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… 

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

  1. Transcripts are obviously the top priority, but could the audio file be uploaded to somewhere like Google Drive, so that people can downloaded it locally please?

    Soundcloud doesn’t make it easy to download the audio; in fact I’ve never been able to do it the past few times I’ve tried. For their primary business model, that’s perfectly understandable, but for something fannish like this, it should be made as available as possible.

  2. I made a transcript. And listened to most. He felt he was the Chengdu Hugo admin, charged with preparing Chinese compatible Hugos, not the WSFS Hugo admin. He feels all his decisions were 100% correct, from the context of being asked to run a Chinese Hugos, because the Hugos should be from the convention and of the convention and match the convention. No government orders, but his Chinese colleagues were clearly of a clear view that those nominees were not eligible under local rules. The one line “rules we must follow” statement is the only thing, he feels, that can be said to both countries and not cause major problems. (In particular, saying more in China would cause far more trouble than the simple statement has caused in the west.)

    He is correct that the WSFS constitution allowed them to do this. He often repeats he is 100% certain he made the right decisions, though he regrets the harm done to some. He admits there are other mistakes in the numbers. Numbers were delayed not to ruin Hugo night for the “winners.”

    There’s a lot more but this is the gist. He felt that the right choice, the good choice, was to run the Hugos Chinese style at a Chinese worldcon.

  3. “ He felt that the right choice, the good choice, was to run the Hugos Chinese style at a Chinese worldcon.”
    I think this obviously goes to the heart of the matter – whether the Hugo’s should be seen as an award tied to the local specifics of the relevant Worldcon or as something that goes beyond that and, crucially, should not be subject to local rules. I would hope that most folk prefer the latter in which case, also obviously, changes need to be made to ensure that.

  4. The award should have a character from the country the Worldcon is but through the choices of local fans. Notably, this Worldcon alienated many Chinese fans so singularly failed to have an authentic local character.

  5. 5 minutes in and I’m already shouting at it. It’s all just a gee-these-Chinese-are-weird.
    He’s just rolling out stupid stereotypes. The idea that Chinese people just love following rules is something nobody who has experienced China would think.

  6. Camestros Felapton:

    this Worldcon alienated many Chinese fans so singularly failed to have an authentic local character.

    I’m sure Chinese fans are not a monolith, just as Western fans are not a monolith. It could definitely be the case that some of the Chinese Fen were completely on board with the move and some weren’t.

  7. Maytree on February 5, 2024 at 1:21 am said

    I’m sure Chinese fans are not a monolith, just as Western fans are not a monolith. It could definitely be the case that some of the Chinese Fen were completely on board with the move and some weren’t.

    Sure but these decisions weren’t made by Chinese fans AT ALL but by an American playing lets-imagine-what-Chinese-people need.

  8. An illuminating take on the China/West cultural chasm. If I understand correctly, the WSFS rules give the committee considerable latitude, and they used it. I’m not so sure that giving answers compatible with the mind-set of the Chinese component of the Hugo team would have caused any more outrage here than stonewalling did.

  9. @Chris M. Barkley you and Dave McCarty could make a fortune together.

    Sell punching bags–with Dave’s face on them–attached to a little speaker that plays his answers.

    I managed seven f-bombs and two observations about the martial status of Dave McCarty’s parents while listening (this accounted for two of the f-bombs as well.)

  10. Pingback: The 2023 Hugo nomination statistics have finally been released – and we have questions | Cora Buhlert

  11. Dave is again lying. The eligible decision is a result of government intervention, we knew it. China Government even released an announcement on 26th Oct about they censored 12 Hugo finalists about Religion and LGBT (and deleted after several hours). Yes there is copy/screenshot for that government announcement shared in many Wechat groups among Chinese Fandom. Anyone email me [email protected] will get a copy of that. I am online now for next 3 hours to send it to you all.

  12. Not mentioned is the fact that there were three (broadly) cultures involved, western, Chinese and fannish.
    The default should have been fannish.
    A fannish worldcon in China. A fannish worldcon kin Chicago.

  13. Based on the interview and the above, I’m wondering…just what did Chengdu take from Worldcon fandom in this merger?

    I’m reminded of a joke from Spitting Image back in the 1980s about a possible merger between the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Party:
    “From us we’ll take ‘Social’ and ‘Democratic’, and from you we’ll take ‘Party’.”

  14. Still, how the fuck would Paul Weimer have caused problem if he was left as a nominee? Dave really needs to answer that one because it makes no sense under any of the reasons he’s given.

  15. From the bullshit McCarty says and the complete garbage that the nomination stats are, I can only conclude that this was run more like the Dragon Awards than the Hugos.

  16. This was not his first time running the Hugos. Are we to conclude that all his previous efforts were run under the same fundamental philosophy of allowing the proles to vote so they can feel involved, then quietly choosing their own favorites, since they know best? Perhaps one of the best side effects of EPH has been the revelation of vote fudging that is now less simple to conceal- has it always been that way under McCarty and Yarrow? Have their fingers always been on the scale?

  17. “Chinese colleagues were clearly of a clear view that those nominees were not eligible under local rules.”

    And we still don’t know what those local rules were, do we! But hey, it was clearly of a clear view. Gah,

  18. I think that I am going to make myself Ineligible to be within two arm lengths of Mr. McCarty going forward.
    I was readily available at the con, passed him several times and vice versa. I was not hard to find

  19. Is there any explanation of the issues in the nomination statistics?

    After a delay of 90 days to – supposedly – clean then up the state of the statistics is clearly unacceptable and needs to be explained.

  20. To be clear- Dave does not describe his actions as I have characterized above. But I am not sure how else to read his explanation of disqualifying people on his own initiative, and using an invented scenario of navigating cultural differences by doing things he was never asked to do, in which the obvious solution was to conveniently make major decisions without oversight or accountability.

    If this was the psychology behind the vote counters, I worry about the previous votes.

  21. There was an SQL query error that effected the ( I think) last place run-offs. Dave has a mundane job, was overworked, and missed it.

  22. Thank you, Mr. Barkley, for this interview.
    Long time lurker and occasional poster here. I have only been a member of WSFS for 10 years, but have been in awe of the Hugo Awards since I started reading science fiction (going on 60 years). I have been proud of my participation in nominating and voting for the awards, and proud of fandom and the response when there were issues with voting (puppies). I am very concerned that this situation may have deeply damaged the prestige and integrity of the award. I want to be wrong.

    After listening to this interview twice, I am not certain that Mr. McCarty understands the potential damage that his approach and commentary are doing. He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it at all. The administrator has discretion, he said, and that’s the end of it.

    I feel like I am missing so so much. If there is an explanation provided regarding why something is ineligible, it would be anathema to those in China? I hear the comments regarding how culturally different China and the United States are – but the only example provided is that the Chinese are culturally inclined to follow rules and Americans are culturally inclined to break rules. So I am struggling to catch how an explanation would cause the anathema. I am also struggling to understand how, if we look at the WSFS rules, we would all understand how the various works were “clearly ineligible.” And then – if we release the data on the night of the rewards we ruin it for everyone? Has that been the case, historically?

    I mean, I hear that no additional clarification is appropriate. Ok. Maybe that is how things have to be. Maybe I am unreasonable in thinking that Mr. McCarty should take a kinder more inclusive approach with his position (does he only owe consideration to those immediately impacted? and/or to fandom?).

    I think we may need some changes to the awards, and I know that many people with lots of experience are considering options. I am grateful for them.

    For me, at least, this was a difficult interview to listen to, because it didn’t answer the questions I have in any substantive way. It makes me sad that we are ending with “people are going to believe what they want to believe.”

  23. If I understand correctly, the WSFS rules give the committee considerable latitude, and they used it.

    The rules do not allow Hugo Awards administrators to disqualify nominees for no reason or to do so to placate a repressive government. That’s never been acceptable and it’s not acceptable now. Accepting Dave McCarty’s actions would render the awards corrupt and meaningless. No Hugo ballot would fairly reflect the collective will of WSFS members making their nominations in good faith based on the merits of the nominee.

    This doesn’t even have to be a problem limited to countries like China. If the next Worldcon was in Florida, some Ron DeSantis apparatchik might want to please pudding fingers by excluding transgender nominees. There is no cruelty they won’t undertake to degrade the lives of transgender people here.

  24. Interesting to hear Dave complain that the Esquire article was low on quotes from insiders, when he and the other insiders were given opportunity to comment and chose not to do so.

    You can’t complain that they did not represent your point of view when you refused to give it. Exasperating.

    And it’s pretty telling that the only rule he finally points to is that he officially had discretion to make the call, which is still a non answer. He still refuses to say why he made that call.

    I try to give people the benefit of the doubt, but he is not being honest.

  25. Someone on Bluesky (it’s left my brain who) said they worked on the awards admin team with him at a different WorldCon (maybe London 2014?) where he claimed he had the power to fudge things as he saw fit— specifically in reference to the 5% rule.

  26. To me, McCarty’s comments further demonstrate the need to modify the WSFS Constitution to establish a permanent Hugo Awards committee that administers the awards and conducts the nominating and balloting on the WSFS’s own site at There’s too little accountability in letting each Worldcon run them. Elect to the committee in a manner like the Mark Protection Committee.

    With a committee in place that acts independently and conducts itself professionally, every aspiring Worldcon site would know before they win site selection they will have no ability to manipulate the awards. If that might be politically problematic in their country they won’t bid.

  27. Screenshot from China government (to be specifically Chengdu National Work Group for “Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications” ) on 26th Oct. basically announced publically that for Worldcon there were 12 finalists were censored due to LGBT & Religion concerns by 3 groups of people from the Chengdu government bureau (this post got removed several hours ago when they realized this is something not supposed to go public)

    Google Drive Link for downloading

    This has been widely spread among Chinese Scifi fandom. It’s clear no eligible decision is a result of government intervention. Dave keeps saying bullshit that its Hugo Administrator teams decision…

  28. Does anyone have a guess which rule of the WSFS Constitution that Dave McCarty thinks grants the Hugo admin total discretion over eligibility?

    I see 3.8.2 (“The Worldcon Committee shall determine the eligibility of nominees …”), but I don’t see a clause granting the “discretion” he mentions. If it does happen to be 3.8.2 he’s relying on, I would only read that as an assignment of responsibility for carrying out 3.1 and 3.2.1 among others. Reading it as total discretion seems to break 3.2.1, which establishes the general fact of what will be eligible unless otherwise specified. To that point, I’d agree 3.8.2 grants the discretion to determine which among 3.2.1 and other rules applies, but taking it as total discretion makes all other eligibility rules including 3.2.1 superfluous, inoperative, etc.–simply guidelines.

    That does sound like what he’s saying at the end of the interview (from the transcript: “But if I wanted to be dickish about it, you know, point to the rule that says it’s, it’s the rule that says the administrator has discretion because that’s that’s the rule. The administrator has discretion and and and, you know. The it’s part of our discretionary power to say what isn’t isn’t, isn’t eligible”). But that’s not typically how rules interpretation is supposed to work: an ambiguous clause shouldn’t yield an absurd outcome that obviates all the other rules.

  29. “‘How many ballots are in each category?’ isn’t material to ‘Did we count things correctly?'”

    I wonder if he was a ward boss in 1960? He /is/ from Chicago…

  30. It’s like he’s saying without saying but still saying, “The culture in China is different and that’s that. Nothing I can do about it.” Which isn’t an answer. People still want an answer. People want to know, specifically, what disqualified the works marked as ineligible. And he’s still not answering that question and saying it’s because of cultural differences.

    “Those works were clearly ineligible.” -clearly not otherwise people wouldn’t be losing their collective minds over this. I don’t think ‘clearly’ means the same thing in the context of your answer that you think it does.

    “I am constrained…If I say anything more that would be more satisfying to folks here, it would cause great offense in China.” Why? What, culturally, are you referencing? What is the crux of the cultural issue here? Was someone offended by an Oxford Comma? Was it the Cardinal Sin of two spaces after a period?

    “And if we gave a more satisfying answer in China, there would definitely be a negative reaction here.” -more than is already happening? I doubt that is possible at this point.

    I feel like all he’s doing in this interview is digging the hole deeper and wider, doubling down on non-answers.

    “We are caught in a cultural crossfire.” So. If WorldCon were held in a US State where the local culture is to ban books and works containing any sort of LGTBQ content, or books that don’t portray God or religion through the ‘correct lens’, anything containing something like that could be marked as ‘ineligible’ without explanation at ‘the discretion’ of the Hugo Administrator because that’s the ‘culture’ of the state, the rules of the constitution, and we can’t offend anyone in the local culture?

  31. Kimberly Hanson – I’ve actually been in fandom longer than you, and I don’t remember any “local rules” in Hugo voting.

    Such “rules” would mean that, say, if the Worldcon were held in Florida, today, all stories with gay or trans characters would be tossed. Go ahead, if McCarty’s reading this (which I doubt), tell me that’s not the case.

    It’s supposed to be the votes, period.

    You want to know what the actual definition of “anarchy” is, as opposed to the media/propaganda definition? Fandom is one. No one’s forcing you to be part… but for it to work, actual democracy has to be in play. This was not.

    And you wonder why I call myself an antiSMOF? Because trufen have no self-proclaimed “masters”.

    Oh, and it’s more than slightly petty to ship the Hugos by tossing them into a box, with no protection. That was deliberate.

  32. If there are “rules” not in the WSFS constitution that governed the eligibility determinations, the voters (and potential nominees) should know what they were.

  33. @mark Thanks for the validation. And, I am also surprised that the awards were shipped without careful protection. So sorry for the winners that their statues were damaged.

  34. Kimberly Hanson on February 5, 2024 at 7:13 am said:

    I feel like I am missing so so much. If there is an explanation provided regarding why something is ineligible, it would be anathema to those in China? I hear the comments regarding how culturally different China and the United States are – but the only example provided is that the Chinese are culturally inclined to follow rules and Americans are culturally inclined to break rules.

    That part about obeying rules from McCarty is such a stupid stereotype that if I didn’t know otherwise I’d assume McCarty had never visited China.

    As for the eligibility question, we know this. Babel has been published in translation in China by a publisher that is ultimately owned by the government. We are not talking about a scenario of the what-if-Worldcon-was-in-Iran-and-Salman-Rushdie-was-a-Hugo-finalist kind. Assume the guts of what McCarty said is true, then this was a very arbitrary (and patronising) form of self-censorship.

  35. It is very sad that Dave McCarty cannot attend the Worldcon in Glasgow because of the code of conduct. “What?” I hear you say, “he hasn’t broken the code of conduct.” You are only saying that because you have weird expectations of a Worldcon, probably due to your rugged American individualism. You see Britain is a very different place and the Worldcon must adapt to the local culture. British people, well, we ALL know what they are like, with their queues, their endless tea drinking and football violence. In many ways the British are like little children and it is important that the Worldcon exercises its discretion when dealing with them. The first priority has to be to make decisions that reflect the national character of the country the Worldcon is held in. You may ask “no, but seriously, show me WHICH part of the code of conduct he has broken – you can’t just say he’s broken it without giving any details” and look I WOULD give details if I could frame it for JUST an American audience. You guys would understand if I explained it in terms Americans would understand but there is just no way of doing that without, you know, British people reading what I say as well and then…oh boy, they wouldn’t react well because of our huge difference in culture. They just wouldn’t get it. That’s not racist at all, because if I explained it to them in THEIR terms then it would make you guys angry in a different way. That’s just how it is. Yes, it may seem from afar to look arbitrary and unjust and indeed borderline corrupt to say somebody has broken a rule in a way that cannot be explained but that is just a burden those who have to bridge this culture gap have to carry. If anything we are the real victims in all of this and the real heroes, willing to make the tough decisions.

  36. It honestly looks to me like Dave did some preemptive censorship based on his own judgments of what he might be asked to censor, based on his expectations he’d formed about China. So he can honestly say he was never asked to censor, because he is leaving out the next line – “because I beat them to it, judging perfectly ahead of time that they would ask and which items they would ask about, using my perfect understanding of the culture which I trust nobody else to navigate. It would put strain on the credibility of the Hugo if we submit to outside censors, so instead I will blow up that credibility entirely by doing the wrong thing first.”

  37. @Camestros Felapton: it’s even worse than that. Glasgow is in Scotland, so the con has to abide by Scottish rules. I seem to recall a Gaiman story that made fun of the ploughman’s lunch, so he for one can expect no mercy.

  38. Commiserations about your rocket. Is there anything about this process the Hugo Pope hasn’t fouled up?
    Glad to be a lapsed Baptist on this one.

  39. We can speculate about what actually happened. Taking him at his word, there was no government interference. His further comments strongly suggest that it was his decision and his alone. Regardless of interference of government or non government entities, Dave interfered by his own admission. He is still obfuscating whether and how any such interference is within the rules.

    It does not matter which Chinese nationals may or may not have done what, or suggested be done. Everyone has an opinion as to what exact nuance of outside interference was. But none of that actually matters. Because from our outside perspective, what we know is indistinguishable from a situation where Dave McCarty personally futzed the eligibility over bigoted or personal preferences. I don’t think that is the case, but without transparency there is no metric for determining whether that is the case. And if it were the case, that is far too terrifying of an implication as to the power that a Hugo administrator could have. The interview does little to dissuade this interpretation and even provides additional grounds for it.

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