Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask #81

An Audio Interview With Dave McCarty by Chris M. Barkley

Dave McCarty. Photo by Chris M. Barkley.

Yesterday, Saturday February 3rd, my partner Juli Marr and I drove from Cincinnati to attend Capricon 44 in downtown Chicago.

We went because we were cordially invited by Helen Montgomery for a semi-surprise party in support of Leane Verhulst, a beloved Chicago area fan. The Facebook Invitation read as follows:

In September 2023, Leane posted that she had a brain tumor. Since then she had surgery to remove it, and the tumor was biopsied. As some of you may have heard, Leane has been diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma. She has completed chemo and radiation, but this cancer is aggressive and unfortunately has a low survival rate.

As some of us discussed this, Dave had the idea that we would much rather celebrate her *with* her now instead of later. (I mean, we’ll celebrate her later too. Probably often. Because we embrace the power of “and” here.)

Please come join us at Capricon 44 on Saturday night at 8pm Central for our Celebration of Leane. Capricon 44 is held at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. 

Juli and I have known Leane for many years and have socialized and worked with her at other sf conventions, including several Chicago Worldcons. 

Leane had been in remission and was expected to be there but unfortunately, she had a rather sudden relapse on Friday that required her to be hospitalized for immediate treatment.

As of this post, she is conscious and in stable condition but tires easily. 

As a consolation, Helen Montgomery set up a laptop and people attending the party spent a few minutes chatting with and to lift her spirits up. Juli and I were among the last to speak with her and I must remark that she was bearing up very well despite the difficult circumstances. In one way or another, we all told her that we loved her, wished her well with the hope of a speedy recovery…

Leane Verhulst

The other less important reason was that I was also there to receive my Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer from Dave McCarty, who was until recently the head of the Hugo Award Administrators for the Chengdu Worldcon. (He was also a co-host of Ms. Verhulst’s party.)

The party was a success and a literal Who’s Who in fandom was there including Don and Jill Eastlake, Ben Yalow, Alex von Thorn, Marah Seale-Kovacevic, Laurie and Jim Mann, Steven H and Elaine Silver, Stephen Boucher, Tammy Coxen, James Bacon, Jesi Lipp, Greg Ketter, Geri Sullivan, Janice Gelb, Ann Totusek and Kathy and Paul Lehman.

(Although many photographs were taken, I refrained from doing so for personal reasons.)

As all of you are probably aware of by now, these Administrators, and Mr. McCarty in particular, have been under fire for the shocking and unexplained disqualifications of the works of fan writer Paul Weimer, Chinese-born Canadian sff writer Xiran Jay Zhao, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman mini-series on Netflix and the novel Babel by novelist R.F. Kuang from the Long List of Nominations that was released on January 20.

Mr. McCarty, who has been involved in sf fandom for decades, was bombarded with inquiries from most of the ineligibles (save for Ms. Kuang, who issued a brief statement of her own on Instagram), from outraged sff fans on social media and from curious factions of the mainstream press as well. 

(Full Disclosure: I have not stated this recently but I must make it known that I have known and worked with Mr. McCarty for several decades. I have worked with him on many conventions in a subordinate role and clashed with him on many occasions involving contentious issues that I have brought before the World Science Fiction Fiction Business Meeting. Despite this, I have maintained a cordial and respectful relationship with him over the years.)

As a journalist, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum; being the recipient of the Hugo in Best Fan Writer category this year, I am in the uncomfortable position of being a part of the story I am reporting on.  

But, since I am in the eye of the hurricane so to speak, I am also in the unique position to observe and report on the situation. Keeping my bias in check, I extended an invitation to interview Mr. McCarty several days before I left for Chicago. A day before I left, I receives a text from him accepting the offer, something he did not do when asked by Adam Morgan,  a reporter from Esquire Magazine, which ran the following story this past Thursday, the first day of Capricon 44, much to Mr. Carty’s chagrin: “Hugo Awards 2024: What Really Happened at the Sci-Fi Awards in China?”

On Sunday morning, Mr. McCarty and I sat down in the lobby of the Sheraton Grand Riverwalk Hotel for an extensive talk about his experiences as the Chengdu Hugo Administrator, the Chinese colleagues, he worked with, his future in fandom and the mysterious origins of and his reactions to being named, “the Hugo Pope”.

[Here is a transcript of the interview produced by consulting two different AI-generated transcripts, and lightly copyedited by Mike Glyer.]

One question I neglected to ask at the time was whether or not he, or anyone on the Chengdu Hugo Awards Administration team, were required to sign any sort of non-disclosure agreement by the Chinese government or any other entity involved with the convention. I sent Dave McCarty a text message asking the question after I arrived home Sunday evening. His response:

“Nobody on the administration team signed any kind of agreement like that, we’re just bound by our regular WSFS confidential customs.”

And finally, there was the matter of my Best Fan Writer Hugo Award:

I was informed via text by Mr. McCarty that the six or so Hugo Awards shipped from the People’s Republic of China to the United States for distribution arrived at his house this past Monday.

Unfortunately for all involved, all of the awards had been damaged in transit; while he did not detail the damage to the other awards, Mr. McCarty told me that mine had suffered the most damage in that the panda had chipped paint and had also become completely detached from the stargate. He theorized that this happened because the cases did not have any cushioning material inside to insulate it, so that any practically any motion during transport would cause the awards to rock and bounce against the case.

Mr. McCarty reported that all of the custom cases were for all practical purposes, unusable. 

He did tell me that he thinks that the awards can be either fully repaired or possibly even replaced in the next month or so. 

He did offer to give my award as is and have it repaired on my own but I declined and said that anything that he could do to have it restored would be fine with me.

This turn of events will mean that my daughter Laura and her family, my bookstore and library friends and all of ardent admirers at my local Kroger’s supermarket will have to wait just a little while longer to take their selfies with one of the most iconic symbols in literature… 

256 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask #81

  1. Good software engineering practice is to reuse code as much as possible; the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel” is often heard at this point. An open source project should only depend on other open source libraries or frameworks, and there are now many to choose from, but a project that was originally closed source might have used code with more restrictive licenses, for any number of perfectly sensible reasons.

  2. Yup.

    As I happen to have seen Ron’s code, I’m not sure that’s the specific reason here, but it is very commonly a reason why open sourcing code is not effortless.

  3. I went and watched the business meeting and am still underwhelmed. At about 3:00 Ron Oakes says the copyrights (except for a part that was originally for Chicon 7) are assigned exclusively to the WSFS. However at around 3:50 he says it’s only “licensed” to that body.

    At 4:10 he again says “assigning”, and how doing so makes him safe from any employment issue. “Professional issues” come in around 4:20 where he claims that any potential future employer would be concerned about “dealing with this open source software” in violation of their policies.

    So there’s a few things going on there. He switches between “assigned” and “licensed”, and I’m pretty sure those are two different things. If the code is ‘assigned’, then it’s no longer “his” code, WSFS would own it, and he would be, as he said, “completely safe”.

    If the code is “licensed” to the WSFS (and going by recent discussions about each individual con being its own thing, would he have meant “to Sasquan”?) then he still owns it, and instead of being worried about a future employer’s open source policy he’d need to be worried about a future employer’s general IP policy.

    Furthermore, if it was just licensed to the WSFS (or Sasquan), he admits that it was partially built on GPL’d code, which unless he was very careful to do one of the ways of getting around it, means the whole codebase then becomes GPL, and by distributing it to WSFS/Sasquan they have the explicit right to distribute it to whoever they please.

  4. JJ on February 10, 2024 at 2:42 pm said:
    Brian Z: IMO simplest explanation is a group that already knew how to put a thumb on the EPH scales was going up against naive slaters.

    The simplest explanation here is that two or three Chinese censors started whacking away at the longlists after EPH was run, then tried to reapportion the nominations for whacked works without understanding how EPH works.

    A slating operation of the magnitude you propose — 850 people all voting for the same 5 things — would have become known among Worldcon members. A slating effort among 50 Western voters could probably have run under the radar — but 850 voters? Yeah, no way that happened.

    I agree with one of your basic premises. There seems to be an unspoken or tacit acceptance of some group putting a certain amount of thumb pressure on the scales. When cons are held in America or Europe, it can reach around 50 ballots before it would cease being under the radar, I think you’re right. Though, to clarify, as I said earlier, in 2023 a Western bloc vote group will not be naive about EPH effects, and would be accustomed to voting strategically based on how much organic or “social marketing” support their works have, and based on their amassed knowledge and experience of how the voters are likely to nominate. They would want to craft ballots carefully instead of simply voting five things in a straight slate. For example, they’d likely include some support for a standout novel that is not from their cohort (which seems to be the case with one novel here), because it would have a good chance of winning and could be exploited to drive other competition off the ballot. They’d distribute support to other works as well.

    Around 50 ballots would suffice to push several of their things to the top. But 2023 was not a normal year. It might not be totally unprecented, I don’t know – maybe in the past some novel was going to be released in, say, French translation, so that a French publisher had the motive to quietly join the fun and help push nominations for the English book. I don’t know.

    But I can think of no other explanation for this than an open secret bloc voting campaign which got shared with a group who hoped to publish works on the secret slate in translation in the language of the hosting Worldcon. With the publishing industry on the hard times that it is, the original publisher and the publisher of the translation would have surely both have been equally eager to see the label Hugo Winner affixed to the IP they owned/licensed, ensuring, in their minds, that it would sell billions of copies. At least it would feel like billions, in comparison with how many copies these books tend to sell in America.

    Your other ideas, about 2 or 3 Chinese censors whacking lots of books off the list and not being able to redistribute the points in a logical way, just don’t make sense. They didn’t make the whacked books disappear. In fact one of the whacked books is on their list as having received this historically insanely high number of nominations. If you mean that in addition to all the whacked books they acknowledged whacking, they secretly whacked others which recieved so many more nominations, then any missing works having that amount of support would be glaringly obvious (either to us or to Chinese fandom) because the bar for just getting on the longlist is pretty low. And if a group of Chinese censors were adding fake points, wouldn’t they have included some Chinese book? Finally, even if they were inexperienced with the Hugo process, fabricating that giant cliff was totally unecessary – if they wanted to fake some winners, why not give those winners an advantage in nominations more consistent with the finalists of past years, since that historical data is easily accessible on the Hugo website? Why not do that instead of trying to somehow insist that Legends & Lattes (I don’t mean to pick on Travis, it is just so bizarre) blew every past nomination record out of the water to receive the endorsement of half the voters (approaching all of the Western voters) as one of the greatest novels of the year?

    There was – additionally – weird tinkering with the numbers before publication. And I don’t have an explanation for the bizarre set of works deemed ineligible. But the basic fact of the existence of such a dramatic cliff surely must be fundamentally due to voting blocs supporting certain works while grossly overestimating the number of Chinese nominators. (We all did that. I didn’t bother to nominate because I figured it would probably end up being all Chinese stuff, and I was really looking forward to reading the things that Chinese fans liked, for a change).

  5. Pingback: The 2023 Hugo Awards: A Report on Censorship and Exclusion - File 770

  6. Pingback: The 2023 Hugo Nomination Scandal Gets Worse | Cora Buhlert

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