Introducing Carl Brandon Society and “Con or Bust” @Contact2016 #Contact2016 #diversity



First thing first: Who was Carl Brandon?

Carl Joshua Brandon never existed. He was a hoax fan created by science fiction fans Terry Carr, Ron Ellik, Pete Graham and Dave Rike. To me, he as a creation is like George Stark in Stephen King’s The Dark Half (1989) or John Shooter in “Secret Window, Secret Garden” (a novella in King’s Four Past Midnight [1990]), who grows from the name of a character to a “real” physical entity that is able to impact on its creator. Except that in Carl’s case, such an impact is absolutely positive and long-lasting.

First appeared in 1953 in the San Francisco Bay Area and rising to prominence in 1956, Carl was the most popular writer in sci-fi fandom. His specialty was parody, with such famous publications as The Catcher of the Rye, On the Road, My Fair Femmefan and The BNF of Iz (BNF being “Big Name Fan”). At one stage he even served as Official Arbiter of The Cult, an amateur press association established in the mid-1950s that boasted 13 publishing members. Soon after that, he was leading in the voting race for the position of official editor for the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA).

You see, Carl was supposed to be a Black American, but his fans did not care. In fact, most of Carl’s fans were sincerely disappointed when he turned out to be a hoax in 1958. (Again, this reminds me of Richard Bachman, who published four books between 1977 and 1981 and “suddenly died” in late 1985 of “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia”.)

In 1997, the Carl Brandon Society was founded. According to its official website, its mission is to “increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction”. Members and supporters of the Society envision “a world in which speculative fiction, about complex and diverse cultures from writers of all backgrounds, is used to understand the present and model possible futures; and where people of colour are full citizens in the community of imagination and progress”.

Specifically, according to Wikipedia, the Society is dedicated to “addressing the representation of people of colour in the fantastical genres such as science fiction, fantasy and horror… to foster dialogue about issues of race, ethnicity and culture, raise awareness both inside and outside the fantastical fiction communities, promote inclusivity in publication/production, and celebrate the accomplishments of people of colour in science fiction, fantasy and horror”.

To me, the most endearing part of the story of the Carl Brandon Society is that it gained its name in much the same way that the Tiptree Award named itself after the fictional male writer James Tiptree, Jr, a pseudonym for the feminist sci-fi writer Alice Sheldon. (See Letters to Tiptree, edited by Alexandra Pierce and Alisa Krasnostein and published in 2015, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Sheldon’s birth and to recognise the enormous influence of both Tiptree and Sheldon on the sci-fi field.) In the words of the Society’s official website:

“Just as women can now write under their own names, so can people of colour now write (and publish) our own stories. We’ve got much further to go yet. This is why we’re working to make fandom a more rewarding place for people of colour, to build a readership for the speculative writing of people of colour, and to help the world understand that we can’t create a just future if people of colour aren’t included in its imagining.”

So, in order to achieve this goal, since 2010 the Carl Brandon Society has been managing the famous Con or Bust project. According to its official website, Con or Bust was first established in 2009 to assist people of colour/non-white people to attend science fiction and fantasy conventions around the world. Here is a great summary: “Its goal is simply to help fans of colour go to SFF cons and be their own awesome selves.” Indeed, the project is funded through donations and an online auction held annually. From March 2014 through early May 2015, Con or Bust helped 85 different people attend 25 different sci-fi and fantasy conventions.

In early 2016, I became one such person of colour/non-white person to receive assistance from Con or Bust via the Carl Brandon Society to attend Contact 2016 – the 55th Australian National Speculative Fiction Convention, Brisbane, March 25-28. By the time this article is published, I will be sitting in front of a desk, nervously preparing for my first spec-fic con and for my presentations at two of its panels.

To conclude this article, please see this cute logo below – a dinocorn, designed and donated by an anonymous artist to Con or Bust. To quote the project: “Dinocorns are awesome.” If you believe in diversity in literature, please support the Carl Brandon Society and the Con or Bust project.



Leave a Reply, Please

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: