The SF/F Community: An Essay5 min read

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There are days for us that the current fandom kerfuffle makes one want to, as in the words of Seanan McGuire, “ignite the biosphere.” It’s very easy to get frustrated and angry at the problems that crop up and want to retire from it all, almost always for very good reasons.

This is not one of those days. Today, we give thanks. When we formed the SF Squeecast with our friends and colleagues, our impetus was to add positivity to the genre. We think it’s as important to remember the reasons we still turn up, day after day, despite the kerfuffles.

Chicks Dig Time Lords (edited by Lynne and Tara O’Shea) was designed as a love letter to Doctor Who fandom. Lynne’s essay in it started out as a retelling of how she married into Michael’s fandom. The parts that resonated with most people, though, are the parts about our daughter Caitlin, who has Aicardi Syndrome (and severe disabilities as a result). Our experiences in fandom with Caitlin do not reflect the rest of the “real world” — fandom has been completely welcoming to Caitlin and our family, accepting us as we are, on our own terms.

Since writing that essay, we have become more embedded in the SF/F world. We also lost all of our family support; we no longer have family willing or able to watch Caitlin so that we can attend conventions. Our friends, a mixture of fans, conrunners, and SF/F professionals, have pitched in to help watch Caitlin and make it possible for us to have a little time off — something that we simply don’t get in our local community. For that, we are deeply thankful.

There are other things about our community that make us squee with delight. Like the Thanksgiving holiday, not everything is perfect (there are often underlying problematic issues), but overall, there is a lot of good in this SFnal world.

So, let’s recognize that good, shall we?

1. Access to Awesome

The internet makes amazing things possible. In 2013, fans with web access can get to massive amounts of online free fiction (like Apex Magazine), fanfiction, SF/F music, short films, long films, and communities where they can connect to others with similar interests to discuss all of these things in loving, excruciating detail at any time. The internet — if you have the means and inclination — is also a fully stocked dealer room of all of the SF/F swag and books that you could possibly want, 24/7. EBooks and paper books are available with just a few clicks. If you don’t have the means or inclination to buy books, you still often have ways to read as many as you could possibly want. Many libraries across the country will gladly loan you both paper and eBooks from their own collections and from those of other libraries across the country, free of charge. Bluntly put, we have never had this much access to this much SF/F content. Gone are the days when you could read your way through your local library’s SF/F section and be “done” or “complete” in your survey of the field. You no longer need to borrow that one thing from that one person.

Also, thanks to the internet, we have unprecedented access to the creators of the SF/F that we love. At any moment, millions of people can talk to Neil Gaiman with a single Tweet. You can join an online conversation with N.K. Jemisin or Aliette De Bodard. You can hang out on George R.R. Martin’s LiveJournal. There are Facebook pages, author-specific forums and websites, and fan-created and maintained wikis about particularly beloved series and worlds, not to mention online writer workshops, critique communities, Google hangouts and Skype visits, twitter interviews, and the like. It’s no longer required to attend conventions or be part of a special group of some sort to get access to SF/F creators. They are ALL OVER THE INTERNETS, across the world. There are still impediments, of course, but we are truly living in a more global SF/F world than even just a generation ago. (We’ll take this over flying cars.)

2. Friendship

As our world expands, so does our network of friends across the globe. Conventions, meet-ups (both in person and virtual), hangouts, communities and the like make it possible for us to develop relationships, projects, and friends everywhere we go. If you’re reading this essay, chances are you’ve made some friends who don’t live anywhere near you through the shared love of SF/F, whether it is in written or other media. Did you stay up till 2 am in a convention bar arguing about the merits of Heinlein? Maybe you really enjoyed someone’s Buffy fanfic, and they enjoyed your Doctor Who fanfic, and you corresponded for years and realized when you finally met that you really are best friends. We can connect with people across the globe at the drop of a hat, which most certainly makes our genre community larger and stronger.

3. Love

We cannot begin to count the number of romantic relationships and True Love ™ matches that we know that have started, developed significantly, or continued because people met through some aspect of this community, whether it be old Babylon 5 BBSes, Charles de Lint’s Tamson House mailing list, a convention lobby because someone had to talk to that one podcaster whose podcast they really enjoyed, or huzzahing at each other at a Renaissance Faire. (And those are just the stories of personal friends). Seriously. When people with passionately held mutual interests get to meet, magic can happen. (This does not mean we think these events should be necessarily treated as a singles bar, but they are great gathering places for great people with lots in common.)

4. Charity

Where else will you get John Scalzi covered in buttercream frosting by derby girls? Or Jim C. Hines replicating cover poses to raise money for research on Aicardi syndrome? Whether it’s raising money to sequence Jay Lake’s DNA through singing Kate Bush on video, or raising money to help pay for surgeries, treatment, and recovery for both humans and beloved pets alike, this community gives, and gives, and gives. When one of us is in trouble, or when someone has a really great idea like Con or Bust to make the world more awesome, we get together, and raise cash to make it happen.

5. Conventions

In addition to all of these great ways to participate online, we take the time to get together in person, too, on the convention circuit. Our community routinely takes over hotels in communities across the country for weekends at a time. Hundreds of volunteers spend thousands of hours before, during, and after the convention, making sure that attendees have a great time, whether they are gaming, watching anime, discussing books and short stories, hearing or performing music, attending a writing workshop, buying art or swag, or just hanging out at LobbyCon or BarCon. Old friends from across the globe can see one another, if only very occasionally, to reconfirm the bonds they have built, and to build new ones with friends they have just met at that last panel.

When we build our communities this strong, growth and change can be challenging. Nonetheless, the concept of community still remains rather powerful for us SF/F geeks. We take it very seriously. This is why we’ve had such a bumpy road lately, as we advocate for changes that will help our community to renew itself and improve everyone’s experiences as we become more diverse and welcoming. SF/F imagines futures, and right now, our community is envisioning a future where kindness, generosity, and respect for everyone are the norms.

And that is something that we are absolutely thankful for.

Looking for more?

Lynne M. Thomas

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