Saving Hugo

So, over the weekend, genre fiction Twitter basically burned to the ground. The announcement of Jonathan Ross as celebrity host of the Hugos led to one of the fastest, and nastiest, flame wars in a very long time. Inside eight hours, he’d stood down but the bad feeling on both sides of the debate was, and remains, fairly monumental. To some people, this was a huge opportunity for mainstream appeal torpedoed by genre fiction’s boundless capacity for self-destruction. For others, it was a controversy bullet dodged and a host with an awful reputation successfully removed. Very few people came out of this thing looking remotely good, on either side. Also, there’s now a burning question about LonCon;

Who do you get to host the ceremony?

The usual names have been bandied around, especially Felicia Day and David Tennant. They’d both be great too, they’re both fiercely articulate fans with a massive crossover appeal and a deserved reputation for being positive, charming spokespeople.

They’re also both insanely busy and the concern, given that Ross volunteered and was giving his time gratis, is that no one could be found in time to replace them. The fear for some people is that the replacement will be someone from inside genre fiction, a name who is safe, but unchallenging with that. It’s an understandable response to a difficult question. After all, who do you get to present one of the biggest awards nights in the industry that will be challenging but won’t make it a psychologically or emotionally unsafe space for the audience or nominees?

Easy.

Themselves.

To clarify, I’m not talking about the often crushingly tedious Oscar-style rolodex of names (authors in this case) parading across the stage to hand awards to friends or label mates. I’m talking about the greatest untapped resource LonCon has; it’s attendees.

LonCon will be full to the gills with readers, bloggers, filkers, makers, cosplayers, gamers, game designers, geek chefs, small press publishers, small press authors, indie authors, podcasters and a couple of dozen other groups and sub cultures. It will be geek culture, genre fiction fandom, distilled and crammed into London for a week. These are the people who make this industry possible, the people who have found something they love and are so passionate about it they’re going to brave the Docklands Light Railway to go and hang out with a few thousand folks who feel the same. They’re not ‘just fans’, that’s as pointless and destructive a phrase as ‘superfan’, they’re fans. They’re the gas in the engine and the foot on the pedal. Without them, to quote Sandra Bernhardt, the industry would be nothing.

So let them in.

Here are the three reasons why this would be brilliant. Firstly, it would shatter one of the couple of dozen false barriers thrown up in genre fiction, as attendees cross the line and become part of the show they’re attending. Some of them won’t like it. Some will love it so much they’ll be hooked and the next generation of con organizers will be not only born, but born from a massively positive experience rather than the dusty politics that all too often chokes cons to death and creates decades-long grudges. As a side effect, the backseat driving that plagues every convention, ever, would take a serious hit here as people would get an idea of just how hard the organizers are working.

Secondly this fires a torpedo of nice at the concept of the Cool Kids table. What the weekend war showed painfully clearly was just how divided genre fiction is and, often, how insular. There’s a perception, rightly or wrongly, of the same few dozen people on both sides always leading the charge as yet another fight breaks out and Twitter fills up with passive aggressive responses and links to blogs that, for some reason, all seem to have titles that start with ‘In Which’. I don’t quite buy the Cool Kids table as an idea, most days, but it’s a destructive concept. This particular Banquo isn’t so much haunting the feast as dancing to ‘Paradise City’, alone on the dance floor, with the lights on and the cleaning staff waiting to sweep up. It’s time has come and long, long since gone.

Thirdly, it’s the most honest, and positive, reaction to the Ross incident for everyone involved. People who had issues with Ross get a series of hosts they know are connected to the culture and have no percentage in being controversial or taking pot shots at anyone. On the other side of the divide, the people enraged at Ross being run out of town know that his replacements are not only a break from the usual suspects but have a positive media spin all of their own. Because let’s face it, what’s more positive than seeing a major awards ceremony like the Hugos presented by the people who, in the end, everything in the industry is pointed at? Genre fiction; we go to war on a moment’s notice but on nights like this, we stand together.

Here’s how you do it. Firstly you pick your hosting team early and you work with them, either through a script editor or a producer. You walk them through what they’re going to say, spend a couple of weeks tailoring their scripts, plug them into each award and give them the awards they want to present, or are relevant to them, if at all possible. This does two things; it gives you a solid backbone for the show but also lets your presenters speak with their own voices. It’s not stuffy or forced, it’s enthusiasm tempered with respect rather than needless gravitas. Even better, this can all be done via email, all pretty painlessly. You could even go the full NASA and have alternates signed up in case anyone drops out. Because, like I say, attendees are a functionally bottomless resource to draw from.

And you draw from everyone. Every ethnicity and nationality, every point on the gender spectrum, fans who are differently abled, fans with religious beliefs, atheist fans, liberal fans, conservative fans, libertarian fans, fans who are young and fans who are old. You make your hosting team a cross section of the culture the night is intended to celebrate, a United Nations of Genre. Welcome to LonCon 3.

All of you.

Everywhere.

Let’s all go save Hugo.

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