We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Hugone awry

I felt old reading this article by Adam Morgan of Esquire magazine. For a while some thirty years ago, the terms “Worldcon” and “Hugo” were part of my daily life. What happened to them?

Inside the Censorship Scandal That Rocked Sci-Fi and Fantasy’s Biggest Awards

That evening in Chengdu, in a massive auditorium shaped like the belly of a whale, Dave McCarty—a middle-aged software engineer for an Illinois trucking company and lifelong sci-fi fan who was chosen by the convention’s leaders to oversee last year’s Hugo Awards—walked onstage to thundering applause. Within the WorldCon community, he’s nicknamed the “Hugo Pope” for serving on so many awards committees over the years.

“With the help of fans from all over the world, including many fans here in China participating for the very first time, we identified a ballot of 114 deserving finalists,” McCarty said behind a podium, wearing a black tux over a white waistcoat and bow tie. “We then asked the community to rank those choices as they saw fit.”

But that’s not what happened. Something had gone horribly wrong.

Three months later, the truth came out when McCarty shared the Hugo nominating statistics on Facebook: Someone had stolen nominations from The Sandman legend Neil Gaiman, Babel author R. F. Kuang, Iron Widow novelist Xiran Jay Zhao, and fan writer Paul Weimer. All four of them earned enough votes to be finalists—and therefore eventually winners—but for unknown reasons, someone had secretly marked their works as “ineligible” after the first rounds of voting.

Among sci-fi and fantasy fans, the uproar was immediate and intense. Had government officials in the host country censored the finalists? Did the awards committee make a colossal mistake when tallying the votes, then try to cover it up? Or did something even stranger occur?

20 comments to Hugone awry

  • Steven R

    Get in bed with China, don’t be surprised when Beijing does CCP stuff, like stuff ballot boxes and censor results. But the people running the organization should have told the members exactly what was going on.

  • William H. Stoddard

    I don’t expect this to happen, but one possible response to this situation would be for the “winners” in the problematic categories to return their awards.

  • bobby b

    Twelve years ago, the Hugo org hired a marketing director and gave him his marching orders: “Keep us in the news!”

    He has done well.

  • Get in bed with China, don’t be surprised when Beijing does CCP stuff, like stuff ballot boxes and censor results

    Indeed, what the hell did they expect?

  • William H. Stoddard

    Perry: On one hand, it appears that they had written the rules on the assumption that everyone would follow them with honest intent. On the other, the widespread political culture of science fiction fandom probably made it hard for them to entertain the idea that the Chinese may have had bad intentions, because they would have been in danger of seeing themselves as “right wing” if they did so.

  • DiscoveredJoys

    I gave up paying attention to the Oscars, BAFTA awards, Miss World, Eurovision Song Contest, and the Booker Prizes a long time ago. It seemed to me that luvvies voting for luvvies was a recipe open to ‘influence’. I am saddened, but not surprised, to have to add the Hugos to the list.

  • John

    I am insufficiently well versed in sci fi and fantasy, despite an enduring fondness for the works of Roger Zelazny (while still a teenager) and F Paul Wilson, to know if the eventual winners were in some way more politically acceptable. Mind you the concept of Neil Gaiman being in any way verboten is hard to swallow.

    Can anyone enlighten me?

  • Those of us who were part of the “Puppies” effort (that the Atlantic thinks were led by Brad) are enjoying some massive schadenboners (mit extra umlauts) at what has been unfolding..

    The words Karma and bitch are struggling to be formed into a sentence

  • Paul Marks

    William H. Stoddard – like yourself I can remember when Science Fiction writing had many successful “right wing” authors, they would not be published today.

    With the West in the grip of pathetic Frankfurt School of Marxism “Critical Theory” indoctrinated dupes, the People’s Republic of China Communist Party leadership must find it difficult to stop themselves bursting out laughing.

  • That little contretemps was when I stopped paying any attention to established fandom.

  • Steven R

    The very idea of an award for art, of any kind, is insane on its face. There is no objectivity when it comes to art, so how can one ever decide that there is a better, much less best, piece of art?

    Beyond that, all industry award shows amount to is a commercial. “Come buy these books/movies/tv shows/records/whatever. They’re so good, they win awards!” Of course the unspoken part is the awards are given by their industry masters.

  • Kirk

    About all the Hugo awards have ever been for me? Good markers for “Don’t bother with this, it’s crap…”

    Maybe some of the stuff from back in the sixties and earlier was still worth reading, but anything from the 1980s onward? Spotty, and getting ever more spotty as time goes on.

    Same with all the varied and sundry “award” deals; they’re all self-referential masturbatory back-slapping affairs run by people who like to make believe they’re the insiders that rule the roost, and they’re actually mostly irrelevant to whatever the award is.

    Here’s a theory I’ve had for years: Formal awards, of any kind? Not worth paying attention to after about the first week of formalization, because the parasite class inevitably takes them over. Military awards aren’t any different, in the US. I don’t know about other nations, but if you see anyone in the US with a bunch of ribbons on their chest, the vast majority of those ribbons are actually pretty meaningless. Case in point; I spent a year in Iraq “flying a desk”, and because I was of a high enough rank, they wanted to give me a Bronze Star “for merit”. Told my boss that if they dared give the damn thing in front of anyone, let alone wrote me up for it, I’d make a scene and embarrass everyone involved. Why? Because the sorry sons of bitches turned down the award written for one of my subordinates, who actually did something worthy of recognition, having saved an Iraqi civilian’s life while outside the wire during an “incident”. They gave him a nice Certificate of Achievement, which was worth the paper it was printed on. Meanwhile, anyone with rank on their collar who hadn’t blotted their copybooks during the deployment? Bronze Stars all around.

    Assholes did write me up for a lesser award, ‘cos it wouldn’t have looked good. When I got back to the unit right before redeployment, they just handed it to me in the Operations center, and I glanced at it, walked it over to the shredder, and ran the whole packet through the noisiest one I knew of. Then I walked over to the Personnel section and made sure that the documents never got forwarded to Department of the Army. That sequence of actions did not make me any friends with the rest of my peers, but it was one of my prouder moments of military service.

    Funny thing, too? Having done that, and having done it that publicly, the troops knew I’d done it in about an hour, along with why. Oddly enough, that act got me more respect from the people who mattered to me, in terms of opinion, than about anything else. Had several junior NCOs and soldiers come up and say so, after the fact. About all I’d had in mind was that I didn’t want that BS award on my conscience, and I was protesting the fact that one of my guys who’d lacked the rank to get anything, wasn’t.

    All of my peers thought I was nuts, by the way.

    That’s a microcosm of how ‘effed up the US Army awards system is; refusing to get one will get you more of what they’re supposed to be doing than the actual award will, due to how the careerists have polluted the system. Which is also why so many other “award” programs are so screwed up and meaningless… It’s all fluff, all the way down.

    I honestly can’t think of a single award anything that has any real merit or meaning, these days. Maybe the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor in the military context, but those are so heavily politicized that it’s not even funny, and there’s also the tiny little problem that in order to get considered for either, your act of valor/idiocy has to be seen by the right people and then written up “properly”. So, in a sense? Those awards are also a little less than what they should be.

    What the Hugo awards have become? That’s exactly what every one of those things eventually devolves into: Meaninglessness.

  • jgh

    Aren’t the Hugos voted by the readers? So it’s as left/right wing as the readers themselves who bother to vote. It’s the Nebulas that’s voted by a self-selected panel of “experts”.

  • rhoda klapp

    VC awards which to some extent give doubt to ‘the right person has to see it’.

    LLoyd Trigg, Coastal Command B-24 pilot, got his posthumous VC after the crew of the U-boat he sank reported his heroism in the action.

    On the other hand, Billy Bishop got his VC wholly or partly on his own report of a solo raid on a German airfield which the Germans don’t seem to have noticed.

    Oh, and I haven’t read a Hugo winner since Haldeman’s Forever War, which was good.

  • Steven R

    The Medal of Honor has had its fair share of questionable recipients. Dan Sickles got one for advancing his corps into the mess that was the Peach Orchard without orders and nearly compromised the entire Union line at Gettysburg. Mary Walker got one for being a woman surgeon in the Civil War, despite not being in the military. It was rescinded and when Carter gave it back to her he did so in violation of the law which specifically requires it go to members of the military only. Teddy Roosevelt got one for San Juan Hill, despite the Army’s own report saying he did nothing of note, because he campaigned for it. MacArthur got one for abandoning the Philippines because FDR needed some hero to come out of that whole debacle and MacArthur couldn’t be court martialed like Short and Kimmel were for [REASONS].

    The Presidential Medal of Freedom has been as worthless as the Nobel Peace Prize right from the beginning. Look at the list and you’ll see half of the recipients are just entertainers or sports stars and there are more than their fair share of politicians giving it to other politicians. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden all ended up with one.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Steven R: I can’t agree with yout about that.

    There’s a passage by Ayn Rand between aesthetic evaluation and liking a work; she says, for example, that she cannot stand Tolstoy, that reading his novels was a painful literary duty, and that she not only considers his outlook mistaken but finds it actively evil, but that at the same time she considers him a good writer. I understand that sentiment, because there are science fiction writers about whom I feel the same, such as Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe: I see that they’re skilled writers, but their work doesn’t speak to me. Rand proposes that aesthetic judgment is a question of the means by which the writer conveys what she calls their “sense of life,” and that seems to me to be on the mark. I’ve felt for a long time that the ability to say, on one hand, “this is a good novel” (or painting or movie or musical work or whatever), “but I don’t enjoy it” and on the other, “I like this novel, even though it’s flawed” (the “guilty pleasures” idea), is a mark of taking art seriously.

    I’ll stipulate that, at least up till now, we have no instrument for measuring aesthetic quality other than human judgment. But I don’t think that necessarily makes it subjective.

  • Kirk

    @William H. Stoddard,

    In my highly subjective and biased opinion, you have to evaluate works along several different and often diametrically opposed axes.

    You can have a novel that’s well-written that expresses horrific implications; you can have a work of imagination that’s truly incredible in scope and power, yet which is written so poorly that you can’t get past that lack of craft and fully appreciate the depth of the author’s vision. You can also have works that are so utterly alien to your perceptions and prejudices that you can’t make a damn thing out of them, other than to acknowledge that other people see genius in them. James Joyce and Ulysses, I’m looking at you… I first tried reading that one in high school, couldn’t make sense of it, and have returned many times to the attempt, because of the laudatory worship someone I know gave it. I still don’t see the virtues in it, and I am starting to think my acquaintance may have been delusional or insane…

    One of the axes a work needs to be evaluated on is how well it connects with you; I imagine that an artwork or novel completed by an Aztec priest engaged in human sacrifice as a routine would have been incomprehensible to most of us, or so I would hope. Anything lauding the sacrifice of men, women, and children to the gods as a baseline assumption…? It would be like trying to make sense of something created by a nation of Jeffrey Dahmers.

    If you’ve ever tried viewing a lot of anime, you’ll find similar issues: The story-telling conventions and assumptions are often alien to most Western viewers, who simply do not make sense of the intricacies and conventions used. There’s a certain cultural shorthand we’re all used to using, and if we can’t access that? The work is beyond really appreciating and understanding. You read something from any of the early 19th Century female literary canon, from authors like Charlotte Bronte or Jane Austen, and there’s an entire wealth of context you almost have to have, in order to fully appreciate the books. So much flies right over your head, if you don’t have the requisite background.

    So, yeah… You can look at a work, see the purely mechanical details of it, and appreciate it for those factors, yet loathe the subject and outline of it. Equally, you can see the ideas presented and the rest of the work, and decry the construction of it all. You can also appreciate a work for its good points while simultaneously drawing back from the edge of madness that the author took them to… Which is how I often look at Ayn Rand herself. There is virtue in the old saw about “moderation in all things” being the path of wisdom, one that I don’t think she ever perceived or walked upon.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Kirk: Not to discuss the philosophical issues further, I can say that I have seen a number of anime series and read a number of manga, and they largely seem to make sense to me, even in the absence of Western narrative conventions. I particularly like the anime series Girls und Panzer and the manga series Silver Spoon, both of which are school stories. Earlier on, I saw a good deal of live cinema by Kurosawa and some by Mizoguchi, and liked both.

    Jane Austen is one of the past authors I find most readily accessible, perhaps as a byproduct of having read Kipling from my childhood (as Kipling was an utter devotee of hers); she led me on to Gaskell, whom I also like. On the other hand, I once picked up my wife’s copy of Jane Eyre and put it down in revulsion a fraction of the way in: I could not endure the Christian self-sacrifice.

    I enjoy parts of both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, but if you want to have a try at Joyce I would recommend starting with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which is sort of his Hobbit . . .

    Let me say that to me, reading Dante’s Commedia makes very much the same impression you imagine from reading Aztec religious poetry. I know that there are writers I like (notably Sayers) who adored Dante, but I cannot get past his worship of a totalitarian god.

  • jgh

    Several times I’ve attempted Phantom of the Opera, and cannot get past about three chapters. It’s…. Just…. So…. Dreary. Yet you can see how it’s a classic work, it just needs the presentation translated to be digestable.

  • Paul Marks

    The collectivist political position of Tolstoy was evil – his intentions may have been good, but the Collectivist policy suggested was evil.

    Just as the democratic socialism, communal ownership of land and so on, of Pine Ridge and other American Reservations, is evil.

    And after 90 years, for this system of democratic socialism was established by the Act of 1934, we can no longer talk about good intentions – the results of 90 years of democratic socialism at Pine Ridge and other such Reservations are clear, people who (after 90 years) still support local democratic socialism must want, yes want, these terrible results.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>