This past weekend I attended Boskone 55 as both a panel moderator and panelist.
I had a good yet tiring time as I was also scheduled to work a bid table for the UTAH in 2019 NASFiC bid and, owing to various and sundry, ended up commuting to the con each of the three days (about two hours each way). By way of final caveat, I’m writing now under deadlines for the Kickstarter Campaign and therefore can not devote all of the time I’d like to discussing this subject.
However, I feel that what I witnessed and participated in needs to be highlighted and so I will be restricting myself to this one aspect of the con, rather than providing a full report.
My first panel on Friday at 4:00, which I moderated, was
The 10 Books That Made Me a Fan
“There are books that interest us, books that inspire us, and books that stimulate us to read more! Our panelists share the books that made them fans and kept them reading. What’s so special about these works?”.
I chose to interpret this as two different questions – books that made people get into science fiction and books that made them an actual fan, in the traditional sense. I rattled off ten books that got me into SF, then held up a copy of Amazing Storires, 1972, that, for various reasons, helped make me a “fan”.
We discussed both aspects of the question, which led into the differences older fans and newer fans faced in becoming fans. During his contribution to the subject, Kenneth Rogers Jr. (“call me “Kenny””) said something along the lines of “well, face it, I’m the only black person in the room”, and he was and I felt that his remarks were such a wonderful teaching moment, and that Kenny had been so open and straight forward in sharing his experience that I took a moment out of the panel to publicly thank him for sharing like that.
I believe the audience was very receptive and I would like to think that they all left realizing that our community still has a ways to go in outreach, to be more welcoming, but I also think everyone shared a sense that we are actually on that path and that it is possible to be successful.
I found Kenneth to be a remarkable young man during the panel, and even more so when I’d had a chance to learn more about him. I’ve made preliminary arrangements to interview him for Amazing Stories.
Further, during this panel, after I’d had the panelists name their ten books (audience members raising hands when they’d shared that title), an audience member stated that we’d not named any female authors in our lists.
I thanked her for pointing that out; someone else mentioned that we had actually mentiond ‘some’ female authors; another someone mentioned that the panelists were listing books from their personal experience (most of which took place 40-50 years ago); and yet someone else pointed out that most of our foundational experiences (panelists) had taken place when there was a lack of representation of female authors as well as erasure taking place.
The original audience member was correct. There had been a distinct lack of female authors on all of our lists. I thanked her for raising the point. I acknowledged the facts that were named, not as excuses, but as lessons we are learning. I made a point (as did others) of then naming seminal, female authored works from the same period that might have been our experience and we talked about how those growing up now will surely have a different kind of exposure to the genre, with that viewed as a positive thing.
We can’t change past mistakes, even those that are owing to ignorance or lack of opportunity. What we can do is work towards creating an environment where we can at least avoid making the same mistakes again.
The Orville vs. Discovery
“Each show has a vociferous fan base. Why do so few people like both? Is Star Trek: Discovery the heir to Deep Space Nine, or an abandonment of what makesTrek, Trek? Is The Orville an enjoyable homage to the Star Trek universe, or an expensive excuse for Seth MacFarlane to cosplay James T. Kirk? (Or all of the above?) And what can we expect from these shows going forward?”
panel, Christine Taylor-Butler, a black children’s author, brought to my attention stereotypes and ‘othering’ that my eloquent ranting on the marvels of The Orville made it apparent I was not sensitive to. Specifically, black characters always being the ones presented in typically degrading situations; appearing stupid, being made to look criminal, having no social graces, etc.
I’d actually noticed some of these when viewing the show but dismissed them on the grounds of something, comedic license perhaps.
I allowed my enjoyment of the show to overpower my sense of right and wrong.
Christine made her point eolquently and strongly withstood some mild objections (attempts at excuses by other panelists and audience members which I do not recall joining); I think my contribution was stating that I was not aware of everything she had pointed out, but that they should have been things I’d noticed and that I intended to be cognizant of them in future.
I have to say that Christine re-taught me a lesson I thought I’d already learned: one can’t know the full extent of someone else’s experience, which means we have to listen to others with different experiences and respect the fact that those experiences are valid points of view, ones which we need to incorporate into our own thinking. I’ll be trying harder and hope others do too.
In conclusion, I get a kick out of the teaching opportunities panels offer, but this year in particular, I think I learned more than I taught, and I’d like to thank everyone who participated in contributing to that process.