The Hugo Awards are no stranger to controversy. In recent years, the annual celebration of sci-fi and fantasy authors in media including novels, short stories, graphic novels, and scriptwriting (among others) has come under fire for a questionable sponsorship (defense contractor Raytheon Technologies), an anti-diversity movement that interfered with nominations (remember the Sad Puppies?), and a string of issues (misgendering a finalist, for one) that made it necessary to revamp the entire World Science Fiction Convention—the body that administers each year’s Hugos—in 2018.
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And now there’s another controversy to add to the list. Though the 2023 Hugos were handed out in October, after the nominees were announced in July, the release of new nomination data has fans and authors asking questions about why certain writers and books were deemed “not eligible” for inclusion at last year’s event, presented by Chengdu Worldcon in Chengdu, China.
Here’s a tweet from author Xirin Jay Zhao—whose works include 2021 YA best-seller Iron Widow and last year’s middle-grade adventure Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor—that includes a screenshot of pages from Chengdu Worldcon’s publicly released disclosure of its nomination statistics. As you can see, Zhao had enough votes to qualify as a finalist for the Astounding Award for Best New Writer but was deemed “not eligible.” On the second image, you can see R.F. Kuang’s Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, was also deemed “not eligible” in the Best Novel category.
The exclusion of Babel has caused a particular stir because the book was so highly acclaimed in other avenues; it won the Nebula Award in 2022 for Best Novel and was also named Blackwell’s Books of the Year for Fiction for 2022, along with being an instant New York Times best-seller.
No explanation was given for the exclusions, which also included a “not eligible” designation for Paul Weimer in the Best Fan Writer category. As the Hugo Awards website points out, “The Hugo Awards website does not administer the Awards. Each year’s Awards are administered by the that year’s World Science Fiction Convention, which is solely responsible for the conduct of that year’s Awards. If you send questions regarding the 2023 Hugo Awards to us, we can only forward them to the current year’s Hugo Award Administrators.” io9 has reached out to the Hugo Administration subcommittee of the 2023 Chengdu Worldcon for comment or clarification and will update should we receive a response.
In the comments on the Hugo Awards site blog post sharing the nomination stats, Weimer—the fan author noted above—raised a question asking for more clarity on the eligibility situation. A reply, posted by Kevin Standlee, a member of the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee, read: “As with every other year, the individual Worldcon makes its own decisions. We can only report what we are told by each Worldcon. We don’t run the awards. WSFS [World Science Fiction Society] rules give every Worldcon complete independence to run their own convention, subject of course to anything overriding the WSFS constitution such as local law.”
In a response to an io9 query sent to the Hugo Awards general email that cc’d the Chengdu subcommittee, Standlee explained, “Worldcon isn’t a single entity. The Hugo Awards isn’t a single entity. I don’t think those of us running the Worldcon.org, WSFS.org, and TheHugoAwards.org can speak on behalf of all of the different groups to which we are accountable. We don’t run any of those entities; we essentially just publish the official news that comes from them.” He directed us to his personal blog (“my personal opinions, not official ones of any other group”) which digs into “what I personally consider to be much of the overall context about how WSFS, Worldcon, and the Hugo Awards work in relation to the controversy about the 2023 Worldcon;” head to his page for more background information as well as an in-depth explanation of how Chengdu was chosen as the 2023 Worldcon site. In a follow-up email, he noted that “I was not a member of the 2023 Hugo Award Administration Subcommittee, and had nothing to do with their discussions or decisions.”
Earlier today, Kuang herself posted a response on Instagram:
Even with a (somewhat) clearer understanding of the different parties involved behind the scenes, this is still a tangled web. io9 will update this post if and when we learn more details in regards to the eligibility controversy.
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