This last weekend Fourth Street Fantasy Convention took place. At the beginning I made an opening statement that has generated discussion, dispute, and even some hard feelings. I have exactly no interest in perpetuating one of those idiotic feuds or convention brawls that plague the science fiction community like aphids on tomato plants, but as the discussion is continuing in various places, it seems appropriate to permit those discussing it to have the text at hand. Though these conversations often, alas, degenerate into personal attacks, I am hopeful that the issues themselves will receive some discussion. For those of us who love fantasy fiction, and want there to be better fantasy fiction, it should be obvious that, at least, the issues are important.
(The closing statement, which addresses the same issues from another, perhaps opposite perspective, was delivered by Scott Lynch and can be found here.)
There are two points I want to make about my remarks:
1) I thoughtlessly permitted my statement to be interpreted as coming from the Fourth Street Board, rather than being my own opinion. That was a mistake and I regret it, and I apologize to the board and membership for that confusion.
2) I stand by what I said.
Fourth Street Fantasy Convention is not a safe space. On the contrary, it is a very unsafe space. Of course, it ought to be safe in the sense of everyone feeling physically safe, and in the sense that there should be no unwanted harassment, and it should be free of personal attacks of any kind. But other than that, it is not safe.
Your beliefs about writing, and my beliefs about writing, and what is good, and how to make it good, should be sufficiently challenged to make us uncomfortable.
The interaction of art and politics is getting more and more in our faces. Whether this is good or bad is beside the point (although I think it’s good); it reflects changing social conditions, intensification of conflicts. Anyone who thinks art is independent of social conditions is as hopelessly muddled as someone who thinks there is a direct, simplistic 1:1 correspondence between them.
The result of this is that political understanding, unexamined assumptions, agendas, are very much present in the art we create and thus in the discussions of that art.
If no one feels unsafe, or threatened during these discussions, we’re doing them wrong. The same is true in discussing technique, because technique, content, form, attitude toward the creation and role of art, and understanding of society, are all interconnected, and in challenging one, we are liable to find ourselves challenging another. Am I interested in turning a discussion of writing craft into a political dispute? No. I’m here to talk about craft. But I recognize that there is no clean separation, and that the one can lead to the other, and I’ll not shy away from it when it does.
If our primary goal in such discussions is to make sure everyone feels safe, then we must above all avoid the very sorts of passionate dispute this convention was created for. At that point, the convention has lost so much value that I, for one, would rather spend the weekend writing. I come to Fourth Street to have my assumptions and opinions about fantasy writing challenged and threatened; I come here to feel unsafe. If you aren’t here in order to have your assumptions and opinions challenged, then one of us is at the wrong convention.
If no one feels unsafe, we’re wasting our time here.