Dear Letter Writers…

It didn’t take long for the latest round of Worldcon Drama to start up. However, Chicago seems to have lucked out, because people are more angry (again, still) about Chengdu.

This particular outbreak took the form of an open letter signed by almost 100 authors complaining about the Chengdu convention. They have decent reason to do so. The Chinese government has a very bad reputation with regard to civil rights. One of their Guests of Honour, Liu Cixin, is allegedly supportive of the genocide of the Uyghur people. Another, Russian Sergei Lukianenko, has spoken out in favour of the invasion of Ukraine. It is not surprising that people are upset.

Inevitably, I found out about this because a journalist contacted the WSFS websites to ask for official comment on the situation. Naturally we were unable to say anything, because WSFS has no management who can make official statements.

The writers of the letter ask “Members of the WorldCon Site Selection, WorldCon Community and Voters” to “revoke” the grant of the 2023 Worldcon to Chengdu, but of course there is no mechanism for any of these people to do so. What does “Members of the WorldCon Site Selection” mean anyway? Were any of the letter writers members of DisCon III, and if so did they vote in Site Selection? Because they were all entitled to. My guess is that many of them had the right to vote, and most of them did not exercise it.

It has apparently been suggested that the management of Chicon 8 can somehow declare the Chengdu committee as having “failed” and take the convention away from them. There is no mechanism for this. Can you imagine what sort of a mess we would be in if one seated Worldcon could arbitrarily unseat its successor?

The only other opportunity for anyone who might claim to represent WSFS to take action would be for the Business Meeting in Chicago to try to over-turn last year’s Site Selection. Again there is no mechanism for this. The time to challenge Chengdu’s win was last year. Despite there being considerable concern about the conduct of the election, fandom at large was adamant that the result should be accepted.

After last year’s Worldcon there was a very smart thread on Twitter about the whole WSFS mess. I’m afraid I can’t remember who wrote it, but I think it was an American woman. Anyway, the writer made the point that the lack of any official structure for WSFS works in favour of SMOFdom because no one can be held responsible for anything. This is dead right, and it is the main reason why so many SMOFs are set against creating any sort of formal management structure for WSFS. Right now, the SMOFs can continue to enjoy their hobby of running Worldcons, and whenever there is any sort of upset they can simply say that it is not their fault because they are not responsible. There are some of us who want to do something, and to put structures in place that will allow decisions to be taken, but we are always going to be outvoted by those who don’t want that.

This is not good, but the same is true of letter writers. They should know by now that what they are doing is purely performative. There is no one who can take they actions that they are demanding. And by creating an illusion of a “them” who can take those actions they absolve themselves of the responsibility to do anything to help, even something as simple as voting in Site Selection. There is a term for this sort of thing, and that term is Virtue Signalling.

Now, virtue signalling isn’t always bad. Right now, a lot of people are very angry about what is going on in Ukraine. Most of us can’t help directly. Those of us in the UK are even being prevented by our government from providing homes for refugees. We can donate money to charities who are working in the region, but aside from that all we can do is vent our frustration by writing angry letters and tweets.

However, I would like to suggest that those people who write angry letters and tweets about Worldcon, especially if they are high profile authors, can do more than just vent. There are specific things that they can do.

Firstly, they can boycott Worldcon and the Hugos. It should be very simple to say that you will not attend Worldcon, or accept nomination for a Hugo, until such time as WSFS adopts a modern system of governance based on representative democracy.

Also, they can throw their weight behind alternatives. SFWA has recently renamed itself so that the ‘A’ stands for ‘Association’ rather than ‘of America’, and they are making a concerted effort to attract non-US members. They have also made their entry requirements much less stringent. So if you are angry at Worldcon you can get out there and promote SFWA and the Nebulas as an alternative.

In addition, World Fantasy does have a Board of Directors. They might not conduct themselves in ways that will make those people who are angry at Worldcon happy, but they do at least have the necessary structures. People could get involved, and encourage their fans to attend the World Fantasy Convention rather than Worldcon. (This would have the added bonus of absolutely infuriating the more conservative members of the World Fantasy Board, who really don’t like fans attending their convention except as workers.)

This won’t make me very happy. I have spent a lot of time and effort trying to make Worldcon better. But I have come to the sorry conclusion that there is no way this is going to happen because the existing structures have too much inertia. Only radical action of the type I have described above, by people whose opinions the SMOFs are likely to care a little about (by which I mean high profile professionals in the field) is likely to prompt any change.

So people, if you are really upset about Worldcon, then do something, because you can.