What's Going On Out There?

By Debbie Notkin

Like much of the editorial staff of this esteemed publication, I went to WisCon, at the end of May, and am my usual-in-June-and-July energized and optimistic self. For anyone who doesn't know, WisCon, which will be 30 years old next year, is the annual gathering of the feminist science fiction tribes. WisCon is a small (these days roughly 800-person) convention, composed of writers, readers, artists, editors, and hangers-on. The gathering happens every Memorial Day weekend in Madison, Wisconsin. For a sample of the energy that in fact could change the world if it spread widely enough, try WisCon.

One thing in the air this year has been building for some time: an awareness of just how many groups, organizations, and initiatives out in the (somewhat) wider world are of interest to the WisCon, feminist, progressive science fiction community.

This column is, in effect, an annotated overview of the literary and progressive initiatives related to the science fiction and fantasy fields, what they do, and how to reach them, support them, or obtain their support. This column is comprehensive: the world is full of science fiction writers' organizations, awards, grant money sources, online magazines, events listings, and more. I hope I'm covering more than "cool things my friends and I are doing"—but in some ways it does boil down to that. Each organization described here is put together by people I know and trust, offers something as well as asking for something, can help you if you're looking for help in that area, and deserves your support of time, energy, and/or money if you have some to give.

NOTE: Although everything listed here is in one way or another "progressive" in nature, at least by my lights, none exclude on the grounds of political persuasion or social attitudes, except along the lines of their own organizing principles (in other words, the Gaylaxians, discussed below, do not welcome people who are antihomosexual, but will not ask you how you voted in the last election). If anyone knows of science-fiction- and fantasy-related organizations with a politicized or socially conscious bent which draw their energy from "the other side of the aisle," I would be fascinated to learn about them and to showcase them here as well.

For my first column for this publication, I wrote at length about the Tiptree Award, so I won't pursue that one here. I am delighted to say that my coeditors are reprinting a slightly edited version of that column as the introduction to the second volume of Tiptree Award-recognized fiction from Tachyon Publications.

The Speculative Literature Foundation

Mary Anne Mohanraj, founder and editor emeritus of Strange Horizons, has started the Speculative Literature Foundation. The SLF is about 18 months old now, and its aims are to:

1. Create a comprehensive website which serves as a hub for information of use to speculative fiction readers, writers, editors, and publishers;

2. Develop booklists and other materials to use in outreach efforts to schools and libraries;

3. Raise funds for redistribution of quality work, by individuals and organizations, which enriches the field;

4. Present individual and organizational grants and awards. So far, the SLF has funded two grants, a travel grant and an older writers' grant, as well as the Fountain Award, which gives $1000 to a work of short fiction of exceptional literary quality. In addition, the foundation provides a tech exchange service, enabling members and others to hand off old computers, printers, and cameras to writers who can't afford the tools of their trade; a small press co-op for the exchange of resources; and fiscal agency support for organizations that need nonprofit sponsorship for their initiatives.

Membership in the SLF costs $30 per year, with a need-based sliding scale. Membership offers a variety of perks, and is tax-deductible. The SLF was intentionally started at a modest level and how much it can do depends directly on how many people join, contribute, and participate in the various exchanges and forums.

The Gaylactic Network

The Gaylactic Network is a loosely organized group of "GLBT" (gay/lesbian/bi/trans) fan organizations. Their mission is to increase the visibility and legitimacy of GLBT fiction and the comfort level and social network connections of GLBT fans. They host an annual convention known as Gaylaxicon. This year's Gaylaxicon was held in Cambridge, MA, from July 1-4, and hosted the Tiptree Award ceremonies, as well as the organization's own Spectrum Award ceremonies. According to the New England group's website, there are member groups in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Niagara Falls, NY, and Washington, DC, as well as related groups in Atlanta and Melbourne, Australia.

The Gaylactic Network initiated the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards in 1998; the awards are now presented by the Gaylactic Spectrum Award Foundation. They honor works in science fiction, fantasy, and horror that include positive explorations of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered characters, themes, or issues. This year's awards went to Laurie Marks for her superb novel Earth Logic and to Richard Hall for his short story, "Country People" (from Shadows of the Night: Queer Tales of the Uncanny and Unusual, edited by Greg Herren). Complete lists of previous winners and this years' nominees can be found here. A $10/year donation buys you a membership in the foundation.

Broad Universe

Broad Universe was founded after a groundbreaking WisCon panel in 2000. The organization's models are Sisters in Crime and Women Writing the West, genre organizations that promote women writers. Broad Universe provides support for women writers, including a regular newsletter, access to a publicity database, a book catalogue showcasing members' works, participation in readings at conventions, an active and informative email discussion forum, and more. Membership is $30/year for a full participating membership (anyone may purchase this membership, but some of the benefits are only available to women) and $15/year for a supporting membership.

Broad Universe's website lists the 2000 statistics for percentages of women and men buying, selling, and publishing science fiction. While these statistics could certainly stand to be updated to the current year, the 2000 numbers are not likely to be any worse than the current numbers, and they reflect at least an apparent justification for promoting women's writing.

The Interstitial Arts Foundation

Fantasy writers Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman are among the moving forces behind the Interstitial Arts Foundation, which promotes "art made in the interstices between genres and categories . . . art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, media, and cultures . . . art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels." In particular, the IAF wants to create "an ongoing conversation among artists, academics, critics, and the general public in which art can be spoken of as a continuum . . . [and] of a new vocabulary with which to view and critique border-crossing works." The IAF arose in part out of the frequent difficulty that authors have in convincing publishers that a book that does not "fit" a particular subgenre can find an audience.

The IAF's primary venue is its website, which showcases work by literary, musical, and visual artists, and promotes the work of performance artists. The site hosts a lively discussion board and provides a variety of links and resources for people interested in the interstitial arts. The Foundation is supported by volunteer time and by contributions.

The Carl Brandon Society

The Carl Brandon Society "is dedicated to addressing the representation of people of color in the fantastical genres such as science fiction, fantasy and horror. [Its members] aim to foster dialogue about issues of race, ethnicity and culture, raise awareness both inside and outside the fantastical fiction communities, promote inclusivity in publication/production, and celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in science fiction, fantasy and horror."

This year at WisCon, the Society announced two annual awards: one will mirror the Tiptree Award and be given to the work of science fiction, fantasy, or horror that best "explores and expands" race, ethnicity, and cultural issues. The other will go to the best work of science fiction, fantasy, or horror by a person of color. Each winner will receive a $1000 prize.

In addition, the CBS provides a calendar of events (requiring Yahoo subscription), and plans a set of other resources in the near future. Membership in the CBS was just established this year, and is $25 for a charter membership and $50 for a founding membership.

For the curious, "Carl Brandon" never existed. He was a hoax made up by Terry Carr, the great science fiction editor, and his buddy Pete Graham, in the 1960s. Carr and Graham were aware of how white the science fiction community was (and still is), so they invented Carl: a young black science fiction fan, Carl wrote for the amateur magazines of the time and developed quite a reputation.

I find it amusing that the Tiptree Award is named for the fictional alter ego of a real person, and the Carl Brandon Society is named for a fictional person. This just goes to show you that it's harder to find interesting examples of race diversity in science fiction than it is to find gender diversity.

Concluding Thoughts

These organizations merit their own column for at least two reasons: first, I support the aims and goals of all of them, and hope you will find something of interest here that can support you and/or that you can support; second, I get enormous pleasure from the ways in which the science fiction community (from which I derive so much of my own private social support network) engages with, reflects, and seeks to change the wider world. Much blather can result from "science fiction is the literature of ideas" and "science fiction fans are more open-minded than other people." Come to think of it, each of those statements might merit a column. Nonetheless, one way to work toward changing the world is to visualize possible changes: it's much easier to work toward a loosely imagined future than towards a blank slate. And while all of these organizations may be supporting the literature that imagines the future (along with other literatures which imagine magic, terror, and the spaces between), they are all dealing with the world as we know it in the present, making their own efforts to improve the situation in their own corner. Good stewardship is the same whether we're talking about being a houseguest, going camping, or supporting your community: the goal is to leave things just a little better than you found them.


By day, Debbie Notkin works for a major publishing company, acting as a watchdog to make sure that publishers' rights are unfailingly protected. By night, she engages in a wide variety of nonprofit and social change activities, including working with photographer Laurie Toby Edison on issues of body image and stereotyping, and being on the boards of the Tiptree Award and Broad Universe. She is also a consulting editor for Tor Books.