The Hugo Awards is mired in a new controversy as it was revealed that a number of expected, highly voted for, nominees missing in last year’s awards were actually deemed “ineligible” according to a recent report of voting statistics released by Worldcon. Each year’s Hugo Awards are nominated and voted on by members and administered by a subcommittee of that year’s Worldcon – which in 2023 was Chengdu Worldcon, China (October 18-22, 2023). It is being alleged that the Chinese may have ruled certain works – particularly those pertaining to revolutionary activities – out of the final lists.

While mostly prose-focused, the Hugo Awards annually give plaudits to works in the television, film and comics space. The most contentious exclusion from the 2023 list, released on January 20, was Yellowface writer R. F. Kuang whose 2022 anti-colonial resistance fantasy novel Babel garnered huge acclaim, had been #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list, won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, a Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and was named a Blackwell’s Book of the Year. It was left out of the Best Novel category for undisclosed reasons beyond “ineligibility”. The prize last year went to dark fairy tale Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher.

Hugo Awards
The most contentious exclusion: R. F. Kuang’s 2022 fantasy novel ‘Babel’

Kuang posted a comment on Blue Sky regarding Babel‘s exclusion:

“I initially planned to say nothing about Babel’s inexplicable disqualification from the Hugo Awards. But I believe that these cases thrive on ambiguities, the lingering question marks, the answers that aren’t answers. I wish to clarify that no reason for Babel’s ineligibility was given to me or my team. I did not decline a nomination, as no nomination was offered.

“Until one is provided that explains why the book was eligible for the Nebula and Locus awards, which it won, and not the Hugos, I assume this was a matter of undesirability rather than ineligibility. Excluding “undesirable” work is not only embarrassing for all involved parties, but renders the entire process and organization illegitimate. Pity.”

While the Hugos in more recent years has prided itself on its improved transparency, it appears that the Chengdu awards had become much more opaque in their decision-making – not least in the late delivery of the report on the voting until four months after the fact. With Dave McCarty, Chengdu Worldcon vice-chair and co-head of the Hugo Awards Selection Executive Division, giving a blanket non-answer to questioning. That statement being:

“After reviewing the Constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible.”

It is repeated a lot.

Science fiction fan and convention organiser Kevin Standlee, commented on the matter in a blog post – alleging that the irregularities came as a feature of the local context in which the Worldcon was set, in this case that of China:

“Something that I think most people have forgotten is that Worldcons happen in the real world and are subject to real-world conditions. Among other things, Worldcons have to obey the laws of the place in which they are held, no matter what their governing documents say.

“An overwhelming majority of the members of WSFS who voted on the site of the 2023 Worldcon (at the 2021 Worldcon in DC) selected Chengdu, China as the host of the 2023 Worldcon. That meant that the members of WSFS who expressed an opinion accepted that the convention would be held under Chinese legal conditions. Furthermore, those people (including me) who suggested that there might be election irregularities were overridden, shouted down, fired from their convention positions, and told that they were evil and probably racist for even suggesting such a thing.

“When it comes to local law, this could end up applying anywhere. Here’s an example I can use because as far as I know, there are no Worldcon bids for Florida at this time. Imagine a Worldcon held in Florida. It would be subject to US and Florida law (and any smaller government subdivision). Given legislation passed by Florida, it would not surprise me if such a hypothetical Florida Worldcon’s Hugo Administration Subcommittee would disqualify any work with LGBTQ+ content, any work with an LGBTQ+ author, or any LGBTQ+ individual, because the state has declared them all illegal under things like their “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” laws and related legislation.

“This does not seem that farfetched to me, and Florida isn’t the only place where I could see it happening.”

It should be noted that China is a one-party state with a robust system of censorship that limits freedom of speech. Such assertions are not out of the realm of possibility. In China LGBTQ+ is frowned upon with mixed legal status but the biggest No-Nos are organisations outside the control of the government and ideas of public protest and resistance to authority. This intensity of state-sponsored censorship can mean anything can be struck down with nary a reason given.

File 770‘s Mike Glyer posited even more questions from Standlee’s response:

“Fans are clearly expected to infer these Hugo eligibility decisions were made to comply with Chinese rules or authority, but no one is saying what Chinese rules the Hugo subcommittee was operating under, unlike Standlee’s hypothetical which is based on Florida laws and policies that can actually be pointed to. Another unaddressed question is whether the administrators made these decisions on their own, voluntarily, because they were afraid not to disqualify certain people, or because they were told by someone in authority that’s what they should do.”


No comics were excluded from the longlist but a number of familiar movies and TV shows were ruled out, in particular The Sandman tv series was completely excluded and Andor – barring two episodes in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category – was ruled out from the Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form category for its entire season. Some declined their nomination – including the movie Prey – but it would have placed as a finalist if it remained. And if Andor (season one) was permitted to remain in Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form it likewise would have made finalist. The winners in Long and Short Form were Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Expanse finale “Babylon’s Ashes”.

The Sandman was mysteriously excluded from both Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Form) categories despite wide support

The Sandman episode 6: The Sound of Her Wings was excluded from Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category but if it were permitted to remain it would have been in the top three and definitely been a finalist. Why it wasn’t included is unknown. In the long form category it was excluded because of “rule 3.8.3”, which indicates that an individual episode got more votes in another category, i.e. in Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form over Long Form…except it was excluded from Short Form as well. And the whole series garnered more votes in Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form than Severance (season one) which made the cut after the removal of Prey, Andor (season one) and The Sandman (season one). A catch-22 ruling that has incensed the series’ creator Neil Gaiman.

Chengdu World Con vice-chair and co-head of the Hugo Awards Selection Executive Division Dave McCarty’s Facebook post has a heated comments section on the subject of the mystery exclusions – with 257 responses and counting. In it Gaiman wrote:

“Is there anyone who could actually explain WHY Sandman episode 6 was ineligible? I don’t recall any politics in the episode. It was “SF or Fantasy” and had not been previously released.”


“And if Sandman 6 was ineligible then why didn’t that reinstate Sandman as a whole series, given that it was ineligible as there were too many votes for individual episodes.”

McCarty responded:

“It was a judgment call on my part whether to list both the same way or note that per the WSFS [World Science Fiction Society] constitution, only one could be considered. I thought it more appropriate to do it the way it appears.

“The only statement from the administration team that I can share is the one that I already have, after we reviewed the constitution and the rules we must follow, we determined the work was not eligible.”


“can you explain why? It is a work of fantasy or sf or related. It’s neither political (should this be a problem) nor pornographic (ditto). Is it the black actor playing Death? The reference to Judaism? The life after Death? Stating that it was ineligible for reasons that you cannot tell us simply adds a level of mystery to the process that makes the entire Hugo voting process appear illegitimate, and does the winners no favours either.”

And further added:

“I’ve been peripherally involved with the Hugos for the last 37 years. I’ve been awarded multiple Hugos and failed to win just as many Hugos, and never worried or gave it a moment’s thought, other than knowing that the process was fair. Until now, one of the things that’s always been refreshing about the Hugos has been the transparency and clarity of the process. Even the Sad Puppies nonsense was something easy to deal with because the process was transparent. Something had gone wrong, but it was fixable and was fixed. This is obfuscatory, and without some clarity it means that whatever has gone wrong here is unfixable, or may be unfixable in ways that don’t damage the respect the Hugos have earned over the last seventy years.”


In the comics world, the report lists a number of works that didn’t garner enough member votes to make it into the Best Graphic Story category’s shortlist. Following 677 ballots the following didn’t make the cut (in descending vote order):

  • Across a Field of Starlight, by Blue Delliquanti (Random House Graphic)
  • Chivalry, by Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran (Dark Horse)
  • Squire, by Sara Alfageeh & Nadia Shammas (Quill Tree Books)
  • The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, by Ram V & Filipe Andrade (BOOM)
  • Eat the Rich, by Sarah Gailey, Pius Bak & Roman Titov (BOOM)
  • Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales, by Melanie Gillman (Random House Graphic)
  • 《球状闪电(上)》, based on the novel Ball Lightning by Cixin Liu (CITIC Press) — Chinese release
  • Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques (Iron Circus)
  • Lore Olympus vol 2., by Rachel Smythe (Inklore)

What garnered the most votes on the ground and what made finalist may likely be placed in the hands of the individual tastes of the members – of which a significant amount – especially during Worldcon itself – would have been Chinese attendees (members of that year’s Worldcon are also ticket holders). 

Author Cora Buhlert gave her own commentary of the Hugo Awards report findings, suggesting the strength of some books was down to local backing in the fan circuit. On the comics category – Best Graphic Story – in which Cyberpunk 2077 novella Big City Dreams won, Buhlert said:

“In Best Graphic Story, it’s notable that the eventual winner, the IMO rather unremarkable videogame tie-in comic Cyberpunk 2077: Big City Dreams as well the Dune graphic novel also got the most nominations. These works were on a recommendation list by the Chinese magazine Science Fiction World and are also apparently very popular with Chinese fans.”