Today SF Signal has a new Mind Meld post up discussing the lack of non-Anglo writers in the Hugo Awards. This is a subject dear to my heart. Indeed, one of the many reasons I suggested setting up the Translation Awards was to encourage fans to read more translated fiction so that it might stand a better chance in the Hugos. If people don’t know about books, they are not going to vote for them. I was delighted to see the success this year of Ken Liu and E. Lily Yu, together with the Translation Award wins for Chinese writers Chen Qiufan and Huang Fan. I was also very sad to see that Hannu Rajaniemi’s wonderful The Quantum Thief missed getting on the Best Novel ballot by just one vote. Personally I also wanted to see Lavie Tidhar’s Osama on the ballot, but I seem to be in more of a minority there.
Of course one of the reasons why the Hugos are dominated by works in English, mainly works by Americans, is because English speakers, mainly Americans, make up the vast majority of the electorate. The Voter Packet and cheaper Supporting Memberships will hopefully help change that, as will outreach to European fans by the London Worldcon. But another good reason why certain works don’t do well is that people simply don’t know they can vote for them. I have gone on at length before about the people who choose not to vote because they have deemed themselves unworthy of having a vote. It is also true that people don’t vote for works because they think they are not eligible, when in fact they are. I was therefore deeply disappointed to find one of the Mind Meld contributors, Canadian writer Chris Galvin Nguyen, say the following:
Also, at present, for a work to be eligible, it must be from the US or must be a foreign work that was first translated or made available in the US within the previous year (even if it was published earlier in another country). Maybe it’s time to widen the field of eligibility as well. [Her emphasis]
That’s so far from the truth that even Paul Ryan might blush while saying it.
I have no idea how Nguyen came to think that was true. She has clearly been reading the Hugo Awards website, and what she says there is directly contradicted by something she quotes from that website. But equally I find it hard to blame her. To start with I wrote most of that website, and clearly didn’t explain well enough for her (see this great post by Justine Larbalestier on authors and being misunderstood). Also the idea that the Hugos are limited to Americans, or books published in America, is something I see crop up time and time again, despite all of my efforts to counter it. Sadly now I’m going to get people pointing to SF Signal as proof that I don’t know what I am talking about when it comes to the Hugo rules.
Where I do think this should have been stopped is at the editorial level. Kevin and I have spent enough time doing podcasts with John DeNardo about the Hugo rules. People at SF Signal should have that what Nguyen wrote was untrue. I know that the Mind Meld is supposed to be for people to give their opinions, but allowing people to say things that are completely false just to generate controversy is not, in my opinion, good journalism. I’m disappointed that, so soon after winning their first Hugo, SF Signal should publish something that is so badly wrong, and so damaging to the reputation of the Awards.
For the record, works are eligible for the Hugos as follows:
1. On first publication, no matter where in the world they are published, or what language they are published in. It also doesn’t matter whether the work is published professionally or self-published; whether publication is on paper or electronic; and you don’t have to submit your work, or pay a fee, in order for it to be considered.
2. On first publication in English. So if your work was first published in a language other than English, and then published in translation in a later year, you get two years of eligibility.
3. If the Eligibility Extension rule is in place, a work can also get a third year of eligibility on first US publication if all previous publications were outside of the US.
So works first written in languages other than English and published outside of the US are not only eligible, they can get up to three years of eligibility.
Nguyen also asked why the Eligibility Extension is renewed each year rather than being a fixed part of the WSFS Constitution. That’s a good question. The reason is that the Extension is presumed to be there to help non-US works in years when the majority of voters are American. The assumption is that when Worldcon takes place outside of the USA the majority of voters will not be American and the Extension may not be needed. From memory, the only time that the Business Meeting decided not to approve the Extension was for 2005 when Worldcon was in Glasgow. For Yokohama, Montreal and Melbourne the Extension was approved even though Worldcon was outside of the USA.
Update: Gender corrected for Chris Galvin Nguyen with profuse apologies from me and huge thanks to Aliette de Bodard for catching my mistake so quickly.