Mary Robinette Kowal is not the easiest person to disagree with. In the past, her response to a difference of opinion has been rather sharp. I know this, as I was the one she was speaking to. We used to correspond, but haven’t in years. I mention this not because I want to defame her in any way, but rather to point out that if she and I are agreeing on something, it’s something worth paying attention to.

On her blog, Kowal has addressed the Hugo Awards controversy, and I agree with her on every major point. 

This does not mean that Kowal is a Sad Puppies supporter. Far from it, as one can see from the articles she uses to define the controversy (all of which paint Sad Puppies in a negative light, and two out of three in such a way as to make it seem like everything is ruined forever). However, despite some disagreements she and I have on the definition of terms, she and I agree on everything that made me throw my weight behind the campaign.

The biggest disagreement she and I have here, honestly, is her definition of “fandom.” While she points out she is only defining it as such for her own use, and not insisting on a dictionary definition, she defines it as consisting only of those people who can afford (be it in terms of time, money, health, or competing obligations) to “regularly attend fan run conventions.” Considering that every plane trip is an exercise in significant pain, to the point that I actually prefer to drive when I can, on top of all the headaches one gets navigating a crowded convention in a wheelchair (soft carpets might as well be mud, and a surprising number of people don’t see a problem blocking my path), I can only regularly attend conventions in my area. Since Balticon is decidedly unfriendly these days on multiple levels, that means AwesomeCon and Capclave for me.

I don’t think “fandom” is limited to people who attend conventions “regularly.” I think fandom is any large group of like-minded fans. As philosophers used to say, when defining terms, it helps to look at who uses the term the most. I was introduced to the term via the Internet, where it was used to describe major groups with a shared love of a particular “fandom.” A person could be part of more than one fandom at a time.

Even if it is as Kowal describes it, then we still have trouble with the definition. As I said, I am left with Capclave and AwesomeCon. She mentions “conversations” that newcomers haven’t been privy to; well, if these conversations are happening at different conventions, then what happens when some fans are going to certain conventions and not others? What happens when they’ve skipped a panel on social justice topics in favor of meeting their favorite authors? We can talk about this stuff online. Favorite authors only show up at a convention, by definition, no more than once per year.

I know I’m nitpicking, especially since she said this wasn’t a dictionary definition, only something to use for her argument on this particular post. It’s a poor definition, but better than the horrible ones I’ve seen elsewhere. I mainly bring this up to talk about the inherent rejection of those who cannot afford to attend “regularly” for whatever reason, and it’s one of two reasons I’ve seen pushback from Sad Puppies supporters on this (well, other than the inevitable knee-jerking).

But enough of that. Here she is in her own words.

Watching the debate about the Hugo awards, I’ve noticed that both sides are saying that the wrong fans are making decisions. To this I cry bullshit. I suspect that the majority of fans in the SFF community have experienced some form of shunning or shaming from people outside the community who look down on SFF as juvenile. That climate is changing, but for many of us, that was a reality.

Are we really going to do that to each other now?

This is spot-on. If the stated goal of both sides is inclusion, then inclusion must also cover those with disagreements. I don’t mind groups of fans based around their political affiliations or religious beliefs; these groups state their requirements up-front, in the same way that a convention lists its prices and rules. I mind it when I’m told I must believe something in order to be included in a group that has no stated belief-test. I’ve had this at conventions, clubs, and other events.

I’m here to have fun, not to argue. I think a lot of conventions and fan discussion groups would benefit from a He who kills the cheer, buys the beer rule. (Mind you, I don’t like beer. It’s just an easier rhyme than “mead.”)

The next thing I’ve become aware of — and I want to thank everyone who has already come by to share their experience — is that people who identify as Sad Puppies are frequently coming from outside of fandom, while being firmly part of the SFF community. This means that they haven’t been part of the conversations that fandom has been having within itself.

Again, this definition of “fandom” is a poor one, as many who have sided with Sad Puppies are regular convention attendees. Many also, as I said, prefer to go to convention events which don’t make fun of their beliefs.

I once attended a panel on the Hero’s Journey concept at Balticon. I expected a literary discussion, maybe even tips on how to use it in fiction without it coming across like a hack work. I fully expected to disagree with the panelists, as I get rather opinionated about the concept of adapting it to creative writing. I have a lecture on the topic, in fact (one of the list of options that I gave AwesomeCon this year when they asked me to speak), where I pare it back to first principles and examine what Campbell got right and where he went off the rails.

Instead, the panel started out as a ramble on stories that used HJ format, lost steam about ten minutes in (counting introductions) and turned to how stupid Christians are, because the Bible has similarities to the Hero’s Journey. I sat there for eighteen minutes with my hand raised (I timed it), until the panelists finally decided to acknowledge the guy in the wheelchair. (For the record, I was the only one with my hand raised that entire time, and they could clearly see me.) In a few seconds, I pointed out the mistake they were making about the literary adaptability of HJ format. A lot of audience faces turned to me with interest.

The panelists glanced at each other, as if the thought that they might be interpreting it wrong had never occurred to them. Finally, one of them said “Um. Yeah. You’re probably right.”

Then they went back to talking about stupid Christians.

I’ve only walked out (well, rolled out) of two panels in my life. I think it’s rude to leave early. The other time was when I really had to use the john, and needed to beat the wheelchair-unfriendly rush between segments.

Other people aren’t as easy-going as I am. They come to conventions to have fun, not to hear a homily on social topics. Most people, myself included, have learned that when a panel is talking about a social topic du jour, it’s only going to be interesting to the choir. That’s unfortunate, because I’ve seen — even been a part of — good versions. (Interestingly, most panels on diversity in fiction don’t think to include the handicapped. A few of them have even talked down to me about my handicap; and no, that’s not a height joke. I’ve even gotten the “You’ll never know what it’s like to walk in my shoes” comment, which was hilarious.)

I normally prefer to have these discussions online, preferably in the form of blog post exchanges, as it makes it easier for everyone to learn at their own speed and with comfort. That doesn’t mean that I think we shouldn’t have them at conventions (actually, I’d love to moderate a diversity panel sometime), just that no matter how large a social-topic panel is, it can’t hold the entire convention. Regulars are still going to miss these “conversations” that are apparently happening.

I think it becomes easy for fandom to think that it represents all of the SFF community because it’s a pretty diverse group. It doesn’t. The reason that this is important to remember is that when we are having conversations about diversity in SFF, we’ve begun using short hand. We’ve got a whole bunch of folks who are taking part in fandom for the first time, and we are not inviting them into the conversation AND we’re being angry because they don’t know all of the back story. I know that when I first joined the conversation about diversity in fiction, that I tripped over a lot of assumptions simply because I’d never been asked to examine them before. I didn’t even know that these assumptions of mine were there. If not for very patient friends, I would probably have run from the anger (justifiable anger) and not become part of fandom.

Again, are we really going to do that?

Anyone new to a group is always going to have to work at being brought up to speed. I described that in my recent post “You Are All Fake Geek Girls,” which compared the idea of fake geek girls to the “not real fans” accusation. No one new is going to have the same experiences as those who have come before.

This also means that some new people will have a different perspective. They might have different expectations of what makes a good story, disagree on how much one’s politics should determine the quality of a story, or even whether Firefly is overrated. All of these are valid stances, even though anyone who thinks Firefly isn’t awesome is clearly wrong.

Kowal is talking about social topics in fiction, but it’s valid across every part of fandom (using either her definition of the word or mine). I never find it a bad thing when someone watches Doctor Who for the first time and displays ignorance about the vast canon of material. I started with the Fourth Doctor, back during the hiatus. (If you want, you can read about how I became a fan.) The only time that I would ever be irritated with a new fan’s shortcomings is if that fan deliberately wanted to avoid the stuff I grew up on. Fortunately, that hasn’t been a problem in recent years, as the Doctor Who fandom has grown online to the point that it’s easy to see the references and callbacks, and most fans then want to know more.

The job of the more experienced fan, as Kowal points out, is to facilitate that, not to ridicule the newcomers for not knowing the lingo.

Now — not everyone has the time and energy to dedicate to educating people. I am fully aware of that. I’m not asking that all of fandom goes on a mission of education. But I am asking that those of you who do have the energy to take some time to invite people to ask you questions.

And what I’ll add to Kowal’s remark is that you don’t have to be the one who sits there and goes on about the topic, whether it’s a social issue or why Tom Baker was the best Doctor. Just a few links can get someone started. Most fans want to know more. If you shut them out, then they’ll ignore you.

And finally… Vox Day. I have seen a number of people referring to his post in which he has declared war on the Hugo awards. Specifically, he has said that in 2016 he’ll rally his fans to make sure that No Award wins every category. “We are the reavers and the renegades and the revolutionaries, and we don’t give a quantum of a damn about pieces of plastic or the insider approval they represent.”

Which means that in 2016 no Hugos would be awarded.

To which I say… why is anyone afraid that this will happen?

My dear fandom, people from the larger SFF community, fans of my work, fans of Larry Correia’s work… there are more of us.

Yeah, Vox has decided that if people want to go to the nuclear option, he’ll engage in Mutually-Assured Destruction. (Here’s Brad Torgersen condemning the idea.) It goes entirely contrary to the primary purpose of the Sad Puppies campaign, which is to make the Hugo Awards, “science fiction’s most prestigious award,” representative of more fans than just the 3,587 that voted last year.

So this is my call to action for all of you — Become more inclusive. Invite your friends and family to participate. Buy a supporting membership for someone who can’t afford it. Welcome people who like different work than you do. Ask them to recommend a book. Read it. Recommend something to them. Talk about why you like it.

[…] And to my readers — If you can afford it, I encourage you to buy a membership to WorldCon and become part of fandom. If you cannot afford it…  I will buy a supporting membership to WorldCon for ten people, chosen at random, who cannot afford it. I am in no way constraining how that member nominates or votes. All I ask is that you read the nominations and join the conversation.

I’ve seen people on the Sad Puppies side that insist that this is true ballot-stuffing. We’ve been accused of this because people are buying their own memberships. For the record, ballot-stuffing is when one person votes multiple times. Sad Puppies isn’t doing that, and neither is Mary Robinette Kowal.

She can be accused of vote-buying. Of course, that’s hard to avoid, since in order to vote in the Hugos one must first engage in an act of commerce. Will those she buys a membership for be inclined to vote in her interests out of gratitude? Probably. But note that she’s encouraging everyone to do this, including the Sad Puppy supporters.

And even more important, at least to me, she’s telling people to talk about why they like something. To “read the nominations and join the conversation.” That’s the secondary goal of Sad Puppies. People who support Brad and Larry tend to like the same sort of books and probably have the same sort of political opinions (at the very least, it’s hard to find one of their fans that isn’t in favor of gun ownership, even among those who disagree on every other point). That secondary goal is to talk about what makes the story interesting, rather than make judgments based on who the author is.

And for the record, she’s removing herself from any nominations in 2016. She thinks to stay in the running would be unethical, considering this new campaign. I don’t know what this means for any Writing Excuses-related nominations, as that is more than just her; but even if the gesture is symbolic, it’s an important symbol.

I’m just going to close with Kowal’s own words, without further commentary:

But please, please let’s stop trying to make fandom a special little enclave. It has always been the place where people could come, regardless of what they were fans of, and be welcome. It’s where we can wear Regency attire next to a Transformers cosplay. This isn’t to say that we should tolerate bad behavior, but liking something different isn’t bad behaviour.