Surprising Hugo Awards Exclusions Might Look Like Political Censorship

Leaked emails provide some insight into why several famous authors were inexplicably excluded form the Hugo Awards. Read on to discover what those emails entailed.

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Torn book jackets of Babel by R.F. Kuang and Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao in front of a book page with black censored lines.

The Hugo Awards, a set of prestigious literary awards geared toward works of science fiction and fantasy, ignited controversy when released voting statistics disproved the disqualification of popular titles. Titles like R.F. Kuang’s Babel: An Arcane History, Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman screen adaptation were deemed ineligible for nominations despite all being within the top five highest nominating votes in their respective categories. No reasons for the exclusions were disclosed to the authors. On Instagram, Xiran Jay Zhao posted two videos discussing the content of leaked emails from the Hugo Awards admin and the motivations behind the unexplained bans.

Evidence Piling Up

Investigative research by Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford uncovered emails between the award’s administrative team that hinted that the reasons behind the rejections are a form of political censorship. The 2023 Hugo Awards took place in China, and the English-speaking American and Canadian admins were instructed to identify literary works that mentioned China, Taiwan, or Tibet politically to keep by Chinese laws. Further, Taiwanese authors and queer Chinese authors were highlighted, and general investigations into the lives of the authors were enacted.

Zhao’s Iron Widow got flagged due to its content, which reimagined Chinese history in the time of Emperor Wu Zetian. Xiran Jay Zhao’s name and book title were misspelled throughout the emails.

In addition to the emails, a deleted post by the Sichuan local government confirmed that they had teams reviewing all of the books proposed for the Hugo Awards. Communication between awards administrator Dave McCarty and the Chinese administration at the Hugo Awards was confirmed as they collaborated in deciding which content to disqualify. McCarty claimed that purposeful removal commonly occurs, detaching the action from discrimination and controversy. However, no direct evidence exists that the award’s administration was operating under direct political pressure.

Zhao attested that the disqualifications disproportionately affected the Chinese diaspora and severely damaged the integrity of the prestigious awards. Calls for accountability have been made on behalf of the authors impacted and fans of the science fiction genre. The full investigative report from Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford can be read under the search of File 770.

Click here to learn more about this ongoing controversy.

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