There Should Be No More Back-to-Back US Worldcons. Ever.
LonCon3 – the biggest Worldcon in history – is currently winding down. One of the more distressing pieces of news to issue from its administrative bowel is the announcement that the 2016 Worldcon will be held in Kansas City, Missouri.
Dubbed MidAmeriCon II, the Kansas City bid saw off competition from a group of Chinese fans who were hoping to bring Worldcon to Beijing for the first time ever. Given that the 2015 Worldcon is already being held in Spokane, Washington, Kansas City will make it two years in a row (and three years out of four) that Worldcon will have been held in a regional American city without a proper international airport.
As disappointing as this administrative colloquialism may be, it is not a surprise as fifty-three out of seventy-two Worldcons have taken place in the United States.
To make matters worse, a Washington DC bid has now entered the race for the 2017 Worldcon. Prior to the announcement of the DC bid, the 2017 slot had boasted an admirably internationalist slate including competing bids from Japan, Canada and Finland. People with ties to the internationalist bids are justifiably outraged:
A victory for DC would not just make it three US Worldcons in a row, but quite possibly four as the only bids to have declared for 2018 are from San Jose, California and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Aside from undermining Worldcon’s claims to be the World Science Fiction Convention, this administrative parochialism has a number of unfortunate knock-on effects:
Firstly, science fiction culture is currently trying to address its shameful track record of marginalising and excluding people from outside the English-speaking world. One of the best ways of making science fiction culture more accessible to a wider audience is by taking the biggest convention in science fiction and transporting it to a country that is not a part of the English-speaking world. By keeping Worldcon safely locked away in American venues, we are perpetuating the preposterous myth that science fiction belongs to Americans.
Secondly, one of the reasons why Anime fandom has overtaken genre fandom and begun to grow much larger conventions is that Anime cons tend to take place in large cities that are cheap and easy to get to. Favouring US regional cities favours wealthy, retired Americans who can easily afford to up sticks and travel to up-state Washington to attend a convention. The size of LonCon3 owed nothing to the strength of British fandom and everything to the comparative ease of getting to London.
Thirdly, Worldcons are run along democratic lines by groups of dedicated fans. Anyone can turn up and vote at a World Science Fiction Society business meeting as long as you happen to be attending the con. The problem is that in order to present a credible bid or introduce new business, you need to be willing to visit more than one Worldcon in a row. Favouring US venues over non-US venues means that American fans find it much easier to get involved in the running of Worldcon and this means that Worldcon is more likely to reflect their ideas and experiences. In other words, the more American Worldcons you hold, the more likely it is that future Worldcons will be held in American cities and built according to the concerns of American fans. Holding Worldcons outside of the US allows international fandom a greater chance to get involved in the running of Worldcon and the more international fans get involved in the running of Worldcon, the more likely it is that Worldcon will come to reflect the experiences and concerns of all science fiction fans.
Having read through some of the discussions surrounding the various bids, I am intrigued and frustrated by the forces that shape the bidding process. Obviously the process favours experienced con-runners but why did Kansas City stand almost unopposed and why did three credible international bids pick 2017 as their target leaving the US almost unopposed in both 2016 and 2018?
The WSFS constitution is silent on the matter. Article 4, which governs future Woldcon selection, describes the process of bidding and the hoops that bidders need to jump through but makes no reference to geographical considerations beyond tying a bid to the city it originally declared for. However, if you look back over older bids and discussions of past site selections, you find references to a system designed to prevent Worldcon from returning to the same city over and over again. From the website of the 1998 Worldcon in Baltimore, Maryland:
The rules specify conditions, both geographic and procedural, which a prospective bid must satisfy to be eligible. Bids from outside North America are allowed in any year but to ensure equitable distribution of sites, North America is divided into three regions: Western, Central, and Eastern.
Rob Hansen’s history of British fandom also makes reference to a spat between US and UK fandoms from the 1980s. The details of the spat are unimportant but the background sheds some interesting light on the hidden politics of Worldcon site selection:
During the business session of the 1984 Worldcon Ben Yalow, an East Coast fan, had suggested that for the purposes of Worldcon rotation the US in future be split into two zones rather than the current three “in order to eliminate wimpy bids”. This quote got somewhat garbled on the grapevine and word went round that an attempt was being made by East and West Coast fans to squeeze out ‘the Wimpy Zone’, i.e. the Midwest.
It is entirely reasonable for US Worldcons to rotate from region to region. One of the abiding principles of Worldcon is that it Brings Fandom to You and so any attempt to root Worldcon in a particular place has long been resisted. However, is it possible that the informal policy of rotating between different US regions has lead to a situation in which various US regions believe that they are ‘due’ even though Worldcon keeps returning to American soil year after year?
My solution to this problem is simple: Worldcon must be true to its name and impose legal limits on the frequency of American Worldcons. There should be no more back-to-back American Worldcons. Ever.
I understand that bidding for a Worldcon is an expensive and complicated process but I would like to see a situation whereby (at the very least) American Worldcon bids compete only against one another while non-American Worldcon bids are protected from opportunistic bids like that of 2017’s Washington DC.
Science fiction belongs to the world and it is high time that Worldcon recognised it.