I am a science fiction fan. That won’t come as a surprise to most people reading this. But beyond that, I identify as a fan, and the whole subculture of fandom. It is a fairly large part of my personality and much of my free time is spent associating with other fans and with books and media within the genre. I spent the Easter holiday weekend at Olympus 2012, the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) and had a thoroughly amazing time. Now, it’s not unfair to say that the genre and the subculture as a whole has a reputation for being overwhelmingly male and white, but one of the things I found exhilarating at Olympus was the feeling of a culture in the middle of change – it really felt like there’s a push to bring women and feminism into fandom and it was good to be part of that. This year’s Eastercon could proudly boast that half of its 1300 or so members were women, and there was gender parity on panels as well. While there’s still a long way to go — I did hear about incidents this year that no woman should have to put up with in the 21st century — it does feel like the idea of diversity is starting become part of fandom.
And so it’s obvious that the next logical step to diversifying fandom is minority ethnic representation. Just looking around the con, there were probably more BME fans that I’ve ever seen at a con before (not that that is saying much, given that I’ve only made it to about half a dozen of them so far). Partially I imagine this was the “London effect”, and partially a function of just how big Olympus was, but I also attended a panel on widening minority representation in fandom which indicates that it’s something which is starting to be discussed within the culture itself, which I’m glad about. At said panel, I was intrigued to hear one of the panel members, the actress Ruby Sahota, state that Indians really love SF. That’s a very general statement, and one that I’d love see more analysis on. However, I can’t even provide any anecdotal evidence evidence, given that I actually don’t know many Indian people. I grew up in a small town in the heart of Northern Ireland where the Indian “community” consisted of two families. Then I moved to Glasgow, where my friends were almost all met through science fiction, and, well, you can see the flaw in that plan .
Actually, on that note, I joined Io in my second year at Uni and remained active in the society for about a decade. In that time, as far as I can remember, there were, in addition to myself, two other non-white active members (and one of those was my sister, who I introduced to the society, and would probably not have otherwise have become involved, so I’m not sure she even counts for this purposes of this discussion). In that time, I very much noticed the lack of BME members, especially in a University with a fairly decent non-white student population and embedded in a city with a large Asian population. University seems like a great time to bring people into fandom, with students trying out new things, but Io remained stubbornly mono-coloured during my decade’s involvement. Perhaps I could have done more to change that, bringing it to the attention of the society as a whole, trying to appeal outside the traditional market, but I never did, which I somewhat regret now, although I’m still not really sure how to go about widening the appeal of the genre in that way.
Anyway, the point that Ruby was making was that although Indian people may love the genre, most of them would never think about about coming to a con or getting involved in fandom. The panel didn’t really come to any solid conclusions or make any suggestions on how to change that (to be honest, it could have done with some stricter moderation and cutting off some audience members who had a tendency to ramble and go off-topic) but it’s definitely the beginning of a new conversation within my fandom. It’s inspired me to look for new writers beyond the traditional (an appeal over Twitter has given me several leads which I intend to follow up on this year) and I’m certainly going to continue to follow the development of minority representation in fandom over the next few years, in the leadup to Satellite 4 and London in 2014.