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The Hugo Awards 2024 Controversy

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27 March 2024

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The recent Hugo Awards controversy has sparked a fiery debate within the science fiction and fantasy community, and for good reason. Read on to find out what happened and what the future might look like for the awards.

What Are the Hugo Awards?

The Hugo Awards, named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of Amazing Stories sci-fi magazine, is a prestigious literary award given annually at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). It celebrates outstanding achievements in science fiction and fantasy literature and is considered one of the greatest awards within the genres.

Since 1953, the awards have recognised many of the greats, including Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin. So, it’s no surprise that winning a Hugo is a big deal, because a prominent winner’s badge on the cover of a book helps it jump out from the competition. Not to mention, authors receive recognition within the lit community, which doesn’t come easy.

The Controversy

The Hugo Awards, which was held in China for the first time in 2023, received criticism for eliminating some authors.

The Hugos are fan-voted, and all members of the World Science Fiction Society are allowed to vote.

Now, many consider the voting system to be complex, but the Hugo Awards declare that “the basic idea is simple” and “nominations are easy.” Their website then details: “Once the final ballot is over a list of the top 15 works/people, together with the number of nominations they received, will be published. Only those works/people appearing on the final ballot are considered ‘Hugo Award finalists’.” Therefore, we can expect that all “top” voted authors/works are Hugo Award finalists.

However, on 20th January 2024, the awards released the 2023 nomination statistics, revealing that several works had been designated with an asterisk and judged “not eligible” despite receiving votes. There were no adequate reasons provided for these exclusions.

Among the ineligible works was Babel by R. F. Kuang, winner of the 2023 Nebula and Locus Awards. Now, Kuang was born in China and raised in America, and her debut novel The Poppy War draws heavily from historical Chinese culture. Many speculate whether Kuang’s ties to China had any impact on the rulings.

On 22nd January, Kuang shared an Instagram where she stated: “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…I assume this was a matter of undesirability rather than ineligibility.”

Another ineligible work was Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, that received votes for the Astounding Award. Paul Weimer was another ineligible, excluded from the best fan writer category, although he received enough votes to be shortlisted. He shared his shock on Patreon, stating he was “deemed ineligible without further explanation.”

Despite acquiring enough nominations to make the final ballot, episode six of The Sandman, based on Neil Gaiman’s comic book, was excluded from the best dramatic presentation category and deemed ineligible.

The sci-fi and fantasy community flew to social media and reacted with a call for truth and solidarity for all “ineligibles”.

The Response

Dave McCarty, Hugo Administrator, wrote on Facebook: “After reviewing the constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible.”

It still begs the question, why were these authors not told explicitly why they were deemed ineligible? Was the voting system censored by government officials? Did the award administrators make an error when tallying votes? I don’t think we’ll ever know, especially considering the vague response from the awards committee…

Leaked Emails: February 2024

On 14th February 2024, leaked emails gave us some truth: the Hugo administration team appear to have censored nominees because of political concerns about the host country, China.

McCarty stated in one email to members of the awards administration team, “It’s not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China, Taiwan, Tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China.”

In another email, administrator Kat Jones discussed Kuang’s Babel, and wrote, [it] “has a lot about China. I haven’t read it, and am not up on Chinese politics, so cannot say whether it would be viewed as ‘negatives of China.” It confirms suspicions that these authors came under scrutiny (and ultimately deemed ineligible) for political reasons.

Multiple artists are highlighted in the emails for their connection to China, including Xiran Jay Zhao, Paul Weimer, Bitter Karella, Naseem Jamnia, and more.

Looking Forward

The 2024 Hugo Awards are set to be held in Glasgow, Scotland. The committee released a statement promising transparency on nomination statistics.

We can only wonder, will the prestige of the Hugo Awards be permanently damaged? Without transparency and the championing of the very authors it seeks to celebrate, I can only guess the awards are going to look very different. It’s sad to say, especially after a very long and successful history (over 70 years, in fact). Perhaps the Hugos can still turn things around. We can hope.

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Written By Eira Edwards

Eira is a writer and editor from the South of England with over five years of experience as a Content Manager, helping clients perfect their copy.

She has a degree in English Literature and Language, which she loves putting to work by working closely with fiction authors.

When she’s not working on manuscripts, you can find her in the woods with her partner and dog, or curling up with a good book.

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