July 30, 2020

Science Fiction writers protest Saudi Arabia as possible conference site


We last checked in on Saudi Arabia’s relationship to the greater literary world a little over a year ago. In that story, the mega-talent-agency, Endeavor, had returned the $400 million dollar investment Saudi Arabia had made in the company.

Now, a group of a writers are taking a similarly strong (if less immediately financial) action by protesting the idea that hosting duties for 2022’s World Science Fiction Convention might be awarded to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea-side city of Jeddah.

As Alison Flood writes for the Guardian:

Led by fantasy author Anna Smith Spark, writers including Charles Stross, Juliet McKenna, Stan Nicholls and Catriona Ward have signed an open letter objecting to Jeddah’s bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in two years’ time.

Pointing to the fact that homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, its escalating restrictions on freedom of speech, and the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the writers argue that it is unacceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop.

And the stakes are rather high. As the site of the coveted Hugo award announcements, The World Science Fiction Convention–which has been active since 1946–is a major highlight on the science fiction calendar.

This year’s convention started yesterday, and runs through the weekend, held virtually (though based out of Wellington, New Zealand). Next year’s conference is slated for Washington D.C., and the hotly debated 2022 bid from Saudi Arabia has a competitor in the form of Chicago.

As a genre of writing with perhaps the most potential for imaging new identities, forms of community, and ways of being, “the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for,” the letter’s signatories say. Which should also serve as a reminder of how our own government has often failed us in its often strange support for the Saudi regime.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.