Mad Mike Williamson brilliantly took down true fans already, and pointed out the absurdity of claiming that he isn’t one. His argument, though, is essentially to point out that he has been part of the in crowd at cons for a long time, and had a damn lot of fun doing it.
Not to knock it (or Mike, if you’ve never heard of him Freehold is the jumping off point), but Mike’s post still excludes a lot of us. We have bona fides too, even if con attendance isn’t one of them.
Consider: I was born in 1980. Star Wars was a major part of my childhood. We had toys, lunch boxes, Christmas Specials (that we try to forget), and of course the movies. Everybody my age was a Star Wars fan. In the ‘80s, it was axiomatic.
We grew up with other scifi in our media too. I had tons of Transformers as a kid, and it was my favorite show. M.A.S.K. checked off the scifi box pretty well for kids too. Fantasy? Sure, we all watched He-Man (and had the toys!), and The Smurfs, and The Gummi Bears – we were basically raised on scifi and fantasy television.
Plenty of movies too – The Black Hole, The Black Cauldron, The Sword in the Stone, and on and on – if I keep counting ‘80s sf/f that everyone in my generation watched, we’ll be here a while.
Once I started reading, it was natural I was drawn to more scifi and fantasy. My dad got me Kincaid’s Book of Wizards, Giants, Trolls and Magic when I was about five, and the artwork and stories struck me with the force of a car wreck. I was obsessed with dragons from a young age when my mother got us The Laughing Dragon. My uncles reinforced my scifi/fantasy geekdom by being huge comic book nerds, and playing countless hours of imagination games where we were the comic book superheroes (Uncle Joe, RIP, got to be Thor).
Obviously, as I got old enough to choose my own books, fantasy and scifi figured prominently in the selections. A Wrinkle In Time was my first true fantasy novel. I read it when I was in second grade. We lived in Florida at the time. I read it again, and again, and again. I was blown away when I realized there were sequels, and promptly read all of those about 15 times too. By the time I was finished with third grade, I had read A Wrinkle In Time something like 12,354 times (all figures approximate). Being the caring giver that I am, I made sure my oldest son (currently age 9) got a copy of this book while he was in second grade too.
That of course was just the entry point. Soon I was reading Asimov’s Norby the robot books, the Dragonlance books, Forgotten Realms books, countless pulp-ish fantasy tales that I could never remember the name of (I remember a wizard called Randall who specialized in fire magic, his books had bright pictures and a dark blue border), and a Choose Your Own Adventure knockoff series called Wizards, Warriors, and You (seriously, these are awesome, get them for your kids on ebay).
Naturally, reading the TSR books caught the notice of, to my mind now, the right people, and by fourth grade I was a confirmed pen-and-paper RPG guy. Dungeons & Dragons is still the gold standard for pen-and-paper RPGs (and I play with my son now), but I also played the Marvel Comics game, something called Rift Wars (basically all the characters were cyborgs), and something else whose name escapes me but involved controlling robot armies in combat against invading aliens.
I have made it this far without even mentioning video games. I am a huge video gamer. The original The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy games all sucked hours of my young life. I played Mario games, of course, and Bionic Commando (that would make a badass milSF book), and Castlevania (I-III on NES), and Contra, and Life Force, and a host of others that almost totally are comprised of fantasy or science fiction settings. Not only did I play these games, but I played them with everyone I know. My brother, my cousins, my friends – all of us loved the SF/F genre on NES.
Of course, when Genesis and SNES came out, the gaming love got even better. We got sequels to nearly all of the above games. We got Super Metroid. We got the best games in the Final Fantasy series. We got Shining Force. We got Firepower 2000. We got robots playing baseball. We got aliens playing football. We got Out of This World, and the sequel Flashback. We got Actraiser, and Gunstar Heroes, and Cybernator, and Ogre Battle, and a host of others. All of them carrying the torch for sf/f.
It was during the 16-bit era that I discovered that it was hard to find a modern scifi or fantasy book that was awesome. Luckily, in 1994, a dude with long-ish blonde hair at the B. Dalton in the mall in Idaho Falls turned me on to The Magic of Recluce. This was during a fairly barren time for scifi or fantasy movies that appealed to 14 year old nerds – luckily, I could still watch Star Trek: The Next Generation on TV for my fix. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. was my gateway to “hard” fantasy and scifi, and remains among my very favorite authors today.
This was around the time I began discovering music that was plugged into the scifi/fantasy world. Various songs by Metallica, Judas Priest, and others sent me further down the rabbit holes trying to figure out what the heck they were talking about (hello, HP Lovecraft!).
Soon enough, more video game consoles came out, and more Final Fantasies, and Breaths of Fire, and Front Missions, and Castlevanias, and Metroids, and on and on, through my most recent obsession with Diablo III.
The same story applies to movies. Fantasy and science fiction became big business when the special effects caught up with the story telling. Now, they dominate the market, from Riddick to The Lord of the Rings to The Avengers to Star Trek (again). On television, Grimm and Agents of SHIELD and Game of Thrones soak up huge ratings.
In literature, of course, I discovered more Asimov. I discovered Heinlein. I discovered Andre Norton, and David Weber, and Fred Saberhagen, and Mad Mike, and Larry Correia, and Keith Laumer, and the Star Wars books, and the Halo books (shout out to Eric Nylund, your entries in that series were better than I dared hope possible), and Warhammer 40k, and the Wild Cards series, and so many more that, as at the beginning, there is no point in listing them all.
Through all of my consumption of actual fantasy and scifi material, I’ve never once been to a con. Now, there is a group telling me that I’m not a good enough fan. I don’t understand the con culture. I don’t get what “fandom” is about.
That may be true. From their perspective, I don’t get what fandom is about. Because to me, it’s about finding more awesome stuff to read, watch, and play. Who cares about attending some lame con with a bunch of stuffy trufen ready to write off my experience and love of the genre?
And that is why the Sad Puppies campaign is important. In recent years, my rate of “discovery” of new cool authors has slowed to a crawl – and I’m not the only one. Scifi/fantasy literature sales are trending in the wrong direction at a meteoric rate. When I was 15, award-winning meant great fiction. Now that I am 35, award-winning means I am not finishing the book.
Query: with everything I just wrote, does it surprise anyone still reading that I didn’t know I could vote on the Hugos until Sad Puppies 2? I was shocked to learn it. No wonder the insular cliques are running the show, the rest of us don’t even know we’re supposed to be contributing to the script!
The only way to change that is to erect a big tent and get everyone in. People like the trufen who scoff at me are already there. Sad Puppies have showed the rest of us that we can join too. And as a bonus, since SP3 started, I have a list of new authors to check out so long I can’t even remember them all at once. Everybody wins!
That’s what it’s really about. I just spent 1,300+ words telling you why my fandom should count. That doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s fandom. I am still laboring to understand how “fandom” became a contest. My whole life, “fandom” has meant that I can share books, and games, and movies with people with similar interests, and they will share theirs with me, and we will both get enjoyment.
Now, “fandom” is being construed to mean the taste-makers, the CHORFs who get to tell the rest of us how awful we are for simply enjoying our entertainment. I have rarely been so enraged as when I read Making Light, or George RR Martin’s attempts to sugarcoat the groupthink, with the supposed kingmakers telling me that I don’t matter. As if my 25+ years of actually reading and supporting these genres makes me unworthy of their eminence. As if they and their ilk are better than the rest of us.
Luckily, we have the puppies. Luckily, they are throwing up a big tent. Luckily, we are all invited again.