This weekend, I attended Millennicon and generally had a wonderful time. This is in no way unusual; as it is a great convention that general pulls in some marvelous and astoundingly interesting people. Even better, I was given the opportunity to take part in a couple of panels. As previously stated, there was much rejoicing.
However, that is not what I wish to discuss today (look to the forthcoming full Con report for that). Instead, I wish to take a moment to discuss something disconcerting that occurred that in no way reflects poorly upon the convention as a whole but does not say the best of things about two people: myself and David Drake.
One of the panels I was on (The Devil’s in the Details, discussing the importance of getting fine points correct in fiction) featured Mr. Drake, along with several other fine authors, editors and publishers. Eric Flint was positing that any futuristic, high technology science fiction story with a feudal society strikes him as implausible when Drake said the following: Saudi Arabians can steal a plane and fly it into the twin towers, but they could never build one. He then referred to them as camel drivers with oil and gold (please note that I have not used quotation marks because I did not record the conversation and may not have quoted him exactly. I welcome any corrections if you happened to have been there).
I was taken aback by this broad and blatantly racist (or, at the very least, Nationalist) statement. The audience and other panelists seemed a bit off-put as well, as evidenced by the absolute silence that dropped upon us all. However, none of us said anything. The “us” is important here, because I sure as hell didn’t speak up.
I’d like to say that I kept my silence out of deference to a senior author (he is MUCH more successful and has written many more books than I, after all). I’d like to say that I sealed my lips because he is a Vietnam vet and deserves some fucking respect for that. I’d like to say that I understand the generational gap that allows for grouping an entire country together under the umbrella of the acts of a few people, even if I don’t agree with it.
I would also be completely full of shit were I to say any of that.
The truth is that I was confused and confounded and uncomfortable and just sat there like a dumb fool for no good reason. I should have called bullshit. I should have asked just what the fuck it was that he was saying and why he would believe, let alone actually speak aloud, such a profoundly ignorant statement. Bill Burr makes a much better argument for why we should do this than I can.
If I said something, maybe other people would have said something and we would have been able to reinforce that there are some things you just don’t get to say in public.
Hell, maybe I heard him wrong (my ears do kind of suck). Maybe he was meaning something entirely different than what came out of his face (I have had enough of those moments myself). Maybe he had a remarkably well reasoned and edifying explanation that would have pointed me out as the reactionary unwashed hippie that I never knew I was.
If I said something, maybe that all would have been cleared up.
But I didn’t say anything. I sat there silent and squirming until someone else moved the discussion in a different direction and we all acted like nothing had occurred. Obviously, I can’t judge anyone else in the room. I’m not better than them and possibly worse. If nothing else, David had the guts to express his views where I did not.
Meanwhile, I‘ve found myself to be much more of a passive, ball-less dick than I wish to admit.