

The entire Press Relations manual, sans some of these stories, will be made available by Our Gracious Host on a separate link at the end of the column, and at the conrunner.net website in the very near future.

1) The One Where I Nearly Caused An INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT With the Soviet Union (ConStellation,1983)

ConStellation Hat. Photo by Craig Glassner/Pinterest/Hat of the Day

My career in the Press Office began at the 1983 Worldcon in Baltimore, ConStellation. YES, the very last Worldcon to hold a full dinner banquet with the Hugo Awards Ceremony. Here’s the late Steve Stiles take on the dinner: Beautiful Steamers at Fanac.org.

And somewhere, I STILL have my crab mallet from that evening. But, I digress…

It was my fifth Worldcon and I was bored. Up until then, I had been content with going to panels, shopping in hucksters room, perusing the Art Show and partying with my friends. The only other time I had volunteered at a Worldcon was a brief stint working a shift for a friend at the IguanaCon II Art Show in 1978.

So, midway through the first day of the convention, I made my way to the ConStellation Gopher Hole, filled out the appropriate paperwork and presented it to a woman at the desk.

I was rather perplexed when she asked where I would like to be stationed because I hadn’t really given it any thought. Then, she wisely asked what sort of background I had. I replied that I had been an English major in college, a reporter and film reviewer for my college newspaper and, until recently, had been a sf radio talk show host at a public access station.

“Well,” she said, “I’m going to send you down to the Press Office. They could use some help there.”

So, I reported to the Press Office, which was nearby. I have no recollection of who was in charge. But I do remember that one of my first assignments as a staff member was to escort several reporters to a special reception taking place later that day.

The future Academy Award winning film (and future Hugo nominee as well) The Right Stuff was premiering later that year. Fan writer Evelyn C. Leeper’s convention report noted:

Chuck Yeager (who flew the X-1) and Gordon Cooper (one of the original Mercury astronauts) were there to help Warner Brothers promote the film The Right Stuff (about the early space program), and they were both very interesting. (By the way, I recommend the book The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe.) There were also several other noted scientists and even a congressman to talk about the space program, etc.

I decided to hang out for a few minutes to watch the spectacle unfold before going back to the office. I was just about to leave when I noticed a tall, thin gentleman speaking with a distinctive accent I thought might have been Russian.

When I inquired who the man was, I was told by one of the hosts that he was one an envoy from the Russian Embassy who had driven up from D.C. to take in the convention for the day. He was standing about six feet away, laughing with another participant about something.

Laughing.

For a moment, my blood ran a little cold. Then I began to get angry.

Just two days before, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a 747 aircraft headed to Seoul, South Korea with 246 passengers and a flight crew of 23, had been shot out of the sky by a Soviet interceptor. The crew committed a navigational error which resulted in the plane drifting too far off course to an area inside a restricted Soviet airspace, resulting in the destruction of the plane. There were no survivors. Among the dead was Lawrence P. McDonald, a conservative member of the US House of Representatives from Georgia.

At the time, very little information was available on exactly how and why this had happened. With the denials,suspicions, recriminations and military mobilizations occurring on an hourly basis between the Soviet and NATO forces, it was one of the most tense moments of the Cold War.

So, there I was, in the same room with a citizen of the Soviet Union.

Three feet away from me was a metal folding chair.

It would be a simple thing to grasp it in my hands, smoothly fold it together and smash it into the diplomat’s head.

So easy.

And if I did what I was thinking, I would probably have served a lengthy prison sentence and brought infamy and shame to my family, my newborn daughter, Laura, my friends and fandom.

So I turned my back to the Soviet diplomat and left the room.

In my heart of hearts, I hope someone expressed their displeasure with that fellow’s government and what happened just off the northern coast of Japan.

But that day, I knew it could not be me.

2) The One Where I Found Out Who Won The Hugo Awards For the First Time (LACon II,1984)

L.A.con II Hugo Award, (Photo from the Nippon 2007 Awards Design page)

I was VERY uneasy the very first time when I found out who was going to win the Hugo Awards in advance of the Ceremony. Usually, the Hugo Awards Ceremony Staff handles both the Hugo Awards results, nomination and voting statistics and the short press release that comes with them.

Needless to say, when I was working for the L.A.con II Press office in 1984, seeing the results of the Hugo Awards was not on my bingo card.

The convention was held at the incredibly impressive venue; the Anaheim Hilton and Convention Center, which were located right across street from Disneyland. My second tour of duty in the Press Office coincided with the largest attendance ever recorded at a Worldcon up until then, with almost 6400 members pre-registered in advance. With a strong marketing campaign by the convention committee, another 2000+ fans were walk ups.

Among the highlights (and by far biggest draw) was the first official showing of all three Star Wars films in an all-night marathon. (I was there and stayed awake through the middle of Empire Strikes Back and woke up in the middle of Return of the Jedi. I also remember staggering back to my hotel room as the sun peeked over the horizon to catch a few hours of sleep before I reported back at the Press Office.)

The biggest brouhaha I had to deal with came a few hours before; someone came in and said that a commercial LA radio station had announced that the Trilogy showing that evening was FREE to the public! I quickly got on the phone with the station and DEMANDED that whomever made that announcement should rescind immediately before the convention was overrun with people.

To this day I don’t know whether they did it or not. I do know that the showing was not mobbed, so there’s that.

Fast forward to the Hugo Awards Ceremony; that afternoon, manila envelopes the voting and nomination results were delivered to the Press Office. They were to be embargoed and kept in the office until after the Ceremony, when they would be distributed to the fannish and other news media outlets.

My boss, Fred Harris, looked in the envelope and noticed that the packet was missing a one-sheet press release with a summation of the winners. I remember that there were only three people on the team; Fred, myself and a woman I will call Linda for reasons of privacy (and I because I can’t remember her actual name).

Because Fred had to go to the auditorium and see to the seating of the press, Linda and I were charged with typing up a brief summation of the winners, xeroxing multiple copies and stuffing the envelopes.

Linda and I locked the door behind Fred and got to work. We looked, incredulously, at the winners in all of the categories and wrote up the summary in short order. Linda then went out, made the copies and returned to the office in short order.

When Linda and I finished, we sat down and just sat down and stared at each other. Beyond the Hugo Award administrators, we were the only people on the planet who knew who was going to win a Hugo that night. We were full of nervous energy and literally nowhere to go. Although Fred didn’t explicitly say so, we both felt as though we were going to be in the office until the end of the Ceremony.

After a while, I suggested we open the door for a little while so we wouldn’t feel so confined and Linda agreed.

The Press Office was located on one of the main hallways to the auditorium where the Hugo Ceremony. When I opened the door, there was a steady stream of people headed in that direction.

And then, something very improbable happened. As I was watching the crowd streaming by, I saw a very familiar face.

During the course of the convention, I made a lot of new friends, including one Glen David Brin, electrical engineer, astronomer and one of the emerging acclaimed authors of hard science fiction. His second novel in the Uplift series, Startide Rising, had already won the Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novel and was heavily favored to win the Hugo as well.

Check that; it was GOING TO WIN THE HUGO AWARD that evening.

Once he saw Linda and I standing in the doorway, he made a beeline straight to us. Linda had never met him before and once he got close enough to read his con badge, her eyes got a bit wider and she looked as though she was going to go into shock.

“Hey Chris, good to see you! I’m on my way in right now. Are you guys coming too?”

I quickly explained that we had to watch the Press Office and that we might catch up with him later.

“That’s fantastic! Boy, I can’t tell you how excited I am about tonight. Wish me luck, huh?”

Both Linda and I sagely nodded and wished him well. With that, David Brin fairly bounded down the hall to his destiny.

When he was out of sight, both Linda and I looked at each other, went into the office and locked the door. We laughed hysterically for a minute just to throw off our nervousness. We stayed there until Fred came knocking on the door later.

So, your office may be asked to take custody of copies of the results before the Hugo Ceremony, to be embargoed and distributed to the press afterwards. Needless to say, it is vital that you, as the head of the Press Office, take full responsibility to keep the results safely under wraps.

They should be held strictly on a need-to-know basis: and you, personally, don’t need to know. As someone who has been privy to those results (on several RARE occasions) I cannot tell you how nerve-racking it is to walk around with that knowledge rattling around your noggin.

If you are offered the opportunity to know in advance, my advice to you is to try and avoid that situation or turn it down altogether.

DON’T DO IT! Enough Said…

3) The One Where I Took Over the Worldcon Press Office on Six Days Notice AND The Infamous Neil Gaiman and Rebecca Eckler Incidents (Torcon 3, 2003)

Another important thing to remember is that you cannot do this job alone. If you are lucky, as I have been over the many years, to have a number of trusted associates working closely with you at your convention, your chances of succeeding are quite good.

In 2003, the Toronto Worldcon (Torcon 3) faced a big crisis; it turned out that the person they had appointed to run their Press Relations office had done absolutely nothing regarding press contacts or registration in advance of the convention. Once I found out about the situation, I and my wife at the time, Naomi, volunteered to take over. I had headed up the Press Office previously at LoneStarCon II in 1997 on very short notice and I had a pretty good idea of how to set up an office in a hurry.

I immediately started calling and emailing all of the local media outlets to let them know that there would be a Press Office to help them with any of their inquiries. I also put a call out for volunteers on the Torcon 3 website and asked a few people in fandom I knew who could handle the job.

By the time we arrived in Toronto, I had done as much preparation as I could and hoped for the best.

One of the best examples of having the right person at exactly the right time came on the very first morning of the convention.

Anne Pinzow was a walk-on to the Press Office. She was (and still is, to the best of my knowledge) a writer and editor for a local New England newspaper and volunteered to help out at the convention as a change of pace. Needless to say, her skills and experience were put to the test almost immediately…

On the morning of the second day of Torcon III, our morning staff meeting was rocked by a headline in the Arts Section of the Toronto Star. Hugo Award Winning Fan Writer and Fan Editor Cheryl Morgan (who also served on the Press Room staff) chronicled what happened next and published her account in her fanzine, Emerald City (http://www.emcit.com/emcit097.shtml#Wheels):

The first major embarrassment that we suffered was on Thursday morning when an article appeared in The Star, a local newspaper, announcing that Neil Gaiman had won a Hugo for “Coraline”. This sounded terribly like a leak from the convention, but although we often give out the results under an embargo just before the ceremony, there was no way that the paper could have gotten word of the results that early. So we phoned them.

Here I must give credit to my colleague, Anne Pinzow, who handled the call, firstly for her patience in working through The Star’s automated call handling system, and secondly for the magnificent way in which she laid the law down. A Hugo, she explained, can make or break an author’s career. Winning it can be worth millions of dollars. And by suggesting that the results were known beforehand The Star was casting doubt on the validity and integrity of the voting process, and therefore on the awards themselves. It was a wonderful performance.

As it turned out, however, the editor in question was already duly contrite. Murray Whyte, the journalist who had interviewed Neil and written the piece in question had already phoned up and complained bitterly about his article being butchered. It turned out that what had happened was that an enthusiastic sub-editor had not understood the difference between being nominated and winning, and had “sexed-up” the article to make it sound better. There were red faces all round at The Star. They printed an apology on page 2 on Friday, and on Sunday they devoted half of page 2 to a report of the Hugos.

So, an utter disaster was averted, but just barely. And thankfully, Neil Gaiman, being a prince among writers, was a good sport about the imbroglio and did not hold up the scurrilous headline above his head as Harry Truman had infamously done back in 1948 (“DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”) after winning the Hugo award for Coraline.

On the day of the Hugo Awards Ceremonies, I received a phone call from a reporter named Rebecca Eckler, a “lifestyle” writer from the National Post. She wanted a press pass plus one to attend the Hugo Awards. When I asked for the name of the other person she replied “Gollum” (which should have set off an alarm bell right then and there).

I told her that I would be in the press office with the badges and gave her instructions on how to find me. I had decided to skip going to the Hugo Awards and stay in the office to distribute the results of the Hugo Awards (with the stipulation that they were to be embargoed until the end of the ceremony) via individual email to newspapers and other media outlets. I released the staff to attend without any instructions other than seeing that any journalists were properly seated in a designated area.

In hindsight, those were not the best decisions. Here’s why:

Rebecca Eckler never showed up at the Press Office as she had promised. She and her companion turned up at the Hugo Awards pre-ceremony reception unannounced and were refused entry. Ms. Eckler, who was well along in her pregnancy at the time, decided to make a fuss at the entrance of reception, citing that she was a journalist and entitled to be admitted. None of my staff were there to ameliorate the situation or to alert me to Ms. Eckler’s presence.

When it came time for the nominees and their guests to be escorted into the hall at the beginning of the Hugo Ceremony, Ms. Eckler and her companion joined the line and were seated with the nominees! According to reports I heard afterwards (and her account that was eventually published in the National Post the next day), she eventually became bored and the two of them left before the end of the ceremonies.

The bottom line is that I, or someone on my staff, should have been present at the reception and at the Hugo Awards ceremony to mitigate what happened. While there was a high likelihood that a negative story about Torcon III could have been prevented, some prompt action could have stopped her disruptive behavior.

As a reminder of what happened, I kept Ms. Eckler’s press pass after all this time, pictured below:

Torcon 3 press badge. Photo by Chris M. Barkley.

There are several things that you, as the head of the press relations for your convention, should remember:

  • You are responsible for what happens on your watch, whether it’s your fault or not.
  • Someone with authority must be present at ALL of the important public events and functions of the convention.

4) The One Where I Won a Kentucky Derby Bet, ROYALLY PISSED OFF J. K. Rowling, Her Publisher and Solicitors, But Lived To Tell About It. Barely. (Interaction, 2005)

J. K. Rowling. Photo by TheLeakyCauldron.org

When I was attending Noreascon IV in Boston, I was asked by Vincent Docherty, one of the organizers of Interaction (the 63rd Worldcon) whether I would be interested in helping run the Interaction Press Office. Vincent, and apparently others on the convention committee, were very impressed with how I handled the office at Torcon III.

(Also, although my memory may be a bit fuzzy on the details; back in 1995, I had heard secondhand that that year’s Scottish Worldcon, Intersection, had no Press Office. And foolishly (if it’s true), had not allowed any reporters to cover the convention at all. Naturally, at the time, I assumed that they did not want a repeat of that situation. I tried to find any mention of this online but I was unable to confirm whether this actually happened or not. In any event, I am quite sure that someone reading this will either acknowledge as a fact or take great pleasure in correcting me at length that this is some sort of fever dream fairy tale. And so it goes.)

In any event, I accepted the position of being a deputy to a very nice fellow named David Stewart. Little did he know what sort of trouble I was going to cause for him…

One of the first things I did after accepting was to send in my paperwork for my first passport ever, which was issued out of the State Department’s New Orleans processing facility. (It holds a special place in my heart because I received it before Hurricane Katrina devastated the area in late August of that year. It has since expired but I still carry it with me as an alternate photo ID.)

But here’s how the 2005 Kentucky Derby factored into what happened:

That spring, I started making plans in earnest to make the trip to Scotland, which would have been my very first trip outside of North America. I was working a steady job back then but I wasn’t able to save up enough for airfare and expenses. But as March melded into April, I was still far short of what I needed to go.

When the first of May rolled around, I had a crazy idea; I could get enough cash for the trip by achieving a big win at the Kentucky Derby. It was a family affair; my then wife, my daughter, Laura and I ambled over the Lebanon Raceway just east of where we were living to enjoy the day.

About a half an hour before the race, we started making our selections. Naomi and Laura made several relatively small bets on the three of the favorites, Alex Afleet, Wilko and Bellamy Road. I had allocated fifty dollars for myself and spread out most of it on other horses. When I was down to my last ten dollars, my gaze fell upon a 50-1 shot, a horse named Giacamo. (And, unbeknownst to me at the time, had finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby in his previous start.) I sighed, went with my gut and placed the bet. 

You can imagine dead reader, my utter astonishment when Giacamo, in 18th place after three-quarters of a mile, made a jaw dropping move to make up ground while moving six wide around the backstretch turn. He then turned up the jets, closed on and muscled past the leaders and WON by half a length!

I was speechless! I now had at least enough for my airfare and all I had to worry about was saving up for food, transport and lodging. Things were finally looking up. What could possibly go wrong now?

Until, that is, things went terribly wrong.

About a week or so before the Derby, I was feeling a little perturbed towards J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was due to be published in July of that year. At that point in time, Ms. Rowling, who won a 2001 Hugo Award for Best Novel for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, had NEVER publicly acknowledged winning it. I couldn’t even find it even mentioned on any US copy of the paperback edition.

So, being the volatile, hotheaded type fan that I was back then, I was determined to do something about it.

Since this was before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, I wrote an actual, physical letter to Ms. Rowling, lamenting the fact that there was no mention of the Hugo Award on The Goblet of Fire. I also pointed out that the World Science Fiction Convention was being held in Glasgow, just a stone throw away (relatively speaking) from Edinburgh and it would be awfully nice if she were to send the convention some sort of greeting.

Somewhere, there is a copy of that letter sitting in the files of Scholastic Books.

And at Bloomsbury’s headquarters in the United Kingdom.

And her solicitors in London.

And her literary agent in London.

Because I wanted to be SURE that my letter would make it past her gatekeepers, mind you.

Well, kids, my message got through all right. And the gatekeepers were not pleased.

NOT.ONE. BIT.

So a week or so after my triumph at Lebanon Raceway, I received several anxious emails from David Stewart and members of the convention committee, demanding an explanation of my actions.

You see, dear reader, I sent those letters signed with my name along with my official designation as the Deputy Head of the Intersection Press Office, a HUGE faux pas that tied my perceived diatribe with the convention itself!

Needless to say the letter made everyone angry (especially the solicitors, I was told) that some cheeky Yank was telling them what they ought to do.

Once I gauged the gravity of what was going on, I felt I had no choice whatsoever but to offer my resignation from the Press Office. My would-be boss David had a different and slightly sardonic reaction. He still wanted me to work in the office. Because, as I remember him writing in an email, “You mean he doesn’t have to work but I still have to deal with this? That’s not very fair, is it?” (I am sorry to report that David Stewart and I never had a chance to meet in person; he died after a short illness in 2006. I definitely owed him a pint or two. Ad Astra, David…)

Alas, things also unraveled at home as well; I was laid off from my job, my wife moved out to go the graduate school at the University of Dayton and the five hundred dollars was quickly consumed by bills. So I had to stay home that summer, much to my chagrin.

During all of this turmoil, I never heard (either directly or indirectly) about any reaction from Ms. Rowling herself. And yes, In hindsight, I think everyone would have been better off if I had just signed my name but I doubt that it would have had the same impact if I had not.

Because two things happened in the wake of this international incident; in July, J.K. Rowling did issue a brief statement welcoming the World Science Fiction convention to Glasgow and the next year, the designation “Hugo Award Winning Novel” started appearing on the paperback edition of The Goblet of Fire.

So, for what it’s worth, I am quite satisfied with that…

5) The One With Michael Chabon (Denvention 3, 2008)

Michael Chabon, circa 2008. Photo via Getty Images for Esquire

In 2008, I was back in the Captain’s chair of the Press Office and I was hoping for a nice, quiet convention with very few annoyances or controversies.

And for a majority of the Denvention, my wish was granted.

On the day before the Hugo Awards Ceremony, I received a call from a producer from National Public Radio’s Weekend All Things Considered (whose name is lost to history). He wanted to know if I could arrange an interview with the winner of the Best Novel category with their then current host, Andrea Seabrook.

Checking the programming schedule, I told the producer that four of the five nominees for Best Novel, John Scalzi (The Last Colony), Ian MacDonald (Brasyl), Charles Stross (Halting State) and Robert J. Sawyer (Rollback) were there. The ONLY author who was absent was Michael Chabon, whose World War II alternate history epic, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, was a heavy favorite to win. (Historical note: by the time of Denvention 3, it had already won the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, the Sidewise Award and the California Book Award Gold Medal AND had been shortlisted for the Edgar (from the Mystery Writers of America) and the British Science Fiction Association award. 

I told the producer that I would contact all of the nominees, including Michael Chabon, and have them contact NPR directly after the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

Consulting the sprocket program, I spent some time out of the office Friday afternoon tracking down Scalzi, Sawyer and MacDonald and they all readily agreed to be on the air if (or when) they won.

Charlie Stross was the only one I couldn’t find that day. I looked up any contact information I could scrounge up on Chabon’s whereabouts online but I came up empty. I left several messages with HarperCollins in New York and sent an email to his agent and hoped someone would get the message by the next day.

I was feeling quite chuffed that NPR, a network that I had been an ardent fanboy of since 1973 was taking some serious interest in the Worldcon. I told any friend or acquaintance who wandered by the office that I was setting up this fabulous interview with NPR that day.

That evening, I was at a bid party, minding my own business and enjoying myself when a very good friend (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become very obvious) came in, spotted me, grabbed me by the arm and literally dragged me into a nearby vacant bathroom and closed and locked the door.

When I asked them what that was all about, they explained in a very excited tone that they had heard about the impending NPR interview and wanted to help. And before I could ask what sort of help, they blurted out that Michael Chabon was going to win Best Novel!

Now at that point in time I was a little crestfallen because I fervently try NOT to know who will win any of the Hugo Awards in advance but it seems as though every time I have tried to evade knowing, I’m cursed to find out. (I am truly grateful that they didn’t spill the beans about the rest of the rest of the categories, though.)

I thanked my “confidential source” and we returned to the party before anyone ( I had hoped) noticed that the two of us were conferring in a locked bathroom. 

So now, even though I knew who was going to win Best Novel, I still had to contact Charlie Stross and Michael Chabon, just in case any of the nominees caught up with each other and compared notes at some later date.

I finally caught up with Mr. Stross Saturday morning and imparted NPR’s request, feeling very badly about playing my part in this elaborate charade. That afternoon I finally heard back from Michael Chabon’s publicist, who informed me that he and his family were vacationing in Maine that weekend. I gave him the NPR producer’s contact information and told him to expect an announcement on who won later that evening.

After the ceremony, I sent the publicist an email with an official list of the Hugo Award results and hoped for the best.

I needn’t have worried so much. And the Sunday Weekend Edition featured the following interview with Michael Chabon: “Science Fiction Writing’s ‘Pulitzers’ Handed Out”

Here is the most pertinent slice of this interview:

SEABROOK: Can I ask you, what do you think of other work that’s going on in science fiction right now? Do you read science fiction?

Mr. CHABON: Yes I do. I still read science fiction, and I see all kinds of diversity. I think – I find a very intense ongoing kind of intellectual and aesthetic debate in the world of science fiction. The people who are reading it and the people who are writing it seem to me to be engaged in an ongoing conversation about the fiction that they love on a level that I think is enviable, that would be a credit to the world of mainstream fiction.

6) The One About George R.R. Martin (Chicon 7, 2012)

George R.R. Martin circa 2012, Photo by Nick Briggs/HBO

Chicon 7 was decidedly challenging for Juli and I on many fronts. For one, the Press Office was nowhere near the Information Desk or Registration; it was located near one of the main auditorium stages and a cluster of meeting rooms being used for panels. I had requested a meeting room for office space but was really disappointed when I found out that the “office” was actually a coat check booth. Fortunately, there was a small furnished room adjacent to the booth that was more than adequate to serve as the main interview room.

My partner Juli and I arrived without anyone else set to staff the office so we were trusting that we were going to attract some good volunteers out of the Gopher Hole. We were rewarded twice over when local Chicago fans Belma Torres and Dan Berger reported for duty. They were fantastic in the office and handled themselves very well during the convention. (Belma eventually moved to Australia a few years ago and subsequently got married there, Dan, his wife Terry and his two sons Alec and Ryan remain good friends with us to this day.)

We made do with the coat room as a base of operations and the Information Desk sent us a steady stream of registered and walk up journalists to cover Chicon 7.

Our one big hiccup occurred on the first day when several people from Logistics came by with several hand carts and requested that we surrender all the furniture in our interview room so it could be used on stage for several bits that had been planned for Opening Ceremonies.

Since the stage was not very far away from the office, I readily agreed. But I made them swear on a stack of fanzines that they would return the large couch and the three easy chairs as soon as the event was over because we needed it for several big interviews, among them a sit down with George R.R. Martin that was scheduled for the next day.

As the day progressed and Opening Ceremonies started, I began to feel a little uneasy about the arrangement. At one point I strolled over to the hall where it was under way and saw people lounging and having a good time with the audience. That was the last time I would see our furniture for the next 20 hours.

Because two hours after the Opening Ceremonies, our furniture had not been returned to us. I sent Dan Berger out to the Logistics to find out what happened. He returned a short while later and reported that no one in Logistics had any idea of what he was talking about.

Livid, I went to Logistics and demanded, in an usually loud voice, that we REALLY needed to find our goddamn furniture, immediately! The poor woman manning the desk promised to look into it and I fumed all the way back to the Press Room.

By the end of the day, the furniture had not been returned.

When we opened the office the next morning, there was STILL no furniture.

That’s when I decided we were going full vigilante on this situation.

Leaving Dan in charge of the office, Juli, I and another volunteer went to Logistics, borrowed several handcarts and started canvassing the convention hall rooms and hallways to find our furniture. We didn’t have to search long.

After checking the hallways and the Exhibits display, Juli spotted our couch in the Fan Lounge. Very quickly afterwards, we found the other lounge chairs nearby. We quickly loaded everything up and trucked it all back to the Press Office, just an hour before the start of George R.R. Martin’s interview.

The moral of the story is quite clear; if you loan out ANYTHING at a Worldcon, get it in writing and keep close track of it until it’s returned.

By the way, the Press Office staff returned the hand carts promptly to Logistics, because that’s how we roll…

7) The One With The VERY SAD Puppy (Sasquan, 2015)

Brad Foster’s Sasquan logo.

Sasquan was a very strange, tense and ultimately uplifting affair from start to finish.

The original co-Chair of the convention, Bobbie DuFault, died suddenly on the morning of September 14, 2013. Sally Woehrle, the other co-chair, took over in her stead. In hindsight, it was a portent of the terrible events that followed in the wake of this terrible news…

An arch conservative author, Lou Antonelli, made a scurrilous and false police report to the Spokane Police Department, claiming that Author Guest of Honor and Hugo Award Ceremony co-host David Gerrold was “insane and a public danger and needs to be watched when the convention is going on”.

On August 11th, 2015, the following message was posted on the Sasquan Facebook Page:

“The Executive Committee of Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention, would like to address the matter of actions taken by Mr. Lou Antonelli with regards to one of our Guests of Honor, Mr. David Gerrold. On August 1st, Mr. Antonelli participated in a podcast in which he stated that he had written a letter to the Spokane Police Department, in which he stated to them that Mr. Gerrold was “insane and a public danger and needs to be watched when the convention is going on”.

Normally, online communications between members is not something in Sasquan’s purview to referee.  However, Mr. Antonelli’s letter, which requested police action against Mr. Gerrold during the time of the convention, is within our purview. As such, we found that there was a strong possibility this act was a violation of our posted harassment policy[1], particularly if the letter had, in fact, been sent.’

Well, a long story shortened…

‘However, after the recommendation was made, Mr. Gerrold, as the aggrieved party, specifically requested that the Executive Committee set aside this recommendation on the grounds that Mr. Antonelli did apologize, is sending a retraction to the Spokane Police Department and because, as a Hugo Nominee, he deserves to attend the ceremony.

The Executive Committee has chosen to accept Mr. Gerrold’s request, and considers the matter closed as of this time. Ms. Bourget has spoken and corresponded with the Spokane Police Department, and they also consider the matter closed. We would like to thank Ms. Bourget for the calm professionalism she lent to the proceedings, and Mr. Antonelli and Mr. Gerrold for coming to a settlement that benefits not just them, but the Worldcon and its members.”

There were lots of right wing, racist and sexist authors who had themselves slated onto the nomination ballot and a majority of fans who regularly vote on and or attend the Worldcon were in no mood for such shenanigans. In response to the Puppies chicanery, an incredible number of people joined the convention; an astounding 5,748 fans bought Supporting memberships (ostensibly to outvote the Puppy coalition), bringing the total number to a whopping 10,350 total members.

But now, small, brief, editorial aside:

(RANT/ON)

Here’s the thing, as far as I’m concerned; the Sad/Angry/Rabid Puppy affair accomplished nothing for the usurpers who wanted to disrupt and/or destroy the Hugo Awards. Looking back over the past eight years it is quite evident that they utterly failed in style, substance and in an overall way, had very little significant societal impact. There has always been some generational tension between fans, editors, writers and artists in fandom. But in the days before social media, it played out more like a slow motion riot with the participants trading shots through frequently published fanzines or in person at conventions (with and without fisticuffs in some cases).

These reactionaries wanted to stop something that has always been inevitable in literature, change. When these elements of the so-called conservative end of sf fandom thought that their brand of warping spaceships, alien wars and far flung empires were being ignored by the Hugo Awards electorate, they decided to cheat by nominating slates with their own nominees. But by doing so, they just mobilized and galvanized what was already happening, that women, people of color, indigeonous peoples from all of the world and the LGBTAQ community and other marginalized folks were becoming the emerging voices of this generation. The Puppies were driven by the fear of being replaced or, even worse, erased from our collective history. Their fears were expressed in some very unflattering ways; racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia and a decided lack of empathy for people who pushed back against their narrative.

Those of us who were actively opposing them, were portrayed as being out of control radicals, unpatriotic, socialists and traitors. It became so turbulent that even the mere mention or promotion of a disenfranchised person was labeled as racist by them. And while they promoted themselves with a great amount of hubris as the tree and roots of modern sf fandom and literature, in fact they are just merely a branch of a much larger tree. To this day, they remain so dogmatic about their own importance, their false sense of privilege and so devoted to their own myopic point of view that they still don’t realize that they have done themselves and fandom as a whole, a great disservice by acting like an unruly mob without any sense decency or of cognitive dissonance. And yes, they did manage to make a big fuss and draw some attention to themselves but in the long run, their actions will be judged by history to be abhorrent.

If anyone wants to read a fairly comprehensive history of what went down may do so here: The Puppy Kerfuffle Timeline at Camestros Felapton.

(RANT/OFF)

And, if that weren’t enough, a series of forest fires completely surrounded the city, enshrouding the entire region in a haze of smoke and ash and casting the convention into something akin to a hellish, eco-disaster film.

Juli and I were called in to head up the Press Office in emergency mode (again) because the convention’s original choice had to drop out for personal reasons. Although this time, unlike many of the other times, we had a full six weeks notice to get the office up and operational.

In addition to all of this, I got personally involved. I stepped up and volunteered to be a Hugo Award acceptor for Analog author Rajnar Vajra whose slyly aware John W. Campbell-ish pastiche, “The Triple Sun: A Golden Age Tale” (published in Analog, 07/08-2014), had been slated onto the Hugo ballot by both the Sad and Rabid Puppy groups..

I made Mr. Vajar’s acquaintance in April 2015, right after the nominations were announced. He had posted on sf/horror writer Adam-Troy Castro’s Facebook page, vehemently condemning both camps and I quoted him (with his permission) in a File 770 column. I also offhandedly offered to pick up his Hugo and deliver his acceptance speech, too.

You can imagine how flabbergasted I was when Mr. Vajra emailed me in July asking if I would do exactly that. In a File 770 post soon after, I wrote:

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 Rajnar that I would be happy to accept the Hugo Award 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 to 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.

When Juli and I arrived at the Press Office, we were ably assisted by a well known Seattle fan, Margaret Organ-Kean, who agreed to serve as the Deputy Press Officer. I cannot begin to tell you how gracious and helpful she was in the office, especially during my prolonged absences because of my obligations to attend the Business Meeting and the Hugo Award Ceremonies.

On that Saturday afternoon, a very peculiar thing happened.

I was standing near the entrance of the Press Office when a middle aged man entered the office. He was white, middle-aged and looked as though he might need some help.

“Hello, how can I help you?”, I said in a pleasant voice.

He just stared at me.

I waited. He kept staring.

After about 20 seconds, I gave up, went back to my desk and sat down to keep an eye on him.

My partner Juli, who is white, witnessed this and decided to make a run at him while I watched warily from a distance.

He immediately perked up and said that he was looking for a reporter to give an interview. When Juli inquired why, he said that he was a John W. Campbell Award nominee for Best New Writer. (I am not identifying the writer because I don’t want to give this person any more publicity than he deserves. His fifteen minutes in the limelight has expired.)

Since this fellow was definitely NOT Wesley Chu, it verified my gut feeling that this guy was part of the Puppy delegation.

In overhearing some of his remarks to Juli, it was fairly evident that while he knew the Campbell Award was somewhat prestigious, he had no fucking idea who he was, his place his in the history of sf literature or, most importantly, what he stood for politically or on social issues.

The most amusing part of the conversation happened when Juli asked him about “The Tiara”.

His eyes blinked with confusion. “Tiara? What about a Tiara? I don’t know anything about that.”

“Well,” Juli said with some enthusiasm, “if you win, you get to wear the Ceremonial Tiara that comes with the Campbell Award.”

(For those of you who may have forgotten, The Ceremonial JWC Tiara was created in 2005 by the late sf writer Jay Lake and author Elizabeth Bear and, until recently, was handed down from winner to winner. Among the distinguished alumni who have proudly worn it have been DisCon III Chair Mary Robinette Kowal, Caribbean-American fantasy author David Anthony Durham and one John Scalzi, a frequent target and perceived arch-enemy of the Puppy crowd.)

“Uh, are you kidding?”

“Oh no,it’s a real thing. And you have to wear it if you win.”

I swear, his face actually blanched when he heard that he might actually be required to wear such an item on his precious, masculine head.

“No, no, no, I can’t do THAT!” he insisted. Juli turned her head slightly and could see the look of approval on my face. I winked.

But, no matter what his own political views, I had no objection to helping him. Our role in the Press Office is to provide journalists the opportunity to talk to and write about what was happening at Sasquan and that included any Puppy who wanted to talk to the media.

He left soon afterwards after Juli took his name and cell phone number and had promised to call if any reporter wanted to talk to him. Eventually, we arranged for him to talk to someone. I think it was Wired magazine, but I could be misremembering exactly who did. In any event, it’s lost to the mists of history as far as I’m concerned.

At the Hugo Awards Ceremony, the Puppies slate of nominees went unrewarded (including, unfortunately, Mr. Vajra, who finished third behind No Award). The only tangential thing they could claim as a victory was the Best Dramatic Presentation-Long Form win for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which was a HUGE consensus winner among all of the voters.

There was some good news that evening; for the first time ever, translated fiction won Hugos: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (translated by Ken Liu) in the novel category and the novelette “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Lia Belt). Marvel Comics’s first volume of Ms. Marvel (written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt), the feminist minded sf thriller Orphan Black (“By Means Which Have Never Been Tried” by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett) and the aforementioned Wesley Chu won the Campbell Award (which was recently re-christened the Astounding Award for Best New Writer).

The Hugo Award results were delivered to the office AFTER the Ceremony for distribution to the press at my expressed request.

The cherry on top of all of these proceedings came at Closing Ceremonies, where I was presented with a Hero of Sasquan medal for taking over the Press Office on short notice.

When I accepted before a standing room only crowd, I told them that I was not the only person in the Press Office; I was only as good as the team of people I was working with. I profusely thanked them for all of their hard work and dedication.

Then I praised the person I called the TRUE MVP of the Press Office, my partner Juli. I held up a black stainless steel ring she had given me for my birthday. The interior of the ring has an inscription that is a quote from Amy Pond (a Doctor Who companion) to her husband, Rory; “I Love Your Stupid Face”.

I told the crowd what the inscription said and they laughed and cheered. And then I shouted, “I LOVE YOU, JULI MARR!!!!!” and the crowd went crazy!

When I returned to my seat, I asked Juli whether or not she had gotten any pictures of my speech.

“I’m sorry’, she said, “I was too stunned to take any.” I smiled and gave her a kiss.

Mission Accomplished.

I STILL LOVE YOU JULI MARR!!!!!

Sasquan medal and ring. Photo by Chris M. Barkley.

Download Chris Barkley’s Fantasy & Science Fiction Media Relations – Press Room Guide here: