Brewing Community with Paul Weimer

Brewing Community is a series of guest posts in which readers, writers, artists and fans are invited to share their experiences of community. Whether online or in person, these groups bring a great deal of support and sometimes stress to their members. The aim of Brewing Community is to share the joy and find ways to brew stronger communities.

The series first ran in 2015. In returning to it after several years, I wanted to focus on how these experiences of community may have changed in recent years, and how people would like to see them change, as well as delving into what books and media have brought comfort in difficult times.

My first guest is, to borrow his own phrase, a force for Genre Goodness. Paul Weimer is a prolific, Hugo-nominated reviewer. I’ve had the very great pleasure of working with him both at The Skiffy and Fanty Show and now at Nerds of a Feather. He’s the sort of person who builds community wherever he goes — introducing people and enthusiastically sharing their work — and he has been a fantastic mentor to me.

Since you’ve never been interviewed on Earl Grey Editing before, there’s one important question I must ask first: what’s your favourite beverage?

My favorite beverage is Root Beer, often found on your Antipodean store shelves as “Sarsaparilla”. One good root beer I’ve had that is brewed in Australia is Bundaberg’s. There are a wide variety of root beers, I prefer a balance between overly sweet and overly astringent and “medicine flavored”.

Has your experience of community in speculative fiction and fandom changed in recent years?

The community in SFF fandom was already changing before the Pandemic, and the pandemic itself is causing further changes and accelerations of long-standing changes in the SFF community. There are several strains and modes of this change, with a lot of factors in play, and it is continuing even as we speak.

One of these strains, predictably, is the fallout of the Sad and Rabid Puppies. The sifting and realignment of the core SFF community (by which I mean the community most interested in the smaller conventions, Hugo voters, con runners, et cetera) that the Sad and Rabid Puppies initiated with their campaigns has only progressed apace. The political sorting that this has caused has highlighted and made more manifest divisions in certain segments of the community and this tendency has only continued on since the campaigns. I had wondered if there might be rapprochement, or healing or coming to accord, after the Sad and Rabid Puppies campaigns themselves basically ended, but others have picked up their mantle and what was once a fractious but unbroken spectrum of science fiction is no longer so. Granted, the core and “deep fandom” is in the end a small part of SFF fandom, much less the entirety of SF readership, but here in the US, that self selection is definitely noticeable.

Cons bring me to another change that was already happening in SF, but the Pandemic has accelerated, and that is the rise and rise of other types of virtual fandom, and their voice and power in science fiction. I am thinking here of the Book Youtubers, and, unexpectedly, the use of technologies like Tiktok to discuss and connect books, readers, fans, writers and publishers. When many places across the world went into lockdowns, restrictions on travel, gathering together, and engaging in in-person con-based fan activities ceased. (The Fan Funds, for example, have been in a state of stasis since the Pandemic started). This is starting to change, with cons having physical and in person events again (like the 2021 Worldcon) but the virtual component to fandom is here and I think it is here to stay. I expect Booktubers and the like to only get a larger voice in fandom going forward.

That also brings me to another “self sorting” point, tying these two together, and that is the rise of Discords to create small micro communities of SFF. Cons and even individual authors are using the platform to create small, and often curated spaces for fans and like-minded folks to meet and interact. I myself am a member of some of these, and some of them are as active and “noisy” as spaces like Facebook or Twitter, but with a much more focused group of people who have self selected themselves. It will be interesting to see, when the Pandemic ends, how this all plays out in the real world. Does the self selection that was happening before the Pandemic continue, if not get accelerated once we are in cons again, and extend outward? I’ve pondered about the future of cons themselves in a virtual age. When the Pandemic started and cons started having problems, I wondered what was the future of SF conventions in this new age. I think, given people’s impatience, as it were, with how trying a virtual life can be. (The phrase “Zoom Fatigue” didn’t really exist before the Pandemic. Now…). So I think that there will be cons and fannish activities in person and lots of them once that is safe to do so (although the time frame for that is far from clear given the Omicron variant, vaccine resisters, mask resisters, and the like). What those are going to look like — I don’t know.

What would you like to see changed?

Plenty.

There are steps being taken by cons to protect members, with codes of conduct and the like, but these are really early fumbling steps and we absolutely need to do better. Fans of all types need to be able to feel safe, secure and welcomed in con spaces. We need to end the days of broken stairs, whisper campaigns, tolerating fans (and authors) who get a pass on terrible behavior for whatever reason. I want a fandom that no one should feel that they can’t attend a con because of fears of their own safety and well being. I think codes of conduct, and enforcing and making clear that such behavior is not tolerated, is a good start, but we need all cons to do this and make a more united front in this regard.

That said, too, too many cons still do not understand disability issues, and have spaces and venues that are not accessible to those with physical handicaps and challenges. I remember a con panel at a local con that was on a mezzanine that was only accessible by stairs, and so a physically disabled participant had enormous problems trying to get to the con room. We can and must do better in this regard.

Speaking of safety and accessibility, this goes to virtual spaces as well. Cons need to come to terms with what safety and accessibility mean with digital programming, and making spaces available to those who can only access the con in that manner, and making those spaces safe and free of toxic trolls, griefers and the like. Like physical cons, virtual spaces for cons are places I want fans of all types to feel safe, secure and welcomed. Finally, now that this virtual life appears to be a part of fandom that is permanent, and I am not sure how it can be done, I would like these strands to interweave better. If our fandom is going to be both virtual and physical, finding ways each can enhance and build on the other is something I want for fandom. This way, fans from the widest possible pools can, if they so wish, find and connect with each other. Fandom only works when fans have ways to communicate with each other. The first SFF conventions were born of that. The Fan Funds were born of that. Fandom only thrives when people can talk to each other. Even if the methods change and evolve, in the end fandom is a community activity, and making digital and physical participants be able to talk to each other, connect, interact and grow, is something I want for my SFF fandom. If I can’t, for example, go to the Australian Natcon, I would like a way to better interact with my friends and colleagues there, and vice versa for, say, an American con.

What books or media have you found yourself turning to for comfort?

I generally don’t do a lot of physical re-reading for comfort, because the siren call of new books is one that I can’t generally resist. Although, come to think, if flipping through books, like say, roleplaying manuals, for fun as a casual thing can be considered a comfort read, then for physical books, I guess that counts as a comfort read. For books, though, my re-read and comfort reading comes via audiobooks. When I am not listening to a book for a podcast, listening to audiobooks gives me the chance to listen to books I’ve already enjoyed in print as a way to enjoy them again and in a new format. The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal, as read by the author herself, are a wonderful way to fall in love with the book again. The audio edition of The City We Became, which I reread in audio for the Hugo awards, was equally delightful and in some ways is even better than the print version for me.

And, it’s a strange thing to call it a comfort read, but I guess it counts. On a recent very long road trip, I dived into grand history books I had not read in decades, using the long miles (kilometers) and hours of driving as a chance to re-read them. Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books are dated in very significant ways given their age (one of them talks about the early life of Gandhi as a contemporary figure, for example) but the grand story of history that Durant paints, something VERY out of fashion in history books these days for good reasons, is something I can sink into, and let the miles (kilometers) fly by. If Brisbane should get a Worldcon in 2028, and should I take a driving trip before or afterwards, Durant would be a fine choice for covering long drives to adventure.

Comfort media? Streaming services have obviated the need for me to dive into my DVD collection, something that I used to do with far more frequency. I got into the habit of streaming services during the Pandemic, and have not yet lost that habit. And as a result, I’ve been watching a lot of stuff that is new to me, rather than, say, rewatching Prometheus (a terrible movie I can’t help but watch) or Inception (a wonderful movie I can’t help but watch) over and over again. But there are series on streaming that I can just put an episode or two on and enjoy again and again — The Good Place, Deep Space Nine, Star Trek the Next Generation, Stargate SG-1, The Expanse and of course, Babylon 5. It is interesting what series stick to me and what series (I will not name names, and be positive) are series that have fallen out of favor and I have no interest in revisiting. In some ways, old episodes of more episodic series are easier and more accessible to “dip into” without interrupting long narrative arcs. Dipping into long narrative arcs can force my brain to want to watch an entire season rather than a single episode of the moment for comfort.

Photo courtesy Peter West Carey

A 2021 double Hugo Finalist (Best Fan Writer and Best Fancast) and the 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Delegate from North America to Australia and New Zealand, Paul Weimer has been exploring and talking about genre since the early days of blogs. Having honed his genre reviewing and criticism skills at the award winning SF Signal blog and podcast, Paul Weimer now writes for (and podcasts at) The Skiffy and Fanty Show, SFF Audio, Nerds of a Feather and Tor.com. He is the writer of “What I did on my Summer Vacation: The 2017 Down Under Fan Fund Report”, which set a record for number of photos in a fan fund report of any type in addition to documenting the National SF conventions of New Zealand (Lexicon 3) and Australia (Continuum 13). And of course, a visit to Hobbiton amongst many other adventures.

Paul Weimer lives in a city lying between Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, USA, where the long winters provide plenty of time to read as well as plan his photographic adventures. He is best found on social media sites, from Twitter to Instagram to Discord under the name @princejvstin, and his website is http://www.princejvstin.com

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