Authors block Saudi Arabia’s bid to host World Science Fiction Convention

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More than 80 science fiction authors are opposing the bid of Saudi Arabia to host the World Science Fiction Convention in 2022, saying “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for”.

Spearheaded by author Anna Smith Spark and includes Charles Stross, Juliet McKenna, Stan Nicholls and Catriona Ward, the group have signed an open letter objecting to Jeddah’s bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in two years’ time.

Noting that homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, its escalating restrictions on freedom of speech, and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the writers argue that it is unacceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop.

The letter, addressed to the board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), and the 2020 WorldCon co-chairs Norman Cates and Kelly Buehler, it said that “on a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms.”

“We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded.”

WorldCon, where the winners of the prestigious Hugo awards are announced, has been running every year since 1946, with members of the WSFS voting for each year’s location, and for the Hugo winners.

This year’s event will take place, virtually, in New Zealand on Saturday, with next year’s lined up for Washington DC. As well as Jeddah, a bid for 2022 has been submitted by Chicago.

While the writers acknowledge that holding the convention in Jeddah would “open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states”,they state that “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for”.

“We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible,” say the writers.

Yasser Bahjatt, one of the science fiction authors leading JeddiCon, the Saudi bid, told the Guardian in a statement that he was “deeply concerned” by the letter.

“We believe in their right to express concerns or even distaste for a WorldCon in Saudi Arabia, but demanding that we should not be allowed to even request hosting it is absurd and unhealthy for the WorldCon in the long run,” he said.

“The WorldCon already is limited in its spread as it is mainly focused on western culture countries, and as long as it is the WorldCon, it must accept all of the world.”

“This does not mean that the community should not try to make the world a better place, but merely that there is a difference between advocating for change that you believe would make the world a better place, and demanding that the world adheres to your own moral code. When such a tone is used, it is no different than the radicals on the other side,” he added.

Smith Spark said the initial response from the WSFS had been dismissive of the authors’ concerns, but that the response from readers, writers and publishers had been “astonishingly positive”.

An email from the WSFS to Smith Spark said there were “very minimal technical requirements for any group to bid for a Worldcon”, with the selection made by a vote from the entire membership.

Smith Spark said that “our community has expressed deep solidarity with the people of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and disgust that the UK and US governments have such long and deep links with the regime.”

“It’s the Saudi regime that is the antithesis of everything SFF should stand for, absolutely not Islam or Arabic culture to which both science and literature are hugely indebted,” she said on Tuesday. (Source: The Guardian)

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