By Jo Van Ekeren: I have written this post in response to the recent voicing of support on Twitter and elsewhere for the establishment of a Best Translated Work category for the Hugo Awards, but much of what follows is applicable to any potential new Hugo Award category.
I am a member of the current Hugo Awards Study Committee, which was created at last year’s WSFS Business Meeting to review how the existing Hugo Award categories are performing and recommend improvements. I did share the contents of this post with the committee chair Vince Docherty; however, it is coming from me personally, and has not been endorsed by him, that committee, WSFS, Worldcon 76, or any other person or entity which may have some sort of authority.
Anyone wishing to help get a new Hugo Award category established will need to understand that a large group of people coming to the WSFS Business Meeting and saying “We want a Translated Work Hugo!” is not enough to get a new category created. Getting a new Hugo category established is usually a 2-to-5 year undertaking of research, analysis, and discussion. It is not something which is quickly accomplished.
One reason for this is that the rules for the Hugo Awards and its categories are specified in the Constitution of The World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), and modification of that constitution requires approval by a majority of the members in attendance at two sequential WSFS Business Meetings (one multi-day meeting is held each year, at Worldcon). This may sound like a cumbersome and slow process, and it is – but it prevents hasty, poorly planned changes from being implemented. The second-year ratification requirement is an important sanity check (for dubious values of “sanity” which may apply to Worldcon members), especially given that Worldcon is a travelling convention which takes place in a different location each year. A two-year process prevents wildly radical changes from being implemented by a Business Meeting swamped with members from only one geographical area.
Another reason that establishing a new Hugo Award category is such a lengthy process is that WSFS members are generally very mindful of the damage that hasty, poorly planned changes can do, and they are very protective of the Hugo Awards. At various times in the past, after extensive research and discussion, new categories have been established – or trialled, since each Worldcon has the option to give out a special one-time Hugo in a category they specify – only to have nominations be almost nonexistent, resulting in the category being cancelled. Such an outcome is always a disappointment, in addition to using up time and effort which could have constructively been allocated to other areas of importance for the convention.
In 1993, a trial of a Best Translator Hugo received nominations on 40 out of 397 total nominating ballots (10%). Those 40 people made 53 total nominations – in other words, a majority of them nominated only one translator – resulting in nominations for a total of 25 different translators. The first-place nominee had 14 nominations, and the fifth-place nominee(s) had 2 nominations, which was probably a multi-way tie among several people. The remaining nominees had 1 nomination each. As a result, with the category not having 5 strong finalists, the Hugo Administrators used their discretion as permitted by the WSFS Constitution to omit that category from the rest of the year’s award process.
Because of past experiences like this with various attempted new categories, WSFS members are fairly rigourous about evaluating the viability of proposed new categories. In order to be willing to approve such an initiative, the majority of the WSFS members will want to see that a considerable amount of thought has been put into:
(1) The Category Definition
One of the important characteristics of the Hugo category definitions is that they be defined in such a way that works would not be able to appear on the ballot in more than one category. This is why the WSFS Award for Best Young Adult Book is not a Hugo: because there was no way to draw a distinct line between YA and Not YA. The likelihood for a Translated Work Award would be much better if it were to be a separate award which would not overlap with the Hugos, and which would not disqualify a work from being on the ballot for a fiction Hugo as well as for Translated Work.
If the award is to be a Hugo, the proposal would also have to address the changes which would be needed for the other category definitions to prevent overlap. At the very least, the fiction category definitions would have to be changed to include wording such as “and was not first published in a language other than English”. And this brings up the issue of whether that would be “ghetto-ising” translated works, whether it’s saying that such works are not good enough to compete in the regular fiction categories. While I was putting this piece together, Cheryl Morgan has made an excellent post on this subject on her blog: Translating the Hugos.
(2) Possible Ramifications of the Category and its Definition
Details which must be considered when defining a category include:
- will there be a word count limit, and only novels be eligible, or would the category be open to works of any length?
- would graphic novels and anime be eligible? (several people have pointed out that if the definition does not somehow exclude anime, it is likely the only type of work which would ever make the ballot)
- would only fiction works be eligible, or would translated Related Work non-fiction be eligible as well?
- how would exclusions in the other fiction category definitions be worded to account for the possibility of the translated English version being published before the native language version?
(3) Substantial Evidence that there would be a Non-Trivial Amount of Participation by Hugo Nominators
This is the hardest part of building a case to justify a new Hugo category. The report by the WSFS Young Adult Award Committee provides an example of the sort of work which went into getting it established, a process which took several years.
The general rule-of-thumb for a Hugo category to be considered potentially viable is:
- to be able to name 15 qualifying works published in the previous year which are not only qualifying but also Hugo-worthy, and
- to be able to show that a sufficient number of Hugo nominators have read those works and would likely have nominated them.
While “Hugo-worthy” has a different meaning for every individual, the intent of that phrase here is to indicate that just listing a sufficient number of works is not really enough; that list must also be made with an eye to the quality of the works on it. Showing that a significant number of people would have been willing to nominate a work is a good measure of that quality.
With that in mind, I have done some basic groundwork for anyone who wishes to take on the project of getting a new Hugo Award for Best Translated Work established. This is what I have found in going through the Hugo Award longlists for the last 10 years (I tried to be meticulous, but can not guarantee that I did not miss something); the number of nominations is in round brackets:
no works on shortlist, longlist unknown
5th – Death’s End by Cixin Liu tr. Ken Liu (156)
11th – The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo tr. Lola Rogers (95)
16th – Chimera by Gu Shi tr. S. Qiouyi Lu, and Ken Liu (39)
1st – Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang tr. Ken Liu (576) (slated work, estimate w/o slate, 136)
7th – The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin tr. Ken Liu (210)
14th – Where the Trains Turn by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen tr. Liisa Rantalaiho (69)
6th – The Day the World Turned Upside Down by Thomas Olde Heuvelt tr. Lia Belt (72)
13th – Spring Festival: Happiness, Anger, Love, Sorrow, Joy by Xia Jia tr. Ken Liu (42)
2nd – The Ink Readers of Doi Saket by Thomas Olde Heuvelt tr. Lia Belt (73)
2nd – The Boy Who Cast No Shadow by Thomas Olde Heuvelt tr. Laura Vroomen (62)
15th – World SF in Translation by Jari Koponen (17)
12th (6-way tie) – Where Do the Birds Fly Now by Yamano K?ichi tr. Dana Lewis (10)
I have listed three 2016 works which made the Hugo longlist in 2017. For a campaign which is working to add a Best Translated Work category, my suggestion would be that they come up with a list of 12 more translated works from that year, with some sort of evidence which indicates that a non-trivial number of Hugo nominators would possibly have nominated them. Such evidence could include reviews, Facebook or blog posts, and Tweets about the 12 additional translated works – not by just anyone, but by people who are known to be Worldcon members and Hugo voters. There are a couple of ways to identify Worldcon members. While people have the ability to opt out of having their names published, and a certain number of them do, Worldcons usually have on their website a Membership Directory. And bloggers who are reading and recommending works will often mention if they are nominating for the Hugo Awards.
This would certainly be a significant amount of work, and might be best split up by allocating one work to research, to each of a dozen volunteers.
Other possible means of gaining support and supporting evidence are:
- identify 3 good panelists with expertise on translated speculative fiction who will be at Worldcon, and suggest a panel on “SF in Translation” to the Worldcon program committee.
- have an information table at Worldcon, staffed by volunteers who can provide information on sources for recommendations of translated works, and discuss the campaign.
- provide an informational sheet to Worldcon to put in the Registration packets and/or in the free handout distribution area at Worldcon.
- figure out how to take a survey of Worldcon attendees which gets some sense of how many people have read how many translated works from the previous year, and what those works are.
This last one could be difficult, because depending on how it is set up, a survey can be susceptible to manipulation (for example, 10 people completing an online survey 20 times each, by using VPNs, anonymisers, and computers in different locations, or by obtaining multiple copies of the paper survey form at Worldcon and filling out many submissions). People want to maintain their privacy, but having individual names attached to a survey (but not attached to specific results) would give it more credibility.
The WSFS YA Award committee did an online survey for the name of the award. Fans of one author promoted it heavily on social media, which resulted in a large number of votes for naming the award after her – most of them from multiple-voters and people who are not, and will never be, Worldcon members. Obviously, this was not helpful to the committee’s efforts to select a name. To be credible, surveys used in building a case for establishment of a Hugo Award category should avoid being susceptible to this sort of manipulation.
Any two or more Attending or Supporting Members can submit proposals to the WSFS Business Meeting; while it is not required that proposed business have a representative there to present it, having someone who can present the case persuasively, and is well-informed enough to answer questions, definitely increases the likelihood of a proposal’s success.
Timewise, a proposed change for this year’s Business Meeting would be rushed. Worldcon is only 2 months away, which does not leave much time for preparation of a convincing case. My suggestion is that it would be better to spend the next 2 months figuring out how to do an effective survey which is resistant to manipulation, use this Worldcon as an educational and information-gathering opportunity, and take the proposal to the Business Meeting next year. But if a fairly solid case for creating the category can be assembled, then a request needs to be made at least 2 weeks ahead of time to be put on the WSFS Business Meeting agenda (this year’s deadline is August 3, 2018). The Business Meeting team will need an electronic copy of the report in advance, so that it can made available online to members ahead of the meeting, or at least 200 paper copies must be provided at the meeting.
If the WSFS membership, in the year in which a proposal is presented, is not willing to immediately approve a new category based on that information, but feels that the category has good potential, they may move to establish a study committee and ask for volunteers to serve on it and present a report at the Business Meeting in the following year. This is a very common result for significant changes when they are first proposed.
If a substantial case is built showing that significant participation by Hugo nominators would be likely, a Worldcon, if asked, might be willing to consider using their option to present a one-time Hugo Award as a way to trial the category. However, this would add work for them, so the case would need to be very persuasive. And if a Worldcon is presenting Retro Hugos as well as contemporary Hugos – which amounts to nearly double the work for the Hugo process – they may not be willing to make their job even more complicated by adding a trial category.
Assistance on presenting proposals to the WSFS Business Meeting is available for those who wish to take advantage of it. Kevin Standlee, WSFS Division Head for this Worldcon, has spent decades of time, effort and money on improving both Worldcon and the Hugo Awards. I have found him to be scrupulously fair, and extremely willing to help anyone who is willing to do the work toward getting changes made, even when he does not personally endorse the proposed changes. Dr. Katie Rask and Anna Blumstein were instrumental in the establishment of the YA Award, and they would probably be good people for advice on how to approach such a campaign.
Right now it looks as though the awareness of translated works among Hugo nominators is growing. I am just not sure that it has reached critical mass to justify a separate category at this point. But I am open to being convinced (as are many committee members and other WSFS members, who have voiced support in principle) by someone who has the willingness to put the work into building a case for it.
++ Jo Van Ekeren
WSFS Member and Hugo Category Committee Member
(I am just someone with opinions, and am not in charge of anything)