Infighting

The folks in science fiction fandom have always fought. At my second science fiction convention in the early 1980s, I showed up in a stylish skirt and blouse, high heels, and a matching purse. I was a reporter who had just covered a press conference with the governor of the State of Wisconsin. The sf convention was only a few blocks away.

Another woman, dressed in medieval garb, told me that “people like me” didn’t belong in sf, and asked me to leave. I stayed, partly because I’m stubborn, and partly because I had just insulted another woman based on her appearance. She was dressed in a green Sherlock Holmes outfit (complete with deerstalker hat and pipe) so I asked her where the con suite was. The Sherlock-wannabe snapped at me, “I’m not with ‘those people,’ ” and vanished into the elevator.

Over the years, I have mostly found sf welcoming and warm. I love the community so much, I write a mystery series set in science fiction conventions. One of my protagonists, Spade, is a Secret Master of Fandom. The more enigmatic Paladin flits in and out of conventions, never really belonging. (If you’re interested, you can find their stories in The Early Conundrums, from WMG Publishing.)

Still, I knew that sf wasn’t all hugs and sweet hellos.

Around the edges of sf, the infighting went on without me. At the Hugo ceremonies of the late 1980s/early 1990s, the griping would reach epic proportions when the First Fandom award was given out. Back then, most of the members of First Fandom—those who were around for the 1939 World Science Fiction Convention that started it all—were still alive—and still fighting.

It seems some group was banned from attending that Worldcon by another group, and the first group held its own convention, and . . . heck, I don’t know, because a lot of the First Fandom members were my friends, and many of them hadn’t spoken to each other in fifty years. I didn’t want to get dragged into an ancient war, so I never learned the details.

Because of those fights, major names in the field—our founding mothers and fathers—hated each other. Whenever one person from Side A was honored by the First Fandom award, Side B would bitch. Whenever Side B was honored, Side A would moan. That generation never agreed on who the Good Guys were.

I was clueless about the fighting in other generations as well. Once, I brought Algis Budrys over to Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm’s house because I had to drop something off at Damon and Kate’s. (I lived in the same town at the time.) Wow, was that meeting awkward. Damon and Kate were gracious, but deeply uncomfortable with Algis’s presence, and Algis was even more combative than usual. My husband Dean Wesley Smith was there as well, and when we were alone, I asked him what that was about.

He said he didn’t know, in the same tone I always used about First Fandom, which meant, I have a hunch, but I’m not going there because if I go there, I’m going to get dragged into a war that has nothing to do with me.

Yeah. And so it goes. This past summer, news from the sf world filtered out of conventions and into the mundane media (as con-goers call it). Sides were chosen, battles fought, and wounds occurred on all sides. New magazines have been published because of the fighting, some businesses had to clean house as awful behavior got revealed, screeds have appeared on major blogs, and some of my friends got badly hurt.

In other words, sf is involved in another war, and I don’t want to be part of it. The difference is the internet has made this family fight public in horrid ways. Some of the infighting is so bad that I can’t read it without crying. Why? Because the side that I “should” agree with is either attacking the wrong people or dissing the contributions of those of us who have come before.

The fighting is ugly—probably just as ugly as the fighting that First Fandom went through. And some of the brand-new wounds won’t heal for fifty years.

My way of dealing with all of this is the online equivalent of walking through a convention with my head down. I’m ignoring most of the details, trying not to get sucked into the fighting, and hoping that some kind of rapprochement will occur.

Until then, I’m avoiding a place I absolutely love—the science fiction convention. I don’t want to sit on a panel where the infighting spills over into the discussion and both sides (all sides?) force me to choose an allegiance. All sides have hurt me and my friends (male and female) with careless language and complete ignorance.

If I lose my temper in public, there will be epic wounds—and they won’t be mine. If I don’t, well . . . I tried to write a sentence about that, but there is no “if I don’t.” I will lose my temper, it will be ugly, and there will be horrid damage everywhere.

As we move into 2015, and the Worldcon comes to my region of the world, people are sending me notes, asking if I’ll be there. No, I won’t. And I won’t be at the local conventions or the big international ones either.

I have made my share of enemies in sf over the years, sometimes inadvertently (but only sometimes). The difference is that they were and are my enemies. Not the enemies of my friends or my acquaintances. I don’t want to walk into a situation that just by being associated with someone, I will be dubbed “evil.”

This kind of infighting has become as rigid as First Fandom. Either you’re with one side or you belong in the other. And of course, nothing is that simple.

Right now, a storm is moving through the field, and the battles have gotten public, ugly, and horrible. I always felt bad for the First Fandom fighters, because their war remained a smoldering ruin for fifty, sixty, and in a few cases, seventy years.

I see the same kind of ruin happening now.

I’ve contributed a lot to the field, as a writer, an editor, and a publisher. I shall continue to do so. But I don’t want a battle in the ongoing war named in my honor, so I shall do what so many of the more hidden members of the First Fandom generation did. I shall vacate the field until the fighting ends.

I won’t see most of you at a convention in 2015. I do hope to see you in 2016. My fingers are crossed that the current sf war will move from active bombing to quiet smoldering by then.

I can negotiate my way around the occasional fire. All I have to do is remind myself that sf’s great history is filled with infighting. Continual, non-stop infighting.

And then I’ll be all right—so long as I stay off the battlefield.

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