The Dying Traditions of SF

Bit of foorforah in science fiction social media lately, as some of the great Grandmasters of the field spoke out against safe spaces in SF social gatherings, characterizing them as “segregation”. Harsh words were spoken and dire promises were made notably by CJ Cherryh and David Gerrold, both heroes of mine whose work influenced my life and thought a great deal as a child.

The fact that Grandmasters in their 70’s are threatening to boycott conventions that prioritize the comfort and safety of POC creators and fans, or who provide mini-events that allow POC nerds to build community and support…truly saddens me. And let’s face it: Old White People Bashing Safe Spaces is not a great look on anyone.

I honestly don’t know where and how things went wrong. In the summer of 2016, I returned after many years to Vanguard, which is the oldest extant gathering of SFF fans in Seattle.

When I first attended these parties, it was 1989 and I was 19, recently moved to the city from the sticks in Colorado. I boldly invited myself to the party because it was held at the home of Vonda McIntyre back then, and I had gone to see her speak at a conference in my tiny, crappy uranium-mining home town. I was new in town, I knew who she was and had heard of Vanguard. And of course, Gods help her, she was listed in the phone book…

Anyway. In the late 1980’s, vanguard was truly a rockin’ party. People from all walks of life, drinking and talking, listening to music, and talking about politics and science fiction passionately. I was standing in that living room when I first heard about the Tiennamen Square Massacre. It was the sort of party where William Gibson could drunkenly kiss a dumb country girl on the mouth, because he was already the God of Cyberpunk by then and could be utterly charmed that a girl would hit on him without knowing who he was.

Upshot here is that Vanguard in the 1980’s was a place where you engaged with Life, and the World, in all ways possible. 27 years later? Vanguard literally consisted of four (very) white people who showed up slowly over the course of an evening and chatted awkwardly about whatever, while waiting to see if anyone else would show up this time.

The modern day equivalent of 19-year-old me and her friends were utterly absent from this party. Only one person there was under 30, and he was only there because he was my date, and he was meeting me there at the end of the evening after he finished his set at a comedy club.

At some point, the Old Guard of SF fandom in Seattle must have utterly lost touch with any source of new blood. They stopped connecting with younger people, they stopped recruiting younger people, they stopped regarding people under 30 as peers and making them comfortable and welcome. They got old, in the negative sense of the word.

And to put it bluntly–that’s why the party is dying. And it’s why whatever valid contribution this older generation of fans might have to make to the field is being lost.

I find this sad and I regard this loss as significant. After talking to the Old Guard for a few evenings, I can tell they still have hugely exciting ideas and a lot to share about art, music, politics, life, and science fiction. But they’re not sharing that information, those ideas. No one is there to have that conversation.

Maybe that’s because the Old Guard isn’t interested in a conversation–an open and respectful exchange between peers. Maybe they’re only interested in lectures, delivered by them, to an obedient audience of whippersnappers who they imagine have nothing of worth to say?

Any community dies when it stops embracing its future. How much more stark are the death throes when that community was FOUNDED on embracing the future?

How ironic is it that the Old Guard are being left behind by the future?

Of course, there are still rockin’, happenin’ events in Seattle fandom circles. The semi-public version would be the brief summer season of promotional events for Clarion West. There are also private, invitation-only parties for the very coolest of the cool kids–I wasn’t invited to any of those, but I heard about them second-hand. The people who host them aren’t listed in the phone book.

All I have to say at this point is that we all have a choice. The difference between SF that has a future and SF that is going to become a bloated corpse floating in the Sargasso Sea is going to be the active participation of non-white creators and fans. The active participation of openly queer, trans, and disabled creators and fans.

Old School Fandom called itself progressive and prided itself for tolerating marginalized people–New School Fandom celebrates and centers them, at least occasionally, and it is stronger for it.

Anyway. I have no final answer to the question of where things broke down or how they can be fixed. I do think that both sides would have to care more than they do about community to heal the breach, however.

That’s true of all the expanding chasms in our society, between races and ethnicities, between religions and philosophies, between young and old, between rich and poor.


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About Arinn

Author, Game Developer, Anthropologist, Feminist, reformed Supervillainess.
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