‘Damage’ Caused by 2023 Hugo Awards Controversy

From Gizmodo:

You’d think the biggest headlines surrounding an annual celebration of sci-fi and fantasy writing would be applauding the winners—but that’s not always the case with the Hugos. Its latest controversy involves works being deemed “not eligible” for consideration at the 2023 event, which was presented by Chengdu Worldcon in Chengdu, China. Now, we have a touch more clarity about what happened—and an apology from the organization as it looks to the future.

The 2023 Hugos were handed out in October, but rumblings about the eligibility controversy began last month, when nomination data revealed certain authors and books had been deemed “not eligible,” despite having the necessary votes to make the list of finalists. The most glaring slight was against R.F. Kuang’s Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, a best-selling, highly acclaimed work that won the Nebula Award in 2022 for Best Novel as well as the 2023 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

At the time of the data release, the lack of explanation caused frustration among fans and authors. In a response posted on Instagram, Kuang noted “no reason for Babel’s ineligibility was given to me or my my team… until one is provided that explains why the book was eligible for the Nebula and Locus awards, which it won, and not the Hugos, I assume this was a matter of indesirability rather than ineligibility. Excluding ‘undesirable’ work is not only embarrassing for all involved parties, but renders the entire process and organization illegitimate.”

A stunning investigation posted on Patreon by Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford (via Locus) digs what happened at the 2023 Hugos, offering background and context while asking questions like who was responsible for the “not eligible” rulings, and why the works in question were singled out—as well as how much the geographical location of the 2023 awards affected the situation. It’s definitely worth reading the in-depth report yourself for all the details and receipts, but it did find that “political considerations” were behind the exclusion of Babel, as well as potential nominees Paul Weimer (Fan Writer) and Xiran Jay Zhao (Astounding Award for Best New Writer).

“Emails and files released by one of the administrators of the 2023 Hugo Awards indicate that authors and works deemed ‘not eligible’ for the awards were removed due to political considerations,” Barkley and Sanford wrote. “In particular, administrators of the awards from the United States and Canada researched political concerns related to Hugo-eligible authors and works and discussed removing certain ones from the ballot for those reasons, revealing they were active participants in the censorship that took place.” The report further notes that these concerns “were in relation to Chinese laws related to content and censorship.”

In his endnotes, Sanford underlines his main takeaway. “The 2023 Hugo Awards were censored because certain authors and works were deemed to have too many political liabilities, at least from the viewpoint of the Chinese government. While it’s unclear if this was official censorship from the Chinese government or self-censorship by those afraid of offending governmental or business interests, we can now be certain that censorship indeed took place. However, what also disturbs me is that the administrators of the Hugo Awards from the United States and Canada, countries that supposedly support and value free speech, appear to have been active participants in this censorship.”

In a statement released today, Esther MacCallum-Stewart, the chair of Glasgow 2024 – A Worldcon for Our Futures, which will present the next iteration of the Hugos, offered an apology for “for the damage caused to nominees, finalists, the community, and the Hugo, Lodestar, and Astounding Awards” and outlined “steps to ensure transparency and to attempt to redress the grievous loss of trust in the administration of the Awards.”

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

The first thought that raced through PG’s mind as he read the OP was “Innocents Abroad.”

Like a great many successful attorneys, a great many successful authors are intelligent people.

However, both attorneys and authors together with other groups of experts are liable to make classic logical error: because they are experts in one field, they assume they know something useful in an unrelated field.

The intelligent science fiction authors leading the 2023 Hugo Awards thought they had enough intelligence and knowledge to know how the Chinese government would respond to the recognition of an outstanding book of fiction written by a brilliant and accomplished woman, R.F. Kuang, whose parents emigrated from China when she was four years old.

Errors that PG could identify from reading the OP:

  1. Scheduling the Hugos’ big annual awards event in a location requiring lots of travel expenses that would present a financial strain for most of the members of the organization to attend: Dumb or Stupid?
  2. What was the attendance like for this convention vs. previous conventions in more accessible locations?
  3. Did the big shots in the Hugos organization have all their travel, food and lodging expenses paid?
  4. Why choose China? Did anyone consider the political issues/threats/possible reputational damages to the organization?

12 thoughts on “‘Damage’ Caused by 2023 Hugo Awards Controversy”

  1. it appears that the worldcon committee suffered the same fate as past worldcon committee(s) imposed on groups like the “Sad Puppies”; done by an organization which was much more experienced in political matters.

  2. Sad Puppies done tol’ ya so.
    SF fans who are fans of SF saw it coming, that there were thumbs on the scale, thumbs belonging to people who are fans second and socialites first. Very very insecure socialites.

    • Sheesh! Thanks for letting me know, N.

      I’ll have to remember to include a trigger warning or disclaimer of some sort before I post anything about the Hugos in the future.

    • I think it accurate to say that Weimer’s expressions of concern in 2021 were an element, but not the only reason. His prior travel to IIRC Nepal, misstated as Tibet (together with the travel photos), certainly didn’t help; neither did the fact that others at the fanzine he’s affiliated with did far more than “express concerns,” including advocating a boycott.

      Which is a clarification only and perhaps makes it look even worse.

  3. PG’s four concerns are well taken, but one needs to take one step farther back and consider the… dubious voting that resulted in the convention being in Chengdu in the first place.† Not to mention the dubious process of having a “popular vote” for both nomination and the actual award, which for the small number of votes necessary makes manipulation, umm, achievable and affordable. For example, in 2022 (Chicago), the winner received only 381 first-place votes in the initial count (I am not going to try to explain iterated-removal instant-runoff voting here!), and it required only 111 mentions (out of 5 per nominating ballot) to make the final ballot.

    † For those who don’t know, there is no central decision authority that decides where future world science-fiction conventions will be held; these aren’t the Nebulas, in which bids are evaluated by a central authority and then the convention is scheduled. Instead, there’s a poll-taxed vote: One must pay the then-current recently-renamed Supporting Membership fee of IIRC $60 as of 2020, and only then be allowed to vote. To say the least the particular voting patterns and timing leading to success of the Chengdu bid over Winnipeg (IIRC), during Covid, raised eyebrows across the fandom world, and not just in emulation of Mr Spock.
    And every time Worldcon is held outside of North America, there are some kinds of shenanigans with the Hugo nominations and/or final voting. Even when held in Western Europe. Which is not to say that only North American works should be nominated or winners, only to say that when the convention is held in the UK (as it was not so many years ago, before e-books were realistic candidates and arguably even allowable candidates) and all five finalists for novel are UK residents, from UK publishers, and three of them had not had and were not scheduled to have North American publications, during a year in which an otherwise-eligible North American publication was a finalist for the National Book Award… something is amiss with the hometown biases. Maybe this will get better as territorial rights continue their deathmarch (inevitable since the first Kirtsaeng decision, but expecting the publishing industry to actually conform its conduct to the law is unrealistic), but one’s literary taste can be taken down by zombies just as readily as by television.

    • Yeah, all of that makes sense, which wasn’t a problem back in the day, say 1939 to circa 1977, because SF was totally a niche thing.

      After Star Wars the explosion of the genre started to erode the structures that formed the Worldcon. This lead to a decision sometime in 1980s that the Worldcon would limit its size to around 10K ish attendance.

      Worldcon as it stands, a convention run by amateurs who are fans, is living on borrowed time. The fact it has taken nearly 40 years for this to become obvious is largely down to good will, which has been slowly frittered away by fans who think they know best.

      • Thanks for your comments, A.

        Obviously I haven’t been paying adequate attention to the various Cons in the book biz.

        • You’re not alone.
          The con clans are a small part of the readership, particular because of the focus on new tradpub in a genre heavy on deep backlist and indies.
          The recurring Hugo catfights generally go unnoticed outside the publishing media.

          This one would’ve too, but it involves China.
          Last time they’ll be relevant for a good long time, if ever, considering where their economy is headed.

          • Hugo catfights are typically criticized by cats as being chaotic messes unable to actually achieve anything and beneath feline dignity. (As a dog person — but definitely not a melancholy young mongrel† — I deny that cats have dignity, but whatever.) Let’s just not get into things like the prolonged booing at Millennium Philcon when the Best Novel award was announced… or a certain acceptance speech at ConJose 2003…

            But the less said about “representation” (or “empathy for the circumstances of others not just like them”) of the SMOFs, and their decades-long efforts to retain power until they rise from the grave and to worship con artists by naming awards after them, the better. I’m on the outs with fandom.

            † One of the instigators/”leaders” of that particular dogpile was kicked out of SFWA due in part to his scurrilous personal attacks on me, cited in the report recommending expulsion, that really just demonstrated that my defenses of the right to be published and considered for awards of certain authors had gotten under his mangy skin. That is, as bad as things are among the fen, they’re worse among the authors…

            • About cats and dignity: It varies. HRH Princess Balkis is very much the cat’s cat, calm, quiet, firmly commanding when issuing instructions. She does not like to be seen eating or “doing the business”. Very dignified.

              Her sibling Salem Saberhagen, though, is a petting whore who follows me like a puppy and has been known to sleep on a hassock, turn over, and fall in his sleep. His sister sniffs and turns her head; “I don’t know him”. If he should want to displace her from her resting place she will slap him in the face, look him over, and walk away. Not worth fighting.

              My sister’s three serial killers, Bundy, Dexter, and Benito Mussolini are rowdies but they are very young and recently lost their…dignity…at the vets. How they mature is TBD. Being male and regularly roughhousing, little dignity is likely, though.

              Out of that limited sample, cats seem pretty much like the bigger people. Some smart and dignified, most like con tribals.

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