No More Gatekeepers. With quotes from Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.
(I’ve included Pratchett quotes from the book Wee Free Men throughout this essay, because Pratchett had a true gift for saying what needed to be said. Read enough of his work, and you’ll see a solid, dependable and honorable philosophy and wonderful way of seeing the world around us. Now, to the essay…)
Earlier, I was reading through a thread started by a Hugo nominated TOR editor. The primary purpose of his posting seemed to be explaining the differences between being a fan of Science Fiction, and being a Capital “F” Fan. He went on to define what should constitute a true “Fan”. It goes well beyond reading and enjoying material from the genre. Frankly that is not enough. You need to be an active Fan. You must know the history, and be able to pass the knowledge tests. You must be participating in the approved activities and going to the approved cons. He goes on at length about the importance of the History and Traditions of Fandom, and how if you are not willing to invest that level of effort, then you simple are not a TruFan (He uses this term). The resulting implication? If you do not meet these standards, you are still allowed to hang around, but you don’t really have any business trying to make your voice heard, you should be self-aware enough to know that you shouldn’t be voting for any awards, and that you really just need to be quiet while the adults are talking.
To me, this seems more like he wants a professional (or perhaps semi-professional) organization, and not a community of fans. If this is truly what he wants, that’s fine, but he needs to change a lot of what Worldcon says about itself, and what the Hugo says about itself. He needs to change a lot of the definitions, and he needs quit pretending that he is anything other than a Gatekeeper, desperately trying to separate all the TruFans from the common rabble.
Personally, I have no use for Gatekeepers. I do not need them for my day to day life, and I do not need them between myself and the world of Science Fiction. I don’t need them telling me what I should be reading, what movies I should be seeing, what games I should be playing. I don’t mind people recommending things, saying, “Hey, I loved this, I think you might like it as well”, but telling me, “these are the qualitatively better authors and these are the qualitatively better books, and there is no reasonable argument against them”… well, no, thank you.
I have said many times and in many places, I don’t mind fiction that has a message in it. I don’t even mind if they are pushing things to which I might not totally agree. But story first, thank you. Entertain me first and foremost. When the message is more important than the story, or it seems to be tacked on to the characters for no discernable reason, or it becomes the only definition of the character, you have taken me out of the story. You have taken me out of the fun. You have basically built a homework assignment for me, and are now trying to convince me that I should consume this because it is good for me.
Personally, I do not care for the Twilight franchise, nor the Hunger Games. But these books, along with Harry Potter, have brought in thousands of new fans. Anything that can entice the average 7th to 9th grader to read books outside of school is amazing and the fact that they are bringing those readers into our community, a community that has been having challenges staying young and commercially viable, is outstanding! Bring more! Let us argue the relative merits, let us debate about what are the good parts and what are the bad parts, let us fight about whether we like this or that particular author, or book, or even series of books, but first, let us acknowledge that this is our community, we are kindred spirits, we have more in common than not.
I am a fan. Small “f” and proud of it. I love Heinlein and Asimov and McCaffery and many more of the “Old Masters”. I love that today’s Science Fiction and Fantasy, thanks in large part to G.R.R. Martin, and J. K. Rowling, and yes, Stephanie Meyer is becoming a growing, convoluted and active community. I love that when you go to a Con, you stand an excellent chance of coming across Deadpool, standing next to Tony Stark talking to Ned Stark (head attached), as Gandalf and Frodo walk by. I love that Trekkies can argue the merits of ship-to-ship combat with members of the Manticore Navy. I love that movies can be made into comics can be made into books can be made into games, and that this can happen in any order. I love that, thanks to the internet, I can see what happens at Cons, I can read about what happens at Cons, all without actually having to go to the Con. Am I missing out? Heck yes! I don’t get to hear the jokes, go to the room parties, gawk at the costumes, and meet the creators. But at the same time, I get to see that I am not (as I suspected and feared growing up) alone in my love for the genre.
I know now that there are thousands of us, and that there is just no way a self-appointed Gatekeeper has a chance. These weasels have exactly the amount of power over us that we give them and I, for one, will no longer be silent about it. I will take great pleasure in the self-professed “Pulp of Larry Correia, in the Space Opera of David Weber, the amazing urban fantasy of Jim Butcher, and the excellent world building of Raymond Feist. I will read the covers off of everything that the late, great, Terry Pratchett ever put out, including the Bromeliad Trilogy. I will read authors who are out and out socialists (Eric Flint) and outspoken libertarians (Sarah A. Hoyt). Heck, I might even break down and read Ancillary Justice. But whatever I do, I will not let others define my fun, I will not let them define the terms and standards, and I will not let them keep me silent. I did that in high school when the “cool kids” made it clear that reading Clarke and Howard and Heinlein was not cool and I was desperately trying to fit in. It did no good then, and it will do no good now.
I willna’ be fooled again!