Lately I’ve been reporting on a lot of trouble in science fiction conventions. Even though the attendees, guests, and organizers often beat their chests and signal to each other constantly by shouting “diversity and inclusivity!” from the rooftops, the reality of these conventions is often anything but diverse or inclusive because of the way they actively shun any ideology or identity but a single voting block.
My mere act of reporting on these problems since last February has caused a lot of people in power in the science fiction publishing industry to try to silence me by threats, intimidation, harassment, and blacklisting.
Nevertheless, I persisted.
The Origin Story:
I attended the San Francisco Bay Area’s Friends Of Genre (FOG) Convention this weekend, a convention I’ve been to twice before. This is a convention I’ve spent time with some minor editors in the field, and met Angry Robot Book’s Michael Underwood and shared a drink and good conversation with him. I was fairly well known even before becoming very popular with my award-nominated books and journalism for very high profile sites.
That all changed last year when hate website File 770 wrote article after article attempting to defame me, incite other authors to hate me, and encouraged the powers that be in the field to say horrible things about me. It’s been surreal, and bizarre, but it’s been innuendo, rumor, falsehoods, and it’s only escalated.
If you’re aware, it escalated so much that Worldcon — the premier conference in our field — made an unprecedented move in banning me because of their petty political squabbles. They were adamant that me as a popular writer and journalist cannot attend, holding me to standards others were not because of my political affiliation. Their calling me a “racist bully” on their website only further enflamed bigger names in the field, creating a derangement where people just went unhinged. The amount of intimidation and nasty remarks I’ve received over the last couple of months have been pure torture. And it’s not going to calm down any time soon unless Worldcon does the right thing and apologizes.
I Wanted To Attend A Sci-Fi Convention As A Sci-Fi Author
Several friends were going to FOGCon, so I decided to attend. I was cautious about it, because I was well aware there are a lot of people who despise me over my journalism and political affiliation — something well known, and so I didn’t buy a ticket to try to avoid conflict with the convention staff, but decided to go to the hotel bar at the convention. With my friends, I had a great half hour, talking books, not bothering anyone. The room, however, was giving me angry glares shooting in my direction (I saw you!). People were whispering about me. The environment was a hostile one for my mere act of being present, peacefully sharing drinks with friends. It was very bizarre and creepy. And it became more frightening.
A really large man (6’8″!) came up to me from to the side. “Hey Jon,” he said, as if he were familiar. My heart started racing. My friends later told me that because of the oppressiveness of the room that I was already hunched over, looking stressed. My body language betrayed the sensation of pain inside me from receiving that much negativity. You can only imagine how this would put someone on edge, as not many people have been in a room with this much hostility before, including myself. I looked up. I didn’t know the guy, making my spider-sense tingle more. I’ve faced a lot of online harassment, was this someone who had been after me?
The man proceeded to grill me, rattling off questions in a challenging manner. “What are you doing here? Why? Are you intending on broadcasting here? Are you going to be bothering anyone?” They came in rapid succession, challenging…. I finally told him “this tone is getting pretty hostile,” as I wasn’t sure what he was getting at at all.
This is where things changed. His eyes widened a little and he said, “Oh!” The man dropped to his knees and smiled. “I’m 6’8″ I guess that can be a little intimidating. Is this better?” His tone changed to something a little more humorous. Almost expertly, this man defused the situation and the tension that had been escalating evaporated.
We started talking at length, and I learned this man was from the convention security, and that someone had complained about my presence there — in essence doing exactly what I was afraid of happening atWorldCon — trying to harass me via making false claims to convention security into getting kicked out, even though I’d done nothing wrong. This fellow with security at FOGCon though was very different, and actually showed how great conventions and the science fiction community can be.
The conversation migrated from the bar, as we got dinner and broke bread together after that, for more conversation. I briefly was able to say hi to my good friends and excellent writers Andrew Roberts and Brian C.E. Buhl in passing on the way… and then the most surreal thing happened.
On the way back to being seated, we passed a group from the Codex Writers forum, the forum who removed me from the group simply for saying “don’t attack another author.” Their members actually narrowed their eyes and glared at me as I walked past, as if to tell me I shouldn’t be allowed to be there. It was a nasty intimidation tactic by them — and to the Codex Writers — why do you act like this? what do you think you’re going to accomplish other than becoming a living embodiment of the Mean Girls memes? It’s not helpful to your business, act like adults. Talk to me instead of going on your forum and saying nasty stuff behind my back. It’s only a bad look for you. But I digress.
The fellow from convention security was wonderful in every regard. He certainly is one of the smarter people I’ve had the pleasure of talking to, and is a genuine, wonderful human being who cares about others. I really wish we could all be more like him. This is the type of person conventions should be having running things, someone who de-escalates situations and isn’t there to discriminate, a great move by FOGCon having him there. Let him be a blueprint for other conventions. I’d name him… but, I don’t want him to have to face any ire in his community just for being praised by me. He’s not an author, just a good guy, and I don’t want to inadvertently cause him harm.
But Was I Going To Be Welcome?
After the evening with con security, I went home. And I thought about it.
Was I just sequestered by security, taken away from the convention over the course of the evening and ushered out? Was this really a good evening or did I lose what I was trying to accomplish by being present, being a human face for a group that’s discriminated against openly by the science fiction publishing elites, and not being able to talk to others and show that?
It looked like it to some extent. So I was worried. I thought about it the rest of the evening. And I decided on a course of action: I would attempt to actually buy a ticket.
This would serve a couple of purposes: 1. it would confirm if the convention really was acting in good faith and 2. I’d be able to support them financially if they were. Both things I wanted to be true and do. I didn’t want to buy one and risk the kick out the night before, but I’d had my night with my friends at least, and made some progress. Now it was time to put my money where my mouth was.
I showed up the next morning, migrated down stairs and asked to buy a ticket for the day. The two wonderful women running registration didn’t know who I was (which is an interesting aside — even with as high of a profile as I have, only a few people like the Codex Writers even recognize me — they have no power, there’s very few of them even though they’re loud, and you don’t need to be intimidated by them!), and were eager to sell me a ticket. I was just about to wrap up paying, when convention chairman Steven Schwartz asked me to step aside and chat with him.
It was frightening again. What was going to happen? Was this the “you need to vacate the premises” I was afraid of?
Just like the security fellow from the night before, Schwartz asked a couple of questions, his tone was pleasant, he had genuine concern — not only for the safety of others, but what blew me away was he was concerned for my safety as well. He asked some questions based on the absurd rumors propagated by Worldcon that I was some boogeyman, I let him know I never intended anything of the sort at any con nor even implied it — for FOGCon or Worldcon, and Schwartz took me as a man of my word (which I am), and told me if anyone tried to attack or harm me, he would defend me as surely as anyone else.
Talk about refreshing!
I actually went into a panel where he was speaking about how people group themselves– a very apt topic for what’s going on in sci-fi. It was a great panel. Though the panelists all made jokes about Trump and Trump supporters, and everyone kinda gasped when someone mentioned Vox Day like he’s Literally Voldemort, and it was very one sided… it mostly stayed away from the political. In those moments I thought about speaking up, but did not. It wasn’t the time. Though I hope my continued presence can start moving these conversations away from the petty partisan politics in the future, and get us back to sci-fi. When people think there’s no one there who thinks differently, it will always devolve into those jabs, which only perpetuates the cycle of keeping conservatives away from the cons. It’s going to take a lot of work and time to change. Still, the panel was run well, and it didn’t go off into tangent-land on these political topics, which is all that can be expected for now.
After the panel, I hung out and relaxed, getting lunch at the bar. I had a great conversation with another writer, saw a couple of people from the panel and had good chats with them as well, all was good. The tension had been diffused fully.
I have to say, getting glares and knowing that people are actively trying to remove you from a convention is exhausting. The amount of stress and pressure it puts on you is very overwhelming, even for someone like me who’s used to taking heat. A lot of people won’t even think about that so it needs to be said.
This post will make the rounds almost certainly, and so convention organizers, listen up: there are a lot of conservative authors. they don’t attend these cons because they are made to feel like this, and it’s not fun, and it’s awful. The several hours I spent while getting glares was extremely tough. No other groups have to deal with this sort of thing at sci-fi conventions these days. You want real diversity and inclusivity? Act like FOGCon’s Steven Schwartz.
Honestly, it was handled great by the convention staff. They can’t help the glares, they can’t help the hate from the Codex Writers and a few of their friends, they can only make sure it’s clear that everyone is welcome, that science fiction is a place about ideas — all ideas — and that’s how we pave a way to a better future. And that’s exactly what FOGCon did.
With all the rumors, they were right to ask questions, even if the rumors are based on fabrications by another convention over petty politics. In contrast, Worldcon never bothered trying to talk to me, never attempted to resolve things, they just dug their heels in “hate of the other” and that’s where the situation escalated tragically. FOGCon did the opposite. They walked the walk, they talked, they treated me like a human being and it worked out great for everyone. It’s all I ever wanted, and it’s my mission to present the human face and be a person where it’s safe to ask questions, where it’s safe to talk to. It’s going to be a long road before conservatives feel like they’re safe to be open and out of the closet at many of these conventions, but if it can be done in San Francisco, it can be done across the country.
This is what convention organizers should do:
- Make sure you have right-wing/conservative/Christian representation among your panelists.
- Make sure it’s known that the convention is NOT a political fundraiser for one party or about elections. We’re here for sci-fi and geek fun. Adjust your programming accordingly.
- Know a conservative author is attending the con? Talk to them. We’re people too, and you’ll see we’re not the boogeymen the hate websites make us out to be. The echo chamber has been very bad in recent years, and odds are you don’t even see our perspectives.
- For conflict resolution, follow FOGCon’s model. Ask questions. See who the person is. Approach it with an open mind.
Only with these steps can we ensure fandom is a safe place for everyone. And if these steps are taken, you’ll start to see an increase in attendance, because right now, half the country feels like they’re not welcome. That’s a large group of people who should be reading books (and are if you look at the sales of people like me, Larry Correia, Nick Cole and others), and should be able to have fun discussions too. Right now the world is a tough place because of social media, but we are the visionaries of the future. Let’s work together and change it.
Great work FOGCon. You have my full support and endorsement and I look forward to next year.
If you appreciate the work I’m doing for civil rights in fandom, support my books! My new novel, The Stars Entwined, is coming out next week. It has themes about how people can ostracize the other when no one talks, and how dangerous that can end up. And also lets people know we’re more similar than we are different. You’ll love it if you love great space opera.