This year, much has been said about the Hugo Awards. For those unaware (somehow?), the Hugo Awards are one of the most prestigious American awards for science fiction and fantasy published in English in the last year. They’re voted on by members of Worldcon, which is anyone from anywhere in the world as long as they pay. But most from the US. This post actually isn’t about what’s been said about and around the Hugos this year, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence this post. So, if you’ve missed it or want a refresher, here’s a quick round-up with links to more detailed discussion by The Mary Sue. Quicker version: People disagreed with the Hugo nominations of the last few years and decided to game the system using slate voting. It kind of backfired. (Or did it? This too is an ongoing, ah, debate. That I’m trying to stay far away from. Anyway!)
The Daily Dot mentions early on in their report on this year’s Hugo Awards, that 2015 was “a banner year for translated works”. Out of the four written fiction categories (best novel, best novella, best novelette and best short story), only two managed to have a story that beat out No Award. Both these stories were written by non-American men: Cixin Liu and Thomas Olde Heuvelt, a Chinese and a Dutch author respectively.
This year also, and this is much less widely reported, saw the decision to honour translators and both Ken Liu and Lia Belt were given a Hugo Rocket for their work in translating these winning stories. 2015 also marks the first year that the Hugos name the translator of a piece.
2015 is a win for diversity in SFF. We’ve seen articles discussing the rise of marginalised writers in SFF erroneously because we have always been there. What’s changed is our visibility within the SFF community. It’s not that marginalised people have never been here. It’s that we’re speaking up about our presence. (And that the internet allows us to be heard in the first place.)
So, initially, when the Hugos were announced I was thrilled along with everyone else. I am still thrilled because it is a great thing worthy of celebration. Diversity creates strength and fosters innovation. But something in the back of my mind was niggling at me. There was something about the celebration that felt off to me. Something about translated works and English-language awards and voting. Something that, as far as I can tell, no one has mentioned in any of their articles. Something that I expect most people wouldn’t even think to check. Either because they’re too thrilled that ‘one of their own’ won a prestigious foreign award or because they just don’t see that there might be something to look at.
It’s fairly common knowledge that, despite claims to the contrary, the Hugo Awards are a predominantly American award. But is it? After all, despite the slate voting this year saw a lot of diversity and it still won the awards. That’s what was niggling me: how completely different that focus is from my experience. Were the Hugos more nationally diverse than my gut was telling me? Was I wrong in thinking about the Hugos as an American award? Was I wrong to think of it as an award only native speakers of English stood a chance at winning?
To that end, I decided to look at the nationalities of the all the authors nominated for a Best Novel Hugo Award. I also looked at the language a book was originally published in. Then, because it is also a generally accepted truth that it’s easier to find non-native speakers of English publishing in short story venues, I looked at the other prose fiction categories (novella, novelette and short story) as well.
This post is a recording of what I found.
So, before you read on to those actual findings, let me take a moment to explain what you’re in for and what you’re not.
You’re in for numbers. I have done my absolute best to keep my opinions, ideas and speculations out of this post and to let the numbers speak for themselves. They’re pretty self-evident, anyway. I have included some additional notes and factoids where appropriate and you’ll find a short (and very incomplete!) list of international authors whose work you might be interested in at the end. But you will not find a post filled with speculation on why these numbers turn out the way they did or the like.
While I have done my best to keep this post as neutral as possible, I cannot say the same for the comment section. Please treat fellow commenters with respect.
And just so we’re absolutely clear on this point: This post is not meant to suggest that we should ignore one group of marginalised authors in favour of other groups. We should not. I sincerely hope that collecting and presenting my information the way I have actually helps to illustrate why we shouldn’t do so.
The very simple version is this: I took all the nominations, tallied up the number of authors, looked up their nationality, tallied up those numbers and had GDocs make me a pie chart of percentages. (That I then failed to embed the way I wanted to or to make graphics of the way I wanted to. Sorry about that!)
Of course, nothing is ever quite that simple, so here’s a more detailed look at what I did. Caveat of a sorts: My spreadsheet skills are rudimentary. Someone else could probably provide much tidier and much more detailed and advanced spreadsheets. (If you decide to do this, please let me know and share them with me! I would like to marvel at it and your awesomeness. I’d also like to share them with people if you’re okay with that. ^_^)
I started off looking at the Best Novel category. I excluded the Retro Hugos because they’re Retro Hugos. They’re slightly different and since they include only 6 or so new authors — most of them American — I elected to exclude them entirely. There isn’t much to gain from their inclusion.
Prior to 1959, only the winners of the category are known, so no nominee data has been presented for those years. I’ve also excluded any and all withdrawn or ineligible works from my tallies.
I nabbed the list of winners and nominees for Best Novel off Wikipedia and threw the names into a spreadsheet. I counted up all the nominations an author received, put the number in a ‘Nominations’ column and deleted all but one mention of the name. This was to ensure a quick and easy way to gauge how many individual authors have been nominated. To this end authors nominated under pseudonyms and duos publishing under a single name are counted as a single person, but duo efforts are counted twice. There are about 3 authors writing under known pseudonyms and 2 writing teams (that I know of).
After tidying up the list this way, I looked up the language in which the book was originally written and noted that in its own column. Then it was time to look up author nationalities.
And the trouble started. Nationality, at its simplest, looks fairly easy, but in practice it’s rarely easy. You get questions like “Should I count Lithuanian-American authors as Lithuanian or American or should I count both nationalities?” Authors like Jo Walton, who is Welsh-Canadian, or Gordon R. Dickson, who is Canadian-American, proved especially tricky. I mostly wound up picking where the author spent the most formative years and added any relevant notes.
While this means we get a good look at the global diversity that makes it onto the ballot for one of the most prestigious English-language SFF awards, it doesn’t take into account any potential diversity within the regions of the US and the UK. You won’t find those numbers in this post. I’m too insecure about the quality of those regional charts and I’m not comfortable definitely saying “This data is accurate and any errors I’ve made are statistically irrelevant” when, to my feeling, they’re a complete mess.
I admit to getting most of the biographical information from the author’s Wikipedia pages, supplemented with information from the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and author’s own websites. Not only nationalities are complex, but pseudonyms are too. To this end, as I’ve said, authors who were nominated under different names were only counted once and notes about their pseudonym have been added to the full list of names.
For the other three categories I looked at, I’ve adopted a very similar approach. The biggest difference between them and Best Novel is that I lumped Best Novella, Best Novelette and Best Short Story into one big “not-a-novel” group. I’ve done this largely because the Hugo Awards have grouped some of these categories together in the past. These three categories were not separate until 1968. Prior to that they fluctuated from not existing, to existing, to being grouped together. For example: the 1958 Hugo Awards had one category that covered both novels and novellas. Consequently any novellas from 1958 have been counted amidst the Best Novel numbers.
These three categories total over 800 nominations spread across 281 authors. I have elected against including the language in which these authors wrote their story originally.
Furthermore, the rise of the internet impacted publishing in a big way. It affected short fiction publishing even more significantly. This is why there’s a general feeling nowadays that non-American authors are easier to find in short fiction: there are many more options to get short fiction published and far fewer (and lower) hurdles for these authors to jump. This means that prior to the internet, the short fiction Hugo nominees are bound to be from the dominant English-speaking areas and including those years and numbers without comment risks creating a misleading representation of the state of SFF short fiction.
To that end, I have made a smaller chart that omits those years. The internet came to global prominence somewhere around the 1990s, so I have taken the 1996 Hugos as a cut-off point. By 1995 international authors could reasonably be expected to start submitting to short fiction venues, though I hasten to add that variation between global areas existed then and persists to this day. I have done no year-by-year analysis of the ballot.
Where I could not determine an author’s nationality, I have marked them as ‘unknown’. And, of course, these numbers look only at the nominations that made it onto the final ballot. They don’t account for any fiction that may have been nominated and didn’t make it onto that shortlist. (The PDF of the 2015 Hugo Award statistics counts about 4 authors who didn’t make it onto the final ballot.)
PLEASE NOTE: Despite my best efforts to ensure accurate numbers, I will most likely have messed them up somewhere. These errors are liable to be reasonably small and shouldn’t have much impact on the overall percentages, but it would be remiss of me not to mention this up-front. I am also not a statistician. All of this should influence how you take these numbers. And ideally if you like numbers do your own checking. Please? And if you do would you pretty please link me to it, so I can see? (Put differently: Please, please, please prove me wrong. I want diversity in SFF awards to be doing better than my informal analysis suggests.)
I think that about covers it? Let me know if I missed anything! These numbers are a relatively quick look at this aspect and my reliance on Wikipedia may well gall people. (The use of Wikipedia was still hotly debated when I was at uni, so I think it merits specific mention. I would certainly like to think that basic biographical information is accurate.) To reiterate, I encourage people to do their own research and double-check what I’ve done!
Turns out, I have no idea how to embed pie charts, so I’ll be providing you with the numbers as they break down and linking to the spreadsheet later on. I am sad. I wanted to share my pie charts OF DOOM with you all in a shiny post. ’cause they’re pie charts. OF DOOM.
Yes, yes, I know I could embed the whole spreadsheet. I don’t want to embed the whole file. I want to embed one chart per section so you have a visual to go with it and I don’t know how to do that save making multiple files. And I could make screenies and include the images, but that’s a hotlinking risk I’m not willing to take. So you’ll just have to do without unless someone offers me a better solution, sorry! T_T
US: 82.2% (106 authors)
UK: 12.4% (16 authors)
Canada: 3.1% (4 authors)
China: 0.8% (1 author)
France: 0.8% (1 author)
Jamaica: 0.8% (1 author)
For those wanting to check the numbers, you’ll note that the overall percentage, courtesy of rounding down, actually comes to 100.1% and not a clean 100%. I expect this to be the same across the charts, so I’m only going to note it this once and assume it clear that, due to rounding up and down to get a single number after the dot, percentages are unlikely to be a neat 100% when tallied up. Never understood that about maths, but there you go. I’m just letting GDocs do its calculating thing for me.
If you want to see the languages for Best Novel, those look like this:
English: 98.4% (127 books)
French: 0.8% (1 book)
Chinese: 0.8% (1 book)
To note, the two exceptions on this list are:
- Jean Bruller’s Sylva, nominated in 1963 and the very first translated novel ever to be nominated for a Hugo Award. Also the very first author not from the US or the UK to make it onto the Hugo ballot.
- Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, nominated in 2015. It is the second translated novel to ever make it onto the Hugo ballot and the first to win. It is also the first Asian novel nominated for a Hugo.
Jean Bruller’s Sylva was, as far as I could discover, translated by Rita Barisse. Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem was translated by Ken Liu, an award-winning author in the English SFF community in his own right.
And there you go. That covers the Best Novel category.
Best Novella, Best Novelette and Best Short Story
To remind everyone: these categories are grouped together because of their relative interchangablity and the way the Hugos has grouped them together or split them up in various ways up to 1968 after which they settled into being separate categories.
US: 74.5% (205 authors)
UK: 10.2% (28 authors)
Canada: 3.3% (9 authors)
Australia: 1.1% (3 authors)
France: 0.4% (1 author)
Netherlands: 0.4% (1 author)
Unknown: 10.2% (28 authors)
Given the impact of the internet, I’ve elected to narrow the field down to the awards from 1996-2015. This, I feel, offers a fairer overview of the state of international SFF within the Hugo nominations. These numbers do not look at year-to-year changes, though I will note that there does appear to be a slight increate in the nominations of non-US and non-UK authors (that can be ascribed largely to the presence of Thomas Olde Heuvelt and Aliette de Bodard within the field).
US: 76.9% (103 authors)
UK: 8.2% (11 authors)
Canada: 4.5% (6 authors)
Australia: 2.2% (3 authors)
France: 0.7% (1 author)
The Netherlands: 0.7% (1 author)
Unknown: 6.7% (9 authors)
On the US/UK-focused Pie Charts
Just to reiterate, I haven’t included these more regional breakdowns because I have too little confidence in their accuracy. I did make some, so if you really really want to see them, let me know. As it stands, I just don’t feel comfortable sharing those numbers publicly.
They seem to follow the same general trend as the percentages I’ve shown you here. I’d love to see a proper analysis of how these numbers break down, so if you’ve done or or are inclined to do so, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
I’m really sorry that I’ve had to exclude these pie charts from the list because I think they add an additional level of nuance that could be very useful in discussing diversity in the SFF community in general.
No. No, not really. I have more things to say. For example, these numbers look pretty bleak and there are reasons they look so bleak (remember: this post does not attempt to mention them), but there are many international (SFF) authors out there who are publishing today. Some seem to have turned to indie publishing or small publishing houses over trying to seek more traditional and well-known venues. Others seem to stick to short fiction over novels. Finding translated SFF is hard unless it has become a bestselling success. And, speaking of translated SFF, have an interview with Liz Gorinsky, the editor who acquired The Three-Body Problem for English publication, about getting the book published. (Please note: some aspects of this story are unusual for translated fiction. Such as using the translator’s own status within the community as a selling point.)
Interesting tidbit, I’d like to highlight?
The fact that Three-Body is the first translated book to be nominated for any of these SF awards since Calvino’s Invisible Cities is both baffling and gratifying as heck.
That suggests a total of three translated books have been nominated for prestigious awards ever. Out of several hundred books. This comment, for obvious reasons, ignores the World Fantasy Awards because The Three-body Problem is not a fantasy novel. At a fairly quick glance, the World Fantasy Award has at least 7 more authors to add to our total, though one got disqualified. So let’s be generous and say there’s a total of 20 translated books that have made it onto any prestigious English-language award ballot. Out of several hundred books. At a conservative guess of 200 nominations to date for each award, that means translated fiction (or, more accurately, “authors whose native language is not English regardless of which language they’re publishing in”) accounts for about 3.3% of all books ever nominated for a prestigous English-language award.
That’s an educated guess. It may be as low as 2% or as high as 5% if you did a proper analysis of all the award nominations rather than a quick guesstimate. If you want to know the exact numbers, go forth and do your own calculations! Make your own pie charts OF DOOM, have fun and consider sharing your findings with the rest of us! You’ve got at least one interested reader in me.
If you want to see the original GDocs file I used and the pie charts OF DOOM (nope, still not tired of saying that) that I wanted to include in this post and did not know how (and, more importantly, the two author lists I compiled to make them) you can find that here. Have fun with it and please don’t hesitate to offer me corrections! I know that the complete lists of all the authors and their individual nominations are missing. I realised belatedly that people might like to have those too, but you can find them easily enough on the Hugo Awards website. The year-by-year Hugo ballot information can be found right here on this page. Well, the links to the information anyway. I copy/pasted that lot. (If you want to compile your own lists, I recommend tackling it in stages. There are a lot of nominations to add.)
I hope you found this an interesting look at one aspect of diversity within the SFF community and, especially, the way this aspect translates (pun not intended) into people’s nominations for one of its most prestigious awards!
Finally, Some Names
And finally because what is a list discussing international SFF without a list of names for people to check out? I have no idea what it is, actually, but here’s a very small list of international authors I know about. I haven’t necessarily read anything by these authors (yet), but I’ve heard of them and may or may not have plans to check out their work. These authors may be publishing short fiction or novels and you may have heard of some of them. A few have made pretty big splashes in recent years. Some authors may come from English-speaking areas that have rarely made it onto the ballot such as Australia or Wales. Authors are listed in alphabetical order and rendered according to Western standards. I’ve also gone for the broadest possible interpretation of SFF.
- Thea Beckman
- Lauren Beukes
- Aliette de Bodard
- Italo Calvino
- Joyce Chng/Joyce Damask
- Zen Cho
- Marcia Douglas
- Michael Ende
- Max Frei
- Sergey Gerasimov
- Karen Healey
- Markus Heitz
- Cat Hellisen
- Thomas Olde Heuvelt
- Nalo Hopkinson
- Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
- Xia Jia
- Elizabeth Knox
- Ambelin Kwaymullina
- Margo Lanagan
- Cixin Liu
- Usman T. Malik
- Gabriel García Márquez
- Zakes Mda
- Walter Moers
- Hannu Rajaniemi
- Tansy Rayer Roberts
- Salman Rushdie
- Andrzej Sapkowski
- Ekaterina Sedia
- Maria Stanislav
- Lavie Tidhar
- Nahoko Uehashi
- Jean-Christophe Valtat
- Hilda Vaughan
- Isabel Yap
- Carlos Ruiz Zafón
That’s a relatively decent mix of authors and names and it’s only a short one. I’m sure plenty of people have their own to add, so please do! (Especially since I’m still looking for novel recommendations!) What international SFF authors do you enjoy reading? Which authors would you love to introduce more people to and why? Do you have any go-to resources when you’re looking for international SFF?