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WorldCon Updates Programming in Response to Critiques From SF Creators

Alex Acks

Contributing Editor

Alex Acks is a writer, geologist, and sharp-dressed sir. They've written for Six to Start and been published in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Shimmer, Daily Science Fiction, and more. Alex lives in Denver with their two furry little bastards, where they twirl their mustache, watch movies, and bike. Twitter: @katsudonburi Website:

After the rolling disaster of—was it really only about a week ago?—July 22–25, WorldCon has gotten  a new schedule online in an amount of time that is probably best termed miraculous, considering the size and complexity involved. The programming redo was helmed by Mary Robinette Kowal, and she talks about the process and her team over at her blog. Particular effort was made to contact all of the Hugo Finalists and ensure they could have a place on programming if they wanted it.

The programming isn’t 100% complete as of this writing (and there’s still some problems like blank panels or panels that show no participants or participants not knowing they’ve been placed on panels), but you can take a look at the state of things over at WorldCon’s website. Hopefully over the next few days, the last wrinkles will get smoothed out—and it’s not a surprise that with the fast turnaround, there have been some hiccups.

To get an idea of some of what’s been changed and added, you can filter the schedule for new and updated items. A few examples of these items are:

  • Transform This: Fanfic as a Vector for Reclaiming Hostile Canons: “In a world that routinely ejects, mistreats, or outright erases marginalised people from its media and fiction, how can transformative works shine light on stories which have gone unspoken? Whose needs does fanfic fulfill, and whose end up compromised or neglected? This panel will discuss both the queering of beloved canons and the formation of safe, exploratory spaces away from the gatekeepers of publishing in which traditionally-underrepresented writers can hone their craft.”
  • Un-pulping the Pulp Heroes: “Doc Savage. The Shadow. G8. Tarzan. The hero pulps are full of characters immersed in fast-paced action, but they sometimes come across as problematic or naive to modern readers. It can be uncomfortable to recognize the sexism or racism of their day. And yet, there are still things that we love about pulps. How have pulp heroes influenced contemporary SF writers (in surprising and strange ways)? How are writers currently reinventing and subverting pulps?”
  • The Joys and Hazards of Writing #OwnVoices Fiction: “‘Write what you know’ sounds easy, but is it always? #OwnVoices was created to celebrate the works of marginalized writers telling stories from their lived experience. But distilling experience into fiction comes with unique challenges and risks that we don’t often get to talk about. Panelists discuss how to tap into your own life for stories without damaging themselves or their loved ones, the insights and liberations that can come from that experience and the challenges of speaking for a community.”

(I can tell you personally, I am going to that fanfic panel!)

Generally speaking, while there’s still a bit of confusion over the aforementioned wrinkles, the responses I’ve heard from marginalized creators have largely been positive. Quite a few people who previously stepped away from programming entirely have given participation in these updated panels a chance. This obviously doesn’t erase what happened before, but it’s definitely a step in a better direction.