Worldcon contemplates the abominable

I guess it’s that time when the venue for Worldcon is considered, and there are currently two candidate sites. One of them is … Saudi Arabia? Yikes. This is not a criticism of Muslim science fiction writers — I’m a fan of Saladin Ahmed, for instance — but the country has some major problems.

…Local laws require men and women to dress modestly covering shoulders and knees in public, avoiding tight-fitting clothing or clothes with profane language or images. It is not mandatory for female travellers to wear the traditional robe or abaaya. Information on important laws and etiquette around dress codes is available to visitors on the Visit Saudi website.

Forget about cosplay, then? But there’s worse:

…Homosexual or extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties. It’s also illegal to be transgender. Transgender people travelling to Saudi Arabia are likely to face significant difficulties and risks if this is discovered by the authorities. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

Shouldn’t that be instantly disqualifying? The only people who would be pleased at that choice would be the rabid puppies fans, who would find Saudi-style oppression perfectly copacetic.

The alternative choice is Chicago, in the US. That makes it tough to argue that we should avoid repressive puritanical governments. So far, though, the US is clearly to the left of Saudi Arabia.


  1. says

    There really aren’t any other bids?

    I mean, with the USA banning travelers from multiple countries out of hand, we can hardly have a true WorldCon in Chicago. Saudi Arabia? Fuck no, with extra fuck and a double-no on the side.

    What do you do about something like that? I’ve never been a con-goer, outside of activists cons (mainly anti-DV/SA or pro-QTI cons), so there’s no way my voice should count for anything among people who actually do go to those things, but that’s a terrible pair of bids.

  2. says

    Oh, come on. It’s about fairness, it’s about inclusivity and diversity. It’s about open-mindedness and compromise. It’s definitely not about the slush money being paid indirectly by the Saudi government to WorldCon organizers so they can appear more liberal than they are.

  3. says

    Susan (2), the SMOFs are not liberal and definitely don’t want to appear more liberal. Just because they’ve been more open to paying customers of diverse backgrounds doesn’t make them liberal: Witness their collective Heinlein worship. Witness the number of years of the {name withheld to avoid further misbegotten defamation suits}-is-a-sought-after-participant era. And the vast majority of the SMOFs are late-middle-aged-and-older, white, disproportionately male, and upper-middle-class or otherwise financially independent with no family-care issues to get in the way of their fandom “responsibilities.” It’s almost like the GOP!

    <sarcasm> Any reader who doesn’t know what a SMOF is will be only further confused by “Secret Masters of Fandom” (and the gender, racial, and class insensitivity of that term is appropriate, albeit not intentional). These are the people who, via their behind-the-scenes politicking for alternate US/elsewhere venues, ensure that people demanding change who have travel difficulties cannot travel to the two consecutive business meetings to advocate for specific changes… including to the rule that significant changes have to be approved at two consecutive business meetings… </sarcasm>

  4. says

    I consider this ignorance a plus, really. Never much been into “fandoms”. The closest I ever came was going to a Furry convention in 2004 with this amazing artist I’d been kinda sorta dating.

    But, come on. We all know that’s what they’re going to say to confuse the issue and we all know that enough people will fall for it.

  5. aspleen says

    Since Worldcon bids are voted on by the members of the Worldcon being held two year prior to the future date, I highly doubt that convention members attending Worldcon in New Zealand in 2020 will somehow be “bought”. It doesn’t work that way. FYI, you don’t have to attend a WSFS business meeting to vote, all you need at a minimum is to be an attending or supporting member of said Worldcon.

    As for Chicago having a bid, it’s not like they haven’t done it before and know the drill. I’d be far more skeptical of the S.A. bid and want to know just who exactly is on their bid committee, because you just don’t wing an event like Worldcon.

  6. whywhywhy says

    At every conference that I have attended, access to alcohol was very important to a large number of attending folks. This would seem to be counter to choosing Saudi Arabia…

  7. leerudolph says

    At every conference that I have attended

    I have always thought that “Con”, in names like “WorldCon”, abbreviated “convention”, not “conference”? (I considered trying to attend one—not guaranteed to be “World”, but definitely science fiction—in Cleveland OH, where I was growing up, in 1960-something-small, maybe ‘2 or ‘4. So my “always” covers a long time; which doesn’t make it any truer, of course.)

  8. says

    It’s worth noting that the actual selection of upcoming Worldcon sites does not involve a cabal of SMOFs, but, rather, occurs by vote of the current Worldcon’s attending and supporting members. If the comments at are any indication, fandom’s general view of the SA bid is “no freakin’ way, dude!”—and not just because of SA’s abysmal track record re: human rights. In addition, there is essentially zero indication that the people behind the SA bid are even capable of putting on a convention with as many moving parts as Worldcon. So… inexperienced concom, in a brutally repressive nation… what’s not to like (he said, sarcastically)?

  9. Owlmirror says


    A comment @file770 says:

    It appears that a bunch of Worldcon SMOFs accepting free vacations from the Chinese government gave the JeddiCon bidders the impression that the human-rights line for Worldcon is a lot more negotiable than that. Which is not surprising – it certainly gave me that impression, too.

  10. aspleen says


    The comment being quoted elides one rather crucial point, which is how said SMOFs are going to “negotiate” anything. That’s not how the Worldcon site selection works At All. Again, it’s the Worldcon membership as a whole that votes on the site selection for a future Worldcon, not some cabal of SMOFs.

  11. brucegee1962 says

    Wow, the last time I heard the term “SMOF” was as a card in my old Illuminati game from the 80s. I’d have thought those geezers must be dead by now. Guess they’ve been replaced by new geezers.

  12. whywhywhy says

    #9 leerudolph

    Correction noted and ‘convention’ should have been used. My comment remains unchanged regarding the expectation of access to alcohol a significant number of attendees.

    On another note: in general which country is easier to travel to the US or Saudi Arabia? Which has more onerous travel restrictions? If you are Muslim, Saudi Arabia is likely more accessible as compared to the US under our orange regime, but what about other religious? For instance Hindu? Shinto? Jewish? If one is non-Muslim and from a wealthy nation, the US is pretty easy to travel to, however, I would imagine most of these folks can get to Saudi Arabia fairly easily as well. For folks from poorer parts of the world, I really have no clue about travel.

    As far as being comfortable in a country: I would think Saudi Arabia would be less comfortable. I was talking with a American who lived in Saudi Arabia for a few years and was relieved to come back home to Cleveland. She found being a woman in Saudi Arabia to be stifling and she is a Muslim who wears a hijab daily while in the US.

  13. Snidely W says

    I don’t know how the list of choices is generated but it sure seems like someone really wanted the con in Chicago.

  14. says

    There isn’t any algorithm or protocol for determining which sites have Worldcon bids. Instead, there’s just SF fen who decide they’d like the Worldcon to be at whichever location, and who work up a proposal, generally including what facilities the con will be held at, how many hotel rooms are close to the conspire, etc etc etc. It’s all very decentralized, very anarchic.

  15. says

    @#17, Snidely W:

    Yeah, depending on the timing Rahm Emmanuel or Lori Lightfoot. Also the people with jobs at McCormick Place and/or the Stephens Center, since those are the only large convention centers in the Chicago area.

    There would be more, but the Daleys pushed through a series of laws which don’t explicitly outlaw new ones but effectively make them impossible to construct and run, so that McCormick Place in particular could jack up prices like crazy to take advantage of captive audiences, and create a bunch of protected patronage jobs. (There’s a somewhat similar explanation for why there is no major Chicago airport other than O’Hare, rather than 2 or 3 like other large cities. O’Hare is “in Chicago” by a sort of eminent domain gerrymandering — it’s connected to Chicago like a tuft of fur on a Dr. Seuss character. If they could annex a similarly-sized plot of land in another direction, there would suddenly be another airport.)

  16. jrkrideau says

    Saudi Arabia? Yikes.

    Hey Saudi Arabia is nice country with friendly people though the Government can be a bit nasty; a lot of people would say the same about the USA.

    From the bid “It [Jeddah] is famous for its people’s hospitality, its amazing diving locations, and most importantly its where Jeddis come from. How can you beat that? the home of the Jeddi!

    Have you had a look at the venue? Palm trees, futuristic architecture? All in a large cosmopolitan city with numerous cultural institutions and great and varied cuisine.

    So far Chicago does not even mention a venue other than Chicago, same old, same old, for a lot of Worldcon attendees, I imagine. Boring except for random shootings in some parts of town, I understand.

    I would think, for USAians it would be a great opportunity to visit a very different culture—which might enhance their appreciation of some science fiction—in security. If we ignore Saudi drivers, Jeddah is probably one of the safest large cities in the world.

    BTW when is this Worldcon? Jeddah may be a bit hot in the summer but autumn, winter and spring should be nice. It definitely beats Chicago in the winter.

    Those “Local laws and customs” are posted by the government of the United Kingdom and may be a bit overcautious. They need to be taken seriously but I suspect that they are likely to be little observed at the venue. Making a spectacle of oneself on one’s own in centre-ville Jeddah is another matter and can be “very” serious.

    Consider too, the chance to see new and exciting species of spiders Saudi Arabia Sightings King Abdulaziz University, reputedly a top class university, might even have some fellow arachnologists.

  17. jrkrideau says

    So far, though, the US is clearly to the left of Saudi Arabia.

    It is? Well in some ways, I am sure.

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ 7 Marcus

    Raif Badawi is still in prison there.

    Chelsea Manning is still in prison in the USA as is Leonard Peltier. And then there in Julian Assange.

  19. jrkrideau says

    @ 8 whywhywhy

    access to alcohol was very important to a large number of attending folks. This would seem to be counter to choosing Saudi Arabia

    Discretion is everything. I suspect there is lots of booze, just bootleg. A lot of public drinking, even on site, is probably not advisable.

    @ 16 whywhywhy
    which country is easier to travel to the US or Saudi Arabia?

    Good question. Weirdly enough, Saudi Arabia is encouraging tourism and even has an eVisa service for some countries! So, my totally uninformed guess is probably about the same: Different nationalities would have different levels of difficulty in each country. As you say, the Muslim ban is unlikely to apply to Saudi Arabia.

    I would think Saudi Arabia would be less comfortable.

    For a short-term visit, probably not though it would feel strange if you are used to a North American/Western European culture. Social mores will differ from the US, even the shop signs will look strange but a key point is that, in general, Jeddah is likely to be physically safer. If one is at Worldcon a lot of the daily restrictions or annoyances a resident will experience will not apply.

    In terms of facilities and goods there is not likely to be much difference though the electrical plugs may look funny. A quick google suggests that there are plenty of Tim Hortons, Baskin & Robbins and Starbucks around the city.

  20. John Morales says

    jrkrideau @27, so what?
    Might as well note his scheduled floggings have been deferred multiple times.

    (You do know why tu quoque is an informal fallacy, no?)

  21. says

    Aspleen (multiple comments), one of the reasons that I dislike the SMOF hierarchy is that I know them. In no particular order as to your comments:

    One can vote at a Business Meeting without being present. One cannot speak to advocate for (or against) a motion to amend without being physically present. At {WorldCon this century}, a motion failed on the second year because its proponent could not travel overseas to the venue, and there was no authorized advocate to speak for it. The SMOF attitude — and I’m quoting the actual convention chair two weeks later — was that it was “{advocate}’s responsibility to designate a proxy in advance.”
    SMOF have immense — admittedly not controlling — behind-the-scenes influence on what “cities” put themselves forward. I have heard two of them separately screaming (not exaggerating) at a US city’s organizing group not to put a bid forward in year X because that was a year for Europe. Needless to say, that city followed directions and put forth its bid for year X+1, won… and ran into the aftermath of a major event that had long been scheduled in that city two weeks prior to the X+1 WorldCon. But the SMOFs kept their precious alternation.
    The formal process is as described, with bid parties three or four years out and so on. The reality of determining “who may even put forth a bid,” however, passes through smoke-filled-back-room politickin’ more than worthy of Chicago. (And I practiced law there, I know how it works.)

    So I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Just as “con” is short for “convention” (not “conference”), “fan” is short for “fanatic”…

    Side note to the Vicar @19: WorldCons in Chicago tend to be spread among downtown hotels and avoid the McCormack Center like the plague that it is, especially since the McCormack center is not internally subdivided in a WorldCon-friendly way. The 2000 ChiCon, for example, was based at the Hyatt near the lake and overflowed to nearby hotels, primarily but not only to the Sheraton. There have been rumblings for, oh, thirty years about moving it closer to O’Hare, with the alternate hotels and convention facilities there… but then “out of towners” won’t get the Chicago experience, and the restaurant scene near the airport really sucks.

  22. whheydt says

    Well…If anyone wants to meet quite a number of people involved in organizing and running WorldCons (as well as other SF cons), go SMOFcon. It was in Albuquerque last year and is in Montreal this year (early December).

    One other strike against Saudi Arabia…weather. WorldCon used to be held over (US) Labor Day wekend, now it’s more like some time in the last half of August. Right…late August in Saudi Arabia. That thought will go over well…

    If anyone wants to try going to an SF con, don’t start with WorldCon. Pick something small and local, at most a mid-sized regional.

    (On the other hand, I’ve been running ConReg at a decent sized sort of semi-regional gaming con for 30 years…)

  23. John Morales says


    If anyone wants to try going to an SF con [blah]

    I must be one of the few remaining people for whom the term SF (leaving aside speculative fiction and so forth) represents “hard” science-fiction, whereas sci-fi represents the rest. Yeah, yeah… ‘speculative fiction’, ‘scientific fantasy’, etc would work better and have been used, but they’re not science-fiction.

    I’m not aware of any actual SF cons; are there any such?

  24. whheydt says

    Re: John Morales @ #27…
    If you go far enough back, it was Scientifiction. The only con I get to regularly (other than the gaming I help run in…Eek! 10 days!) is FogCon, which is mostly a writers con. Haven’t been to a Westercon in quite some years, but that might still meet your definition. Fandom has gone off in so many directions that I’d be surprised if there isn’t some con out there that caters to “hard-core SF”, in the sense of you can’t break physics-as-we-know-it unless you only break one thing, and make that break explicit.

  25. says

    @#25, Jaws:

    I have never heard anybody say that McCormick Place is actually well-designed for what they want to do there; my best guess is that its design was for conventions of a type which just aren’t held any more. (Wikipedia says it opened in 1960.) Or maybe I just don’t know anybody who’s interested in the really big conventions, and it’s just right for them.

    From what I recall of my youth in the Chicago area, you’re entirely right about the restaurant scene, and the cultural scene as well — from what I was told, that isolation at McCormick Place is deliberate. (For the uninitiated: the light rail system’s closest stop is only “close” measuring from a remote corner of the center and with tricky pedestrian crossings in between, the buses which go to McCormick Place aren’t convenient for getting most places, and the commuter rail station that stops there is expensive and inconvenient to use.) They don’t want you to step out for half an hour to grab a nice-but-relatively-cheap sandwich somewhere, or walk off-site to spend a bundle on a fancy meal, they want you to buy a sandwich there, which won’t be very nice but will still cost you a bundle.

  26. jrkrideau says

    @ 24 John Morales

    (You do know why tu quoque is an informal fallacy, no?)

    Strangely enough I do but I guess I read Marcus @ 7 as suggesting that a reason for not not having Worldcon is Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. As a Canadian, if I accepted that argument, then I would have to reject the USA for the same reason.

  27. mythogen says

    jrkrideau, it’s scary enough to be transgender in the US where you can’t be arrested for existing-while-transgender or existing-while-lesbian (yet, of course). It’s nice that white cis folks can mostly get away with minor crime with no repercussions in an oppressive monarchy, I guess, but I cannot imagine many trans folk risking it, speaking as a fairly privileged trans person myself. Siting a convention in a place like SA is as good as saying “LGBTQ not welcome”.

  28. jrkrideau says

    @ 33 mythogen
    I cannot imagine many trans folk risking it
    Given the discrimination and dangers trans people face in the West I doubt things would be better there. I think I would stay well away from Saudi. I would “not” recommend a visit to Jeddah without some good local informants (i.e. Saudi trans, preferably from Jeddah, assuming there are any).

    For the much of the LGBQ community, the type of discretion one would probably need to exercise would be about that needed in a red-neck part of the US or perhaps in Russia.