September 23, 2014
You want to talk about race and urban development? Okay, let’s.
Posted by Patrick at 05:50 PM * 85 comments

Evidently some of us want to talk about the history of American urban development policy and its complicated and shameful history as a means of controlling and limiting (and draining money from) black people. We want to talk about it even in a thread that was intended to be about something else.

As it happens, the magisterial essay of the decade on precisely this subject was published earlier this year: The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. So let’s talk about it. Conscious, as you will be once you’ve read the essay, that this isn’t a subject on which there are any simple answers, or on which the simple answers are anything like enough. And of course you will read the essay, because hard truths are hard but they’re also true, and you do in fact care about what’s true.

September 22, 2014
Unreflective pastoralism will kill us all
Posted by Patrick at 09:29 PM * 182 comments

The Guardian is one of the greatest newspapers in the English language, but every so often they publish something that leaves me wondering if all their editors were off in a separate room huffing nitrous oxide and setting fire to the furniture. (Yes, hello, Bruce Baugh.) One such piece is today’s “The meaning of the climate march’s defining photo” by Jonathan Jones.

The “defining photo” in question is an image of this weekend’s (entirely admirable) climate-change protest march, seen from a few stories up looking north on Sixth Avenue. Visible in the near-foreground is the “RADIO CITY” sign at Rockefeller Center. In the background, looking (due to foreshortening) much closer than it actually is, can be seen a chunk of Central Park. From the staggering contrast posed by (1) skyscrapers and (2) trees, Jones conjures up gallons of the Higher Blither:

As climate change protesters filled New York City’s Avenue of the Americas on Sunday, the red lettering of Radio City Music Hall’s vertical sign added its baffled chorus, a muttering bystander perplexed by these people and the crisis about which they speak and sing.

Change? What change? Who’s talking about change? This auditorium built in 1932, with its hydraulic stage that can raise a nativity scene miraculously from nowhere for its Christmas show (I know, I took the backstage tour once), is a survivor from an age long before anyone worried about the climate.

Yes, the 1930s, when nobody worried about climate catastrophes. Very knowledgeable, Jonathan Jones.
All the architecture of the part of Manhattan seen in this photograph—just west of the Rockefeller Center on an avenue crowded with skyscrapers like great silver bricks, regular and strong as the land that made them—dates from America’s golden age of self-confidence, when Manhattan was the city of the Empire State, when—crises of capitalism aside—corporate wealth would just keep growing and the world getting more modern. Manhattan is capital of the modern, as the modern was defined from roughly 1920 to 1970. Yet its reassuringly old-fashioned vision of the new is thrown into startling relief by this photograph of a demonstration against uncontrolled industry, against the irresponsible use of resources, agains modernity as New York has defined it so iconically.
Talking about 1930s architecture as dating from “America’s golden age of self-confidence”, with the qualification “crises of capitalism aside”, is kind of like blithely referring to the first half of the 20th century as “a period of unprecedented world peace” while sneaking in the handwaving phrase “two apocalyptic world wars aside”. But Jones has got a METAPHOR between his teeth, and by god he’s not going to let facts derail him from wringing every last drop of juice from it.
At the top of the avenue, beyond the crowd, floats the green canopy of Central Park. Laid out before the skyscrapers, this is more than an urban lung. It is a time machine, for among its layers of civilized leisure, artful landscaping, fields and playgrounds, this park preserves massive outcrops of rock unchanged since Manhattan was a wilderness. Those rocks are more timely now than Radio City’s faded glamour.

History does not move forward. That is one lesson of the climate crisis. There is no inevitable forward rush of progress, as capitalists and communists both believed when the Avenue of the Americas was paraded by men in metallic-grey suits to the far-off strains of jazz from downtown.

Just as a side note, Jonathan Jones is extremely confused about where jazz happened in New York City. Hint: Lots of places, few of them “downtown”.
The trees in the park are more in tune with the reality the marchers are drawing attention to. They were specific in their facts, those people down there. This was the hottest summer on record. The world is headed for a 4.5C temperature rise. This is a new New York, being born out of the old. Can the city that once proudly symbolized carbon consumption and energy excess—from the Chrysler Building to the Pan-Am Building—become a center of resistance to the destructive forces chewing up the world’s future?
This is complete nonsense. New York City is only a symbol of “carbon consumption and energy excess” in the fevered, metaphor-driven, thought-free world of Jonathan Jones. If the average American had the carbon footprint of the average New Yorker, we’d be in vastly better shape.

(This is leaving aside the fact that Jonathan Jones is displaying a level of insight into New York City and how it works that’s roughly comparable to Americans who think that London is full of characters from Mary Poppins.)

Or perhaps that is too optimistic. For much as the architecture that frames this picture is a blast from the past, a nostalgic memory of booms gone by, it also expresses something deeply attractive, to many people, about the modern dream. Logically, to save the planet, we need to be running for those trees. We need to reject the big brash concrete and steel dreams of the modern metropolis and cultivate simple, more rustic aspirations.
“Logically.” Yeah, about that “logic” thing. In fact, logically, unless your “save the planet” dreams include the deaths of billions of people (which might well happen), the last thing we need to do is reject “the metropolis” in favor of “rustic aspirations.” What purveyors of the Jonathan Jones variety of handwringing pastoralism don’t get, and are very invested in not getting, is that the big, crowded, dirty, dense metropolis, the kind where people can actually live happily without owning a car, is in fact hugely better for the planet than the way most First Worlders live.

The average Vermonter burns 540 gallons of gasoline per year, and the average Manhattanite burns just 90.

8% of Americans don’t own a car. In Manhattan, it’s about 77%.

I’m sure that in his dim, sentimental “trees good, skyscrapers bad” way, Jonathan Jones means well. But if our children and our children’s children really do wind up in a world of apocalyptic climate change, “incompatible with human civilization”, then cliche-ridden, thought-free nonsense like what Jonathan Jones is selling will be a part—a small part, admittedly, but a part—of what gets us there.

And so will those Guardian editors off in the other room inhaling laughing gas. Not a single one of you knew a thing about the history of jazz in New York? Must try harder. Much harder.

September 21, 2014
Dysfunctional Families: Witnessing
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:02 PM * 110 comments

One of the customs of this community that I am particularly fond of is the practice of witnessing: the acknowledgment of the experiences (and reactions) of our fellow community members, even when there’s no advice to be given.

Witnessing avoids the weird mixed message of a Facebook “like” or a Twitter “favorite” for a description of things that are neither likeable nor our favorite experiences. But for anyone who has been gaslit, who has had their memories denied and their emotions steamrollered, the affirmation that that happened and I feel this way about it are valid comments, worthy of other peoples’ attention, is huge.

I was thinking about this the other day, just after dropping my daughter off at school.

There was another mother just pulling up on a bicycle as the bell rang. She lifted her daughter, who looked to be about six, off of the bike seat. The girl stood there, a little spaced, and her mother urged her to start walking toward class while she locked the bike. The child didn’t move and her mother’s voice developed an edge and some volume. “Go on! Start walking! Go on!

And suddenly I noticed that all of the adults in range had subtly, unconsciously aligned their bodies to the conflict. Those whose heads were free were looking, but even the one bent over tying her son’s shoes showed, by the set of her shoulders, that she was listening.

The mother noticed too, maybe. Her next comment was not a command, but a self-description. “I am just so mad at you right now,” she said, less sharply and less loudly. They walked off together, the mother talking herself down from that place of anger, the crowd still attentive.

Now, the mothers in that schoolyard are tough: gossipy, razor-edged enforcers of the norm, always watching, always judging. They scare me. But there’s not one of them that wouldn’t step in if they saw a child being hurt, and they de-escalated that situation by the very force of their attention. They said this is not OK without a single word, and that mother heard them.

We in DF can’t do that. We can’t go back and be the quelling force of sympathetic community in one another’s childhood. Time machines, after all, aren’t legitimate elements of the solution space.

But if the internet isn’t a time machine, it is, in its own way, a teleporter. We, or the memory of us and the promise of our future attention, are here for each other at need. Like virtual guardian angels, we sit on each other’s shoulders, encouraging, recording, and believing. And the mark of our presence is the word: witnessing.


This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.

  1. If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.
  2. On a related note, please respect the people’s choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people’s minds.
  3. If you’re not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don’t do the “they’re the only family you have” thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee’s mother may very well be their nemesis.
  4. Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid “helpiness”/”hlepiness” (those comments which look helpful, but don’t take account of the addressee’s situation and agency). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
  5. Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don’t have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.

Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):

September 14, 2014
Turning and turning
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 11:33 AM * 145 comments

Via the Washington Post, I ran across a study entitled “How Community Feedback Shapes User Behavior” (pdf).

It’s fascinating reading. The authors use four sites that allow up- and downvotes on individual comments to analyze what effect being voted on has on commenters. There’s a lot of neat stuff in there about how they measured comment quality (to account for its role in the feedback that users receive), how they matched commenting populations, and how they determined what metric of voting pattern best captured the impact of different types of votes.

The conclusions are also interesting:

We find that negative feedback leads to significant changes in the author’s behavior, which are much more salient than the effects of positive feedback. These effects are detrimental to the community: authors of negatively evaluated content are encouraged to post more, and their future posts are also of lower quality. Moreover, these punished authors are more likely to later evaluate their fellow users negatively, percolating these undesired effects through the community

This came up in the context of Reddit and the photographs of celebrities, but it resonates with #GamerGate, the crap Anna Sarkeesian’s been getting, and the general stream of MRA nastiness that seems to be all over the internet these days. Because it’s not just relevant to how individual subreddits can turn into wretched hives of violent misogyny (or racism, or other deep wells of loathing for and contempt of one’s fellow humans). It’s also relevant to the internet as a whole.

More than one pundit has talked about how The Era of the Blog is Dead, not just because Twitter and Tumblr are faster and snappier, but because the model of conversation is changing. Comment-and-response cycles happen between blogs as well as within them. In many ways, it’s as useful to regard the entire internet as a set of shifting meta-communities, where the regulars from listservs, blogs and fora take the role that was traditionally occupied by individual commenters on a single site.

In that model, there are places online that are the equivalent of the private thoughts of an individual. More than once, I’ve watched groups of people gather on particular LiveJournals, blogs, and chatrooms to spin up their energy and hone their arguments, then go back to the “main” venues to continue the discussion. These side-channels act as adjuncts to the visible conversation, where people not actively participating can research claims, suggest arguments, and feed support and affirmation to those who are.

This is not, in itself, a good thing or a bad thing; it’s just how conversations work on the internet at the moment. I’ve participated in it, both unconsciously and knowingly, trying to move the “group mind” in the directions that I find best and most ethical.

But when you apply the study conclusions to the internet as a whole, you get exactly what we’re seeing now: communities like Reddit and 4chan are criticized (negative feedback), and begin to see themselves as persecuted. Their worst sides gain strength. The volume of negative output increases, and the gleeful nastiness drives out thoughtful, balanced conversation, even within the communities themselves.

I know of no rough beast whose hour has come at last to solve this. Not feeding the trolls—whether individual or collective—isn’t always practical, and the model that keeps communities like this sane (strong, human moderation) can’t work across multiple sites with no unified owner. Perhaps there is no solution, and all we can do is defend what we have for as long as we can. I do not know.

September 06, 2014
Open thread 200
Posted by Teresa at 09:33 AM * 798 comments

Timebinding:

In 1962, members of Apex, a private apa* that included some of the leading fan publishers of the day, addressed a remark to imagined future readers:

Fanhistorians fifty years in the future, reading this, should realize that we don’t all hate Bruce Pelz.*
In 1985, I wrote a letter addressed partly to that 1962 APEX mailing, and partly to the unknown future. I later incorporated it into my article Over Rough Terrain, which was reprinted in Making Book.

In 2012, Mark Plummer wrote an article for Strange Horizons about my letter, “Over Rough Terrain,” and what had been going on in Apex. He understood exactly what I’d been trying to say. Right on schedule, he stood revealed as the fanhistorian that Apex had invoked fifty years earlier, and a recipient of my note from 1985.

Well played, Mark Plummer.

I had forgotten until I looked it up the other day that Making Light’s first open thread, posted in January 2003, was an emergency measure. My service provider, Panix, was getting hit with a massive DDOS attack. I could barely post or comment, but I couldn’t see why that meant the conversation couldn’t continue. It could, and did, and has.

Welcome to Open thread 200.

Casting on into the future:

Consider taking a look at the energetic and resourceful ArchiveTeam.org, which is working to save the internet’s history from the internet’s bad habits:

HISTORY IS OUR FUTURE
And we’ve been trashing our history

Archive Team is a loose collective of rogue archivists, programmers, writers and loudmouths dedicated to saving our digital heritage. Since 2009 this variant force of nature has caught wind of shutdowns, shutoffs, mergers, and plain old deletions - and done our best to save the history before it’s lost forever. Along the way, we’ve gotten attention, resistance, press and discussion, but most importantly, we’ve gotten the message out: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

This website is intended to be an offloading point and information depot for a number of archiving projects, all related to saving websites or data that is in danger of being lost. Besides serving as a hub for team-based pulling down and mirroring of data, this site will provide advice on managing your own data and rescuing it from the brink of destruction.

These are the guys who mounted an emergency effort to scrape GeoCities — a huge chunk of the early history of the Web — before Yahoo shut it down. One of their current projects is “preemptively archiving” FanFiction.net.

Check it out.

September 04, 2014
Schrödinger’s asshole
Posted by Teresa at 09:00 AM * 52 comments

Schrödinger’s asshole: A person who says something offensive, then waits to see the reaction it gets before deciding whether to claim it was a joke.

Thank you, Alex Sutherland, for teaching me such a useful term.

August 30, 2014
Spoiler thread for Lock In by John Scalzi
Posted by Teresa at 11:25 AM * 84 comments

Lila’s requested a thread so she can talk about Lock In without spoiling it. Good idea. Contents enclosed.

August 28, 2014
The first four sentences of Craft of Deyng
Posted by Teresa at 06:15 PM * 55 comments

Like it says on the box:

SEn the paſſage of this vrechit warlde, the quhilk is callit dede, ſemys harde, perelus, ande rycht horreble to mony men, alanerly For the wnknawlage at thai have thare-of, tharfore this lytill trety, the quhilk is callyt the craft of deyng, is to be notyde & ſcharply conſederyt to thaim that are put in the fech[t]inge of dede; For to þaim, ande to al vthere folk, It may awaill rycht mekle till have a gude ende, the quhilk makis a werk perfyte, as the ewill end wndois al gud werk before wrocht. The fyrſt chepture of this trety begynnys of the commendatioune of dede, Fore ded, as haly wryt ſais is mar pretiouxe and worthy, is maiſt terreble, of al thing that may be Thocht. Ande in-ſamekle as the ſaull Is mare pretious & worthy than The body, in-ſamekle is the ded of It mare perulus and doutable to be tholyt. Ande the ded of synfull man, but ſufficiant Repentans, is euer ill, as the dede of gude men, how ſoding or terreble at euer It be, is gude & pretious before gode: For the dede of gude men is nocht ell bot the paſing of perſonis Retwrnynge fra banaſynge, offputyng of a full hevy byrdinge, end of all ſeknes, eſchevyng of perellys, the terme of all Ill, the brekinge of al bandys, the payment of naturell det, the agane-cumynge to the kynde lande, ande the entering to perpetuall Joy and welfare; And tharfore the day of ded o neide men is better than the day of thar byrthe; And ſa thai that ar all weill ſchrewyne, and deis in the faithe and ſacramentis of haly kyrk, how wyolently at euer thai dee, thai suld nocht dreid thare ded; Fore he that valde weill de, ſuld glaidly dee, and conferme his wyll to the wyll of gode; for ſen vs behwys all de o neid, and we wat noþer the tyme nor the ſted, we ſuld reſaue It glaidly, that god and nature has ordanyt, & gruche nocht thar-wyth, ſen It may nocht be eſchewyt, For god, at ordanyt ded, ordanyt It fore the beſt, ande he is mare beſy fore our gud than we our ſelf can ore may be, ſen we ar his creaturys and handewerkis; and tharfore al men that wald weill de, ſuld leir to de, the quhilk is nocht ellys bot to have hart and thocht euer to god, and ay be reddy to reſaue the ded, but ony murmwr, as he that baide the cumyne of his frend; & this is the craft that al kynd of man ſuld be beſye to ſtudy in, that is to ſay, to have his lyf, how velthye or pure that It be, takyne In paciens that gode sendis.*
Because I like it, that’s why.

Those are some fearless spellings, and that last sentence is epic.

August 27, 2014
Lichtvergadering
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:23 PM * 24 comments

Just a reminder: we are having the Dutch Gathering of Light on Sunday, August 31 (that’s this Sunday!) at Proeflokaal de Prael. This is your chance to hang out with Patrick and Teresa, and maybe that other mod who keeps hanging about the place. In addition, there will be many fine members of this community, and one or two people whom I have invited because they might like us.

Note that there are two locations for de Prael, the brewery and the tasting room. This is the latter. Its address is Oudezijds Armsteeg 26, 1012 GP Amsterdam, and its precise position may be ascertained with the assistance of many of the fine mapping programs avaialble on this here internet.

The intention is to gather at about 1:00, drink some beer, eat some hapjes, and generally hang about for a reasonable number of hours. (I cannot say what constitutes “reasonable” in this context*.)

Events, clarifications, and the answers to logistical questions will be answered in-thread on the day. You can also track me down as evilrooster on Twitter.

Be there, or be…elsewhere.


* Some would say that the last three words there are extraneous. That is a base lie and a calumny, and any who say it should suffer a horrible fate.

August 24, 2014
American Canyon quake
Posted by Teresa at 06:37 AM * 23 comments

Are the Californians okay? How was your earthquake?

August 17, 2014
MidAmericon 2
Posted by Patrick at 02:34 AM * 112 comments

Today in London, the right to host the 2016 World Science Fiction convention was granted to the group bidding to hold it in Kansas City, Missouri. Their Worldcon will happen 40 years after MidAmericon, the only previous Worldcon held there.

MidAmericon 2, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention
August 17-21, 2016, in Kansas City, Missouri

Guests of Honor:
Kinuko Y. Craft
Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Tamora Pierce
Michael Swanwick

Toastmaster:
Pat Cadigan

The original MidAmericon, the 34th World Science Fiction Convention, was held September 2-6, 1976. It was my first Worldcon. I was seventeen years old. I can’t begin to list all the things that happened there that would affect the rest of my life. Some of them I was present for. Some I discovered only years later.

Among the people I met for the first time at MidAmericon: Paul Williams, whose later importance in our lives I have yet to manage to write about. In brief, Paul is the person who, in 1983, discerned that the two of us needed to be science fiction editors in New York City, instructed us in the steps necessary to accomplish that, and activated his remarkable network in support of making it happen. If we had never known Paul we would be living substantially different lives.

Another person I met for the first time at MidAmericon: The great science fiction editor Terry Carr, my and Teresa’s role model in so many things. Terry’s entire life was the canonical demo of how “fan” isn’t the larval form of “professional” but a co-existing state. He died in 1987, age 50. We’re still pissed at him about that.

Among the things that happened at MidAmericon: The scrappy, inexperienced, only slightly-organized science-fiction fans of Phoenix, Arizona, with whom I was socially affiliated despite not having lived there since May, 1975, unexpectedly defeated the long-established Los Angeles group in the site selection for the 1978 Worldcon. Which we promptly announced would be named “Iguanacon II.” (There was never, except in an obscure work of fanzine fiction, an “Iguanacon I.”) Setting in motion a tremendous cascade of events and connections, some good, some dreadful. We should never have tried to run a Worldcon. We pulled it off.

Among the people I didn’t meet at MidAmericon: Tom Doherty, then the new publisher of Ace Books. It was Tom’s first worldcon as well.

Among the people who weren’t at MidAmericon: The young Teresa Nielsen, who I knew through an APA of which we were both members. She had planned to attend but was waylaid by illness. We met in person, in Phoenix, just a few weeks later anyway. By then we were both members of the fledgling committee to actually run the 1978 Worldcon. We didn’t become Patrick-and-Teresa until a year and a half later, in the final epic pre-Iguanacon months of drama, bloodshed, heroism and betrayal. I think it was sometime after the Catalog of Ships but before the defeat of Achilles. Memory is treacherous. You’ll have to ask someone else.

Here in the endlessly strange future, I can’t begin to tell you how honored Teresa and I are to be among the guests of honor at a World Science Fiction Convention. And I can’t possibly express how appropriate it feels that this should be happening at a Worldcon in Kansas City. From both of us, thank you to the lovely KC people who invited us. We’re looking forward to it more than we can begin to say.

August 15, 2014
The Guardian, or at least the writer of an unsigned editorial therein, gets it
Posted by Patrick at 06:10 PM * 96 comments

Check out the third link from this unsigned editorial. Wait, you don’t need to, you’re already there.

Hello from Loncon, which is going very damn well.

August 14, 2014
Gatherings of Light: Worldcon and Amsterdam
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:13 AM * 51 comments

This post is intended to index and expand on the currently planned Gatherings of Light. I’ll be editing it as more information becomes available/more decisions are made.

Please note, by the way, that lurkers are expressly welcome to come to these gatherings! You may be urged to de-lurk, but only because we will probably turn out to like you, and want to hear more from you. And you’re totally allowed to say “commenting is just not my thing”, or “I’ll think about that” and stay in lurkerdom.

  1. Thursday 14 August, Worldcon, 7:30 PM, meeting at the tree in the Fan Village
    We will meet and decide on a place to go from there, departing at about 8:00. actually, we’ve kidnapped a table by the tree. Come to the fan lounge.I will then post the location here, and anyone available later is welcome to join us. (special thanks to iamnothing for getting this ball rolling)
  2. Saturday 16 August, Worldcon, 7:30 PM (tentative)
    There may be a second gathering on Saturday evening. This is not yet certain. Discussions about whether this should go ahead in this thread or the Making Light at Worldcon thread. Updates here if we make a decision.
  3. Sunday 31 August, Amsterdam, 1 PM, Proeflokaal de Prael
    For the Continental crowd, a gathering before Patrick and Teresa hop the pond. The location is a tasting room/pub attached to a local brewery, right near Centraal Station. Please comment in this thread if you’re coming so I can update them with numbers.
August 06, 2014
Toni Weisskopf gets almost everything wrong about the Futurian Exclusion, but we like her anyway
Posted by Teresa at 10:45 PM * 337 comments

I like Toni Weisskopf. I’ve got absolutely nothing against her personally. But I’ve had a tab open on her essay The Problem of Engagement since it was published, and I want to close it.

Thesis: Toni has somehow gotten hold of a very tendentious version of the Tale of the Futurian Exclusion. She needs to read some primary and near-primary sources on the period, which will mostly be Fred Pohl’s and Isaac Asimov’s memoirs, but that’s not suffering. Other suggestions will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you.

Toni begins:

The latest fooforaws in the science fiction world have served to highlight the vast cultural divide we are seeing in the greater American culture. SF, as always, very much reflects that greater culture.
Science fiction, both the literature and its community, has always reflected its time, and the contexts in which it exists. Nonskiffy political topics have always been a part of that context — and necessarily so, because science fiction is a massive assertion of real-world causality. There has never been a time when politics were not part of the general discourse of our genre.*

Personally, I’m made nervous by language like “the vast cultural divide we are seeing in the greater American culture.” When you see the very complex subject of cultural divides being reified into a single big cultural divide that’s All About America and is split along the red/blue line, odds are you’ve run up against far right’s “culture wars” agenda.** It’s a decaying old hunk of fish that no one I know of wants to to see dragged into the house.

It is also nothing new.
If such a thing as that single great cultural divide existed, which I deny, and specifically existed in SF, which I strongly deny, it would unquestionably be a new thing. Not only has politics always been part of the discourse of SF, but the politics discussed have always been all over the map. For example, the Futurians, who tend to get referred to as though they constituted a single unified political faction, included a card-carrying communist, a Trotskyite, a kindasorta fascist, and an Alf Landon supporter.

To the best of my recollection, the closest SF has ever come to a formal division of the house was that time a bunch of SFWAns took out ads to express their opinions, pro and con, on the war in Vietnam. Let me assure you that the fact that two SFWAns agreed about Vietnam was no guarantee that they agreed about anything else.

When you add culture to the politics, SF’s opinions become much more diverse. They could only be mapped along a single line of division if the mapmaker were Benoit Mandelbrot.

When fandom was first starting
Fandom had been up and running full-tilt for years. The Futurian Exclusion was not the kind of fight that happens between strangers. NYC fandom had been in a state of constant political flux, and throughout that time, the factions and individuals that would be involved in the Exclusion incident had sometimes been allies, oftener been opponents, and frequently gotten up each other’s noses.

Times were hard. People had to make their own fun.

there was the “Great Exclusion Act”
Later, quieter writers have been known to just refer to it as the Futurian Exclusion.
when a group of young, excitable, fanboys
If any single phrase has kept me from closing the tab on Toni’s essay, it’s that one.

It’s hard to explain just how wrong it is. Almost everyone involved in that convention was young, and while I don’t see the need to describe them as fanboys, all of them could be described that way.* The Futurians were no more excitable — arguably, they were a shade less excitable — than the three guys running the convention.

Those are lesser points, though. The central point is that the Futurians were one of the single most important and influential groups in the history of science fiction. The six excluded fans were Frederik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, Robert Lowndes, Cyril Kornbluth, Louis Gillespie, and John Michel.

You probably aren’t familiar with the last two names, but if you know science fiction, you know the other four. (Even more Futurians.) Lightly dismissing them as “a group of young, excitable, fanboys” without mentioning their names suggests you’ve either gotten hold of a very weird version of the story, or you’re trying to make a case in which major and well-known facts are inconveniences to be avoided. Since it’s Toni, I just think she needs to read some more reliable sources before she tries this again.

attempted to spread their political/fannish feud propaganda at the first Worldcon in New York,
I very much doubt that Toni has any idea what that flyer said. IIRC, there were no surviving copies, so no one really knows. [Hurrah, I was wrong! Dave Kyle saved a flyer, and published it over at Mimosa, so now we can see what all the fuss was about. IMO, it’s too breathless and pushy to be really first-rate agitprop — likelier to turn off newbies than enlist their sympathies — but isn’t over-the-top flaming by fanzine standards of the day.**] … The flyer was described at the time as “Michelist”, which if you’re being parsimonious just means it came from the Futurians. And since New York fandom was awash in nonfannish politics during that period, there’s no justification for labeling it “propaganda”, as though it were singularly political in ways that other fan publications of the time were not.*
and were not only prevented from doing so but not allowed back into the con.

What happened, roughly speaking: the “Triumvirs” (Will Sykora, James V. Taurasi, and Sam Moskowitz), who were running the convention, were a little slower and a little less political than, and chronically at odds with, the “Quadrumvirs” (Pohl, Wollheim, Lowndes, and Michel). Their tendency to get up each other’s noses was IMO more a clash of personalities than anything else.

The extent to which the Exclusion was prompted by anything the Futurians did onsite on the day is not entirely clear. Apparently the Triumvirs had been talking in advance about doing something of that sort, and they made reference to some kind of vaguely described trouble at an earlier gathering in Newark. IIRC, the flyers weren’t read and given thoughtful consideration; they were grabbed and stuffed into the garbage. Six Futurians weren’t allowed to enter and attend the convention, but at least four were (Dave Kyle, Richard Wilson, Jack Rubinson, and Leslie Perri).

It wasn’t handled well. As Fancyclopedia 3 says in its entry on the Exclusion, “The reaction of fandom as a whole, while not necessarily pro-Futurian, was very definitely anti-Exclusion.”

All fandom was aflame with war!
Sorry, I can’t bear to let that stand. The correct line is All fandom was plunged into war.
(The fact that this line is a cliché
It’s a fannish catchphrase.
is also a clue that fandom is not, and never has been, a calm peaceful sea of agreement.)
No one who has any acquaintance with fandom thinks it is. One has to wonder at the perceived need to deprecate Pohl, Wollheim, Lowndes, Kuttner, et al. for one episode of interpersonal friction during a period that was rife with them.
The reason we have a fandom to disunite now, is because calmer heads prevailed.
No. Fandom just got better at being itself.

We have fandom because fandom wanted fandom to happen, and made it happen, and liked the results, and so did it again. It rests on the innumerable shoulders of the fannish community, and is built by their hands and uttered by their mouths. Some of its very colorful history has involved feuds, standoffs, and other expressions of conflict. A good deal of fandom’s neverending oceanic braided conversation has been political, in one sense or another; and the fannish discourse would be poorer without it.*

Bob Tucker in particular, with intelligence and humor,
Lest anyone be confused about this, Bob Tucker was not at the first worldcon. He didn’t go anywhere near it. I don’t know whether she knows it, but Toni is now talking about Tucker’s long-term influence on early fandom. He wasn’t the only fan who took fannish institutions less than seriously, and encouraged others to do the same, but for a long time he was the most prominent and influential of them.

Like stromatolites making oxygen, the process of making fandom funnier was a gradual one that stretched out over many years. If you’re interested, while you’re checking out Bob Tucker’s fanwriting you should also check out Robert Bloch, Walt Willis, and Burbee and Laney.

led fandom to the idea that it ought have nothing to do with greater world politics, but should concentrate on the thing we all loved —
Oh, no no no. That is so wrong that the internet has no standard meme capable of expressing how wrong it is.

What Bob Tucker, rising first and shining best, understood before anyone else did was a great truth: fandom isn’t about anything but itself. Fandom is about fandom. Fanzines and conventions are congenial venues for a particular kind of conversation loved by our oddball population of people who at some point in their lives have probably read a great deal of science fiction and fantasy, but don’t necessarily feel the need to talk about it at every opportunity.

No one has ever taught fandom that it ought not have anything to do with the politics of the larger world. Tucker sure didn’t do it, especially in his professional fiction, which you should also check out. What he suggested in his fanwriting was that fans and fandom weren’t obliged to be political, and that some of the political beliefs being espoused by members of the SF community were very silly. Which? True.

— but should concentrate on the thing we all loved, that being science fiction.
No way. Tucker knew better than that.

Fandom at its best is notorious for talking about anything other than science fiction — though mind you, it’s great at talking about the genre when it wants to. Tucker got that. You’d have to be the Recording Angel to know the answer to this one, but my guess is that he held the lifetime record for number of times he had to listen to bewildered complaints about fanzine articles being about subjects other than SF and science. Perils of being an early adopter.

Midwestcons were Tucker-shaped occasions, and he was their resident deity. I never got to go to one, but stories about them were a staple of my fannish youth. Midwestcons were known for their eclectic mix of fans, and for having no programming whatsoever. Everyone just hung out by the pool and talked. People would travel long distances to attend them who never ran into each other at any other point in the year because they normally moved in such different fannish circles. Basically, it was a convention for fans who liked Midwestcons, whoever they might be.

(Does this inform my understanding of site moderation? Of course it does.)

(Mind you, his sympathies were with the ones who were excluded, but he was able to overcome his own political inclinations for the best of fandom.)
The idea that Bob Tucker gave up an entire range of conversations he found interesting in order to push a lifelong agenda of forcing fandom to only talk about certain subjects is deeply, deeply weird.
The fact that fandom as an open culture survived more than seventy years is a testament to the power of that simple, uniting concept.
That is not how fandom works.

However, if that were how fandom works, Toni wouldn’t have to preach it. It would simply be the way things are.

I don’t see how forbidding a range of subjects that fans naturally talk about can amount to an open culture. Even more, I don’t see how Toni thinks it’s possible to talk about science fiction without talking about politics. As I said at the beginning, SF is built on massive assertions of real-world causality: “If this goes on, these things here will happen.” Any time you do that, you’re making a vast number of assumptions about how things work, who benefits from them, and what’s really going on. The genre is political to its core.

I only know one way to argue that some SF is political and some isn’t. You do it by defining “political agendas in science fiction” as “assertions of causality that differ from my own.” As in: “this person can’t possibly believe that in a widespread major disaster, people would rather cooperate, and maintain rule of law, than take to the hills with a gun and declare that the law of the jungle is the only law that now applies. They must be saying that in furtherance of some political agenda! Whereas my own grimdark stories about survivalism in anticipation of social chaos are just the way things are — not political at all. Talking about them isn’t talking about politics; it’s talking about science fiction.”

Eh, maybe I have that wrong.

That we are once again looking to be rift by a political divide was perhaps inevitable.
The existence of this rift has been asserted several times now, but it’s never been described or defined. Frankly, I don’t see any reason to believe this one exists.

I’ve been in fandom a long time. Rifts do develop, and sometimes build up so much stress that when one it finally makes itself felt, the backlash is terrible. Often it comes in the form of a feud whose destructive vindictiveness takes participants on all sides by surprise. But the thing about rifts like that is that they never build up where you’re looking. If you could see the stress accumulating, you’d do something about it before things turned explosive. The worst rifts are always unforeseen.

But as fandom has grown, expanded and diluted itself, we may have won the überculture wars and lost our heart. We have not been able to transmit this central precept to new fans. Geeks are chic, but somehow we’ve let the fuggheads win.
I’m not sure who these fuggheads are. It’s like I can see the outline and postholes of someone’s agenda, but I can’t tell what the building was for.

The heart of my fandom is just fine. We’re still being kinda dumb about opening doors for younger fans, but we’re finally having some forty-years-overdue conversations about POCs (real and fictional) in the genre, and we’re actually making progress on the “touch: consensual or it doesn’t happen” front.

And, from my observations, this is an inevitable consequence of the creation of any kind of fandom, from tattoos to swords to us. There is a thing people like. Thing people make initial contact with each other to discuss things and thingishness. At some point a woman (and it’s usually women, no matter what the thing) organizes gatherings, and thing fandom grows bigger and better. At some point, the people who care not about things, but merely about being a big fish in a small sea, squeeze out the thing people. Sometimes thing fandom just dies, sometimes it fissures and the process is recreated. So the fuggheads always win. The only question is how long can we delay their inevitable triumph?
While this has some slight resemblance to a piece I once wrote about social misunderstandings and the perception of power, it in no way resembles fandom as I know it. Among other things, if fuggheads inevitably triumphed, fandom would have died off long ago.

What you have to understand is that when you’re at a convention, pro publishing is a bubble. It’s got a lot of nice people in it, and on a moment-by-moment basis it may not be obvious that you’re having a nonstandard convention experience; but it’s still a bubble.

One of the reasons I love doing programming at conventions is that it gives me a rock-solid excuse to spend an hour having an interesting conversation with people I might otherwise never meet. Doing a stint as a volunteer works too.

Hmmm. This is getting long. One more bit:

Now we have not only 300 hundred channels of cable (and nothing on), but the vast output of the Internet, both pro and amateur. It is possible to be a science fiction fan and have absolutely no point of connection with another fan these days.
Ask them what they like and why. Listen when they tell you. Don’t make the kids do all the bridge-building.

Humbly acknowledge in your prayers that you would never in a million years have come up with Chibi Sauron on your own.

Copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.