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  • Writer's pictureM.C.

Hugo Awards Bow to Chinese Censorship

Updated: Mar 12

I don’t normally write a lot of editorial posts as I prefer the focus of my newsletter and blog on the fun things about writing speculative fiction, including tips and tricks, fun lists, and reviews of books that others might enjoy. However, the recent actions and events surrounding the 2023 Hugo Awards have left me angry and dismayed. 


For those who don’t know, the Hugo Awards are one of the preeminent speculative fiction awards. They are known as a ‘science fiction award’, but many of the nominees and winners are clearly in other genres such as fantasy, time travel, or even the supernatural. The Hugos date back to the 1950s and are named after Hugo Gernsback, founder of the pioneering sci-fi magazine Amazing Stories.


The Hugos are awarded to works based on the voting of members who sign up for the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon--though members don’t actually need to attend to vote. Any work published within the past year is eligible, and members can nominate up to five works in each category (novel, series, screenplay, short story, etc.) The top six nominees make up the final ballot with a final vote to choose the winner. Though the underlying process is a bit complicated, the results are normally straightforward.


But not last year. With the 2023 WorldCon held in Chengdu, China, organizing members of that convention, either through direct or indirect pressure from the Chinese government, decided to eliminate any work that the Chinese might consider offensive. The public may have never known if not for a requirement that the nominations tally be made public. The WorldCon organizers have 90 days to provide the information, and in every previous WorldCon, the nomination numbers were provided nearly instantly--within hours after the tally was complete.


Not with the WorldCon in China. Organizers waited until the very last day of the 90-day window to provide the nomination results, well after the convention was over and winners announced. But these nomination results showed several works had enough nominations to be on the final ballot but were not included. These omissions affected world-renown authors including R.F. Kuang, Neil Gaiman, and Xiran Jay Zhao. And though none of these works were directly critical of the Chinese Communist regime, their elimination from contention is nothing short of censorship.


The beauty of speculative fiction in all its flavors and genres is its willingness to explore social, economic, and political issues. Censorship and book banning is nothing new to speculative fiction. Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 even explores the issue of banning (and burning) books!


But though it has happened before, censorship has no place in the world of speculative fiction - or any art. People should have the right to read what they want, to think what they want, and to do what they want as long as it doesn’t hurt others. Respect and courtesy. There is far too little of each in today’s society – which is why telling these stories is so important. And we need to acknowledge those who do it well.


Shame on the Hugos. This certainly tarnishes their quality and reputation in my eyes. To me, they are no longer the pinnacle achievement in speculative fiction. I now look at the Nebula Awards for that distinction.


And shame on China--and Russia, North Korea and every regime that oppresses their people and keeps them from thinking for themselves. Totalitarian oligarchs and theocratic dictators are the fuel for our stories, so be warned. 

Speculative Fiction is coming for you.


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