The Week in Womble aka Moving On, Letting Go & Remembering the Good Times
Hellloooo… so I was a bit busy catching up on life after a few weekends away last week, so I think this week let us do two summaries it’s been an interesting few weeks but slow on reading front. Let’s focus on some genre news today
What’s in a name?
Following the brilliant speech by Jeannette Ng I am more than delighted that the John W Campbell award is no longer going to be the title for best new writer. While he has a place in the history of the genre it is not one that is entirely positive – yes, he founded some new writers; but he also limited access in his magazine to only those who fitted his singular vision of what SF could be – male, white and very quickly stale. Our vast array of new writers would not have got past his gatekeeping.
This has led to a good debate about how we interact with figures from the genre’s past. A debate is ongoing about the Tiptree award as Alice Sheldon the author whose pseudonym is being honoured for work in gender. At the end of her life she shot dead her disabled husband and then killed herself. Is such a person the right name for a progressive award? It links to an ableist attitude that the disables can’t exist without a carers and that this was not a suicide pact but a murder of someone who did not want to die. On the one hand I think it should be highlighted that Campbell throughout was a standard unpleasant racist man who it is clear used his power to suit his goals. Sheldon from what I’ve picked up this week suffered significant mental health episodes throughout her life and that for me raises questions of exactly what her mental capacity was at the time she killed her husband– especially as there are plenty of examples in case history of where a failed social care system didn’t help people in need leading ti . But diminished responsibility is only a defence it doesn’t I feel absolve her and if she lived would probably have had more impact on post-trial sentencing she would still be guilty but it highlights that people are complex and rarely saints and how we judge each person’s actions will vary based on our own level of privilege.
I think though this highlights naming awards after who we honour is likely always going to lead to a time when we say this person no longer represents us and our values. Imagine how a Blyton award for children’s fiction would be received now!!A good discussion on this was in the Goode Street podcast this week that suggested awards named after the people who founded them make sense e.g. Nobel but otherwise honouring people feels increasingly redundant over time as the number of people who can say that writer/editor x inspired them fades fast. Campbell, was probably not that influential by the 70’s when this award first started. For a genre focused on the ordinary people doing great things against the powerful we don’t half have a need to say we stand on giant’s shoulders and actually now the field is so wide we stand rarely on one person’s – I prefer the ides of a supportive community and when we start saying X is respectful and cannot be criticised we are limiting the discussion and where the stories can go. Let’s praise the ideal we aim for not one single unrepresentative example of where we used to be.
The Fall of Asgard
So, on twitter it was finally confirmed that the Nineworlds convention would not be resurrected in 2020. It was not possible to find a new organisation to take over the running of the con and so despite one last call for anyone to takes over thw Director role it looks to be over for good. I have mixed feelings on this – I was lucky enough to be at every Nineworlds and see how the con changed over time.
I pretty much always had a great time. I met many friends there and it was one of those lovely 3d twitter moments when a lot of people I only interact with online are in the same building and much fun was had. It was a con that wanted to reflect that geek is not just film, tv or books and also focused on the fan side too – you could see a brilliant debate on science fiction; discussions on the impact of Black Panther on people of colour and also discuss knitting; self-care, feminism and Eurovision. I encouraged many many people to come to this and lots found it a refreshing experience. It had a great level of tolerance for the LGBT community, was doing constant work to improve accessibility and having now been to other UK cons in books I’ve noticed the ongoing adoption of tolerance policies, accessibility guidance and even simple things like the use of pronouns on name badges; all of which I know some small c conservative fans bristle against but it makes so much more sense - esecisally for a genre that is supposed to be the progressive one! It was the con I went to each year and came back full of energy for what I love and the community that I’m part of.
But I also increasingly saw Nineworlds’ fall to that temptation to become its own authority and gatekeeper. I think the con struggled with an attempt for an Expo that was too much too soon that really hurt it financially; by aiming to get larger and cover even more it was spread too thin and I am sadly aware that many people ended up unsupported or feeling exposed as logistics and lack of organisation took a toll. And while liberal it could often be a white liberal able-bodied male view of the world and at the last Nineworlds I saw appalling behaviour from its previous Director when this was challenged. Overall, I actually feel the end of Nineworlds is appropriate. It has shown a different way of having a con in the UK (a logical step from the academic format you may see at eastercon for example); it’s clearly shown there is an audience (but never one that will make millions) and it’s actually shown a younger more diverse geek audience that they’re not alone. My hope is we see over the coming years similar events arise all over the country that really capture what Nineworlds wanted to be but do it even better. I believe it was said in Thor Ragnarok that Asgard is not a place it’s a people – the community of Nineworlds still lives on and I can’t see this being the end of that journey.
This week saw the sad news that Terrance Dicks had passed away. He was a writer and story editor for Doctor Who primarily in the 60’s-70’s but had a lot of other stories throughout it’s run. Making a SF show on a lets face it a limited budget that crosses a teatime slot but must appeals to a vast family audience is not easy and his era can be remembered fondly. But for me Terrance Dicks as a kid growing up in the 80’s was more a novelist. We had three TV channels, no internet and VHS was expensive. Reruns of TV shows were rare and when Doctor Who had been running nearly twenty years there was not an easy way to watch it and I was a huge fan already as a 6-7-year-old. So, imagine my delight when I found out my local library had a huge set of story novelisations!! Finally, I could find out the unseen stories. Huge space empires; glorious images and a consistent house style even though each era felt different. Terrance Dicks ended writing huge numbers of these stories and these all in my head were glorious. Many years later with DVDs and satellite I started to see the story itself and this probably explains why I always prefer to read the book ahead of the screen version! But importantly he showed me what the story was aiming for and for Doctor Who to work you can’t play it safe you need to aim big – you may not always achieve it but I admire the ambition.
But more importantly here Terrance Dicks made me READ. I devoured books each week and each week I went on a Saturday afternoon to pick up new ones. And while I was there, I noticed other books in the SF sections. I read more. The real fun of Doctor Who is the stories varied a lot over the seasons and years. You could have epic SF, gritty SF, weird fun stories, action adventures, horror and many more variations– the show took elements from everywhere and mixed it up. So, I think Terrance Dicks started to helped me understand that there isn’t just one standard for genre, and he made me start to read more books. He got me on the road that has led to so much pleasure and now reviewing stories. Was he perfect? No the stories reflected a show that could often be sexist and I’ve learned far more about diversity through other channels but for a young kid who was not having the happiest schooldays back then he took me out of the world and made me want to read so much more and find all those other worlds plus I take the words ‘never cruel or cowardly as a great way to live’. For that I say thank you so much.