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:

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #60

Short Takes: Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, the Discon III Update and the Georgia/Dragoncon Situation

By Chris M. Barkley:

Zach Synder’s Justice League ( Warner Brothers/DC Comics, 4 hours 2 minutes) with Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Diane Lane, Jeremy Irons, Connie Neilsen and J.K. Simmons. Story and screenplay by Chris Terrio, Will Beall and Zack Snyder, Directed by Zack Snyder.

Bechdel Test: Passed.

I want to start by saying that I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Justice League. Back in 1997, I wrote a 13,000 plus word essay for the print edition of File 770 detailing my two year odyssey to obtain a copy of Justice League of America #47, the second part of a memorable JLA – Justice Society annual team up. The hunt for that comic book started my education about the history of comics and eventually, a decade later, to my entry into sf fandom.

When the first version of Justice League was released in November of 2017, I had no idea that Autumn, the daughter of director Zach Snyder and co-producer and partner Deborah, had died March of that year during post-production and that they had stepped away to deal with their grief.

Writer-director Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Avengers) was brought in for extensive re-writes and re-shooting major portions of the film. Even though the film went on to earn $657 million at the box office, it was considered a financial failure for failing to earn back enough to cover its production and marketing costs.

(For the record, I gave the original film a enthusiastic review here in a File 770 column: “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions — #20”.) 

Had I known then what I know now, had I been better informed,I would have written a very, VERY different review…

When we left Batman at the end of the previous film, Dawn of Justice, he was in a very tight fix: Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) had hinted that he had signaled dark forces from beyond Earth that Superman (Henry Cavill) was dead and the planet was ripe for the taking.

When an alien emissary known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) invades Earth looking for a set of powerful alien artifacts known as Mother Boxes, Bruce Wayne, along with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), seek out and recruit other super powered individuals (Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller)  to help against the threat.

But after being on the losing end of several encounters with Steppenwolf, Batman eventually realizes that the only way they may have a chance to survive is to revive Superman from the dead, even though they have no idea whether or not it will work or not.

The fan-driven drumbeat to release the “Snyder Cut” of Justice League began before the end theatrical run of the original film. And when the social media uprising started, I thought it was extremely foolish to expect Warner Brothers to even respond. Never in the history of filmmaking or marketing had a film studio seriously contemplated doing what happened after nearly two years of hectoring, with Warner Brothers shelling out a reported $70 million dollars to complete a film that only existed digitally on Zach Snyder’s laptop.

What was produced is remarkable; a complete origin story of Victor Stone/Cyborg,  the emotional fallout that Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Martha Kent suffered from the loss of their beloved Clark Kent, the fleshing out Barry Allen’s (Ezra Miller) slightly goofball but brilliant scientist and several tantalizing looks at DC Comics ultimate villain, Darkseid (voiced by Ray Porter).

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.

Snyder may never write or direct another DC property but he exits this arena leaving everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) on the field for us to admire. To him, the cast and crew and especially to his filmmaking partner Deborah Snyder, I say BRAVO!

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, Penguin Press, March 2021, 320 pages.

When I was a lad in high school in the early 1970’s, I read John Hersey’s classic and landmark piece of historical journalism, Hiroshima, which chronicled the struggles of six survivors of the first atom bomb attack. Upon reading it, I hoped that every President of the United States, and every leader of a nation who had atomic weapons, should have some incentive to read it.

When it was published, in its entirety, in the August 31, 1946 issue of The New Yorker, it caused a shocking and sickening realization to unaware civilians that this new type warfare could herald the end of civilization. (Fallout, Lesley M.M. Blume’s equally compelling story of how John Hersey circumvented the US military’s coverup of what really happened at Hiroshima, was published last August).

In the seventy-five years since those attacks, the human race has, on several precarious occasions, managed to avert the end of the world. But since then, it seems to me that the further away we have come since Hiroshima and Nagasaki the more people have truly forgotten how horrible atomic warfare could actually be.

This past Christmas I received a year’s subscription to WIRED Magazine. The very first copy I received was the February issue, which entirely devoted (for the first time, I believe) to a work of fiction, an excerpt of the novel 2034: A History of the Next World War by Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN (Ret.) and Elliot Ackerman.

As I read the excerpt, which vividly and realistically describes a expansive international conflict between China and the United States, I got the same terrifying feeling of dread I  felt when I first read Hiroshima.

It begins when a flotilla of US destroyers are lured into an elaborate trap while at the same time an advanced Navy fighter jet is inexplicably hijacked in mid-flight and grounded in Iran. From there, various characters from all over the world are drawn together as the drumbeat of war grows louder and no one at any level of the crisis seems to be inclined to stop the oncoming catastrophe. 

I had just finished reading 2034 on March 28th when the New York Times published the story below, which announced a 25-year alliance between China and Iran, which happened a mere 20 days after its publication: “China, With $400 Billion Iran Deal, Could Deepen Influence in Mideast”.

This novel, written by two veterans who have an extraordinary and extensive experience with the military and governmental affairs, is an alarming piece of speculative fiction that has every possibility of being prescient in EVERY sense of the word. I urge everyone to read it because if the prospect of this scenario doesn’t scare you shitless, I don’t know what will…

Additional (and IMPORTANT) Reading:  “What Did I Just Read? A Conversation With the Authors of ‘2034’”.

The Discon III Update

This past Sunday, the DisCon III convention committee issued an update on the current situation regarding the Wardman Park Hotel and whether or not the Worldcon would be virtual or in-person:
“Update on Convention Dates and Hotels”.

As you can see, there isn’t much to report on either front.

And seeing that we are on the cusp of April, I would not be pushing the panic button just yet. But if there isn’t any movement by mid to late May, I think the convention committee should seriously think about an all virtual convention.

If the American gets it act together and the vaccination rate reaches 90% or better by mid-summer, I think it MIGHT be safe to hold a full or partial in-person convention.

But until there’s some breaking news, all we can do is wait.

With some degree of measured optimism, I can truthfully say that  I’m fine with that.

The Dragoncon/Georgia Situation

By now, nearly every conrunner and convention committee knows what’s going on in the state of Georgia.

To wit; on Thursday, March 26, the Georgia House of Representatives and the state Senate passed SB202, a “voter reform bill”, in rapid fashion on that very same day. Governor Brian Kemp said that the bill was created mainly in response to what he referred to as allegations of “fraud and irregularities” and “five-hour-long lines at the polls” in the 2020 election. He also stated that the “election reforms” would restore “voter confidence” in the state’s election processes.

Oh, if only that were true.

Many critics of the bill have claimed that the creation of the bill and it’s rather astonishing rate of passage to Governor Kemp’s desk was in direct response to President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in the November elections, followed by the election of two Democratic US Senators in a special election held in early January of this year.

Some of the more odious parts of the legislation include the arbitrary removal of Georgia’s current chief elections officer, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and of any county’s board of elections should there be any recurrence of what the House and Senate obliquely determine to be “voting irregularities”. And never mind that the new law would also severely restrict voting by mail and outlaw the giving of food or water to any voters waiting in line to combat what the Republicans called “potential voting electioneering and influencing”.

What the governor and Georgia Republican state legislators conveniently forget to mention is that it was Kemp, as the previous Secretary of State in 2018, in league with the legislature, were responsible for a number of changes, including overseeing the removal of voting machines and the closing of polling places in majority black districts, which resulted in people waiting for many hours in line to cast their ballots.    

Compounding all of this was the arrest of Democratic representative Park Cannon, who was taken into custody and forcibly removed by five white Georgia State Troopers as she sought entry to witness Governor Kemp’s signing of SB202, which was being done in the Governor’s Ceremonial Office with the door marked with a “Governor’s Staff Only” sign. When Cannon knocked on the door, she was seized and handcuffed in a very humiliating manner and was subsequently charged with two felonies, felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting a general assembly session. (Representative Cannon was released on bail several hours later.)

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be of any concern to organized fandom (I mean, besides the threat of voter voter suppression and a general threat to democracy) if it weren’t for the fact that Dragon Con, arguably one of the largest annual gathering of fans in the United States, is permanently headquartered in Georgia capitol, Atlanta.

As of this post, there has been no comment yet from the Dragon Con convention committee or its board of directors. I suspect that they are carefully weighing their options seeing that a number of progressive political activists are calling for a boycott of Georgia businesses, venues and events. It should be noted that a majority of their fan base has been known to lean to the right politically. But there is no telling how many of them outside that base will react to a pro or con statement from Dragon Con. 

Luckily (I suppose), for Dragon Con, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing and while there are three vaccines in circulation at the moment, no one is quite sure whether or not it will be safe enough to attend a convention in person safely.

Having said that. Dragon Con can easily punt their way out of this situation by calling for a virtual convention and hoping that the growing numbers of activists, business, judicial and political forces can make Governor Kemp and Georgia Republican lawmakers see the error of their ways and just make this all go away.

But, as a major, for profit business concern in the state of Georgia, they cannot afford to do nothing. The longer they wait, the more complicit and compromised Dragon Con will be perceived by a significant number of fans. Enough fans, I would think, to affect either their standing in the community, their financial bottom line, or both.

They cannot escape making some sort of statement about the situation. As of this post, there hasn’t been any word from Dragon Con on this situation. The authors, editors, artists, cosplayers and fans who do care about the precarious state of affairs in the state of Georgia do have a tremendous amount of influence in fandom and have long memories as well.

Tick-Tock,Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock….  

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #59

Top Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation,

Part Two – Stand Alone Films

By Chris M. Barkley:  Decisions, decisions, decisions…and time is running out.

In Part One of my Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, I listed a relatively INSANE number of television series that were eligible in our pandemic year of 2020.

While the Covid-19 pandemic may have been box office poison (literally) for theater owners, movie lovers who were mostly confined to their homes had plenty of options, thanks to the abundance of premium and streaming channels eager to serve (and collect cold hard cash from) a captive audience.

But theaters aren’t down for the count just yet; with several vaccines in circulation and the infection rates projected to drop precipitously by the end of the year, I have no doubt whatsoever that people (like myself) who are starving for a complete spectrum of theatrical experiences are definitely going out when it’s safe and that going to the movies will be at the top of nearly everyone’s to do list.

And thankfully, some of the highly-anticipated films postponed from last year will make their big screen debuts in 2021; Denis Villenueve’s adaptation of Dune, Marvel’s Black Widow, Morbius, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Shang-Chi, A Quiet Place Part II, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, DC’s Suicide Squad sequel and the fourth film in The Matrix series are on the schedule.

But, before I reveal my BDP Hugo Nomination Ballot choices, let’s contemplate these ten outstanding films from 2020.

The Invisible Man (Blumhouse Productions/Universal,124 minutes), with Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and. Written and Directed by Leigh Whannell based on H.G. Wells novel The Invisible Man.

One of the oldest storytelling tropes in the books is throwing an entirely innocent person into an impossible pit of problems and seeing if they can emerge from the ordeal relatively intact.

In this modern retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) barely escapes from an abusive partner Adrian (Oliver Jackson- Cohen). And just when she thinks she’s quite safe, Cecilia is beset by the odd feeling she is being observed and other strange occurrences. And by the time figures out she’s being stalked by an invisible tormentor, her family, friends and most notably the police, think she has most definitely lost her mind.

This movie has everything going for it, a crackling script full of mayhem, murder and suspense, some impeccable direction and special effects and some superb acting from the lead actors, Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodger,  Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman and Storm Reid. Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock is smiling because this is precisely the sort of film he would make if he were around today. 

Tenet (Warner Brothers, 150 minutes), with John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Dibecki, Micael Caine and Kenneth Branagh. Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan.

After an extraction mission in Ukraine goes disastrously sideways, an unnamed CIA field operative (John David Washington) is recruited into a mysterious organization called TENET, which is (seemingly) dedicated to looking into strange anomalies. “The Protagonist’s” first case is to investigate who is receiving weapons being sent back through time from the future (through a process called “inverted entropy”). His “antagonist” is Andrei Sator, a ruthless Russian arms dealer, whose estranged wife Kat, (Elizabeth Dibecki) could hold the key to destroying his empire.

The plot description I outlined above is far, FAR more complex than I can possibly do justice to. What makes Tenet a fantastic film is that it is not only a “anti-James Bond” film, it is also essentially an “anti-time travel” tale as well, as it perfectly subverts genre tropes by setting a whole new set of cinematic rules. This high octane, mind bending thrill ride is certainly the equal of (or BETTER) than Inception, Christopher Nolan’s 2010 BDP Long Form Hugo winner.

YES, Christopher Nolan is screwing around with our heads again and I am LOVING every moment of it.

The Old Guard (Netflix, 125 Minutes) with Charlize Theron, Kiki Layne, Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Luca Marinelli, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Harry Melling. Written by Greg Rucka, based on The Old Guard by Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernández, Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

“Forever Is Harder Than It Looks” is the promotional tagline of The Old Guard, and a brilliantly realized adaptation of  Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernándezo’s graphic novel.  If you think immortal beings have it easy, this film disabuses you of that notion from its bloody and brutal start..

Andromache of Scythia (Charlize Theron) and her crew of deadly mercenaries, Booker, Joe, and Nicky (Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are quick healing immortals who live in the shadows. Their activities and remarkable regenerative powers come to the attention of Merrick (Harry Melling), the head of a pharmaceutical firm who wants to capture and experiment on them. Things become even more complicated when they have to take a newly emerged immortal Nile (Kiki Layne) under their protection while constantly on the run from Merrick’s forces.

What makes The Old Guard a cut above other entries in this genre is not the explosive action sequences (which it has aplenty), but an unusual amount of emotional heft (mostly delivered by the immortals in the cast) that other films are sadly lacking. This film demands that you sit up and pay attention to their plight and that is rare and noteworthy.

Wonder Woman 1984 (Warner Brothers, 151 Minutes) with Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright and Connie Neilsen. Written by Patty Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, based on Wonder Woman by William Moulton Marston. Directed by Patty Jenkins.

It distresses me no end when armchair film critics and film fans on social media go out of their way to lambast a popular film when they have no idea how films are actually made.

Wonder Woman may have been created by psychologist William Moulton Marston in 1941, but today this comic book icon is the sole intellectual property of DC Comics and Warner Brothers. They, and corporations like them, are actually run by lawyers, agents, accountants and marketing drones, not creative artists.

And since they value it as a very valuable commodity, it took decades for a theatrical Wonder Woman film to be developed and made. And by an incredible stroke of good luck, they chose a gifted director, Patty Jenkins, to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen and grossing over $820 million dollars at the box office.

But Jenkins did not have total creative control of the first film; late in the filming, executives did think very much of the more subtle (and decidedly non-violent) ending she and the screenwriters came up with. Instead, they forced her to film a more bombastic endgame, figuring that audiences would just love a Die Hard-like finish.

Segue to filming the sequel; when Jenkins presented the new screenplay, co-written with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, the lengthy opening sequence featured a young Diana being taught an important lesson by her mother Hippolyta (Connie Neilsen) and aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). When the studio executives gave her notes indicating that that the sequence was unnecessary, Jenkins, having been burned once before, drew a line in the sand and said that the sequence was going to be done or she wouldn’t be doing this project. The executives, fearing a fan backlash and no 2020 summer tentpole film to present backed down.

Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Price (Gal Gadot) still mourning for her lost love, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who sacrificed himself during the climactic battle of the first film. A chance encounter with an ancient artifact seemingly revives Trevor from the dead and attracts the attention of a fellow scientist Roberta Minerva (Kristen Wiig) and a power mad businessman Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) whose plans may bring on an apocalyptic event…

While the film itself received decidedly mixed reviews from film critics, a large number of fans were calling it a complete and utter failure. (As of this writing, WW1984 is rated  5.4/10 on IMDb, 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, 60% on MetaCritic and 67% on Google.com)

As for myself, I loved it and think it is quite as Hugo worthy as its predecessor. And yes, I plan on buying the Blu-Ray edition when it comes out at the end of the month. Enough said.

Palm Springs (Limelight Productions, 90 Minutes) with Christin Miloti, Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, Peter Gallagher, Tyler Hoechlin and Meredith Hagner. Written by Andy Siaraand Max Barbakow, Directed by Max Barbakow.

When I first heard about the buzz being generated by time loop comedy Palm Springs at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, I admit I rolled my eyes a little at the prospect. Because these tales of repeated time travel paradox have become its own sub-genre since 1993’s Groundhog’s Day and I can only account for a handful which are of any merit (Looper, The Edge of Tomorrow, Interstellar and Source Code being my primary choices on the subject.)

I also admit that I am not really a fan of Andy Samberg’s work as an actor, at least until I saw Palm Springs. Samberg plays Nyles, a wedding guest who became trapped in a time loop. When he starts flirting with the bride’s troubled sister, Sarah (Christin Miloti), she returns his interest. But their romantic interlude is interrupted when a mysterious stranger named Roy (J. K. Simmons) suddenly and savagely attacks Myles and Sarah finds herself trapped in the loop as well.

Besides being an outstanding comedy, Palm Springs is also an introspective character study of three people trapped in a circumstance that is seeming out of their control and mediation on love, relationships and drinking WAY too much alcohol at weddings. And seeing that it clocks in at ninety minutes, it’s one of the rare feature films these days that can safely be nominated in the Short Form category.

Soul (Pixar/Walt Disney, 101 Minutes) with Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Questlove, Alice Braga and Phylicia Rashad. Music by Trent Reznor, Atticus Finch and Jon Batiste. Written by Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, Directed by Pete Docter.

Just when you think the geniuses at Pixar cannot possibly outdo themselves, they damned well do it AGAIN.

Joe Gardner (Jamir Foxx) a middle aged, middle grade music teacher in New York
City is still dreaming of scoring his big break as a jazz musician. When his friend Lamont (Questlove) gets him an audition to play with the great contemporary jazz player Dorothea Williams, he impresses her with his piano prowess and gets a gig playing in her band. Unfortunately for Joe, he’s so excited that falls down a manhole and finds himself struggling to escape “the Great Beyond”, where all souls migrate to after death. With the help of 22 (Tina Fey), a pesky proto-soul trying to figure out her path in the universe, Joe just may make it back to Earth in time for his gig…

If I were going to introduce a child to a film that might instill a love of music, especially an enduring art form like jazz, I would definitely make sure they saw Soul (SORRY, Not Sorry, La La Land!). The ambient score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Finch combined with the original songs by jazz composer Jon Batiste are perfectly bound together. I can say without any hesitation at all that Soul is probably the front runner to be nominated and win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.  

And the voice casting is spot on and the plot is light, airy, and not terribly scary, which makes it perfectly suitable for kids and the Hugo Awards final ballot as well.     

The Midnight Sky (Netflix/Smokehouse Pictures, 118 Minutes), with George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Tiffany Boone and Caoilinn Springall. Screenplay by Mark L. Smith, Directed by George Clooney.

The Midnight Sky was yet another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, having a limited theatrical release last December followed by a quick turnaround to Netflix shortly thereafter. Almost immediately the word spread pretty quickly that it was either too slow, too episodic or too depressing. Of course, being the contrarian I am, I say nonsense.

George Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a seriously ill scientist who is on his own after an Arctic research station is abandoned in the wake of an unnamed ecological calamity sweeping the Earth. He has given himself the task of making contact and warning off the Aether, a manned spacecraft with a crew returning from a successful mission from Jupiter. His task is complicated when he finds himself caring for a little girl who was supposed to have been evacuated earlier.

Meanwhile, aboard the Aether, the crew (Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo , Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir and Tiffany Boone) are facing their own set of problems; despite their best efforts they have lost contact with Earth and have an unexpected course correction that takes their ship into an dangerous and uncharted section of the solar system. 

Eventually, the story of these characters come together towards the end of this beautiful and poignant film which, through no fault of its own,had the bad timing to come out during a worldwide pandemic. Eventually, I hope The Midnight Sky will eventually find an audience that will appreciate it for what it is, a soulful parable about the endurance of the human spirit under crushing circumstances.

Sputnik (Vodorod Pictures/Sony Pictures/Hulu, 113 Minutes), with Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk and Anton Vasiliev. Written by Oleg Malovichko and Andrei Zolotarev, Directed by Egor Abramenko.

While I have nothing but scorn and contempt for the political situation in Russia, I can easily and eagerly praise one of their horror films, which is one of the best genre films released in 2020.

Set in 1983, a Soviet space mission ends tragically when one cosmonaut is killed and another, Konstantin (Pyotr Fyodorov), suffers a traumatic injury. Quarantined at a remote military base, he is examined at length by Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), a controversial neurophysiologist brought in by the base commander, Colonel Semiradov (Fyodor Bondarchuk).

Klimova soon finds out her true mission is to study and eventually find a way to control an alien creature inhabiting Konstantin’s body so the military can deploy it as a biological weapon. But Konstantin, and the creature, have other plans…

I haven’t watched very many foreign sf films until this past year and I more or less picked Sputnik out of the cornucopia of genre films made available on various streaming services. And I was quite surprised at how tightly scripted, well acted and directed Sputnik is. And on top of that, the production design, practical and visual effects are the equal of any other film made today. Sputnik deserves your attention as a potential Hugo nominee this year.

Possessor (Elevation Pictures, 104 Minutes) with Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Rossif Sutherland, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Written and Directed by Brandon Cronenberg.

One of the last movies I came across that really intrigued me was Possessor, which turned up on the Thrilllist.com and the Film School Rejects websites as highly recommended.

The setup is perfectly twisted; Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) may seem like a divorced woman who still has some feelings for her ex-husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and her adorable son Ira (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), but you would be dead wrong, in every sense of the word.

Vos is a cold blooded assassin who employs a high tech trick; she has her personality electronically inserted into a person who has access to the intended target who then kills and conviently commits suicide or is killed by the police. And Vos is pretty good at her job until she gradually starts losing control of her latest host, Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), the fiance of Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton). Vos is possessing him in order to kill Ava and her father John (Sean Bean) in a murderous power grab by their board of directors.

As Vos spirals out of control, she finds herself in a constant battle against her increasingly fragmented memories and personality versus Tate’s traumatized and confused persona.

Possessor is the second feature film of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of the acclaimed Canadian director (and occasional actor) David Cronenberg. And from the looks of this film, we can see that the creative apple of this family fell VERY close to the trunk of the tree. If anything, the younger Cronenberg has taken his father’s themes of body horror, self loathing, sexuality and questions of personal identity to the Nth degree. I am not very fond of horror movies on the whole but I must say that I will be very, VERY interested in seeing his next film project.

Hamilton (5000 Broadway Productions/Walt Disney, 160 Minutes) with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr., Phillipa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Daveed Diggs, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, Anthony Ramos Okieriete Onaodowan and Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy. Written and Composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Directed by Thomas Kail.

And finally, we have Hamilton.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s extraordinary musical dramatizing the life and times of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is an incredible marriage of song, story and history.

I am not here to sell you on how brilliant the melding of hip hop, rap and traditional Broadway into the score is. Or how great the costuming, lighting, choreography and production design are. Nor am I going to tell you what this rendition of historical events is even more potent and heart rending as Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards classic 1776. 

(But, C’MON MAN; Daveed Digg’s electrifying performance in the double role of the Marquis de Lafayette AND Thomas Jefferson alone is worth a Hugo nomination. But, I digress…)

But what I am telling you is that when a cast made of mostly people of color portray some of the most famous figures in American history not only gives a new perspective on how troubled America’s origins (and its subsequent action since then) are, it also is an infectious and energetic retelling that will inspire theater goers AND film fans for generations to come.

And through that particular lens I proclaim that this production of Hamilton most DEFINITELY qualifies as a tale of alternative history.

I am nominating Hamilton for a Hugo Award in the Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form category.

Anyone want to duel about it?


Stand Alone Films: Honorable Mentions

  • The Vast of Night
  • Bird of Prey OR the Fantabulous Emancipation of Harley Quinn

Other Eligible 2020 Films of Note

  • Mulan (Walt Disney/Good Fear Productions)
  • Freaky (Universal/Blumhouse)
  • Onward ( Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • The Witches (HBO Max/Warner Brothers)
  • Vivarium (XYZ Films/Fantastic Films)
  • Time To Hunt (Netflix)
  • Archive (Vertical Entertainment)
  • Synchronic (XYZ Films)
  • Love and Monsters (Paramount)
  • Bill and Ted Face the Music (Orion/United Artists)
  • Save Yourselves (Bleecker Street)
  • Spontaneous (Paramount)
  • Sea Fever (Signature Entertainment)

After months of watching and research, filling in the ten slots on my Hugo Nomination Ballot was hard. In fact, the selection process was so tough, I’m not quite sure I’ve made my final choices. But, as of Sunday evening, I chose these productions as my nominees in the Best Dramatic Presentation categories:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form Nominees

  1. Dark – Season Three
  2. Lovecraft Country
  3. Tenet
  4. The Midnight Sun
  5. Hamilton

Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form

  1. Palm Springs
  2. Star Trek Discovery – Terra Firma Parts 1 & 2
  3. The Mandalorian – “Chapter 15: The Believer” with “Chapter 16: The Rescue”
  4. Soul
  5. Star Trek: Picard – Episodes 9 & 10 (“Broken Pieces”and “Et in Arcadia Ego”).

To those of you who have read both of these columns, I hope you have found the information and opinions I have presented here helpful and informative. I urge everyone to nominate and submit their favorite books, stories, non-fiction works, films, tv shows and other dramatic works by the upcoming deadline, which is 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time (PDT) on Thursday, March 19, 2021.

Good Luck choosing!

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #58

Top Recommendations for the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Part One

By Chris M. Barkley: The end of January marked the beginning of the nomination period for the 2021 Hugo Awards, which will remain open until March 19th at Midnight (Pacific Daylight Time).

We all continue to slog through and survive the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 (so far) by wearing a mask in public, practicing social distancing, staying out of theaters and mostly sheltering in place. 

And the thing that REALLY helped us all from going mad in confinement was the incredible cornucopia of films, streaming series and special events that could have easily filled a dozen Best Dramatic Presentation Long and Short Form ballots this year.

In a perfect world, all of these nominees would be on the ballot. But, alas, we are limited by the number of slots available to fill in.

My criteria for a work being “Hugo Worthy” is obviously going to differ from yours. Also, I fully recognize that what I might consider the cream of the crop does not even begin to scratch the surface of other dramatic works; the plays, short videos and music albums that first saw the light of day in 2020. 

At this point, I’d like to climb up on my soapbox and complain, LOUDLY, about the inequities of the Best Dramatic Presentation split, which, ironically, I and several others originally proposed at the Aussiecon 3 World Science Fiction Society Business Meeting in 1999 and helped along to its inauguration at Torcon III in 2003. 

Here is the current wording of the Best Dramatic Presentation in the WSFS Constitution:

3.3.8: Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form. Any theatrical feature or other production, with a complete running time of more than 90 minutes, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

3.3.9: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form. Any television program or other production, with a complete running time of 90 minutes or less, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year.   

To the casual observer, this seems like an excellent division that could neatly separate most theatrical movies from television episodes, which for the most part it did during the first decade of its existence.

But the number of fantasy, horror and sf projects in every medium has grown exponentially over the past two decades. Although several ideas about amending the BDP Hugo categories have been explored and proposed in the past few years, my good friend and (legendary) UK fan, Vincent Docherty, came up with what we thought was a serviceable solution several years ago. After consulting with Mr. Docherty, I made a few slight changes in the original proposal and offer them here publicly for the first time:

Best Dramatic Presentation – Feature Film:  Any theatrical, feature length film for screening, television, the internet or any other source, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

Best Dramatic Presentation – Episodic Series: Any continuing television series, presented on television, the internet or any other source, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

Best Dramatic Presentation –  Other Forms: Any visual program OR any other media production, which is neither a stand alone feature film or a television series, in any medium of dramatized science fiction, fantasy or related subjects that has been publicly presented for the first time in its present dramatic form during the previous calendar year. 

I think this proposal easily separates movies, television series and individual episodes of anthology series, plays, music albums and practically any other qualifying works. Whether or not this, or anything like it, will ever be implemented will be up to the members of the WSFS Business Meeting. 

One of the continuing pet peeves I have had with Hugo voters over the past few years is that they still tend to nominate individual episodes of a miniseries or a continuing series instead of nominating the whole work. I was especially disappointed when HBO’s Watchmen and The Mandalorian, which were both obviously serial stories, had individual episodes nominated and were not nominated on the whole as a series as they should have been. As a result, neither project won Hugo Awards.

In the capsule reviews I am offering below, I have separated the feature films (which will be presented in Part Two of this column) from the ongoing series. And while I will offer some suggested episodes for individual honors, I also heartily opine that each should be nominated in the Long Form category, too.  (Happily climbs off the soapbox…)

So, let’s move on to this year’s prospective nominees…

[Capsule reviews begin after the jump.]

Continue reading

Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #57

Cover by Luigi-is-number-one at www.deviantart.com

We NEED To Talk About Worldcon (and the Hugo Awards, too)…

By Chris M. Barkley: This coming June, I will be celebrating my forty-fifth anniversary in science fiction fandom.

I have attended over two hundred conventions since 1976, including twenty-nine World Science Fiction conventions. I not only went to those Worldcons, I also had the pleasure of serving at a majority of them in some capacity, as a volunteer, staff member, office head or, in one instance at Chicon 2000, as a hotel liaison and a member of the Chair’s Staff.

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.

Having been privy to what goes into producing a Worldcon, I have looked on in despair at the recent developments regarding this year’s Worldcon convention, DisCon III. The squabbling and outrage over the costs of the Hugo Award Pre-Ceremony Reception and the listing of nominees on the award might have gone as just business as usual if it hadn’t directly lead to the resignation of Co-Chair Colette Fozard and the designated Division Head, Jared Dashoff, who was to administer the 2021 Hugo Awards and site selection for the 2023 Worldcon. Ms. Fozard left over the vehement backlash and vicious personal attacks made against her and Mr. Dashoff (and the Hugo Administrator he was working with) resigned over the Convention Committee’s handling of the nomination controversy.   . 

And when you add the ongoing pandemic, the uncertainty over the prospects of holding an in-person convention by August AND recently announced bankruptcy of one of DisCon III main hotels, the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, it seems like a recipe for an epic disaster.

Yet, despite these setbacks and obstacles, my intuition tells me that these difficulties will be overcome and there will be a Worldcon in Washington D.C. Because any fannish historian will tell you that committees and veteran fan volunteers are determined and are not easily deterred.

But there is a deeper concern over the future of non-profit, fan run conventions.

The internet, the various new ways and forms of nearly instantaneous communications and the advent of social media have been a double edged sword for fandom and pose a vital question for fandom: Do the benefits of technology outweigh the darker, toxic effects of human interaction? And how long will it be before these complex volunteer endeavors become financially unviable.  

After decades of observation, it seems to me that the problems the World Science Fiction Society face are dogmatically systemic. 

To wit, all of those who either hold positions of authority in fandom for an inordinate amount of time have become so enamored with the way things have been done, over and over again, that they are unable, or unwilling, to evolve with the times.

We have built an elaborate web of fail-safes over time; the Fannish Inquisition, The annual WSFS Business Meeting, SMOFCon and its companion the email listserv, Connrunner.org and other various websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

And yet, Worldcons keep on making the same planning faux pas and blunders, and have subsequently been the victim of trolls, disruptors, outliers and racists. 

Clearly and obviously, some swift and decisive action needs to be taken.

And make no mistake about it; when fandom WANTS to be swift and decisive, they can. We only have to go back and see what happened during the Puppygate Crisis of the previous decade, in which divisive slate nominations and voting was effectively squashed.

THAT sort of dynamic action is needed, right now.

I offer the following recommendations:

  1. The next several Worldcons and bidding committees need to either hire or seek pro-bono help from professional convention consultants about our con-running standards, organizational planning and practices. I say this as an insider who has been volunteering at cons and Worldcons over since 1983. We NEED someone from the outside looking in because despite all of our efforts to run better conventions, we need someone to take a hard, objective look at what we do. Trying to reinvent the same wheel all over again with each new Worldcon committee isn’t very productive.
  2. There is  an overall and ongoing concern is the perpetuation of gatekeeping in  fandom. I know this, I’ve seen it in action and have had numerous, personal experiences myself. The fact is, those of us who have been in the vanguard of conrunning this past generation are all getting old. If we want our conventions and traditions to continue much past the current decade, we need to get more people involved in fandom who will be imbued with the enthusiasm to continue on. While self examination is certainly called for here, the need to be less dismissive of new ideas and people (and the perceived gatekeeping that goes along with it) is more important.
  3. We should amend the WSFS Constitution to allow the Business Meeting to occur outside of the realm of the main convention several times a year, either at SMOFCons, regional conventions, neutral sites not involved in a bid for a Worldcon or via Skype, Zoom or other meeting apps. These meetings should be widely publicized and open to the general public to attend in person or remotely. If anyone wanted to present business, raise objections or vote on motions, they would either have to be a current member of a Worldcon or be given the opportunity to buy a current supporting or attending membership. Of course, the main objections to this proposal would be that either it might be too complicated to accomplish OR bad actors may want to disrupt the process. I think that it is worth that risk to present what the Business meeting does transparently to the public and drum up support from those who may be unaware or curious about the Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. And who knows, perhaps some of those people will end up attending or helping current or future conventions. 
  4. I have either sponsored or instigated many changes in the Hugo Awards over the past twenty years. My goal was to help raise its profile to the world, to honor those who were not being given enough attention by fandom and to keep them viable in an increasingly crowded media landscape. It seemed obvious to me that as recently as five years ago, several categories, including the Best Dramatic Presentation, Editor, Artist and Related Work categories were badly in need of an overhaul due to the changing scope and presentations of the categories involved. Whether this would involve an expansion or retraction of the number of awards we give out is a serious issue that has been repeatedly postponed or regulated by committees by the Business Meeting for quite a while now. The needless quibbling over what should happen must come to an end and some definitive decisions need to be made. For the record, I agree that as many essential nominees should be listed on the nominating and final ballot. 
  5. As for the Hugo Award itself and the expenses they incur, I offer several options to consider: We can consider amending the WSFS Constitution to hold Worldcon on a biannual basis and consider a blanket two year period for nominations. If that idea is too radical, how about splitting all the categories up and awarding a set every other year? Or, if we choose, we can keep the current system but establish a copyrighted, affordable and standard base (using the Academy Awards Oscar base as an example) for future use. 

Now, I can imagine that some of the fannish pundits reading this have rejected nearly every suggestion I have outlined above out of hand. I will refer them back to the comment I made earlier about being more self critical and listening more.

My objective here is twofold; first, to get your attention and secondly, to tell as many people as possible that fandom has some big problems looming on the horizon. 

I have tried, at the WSFS Business Meetings, at conventions and throughout the columns I have written over the past few years in these columns, have either tried to present my experiences, offer solutions or, in this case, sound the alarm to a set of growing concerns.

After twenty years of either attending or offering legislation at the WSFS Business Meeting, I declared in 2019 that I would no longer attend, for reasons that I have outlined here in previous columns. I have taken up a new role.  

If fandom is a proverbial glass house, I’m the fellow chucking the rocks at the windows.

To get your attention. For our own good.

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

Exiting Trumplandia, November-December 2020

By Chris M. Barkley:

Scott Heins/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remain In Light 

By Chris M. Barkley:

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

Photo by Charlie Moorman
Photo by Laura Moorman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, there’s more. Much more.

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

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

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

So, future suitors should beware.

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

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

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

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

Photo by Juli Marr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Navia,

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

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

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

Be Well, Live Long and Prosper,

Your Grandfather and Grandmother

Chris B. & Juli

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

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

PPS: Batteries Not Included.

C &J