Hugo book award winner rejects prize as outrage over 2023 awards rises

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The Hugo Awards should be celebrating sci-fi and fantasy literature – but appeasing Chinese authorities appears to have taken precedence.

We only occasionally venture directly into the world of literary reporting on this site, but hecky thump. A lovely awards ceremony celebrating the best science fiction and fantasy writing, the Hugos have been running for over 70 years, recognising the kind of authors who rarely get a sniff at more mainstream prizes. After all, you write genre stuff, and you’re not going to need that many shelves for your gongs. Ask sci-fi filmmakers.

It’s pretty tragic, then, that this year’s Hugo Awards have been overshadowed by behind the scenes irregularities. The awards were given out at the Worldcon convention, this year held at Chengdu in China. All seemed normal-ish when the prizes were bestowed, but things have gone south very quickly.

The basic overview of what happened is that to avoid getting on the wrong side of Chinese authorities, several entries to the awards were ruled ineligible. Furthermore, a trove of Chinese-language nominations weren’t even allowed to get to the starting gate. Prizes that have celebrated the best in sci-fi and fantasy writing now had new, unpublished criteria: not offending the Chinese government.

More and more details have emerged since the awards, and the Hugos don’t come out of it well at all. I’ll direct you here for a detailed overview of what’s been happening.

The 2024 awards will be given out in Glasgow, and the organisers of next year’s event have already issued this statement.

It’s too late for one of this year’s winners, though. Adrian Tchaikovsky, who picked up the prize for best series, has issued a statement saying that “the Hugos have been a major feature of the genre fiction landscape for decades. It should be a signal honour to be shortlisted for one, let alone to win.”

Yet he posted on his website a precis of what’s happened, and added that “based on this information, I cannot consider myself a Hugo winner and will not be citing the 2023 award result in my biographical details, or on this site.”

It’s all really rather grim, and an astounding misfire that genre authors aren’t – to their credit – being quiet about. Let this small piece be a contribution to the noise.

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