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The Long Arm Of Chinese Censorship Comes For Science Fiction Awards

Just when science fiction fans thought the controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards couldn’t get worse, they held the World Science Fiction Convention in China with predictably disastrous results.

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For the second time in 10 years, insiders of the World Science Fiction Convention (colloquially known as “Worldcon”) have bent their own rules in an attempt to police the bounds of what books and writers are to be seen as acceptable science fiction and fantasy. This time, they’ve done so on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

Worldcon is an annual convention held in a different city every year. At each Worldcon, attendees, in addition to people who pay for non-attending memberships, vote on where the convention will be held in the future and also vote to determine who will receive the awards, most famously including the once-prestigious Hugo Awards. Despite this peripatetic nature, Worldcon has a core group of participants who return year after year. These participants often refer to themselves as “fans” and, collectively, as “fandom.”

Fandom leans left and can be very cliquish. Many fans have been attending Worldcon for decades and see it as something like their science fiction family reunion. Since Worldcon has always been attended by industry professionals — writers, editors, and agents — as well as fans, the convention has been a useful networking event for aspiring creatives, but always within the social context of fandom.

However, there is a clique of insiders that has unusual sway over what happens at Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. It is comprised of writers and editors associated with a small number of the largest science fiction and fantasy publishers, as well as their friends and allies who work behind the scenes organizing conventions. The insiders don’t want you to think the turf-war games they gleefully engaged in have now gone awry on them. For instance, science fiction novelist John Scalzi informed commenters on his blog post on the subject that “Attempts to re-litigate the Sad Puppy nonsense in the comments here will be Malleted.” But why would anyone connect the events of Worldcon 81 in Chengdu, China, with the Sad Puppy conflicts?

Degrading the Hugo Awards

The previous beating of the bounds took place over a series of Worldcons and is generally known by some reference to the “Sad Puppies,” a faction of Worldcon participants who tried to make the awards more reflective of the tastes of the broader science fiction community. Naturally, this internal battle had political overtones, and there was a big effort to excommunicate the Sad Puppies at the time. The events of the Sad Puppies conflicts became complicated, but at their heart, they’re simple, and in their origin, they’re personal.

Fantasy and science fiction novelist and former gun store owner Larry Correia writes heroic action stories about honorable people fighting monsters. When he first broke into publishing with Monster Hunter International, a cheerful story about private companies hunting monsters for government bounties in rural America, he found himself a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer to be awarded at Worldcon 69 in Reno.

The Campbell is one of the awards given out at Worldcon. (The award has since been renamed to avoid honoring John W. Campbell, a man whose influence on science fiction is undeniable — he wrote the novella that was the basis for “The Thing” — because he had controversial politics Worldcon insiders no longer approve of.) Correia expected to go to Worldcon and hang out with like-minded nerdy writers, but even before the event, he found himself socially snubbed by a wall of sneering leftism. He was called “an NRA stooge” and a “merchant of death” who liked to “dance in the blood of children.” Most famously, he was told he was “not a real writer,” a jibe that Correia’s fans to this day repeat with ironic delight.

Correia didn’t win the Campbell, but that defeat wasn’t enough for the hardcore lefties of fandom, who continued to go after him online (as they still do today). In the flame wars that ensued, Correia made the point that Worldcon was a small convention and its insiders didn’t reflect the thinking of all readers of science fiction and fantasy, so their social snub was unimportant.

The convention was small enough that it took only a modest number of votes for a book to win one of the convention’s coveted Hugo Awards and even fewer for a book to become a finalist. Correia confidently predicted that he and his readers could get one of his books in as a finalist for Best Novel, though he expressed doubt that he had enough pull with fandom to make any book a winner. He duly made good on his prediction, and his book Warbound was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel at Worldcon 72 in London.

At any point, Correia could have walked away. And at any point, the lefty insiders of science fiction could have stopped insulting and threatening him. Neither happened. Instead, with the Worldcon insiders leaning hard into the banner of “diversity” while giving awards to white liberals, Correia put forward a slate of recommendations for Worldcon 73 in Spokane. He called his nominees the “Sad Puppies” slate in a tongue-in-cheek cartoon as a reference to a Sarah McLachlan animal charity commercial, because “boring message fiction is the leading cause of Puppy Related Sadness.”

Correia maintains he had no idea what the skin color or sexual orientation of his nominees were. “We were just picking people who were popular or good but who’d normally get ignored by the leftist cliques.” His slate nevertheless included women, ethnic minorities, and people we might today call “LGBTQIA+.”

Correia’s fans and sympathizers voted finalists into multiple categories for the Hugo Awards set to be handed out at Worldcon 73 in Spokane.

This was a looming disaster. The Worldcon insiders couldn’t bear the thought that any of Correia’s slate might win and took action to stuff the ballot box. This was possible because Worldcon allows people who purchase non-attending memberships to vote along with people who attend the convention. Presumably, the idea was originally that someone who regularly came to Worldcon but couldn’t in a particular year could still support the event by purchasing a (relatively cheap) non-attending membership, and that person should be allowed to vote.

The Hugo voting in 2015 was flooded with non-attending memberships. You can see it in the number of total votes cast. Worldcon 72 (in cosmopolitan London): 3,587, Worldcon 73 (in backwater Spokane): 5,950. Insiders didn’t want any of Correia’s candidates to win, and insiders bought enough bogus memberships to ensure it didn’t happen. One result was that No Award, a previously little-used ballot option, was the winner in five categories. In five categories, confronted with a list of five eligible finalists, many preferred by hundreds of voters, the ballot-stuffers chose to give the prize to no one.

Finalists for the Hugo for Best Editor, Long Form included Anne Sowards, Toni Weisskopf, and Sheila Gilbert, all powerful and respected women in the field. It also included Vox Day, a right-wing provocateur who was drafting in Correia’s wake with his own slate of candidates and further muddying the waters. Weisskopf was Correia’s suggested candidate. I’m slightly simplifying the complicated voting process, but Weisskopf won more votes than any previous winner of the Hugo for Best Editor, Long Form at 1,216 … but “No Award” won 2,496. By comparison, Ginjer Buchanan won the award in 2014 with 359 votes. To prevent Vox Day from winning the Hugo, and to show Larry Correia who was boss, the Worldcon insiders threw the award away.

I attended Worldcon 73 and was in the amphitheater when the awards were announced. I was stunned at the morons who cheered at the No Award for Best Editor, Long Form, patting themselves on the back for snubbing three of the genre’s best editors, all women, for reasons of (ironically) progressive politics and sheer cliquishness. A “boo” was offered in response to the No Award result and the cheer, and host David Gerrold, possibly befuddled or possibly simply in cahoots with the ballot-stuffers, admonished us that it was not appropriate to boo.

Well, I booed then, and I boo now. Boo on you silly people who think that science fiction and fantasy literature is your personal plaything. Boo on you fools who think you are virtuous for shouting down and excluding those who disagree with you. Boo on you who decided to rig the voting. And boo on you, David Gerrold, who went along with it, who literally handed out wooden asterisks to finalists and participated in degrading the Hugo Awards into meaninglessness.

China Games the Hugos

Fast forward to Worldcon 81, held in 2023 in Chengdu, China. Worldcon sites are chosen by vote two years in advance. In 2021, Worldcon was again flooded with non-participating memberships, and Chengdu, China, was selected as the site for Worldcon 81. It clobbered Winnipeg, 2,006 to 807. More than 1,900 of Chengdu’s votes were from non-attending members — i.e., mail-in ballots — and more than 1,500 of those didn’t even give a street address for the putative voter. The ballot box had been stuffed again, this time to get the convention to China.

Why would China want Worldcon? Danielle Ranucci of the Human Rights Foundation has suggested that the Chinese state was behind the ballot-stuffing and that it wanted to host Worldcon to “launder its reputation, legitimize its genocide, and promote dubious research.” Whatever the reason, someone in China wanted Worldcon, and they followed the playbook of the Worldcon insiders to get it.

The in-person event apparently went well, but the scandal doesn’t end there: The 2023 Hugo Awards were rigged. Leaked emails and other documents reveal that the Hugo administrators for Worldcon 81 removed from consideration authors and works they deemed not eligible for a Hugo. Eligibility turns out to have depended on suitability for publication under Chinese censorship laws, with Hugo administrator Dave McCarty emailing the rest of the committee to watch out for “mentions of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, negatives of China.”

It’s not clear whether the administrators were acting at the direction of the Chinese state or simply taking it upon themselves to act as if they were. In an interview after the committee’s actions became public, McCarty maintained that he acted within the parameters of the World Science Fiction Society Constitution. If so, it was an unprecedented action.

So China didn’t choose who won the 2023 Hugos, but Chinese rules determined who wouldn’t be allowed to compete.

Worldcon insiders have been very upset about all of this, and I would be, too. However much they might have disliked him, Correia played fair — the insiders were the ones who bent the rules to win. They managed to defend their playhouse against Correia and his conservative insurgents, only to have China run their own plays back at them, using non-attending memberships and collusion to delegitimize dissenting voices.

Larry Correia’s comment on the 2023 Hugos scandal was, “The Chinese communists quietly did the same thing the American lefties did loudly. To the Chinese it wasn’t personal, just business as usual. To the Worldcon woke, it was deeply personal, and they gleefully try to ruin the career of any authors who step out of line.”

As icing on a very sad cake, McCarty has also now been accused on social media by at least two women of sexual harassment and groping. This story is yet to finish unfolding, but if the allegations are true, it wouldn’t be the first time that the freak-flag-friendly and even sometimes kinky waters of fandom have turned out to conceal a lurking predator.

Does any of this really matter? Probably not. Correia’s original point stands: Worldcon’s fandom is a small community, not to be confused with science fiction readers in general. Whatever agents and editors still attend, Worldcon’s fandom doesn’t control access to publishing, now less than ever as indie publishing continues to explode and bookstores struggle. A writer could sell tens of thousands of books now and be invisible to fandom.

For anyone who is paying attention, the Hugos first went woke and then bowed the knee to authoritarian China. Fandom may wish to act as the gatekeepers of science fiction and fantasy, but they’ve crippled their credibility. Precious few people going to see “Dune: Part Two” this week are going to know or care where the next Worldcon will be held and what works might win Hugo Awards there. The writers deemed ineligible under Chinese censorship rules are still writing and publishing; not only are their careers not harmed, but they may have gotten some promotion out of the experience.

I hope Worldcon survives. I hope they can find a way to reclaim their dignity and credibility and a mission that is suitable for the community they serve. They don’t police the bounds of science fiction and fantasy anymore, if they ever really did. There are no bounds, and maybe the world is better for it.


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