Moon Over Wisconsin: Science Fiction and Big Ideas

This morning I read on the Black Gate blog that SF3, the parent organization of WisCon, has withdrawn their invitation to Elizabeth Moon to be their Guest of Honor at their WisCon 35, their upcoming convention. Though SF3’s statement regarding the withdrawal of the invitation does not mention why they reached this decision, it is most likely based on Moon’s comments regarding Muslims and Islam on her LiveJournal blog.

I am of a very mixed mind about this kerfuffle.  I am a fan of Elizabeth Moon’s work as a writer in both fantasy and science fiction.  Her preeminence as a creator in those fields is without question.  Further, she came up when many female authors would have to use their initials or a pseudonym in order to get published.  We’ve come a long way and as a Guest of Honor she would have a some great insights for the guests of the convention. 

However, I was very disappointed in many of her comments on her blog.  I remember shaking my head at points, appalled at some of the implications of her thoughts.  At the same time, some of her points made me review what I previously thought, caused me to bounce my ideas off of hers and see if they broke apart or broke through.  I still disagree, but respect her views and her right to express them.

I can also see why WisCon found themselves in a quandary.  Moon’s statements run counter to the core beliefs of many that attend the con.  As pointed out in the Black Gate blog, “having their Guest of Honor make so many guests feel uncomfortable must have been very awkward for the convention organizers.”  I recognize that it would be extremely awkward to bestow an honor on a person with whom so many of your organization disagree–at least on this one, but important, point (on the subject of Muslims and good citizenship). 

However, the stated purpose of the con is to encourage “discussion, debate and extrapolation of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class.”  As John Cleese once pointed out, “Look, if I argue with you I must take on a contrary position.”  By not inviting Moon to the debate, the convention organizers appear to be enforcing an orthodoxy of ideas, not encouraging debate. 

Further, according to their website, the Guest of Honor invitation is bestowed according to a vote of the membership.  However, it appears that SF3 has made the decision to revoke it.  Perhaps this decision should have been put to the membership?  They voted for her to be invited as GoH for many reasons: her feminism, the feminism in her work, her contributions to the field, and her intelligence, to name a few.  It is only polite to allow the person, or body, who extended the invitation to revoke it.  If the general membership had made this decision, I think it would have appeared to be far less Orwellian.

While I’ve attended a number of cons, I know next to nothing about organizing them–this I will freely admit.  But even if you do not wish to honor her based on her statements, is there a way to have her participate as a guest?  I realize that if I had had an invitation to be a GoH and had that invitation revoked I would be less inclined to accept a “lesser” honor, but still?  It just seems to me that the con is missing an opportunity for some excellent, mind-blowing dialog.

There have always been controversial figures in the sci-fi/fantasy field.  Heinlein, Carpenter, Delaney, boat-rockers all.  Orson Scott Card has made many statements against homosexuals that I find extremely distasteful; I don’t recall hearing about any of his invitations being revoked.  I also don’t think anyone could deny that he has a place at a science fiction convention.

Science fiction has always been about Big Ideas.  Strange ideas.  Ideas that rub people an odd way.  Granted, the ideas that Moon is expressing aren’t in her fiction but in her personal journal.  But sci-fi fans generally love to argue about ideas.  It’s what brings them to these cons–a chance to cuss-and-discuss with people about topics they care about.  To vehemently agree or disagree but have a great time doing it.  My fear is that the con organizers are selling their own attendees short by squelching this opportunity.

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About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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8 Responses to Moon Over Wisconsin: Science Fiction and Big Ideas

  1. John O'Neill says:

    Great response, Shedrick. And I think you hit the nail on the head: WisCon has always been about open debate and diverse voices, especially on topics like this one, and this decision seems to run counter to that.

    But I think SF3 was stuck in a no-win situation. There was, plain and simple, a lot of negative feelings among attendees because of Moon’s comments. Having her as Guest of Honor could be seen as endorsing her viewpoint. Something had to give, and in choosing to rescind the GoH invite, SF3 choose to keep WisCon friendly to attendees, instead of friendly to Moon. A hard and terrible choice, but I think an inevitable one.

    For the record, I don’t this is at all an attempt “to silence” Moon, as some have already claimed. I recognize it took a lot of courage for Moon to make those comments, even if I don’t agree with them — especially since, in fact, so many of us don’t agree. I believe Moon is still welcome at WisCon at an attendee, and I for one would be delighted to meet her. But in saying those things, I think she put SF3 in a position where they had no choice.

  2. Shedrick says:

    It is a mess to be sure. I also don’t think this is an attempt to silence Moon but more of a statement on the con’s part against what she has said. Like I said, I just fear that the con is losing more than its gained.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and for your insightful comment!

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  4. Gina says:

    I agree with most of what you said, but this part made me snort:

    Orson Scott Card has made many statements against homosexuals that I find extremely distasteful; I don’t recall hearing about any of his invitations being revoked. I also don’t think anyone could deny that he has a place at a science fiction convention.

    The only reason Orson Scott Card has never had an invitation revoked (that I can recall) is because he would never in a million years be invited to a convention that has always been politically liberal, celebrates diversity, has several panels about LGBT characters and issues in sci-fi each year, and even designates gender-neutral toilets for – as the website states – “Members who don’t fit into the tight categories of ‘men’ or ‘women’.”

    No one would deny that OSC has a place at a sci-fi convention, but WisCon is a politically liberal sci-fi convention, and he would have no place there.

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