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Monday, February 19, 2024

A couple of thoughts on the Hugo Awards scandal

"Finnish weird" author Johanna Sinisalo (do you know that genre?) accepting her  Prometheus Award at the Helsinki Worldcon in 2017. Photo by Ryan Lackey. 

The Hugo Awards mess has now made the New York Times, and I thought about it as I was doing my grocery shopping Sunday, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Andrew Jackson is not one of my favorite U.S. presidents, but I know a striking quotation  attributed to him: "One man with courage makes a majority."

Surely this seems like an example. There were at least five western fans heavily involved with the Hugo Awards in China: Dave McCarty, Ben Yalow, Ann Marie Rudolph, Diane Lacey (listed on the Worldcon Hugo Awards page) and Kat Jones (outed in the investigative story referenced in my Feb. 16 post.) Surely if just one of them had called bullshit on the process, threatening to resign and go public (and back it up if necessary), the whole censorship regime would have collapsed in ruin. (Diane Lacey has now had a change of heart, as I wrote on Feb. 16. She must wish she had said something earlier, and in fact she has apologized and become a whistleblower).

Dave McCarty, who has apparently deleted  his Facebook posts on his role in the Chinese Worldcon, still has a gratuitous slap at libertarians on his Facebook "favorite quotes" section. As much as libertarians disagree among themselves about hot button issues such as global warming or immigration, you'll have trouble finding many libertarians who (a) support censorship and speech codes and (b) fear finding themselves in the minority in a disagreement. Maybe a libertarian on that Hugo committee would have saved Mr. McCarty;s reputation. On the same page, Mr. McCarty brags about  "being the administrator for the 2014, 2016, and 2018 Hugo awards," but by some oversight, he leaves off 2023.

2. I haven't seen anyone point this out, but surely the victims in the Hugo scandal include Chinese science fiction fans, who must have been very excited to see the World Science Fiction Convention come to China for the first time.

R.F. Kuang, the obvious front runner for the best novel Hugo until McCarty and Company deleted her book from the Hugo ballot (she already had won Nebula and Locus awards for Babel) was born in China. Her family came to the United States when she was four, so she's an American, but wouldn't it have been exciting for Chinese fans to see a writer from China win the Hugo? 

Chinese fans also have to read about their Worldcon being an infamous disaster that makes another Worldcon in China currently unthinkable, and surely that must sting, too. 

I was involved, by the way, in a science fiction award being given to a Finnish writer in Finland. A few years ago,  I nominated The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo for the Prometheus Award, and it actually won.  By a nice coincidence, the 75th Worldcon was held in Helsinki in 2017, and our representatives for the Prometheus Award were able to publicly present the award to Sinisalo at that convention.  Yeah, not a Hugo, but still a pretty cool occasion. 


Eric Wagner said...

Well said.

Gary McGath said...

It's nice to think that "the whole censorship regime would have collapsed in ruin" in the face of one whistleblower, but it wouldn't have. If Hugos had been given to people the Chinese government didn't like, the weight of its wrath would have fallen on the Chinese organizers, probably in ways that couldn't be proven and we'd never know about in the West. There was no good solution; a disaster was foreordained when the location of the Worldcon was set for China.

This isn't to say that the organizers are free of blame, but the only thing they could have done was to quit. The only winning move was not to play. They should have said that there was no way the awards could be given without governmental interference, so they couldn't in good conscience participate.

People talk about the censorship of the Hugos, but what about the censorship of the con itself? Were there any panels on the freedom to write on controversial subjects, on the situation of the Uyghurs or Hong Kong? The con was an "infamous disaster" from the beginning. It just took something as blatant as the censorship of the Hugos to make it impossible to look away.

Being insulted by Dave McCarty is an honor.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

It still seems to me that if a whistleblower had spoken up before the awards were given out, the illusion that it was a normal Worldcon with normal Hugo Awards would have dissolved. And the brouhaha would have been much earlier. But I suppose you are likely right, and there was no real fix.

Gary has a nice blog at, and is worth a follow if any of y'all decide to try Mastodon: