While perusing the shelves to find the next best read, one can often find sticker-like emblems on the cover informing  the reader something of note about the book. For example, they can tell a potential reader it has been turned into a Netflix series, or that it is the winner of a literary award. Traditionally, a sticker related to an award would convey to the reader that through a rigorous and reputable process, the work is the best among its peers of that year. For the science fiction and fantasy genre, the Hugo Awards are understood to be the premier honour. However, after the 2023 ceremony, this long-standing reputation has been called into question. 

It is procedure that after the award season, the members of the World Science Fiction Convention, who decide the final ballot, publish the statistics of the nominations. It is here where creators can see if they received any nominations and how many they were missing to be considered a finalist. Problems began to arise when the public noticed that the statistics were not released  the same night as the ceremony, as is tradition. It was only in late January 2024 when they were released, despite the event being held in October of the previous year. Social media was whipped into a frenzy when it was noticed that certain authors had amassed the necessary notations, but were disqualified from winning. Such authors included R.F. Kuang with Babel, Xiran Jay Zhao with Iron Widow, and Neil Gaiman with an episode of The Sandman. Questions arose from the authors and public alike, as no statement was given as to why these works in particular were ineligible. No official answers were given by the committee; the only communications were done by Dave McCarty, the overall administrator of the awards through Facebook replies. He insisted that “after reviewing the Constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible”. Despite many online users still being confused, and along with the authors themselves, the understanding of which rules were broken, and to what extent, was not further elaborated upon. McCarty quickly began berating anyone who challenged his original statement. 

Having been given no answers, people began turning to more conspiratorial takes. A popular one being that a form of censorship was at hand since the ceremony took place in Chengdu, China. All three authors mentioned have voiced their displeasure with the Chinese government either through their work or online. Zhao responded to her fans with a TikTok video stating, “This is the first time that there’s been such blatant manipulation of the ballots… they have lost all legitimacy”. The Hugo Awards change its hosting location every year, and despite concerns, many saw it as an opportunity to reach new audiences and evolve into a less Western-centric ceremony. However, answers came in the form of leaked emails from committee member Diane Lacey. While they may not have been pressured by the government to alter the ballots, forms of self-censorship still took place. McCarty wrote, “The laws we operate under are different… we need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in work”. He urged other members to highlight any works related to China, Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, and general issues that might be deemed sensitive. The Western admins were the ones to spearhead this screening, but they were also in communication with the Chinese admins. Zhao stated in a follow-up video that despite not only being English-speaking members who were guilty, “it does seem like they overcorrected in a racist way and ended up hurting mostly Chinese diaspora”. Lacey states she leaked the emails out of guilt for her role and as a measure to retract her actions.

McCarty and others from the board resigned from their positions along with being censured for their actions and online comments. General consensus online appears to be one of distrust. Many believe that the response from the Hugo Awards is not enough to truly tackle the issue of censorship in an institution that seeks to exist outside individual governments. Additionally, science fiction and fantasy are the genres that are used to criticise political agendas such as censorship, and therefore, placating for the fear of retribution is disingenuous to the meaning of the awards. The legitimacy of the Hugo Awards is still being considered. 

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