This year, much has been said about the Hugo Awards. For those unaware (somehow?), the Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious American awards for science fiction and fantasy published in English in the last year. They’re voted on by members of Worldcon, which is anyone from anywhere in the world as long as they pay. But most from the US. This post actually isn’t about what’s been said about and around the Hugos this year, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence this post. So, if you’ve missed it or want a refresher, here’s a quick round-up with links to more detailed discussion by The Mary Sue. Quicker version: People disagreed with the Hugo nominations of the last few years and decided to game the system using slate voting. It kind of backfired. (Or did it? This too is an ongoing, ah, debate. That I’m trying to stay far away from. Anyway!)
The Daily Dot mentions early on in their report on this year’s Hugo Awards, that 2015 was “a banner year for translated works”. Out of the four written fiction categories (best novel, best novella, best novelette and best short story), only two managed to have a story that beat out No Award. Both these stories were written by non-American men: Cixin Liu and Thomas Olde Heuvelt, a Chinese and a Dutch author respectively.
This year also, and this is much less widely reported, saw the decision to honour translators and both Ken Liu and Lia Belt were given a Hugo Rocket for their work in translating these winning stories. 2015 also marks the first year that the Hugos name the translator of a piece.
2015 is a win for diversity in SFF. We’ve seen articles discussing the rise of marginalised writers in SFF erroneously because we have always been there. What’s changed is our visibility within the SFF community. It’s not that marginalised people have never been here. It’s that we’re speaking up about our presence. (And that the internet allows us to be heard in the first place.)
So, initially, when the Hugos were announced I was thrilled along with everyone else. I am still thrilled because it is a great thing worthy of celebration. Diversity creates strength and fosters innovation. But something in the back of my mind was niggling at me. There was something about the celebration that felt off to me. Something about translated works and English-language awards and voting. Something that, as far as I can tell, no one has mentioned in any of their articles. Something that I expect most people wouldn’t even think to check. Either because they’re too thrilled that ‘one of their own’ won a prestigious foreign award or because they just don’t see that there might be something to look at.
It’s fairly common knowledge that, despite claims to the contrary, the Hugo Awards are a predominantly American award. But is it? After all, despite the slate voting this year saw a lot of diversity and it still won the awards. That’s what was niggling me: how completely different that focus is from my experience. Were the Hugos more nationally diverse than my gut was telling me? Was I wrong in thinking about the Hugos as an American award? Was I wrong to think of it as an award only native speakers of English stood a chance at winning?
To that end, I decided to look at the nationalities of the all the authors nominated for a Best Novel Hugo Award. I also looked at the language a book was originally published in. Then, because it is also a generally accepted truth that it’s easier to find non-native speakers of English publishing in short story venues, I looked at the other prose fiction categories (novella, novelette and short story) as well.
This post is a recording of what I found.