A couple of weeks ago, I found out that I had been blackballed from speaking at my own home convention, a place I’ve loved and cherished for almost a decade. This was a wanton act of discrimination, and perhaps more importantly, a show of utter disinterest in promoting prominent local science fiction authors. With a supposed emphasis on diversity, this act done to a Hispanic author casts an even darker shadow. It’s about as disturbing as it gets to see folk that you considered friends for years treat you with that level of disregard, while in the same stripe ignoring attendees who deliver me death threats.
Most shockingly, the event organizers (of whom I know very well and very personally) in question did not respond personally, but delivered a form letter to explain the ostracization. It’s disingenuous and displays a dismissal and dehumanization of which I could hardly conceive.
From a global health of fandom perspective, it leads me to the question: if an organization such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Convention doesn’t stand for Bay Area authors, and doesn’t care about Science Fiction first and foremost, what is the point of the organization? If other cons across the country are operating similarly, does a change need to occur?
I’ll get to the answers in a moment, but first, a little background on who I am, if you are a first-time reader. I’ve spoken, between Baycon (as it is called in the vernacular) and sister convention Con-Volution, at Bay Area Sci-Fi programming every year since 2012, which culminated in getting me stints at San Diego Comic-Con to present on panels for back to back years. My speaking has garnered me much positive feedback, actual quotes from attendees facebook messages: “great job moderating, I know that one was hard” and “that was the most fun panel of my life!” I’m a high energy person, and can be the life of the party, beloved by a large contingent of the local community. So what happened? Is my work less relevant this year than in years past?
Last November, four short months ago, after having worked hard for the Doomtown: Reloaded card game with their story and flavor for two years, I finally released my first novel. It’s science fiction, space opera to be precise, and has stirred a lot of the sci-fi and gaming community readerships alike, met with these sorts of accolades:
Big Name Authors:
“This game-related novel is a lively, action-filled tale that should appeal to those who want a space adventure romp with intrigue and a touch of romance.” – Elizabeth Moon, Heris Serrano and Paksenarrion novels
“A classic space opera with all of the trappings, plus an engaging story and characters you can root for; have fun!”
– S.D. Perry, author of Star Trek: Avatar and the Resident Evil novelizations
“Jon Del Arroz is a promising new writer with a knack for story and an interesting voice.”
—Jody Lynn Nye, author of the Wolfe Pack series
“Jon Del Arroz has a novel I’m eager to take a look at…” – Deadlands and Savage Worlds creator, Shane Hensley
“A ripping good space thriller!” – Nebula Award Winner Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Reader Reviews (35 so far with a 4.7/5 star rating on Amazon):
“This book has everything a science fiction love would want”
“This is really deep stuff. I feel like I can go into your book for hours. Reminds me of Ender’s Game.”
“An excellent sci-fi adventure story that builds an intriguing vision of the future.”
Never heard of Star Realms until this book was given as a suggested read, so I had no background to draw upon. Stands alone easily! Well thought out plot and very engaging characters.
All pretty amazing feedback for the book (which you can vote for for Dragon Award Best Military Science Fiction and Fantasy here: http://application.dragoncon.org/dc_fan_awards_signup.php ). Exciting stuff, and with a popular app-game attached to it, one would think that a local science fiction convention would be clamoring to make sure I attend, especially if I’ve provided them with hours of hard work in the past. The book should merit a legendary party in its honor, up in the hotel that goes til the wee hours of the morning.
But the convention, despite their namesake, has changed so it’s no longer about Bay Area authors. It’s not about Science Fiction either. One only has to go back to their last few years of programming to see what matters to the powers that be who have taken it over: it’s a place where politics transcend everything. You’re just as wont to find panels about “Combating Creationism”, “Climate Change Scenarios”, or “Diversity and Women”, and even on the appropriately themed programming, you’ll see guests like David Gerrold ranting about evil conservatives and hijacking innocuous topics. Looking at the Twitter feed of this year’s guest of honor, 95% of his posts are political attacks, so we can expect more of the same. What’s lacking is energetic talks about fun of Science Fiction. Ironically, when I first came to the scene, organizers saw my name as Hispanic and knowing little about me, placed me on programming that amounted to an hour and a half of complaining about how hard it is for minorities in fiction.
Believe me, I know how hard it is as the target of soft-blackballing like this.
The reason I was disinvited was because it is well known that I support the President of the United States, duly elected and all, and that I’m happy about the way the country is being run. You know, like most normal people are. That’s the only thing that’s changed between then and now. It’s the same dangerous rhetoric out there that many of these folk who run the convention post on such a consistent basis that has turned Facebook from a “fun catching up with friends” website to a hellhole of fear, anger and hate (which as Master Yoda taught us, leads to suffering!). It’s impossible to communicate anymore, and as such, there is a small but vocal power structure of people in the convention scene and publishing that can’t tolerate the concept of seeing my pretty face. I am a minority that’s been discriminated against, not because of my race, but because of my ideas. In Science Fiction, ideas are everything, and it’s frightening to think about those being shut down as a consequence. These people want my career to fail, and they believe they can accomplish that by silencing me and giving me the cold shoulder.
What they didn’t count on is this: they picked on someone who’s not the type to go down quietly and let them win with this kind of behavior. I don’t care about the odds and I don’t care about social pressure. I’m going to fight my hardest, even if I’m down 28-9 in the middle of the third quarter, when the commentators relentlessly tell me there’s no path to victory. Some things are worth fighting for, even in conditions like those. And I know how to win.
Baycon and its sister convention Con-Volution have been headed down this path for years, and I have heard stories about how local cons across the nation are facing similar problems. When conventions stop being about fun, and start being about grievance and hate, less and less people attend. They’ve been seeing this trend go on for years without a clear solution, as local comic-cons, anime cons, gaming cons and the like have skyrocketed in membership. Each year I keep seeing the same people ask why, and the answer is right in front of their faces. Each year, they double down with hyper-charged political programming, presenting only one side.
When you turn something that is fun, something that people pay good money to come connect and enjoy into something, only to be faced with a browbeating, angry, and exclusive situation, you lose people. Here in California, the splits seem so extreme perhaps they think they can get away with it, but by disinviting rising prominent local authors like myself, they’re still sending a message to 40% of people that they’re not welcome. They’ll also find themselves losing the elusive “middle” as they see this and figure they would rather spend time at one of those other cons where they can just have fun and not get preached to. With a theme this year of “Utopia/Dystopia”, and the guest mentioned above, I can only imagine how bad the political ranting and preaching is going to get. Why can’t we return to the the sense of wonder of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, or Orson Scott Card that used to be brought to us in rich tradition? Those alternative voices would be shouted down in today’s environment.
It’s my policy to not complain about something unless I am working toward and presenting a solution. So do I have one? Absolutely. It’s simple, and can be applied across the field. Focus on Science Fiction. Support local authors. Reach out, don’t turn away. You’re not in a movie “fighting nazis” and doing good for the world by making a politically charged anger-fest and ignoring anyone who’s not on board with that. You’re just attempting to hurt people who disagree with you, and failing at it. Removing that element is simple, and we can all find commonality together pretty easily like we did in years past, and leave grievances behind. We can work together to create smiling loyal friends instead of sad, kicked puppies. Together, we can make Science Fiction smart again, make Science Fiction fun again, make Science Fiction great again!