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Tuesday, January 23, 2024

The Hugo Awards are dealing with a big scandal

The Hugo Award is the oldest and the most prestigious award in the literary subculture of science fiction. But the awards given out at the last year's Worldcon, held in Chengdu, China,  have come under a cloud. 

R.F. Kuang's Babel, which won the Nebula Award and the Locus Award and which seemed to be an obvious front runner for the Hugo, was not even a finalist. And now it has emerged that the book was not a finalist, not because it failed to get enough nominations, but because it was ruled "not eligible." No explanation has been provided for the ruling.

Best fan writer nominee Paul Weimer also was ruled "not eligible," and Xiran Jay Zhao, a nominee for the Astounding Award (i.e., best new writer) also got the "not eligible" treatment, also without any explanation. The Kuang controversy is getting the most attention, but these are also important awards. 

Here's John Scalzi's blog post about the mess. He has links for those who want more. And  here is the report on File 770, a blog which covers science fiction news. In the latter article, note the shameful non-answer given by  Dave McCarty, identified as "a Chengdu Worldcon vice-chair and co-head of the Hugo Awards Selection Executive Division," when File 770's Mike Glyer asked for an explanation. 

There was a long delay in releasing the actual Hugo numbers, which doesn't exactly feel like transparency, either. Since there's been no explanation for what happened, we can't immediately assume Chinese Communist censorship, but the situation doesn't look good. (Scalzi: "I will note that at this point everything is at the 'what the hell?!?' stage, and the rumors and speculation are just that, rumor and speculation. With that said, something sure seems hinky here, and no one is very happy about it.")

There have been other controversies involving the Hugo Awards in the past, but this already feels like the worst ever. 

R.F. Kuang has posted a statement, and she says, "I wish to clarify that no reason for Babel's ineligibility was given to me or my team. I did not decline a nomination, as no nomination was offered." And here is Paul Weimer's response. 

People who want to read Dave McCarty being an jerk and refusing to answer questions ("Folks asking for more are not going to get it from me") can look at his Facebook post.  (This is his "explanation": "After reviewing the Constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible.")

For the record, McCarty denies Chinese officials were involved: "Nobody has ordered me to do anything. Nobody is changing decisions I have made. Folks can ask Helen how well I take orders and if she thinks I would have stayed on if such were happening.

There was no communication between the Hugo administration team and the Chinese government in any official manner."


Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for sharing this sad news.

Rarebit Fiend said...

Adie and I have spent the last two evenings occasionally trading reasons for why Chinese censors had a problem with "Babel." (If that is the case.) It can arguably be interpreted as a book with containing anti-"Western," anti-colonialist and anti-capitalist messanging. But, perhaps any book about corruption is odious to Xi's gang. Adie also brought up that it contains LGBT characters. IDK about the other nominees. (Adie just said that Xiran Jay Zhao is LGBT as well).

Boy, if science fiction fandom is a bellweather of reality then these increasingly extreme culture war pendulum swings are ominous...imagine going from being brigaded for being "too woke," a few more years before "woke" was an obsession-vocab term of the established right in America, and then bowing to anti-LGBT censors in 2023. Crazy shit.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

@Rarebit Fiend: Don't forget that three separate people were kicked off the finalist ballot for unexplained reasons. Any good conspiracy theory has to account for all three! I think Adie may be on to something.

I have no idea what happened. My favorite theory -- the one that entertains me the most so far -- is that the Chinese authorities did not want to give R.F. Kuang a chance to win because they were afraid she would give an acceptance speech in Chinese.