World Fantasy Convention 2015 Recap

This past weekend I was at WFC.  I had a lovely time, meeting many people I formerly only knew online and seeing lots of old friends.  (I would try to list everyone, except that I would inevitably miss someone.)

I also gave a reading, which was well attended despite being in the earliest time slot on the schedule.  I read two stories (“Four Seasons in the Forest of Your Mind from the May/June F&SF, and “Please Approve the Dissertation Research of Angtor” from Unidentified Funny Objects 4).  I also got it into my head that I would sing the Lovecraft Little Mermaid parody song that I wrote/performed for Drabblecast a couple months ago.  WHICH WAS TERRIFYING.  I practiced the song several times in the week leading up to the convention, but I had to tell myself that I was just ‘thinking about doing it.’  I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to sing beforehand, and I didn’t make the decision to actually perform the song until after I’d finished reading.  Then I said, “so I wrote this song…” and INSTANTLY I was incredibly nervous (which makes it much harder to sing).  But I managed to get through the song, and people assured me afterward that it was a nice addition to the reading :)

For anyone who couldn’t be there to hear “Part of Your World” with Lovecraftian lyrics, here is a recorded version:


While my personal experience at the convention was really fantastic, the con was not without its problems.  I want to mention two, because I think these are things that need to change for future cons, and getting the word out seems like a good first step.

First, while the convention did make an attempt to improve upon their original harassment policy, the updated version still left a lot to be desired.  A good policy helps attendees feel safe, and there are many examples out there for people to draw from.  I am encouraged to hear (via Marie Brennan’s blog) that WFC is talking about implementing a standard policy for the convention as a whole.

Second, there were issues at WFC with accessibility.  The con is for everyone.  If there are elevated stages for the panelists, there need to be ramps so that all the panelists can be up there.  I could say more, but instead I’ll redirect everyone to the post that Mary Robinette Kowal wrote on the subject.

There are a lot of things I really like about WFC, so it’s sad that there are some big problems.  I see people calling for a boycott of the con, which is a totally valid strategy.  On the other hand, I think there is also something to be said for attending, but calling for change.  My hope is that more people will speak up about the issues at this year’s con, and that the issues will be addressed in future years.


  1. I might be weird, or I am, as people repeatedly point out to me, but harassment policies actually make me quite uncomfortable. I have never attended a fantasy convention or comic convention, but I have been to plenty of scientific meetings and bluegrass festivals. No one at any of those gatherings said they felt unsafe due to lack of a policy. I’m confessing ignorance here, honestly I’m confused as to why people are making this a do-or-die issue and insulting the organizers. Educate me, please.

    • So I am more familiar with SF/fantasy conventions, but I used to attend academic conferences as a graduate student, and I know many women* who have been harassed and/or felt unsafe at those. For a particularly high profile case, read up on this Berkeley astronomer who was finally called out, but only after several years:

      There are a couple reasons you might not have heard about people feeling uncomfortable at a gathering: first, those who are most uncomfortable might opt not to go, and second, women often feel more comfortable talking about this with other women.

      Most women I know have been subjected to varying levels of harassment at a con at some point or another. A clear harassment policy (1) lets everyone at the con know what is or isn’t appropriate behavior, and (2) tells victims of harassment what they can do–e.g. how to report problems.

      What is it about harassment policies that make you feel uncomfortable?

      *For simplicity sake, I have opted to frame this in terms of gender. But similar arguments could be made for harassment along the lines of race, disability, orientation, etc.

      • You could be right that I just haven’t seen it, even if it’s there. I tend to avoid situations where people get into really acting stupidly. When people say “Let’s go to the bar” I say “I’m going to go read/sleep/meditate in my room.”

        Secondly, let’s be clear that although harassment can take many forms, and anyone regardless of gender can be harassed or harasser, mostly what we’re talking about is men behaving inappropriately towards women.

        I feel uncomfortable for two reasons. The first is that harassment policies can be deliberately vague and over-reaching. For example, I used to work in a hospital where I was one of two men on a floor of about thirty women, for most of the time I worked there. Every week we would get an email with the hospital’s harassment policy, which said “anything you do can be considered harassment,” and went on to say that someone accused of harassment would not just be fired but humiliated, along the lines of “we will end your academic career” (i.e. ruin your life). I had a wife and a baby, a pretty small salary and a desperate need for academic success.

        Would you feel comfortable in that setting, if you were a man? It’s not enough to say “I know I’m not doing anything wrong,” and to have wholesome intentions. I didn’t feel like smiling, saying good morning or being friendly with anybody, because any of that could be considered harassment.

        My confusion arose because this sounds like an endemic problem at these particular conventions. So the second reason I feel uncomfortable is that if every woman you know has been harassed on at least one occasion at a comic or book convention, then there is a systemic problem that won’t be solved by threatening people. These policies are basically threats, and threats are, by their nature, passive-aggressive. They don’t resort to directly telling people what appropriate behavior is. Instead they pass the buck for dealing with preexisting bad behavior on and on and on until the responsibility lies in the hands of people with guns.

        If threatening people about bad behavior really did work, prison wouldn’t be nearly so popular. It’s not the responsibility of, nor is it practical for, the organizers of a single convention to educate people on appropriate behavior, so this is a societal problem of passive-aggressiveness and rude male behavior. What works is educating men (actually boys 8-12) on how to appropriately communicate, and nobody’s been doing that for a long time. Society has just become more and more punishment focused, and that breeds more aggression.

        That’s a long way of saying that I feel uncomfortable because it seems like everywhere I go, everyone is set to explode. I’d prefer a more friendly world, as I think we all would.

        • “So the second reason I feel uncomfortable is that if every woman you know has been harassed on at least one occasion at a comic or book convention, then there is a systemic problem that won’t be solved by threatening people.”

          I have been going to conventions for about 10 years (as have many of my friends), so when I say most women I know have been harassed at some point, that’s meant to illustrate that there is definitely a problem. It isn’t meant to imply that it is *always* a problem. Honestly, almost everyone who goes to a con behaves well. To me it seems like there are a handful of people (some of them influential in the field) who REPEATEDLY cause problems.

          “anything you do can be considered harassment” is a terrible harassment policy and is totally not what I am looking for when I say cons should have a policy. Something that vague doesn’t do anyone any good. What I am talking about is something that outlines specific behaviors: e.g., deliberate intimidation, stalking, inappropriate physical contact. The policy should say who to report to if something happens, and outline the consequences, up to and including the harasser being thrown out of the convention.

          I don’t see a harassment policy as a threat, any more than I see laws as a threat. A law says, basically: in this region, if you do X, the consequence is Y. A harassment policy is the same, but the region is the convention. I don’t think that a harassment policy will stop all harassment, but I do think it serves as a deterrent if people know what the expectations are.

          • “To me it seems like there are a handful of people (some of them influential in the field) who REPEATEDLY cause problems.”

            Well that clears up a lot of confusion. I was picturing quite a different situation, like a pack of Spidermen chasing Wonderwoman. It seemed like certain people (also influential in the field) were raising hell about this year’s WFC policy and using rather bold and careless language about the organizers (who are human beings…I think) as if they were heading off some sort of direct threat to the safety of the attendees. That made it sound like it was a chronic, ever-present problem and that someone needed to do something OR ELSE.

            If someone can’t phrase things on his blog clearly and without resorting to insults and f-words, I won’t be buying any of his novels.

            Please know that all of this results from genuine curiosity, as I said I haven’t attended these conventions, but I know people who have, and I am curious and sometimes puzzled about what they’ve said. I hope to attend some in the future, but I would do so as a professional, and I would have the same standards that I have always used when attending professional meetings.

  2. That “Part of Your World” was beyond amazing. Loved it! 😂

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