What had clearly been inevitable this week and was probably fated from the start has happened:
I’m going to mount a very limited defence of the original decision to invite Toni Weisskopf as a guest of honour but mainly to highlight a broader point that has come up before. In particular I’m reminded of an utterly different controversy just over a year ago when Clarksworld published a story by Isabel Fall that generated a lot of controversy and ended up causing a lot of pain for the author https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/01/18/well-i-guess-im-writing-about-clarkesworld-again/
So firstly, the original invite. I know I and lot of people looked at the original announcement that Toni Weisskopf would be Guest of Honour mainly because of her connection with notable Sad Puppies and while not part of the campaign, at least in the general vicinity of it including this essay published at Sarah Hoyt’s blog https://accordingtohoyt.com/2014/03/10/the-problem-of-engagement-a-guest-post-by-toni-weisskopf/ BUT! 2014 was a long time ago and people said a lot of things. Toni Weisskopf genuinely is a very notable figure in science fiction and in fandom and has fostered a lot of talent and is an interesting and entertaining speaker (based on what I have heard from her as a guest on podcasts). If we imagine a space of potential Guests of Honour for a Worldcon, she’s part of that space. Yes, associated with right-wing politics but not herself in that space of people you really shouldn’t platform because they put your attendees at risk. So as a decision looked at within a very narrow lens, not inherently absurd.
Extend that lens a bit wider, and it was a very bold decision by DisCon. Firstly, 2015 may be a long time ago but there are a lot of emotions around the Hugo Awards that year on ‘both sides’ as they say. A Worldcon making a kind of rapprochement is an interesting step and maybe, a good thing. As people keep pointing out, there are a lot authors in Baen’s stable and there a lot of fans who like them. However, even a moments thought reveal a whole pile of ways the invitation could go horribly wrong. People who followed the Puppy Kerfuffle closely would be aware of the complexity of Toni’s/Baen’s role in it but many fans with better things to do with their lives are aware of the general nature of things (an attempted far-right take over of the Hugo awards) without making fine distinctions between Vox Day’s overt racism and the messier world of the Sad Puppies. Sooner or later somebody was going to frame this as “DisCon has invited the racist Puppies back”. So what then?
Inviting Toni Weisskopf could be a bold move but a bold move requires strategy. If there was pushback (and sooner or later there would be public pushback and I know there was private pushback) WHAT WAS THE PLAN? I love the quirky anarcho-democracy of Worldcon but it isn’t a governance method that can easily pivot and control messaging and this would have been a difficult bit of messaging towards a membership used proverbially by cats in the phrase “It’s like herding Worldcon members”. I can imagine a different style of con pulling off the controversial guest plan but we know Worldcon can’t.
Worse! That was the BEST CASE scenario. The above ignores the key point about Baen and fandom. Despite the “oh but there’s Eric Flint and X, Y, Z” authors, Baen’s brand is intimately connected with a set of right-wing, loud mouth contrarians. It’s connected to them because 1. they are loud bullying voices who take up all the oxygen in the room and 2. Baen’s played along with their schtick for years. In particular, Larry Correia, Tom Kratman and Michael Williamson but to a lesser extent John Ringo as well. I won’t document the multiple brouhahas we’ve seen from them over the years but just wave in the general direction of my blog archives.
Now Toni Weiskopf isn’t the keeper of that quartet. She’s not their mum or their employer. However, when they go off on one they tend to drag Baen into things as a brand. Baen has played into that and even played along with that https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/10/19/a-chronicle-of-outrage-marketing/ The particular trio of Larry/Tom/Mike also tend to drag in other Baen authors or former Baen authors like John Ringo, David Weber, Sarah Hoyt and Dave Freer into the brouhaha of the day. It’s all part and parcel of the we-are-under-constant-attack-by-SJWs ideology they promote.
So that leads to two other things a Worldcon needs to plan for if they invite Toni Weisskopf as a guest:
- There was a near certainty that one of the set of controversialist/outrage marketing authors listed above were going to be doing SOMETHING controversial within the next few months and would drag “Baen” as a brand into it and by extension drag Toni Weisskopf into it. You’d need a plan for that.
- Any criticism, concern or issues raised by Worldcon adjacent fans about Toni Weisskopf had a high chance of being perceived as an attack by Larry Correia (in particular) who would respond with his trade mark tactic of setting a mob on people on the fan (but in a deniable way). You’d need a plan for that as well and you’d need a plan that included Toni Weisskopf outlining how she’d get Larry to back down (and if the answer was that she has no control over Larry [fair enough, understandable] then…well, you have to ask how this was EVER going to work).
We got option 2 and DisCon didn’t have a plan and I doubt they had a plan for any of the three scenarios not because they are incompetent but because Worldcon’s really can’t manage these kinds of PR risks easily. Now, that’s not great for Toni Weisskopf and I’ve got some sympathy for a woman whose professional profile is being impacted by shouty right-wing men. It is the situation though. Baen’s always leaned right but as we’ve seen it’s not conservative ideology in an abstract sense that is the issue per-se but a bunch of pseudo-libertarians who regard online misbehaviour and brigading as an expression of their personal freedom. Baen’s played into that, first with John Ringo and then with Larry C etc and other authors have (with less success because their core personalities don’t match) tried to play along with that approach (Hoyt, Freer, Torgersen) and other Baen authors have fallen in to back them up (Weber). That’s been a business decision by Baen and hence by Toni Weisskopf and I don’t know how they can extricate themselves as a business from it.
Baen’s not my main point here though. As people like to say Science Fiction should take risks. However, “risk” implies that there are potentially bad outcomes. To go off on a tangent, consider Taika Waititi’s film JoJo Rabbit which had an imaginary Hitler as a comical role in a story about a family hiding a Jewish girl from the Nazis during WWII — that was a risky idea that could have gone horribly, horribly wrong. It didn’t but 1. I get why many people I know wouldn’t watch it and 2. it took a lot of skill to make it work and it still could have been a disaster.
Risk implies possible bad consequences. A risky decision that entails no chance of bad stuff happening is a contradiction. To skip back to the earlier example of the Clarksworld story, reclaiming/subverting a right-wing transphobic meme is a bold (even laudable) idea but the obvious risk with the idea is that a story attempting to do that might end up looking like it’s endorsing a right-wing transphobic meme. That doesn’t mean Clarksworld shouldn’t take risks but what it does mean is they NEED TO PLAN FOR THE MOST OBVIOUS RISK. They didn’t, and an author got hurt.
I really, really, don’t think Toni Weisskopf should be persona non-grata for science fiction cons. I think she’d be an interesting guest but there are risks and those risks need to be managed. One of those risks is that if somebody is critical of a guest of honour then they shouldn’t find that Larry Correia is siccing his comment section on them and ringing up their employer. That’s a shitty situation for a prominent woman in professional science fiction having to shoulder the behaviour of poorly behaved man but I literally can’t see how a Worldcon committee can deal with that as an issue.