Community and Acceptance: A Chicon 8 Report

I spent my final day in Chicago post-Chicon 8 wandering along Navy Pier, lunching, reading lazily under the shade while occasionally peeking out towards the city’s magnificent skyline.  Chicon 8, as with any Worldcon, had been a whirl of activity. I sat on three panels, all of which went well.  I attended parties and sat with friends old and new.  I gathered a list containing authors tempting my attention.  I lost my sixth Hugo run with Team Journey Planet. Miraculously, Chris Garcia and I survived a ride with Austin “The Accelerator” Winston, possibly a legend among Chicago cabbies, whatever his real name, since I’m sure Austin’s not a common Russian name, and by his own admission, that dude was straight Russian, right up there with Gorky Park and War and Peace.  Thank all deities the ride wasn’t that long, shortened even more so by Austin’s attempts to match Chuck Yeager’s top speeds. The folks we were meeting for dinner at Fogo de Chão arrived to catch Chris and I on the curb, de-escalating from near nervous breakdowns. “How’d you beat us?” Chris’s wife Vanessa asked. All thanks to Austin the Accelerator, whose machine was, I could hear Lou Gramm singing inside my head, “aerodynamic and ready to roll.”

My first Worldcon was Chicon 7, ten years ago.  I’m a Chuck-come-lately to organized fandom. Over decades, I had attended conventions sporadically, mostly keeping to myself, but when I returned from Ukraine in 2010, I was at loose ends, and began meeting people at Bay Area Science Fiction (BASFA) meetings. After about a year and a half, discussions there turned toward Chicon 7, and the voting populace named my friend Maurine Starkey a Hugo finalist for Best Fan Artist . . . and, sorry, spoilers . . . she went on to win the blessed thing! She asked me during one meeting, “You going to Chicago? If so, you can be my +1 at the Hugos.”  Others chimed, “Yes, come!  One of us!” And so I went.  Maurine, Chris, Adrienne Foster, Brad Lyau, Dave Clark, Kevin Roche, Andy Trembley, Dave Gallaher, and others made sure I received E-ticket treatment all the way. Chicon 7 was my induction into the fandom community.  No longer a solitary fan, I became one of you.

What a ride it’s been since 2012:

  • At the Worldcon in San Antonio, I danced on stage dressed as a space cowboy, complete with a flying-saucer apparatus worn like a pauper’s barrel, all flashing lights and sparkly fabrics.  Kevin Roche had recruited me for this duty, and we won top honors for his ingenuity.
  • For Sasquan, I organized fan tables for Randy Smith.  Two Heinlein factions would have battled for space had one not shown.  The one who hadn’t reserved space showed, naturally.
  • For Worldcon 76, I acted as Division Head for Member Services which turned into a four-and-a-half-year long gig given all the prep beforehand and the necessary but unfortunate mopping up afterward.  You know what the mopping up entailed.  We’ll leave it at that because the event rocked, and some matters are best left dead.
  • While in Ireland for the Dublin Worldcon, I stumbled onto my family’s ancestral farm and met my cousins still living there.  You can read about that life-changing occurrence here: https://chuckserface.com/2020/05/09/finding-shinganagh-a-irish-homecoming/

It never stops, does it, so why would Chicon 8 have been any less charged?

No, because shortly before the event James Bacon sent an email about Ukraine, specifically about two resolutions that he and Borys Sydiuk were putting forward at the WSFS Business Meeting.  The first resolution, entitled “Solidarity with Ukraine,” read:

Resolved, that it is the spirit of the Business Meeting to offer solidarity with Ukrainian Fans, recognizing that Ukraine has been invaded by fascists. We encourage all to boycott those who would platform or champion the illegal invasion. The Business Meeting looks forward to a return of freedom and fandom to Ukraine.

The second, “Sergey Lukianenko,” more pointedly was as follows:

Resolved, that it is the spirit of the Business Meeting to show solidarity with Ukrainian fans and to condemn Worldcon 2023’s Guest of Honour, Sergey Lukianenko’s appalling utterances, calling Ukrainians Nazis and encouraging an illegal invasion of Ukraine. This is utterly unacceptable. Lukianenko should neither be platformed nor celebrated, and we ask the Chengdu 2023 committee, fans and members to refuse Sergei Lukianenko as your guest. it is shameful that he is honored by Worldcon.

File 770 reports more on issues these resolutions here: https://file770.com/sergei-lukianenko-defends-russian-policy-towards-ukraine/ and here: https://file770.com/eph-re-ratified-pro-ukraine-and-anti-lukianenko-resolutions-passed-by-chicon-8-business-meeting/.  Why would anyone hold anything against Sergey Lukianenko? Learn for yourselves: https://www.calvertjournal.com/articles/show/2112/russian-writer-sergei-lukyanenko-ban-on-ukrainian-translations-of-work and https://file770.com/numerous-russian-sff-writers-support-ukraine-invasion-in-open-letter/

James and Borys were seeking co-signers and support, and several from Team Journey Planet jumped at it, especially me, obligated by my Ukrainian connections.  From 2008 – 2010, I served in the Peace Corps with Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Group 35, country of service: Ukraine.  My post was with the Department of Foreign Languages for Banking Business at Ternopil National Economic University (now West Ukrainian National University) in Ternopil, a small city containing roughly 350,000 individuals barely removed from their native villages.  I taught their students and children, joined them on vacations, ate at their tables, spoke their language (more or less), and blended into their community.  How could I refuse when James and Borys came calling?  I would stand and speak loudly. We were clear beforehand that our issue wasn’t with the fans and convention planners from Chengdu, fan community members working hard toward their Worldcon.  We would ask, however, that fandom exercise values we know lie at the core of our collective spirit.

I rose at the appropriate moment, Business Meeting Chair Jared Dashoff recognized me, and upon reaching the microphone, I looked out over the crowd, noting friends who through my relatively short time among fandom have become family.  Why the fuck should we even have to discuss this topic?  Why debate?  I know – protocol.  And immediately I lost rationality, fell straight into emotional overload, stared blankly, and then began stammering out my message.  I’m not sure what I said.  Within I remembered a working vacation during my first summer in Ternopil.  Friends owned an enormous cabin outside Yaremche, a major skilling center in southwest Ukraine, Ivano-Frankivsk oblast.  For three weeks, I instructed children in verbs and articles, hiked Carpathian backwoods, and consumed shashlik, varenyky, holubtsi, food, food, more food!  Finally, our last weekend arrived, and the mothers, my colleagues, called me from the garden into the cabin’s living room.  Together, they presented me with a hand-embroidered vyshyvanka, an intricate shirt embodying Ukrainian culture and history.  I changed into the shirt. Then my friend Ruslana Stepanovna tied a matching sash around my waist.  The girls appeared wearing traditional Ukrainian garb. Two sisters who lived nearby, who’d joined our lessons, brought out their Sunday best. We went out to the patio for photos.  Quite a scene, indeed.

Afterward, I quipped, “Will this go straight to the Kyiv Post’s advertising department? A big university promotional?”  I’d played show pony more than once.  Ruslana shook her head and said:

“Ні, Чак, ти не розумієш. Тепер ти українець.”

“No, Chuck, you don’t understand.  Now you are Ukrainian.”

Behind the mic and inside my mind that remembered, monumental moment of acceptance intertwined immediately with the acceptance I’d experienced from my BASFA friends over ten years ago.  So much for my public-speaking skills.  How could I maintain given how important both communities are to me?  Surprised, John O’Halloran commented that he’d never seen me nervous since I’d said something about that while speaking.  Not nerves, friends, but an overwhelming love for Ukraine and fandom mixed with fear for both.

I thank all for passing these resolutions, for supporting their own values, for accepting Ukraine into our community just as they’d accepted me into theirs.  Let’s continue doing so with fandoms all over the globe. Thanks to Helen Montgomery and her team for a fabulous Worldcon.  Onward forever.