Category Archives: Conventions

The BSFA Awards

So. That BSFA Award Ceremony, eh?

John Meaney was this year’s host, and after the presentation of the James White Award, he fired up his Powerpoint and launched into his introduction. You can follow the rest of the story on Twitter, where what would in the pre-social media age have been people nudging their neighbours to check they weren’t alone in their bafflement became a running back-channel commentary on what was unfolding. At first I thought it was just going to be not funny[1], but in hindsight the picture of Meaney holding a gun and joking about it was a sign of things to come, and we moved into putting up pictures of Lauren Beukes to show she was not only a great writer but so very gorgeous, and a story about Lavie Tidhar and how Israelis like martial arts, and you can see how the tweets moved from bafflement into being actively offended and pissed off. When he started to discuss gender parity and a panel on women in SF I decided that life was too short and walked out, and I wasn’t the only one to leave.

(The main hall at the Radisson Edwardian is huge and I was sat near the back of the audience, and when the hall lights go down and the stage lights go up it’s almost impossible to see the audience from the stage. So walking out was less a protest that I expected anyone involved to notice, and more a self-preservation instinct.)

There’s a response from an attendee who was not a BSFA member here, and Rose Fox rounds up some more comments on Genreville. Cheryl Morgan has some wise commentary, and if you want to watch the ceremony yourself it’s available online, because not only was there an audience at the con it was streamed live on the internet. James Nicoll and his commenters discuss it here. Meaney has also responded, rather disappointingly to my mind.

I am hoping that the BSFA will respond with an apology – people were offended and upset, and the organisation as a whole needs to take responsibility for what was said on their watch. I know that it’s a volunteer organisation, and it’s not fun to put time and effort into a hobby and to have people respond with unhappiness and anger and tell us when we’re being sexist and racist, but we can’t use the fact that we are volunteers to shield ourselves when we fuck up. An apology, and a promise that in future they will try to do better, will go a long way. They’ve done it before, they can do it again.

There’s a wider point I want to make, though – one reason why this went down so poorly is the context of a convention where there seemed to be a concerted effort to work on the issues we have about diversity and inclusivity and to stop riding the failboat, reflected in some incredibly positive coverage in the mainstream media. I’m not saying we are anywhere near finished working on our issues – we’ve barely started – but I felt more positive than I have at any previous events about both our ability to actually work towards these goals and also our ability to hold our hands up, apologise when we get it wrong, and keep the process going until we get it right.

And into this environment came a speech which relied on stereotypes and terrible Powerpoint, and the defence is that it’s not so bad because everyone is friends and can take a joke. I had no idea that “Meaney-Lally insults are a con tradition” and I’m hardly new to conventions, and while there is a place for in-jokes and poking fun at our friends, I would suggest that maybe the place to do this is not at the flagship event of the BSFA, with a large audience who aren’t familiar with your jokes. The impression it gives is that the BSFA is a cliquey bunch of mates who are out of touch with what was actually happening at the convention and in the wider world, and that’s not going to attract new members to the organisation. Even if the jokes were funny and non-offensive, I’m wondering if a different strategy wouldn’t be better – do as the Clarke Award does, and talk about the nominees, introduce them and the organisation to the audience, and look like we’re a set of professionals who care about what we do and the image we present.

[1] I did chuckle at a picture of Christopher Priest in a funny hat, because I am 12.

SFX Weekender Roundup

SFX Weekender 2

SFX Sci-Fi Awards 2010

I managed to score free tickets to the SFX Weekender this year; not a difficult feat as there seemed to be hundreds of them, owing to a business model which involved giving me the tickets for free and hoping I would take the opportunity to book cut-price accomodation. I chose to pass on staying at Stalag Camber Sands, seemingly a wise choice as the nicest thing I heard about the accomodation was that it was clean, and instead I booked a cottage and persuaded Niall and Nic to join me in an expedition to see what the SFX cons are like these days.

The convention is a curious hybrid of literary and media convention (in the sense of convention styles, if not subject matter). I’d never been to a media convention, and I’m not sure I ever will go to a purely media event, as based on a weekend of dipping my toes in, it’s not for me. I went along to the Keeley Hawes Q&A, and it cemented my suspicion that while Keeley Hawes is a lovely person, and I am in awe of anyone who could keep their hairstyle so neat in gale-force winds, none of the questions or answers were that interesting. I learned that she did her Ashes to Ashes audition with a scratched cornea, and that she’s got her DI Drake nameplate on her desk at home, and that she likes Spandau Ballet more than Duran Duran. There were frustrating hints of something a bit deeper – she mentioned not watching Life on Mars, having thought it would be overly blokey, but the question of how Alex Drake really changed that was never asked, and instead they moved on to how sexy Gene Hunt was and how we all like a bit of “unreconstructed rough”.

I didn’t pay my £20 for a signing pass, either, as I was content to look at George Takei from afar rather than queueing up for his autograph, but a lot of attendees obviously did, and as the signings took place at the side of the main hall, the noise from the queues and the bar teamed up to make some of the Q&As nearly inaudible. Probably a limitation of the space, and they’re not going back to the venue next year, but it didn’t entice me to hang around in the main room, especially as it reached furnace-like temperatures on Saturday afternoon.

If the media side was a little disappointing, then there was an impressive roster of literary guests to make up for it. Saturday morning I saw the Q&A session for China Mieville, who was as interesting and thoughtful about his work as you might have though, and also can do a good impression of a TIE fighter. Joe Abercrombie, understandably excited by his presence on the bestseller lists, was entertaining and funny and seemed to be in the author-as-performer mode much more than Mieville. In between the two I caught the “Dual Britannia” panel about writing alternate Britains, which was an excellent 25 minutes before it had to stop to get the schedule back on track, and made me want to search out some of Kate Griffin’s novels. Probably the best panel was the one I caught almost by accident while looking for a quiet spot for lunch – the panel on comics outside the UK, with Tony Lee, Bryan Talbot, Pat Mills, and a couple of others whose names I missed, and while it was a little unfocused it was a fascinating discussion on how UK and US comics are going wrong and where the European scene is going right, and some recommendations for what’s good in the UK scene at the moment. All the participants seemed clued-up and refreshingly aware of just how much the superhero comic scene is failing to appeal to anyone outside their core demographics.

So I had fun, despite the windswept nature of Camber Sands and the general ambient tacky awfulness of Pontins. And it seemed like the hundreds and thousands of excited nerds were having fun too, and they skewed fairly young and female. With my Eastercon hat on, what I can’t quite figure out is whether the appeal is all for the media side of things, and the literary events are a pleasant sideshow that attract reasonable crowds taking a break from the main hall, or whether there is really a large group of fans wanting both. Part of the appeal of the weekender is presumably that it is dirt cheap – cram 5 people into your chalet and it’s under £100 per person for entrance and accomodation, which Eastercons are never going to compete with given the scale and venues they use, but some of the people asking smart questions of China Mieville on a Saturday morning must be potential traditional lit con attendees.

But it didn’t feel quite right, in some ways. The cabaret on Friday night was pretty spectacular and had a cool robot, but also failed to feature women as anything but scantily clad dancing girls and volunteers for the contortionist to sexually harass*. I was going to do the quiz instead, but all the tickets were gone before I even arrived in Camber Sands. The lack of name badges made it hard to know who anyone was, but maybe that was the point – it may have been just me, but I felt far more of a divide between invited pros and the everyday fans, partly because there were no panelists who weren’t industry professionals, and partly because the authors were more carefully herded and looked after by their editors than at other conventions. Probably so they didn’t have to eat the Pontins food, but it was different than I was used to.

I’m not going to race back for next year’s con (it’s twice as far away for a start) but I wouldn’t rule out a future trip.

* I left shortly before the end, so there might have been a surprise female act, but it didn’t look like it was going to happen.