Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Hugo Awards Crisis Deepens - Where We Stand and How to Save the Awards


Previously Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together issued a joint statement of concern about the administration of the 2023 Hugo Awards and the inexplicable disqualification of several nominees, including our Editor Paul Weimer. 

In light of recent revelations, we are going to each make an individual statement, which you can find below. The reasons for this are simple: this is arguably the worst crisis of confidence the awards have ever faced - worse, even, than Puppygate. As such, this crisis necessitates a strong response. 

This is not a collective statement that we all agreed on. Rather, what follows are our individual reactions - points of which are shared broadly across our editorial and creative teams, but which also highlight the different perspectives and concerns that each of us, as individuals, want to address. We each take responsibility for our own views and words.


The G - As I see it, here are the main points of crisis: 

  • According to emails obtained by Jason Sanford and Chris M. Barkley, the administrative team overseeing the 2023 Hugo Awards made eligibility decisions based on whether the works - or nominees - might potentially be seen as “politically sensitive” by Chinese authorities. 

  • There is no evidence of direct intervention by Chinese authorities, but rather the individuals appear to have taken it upon themselves to proactively censor the awards shortlist. Information is still coming out, so this may change - but it is how things look as of right now.

  • The administrative committee allegedly collected information on nominees to determine whether or not they were politically sensitive. These “political dossiers” were then allegedly used to make the eligibility decisions; members of the Chinese diaspora were disproportionately (though not exclusively) targeted for political review. Our own editor Paul Weimer appears to have been targeted for traveling to Tibet - which he in fact did not do (he went to Nepal).

  • The leaked emails show that the administrative committee made other questionable decisions, not least of which to disqualify ballots they decided were part of a “slate.” If true, this would be deeply problematic  as administrators are not supposed to eliminate ballots. These efforts appear to have disproportionately affected Chinese-language nominees in the fiction categories. 

  • Vote tabulation has also come under scrutiny after Camestros Felapton and others noted discrepancies in the nominating statistics. Author Mary Robinette Kowal revealed on Bluesky that vote tabulation is accomplished through proprietary software; its author - administrator Dave McCarty - allegedly refuses to share the code with others, making it impossible to verify results. 

  • The lack of transparency and ability to verify results, according to Kowal, predates Chengdu Worldcon. While there is no specific reason to doubt previous years’ results, we can no longer just trust that previous awards were administered according to WSFS guidelines and ethical principles.  

To read further, please see:

There are two sets of problems here: (a) the proximate issue of what was done in 2023 and (b) what this reveals or illuminates about the the cartel of self-proclaimed "SMOFs" (secret masters of fandom) who treat the Hugos - and Worldcon more broadly - as their birthright, playground and personal fiefdom. The Hugo Awards are supposed to be democratic in nature and process; the behavior of the self-proclaimed "SMOFs" is fundamentally anti-democratic - and this is by no means confined to Chengdu Worldcon.

Now here are my suggestions for how to rebuild trust in the Hugo Awards:

  1. No one involved in the administration of the 2023 Hugo Awards, or who assisted in the collection of political evidence, can ever be allowed to have any role in administering the awards ever again.
  2. Vote tabulation must be performed in a transparent manner using software that multiple people have access to for purposes of validation. 
  3. All tabulations must be independently audited for purposes of verification. 
  4. Individual Cons should no longer administer the Hugo Awards - this should be done by an independent, rotating committee.
  5. All decisions by said committee must be audited; all disqualified nominees must be notified and given time to appeal.


Failure to implement these or similar guardrails going forward will render the Hugo Awards irreparably damaged.


Vance K - from the jump, I want to acknowledge Paul Weimer in this situation. Not only is he a valued and dedicated editorial colleague here at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together, but he is a tireless advocate for the very best of the science fiction and fantasy community. Paul’s output is prodigious - not only for this site but for several other outlets - and it is broadly dedicated to elevating exciting voices and talents, and celebrating their work. I am biased, certainly, but Paul represents the best of fandom, and is the kind of writer you hope to see hoisting a Hugo Award statue because the goddamn Hugo Awards are fan awards, and a vibrant community needs engaged, passionate fans like Paul to grow and thrive.

He has comported himself with tremendous dignity throughout this deeply undignified situation. So here’s to Paul.

Since the Sanford and Barkley reporting came to light, I have read many diverse insights from members of the SF/F community that have highlighted the various different ways in which this scandal eclipses anything about a genre, or an award, or a convention. Members of the Chinese diaspora, Chinese fans and writers, creators who were recognized for their work and now have a long shadow cast over that recognition, individuals who had political dossiers compiled on them by awards administrators – awards administrators! – and creators across the globe who did not get the recognition that they earned by being wrongly excluded from the Hugo ballot are all experiencing different ramifications from these revelations. I see in that variety, and the depth of the hurt that people are experiencing, confirmation that the damage done here is profound, wide-ranging and potentially irreparable.

This is not the online bickering of a cloistered fandom. This is a situation where Americans and Canadians voluntarily stepped up to do the work of silencing creators on behalf of a repressive authoritarian state with an appalling human rights record…and for what?! To have a fun party? 

It turns my stomach.

I echo the calls for change stated here by my colleagues, but I don’t know how that change happens. I don’t know what the collaboration and teamwork looks like that will be necessary to bury this shameful circumstance in the past and ensure it cannot possibly happen again. But let’s figure it out. 


Arturo - The recently revealed conduct of the 2023 Worldcon administrators is unacceptable, all the more so because the celebration of the Hugos is supposed to be led by people who love science fiction. It was precisely science fiction which taught each generation for the past century how to identify and resist totalitarian dystopias, which makes this incident a disgraceful betrayal of the literary tradition of which this award is supposed to be the crown jewel - and against the writers, editors, artists, readers, collectors, gamers, and various other enthusiasts who seek in science fiction a refuge from the corruption of the ordinary world.

How dare Dave McCarty maintain a position of prominence in the fan community when he clearly hasn’t taken to heart the lessons of the genre? Which science fiction fan worth their Orwell, their Bradbury, their Huxley, would willingly submit themself, not even to a threat of repression, but to the mere imagined shadow of a threat? Which science fiction fan who ever dreamed of joining a community of peer minds would choose to supplant the many voices of that community, the voices praising the stories that most spoke to their hearts, and deny the hardworking creators of those stories the public honor they deserve? Which science fiction fan aware of the centuries-long battle between the pen and the sword would take the sword’s side?

It’s no coincidence that so many of our heroes hold truth as one of the highest causes to fight for. This is the genre that immortalized the courageous truth-tellers Clark Kent and Tintin and Sarah Jane Smith and April O’Neil and Gordon Krantz and Isaac Leibowitz. What Dave McCarty has defiled is not only the mechanics of a contest, but the very values that inspire this art. Truth is the first duty, to quote Captain Picard. I don’t know what science fiction Dave McCarty likes, but he somehow missed the most important message repeated across every masterpiece.

The nature of the offense is multiple: it shows blatant disregard for the will of Hugo voters, for the hopes of Chinese fans, for the agency of local Chengdu committee members, for the effort of authors, for the legacy and prestige of the Hugo Awards, and for the universal human obligation to oppose tyrannical regimes. On a personal level, the moral character of my colleague and friend Paul Weimer as a Best Fan Writer candidate - and of the Nerds of a Feather team as a Best Fanzine candidate - were insulted by what amounts to a hunt for kompromat. To quote Batman: that is the weapon of the enemy. The voices of artists who imagine better worlds deserve better than being suppressed by fear of the Chinese Communist Party, let alone by copying the same tactics of the Chinese Communist Party.

There’s no point in expecting a proper apology. Dave McCarty seems incapable of realizing the wrongness of his choices. I don’t know enough about the procedures of Worldcon logistics to offer any coherent proposal on vote tallying methods, but any remedy to this shame must begin by banning Dave McCarty and his co-conspirators from membership in any future Worldcon.


Adri - I write this statement from a position of great privilege.

I am privileged to be a part of this fandom. I am privileged to be inundated every year with amazing books and stories, thanks to all the people who go into writing and publishing them (often for very little recognition). I am privileged to have been part of an award nominated and award winning team here at Nerds of a Feather, and to get to see the work this team puts in every day to bring the best SF criticism, reflection and analysis to the wider world.

I am also privileged, in my professional life, to have worked with some of the most dedicated activists, researchers and advocates, working alongside them to help make the world a marginally better place. I have spent time with people who have spent decades in exile, who make travel plans around the countries they can and can’t go, who occasionally drop offline for a while and re-emerge having been at the police station, and who don’t let any of that stop them from doing what they believe to be the right thing for their communities. I am privileged enough that, when I think of my professional history with China and its neighbours, and what that might mean for my future travel plans, the worst case scenario I seriously think about is a rejected visa. I am privileged enough that I wouldn’t lose the ability to connect with family or close friends as a result of that scenario.

I am privileged enough that my first reaction, on finding out that a small group of American and Canadian Worldcon admin had compiled dossiers about the geopolitical leanings of potential Worldcon finalists, my emotional reaction was “and they didn’t notice me?” That’s a poor reaction, unworthy of the seriousness of political profiling, and I make no excuses for it - but I think it’s emblematic of this whole sorry mess, that most of us are privileged enough to be splashing around in the shallow end of state oppression and censorship. That doesn’t make it less valid to be furious that we are in this situation, of course! If anything, it’s even more infuriating that the Hugo awards have been kicked into the mud by a few North Americans who thought it would be fine to LARP as secret police while running an award they claim to care about.

As always, the victims of this fandom garbage fire are disproportionately folks of colour, and particularly Chinese and Chinese diaspora creators. The scrutiny on Chinese and Chinese diaspora writers writing in English, or putting their art out to Western audiences, seems to have been higher, and its implications - both practical and emotional - much more serious.

Even more seriously: the decision to cancel an undisclosed number of votes due to allegations of “slating.” The idea of canceling ballots was previously so anathema to Hugo administrators that in 2016, then-administrator Dave McCarty allowed a slew of racist, homophobic, fascist content on the ballot across multiple categories under the Rabid Puppies because the alternative was unthinkable. This “valiant protection of the soul of the Hugo awards” caused a large number of Chinese works to be removed from the ballot, and their authors denied the ability to compete on their home turf. To say these creators, and the fans who nominated them, deserved better is like saying the ocean is a bit wet: nobody involved in making the decisions that took this honour away from them (without apology!) is fit to be part of this community.

It’s difficult to see where the Hugo awards go from here in repairing the damage done. From a Western fandom perspective, I echo The G’s recommendations above. More broadly? It’s a privilege to be part of a global SF/F community full of talent, passion and diverse perspectives, and it’s time for WSFS to shape up and be worthy of that community - not the other way around.


Chris Garcia - The Hugos were damaged. A team entrusted with the task of administering the awards failed fandom in the worst way possible. 

For the last 12 years, I have been lucky enough to have a Hugo trophy living in my home. When people in fandom think of me, it’s almost always in relationship to the Hugos. The trophy came with me during the evacuations when our house was threatened by fires less than half-a-mile away. The Hugo Awards means so much to me personally. I love them, the history they represent, the joy they bring. 

And so, this blatant disregard for the integrity of the award is like being slapped in the face. Dave McCarty and his team chose a path that led fandom into a new, dangerous territory. We can no longer feel like the processes we relied on will be faithfully executed because of the incredibly poor judgment of the team. Many choices they made were Ill-considered, both in the lead up to the nomination announcements, and up through today. McCarty’s refusal even to apologize is magnified by either his inability, or simple refusal, to deliver the actual statistics the community has relied on for decades. 

We can’t let this happen again, and we must fix as much of the harm done as we fortify the systems the Hugo Awards rely upon moving forward. 

First, the Hugo subcommittee from 2023 should turn over raw voting data to an outside auditor tasked with producing a true set of results. Second, the Mark Protection Committee must remove all representation for the Chengdu WorldCon as well as any seated member who served in a senior capacity at the Chengdu WorldCon.  Third, we must begin the search for an outside group to annually administer the awards, or at the very least serve as auditors of the Hugo results on a permanent basis. Finally, the Chengdu team must make formal apologies to each and every person in fandom for failing them so thoroughly, and specifically to those individuals they wronged most directly. I know that last one is incredibly unlikely to happen, but we must demand it because it speaks to the very heart of the problem. 

Let us stand together


Paul - For years, the word “Hugo Award finalist” or “Hugo Award Winner” has meant something to readers. Some of my earliest steps into fandom was reading copies of Locus to find who was nominated and who won, and then reading those winners.  The Hugos have taken a strong hit in terms of reliability, credibility, prestige and their value to the community. I may be one of the Ineligibles, but the damage this has done goes far beyond me; it goes to all of Science Fiction fandom, and the wider community of readers. As noted by others, this especially hits marginalized readers and members of fandom.  

In recent years, those marginalized writers, readers and fans (and fans and readers outside of the US and UK) have started to find a voice in fandom and in science fiction in general after too many years of being muted, ignored, belittled, and forgotten. The inexcusable actions of the Chengdu team mar and weaken those efforts for readers and fans alike. It’s time for the WSFS to work toward the global inclusive community of readers, writers and fans that it has long given lip service to being in its very name.


Alex - I will admit to the readership point-blank that I am not a neutral observer of all this. I voted for Winnipeg for 2023’s WorldCon specifically to deny it to the People’s Republic of China, and afterwards wrote a piece for Warped Factor decrying the decision.I tried to start a social media campaign, which I called #GeeksAgainst Genocide which never got off the ground, to boycott the convention specifically over human rights abuses in the People’s Republic.

I reiterate the question I asked in that previous piece: if bids for Israel and Russia led to boycotts, why wasn’t the bid for the People’s Republic treated likewise?

The other thoughts that ring through my mind: supremacists find common cause with supremacists, and that petty tyranny flourishes under autocracy. We have talked about how the far right in the Western world wants to deny the very existence of objective truth. Here, we are being denied even a right to figure out what happened with the various disqualifications, including of our very own Paul Weimer. 

The People’s Republic has put so much effort into censoring fandom before. Why did anyone think that this would not happen to our fandom? I would like to highlight one particular quote from the linked article:

In a strange twist, the very fandom communities the CCP is most concerned about may also be the ones that are unexpectedly helping to spread its political agenda. A recently published study from researchers at Concordia University and York University, conducted between January 2020 and October 2021, looked at the way danmei fans online interacted with the CCP’s restrictions. They found that in the absence of clarity around many of the restrictions, the fans themselves, through a mix of speculation and “accusatory reporting” — that is, reporting or threatening to report each other to authorities for perceived transgressions — were doing a more efficient job policing themselves than the government ever could. In essence, the fans who tried to conduct their subversive fandoms within the parameters of the regime “strengthened the political authority’s practice and narrative.

As to why I think the Party may have chosen to prevent WorldCon authorities from rewarding certain stories (many involving social justice) and certain authors (outspoken about social justice), I’m reminded of how that government has apparently never allowed the release of the 2017 South Korean film A Taxi Driver. That film is about the Gwangju Uprising in 1980, a revolt against the authoritarian government of Chun Doo-hwan, which had recently taken power in a coup d’etat. Chun was a right-wing dictator backed by the United States. You would think that the Communist Party would like to use this to slander South Korea and the United States, but no. It was banned, likely because it shows the people daring to resist a tyrannical government.

If Dave McCarty made decisions that disproportionately targeted Chinese citizens and ethnic Chinese in the diaspora, this served the Communist Party’s goals. It is a convergence of the bigotry of supremacism. The People’s Republic knows that Western civil rights activism - and fiction - have inspired social movements elsewhere. Recall the famous Ursula K. Le Guin quote: “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

The Party knows this. That is why they have, for example, censored time travel fiction. That is because such fiction, like many other types in the greater SF/F sphere, is about how this world can be different. They are afraid of fiction like ours, which shows that the People’s Republic was not inevitable, that the laws of history did not require it, or its censorship. As George Orwell said: “Every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered.”

This should be a wake-up call to SF/F fans the world over: we must commit to humanity, all humanity, everywhere. We must be willing to stand up for the rights of Uyghurs and Tibetans and Ukrainians and Palestinians and the marginalized peoples of the West equally, as they are all equally human. SF/F shows us that our world is not inevitable, and that bigotry is not inevitable. We must not appease those who espouse it.

If we want to commit to this, I have a somewhat out-there proposal: have a WorldCon in Kyiv, safety permitting, to have an SF/F version of the Second International Congress for the Defense of Culture, a writer’s convention held in Madrid in 1937 for writers who opposed fascism - held while that city was being shelled by fascists in a bitter civil war. I hope it would be held in a city at peace, in a free Ukraine, in a world that had learned the lessons of the abandonment of the Spanish Republic to fascism and had sought to keep Ukraine free. It would be a commitment by our genre to uphold freedom everywhere, for everyone, for Uyghurstan and Palestine and Tibet and Kashmir and every other place like them, even in allegedly ‘free’ countries.

We in the SF/F community must hold to the promise of our genre, and keep to heart the words of the great American abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison: "So perish all compromises with tyranny!"


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a Feather founder/administrator, since 2012.