The 80th World Science Fiction Convention will officially take place in Chicago, Illinois. The city overwhelmingly won the site selection poll with a count of 517 total votes, beating out Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which garnered 33. This means Worldcon attendees in 2022 will gather at the Hyatt Regency for Chicon 8, featuring guests of honor including author Charles de Lint and artist Floyd Norman, as well as toastmasters Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz.
The news comes in the wake of controversy over Jeddah’s bid to host Worldcon, which included an open letter from a group of SFF authors and fans, organized by writer Anna Smith Spark, expressing “concern” over Saudi Arabia being “accepted as a potential host site.” The letter, which is addressed to Worldcon 2022 chair Norman Cates, cites issues including the “systematic legal discrimination” faced by Saudi women and the persecution of LGBTQ+ people, who are subject to corporal punishment including death.
“On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law,” the letter, which can be found in full on Locus’ website, reads. “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 from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.”
One of the groups that appeared as a signatory, the Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, has since denied signing the statement as a group in the first place, according to File770, with “Sofa” Fran Dowd writing on Facebook: “I’d like to put it on record that I have no idea how this group appeared as a signatory to the Jeddah letter. Whatever our personal feelings might be, I would not expect anyone to sign such a statement on our behalf without consultation at the least.”
In response to the open letter, author Yasser Bahjatt, who leads the association campaigning for the Jeddah Worldcon bid, told The Guardian that while he believes in the signatories’ right to “express concerns or even distaste” for Saudi Arabia as a Worldcon site, “demanding that we should not be allowed to even request hosting it is absurd.”
“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,” he said in a statement to the publication. “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.” Starburst Magazine reports that the team behind the Jeddah Worldcon bid will now try for 2026.
The World Science Fiction Society site team has also issued a response, which was quoted in The Guardian’s piece and can be read in full on File770. Copying the CoNZealand co-chairs, the response stated that the World Science Fiction Society is “an unincorporated literary society” with “no Board of Directors, no ongoing chief executive, and no ‘Head Office,'” and broke down how the WSFS rules work: that WSFS members (aka Worldcon attendees) set the rules, including the “very minimal technical requirements for any group to bid for a Worldcon.”
“If you are interested in more information about how WSFS works and how you can propose changes in its rules, I can explain things in further detail,” wrote the WSFS website team’s Kevin Standlee. “This is not intended as being dismissive, but to try and explain that Worldcons and WSFS as a whole does not give anyone the right to make subjective judgements about either Hugo Award nominees/finalists or prospective Worldcon sites other than the entire membership.”
Critic and publisher Cheryl Morgan has further broken down the administrative process involved in Worldcon’s Site Selection, pinpointing some of the confusion and explaining why there is no WSFS Board, in an in-depth piece over at Salon Futura:
There is a job called Site Selection Administrator. This year it is held by my long-time friend from Melbourne, Alan Stewart. Should he have disallowed the Saudi bid? There are reasons why he can do so, but those reasons are based purely in factual issues such as does the bid have a contract with a venue. They do not include judgements such as, “does the country have a good record on civil rights?”
Maybe such a condition should exist. We could write such a rule into the WSFS Constitution. But how would it work in practice? Prospective bids, I am sure, would claim that their countries did have a good record to civil rights, especially compared to the USA which has hosted the majority of Worldcons in the past. What is the Site Selection Administrator to do then?
In the meantime, a delegation including Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin has already submitted a bid for Chengdu, China to be the site of Worldcon 2023. Smith Spark has written a guestpost for File770 stating that she is “very happy to do this again next year for Chengdu if it falls to me,” citing issues including the persecution of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang and the political situation in Hong Kong. She also addressed circumstances surrounding the first open letter about the Jeddah bid and criticized the Worldcon site selection bid process for being opaque:
I would also add, to those who point out that I ‘don’t understand the process’ – no, I don’t. I don’t understand anything about it. I looked at the Worldcon and WSFS websites and found nothing I could make sense of. If the process isn’t transparent to an outsider, isn’t open to challenge – it’s not fit for purpose and it’s blatantly discriminatory.
The 80th World Science Fiction Convention will take place between September 1-5, 2022. Read Chicon 8’s first Progress Report for more details on the guests of honor, and keep an eye on the Chicon site for more information on programming.