Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #65

Dark Corners and Illumination

By Chris M. Barkley:

“Let me reiterate: Racism is a system. As such, it is fueled as much by chance as by hostile intentions and equally the best intentions as well. It is whatever systematically acclimates people, of all colors, to become comfortable with the isolation and segregation of the races, on a visual, social, or economic level—which in turn supports and is supported by socio-economic discrimination.”

From The New York Review of Science Fiction: “Racism and Science Fiction” by Samuel R. Delany, August 1998. (https://www.nyrsf.com/racism-and-science-fiction-.html)

Professor Henry Jones: Elsa never really believed in the grail. She thought she’d found a prize.

Indiana Jones: And what did you find, Dad?

Professor Henry Jones: Me? Illumination.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, written by Jeffery David Boam, 1989.

When I was growing up, children like myself were taught, no, more like indoctrinated, to think the United States was the BEST place to grow up, that our country was ALWAYS in the right and that our institutions were, for the most part, unassailable and impervious to criticism from anyone, especially foreigners.

I grew up in Ohio in the 1960’s and despite what I was being taught in a parochial Catholic grade school (at great expense, I might add, by my hard-working parents), certain things I was experiencing did not add up. News of the violence and casualties during the Vietnam War was inescapable. I remember watching the evening network news broadcasts and being horrified by the number of people (on all sides of the conflict) being wounded or killed on a daily basis.

As the years went on, it became harder to reconcile all of the violence, terrorism, public assassinations and the racism I was experiencing with the education I was receiving. The Pentagon Papers and the Watergate break-ins coincided with my high school years and the beginnings of my political awakening.

When I look back on those formative days of my life, I see myself as a small child, set out upon a sea of prejudice and whiteness, in a boat of hetero-normaltity, destination unknown.

You should also keep in mind in this era of American history, the civil rights movement was supplementing the struggle for basic human rights alongside a growing emphasis on the pride of being Black and uncovering the suppressed history of women, other various minorities and oppressed peoples.

Needless to say, there was very little representation of minorities (of ANY kind) on television and the movies then, but when there was, our household paid attention. Bill Cosby as an undercover intelligence agent on I Spy. Diahanne Carroll was a compassionate nurse, Julia. Genius engineer Greg Morris on Mission: Impossible. Gail Fisher as Joe Mannix’s hip assistant. Eartha Kitt as Catwoman on Batman. Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek. And Sidney Poitier in, well, anything.

With that small awakening within me, came the realization that the institutions that I was taught to revere without question had glaring flaws, if not dark corners. Outright villany in their ranks. The United States military and industrial complex. Politicians on both sides of the aisle. Walt Disney. Harvard University. Police departments, everywhere. Kelloggs and General Mills. Major League Baseball and National Football League. Oil and gas companies. Automobile manufacturers.

And, as I gradually found out, in sf fandom’s past as well. (More on this later in the column.)

It was with this mindset that I formally entered sf fandom in June of 1976. It was as though my metaphorical had landed on an undiscovered land of opportunity and discovery.

Bright eyed, bushy tailed and somewhat politically aware, I plunged right into Midwestcon 27 with gusto. Besides the friend I came with, Michaele, we knew no one there. Fortunately, the Cincinnati Fantasy Group welcomed us both with open arms.

I will note that although almost all of the members of the CFG at that time were white, there was one other member at that time who was probably the first person of color to join the group, the late Frank Johnson.

Frank, who passed away in March of 2019 at the age of 65, was a good friend over the years, had first attended Midwestcon in 1968 along with a good friend of his, Joel Zakem, who both became full fledged members of the CFG a year later. I knew him and I was grateful to know him as well.

Then, and now, the members of the CFG have treated me with respect. I have truly felt that from the beginning, they have treated me as their peer and an equal. Any animosity or disagreements I may have had with any of them, I felt as though racial animus was never a factor in those matters.

In fact, during the first two decades that I attended literary sf conventions, I felt as though I was completely safe. In addition, I also thought I was positively egalitarian among my peers and I believe they felt the same way about me. Any problems I had at conventions in that era, which I have chronicled here in the past, were from people outside fandom who openly questioned or doubted I should be in such spaces. But I may have been wrong.

During those early days in fandom, I was either an attendee, a panelist or in the lower chain of command of volunteering at conventions.

As I rose through the ranks of conrunning, I was still seen and sought after for assignments and advice. However, as I became more politically engaged through my twenty years of activism at the WSFS Business Meetings, I became gradually aware that some people were not entirely happy with the changes I was trying to implement through changing the Hugo Awards.  One of the main reasons I was trying to push through those changes was because it was becoming readily apparent to me that there was a schism between younger fans who favored media based conventions and older fans who celebrated films but preferred author-driven conventions.

The seeds of this separation were sown from the growing ascension of Star Trek conventions in the mid-1970’s and the explosive (and surprising) success of Star Wars, whose debut irreparably blew the doors off both fandom and the media landscape as well.

The catalyst for this column began with the pointed meme by Andrew Trembley (at the top of the column) on April 18 and this post on the JOF Facebook page on the very same day:

“Question for the group.  Why do we as a group (science fiction conventions) do such a poor job of getting BIPOC?  From what I can see we get less than 5%.  But you go to a comicon and there are hundreds, go to a SF convention maybe 10 or 20?”

THIS is not a new problem for fandom. POC and other marginalized groups have been asked this question over and over for several decades now, and usually by well meaning white or privileged fans, who demand BIPOC fans come up with the answers to a problem they systematically keep perpetuating.

I subsequently read EVERY single response to the query and at some points, it got very ugly. There are some people in fandom who are still under the false impression that fans outside of their sphere are uninformed, ignorant or just plain undesirable to associate with. These sorts of comments weren’t new to me, I had encountered them more than twenty years ago through emails and early internet bulletin boards.

Then, on April 22, while doing research about addressing that very question, Kat Tanaka Okopnik re-posted this blog post on JOF from 2021 on two days earlier: “Jim Crow, Science Fiction, and WorldCon” by Bobby Derie at Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.

Wherein I became reacquainted with some not so very flattering history of Cincinnati Fandom:

[Gene Deweese had] been corresponding with a girl, Bev Clark, in northern Indiana, and wanted me to go with him to meet her, which suited me fine; I was finally finding girls I could talk to. Gene arranged things and we went up. It was the first time I’d met a black (or African-American, if you prefer) person socially. We got along fine, and later on we’d arranged that the three of us would drive to Midwestcon, again in my car; that car got a lot of use that summer; Juanita and her friend Lee Tremper would meet us there, and we’d have fun. We arrived at Beatley’s Hotel (or Beastley’s-on-the-Bayou, which was one of the fannish descriptions at the time) but Bev was refused admittance. No blacks allowed. None of us had even considered the possibility. On the way out, we talked to a few fans sitting on the hotel porch and some anger was expressed, especially by Harlan Ellison, who said that all fandom would hear about this outrage. We drove home, and as far as I know, nobody ever mentioned the episode again. Except me, of course.

—Buck Coulson, “Midwest Memories” in Mimosa #13 [PDF] (1993), 36

That was in 1953; Coulson added that later that year Bev attended the 1953 WorldCon in Philadelphia with them and there were “no room problems.”

When my friend Michaele and I attended Midwestcon 27 twenty-three years after this infamous incident in June of 1976, we were both blissfully unaware that the convention had been embroiled in such discriminatory acts towards people of color in the 1950’s. Why would we? We had just stumbled on to one of the greatest continuing parties of our lives, that’s why. We had entered fandom at a time when the elder members of the Cincinnati Fantasy group were exiting or dying off and a new generation were just joining.

In light of all of this history, I must give pause to think and question what actually happened during my 46 years of fandom.

Was the opposition to my activism regarding the Hugo Awards treated as altruism  (as I saw it on my part) OR, were people opposing me because of my “outsider-other” status, or was it more plainly, but hidden, racial prejudice against me? At the moment, I don’t know. And frankly, I am very comfortable with my actions and how I conducted myself while I was a fan activist between 1999 to 2019 to leave that judgment to historians and literary critics.

I should also say that out of this cauldron of frustration and angst came some actual illumination.

On April 19, Kris ‘Nchanter’ Snyder (pronouns they/them), a veteran con runner of many years and person of color, laid out a formative set of guidelines they have developed over the years on the JOF (Journeymen of Fandom) Facebook page. (Quoted with permission) To wit:

So you want more Fans of Color at your convention?  I’ll repeat (some of) the advice we’ve been giving you. In order:

1) Listen to what non-white fans are telling you and stop arguing with us that it can’t be that bad. We’re not actually telling you everything.  This means doing research by using Google to read blogs and things.  Don’t engage, just read. If this is exhausting or makes you uncomfortable, I promise it’s 10x more so for those of us who live it.

2) Deplatform your bigots, and anyone who thinks bigots deserve a seat at your table. Anyone who refuses to put in work to root out bigotry, who complains about attending sensitivity training (unless they are a member of imperiled marginalized groups, but like, even then) is a PROBLEM and needs to not be on panels, and not be on staff.

3) Pay for sensitivity training for your staff.  Yes, pay.  You want someone good, and preference should go to trainers who are not-white.  It’s just as important as making sure there is first aid training or people are serve-safe certified. 

4) Make sure your code of conduct covers racial harassment, have a clear reporting and follow up process, have members of that team go through extra training, and then do all the hard follow up work.  It’s 2022. Have an anti-racism statement that you make sure your staff is following and refers back to when setting goals.

5) Create safer spaces at your convention.  This acknowledges that you know there are problems, and you are committed to doing work to address them. 

6) Spend money on accessibility services. (You should have been doing this already, but I’m adding it in here.  And god help anyone who asks why this is in here when we’re talking about racial inclusion).

7) Set up and spend money on an inclusion fund to help people who need financial assistance get to the convention.  If you have this, and advertise that it takes donations, people will donate to it, and fans of color who don’t need the services are more likely to come to your convention because it is a sign that you care. 

8.) Commit to doing this for 5 years before you come back and whine that it’s not working.

And though you’d think that post would have been a definitive endpoint to the discussion, people rambled on. As the weeks progressed, it seemed as though there would be no end to this roundabout discussion among the participants.

To accentuate my position, I took it upon myself to post another excerpt from Samuel Delany’s racism essay across Facebook, including a group I am an active member of, Science Fiction For All. Unfortunately, I inadvertently posted the quote twice. The first post was received very favorably by the few members who bothered to comment. The duplicate however, attracted some very unwanted attention…

I wasn’t expecting any comments at all. And if I had known there was a duplicate post at the time, I would have readily deleted it. Instead, I was “gifted” with the presence of one Michael Jones, who proceeded to tell me, in great detail, that my post was extremely problematic:

As some of you may have suspected, the laughing emoji was supplied by Mr. Jones as a parting shot. Sometime between our encounter online, he left as a member of the Science Fiction For All Facebook page. (Whether he was pushed by the admins or jumped on his own is unknown.)  I think I can safely say that he will definitely not be missed by me (or a great many of the current members).

I speculate freely that Mr. Jones is a part of the fannish community that was brought by his parents (and peers) to believe that people matter MORE than their racial ethnicity or national origin. Which is fine, except that as history has shown that setting aside those factors misses the point that continually ignoring people’s cultures, colonization, subjugation and oppression, really DO matter.

In the end, we all must realize that in addition to our personal experiences, we also bring our own sets of biases and prejudices as well. The first step in dealing with some of the more pressing issues in the various factions of fandom today is coming to the realization that these problems exist and that we should be very aware of our own personal shortcomings, or at least be willing to listen and accept constructive criticism when we are confronted with them.

I, and many others have called science fiction (and by inference, fantasy as well) the literature of change. And by change I mean shifts in perspective, either by historical, societal or technological means.

There have been times when I have marveled with dismay that the people who love and admire this branch of literature, can also be the most obstinate, stubborn and hidebound when it is plainly evident that a change in thinking or policy would be a great benefit to fandom.

On the whole, these changes, whether it is for either individuals or our society, is hard but inevitable.

How fandom ultimately deals with it will define us all, for better or for worse.

Let’s emerge from the dark corners. Let’s choose illumination.

There is no ‘them’ and ‘us.’ There is only us.

– Greg Boyle

This column is dedicated to the memory of Frank Johnson, sff fan, global traveler. collector, and a masterful lover of music, art and life itself. (Friends Pay Tribute To WGUC Announcer Frank Johnson | WVXU)

Frank Johnson

Pixel Scroll 3/21/21 Who Is Commenter #1? You Are, Pixel Fifth

(1) NO MIDWESTCON THIS YEAR. [Item by Joel Zakem.] A message from Bill Cavin on behalf of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG):

Most fans who attend Midwestcon probably won’t be surprised to hear we will not be having the con this year, but I occasionally hear of someone asking the question.  So let this be the official announcement that Midwestcon is on hold until June, 2022.

Until 2020, Midwestcon had occurred every year since 1950.

(2) ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY TRANSPORTER BEAM. “Live Long And Prosper: Boston Dedicates Day For Leonard Nimoy” says the Boston, MA Patch.

Boston is paying a special tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who would have turned 90 years old later this month. Mayor Marty Walsh is declaring his birthday, March 26, to be “Leonard Nimoy Day” in the city.

Nimoy, who died in 2015, was born in Boston’s West End neighborhood. He’ll always be remembered for portraying the logical, pointy-eared Spock in “Star Trek,” and embracing the Vulcan character’s “live long and prosper” motto….

(3) MIRROR, MIRROR. E.T. Perry and Will Solomon examine how Star Trek: The Original Series’ view of expansion and “the frontier” clash with its progressive, egalitarian ideals in “New Life and New Civilizations: Socialism, Progress, & The Final Frontier” at Blood Knife.

In “Day of the Dove,” a 1968 episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, the crew of the USS Enterprise fights a group of Klingons for control of their Federation starship. The Klingons, led by Kang (Michael Ansara, in seriously questionable make-up), are locked in battle with Captain Kirk and his men. Both sides have become victims of a mysterious alien entity aboard the ship that induces and draws life from emotions of hate, violence, and bigotry. In an attempt to convince Kang’s wife Mara to persuade her husband to accept an armistice, Captain Kirk argues that she accept the Federation’s doctrine of peaceful co-existence, a philosophy that Mara claims is incompatible with the Klingons’ warlike, imperialist way of life. 

“We must push outward to survive,” says Mara.

“There’s another way to survive,” replies Kirk, “mutual trust and help.”

Unspoken in Kirk’s characteristic response is that the Federation actually endures in pretty much the same way as the Klingon Empire—that is, by expansion. They just do it more humanely. But we should not mistake Kirk’s emphasis on decency with a radically different conception of civilization. Both systems are equally dependent on imperialism, on colonialism, on limitless resource extraction to survive. Both, in other words, find themselves unavoidably dependent upon a single concept: progress. 

* * * * *

This tension between the espoused ideals of “mutual trust and help” and the imperialist undercurrent of the Federation’s on-screen actions is an essential dimension of Star Trek, and one that is evident in many of the show’s recurring premises: visiting planets devoted to resource extraction, specifically mining (“The Devil in the Dark”); attempting to establish colonies, promote development, or facilitate “diplomatic relations” (“The Trouble with Tribbles,” “Journey to Babel”); and bartering with aliens for dilithium crystals or other raw materials (“Friday’s Child”). Often these plots occur in the context of competition with the Klingons (“Errand of Mercy,” “A Private Little War”) or Romulans (“Balance of Terror”). And even more often, they result in conflict and battle.

(4) CUT ABOVE THE REST. Variety’s Owen Glieberman makes a compelling case for why the Snyder Cut matters, and why any sequel would be a barometer of Hollywood’s health. “Will Zack Snyder Be Invited to Make a ‘Justice League’ Sequel?”

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” has that thing. What is it? You could call it vision, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But it’s also something I would call voice. That’s not a quality we associate with comic-book movies, but the rare great ones have it. And in “Justice League,” Zack Snyder’s voice comes through in ways at once large and small. It’s there in the doomy Wagnerian grandeur, and in the puckish way the movie hones on a seed coming off a hot-dog bun in the bullet-time sequence that introduces the Flash’s superpowers. It’s there in the way the backstories don’t just set up the characters but intertwine their fates, and in the way that Snyder, leaving Joss Whedon’s genial jokiness on the cutting-room floor, replaces it with a sincerity so present it doesn’t have to speak its name. It’s there in the majestic symphonic rigor of the battle scenes, and in how the villains, the glittering-with-malice Steppenwolf and the dripping-with-molten-corruption Darkseid, comprise a threat at once relentless and remorseless.

… Now that that’s happened, to leave Snyder by the wayside seems not merely unjust; it strikes me as foolhardy….

(5) DOES YOUR FANNISH ABODE NEED A CENTERPIECE? Then loosen your money belt: “H.R. Giger’s ‘Alien’ Prototype Is Up for Auction”.

What could be creepier than the drooling, carnivorous monster from 1979’s Alien? How about a translucent version?

The original design from the mind of H.R. Giger for the classic science fiction horror franchise is part of a Hollywood memorabilia sale being offered by Julien’s Auctions on Wednesday, April 28, and Thursday, April 29.

The Xenomorph costume, nicknamed “Big Chap” by those involved with the production, is a milky white and close to the final design. Camera tests were performed before director Ridley Scott opted for a non-translucent version. Long believed lost, it’s expected to fetch between $40,000 and $60,000. Alien collectors, however, are sure to drive up that conservative estimate.

(6) SIGN LANGUAGE. [Item by Martin Morse Wooster.] This is another excerpt from Isaac Asimov’s In Joy Still Felt.

In one way, autographing became more and more of a problem for me, since it supplied me with more and more work; partly because the number of my books was increasing steadily, and partly because those books were individually popular.  In another sense, they were not a problem, because I loved autographing.  Some writers cut down on their labors by refusing to sign anything except hard-cover books, but I have never refused anything, and will sign torn scraps of paper if that is what is asked of me.

There is the occasional joker who hands me a blank check.  I just sign it along with everything else, but when the joker gets it back he finds I have signed it, ‘Harlan Ellison.’

(7) KRUGMAN REFERENCES ASIMOV. [Item by Linda Deneroff.] The March 16 edition of the New York Times had an opinion column from Paul Krugman entitled “The Pandemic and the Future City”. The first paragraph discusses Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun and refers back to it again later in the article.

The first paragraph reads: “In 1957 Isaac Asimov published “The Naked Sun,” a science-fiction novel about a society in which people live on isolated estates, their needs provided by robots and they interact only by video. The plot hinges on the way this lack of face-to-face contact stunts and warps their personalities.”

It’s behind a paywall.

(8) MEMORY LANE.

1991 – Thirty years ago at Chicon V, The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold which had been published by Baen Books the previous year wins the Hugo for Best Novel. It’s the sixth novel of the Vorkosigan Saga. The other finalists that year were Earth by David Brin, The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, The Quiet Pools by Michael P. Kube-McDowell and Queen of Angels by Greg Bear. It would be nominated for a number of other Awards but this would be the only one it would win. 

(9) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge and John Hertz.]

  • Born March 21, 1876 – Oshikawa Shunrô.  (Personal name last, Japanese style.)  Pioneer of Japanese SF.  So far I’ve found only his Verne-like Undersea Warship translated into English, first in a very popular series of six.  Also loved baseball.  Wrote detective fiction, some carrying SF.  Co-edited World of Adventure magazine; later founded World of Heroism.  A teacher of mine said “A vice is a virtue gone astray”: too true of heroism, nationalism, patriotism in Japan then, coloring Oshikawa’s work and leading to catastrophe.  (Died 1914) [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1915 Ian Stuart Black. British screenplay writer best known for work on two First Doctor stories, “The Savages” and “The War Machines” (with Kit Pedler and Pat Dunlop) and a Third Doctor story, “The Macra Terror”. He wrote thirteen episodes of The Invisible Man as well as episodes of One Step BeyondThe SaintStar Maidens and Danger Man. (Died 1997.) (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1931 Al Williamson. Cartoonist who was best known for his work for EC Comics in the ’50s, including titles like Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, and for his work on Flash Gordon in the Sixties. He won eight Harvey Awards, and an Eisner Hall of Fame Award. (Died 2010.) (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1946 Timothy Dalton, 75. He is best known for portraying James Bond in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill but is currently in The Doom Patrol as Niles Caulder, The Chief. As I’ve said before, go watch it now!  He also was Damian Drake in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Sir Malcolm on the Penny Dreadful series and Lord President of the Time Lords (Rassilon) during the Time of Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. He went to theatre to play Lord Asriel in the stage version of His Dark Materials. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1946 Terry Dowling, 75. I was trying to remember exactly what it was by him that I read and it turned out to be Amberjack: Tales of Fear and Wonder, an offering from Subterranean Press a decade ago. Oh, it was tasty! If it’s at all representative of his other short stories, he’s a master at them. And I see he’s got just one novel, Clowns at Midnight which I’ve not read. He’s not at all deeply stocked at the usual digital suspects but they do have that plus several story collections. (CE) 
  • Born March 21, 1947 – Don Markstein.  Active New Orleans fan whose love of comics ran with a more general SF interest to which he gave full energy.  Chaired DeepSouthCon 11, won the Rebel Award, then two Southpaws (Best Apa Writer and Best Apa Administrator); he was in, among others, SFPA and Myriad.  Just for one sample, he produced, with Guy Lillian, Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (alluding to a satirical book – set in Connecticut! – and its movie) for the Rafael Aloysius Lafferty League of Yeomen.  DM’s Toonopedia, though not seeming updated recently, remains priceless.  (Died 2012) [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1952 – Sue-Rae Rosenfeld, age 69.  I’m baffled by having been acquainted with her for years to the point where I find no notes.  It won’t help you to know she led a Bible study session on Genesis 23:1 – 25:18 recounting the life of Sarah.  She was on the NY in ’86 Worldcon bidding committee with people you do know or know of e.g. Genny Dazzo, Moshe Feder, Elliot Shorter, Ben Yalow; serving egg creams, which have neither egg nor cream, they lost to Atlanta.  “Stu,” she told Stu Shiffman, as he dutifully recounted, “you are a great pain to your friends” – while we were electing him TAFF (Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund) delegate.  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1956 Teresa Nielsen Hayden, 65. She is a consulting editor for Tor Books and is well known for her and husband, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Making Light superb weblog, and back in the Eighties, they published the Izzard fanzine. And she has three fascinating framing pieces in The Essential Bordertown, edited by Delhia Sherman and Terri Windling. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1964 – Lisa Desimini, age 56.  Fifty covers.  Here’s one for her own chapbook.  Here’s Shakespeare’s Landlord– no, not that Shakespeare.  Here is Death’s Excellent Vacation.  Here is This Is Midnight.  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1970 Chris Chibnall, 51. Current Showrunner for Doctor Who and the head writer for the first two (and I think) best series of Torchwood. He first showed up in the Whoverse when he penned the Tenth Doctor story, “42”.  He also wrote several episodes of Life on Mars. He’s been nominated for a Hugo twice for work on Doctor Who. (CE)
  • Born March 21, 1981 – Lauren Kate, age 40.  Nine novels (Fallen was made into a movie, S. Hicks dir. 2016), eight shorter stories for us; a novel set in 1700s Venice became a top NY Times Best-Seller.  “My ‘blocks’ are generally related to not understanding how a character of mine feels, so … I will write … from the point of view of another character who … can often see things in my protagonist that I cannot.”  [JH]
  • Born March 21, 1982 – Andreas Suchanek, age 39.  Three novels (The Awakening, in English, appeared in January; Queen of Shadows earlier this month), eight shorter stories, starting with Perry Rhodan who or which is some kind of miracle.  Website in English or German; perhaps AS will forgive me for thinking “Multidimensional Characters – Nothing is as it seams” Typo of the Day (it’s just fine in the German, Nichts ist wie es scheint) – my fantastic imagination wishes he’d meant it.  [JH]

(10) ON BOARD. G.T. Reeder looks at how tabletop RPGs like Pathfinder and D&D represent race and disability, where it succeeds, where it fails, and how it could be a tool for better understanding these ideas in the real world: “Ability Score: Tabletop RPGs & the Mechanics of Privilege” at Blood Knife.

Tabletop gaming has experienced a recent surge in popularity to heights never before seen, bringing hordes of new players into close contact with what are frequently decades-old mechanics for the first time. This Great Leap Forward in gaming has brought new and necessary scrutiny on what are in many cases antiquated notions of race, gender, and valor that had been baked into the tabletop RPG landscape over the years.

The result of this has been twofold. First, it’s led to a great “spiritual purge” of the genre, as publishers grapple (or fail to grapple) with issues that had long been overlooked or tolerated within the once-insular tabletop community. This sea change has also opened doors onto new issues and new perspectives, such as transgender characters, race mixing, and questions of accessibility. 

Questions of identity and experience are unavoidable in tabletop roleplaying. After all, a character in an RPG functions essentially as a number of modifiers, either positive or negative, to the dice rolls that propel gameplay. A player can even opt to hobble their character — losing an eye, having less ability in a hand — in exchange for yet more points to spend on positive parts of gameplay. The result is that the in-game privilege of the characters is often tied to the possibilities of the adventure on which they are embarking: games are considered easier (and therefore potentially more fantastical and fun for players) when players are given more points to use while creating their characters, or harder (and therefore more “realistic”) when there are fewer. But in truth, the story of a character with less privilege in their imagined world need not be less fun or less fantastical—indeed, it may be just the opposite.

(11) HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER. Powell’s virtual events include Jeff VanderMeer in Conversation With Karen Russell on April 13 at 5 p.m. Pacific. Register for the webinar here.

Software manager Jane Smith receives an envelope containing a list of animals along with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and salamander. The list is signed “Love, Silvina.” Jane does not know a Silvina, and she wants nothing to do with the taxidermied animals. The hummingbird and the salamander are, it turns out, two of the most endangered species in the world. Silvina Vilcapampa, the woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of a recently deceased Argentine industrialist. By removing the hummingbird and the salamander from the storage unit, Jane has set in motion a series of events over which she has no control. Instantly, Jane and her family are in danger, and she finds herself alone and on the run from both Silvina’s family and her ecoterrorist accomplices — along with the wildlife traffickers responsible for the strange taxidermy. She seems fated to follow in Silvina’s footsteps as she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, why she is now at the center of this global conspiracy, and what exactly Silvina was planning. Time is running out — for her and possibly for the world. Hummingbird Salamander (MCD) is Annihilation author Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy. VanderMeer will be joined in conversation by Karen Russell, author of Orange World and Swamplandia!.

(12)  VIDEO OF THE DAY. Mind Matter’s intro“Sci-fi Saturday: Can We Live In More Than the Present Moment?” warns “Scenes of gruesome suffering so caution re kids.”

The creator of a time machine becomes trapped inside his own creation where he must figure out the timing of his mistakes. PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE, CONTAINED.

[Thanks to Joel Zakem, JJ, Kurt Schiller, Mike Kennedy, Olav Rokne, Linda Deneroff, Michael Toman, Martin Morse Wooster, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, John Hertz, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Andrew (not Werdna).]

Frank Johnson (1953-2019)

By Joel Zakem: [Reprinted from FB with permission]

This is a post I hoped to never write.

In terms of longevity, Frank Johnson was my oldest friend. I believe that we first encountered each other in 1966 or 67, when we both around 13 or 14. At the time I was looking through a table of used science fiction magazines at the Ohio Bookstore in downtown Cincinnati with my friend Earl Whitson when Frank and his friend, Brad Balfour walked up. The four of us started talking and subsequently became friends. While I’ve since lost touch with Earl and rarely see Brad, Frank and I remained close.

In 1968, the four of us co-edited an atrocious sf fanzine entitled Advocates of the Infinite, which, thankfully, only lasted one issue. In the same year, we attended our first SF convention, the 1968 Midwestcon and in 1969, Frank, Brad and I joined the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (the local SF club, which put on the convention). Frank and I remained members.

In the fanzine world, Frank went on to co-edit, with Brad, the first issue of Conglomeration before going off on his own with Schamoob, which lasted more than 10 issues and where I was a regular contributor. He also provided cartoons to several other fanzines in the 1960’s and 70’s. Frank later revived Schamoob in the music APA “ALPS ,” where we were both members.

As con goers, Frank and I attended 51 straight Midwestcons (1968-2018) and, during every five Midwestcons since our 25th straight, in 1992, we have been hosting an anniversary party. Frank was also a regular attendee of Worldcons and several regionals such as Confusion and Windycon, but he rarely participated in panels or presentations. His 50+ years in fandom probably made him one of the longest tenured African-American SF fans.

Besides fandom, Frank and I shared several other interests, most notably music. While our taste occasionally clashed (we both enjoyed jazz and folk, but Frank tended toward the progressive area of rock while I was more into punk and new wave), I spent many an enjoyable hour in record and CD stores with Frank (and our differences in taste meant that we often would locate items the other wanted). Frank made regular trips to Europe, and he loved browsing the record stores there.

While music was more of a hobby for me, it became a career for Frank, as he has had a long tenure in radio as an announcer and programmer, in genres including album-oriented rock and smooth (or as we sometime called it snooze) jazz. In recent years, he hosted a drive-time classical music show on Cincinnati’s WGUC-FM, a job he truly seemed to enjoy.

Last year, however, Frank was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Like many things in his life, he tended to keep his condition secret from all but his closest friends. Various treatments proved unsuccessful, and the 2018 Windycon (which I regret skipping) became his last con (I offered to drive him to the 2019 Confusion, but he determined that it would have been too much of a strain). 

Though we have lived in different cities for the past 30 or so years, we have remained friends (and Cincinnati and Louisville, our current cities, are only two hours apart). In fact, in early January of this year, I ended up driving him to one of his treatments. At that time, he was noticeably thinner and weaker, but still seemed alert. After the treatment, we returned to the house he shared with Karen, his long-time significant other, where he insisted on playing me certain musical selections on his surround sound system. 

Unfortunately, in the past week, his condition radically worsened, and he ended up confined to bed. I had planned to drive up to see him today (March 20) but, around 9 a.m. on Tuesday, March 19, I received a call from Karen saying that I should probably drive up on that day. I quickly showered, threw some things into the car, and hit the road to Cincinnati.

I arrived at Karen and Frank’s at about 11:30 a.m. and was shocked at the deterioration since the last time I had seen Frank. He probably weighed less than 100 pounds, could not talk, and was completely listless. While I would like to think that he knew that I was there, I cannot be sure. I was still there, with several of Frank’s other friends, in mid-afternoon, when Frank took his last breath. He was 65 years old.

Something kind of wonderful did happen right before Frank passed. A few months back, Frank, accompanied by Karen, made a last visit to the radio station where Frank worked. A long-time Hitchhikers fan, Frank asked, somewhat jokingly, that if he did not make it, could the phrase “So Long and Thanks For All The Fish” be used in any on-air tribute to him. (And WGUC just broadcast a moving tribute to Frank which ended with a recording of Frank saying those exact words.)

A package for Frank had arrived from the radio station earlier in the afternoon of the 19th. When Karen opened it, she discovered a glass fishbowl containing a number of paper fishes, each one with a message from one of Frank’s coworkers on the back. Karen, with a little help from me in deciphering some of the handwriting, read each message to Frank. The last one, read shortly before Frank died, read “The Answer is 42.”

I know that I will never forget Frank, and I also know I will never forget the opportunity to share Frank’s last hours with some amazing people, especially Karen who did so much for and with him. Safe journeys, old friend.

Karen Kelley and Frank Johnson in 2006. Photo by Joel Zakem.

Cincinnati Public Radio News’ post “WGUC Announcer Frank Johnson Loses Battle With Cancer” begins:

WGUC classical music host Frank Johnson lost his battle with cancer Tuesday, March 19. He was 65.

The Cincinnati native, who started his career in 1975 at Dayton’s WTUE-FM, joined WGUC-FM in 1998 on the All Things Considered news shift.

He had hosted afternoon and evening music shifts, most recently 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He had been off the air since December.

Cincinnati Public Radio will pay tribute to Johnson today by playing some of his classical music favorites during his air shift. He loved Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

“The staff and listeners of WGUC and WVXU, as well as the Greater Cincinnati radio and music community – and science fiction fans everywhere – have lost a dear friend,” Cincinnati Public Radio said in an announcement today. “Frank was a true radio professional and aficionado of all types of music, especially jazz, his soul music.” 

And the Cincinnati Public Radio website is hosting a Remembering Frank Johnson page. Here’s the comment left by Denise Johnson —  

Denise Johnson (Frank’s sister)

Although WTUE was his first job after college, Frank’s radio career began while he was still in high school. Junior Achievement had a public affairs program that broadcast from the studios of WCIN. Once bitten he was hooked on mass communications.

An elder neighbor introduced him to shortwave (ham) radio. In order to get a stronger signal, Frank climbed up a telephone pole outside of his bedroom window to connect a tie a wire to the telephone cables.

Frank was an avid comic book consumer and collector. On one occasion, his little sister’s pet gerbil escaped from its cage and nibbled on a prized possession. To impress the importance and value of his collection, he dangled the offending rodent over the toilet as he repeatedly flushed while his sister cried and begged for mercy and his mother stood watch with an arched eyebrow. The gerbil wasn’t flushed and his sister made sure to avoid additional trauma by relocating the pet to an aquarium.

Frank continued to hone his skills as the student newspaper editor at Courter Technical High School and was on the yearbook and “managed” the school’s radio station.

His obsession with science fiction led to a book collection that earned him an award in a contest sponsored by the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

His literary pursuits and graphic art skills led his to publish fanzines; the first, Conglomeration – a collaborative effort with other teen sci-fi fans and a solo effort titled Schmoob, published on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine from typewritered stencils. He managed to snag contributions from top-shelf authors like Ray Bradbury — all while still in high school.

While earning his Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Mass Communications at Bowling Green State University, he was the manager of the campus radio station and earned pocket change dj-ing campus dances and parties.

The sum of his combined experiences created a first-call radio announcer, programmer and production manager. Enunciation and a smooth delivery led to a side hustle of voice-over work. He worked in his chosen profession for nearly 50 years.

The 2015 Hugo Awards – Perspectives

By Chris M. Barkley

HATE: it has caused a lot of problems in this world, but it has not solved one yet.

–Maya Angelou

In the waning hours of July 31, my partner Juli Marr and I submitted our ballots for this year’s Hugo Awards. The next morning, I attended the funeral mass of Margaret Kiefer, a longtime member of Cincinnati Fantasy Group. As I sat and filled out my ballot, I could not help but think of the life she led, my life in fandom and the events leading up to Puppygate.

Margaret Ford Keifer worked as the principal’s secretary for Loveland City Schools for over 30 years. She was also a volunteered her help for the Loveland Historical Society Museum, the Cincinnati Pops, and a longtime member of the Loveland Women’s Club. In addition, she was a member of St. Columban Church for 58 years. Margaret was a founding member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group and attended 66 consecutive Midwestcons, the last of which she attended this past June, just weeks before her death. She was also the last surviving member of Cincinnati’s only Worldcon, Cinvention, which was held in 1949.

At Margaret’s service, I heard several testimonials to her strength, fortitude and devotion to her community. Warren McCullough, one of her former school principals lauded her as the woman who saved his educational career. Several previous principals had left recently and he was the third hired in three years for a troubled elementary school that no one wanted to send their children. He described that first meeting where he was introduced as being very tense and after what he called a “rousing call to arms” to save the school, his speech was met with dead silence. At that point, Margaret Keifer, who was seated in the front row of the assembly, stood up and faced them down and loudly declared, “I will follow this man…and I will take the first bullet for him, too!” McCullough stated that his career as an educator took off after that incident and was incredibly grateful for her support.

Her parish priest, Father Lawrence Tensi, adamantly refused to call her a mere volunteer, but as true disciple in the purest sense of the word, as one of the few people in the community who could be counted on time after time to organize, work and deliver whatever was needed.

Contrast this with Mr. Beale, who, on the surface seems to have some moderate amount of talent as a writer, editor and publisher, who has gone out of his way to trumpet and advance notions of homophobia, sexism, racism with provocative slander, libelous insults and threats, wildly delivered with what I can only describe as a pseudo- intellectual flair. However, those talents, which could have been used for the betterment of literature and culture, are instead being used to soil and defame it. Beale’s latest attempt at seeking attention, a worldwide call for a boycott of all TOR authors and books, is as pathetic as it is futile.

All of the activities of the Sad and Rabid Puppies might have been easily laughed off, had they not made good on their threats and effectively gamed the Hugo Award nominations this year.

Millions of words have been spilled, pounded, spit out, spit upon, leveraged and expounded upon this subject by thousands of commentators, bloggers, pundits and literary critics since the nominations were announced.

I tell friends and acquaintances that are not familiar with sf fandom that this is not the first fannish feud to spill out into the consciousness of the public, nor will it be the last. With internet connectivity, hair trigger tempers and the willingness of people to stay up WAY PAST their bedtimes to correct stuff on the internet, it is certainly the most public display of asshattery in fandom that general public has ever seen.

I consider what Brad Torgenson, Larry Corriea and Theodore Beale have collectively done, is a direct attack on what fans, writers, editors, publishers and literature itself. And I consider this attack on fandom and the Hugos is a personal attack against me.

My involvement with the Hugo Awards began back during my high school days, when my good neighbor Michaele loaned me her copy of the SF Book Club omnibus edition of The Hugo Winners Volumes 1 and 2 edited by and with introductions by Isaac Asimov, which covered nearly all of the short fiction winners from 1955 to 1970.

(A side note: I wish all of the Hugo winning stories were still readily available, if not in book form, at least as inexpensive ebooks or linked online, so that everyone can appreciate the wide spectrum of authors, stories and styles that have won over the decades.)

These stories blew away my teenaged mind. What I completely ignored at the time were Asimov’s references to the conventions themselves. They referred to these World Science Fiction Conventions, were held in different cities in the US and overseas but not where future conventions were going to be or how to attend them.

Eventually, in 1976, my best friend Micheale and I found our way to the 27th Midwestcon and found out firsthand what conventions were all about. I missed the 1976 Worldcon, MidAmericon in Kansas City, but I attended the first of my 26 Worldcons the next year in Miami Beach.

Over the years, I have volunteered my time to help or head up various Worldcon Press Offices and other duties on 17 occasions, charged with trying to explain fandom and the Hugo Award to the mainstream press of the host city and accommodate fan writers as well.

However, I feel as though my important contributions to the Hugo Awards have come in the last sixteen years. I, along with a number of fellow fans and activists in fandom have been at the forefront of some of the fundamental changes in the Hugo award categories.

We fought for these changes, to the Best Dramatic Presentation, Best Editor categories and the creation of the Graphic Story and co-sponsoring the Fancast category were necessary to keep the Hugos diverse, fairer, engaging and most importantly, relevant in the 21st century.

I must admit, I was in a somewhat of a state of shock when the nominations were formally announced back in April. Almost immediately, some factions inside fandom wanted the Hugo Awards suspended immediately or stopped altogether. Others have organized to either shun or vote No Award in all the categories where Sad/Rabid Puppies nominees are dominate.

Then, as the story spread, news outlets, pundits and commentators outside fandom started to weigh in; Salon.com, Slate, National Public Radio and even the National Review went out of their way to get a grip on what most of them characterized as the ‘geek culture war’.

I do not believe in destroying the Hugo Awards in order to save it.

I repudiate the No Award movement and those that support it. I believe that a No Award given in any category damages the prestige and reputation of the awards. I will vote No award above a nominee in a category ONLY if I can determine if it is warranted by my personal standards and taste, NOT because it was part of a knee jerk reaction to what has happened or for any other political concern. Those who do so blindly, without any consideration of the work itself, are, in my opinion, NOT ethical votes. (And I can report that I cast at least one vote for a nominee in all of the fiction categories.)

Secondly, when an institution is under attack, you fight back. Not with irrational hate speech, subversion of the voting rules and threats but with reasonable speech, more impassioned defenses and more democracy.

I am heartened that from what I have observed, our communities of fans, authors, editors and artists have collectively risen above this controversy. The Puppy movement and their supporters wanted to prove a point; that a small number of voters can impose their will on an unsuspecting public. They have wholeheartedly made their point.

However, in doing so, the Sad-Rabid Puppies have lost the war. Despite their fervent claims, I think the tide of public opinion has turned decidedly against them. Fandom does not have to obsess about the Puppies and their overall effect because whatever influence they had has waned as the controversy has played out.

Their seemingly endless displays of ignorance, buffoonery, arrogance has not gained them any more traction or supporters for changing or eliminating the Hugos. Since the beginning of this crisis, Supporting Memberships for Sasquan were sold in unprecedented numbers. It is my fervent hope they were bought for the sole purpose of voting for the Hugos this year. I also hope that on the night of the Hugo Ceremony, those of us who have opposed this farce will be vindicated.

Science fiction, fantasy or literature as a whole, is not about the future or the past. It is all about the time it is written. It is about the consequences of change, for good or for ill. There will never be any definitive, wholesale agreement from anyone on what it means, what it should contain or what stands for; that’s a debate for historians, literary critics, fanzines and bloggers.

Personally speaking, I don’t believe in applying any sort artificial means of affirmative action to either the voting process or the awards, as the Sad Puppy contingent has asserted with their actions. And, if you think these sort of controversies all come from the conservative wing of fandom, I offer this, an amendment that was briefly considered by the 2009 Worldcon Business Meeting:

4.3.3 Short Title: Female Hugo Award Nominees

Moved, to amend the WSFS Constitution by inserting the following

into the end of Section 3.8: 3.8.nIf in the written fiction categories, no selected nominee has a female author or co-author, the highest nominee with a female author or co-author shall also be listed, provided that the nominee would appear on the list required by Section 3.11.4

This amendment, proposed by a feminist blogger named Yonmei, who was not in attendance at the convention and Hugo Award winning fan writer/editor Cheryl Morgan (who was). Yonmei conceived it as a way to spark a debate at the Business Meeting about the lack of women on the ballot and described on her blog this way:

…it occurred to me cheerfully that as a WSFS member, I could propose an amendment to the Hugo rules. A sort of Joanna Russ amendment. An “up yours!” amendment to all the fans so smugly certain that the only reason there are so many all-male shortlists in the Hugos is because men are just more excellent writers of SF/F than women are: if women were as good as men, this reasoning goes, there just naturally would be equal numbers on average from year to year.

As I recall (and anyone can verify by going to www.thehugoawards.org), the 2007 and 2008 ballots were particularly top heavy with male nominees. In retrospect, it would have been an interesting debate but a majority of those attending voted down the opportunity to debate the issue. I can only tell you that I voted against it because I did not believe that imposing a rather extreme measure at that point in time was unnecessary. I believed those nominations were aberrations and not the result of systemic sexism on the part of the fans voting.

Had she done any research at all about the history of the Hugo Awards, Yonmei would have known that these fans that she deemed as clueless, had also given the award on multiple occasions to the likes of Anne McCaffrey, Alice Sheldon (writing as James Triptree, Jr.), Ursula K. LeGuin, Vonda McIntyre, Susan Wood, Kate Wilhelm, Joan Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Connie Willis, Lois McMaster Bujold and a host of others.

We can only speculate what Ms. Russ, a writer I admire and respect, would have thought about such an amendment. (For the record, I am of the opinion that there would have been a gratuitous amount of eye rolling on her part.)

You can read more about this kerfluffle and draw our own conclusions from this link from Mike Glyer’s File 770: https://file770.com/?p=1304

Take particular note of the exchange of messages between Yonmei and Jo Walton. It is typical exchange between someone who feels that her dogmatic approach and theory is superior to the experiences of the person who is actually in the situation. Dogma and opinions do not win arguments, logic, reason and facts do.

(You will also note, with some measure of irony, that Jo Walton went on the win the Hugo and Nebula Awards for her 2011 novel, Among Others.)

I never talked Margaret Keifer about Puppygate. I don’t even know if she was aware of the situation. I am fairly certain, knowing her, that she would have thoroughly disapproved of the actions of the Puppies. Her life‘s story stands in stark contrast to everyone involved, especially Theodore Beale’s.

I do not obsess about it but I have been wondering whether he really understands that a life is a legacy for those who follow him.

There is room in fandom for rational discussion, debate and even dissent. There is no room however, for empty rhetoric and false conjecture, death threats, bullying, hateful and blatant racism, sexism and gay baiting, which is what the Sad Puppies now stand for, forever tarred with the same brush as and the Rabid Puppy crew, whether they like or not.

Moreover, this means that while we may have to listen to the inane and idiotic diatribes of Theodore Beale/Vox Day, we do not have to endorse or accept them.

Margaret Keifer’s life is an exemplary example of what every fan’s, every person’s life should be.

What Theodore Beale and his followers have forcefully shown, is that they are incapable of empathy, kindness or human decency.

They have my pity, and little else.

Margaret Ford Keifer (1921-2015)

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer, longtime member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, passed away July 28. She was 94, and had attended all 66 Midwestcons held since the con was founded in 1950.

She was predeceased by her first husband, Don Ford (co-founder of First Fandom) who died in 1965, and her second husband, Ben Keifer, who died in 1974.

Andrew Porter recalls: “A charming and intelligent lady; I went to dinner with her and others at one of the last Midwestcons I attended, and she held up her corner of the conversation well. Mike Resnick sold off her and her second husband, Ben Keifer’s, SF collection for her, and the income allowed her to do many useful things.”

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

[Thanks to Joel Zakem and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Stanley C. Skirvin (1927-2014)

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop

Bea Mahaffey, Hannes Bok, Deedee and Roy Lavender, and Stan Skirvin on a New York rooftop. From the Fanac.org site.

By Bill Higgins: Stanley C. Skirvin, one-time Cincinnati fan, passed away March 28 in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 86.

Returning from Navy service in World War II, he found Cincy fandom. He claimed responsibility for persuading hometown fans to name themselves the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG). Skirvin edited the 56-page program book for the Cinvention, the 1949 Worldcon (online here), and edited a Memory Book afterward. His account of the Worldcon, “Wha’ Happened?” is online here. He also attended Philcon in 1953 and Detention in 1959.

As an engineer for General Electric in the 1960s, Skirvin helped develop nuclear-powered aircraft engines, writing software that calculated airflow though hot reactors. Moving to Schenectady, NY, and finally settling in Scottsdale, he apparently gafiated, but CFG and other fans report some 21st-century e-mail contacts.

He was an avid fossil hunter and mountain climber.  “A Tribute to Stanley C. Skrivin,” by his mountaineering buddy Don McIver, is available in the Arizona Sierra Club’s Summer 2014 issue of Canyon Echo [PDF file].

While a member of the Arizona Mountaineering Club Skirvin participated in a number of rescues. He was also a member of the Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent Society with his own cactus collection.

Skirvin is survived by his wife for more than 61 years, Joan, and his three children.

Zakem: Whither Midwestcon

By Joel Zakem: [The following contains my personal thoughts and should be in no way construed to be the thoughts or position of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group (CFG) as a whole or of any other CFG member.]

On August 6, 2013, an article entitled “Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided” was posted on File770. As of early morning on August 12, only two comments to the piece have been posted. While I drafted a rather lengthy comment to address what I felt was an oversimplification of the issue, upon reflection and after consulting with several other CFG members, I decided it would be best to refrain until after the vote took place. Besides, the CFG had earlier reached a consensus to keep this issue “in-house” until after the vote occurred.

There was a vote at the August 10 CFG meeting (one of the few official votes that I remember taking place during my 40+ years as a CFG member), and Bill Cavin left the voting open until Sunday night so that CFG members who were not able to attend the meeting in person could have their say. The choices were to retire Midwestcon after Midwestcon 65 in 2014; to continue Midwestcon, if possible (important emphasis) into the future; or abstention. At a bit past 11 p.m. (Eastern Time) on August 11, Bill reported that the winning vote was to continue Midwestcon, if possible. Discussions are ongoing as to how this will be accomplished.

Such discussion is necessary because Midwestcon, like several other cons, is in trouble. This is not a new problem and there have been many informal discussions over the past several years, within the CFG and among Midwestcon attendees, as to how to change the trend. Midwestcon’s attendance is decreasing and has fallen under 100 for the past three years, with only 86 paid members in 2012 (78 actually on site) and 90 paid members in 2013 (86 on site). Moreover, a sizable portion of Midwestcon’s current membership consists of locals who do not take a room for the weekend (not that I blame them for trying to avoid the expense), which has necessitated the shrinking of our room block.

Another major problem has been the fact that various department heads are looking to step down. Finding volunteers to work within these departments has never been a problem for Midwestcon. The problem is replacing these persons with others who have the time, knowledge and desire to run the departments, who are able coordinate with the committee and hotel, and who can direct the willing volunteers. As someone aptly stated at the August 10 meeting, “the dragon has many legs, it just needs a head.”

(And before anyone misconstrues what was said, the discussion involved department heads, and not the con-chair. I am unaware of any plans for Bill to step down from his position within the CFG or at Midwestcon. Also, I do not believe I have the ability to take over the positions in question, and this should be in no way construed to be an attempt to throw my hat into the ring. I will, however, continue to help Midwestcon in my way.)

This brings us to the “if possible” portion of the vote. Midwestcon is currently in a precarious financial position, and I believe that a majority of the CFG (myself included) is unwilling to operate Midwestcon at a loss. Therefore, Midwestcon’s attendance must increase, and I believe that the CFG should be open to suggestions on how to increase membership without changing the con’s fundamental nature (though I am realistic enough to realize that some change may be necessary). Some suggestions were made at the August 10 meeting and on email exchanges prior to the vote, and I hope these discussions continue. Midwestcon was the first con I attended, and I would hate to see it fade away.

Midwestcon’s Future To Be Decided

The Cincinnati Fantasy Group will vote August 10 whether to continue holding Midwestcon reports Leah Zeldes on Facebook.

Midwestcon is fandom’s oldest relaxacon, and among its longest continuing conventions, having been founded in 1950.

The issues are said to be that some of the concom intend to retire – some CFG members prefer not to carry on without them – and falling attendance.

Update 08/08/2013: Added attribution to FB.