“Any Language” – Discussing Items Seven and Eight from the Chengdu Worldcon Business Meeting Agenda

Introduction: I’m going to open discussion of some of the proposed WSFS rules changes in the Chengdu Worldcon’s Business Meeting agenda by setting the table in a series of topical posts. (Download the English-language version here and the Chinese-language version here.)

Two motions submitted by Arthur Liu and Zhong Tianyi aim to make the Hugos more inclusive.

The first motion makes explicit something that is already true under the rules – works can be in any language — but that not everyone is aware to be true. Having a black-letter rule saying so arguably would make it easier to get that message out. [Click for larger image.]

The second motion prioritizes deleting a rule that references the “United States”. The proposal leaves untouched the preceding rule (3.4.1) that gives extended eligibility to works originally published in another language than English. [Click for larger image.]

The original idea behind rule 3.4.2 really was to “level the playing field” for English language works first published in the UK then later in the U.S.  

The reasons behind the rule were discussed in a committee report to the 2000 business meeting (page 44):

This committee was charged by the 1999 WSFS Business Meeting with studying the issues surrounding the eligibility and nomination for the Hugo Award of works first published outside the USA. There is an underlying assumption in all of these proposals that, inasmuch as most of the people nominating and voting for the Hugo Award live in the USA, works first published outside of the USA are at a severe disadvantage. This disadvantage is perceived to apply even when the Worldcon is held in a country other than the USA, because even then, most Hugo voters are from the USA.

But who the specific beneficiaries of the rule were known to be was made clear in the 2013 report:

If we pass this amendment, he argued, we send a clear message about recognizing the diversity of works available outside the U.S. This is not just about the U.K.; the Worldcon also goes to Canada and other countries, and this amendment includes them.

What became 3.4.2 was broached in the 1990s and first appeared in the WSFS Constitution as something considered year-by-year and requiring a 3/4 vote of the business meeting for approval. In 2013, as one of the last works of the Hugo Award Rest of the World Eligibility Committee (HEROW), the rule was changed to its current form, and when ratified the following year made the extension automatic and perpetual.

Should rule 3.4.2 stay or go? Arthur Liu and Zhong Tianyi say it should go.

44 thoughts on ““Any Language” – Discussing Items Seven and Eight from the Chengdu Worldcon Business Meeting Agenda

  1. Go and be replaced by something more nuanced about works that do not have widespread availability, such as works only published in minority languages, works that might only have been a 500 unit limited edition and then are published more widely.

    It’s outdated and at least comes over as discriminatory. It also makes the assumption that the majority of voters are still in the U.S. This may or may not be true but is certainly becoming less so.

  2. There’s a problem with this, that is, a story can be published in one language, and unless a translation is available, one group of people can force through a Hugo, or at least a nominee.

    Meanwhile, Worldcons don’t have the money, or the clout, to get publishers to translate works on request.

    How does everyone else who wants to vote decide?

    Datapoint: an old friend and his lady, who relocated to the Netherlands a few years ago, went to an ESA open house. Rather than being in Dutch, or Frisian, or offer a line for people’s mobiles, they conducted it in English.

  3. That’s already true. No CHANGE to language rules is being proposed, simply a clarification.

    So, yes, a bunch of French fans could get together and “push through” a nominee, that’s always been true. But it’s unlikely to win unless an English translation is available.

    Again, nothing is being changed. There has never been a requirement that works be in English.

  4. Mark: It sounds like you misunderstood which rule is in question. The rule they want to remove extends eligibility for works published elsewhere upon their first publication in the United States. The extended eligibility for works translated into English is a different one and is not being touched.

  5. I supect that simply deleting the rule will actually lead to increased discrimination, particularly concerning works published in places that provide limited exposure. I would suggest that it be reworded to allow works to be eligible if they are first published in any country in the previous year and have been published elsewhere prior to that, provided they have not appeared on a previous Hugo ballot.

  6. The effect of removing the regional limitation would be to DISadvantage works initially published outside the US. Currently, they are eligible when originally published and AGAIN when published in the US. With the change, they would only be eligible in the year of their initial publication. Whether or not they SHOULD be eligible twice is a different quesition. But this would make it LESS likely that works published outside the US would be on the final ballot.

  7. Mike Glyer: The rule they want to remove extends eligibility for works published elsewhere upon their first publication in the United States. The extended eligibility for works translated into English is a different one and is not being touched.

    So they’re against discrimination… but only when it affects them, and not when it affects others???

  8. JJ: Hugo rules changes almost always start with people trying to figure out how to get a Hugo for something they love. I remember hearing complaints by fans of Ken MacLeod and Iain M. Banks that their work never won because Americans didn’t read their UK editions — and since at the time I had never heard of either one I had to consider they might have a point. And I believe that goal started the ball rolling. Were those authors the victims of “discrimination” or is there a different, more accurate word?

  9. I think one thing to consider on rule 3.4.2 is that things keep becoming more global. It’s getting easier to get foreign editions. Is it easy enough that we no longer need that rule?

  10. Jennifer Povey: It’s getting easier to get foreign editions. Is it easy enough that we no longer need that rule?

    I don’t think it’s easy enough yet, because of the way most book rights are sold regionally. In 2017-18, even though there was a massive amount of buzz for Six Wakes, people in Europe and Australasia/Oceania had almost no way to get hold of it and read it prior to the end of the nomination period.

  11. Mike Glyer: Were those authors the victims of “discrimination” or is there a different, more accurate word?

    It’s definitely a real “disadvantage” — and as I stated in the comment above, I think it’s still a real problem right now due to the way that most book rights are sold regionally.

  12. Allowing works to be eligible for any year they’re published in a new country sounds far too loose. A popular work might get a new translation in a new country rolling out over many years. It also sounds like a nightmare for the administrators, they’d have to search every country on Earth to verify that a nominated work was not newly published there.

  13. I don’t generally play in this sandbox, so I hope I’m not speaking out of ignorance, but would it be possible to say a work can only appear on the ballot once, but if translated or published in a different country (especially if that different country is the Worldcon host in the appropriate year), then it would still be eligible so long as it hadn’t appeared on a ballot in a previous year?

    Maybe within a five-year window or something.

  14. The 3.4.2 proposal if enacted would be detrimental to UK and Australia/New Zealand works. At the moment, the present version gives those works a second chance for nomination given the realities of discoverability and the way publication rights are distributed frequently.

  15. Jennifer Povey: I don’t think it’s easy enough yet, no. While it’s certainly easier than it was, getting out-of-country editions is still significantly harder, and certainly it’s extremely unlikely someone would stumble over them. In particular, it’s often nearly impossible to get fiction books from US libraries unless they have been published in a US edition. (as a datapoint, the last time I nominated for Hugos, a no-US-edition SF novel was being widely suggested by my international friends, and there were no copies available to me even through full national OCLC interlibrary loan. (A year later it had a US edition, was in my local library, and got a Hugo nomination.)

    I do think a version of this rule that expands to cover more situations in the category of “published only in an edition inaccessible to most Hugo voters” would be good, but I don’t know how I would phrase it or what else I would include.

  16. Assuming WSFS primarily serves English speakers, it makes sense to have a rule about consideration of works published across English language markets on staggered schedules.

    C.1 (Biligual Debate at the Business Meeting) and F.9 (Establishment of ASFiC) suggest this is no longer a safe assumption.

    Following the logic of this year’s proposals, one could imagine the trend continuing, with multiple SFiCs around the world. I’m no EPH fan, but I can see how some algorithm might help choose a few representative things from each region’s fan base, which could be translated and voted on by the WSFS membership as a whole. I am not convinced that’s what I’d like to see Worldcon morph into. But it’s sure going to morph into something far removed from the publishing practices of the 1990s.

  17. I don’t know how I would phrase it either, but there has to be a way to define widely available that doesn’t, again, give a special status to U.S. voters. It’s the kind of thing that should be workshopped anyway, not written by one person.

  18. Despite the historical background, the overall rules about Hugo Awards caused a long-held misunderstanding outside English speaking country that are not familiar with Worldcon (since they seldom get the chance to host it): only works translated into English can be eligible for the award. This year, this eligibility issue was widely debated in Chinese fandom, even with the committee announcing that “any language is eligible”. Such debate is not good for the community overall, since fans tends to get lost among opinions (which is actually the case this year – many just confirmed that they were eligible several days before the nomination deadline), making learned publishers able to assemble forces to vote for their products.

    I think the general issue is that if you don’t explicitly say it, people will think the opposite way, since almost no works made it even into the finalist, except for those in English. And if people continues to hold such opinions, they actually won’t vote for works under their native languages at all, so you will get the impression that most voters are US/English-speaking.

  19. I have no issue with the proposed concept of F7. Having said that, my experience in voting on Hugo finalists this year was not entirely surprising but perhaps inevitable.
    I like the idea of works being eligible regardless of what language they are written and published in. However, like many of us, I am fluent in one language (English), and could probably muddle my way through reading a novel or short fiction in one more (French).
    Given the nature of Worldcon and WSFS attendance this year, with a Worldcon in Chengdu, I was expecting that a number of finalist works would be in Chinse. More than a few were.
    I was able to read many of the Chinese stories in translation, although many of them were probably AI translations that were lacking. I assume but do not know that any stories translated into Chinese for voter packet might end up mostly in AI translation as well. I can hope that these were better translations, but I equally suspect they were not great.
    I am waiting to see the final voting statistics. However, I am expecting to see two groups of votes, one from those able to read or speak English and one from those able to read and speak Chinese.
    Pending the availability of much better AI translation, I suspect this is just what we’ll get.

  20. I can only read the books if they are available, same for watching the movies. Several years ago one or two of the novels that were nominated were only available in the UK. I first searched my library, no dice. I searched Amazon, no dice. I used my Google Fu to find a copy of one of the novels and found it in a single New York bookstore for 75 USD. Needless to say it did not win because a goodly number of the fans could not read it. Now with online books and audio books this should not happen. But if a book is nominated in a language that I do not read and not translated, then I have the same problem. I agree with the rule changes but urge authors to have their books translated into English.

  21. “I . . . urge authors to have their books translated into English.”

    It’s not the authors’ call.

  22. I have no problem with F.7, but I don’t think we’re ready for F.8 yet. Possibly it could be replaced by something broader, with workshopped language as @Jennifer suggests. Don’t we already have language about limited-release dramatic presentations? Those need to be brought to the business meeting to get extended eligibility, though. I don’t really want to increase the Meeting’s workload by adding written works to that. Perhaps we just need to add an explanation, since the proposers of F.8 have exactly the opposite idea about this section’s purpose from what it actually is.

  23. I almost wonder if the Hugos should evolve to more of a Eurovision-type model, where each country puts forth their nominee for the international award, perhaps in the following year to allow time for translations to happen. One of many, many problems with this being that the USA has no national SF convention, of course.

    The bigger issue is that a translation of a creative work (rather than, say, directions for assembling flat-pack furniture) is really a collaboration between the translator and the original author, so it becomes an Entire Mess when everyone is voting on different translations of a work since the things that most speak to them may not carry across the translations. Due to the way capitalism and copyright law work, those of us who are fans of modern things generally only have a single translation to work with (at best), but if you want to see just how differently different translators can make you see a work, I refer you to classical literature.

    For English-speakers, a rich secular source of competing translations would probably be The Illiad (or most of the more popular works of ancient Greece, really), and for those of a Christian inclination, the Bible. Reading the Illiad in a poetic translation that attempts to preserve meter versus a prose translation that priorities the faithfulness of the content are both different experiences, and each of them are in turn different than hearing it recited aloud in Homeric Greek. As non-fluent-in-Greek person (I tried, but ultimately I did better in the CS department than the classics department in college, and speak C better than any of the literary flavors of Greek), if I wanted to understand what was happening, I’d pick a prose translation, if I wanted to understand how I was supposed to feel I’d read aloud a poetic one, and I’d recognize a word every few pages and be utterly baffled by what was happening if someone read it aloud in its oldest surviving form.

    Imagine if the voters are dealing with a work originally written in Polish where the Chinese translator went poetic, the English translator went prose, and the French-speakers are relying on Polish-to-French machine translation. They’re not really all considering the same work at that point. I worry that the effect would be that works with interesting ideas and straightforward linguistic expressions would predominate over works that used language in an interesting way. Personally, I’m not particularly interested in reading the flat pack furniture instructions SF novel.

    I don’t know a good way to fix this, but to understand the scope of the problem either grab 5 translations of one of the Greek classics or 5 translations of the Bible into your local language, and see how differently a few key passages go as you switch translators. (There are probably suggestions from other cultures that would also work, those are just the two things that I personally know of that tend to get lots of different English translations.)

  24. @JJ: what you said.

    As it stands, good novels from around the world get 2 bites at the apple, and this can benefit non-US books, like @commensally said. So a work could win an Australis or BSFA, and the next year or two, get an extra try for the Hugo. That’s just for English, much less any other of the world’s languages! Which, as already noted, are covered under the rules as they already are — as are works translated into English from any other language. Presumably a really good work could have 3 shots at it: original language, translation into English (outwith US), and the US edition.

    It looks VERY sus.

    This is a solution that would make the process LESS diverse and international.

    If someone could actually come up with a rule that could help ALL nations — from San Marino to Timor-Leste , etc. — it would be welcome. This one would make it so won’t be “only US books win”; it’s liable to be “only works published in the hosting country win”. Which disadvantages everyone outside wherever the con happens to be that year.

    You want rotating nationalist Puppies? This is how you get rotating nationalist Puppies.

  25. And thanks for educating us about the background related to item 3.4.2. However, the question still holds under non-English-speaking scenarios. I think by explaining the reason behind the policy, we just acknowledge “Worldcon being a US-centered event” as a default setting, thus putting those works outside US under the judgement of local readerships, which is quite contradictory to Worldcon’s international goal.

    Translation is a good and necessary bridge for the awards, which is why we leave the rule about the eligibility of English translations untouched. However, given the situation that most works can be accessed on the Internet today, and more and more participants come from outside America, I still believe such “protective” policy as 3.4.2 should be changed or removed, as it is not related to language barrier but rather cultural gap, and it adds to cultural bias under such background (if you say that most voters are Americans). The change does not have to be in this con, but it is a should be in the future.

  26. Arthur Liu: given the situation that most works can be accessed on the Internet today

    I’m sorry, but this is simply not true, as several of us have commented above.

    Unless you’re referring to pirated bootleg copies — in which case, that is absolutely not something I can support as a justification for passing this proposal.

  27. @JJ After some thoughts, I think I grab your concerns, and it does make me wonder why the finalists in recent years tend to be published in Kindle/Kobo format or in digital zines/sites(which is why foreigners like me can read them easily following the news bulletin of Locus from another country, rather than “pirate bootleg copies”). Might there also be a bias towards those with more accessible copies?

  28. @JJ: Amen!

    The numerous examples of “awesome novels published in English outside the US” that take an extra year or two, or never arrive at all shows that people can’t read a lot of works just in that language, never mind any of the others.

    @Linda Robinett shows how even if you’re savvy about the process, you can’t get books from Britain (a long-time power in publishing, and even these days still influential) in the US and maybe Canada. No matter how amazing a novel is, @Linda did a lot of work but could not purchase the $75 import. And even if she had, that might have been the only copy available in the US, which means no one else could have.

    @Arthur Liu: This is a “solution” that will only make the problem WORSE. It’s equally as nationalistic as the thought that “only the US counts”, and is only going to exacerbate the situation as Worldcon moves around the globe.

    You’re greatly overestimating the availability of works. Sure, the shorter fiction and the fan work are on the net — that’s how most of it gets found, because it’s free. But very few things from trad pub, like F&SF/Analog/Asimov’s show up on the Hugo ballots any more, no matter how amazing they are, because you have to buy those.

    This is NOT!!! true for novels, as has been amply demonstrated to you many times, just in this thread. We Americans would LOVE to read stuff from other countries, but we can’t. Just as people worldwide would like to read US/Canadian/British books, but often can’t. None of that is in the fans’ control, and most of us are like @JJ and not about to get pirated content off torrents and such. We buy legally or not at all, and that is literally impossible. The same applies to other countries. How many novels by Australians were available in China last year?

    You vastly overestimate the availability of things on the internet, unless you think copyright is all a lark and everything should be pirated at your whim. Which is a thing in some countries, but is fundamentally opposed to the ethos of Worldcon.

    Again, I say — do you want only Israeli books to make the ballot in 2027? Only novels and shorts from Uganda — either English or Swahili — in 2028? Only books by Texans in 2031?

    If someday, (Deity) willing, only books by Ukranians at a peaceful Kyiv Worldcon swamp the ballot? Only books in French if Nice had stayed in the running? Only books from Latin America if Mexico does? Only books in Korean if Seoul ever throws one? (which I would be very interested in!) If the entire population of Lichtenstein buys supporting memberships to any given Worldcon?

    ¡NO BUENO! This is a terrible idea and must be stopped. If it passes in Chengdu (which, probably; the Chinese are at least as nationalist and “regionally arrogant” as the Americans) I hope the Brits at Glasgow will have the sense to vote F.8 down.

    It is a bad idea and entirely inappropriate to both the expressed purposes of its own self (it will only INCREASE “regional arrogance”) and the ethos of Worldcon. It’ll make Hugos even more provincial.

    Workshop it and try again not to discriminate against anybody worldwide, in whatever country.

    TL; DR: F.8 is not fit for purpose. Try again.

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  30. Arthur Liu suggests, “Might there also be a bias towards those with more accessible copies?”

    Of course there is! There’s also a bias towards books put out by major publishers with powerful publicity departments. There’s a bias towards books written by authors who are already well-known and have large fan-bases that existed before the book in question was released or read. There’s a bias towards books written by authors who are friends with (and promoted by) well-known authors with large fan-bases. Simply put: there’s a bias towards books that a larger number of people know to exist, can easily acquire, and have a social incentive to prioritize reading.

    All of these things are inherent flaws in any system that relies on popular nomination and voting.

  31. Instead of writing out the USA, why not write in more countries? Ie any time a work gets a big increase in its (potential) audience, the eligibility gets reset, but with some rule to stop too much of a “second bite at the cherry”.

    As I understand it, the argument is that a work might be published (in English) in the UK or Nigeria or Australia, become a big hit locally, and then be published the following year in the USA and only be read by enough Hugo nominators to win a place on the shortlist in the second year, rather than the first. That seems fair – but if the work managed to get shortlisted anyway, then I don’t think there’s so much of an issue (if there’s a distribution issue, then the publisher can offer the work through the Hugo Voter Packet once they are shortlisted).

    And I think it’s true that the majority of Hugo nominators are Americans – and that will remain for as long as the Hugos are a primarily English-language award (the majority of first-language English speakers are Americans). But if we do have a large number of Chinese WSFS members going forward, then the first publication in China (of, say, a Chinese-language work first published in Singapore or Taiwan) would have a similar effect as first publication in the USA of an English language work.

    This is just an off-the-top-of-my-head set of rules to implement the (somewhat vague) idea I have to make the rule less formally discriminatory, but to retain the purpose.

    My suggestion is that a work is eligible:
    In the year of first publication
    In the year that it is first published in any of the five most populous countries in the world (that would be India, China, USA, Indonesia, Pakistan)
    In the year that it is first published in a translation into any of the five most spoken languages in the world (currently, that’s English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and French)
    but that a work cannot be eligible again if it has been shortlisted previously or withdrawn from a shortlist by the creator.

  32. Yes, I appreciate that there might be situations where a novel with a rabid American fanbase that developed long after its original publication gets a first translation into (say) Hindi, which makes it eligible and the fanbase gets it onto the Hugo shortlist, even though none of the nominators are actually nominating on the basis of the Hindi translation, but the English-language original from a decade or two ago.

    However, I think that sort of abuse is relatively unlikely, and is also the sort of thing that No Award and the instant-runoff design of the voting system are pretty effective at blocking; such a nomination might technically be possible, but the author would probably withdraw the book from consideration, and if they were unable to do so (e.g. posthumous nominations), then I’d expect the (much wider, harder to game) Hugo-voting public to systematically put a novel gamed onto the shortlist below No Award.

    While a shortlist consisting entirely of works gamed on is a problem, an occasional single shortlisting seems like a reasonable sacrifice so that a work that takes off in its Chinese translation after only moderate success in English (perhaps because of brilliant work by the translator) can receive awards on the basis of the Chinese version.

  33. @Richard Gadsden Yes, after checking with the concerns mentioned above, I was thinking about similar changes to replace the old one. And I would also suggest adding one more item to them – “In the year that it is first published in a translation into the native language(s) of the hosting country” with the limitation you mentioned.

    And @Lurkertype I appreciate your summary, and I understand you are speaking on behalf of the benefit of You Americans (like you said – We Americans). It’s totally fine if you are defending that. However, going intenational doesn’t mean waiting for foreign works to come to your doors and ignoring the massive corpus beyond your reach – that is almost like colonialism. And currently the rule only protect You Americans’ interest, making it an privilege even we have to admit its effect given current limitations. If removing the rule will make things worse, away from its goal, and you really want to stick to the spirit of worldcon, then, instead of yelling at me using the tone of some Empire Governor, wielding words like “Discriminative”, “Regional Arrogance” and “Rotating Nationalist Puppies”, try again to propose something more constructive on your own.

  34. Arthur Liu: currently the rule only protect You Americans’ interest

    I think you’ve entirely misunderstood the purpose of the current rule.

    Its purpose is to level the playing field for all of the books which are first published outside the United States, because those books from other countries are disadvantaged by the large U.S. Hugo nominating population.

    The Chinese proposals would serve to keep the level playing field for non-English language authors, while disadvantaging non-U.S. English language authors.

  35. Would Arthur Liu’s goals be better served by amending rule 3.4.2, by inserting at the front of the rule the clause, “In years that the Worldcon is held in North America, “

  36. @JJ As I have said in my above comments, I had learned from Mike’s explanations about its purpose and your concerns, and I actually don’t mind if you are against it due to its result as you all have explained, but in effect it seems to be something resembling sending goods to the Empire for some contests no matter where the event is held, just because their citizens currently takes more seats, which is another issue worldcon should address. For someone living in the 21th century, that’s no way to promote globalization.

    In short, my goals are: 1) to lower the barriers for non US/English-speakers to join the event, which is included in F.7; 2) to eliminate such protective policy with colonialism indications, as it is not only foreign authors but also foreign readers who should benefit from the process. And like I said, it doesn’t have to be in this way, but we must seriously consider changing it to something better. I think @Richard Gadsden and @bill had brought up something both interesting and creative. If you think F.8 is misleading, and you do care about worldcon being a fair international event, then maybe you could also help. Thanks.

  37. @Arthur Liu

    For someone living in the 21th century, that’s no way to promote globalization.

    Don’t presume that everyone thinks globalization is a worthy goal, or that Worldcon’s policies should tend to that direction.

  38. Can you explain what you mean by this?

    Arthur Liu: it seems to be something resembling sending goods to the Empire for some contests no matter where the event is held, just because their citizens currently takes more seats

    Can you explain what you mean by this?

    Arthur Liu: currently the rule only protect You Americans’ interest

    Because, as I’ve pointed out, the current rules are designed to give everyone but Americans a bit of extra push. How do the existing rules “protect Americans’ interests”?

  39. I feel like someone needs to sit the authors of this proposal down and explain in small words how these rules actually function, and since that hasn’t been done yet, here goes:

    Liu Cixin published The Three-Body Problem as a full novel in 2008, and the translated English version was released in 2014.

    Under the current rules, that means that the book was eligible to be nominated for a Hugo at the 2009 Worldcon (Section 3.2.1) and the 2015 Worldcon (Section 3.4.2).

    Under proposal F.8, the book would only have been eligible at the 2009 Worldcon (where it wasn’t even nominated), because that proposal removes the section that gives it another bite at the apple.

    The proponents of these proposals hilariously misunderstand the rules. If it weren’t for all the innocent authors they’d be hurting, I’d be completely behind them having fun removing all of the “colonialist implications” they don’t seem to understand are about trying to help authors from the very countries they’re claiming to be the champions of.

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