Sunday, August 26, 2018
Unity Con, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Rusch is one of my favorite writers of mystery short stories. She has appeared on this blog seven times, which ties her for first place with Brendan DuBois and Terence Faherty. I believe she is more prolific in science fiction, which relates to this story.
It is strictly down-to-earth, but it is set in the world of science fiction fandom, and reflects on some events which have damaged that community in recent years.
Her series characters (making their third appearance in this blog) are dedicated members of the world of fandom. The narrator, Spade, is a six-foot-six 400 pound Microsoft millionaire who uses his spare time and financial savvy to help with the money side of science fiction conventions. His friend (and he wishes she were much more) is Paladin, a beautiful but brittle young private eye who specializes in fandom crimes and missing children.
Science fiction fandom is famous for tolerating or even embracing people lacking in social skills and these two have found happy homes in that world. But the conflicts of recent years are threatening it now. Although Rusch does not mention it by name she is clearly referring to the Sad Puppies debacle which reached its climax (or nadir, if you prefer) at the World Science Fiction convention in Spokane in 2015. I happened to attend that event and you can read my interpretation of it here. To oversimplify, there was a group of people who felt that the wrong people were getting awards, and those wrong folks seemed to be mostly women and people of color.
Spade gets a call from the eternally-testy Paladin who demands that he rush to a distant ranch in Texas where some SF writers decided that they know how to run a science fiction convention better than the SMoFs (Secret Masters of Fandom) like Spade. Their product is Unity Con which they were confident could settle the dispute between differing factions.
Instead one controversial writer, rumored to be a neo-Nazi, is dead under mysterious circumstances. Money from the con's account is vanishing. Can Spade, who despised the writer, solve both crimes before irreparable harm is done to his beloved community?
This is not a fair-play whodunit. The emphasis is on the characters, whom Rusch makes you care about, and that raises the stakes for the world that they care about as well.