Eastercon: It was fun, but…
I spent a sizeable chunk of this past weekend at Eastercon – the biggest SF con in the UK – and overall had an excellent time: hanging out with friends, meeting some people for the first time offline, and talking to some people I hadn’t ever expected to talk to. I was on my first ever panel. Aside from feeling very introverted by the end of it, I should be able to report that it was a wonderful weekend and Easteron is glorious and leave it at that.
This isn’t a post about John Meaney’s almost impressively offensive attempt to perform stand-up comedy at the BSFA Awards, for which he has fauxpologised, although it partly is. If Meaney’s speech had been the only instance of fail at Eastercon, we would probably gather round, mock him, call him an idiotic fuckwit and go home. But it really, really wasn’t the only fail.
I went to a number of panels about a wide range of topics this weekend. By Friday afternoon – that’s the first day of the con – I was already suggesting that we start a drinking game for people who mention China. (That’s the country, not the writer that Meaney “comedically” thinks is Vin Diesel.) From blithe remarks along the lines of “totalitarian regimes like China” to the utterly baffling, almost no one at Eastercon seemed to have any idea about China the real country, rather than China the caricature as portrayed in scaremongering Western media.
Did you know that in China, people are forced into the fields to hand-pollinate the flowers because all the bees are dead?
Well, now you know.
The one person who did seem to know something about China was Dr Leah-Nani Alconel, who talked about China’s incredible investment in space exploration technology. This is pertinent to my recent post about non-white SF: China is putting lots of money, training and resource into space science. SF authors, take note. You’ll be shocked to know that unlike everyone else making sweeping statements about China, Dr Alconel – who gave specific examples from her own experience of talking to Chinese scientists – is not white.
In a panel on Saturday about fantastic landscapes, the panellists started talking about London and how it can seem both real and science fictional. However, when one panellist started describing Lima (a city in Peru), she talked only about how it was science fictional. The idea that Lima is a real city in which real people live is apparently not worthy of comment. (This same panellist also described her book, in which there are very poor people and very rich people, and said the poor people are happy with their lives and even look down on the rich people.)
Later on this panel, the discrepancy between a very pricey hotel and the regular people of Hong Kong was described as an embodiment of Ying-Yang.
On a related note: while I wasn’t at the panel where Damien Walter felt the need to explain Buddhism, I hear that it was quite something.
And Lavie Tidhar reports that after the non-Anglophone SF panel (which featured non-Anglophone panellists), the following “compliment” was given: “For people who don’t speak English as a first language – your English is VERY GOOD!”
On my panel, “The Personal is Political”, which was about taking responsibility for fail (haha), the sole male panellist reported that To Kill A Mockingbird made him ~understand~ racism (Edit: although, when called on this by Jude, he amended his wording) and repeatedly told us all how diverse his award-winning books are and stressed that white males are ~trying their best~. Perhaps I put him on the defensive by saying quite early on that I no longer trust unknown male authors as much as I trust unknown female authors, but that’s not an excuse for his cookie-seeking antics. (Edit: What I think I failed to emphasise here is that it was his whole attitude that bothered me. Everyone says stupid things, but he persistently drew attention to him and his personal attempts to be a good person, rather than discussing the wider issues like the rest of us.) Additionally, while this panel represented a number of female and queer voices, it was strikingly all-white; given its subject matter, this is a glaring problem.
Then there’s the BSFA Awards speech, which was… something else. John Meaney went on for 40 minutes. We got Lauren Beukes being reduced to her looks, we got Ian McDonald being somehow capable of talking to Beukes even though she’s so so good looking (gosh, maybe McDonald sees Beukes as a human being?), we got something about Israelis liking to punch people in the face and how strange it is that someone called Lavie Tidhar could write a book called Osama, we got male allies being called “new men” in a very mocking way, we got a woman liking muscle cars OH MY GOD HOW BIZARRE, we got an impression of a stereotypical working class plumber whose girlfriend likes to go to Ibiza, and by that point I was walking out the door. Given that I was sitting by the door, I can tell you that quite a lot of people were walking out.
In the same ceremony (although before John Meaney got on the stage), Tori Truslow was commended in the James White Award for her story “Train in Vain”. You would think that this, at least, is a cause for 100% joy. Sadly not, as one of the judges described her story (set in Thailand) as containing “exotic intrigue” and “exotic imagery”. She talks about how damaging the word “exotic” is over here.
I think that’s all. But I’m sure it’s not, because I’m white and I only went to so many panels and only talked to so many people. As a woman and a queer person, I felt welcome at the con, but the continual current of fail – especially towards non-white people and countries and cultures – was un-ignorable.
Look. I don’t want to piss over the fun everyone had at Eastercon, I really don’t, because there was a lot of positivity at the con too, but all of the above is shitty and unacceptable and needs to stop, and I can’t not call attention to it.