Make It So: Adding A New Hugo Award Category

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)

Short Story:
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)

Related Work:
15th – World SF in Translation by Jari Koponen (17)

no works

no works

no works

no works


12th (6-way tie) – Where Do the Birds Fly Now by Yamano Koichi 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)

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39 thoughts on “Make It So: Adding A New Hugo Award Category

  1. I would really hope, if such a category is created, that unless the category rules out dramatic presentations as a whole (live action or animated), in favor of print works (whether as prose or as graphic novels), that they would not explicitly exclude anime. I feel that would be short-sighted and crass.

    I also feel that younger readers who are active in anime fandom, and who are interested in getting involved in literary SF fandom (who I have, to be clear, encountered at local conventions, and who have been actively involved in organizing panels), would consider this a direct slight against them.

  2. Jo is right that I’ll help anyone who really wants to try this to draft a motion in the correct technical form. But expect me to push you if you ask and question the implications of your proposal, including those that Jo points out here. This can be very irritating, I know, but it means that by the time you reach the floor of the Business Meeting you are likely to have heard many of the arguments you’ll be expected to address.

  3. The failure of past Hugo categories is one reason why I am prioritizing my Hugo reading this year for the YA award and Series category. I feel they are good areas and want to see them succeed.

    I don’t consume much translated media myself, but I’m willing to help those who want to see this happen.

    I personally agree with Jo and think it too soon to introduce a proposal at San Jose. I also would rather see proponents work with the Hugo Awards Study Committee and come up with a really solid proposal for Dublin or 2020. It’s a worthy area to have an award for and the more solid the proposal the more chance it has of passing.

    That said, if the proposers need a co-sponsor who will be present at the Business Meeting, I will be at the BM in both San Jose and Dublin and would be willing to volunteer if no more involved proponent can attend.

    Cheryl said in a comment on her Blog post:

    Absolutely WSFS has a duty to highlight SF&F wherever it is published (and in all languages). I loved what Helsinki did in highlighting the results of national and continental awards from around the world during their Hugo ceremony. Hopefully we will see other Worldcons doing that.

    I, too, liked what Helsinki did and would love to see it taken up by more Worldcons. A tradition of celebrating award-winning SF from around the World during the Hugo Ceremony would be lovely.

    Jo said –

    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.

    I’d love to see this anyway, new category or not. In fact, I shall now go off and fill in the Dublin in 2019, an Irish Worldcon programme item suggestion form. Anyone else who will be attending and has a wish to see such a panel could do so, too. Multiple requests will help the Programming team determine interest.

  4. Alexander Case: visual media are SO different including in what translation work entails that I think all dramatic presentation style work SHOULD be excluded. OTOH, the question of graphic novels, including Manga, is a legit consideration, and Manga has a lot of appeal for the same crowd. I think they would understand a literary award not wanting to go to film or tv translation work.

    A tradition of celebrating award-winning SF from around the World during the Hugo Ceremony would be lovely.

    I agree, if we can celebrate and acknowledge them without re-enacting award presentations. We’re already trying to shoehorn two more awards into the ceremony.
    When I was active in the Imperial Court, Mama Jose (the first Empress of San Francisco) used to stress that a good Coronation (a Court’s annual end-of-year extravaganza) should not be longer than two hours or the audience will stop caring.
    I think that’s a good goal for the Hugo Awards ceremony as well, to keep the audience engaged right up to the end.

  6. @Kevin Roche – that’s a valid point. Maybe it could be a short slide show.

    Or, another thought, a celebration would not have to be in the Hugo ceremony at all–perhaps a display in the Exhibits hall, or two pages of the Souvenir book. Or some other creative way to acknowledge them.

  7. @ULTRAGOTHA — We’re actually trying a few things at Worldcon 76 with respect to awards other than the Hugos. It will be interesting to see which ones stick!

  8. I think there is one very serious issue that one has to consider when discussing new Hugos or associated awards, at least those for which long written works are eligible; the increasing difficulty of reading the shortlisted works in the time available. It isn’t, of course, required that everyone vote on everything; but the tradition has been that a lot of people vote on a lot of things, so that the votes reflect the overall judgement of the community, rather than disparate groups of voters each voting for their favourite category. This is implied by the 25% rule, on which a Hugo is not awarded if there is not enough interest in the category in the community as a whole. And it is certainly expected that we will consider and compare works rather than just vote for our favourite; this is the point of the voting system, and what gives meaning to the Hugo packet. But 5/6, the YA award and the series Hugo are all making it harder to do this. This year’s Worldcon has been unusually generous in the time it gives us for voting (and it’s still hard), but on the other hand that shortens the time available for nominating.

    Now, one might suggest we should abandon this way of thinking, and go for a more fragmented voting body, which might be able to cover a wider range of works and represent more people. But then: slates. If in each category only people especially interested in that category are voting – lovers of YA in YA, lovers of series in Series, lovers of translation in Translation, etc. – that gives an immense advantage to people who don’t actually need to read the things they vote on; they can vote in every category without difficulty.

  9. @ULTRAGOTHA — I will admit in a few circumstances the Chair put his foot down as a show designer. 🙂 Fortunately, my team was mostly in sync with my suggestions about handling external awards.

  10. I have one small comment on the OP:

    to be able to name 15 qualifying works published in the previous year which are not only qualifying but also Hugo-worthy

    Ahem, to say that in the non-englishspeaking world we don’t have at last enough works that are hugoaward worthy, is kind of an insult.
    If they don’t reach the US that would be bad from the publishers.
    Of course if they reach the audience or if you go by the work of the translators that is a different think, but I won’t to make it clear of how much works we speak here, exspecially if you seem to add novels, all shortfictioncatogorys and graphic novels in it.

  11. Is the category for works translated into English, into the language of the Worldcon-hosting country, or into any language? This needs to be specified

    For dramatic presentations, I’m assuming that both dubbing and subtitling would qualify.

  12. While I may be wrong (and let me know if I m), from what I have read here and on Cheryl’s blog, it appears that this award (whether a Hugo or “not a Hugo”) is limited to works translated into English. Would this hold true in years where the convention takes place in countries where English is not the primary language. I realize that, as Cheryl pointed out, the majority of current Hugo voters probably come from primary English speaking countries, I’m not sure that will always be true, especially if a Worldcon is held in a country such as China.

  13. @Joel

    Any award is hypothetical and non-specific at this point, until someone puts some time into the concept. It’s a good question for anyone wanting to pursue the idea though

  14. StefanB: OBVIOUSLY the non English speaking world has a monster ton of good novels and other written works that could fit under the rubric of SFF.

    How many are published in English translations in a year? How many of those are read by enough WSFS members (a population of a few thousand) to get nominated?

    Being asked to produce those numbers is not insulting the rest of the world. It’s asking for concrete evidence that there will be enough books to choose from to nominate, and enough knowledge of them among the Worldcon SFF reading population to warrant this specific award among this specific crowd.

    If things like short fiction and graphic novels/manga are included, then the answer is *almost* an “Of course there are” but being able to list them still helps prove this. If it turns out that they want to limit it to prose fiction and certain word counts, it might become more of a question.

  15. Lenora: Yes I was a bit emotianl.
    I agree that the questions 1. do enough works reach the US regulary.
    2. Are those works reach the worldconvoters
    are important questions among:

    3. Are we giving the worldconvoters to much work?
    4. For what do we want the award, best translated work or best translation?
    5. Should that be a hugo, a non-hugo or just an award that is given at worldcon but that doesn’t necesary follow the same rules as the hugo.

    Giving more of a spotlight on the non-english speaking world is somethink good and interesting (I think we have a different situation than for the first test in 1994 today) and it would be interesting.
    And thanks to Jo Van Ekeren for his article, I think it would be very helpful to anyone who really wants to have a award and is ready to do the work.

    About Joel: Since every winner and every finalist in the past was a work in English or translated in English, the proposal to have an award for translations into English makes sense at the moment at last.

  16. @ John A Arkansawyer —
    No, I did’nt.
    I’m Absolute Emperor 34 of the Imperial Royal Lion Empire of San Jose, Inc. (Absolute means that I finished my year and met all my fundraising, etc. goals in good grace.)
    The IRLM was one of the 2 or 3 oldest Imperial Court chapters after San Francisco and Portland. It has, alas, folded as of a couple years ago.

  17. The numbers for how translated works have performed in current categories suggest
    a) US publishers ought to broaden their horizon
    b) a Hugo category for translated works probably doesn’t make sense now.

  18. I have one other concern related to a “Best Translated Work” category – which this reminds me of – would having this category disqualify translated works from other categories (Best Novel, Novella, Short Story, Graphic Story, etc.)

  19. StefanB: For what do we want the award, best translated work or best translation?

    I don’t see how such an award could be for Best Translation. That would require nominators and voters to be able to read the works in both languages, and judge whether they have been well-translated.

  20. @GooberGunch: That could be a problem then. Without some way to get around this, we have a different problem – one where a work gets submitted for two categories (the category for the type of story and the Best Translated category) and ends up getting bumped out of the running for the perceived higher honor. This could lead to the Best Translated Work category being construed as a “ghetto” for works that weren’t written in English first.

  21. Alexander Case: I have one other concern related to a “Best Translated Work” category – which this reminds me of – would having this category disqualify translated works from other categories

    This is discussed in the main post, and I see that Cheryl Morgan’s post talks about it as well.

  22. Bouncing off something else Cheryl said in the comments on her blog post—

    A proposal to require crediting and awarding the translator as well as the author for any translated work might go over pretty well.

    As far as I recall, we always, or at least recently, have done this. But I don’t think the Constitution requires it.

  23. Ken Liu received a Hugo for translating The Three Body Problem and Folding Beijing. Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s translator Lia Belt received a Hugo for her work as well – I recall him tweeting about how they both picked up their respective Hugos at Schiphol airport.


    And thanks to Jo Van Ekeren for his article, I think it would be very helpful to anyone who really wants to have a award and is ready to do the work.

    Her work. Jo Van Ekeren is female.

  24. Great post and a lot of thoughtful, useful information for people who really want some sort of translated works award from Worldcon.

  25. Thank you Jo. It’s a useful and informative primer on how to make changes to the Hugo Awards.

    (I learned about it when I got involved with E pluribus Hugo. The process is non-trivial, but there are good reasons why it is organised the way it is, and you have described those reasons well.)

  26. A proposal to require crediting and awarding the translator as well as the author for any translated work might go over pretty well.

    That does sound relatively simple and practical, unless the uncertainty about how many awards are required would cause issues with producing rockets and bases ahead of time?

  27. @JJ:

    I don’t see how such an award could be for Best Translation. That would require nominators and voters to be able to read the works in both languages, and judge whether they have been well-translated.

    For someone who reads lots of translated works and translations, spotting great translations is, if not trivial, rather straight-forward, since it will read like great prose written in the target language. In effect, it will not feel like a translation.

    For me however, the question of calling it “best translated work” or “best translation” feels rather academic in nature. The former puts more focus on the work and its author, the latter puts a little more focus on the translator and the translation process, but in practice they are used interchangably.

    Personally, I’m agnostic on the idea of adding a new not-a-Hugo for translated works.

  28. I am sorry for misgendering Jo. This was born from ignorance and no malices intent was behind it.

    JJ: I brought it up, because for me some of the discusion went into the direction for best translation and I thought that best translated work was somethink that would be more in line with other hugos.
    Someone mentioned (I think in one of the pixelscrolls) having to seperate original writers work and what the translator brought to it, which I thought was imposible.
    (It is also more in line with the other hugo awards, where the work is judged not the person execpt the editorawards, which are the most difficult for many hugovoters)

  29. @Karl-Johan:

    For someone who reads lots of translated works and translations, spotting great translations is, if not trivial, rather straight-forward, since it will read like great prose written in the target language. In effect, it will not feel like a translation.

    That won’t help recognize cases where the translator has taken excessive liberties with the rewriting or just misinterpreted the nuances of the original language.

  30. @ Kevin Lighton:

    You mean like the Swedish LoTR translation where Merry kills the Nazgûl, rather than Éowyn? OK, that could legitimately be a copy-editing mistake (“hon” and “han” have all consonants and only one vowel difference between them, after all), but my understanding is that it started with the translator.

  31. There will also be difficulties judging in the other direction – where translation into great prose for the new language is extremely difficult and the translator still does a good job. An example that occurs to me is that I believe translators for the Ancillary series for languages with gendered elements have faced difficulties expressing Leckie’s intent to not gender characters. That’s a challenge that you’d only notice when they fail.

  32. Still considering submitting a proposal for Best Unrelated Work on April 1 2019 (because I will be at An Irish Worldcon, where I won’t be in San Jose).

    The award would be for “any creative work in any medium, first made available to the public in the relevant year, provided it is not in any way related to science fiction or fantasy”.

    How are things doing for y’all in the future? Writing this in 0106.

  33. @Ingvar:

    That sort of thing, yes. I was actually thinking of things like some Streamline Pictures anime dubs from the ‘90s, which often rewrote dialogue to completely change the meaning or characterization and whose company head supposedly insisted on initial script translations having nothing beyond the literal translation (so no notes on if the character is talking like a gangster or using a regional dialect, say). He believed he was improving the anime; many familiar with the originals disagreed.

  34. @Kevin Lighton:

    Yes, there is the issue of excessive rewriting (like in the case of the first Swedish LotR translation, which suffered from lots of issues but also was stylistically wonderful in a way very dissimilar from Tolkien’s prose). But these cases are relatively rare, especially when it doesn’t impact the reading.

    As for misinterpreting nuances, one can find such cases, but it’s more common that translations fail on the target language end of the process.

  35. Pingback: Adding an SFT Category to the Hugo Awards – Speculative Fiction in Translation

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