Fantasy & Beyond

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By cupiscent
(Not sure if this is the right corner for this, but happy to move / be moved!)

As you may have seen, because the cloud of dust from the fall-out has now reached mainstream media, there's been a bit of controversy about last year's Hugo awards, which were held at the worldcon in Chengdu. The problems have arisen because the committee responsible finally (skating in just a little late on the required deadline) released the data on nominations, which revealed some problems. Among strange maths and other discrepancies, a handful of nominated works were marked "ineligible", with no other reasons given.

There's a fairly good run-down on this on File770, but the basics are: RF Kuang's Babel, Xiran Jay Zhao (Astounding award), Paul Weimar (fan writer), and a Chinese short story were marked ineligible. The Sandman tv series was ruled ineligible because a single episode received more nominations, but that single episode was then marked ineligible and no reason given.

In the subsequent understandable shouting, an American spokesperson for the Hugo committee of Chengdu worldcon made some very rude remarks, but also some precise and/or cryptic remarks about them having operated within the rules they had to operate within. Which honestly sounds a lot like "yes, censorship, and stop asking before someone gets their legs broken". But in that case, one wonders why they didn't take more care to ensure the nomination data wouldn't lead to questions. (They released it very late, compared to previous worldcons which released it basically immediately after the ceremony.)

A problem that has been highlighted through this business is the inability for anything to be done about the situation. The Hugo awards are administered by the worldcon for that year, which is a different committee / group each time. There's no oversight, nor any ability to enforce the rules if they have - as seems likely in this case - been bent or broken. This sort of interference (along with other political problems) was something raised when Chengdu first started campaigning to hold the worldcon, but reassurances were given, and the desire to expand the scope of the "world"con beyond America and occasionally Europe overcame concerns. But this outcome is making a lot of people question forthcoming non-US/Euro bids for worldcons, such as Tel Aviv and Uganda. (See the forthcoming bids for worldcons here.) Mind you, there's also been discussion on how much interference could be expected at a worldcon / Hugos hosted in, say, Florida.

Honestly, to me this feels very different from the Puppy malarkey from years back; where that was a gaming of the system, this is a problem with the system itself. And it's highlighting a problem with the entire worldcon structure, that being the weight of it all borne by volunteers. It's a huge effort to run a convention, let alone a worldcon, and the sparsity of bids for coming years I think shows this strongly.
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By ScarletBea
Yes, it does look like a problem with the rules themselves.
I suppose when the Hugos were first established nobody even contemplated the idea that some works could be censored, so there was nothing specific forbidding what they just did.

I suppose this year they'll have to leave it as is, but maybe update the rules to avoid this issue in the future?
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By JMack
Who really is they? Is there an international body? A set of non-obligatory “rules” with the weight of tradition? I understand each worldcon is responsible. So, are there actually any rules?
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By cupiscent
JMack wrote:Who really is they? Is there an international body? A set of non-obligatory “rules” with the weight of tradition? I understand each worldcon is responsible. So, are there actually any rules?
"They" is the World Science Fiction Society, which has a set of rules. The society has a "business meeting" at every worldcon, which conducts the business of the society, including any rule changes. But this is where things get a bit arcane. The society was set up so that any change to the rules needs to be voted on at two successive meetings - so it takes two years at least to change anything. (This is part of why it took a few years to deal with the Puppy problem.) My understanding is that it was set up this way because the groups of (American) fans who came together to form the society didn't want any one group to be able to get too much power or control. There's some irony there, I guess.

That's the mechanism, though, so there's a lot of discussion going on at the moment as to what changes or rules might prevent something like this from happening again... and I have to say, there aren't really any strong solutions. I've seen people suggesting that it should be mandated that an independent third-party organisation is contracted to run / tally the awards, but that seems to me like it's just going to make things more expensive and convoluted, and therefore make it even more difficult to host a worldcon.
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By Elfy
I think some of it is driven by a scramble for relevance. There are so many awards for so many things, not just SFF books, now, that things tend to get lost. I think this drive the increase in awaradable categories and maybe it also had something to do with the controversial choice of host. The Hugo’s have, imo, struggled for identity of late, and all these things are now coming to a head. And more transparency around the criteria for nomination and voting wouldn’t go astray. I used to follow the award closely, but I pay it scant attention now, admittedly I had read most of the nominees for best book last year, but that was more by accident than intent.
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By Magnus
I'm guessing this thread is the reason the Huawei web crawler bot is pretty much a constant visitor here. :grimacing:
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By cupiscent
Magnus wrote:I'm guessing this thread is the reason the Huawei web crawler bot is pretty much a constant visitor here. :grimacing:
:ohmy: (I will note, from the update I'm adding below, there's suggestion the Chinese government is really quite annoyed that this has caused such bad international press for China.)

To update on this: some Stuff has been revealed. One of the (Western) people administering the Hugo awards has leaked a substantial amount of documents and correspondence, revealing that self-censorship took place, with the award committee compiling dossiers (in some cases, inaccurate) on longlist nominees, highlighting potential political problems, which were then used to make the decisions on eligibility. There doesn't seem to be any hard evidence that official censorship took place, just that the committee bent over backwards to rule out anyone who might be a problem (so nothing official had to happen).

The full report is available through Jason Sanford's Genre Grapevine newsletter.

Initial reactions from the fandom community have been furious and outraged. Part of the upset is that the communication highlights how cavalier the subcommittee leadership were about stretching the rules to make this fit, which suggests similar stretches have happened before this, if not so egregious. I suspect there's going to be a very lively WSFS business meeting at Glasgow worldcon this year!
ScarletBea, DragonFlame liked this
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By ScarletBea
I saw that when I was awake at 3am, when he posted that on Bluesky.
It's an awful result, and another lesson to not jump to conclusions or judge a whole country or organisation by stereotypes and misguided assumptions...