Science fiction convention Worldcon recently came under fire after complaints from writers and Hugo Award nominees about ignoring or excluding marginalized groups in its lineup. Now, the prestigious convention’s chair, Kevin Roche, has announced that the organization is ripping up the previous programming schedule for the August event and starting from scratch.
Worldcon — shorthand for The World Science Fiction Convention — has been no stranger to controversy over its 76 years of existence. In recent years, the convention has been caught in the middle of a cultural brawl between the more conservative sci-fi buffs and the younger, more liberal fan base that strives toward inclusivity. This clash reached a head back in 2015, when Sad Puppies — a particularly vocal faction of that conservative base — tried to sabotage the nominations in every major category by lumping their votes for a select stock of right-wing creators.
They, along with a spinoff group, Rabid Puppies, attempted to play the later Hugo awards in a similar way, but thankfully, a large faction of the finalists were puppy-free. In part, this was because of a few tweaks Worldcon made to its Hugo nominee rules that were meant to taper the “bloc ballot domination” that was these groups’ trademark.
This past weekend, there was a fresh round of backlash when Hugo Award finalist Bogi Takács revealed that their biography on the Worldcon website was written using masculine pronouns, something Bogi says they’ve “never used.” Reports followed that Worldcon representatives reached out to Takács’ partner to apologize, but also to suggest that they shouldn’t have gone public with the criticism. Roche has since publicly apologized to Takács about their experience.
Other writers complained that they had been excluded from panels for not being “famous enough,” despite that some of them are Hugo nominees. Some, like writer Greg van Eekhout, had their proposed panels literally given to other attendees, and others had their panel ideas outright rejected for being too fringe. At least two of those panels were meant to highlight the experiences of LGBT writers or writers of color.
In response, more established writers like Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz announced that they were withdrawing from their panels in hopes that they could make space for marginalized or less well-known creators. Others, like Hugo Award winner John Scalzi, implored the organization to give those newer attendees more of a voice. Roche, to his credit, responded to the criticism with a statement on Worldcon’s website titled “We Will Do Better.”
“I am sorry we slighted and angered so many of the people we are gathering to meet, honor and celebrate,” wrote Roche. “This was a mistake, our mistake. We were trying to build a program reflecting the diversity of fandom and respectful of intersectionality. I am heartbroken that we failed so completely. We are tearing the program apart and starting over. It was intended to be a reflection of the cultures, passions and experiences of Worldcon membership, with room for both new voices and old. What we released yesterday failed to do that; we must do better.”