George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony (RageBlog Edition)

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.
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August 1, 2020

Hugo Award LogoAs I said elseweb, I am thoroughly thrilled by all the folks who won Hugos tonight. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it until I no longer have a voice to speak: we are living in a golden age of science fiction and fantasy and I’m humbled to be a part of this gloriously diverse community. Science fiction and fantasy–and the people who write and talk about it–are a big part of why I’m still here (necrotizing pancreatitis has something like a 30% mortality rate, friends).

I am so happy for the winners and so many of their speeches were righteously fiery in all the best ways. Many of the presenters were also wonderful, with Mary Robinette Kowal being the standout for me–I loved what she did with pulling out a relevant quotation from each nominated work and I hope it catches on in the other fiction categories.

That said, I have never in my life seen any awards ceremony that, in its whole, was so blatantly disrespectful of the nominees and winners. And I’m including my high school senior awards ceremony where I learned that half the money my family donated to the music department after my mother’s death had been used not for the purpose for which it had been donated.

The host for this year’s festivities was George R.R. Martin and he spent an awful lot of time talking about John W. Campbell, noted fascist and racist. Pretty sure that between Martin and Bob Silverberg, Campbell (noted fascist and racist!) was mentioned more than the aggregate of the folks being honored. I aged approximately 67 years during Silverberg’s segment.

We were treated to tales of how Martin is Just Like Us while he was broadcasting from the movie theater he owns for funsies. I lost count of how many times he mentioned that fandom used to be so much smaller that Worldcon was in a hotel and that there was a banquet with rubbery chicken (no one cares).

Because it’s such a goddamn fucking shame that fandom is so much larger and diverse than it was 50 fucking years ago. Because the people nominated for and winning awards aren’t exclusively white and male. The first woman to win a Hugo Award–in any category–was Anne McCaffrey, who tied with Philip José Farmer in 1968 for her novella, “Weyr Search.” The first Hugo Award was given out in 1953. It was fifteen years before a woman won. Four-time nominee James Davis Nicoll has done more work in this area than I have, and I recommend that y’all look very closely at that giant table of doom.

I’ve done a bit of searching–not much–and I can’t find a comparable analysis around race and the Hugos. But I can say that N.K. Jemisin was the first Black person to win the Hugo for Best Novel. In 2016. In 2016.

Speaking of Jemisin, Martin made the decision to first mention her unprecedented accomplishment of winning the Best Novel three years in a row–no one else of any race or gender has ever accomplished a Best Novel hat trick–and then attempt to undermine it by talking at great length the time Heinlein won three Hugos in nine years, culminating in some sort of shaggy dog story involving a white dinner jacket and Stranger in a Strange Land. I’ve forgotten the details because Heinlein is irrelevant to the discussion.

What I haven’t forgotten is this: George R.R. Martin repeatedly mispronounced the names of nominees and, in one case, a publication which was nominated. All the nominees were asked to provide pronunciations for their names in advance. The fact that Martin chose not to use that information is disgusting and racist as fuck, as nearly without exception the names he mispronounced were Black and brown. He mispronounced FIYAH, a publication owned, edited, and written by Black people.

This is thoroughly beyond the pale, especially since those segments were pre-recorded and CoNZealand could have asked him to re-do those segments and pronounce peoples’ names correctly. Names are important. They have power.

There was also a whole segment about the Oscar statuette and its crotch. It was gender essentialist and transphobic. It was so gross I don’t even want to talk about it to be honest. CoNZealand tweeted a non-apology apology about it to people who were offended. I’m not particularly gender non-conforming, but if that segment made me feel gross and unwelcome, imagine how it made not only the trans and other gender non-conforming nominees feel, but also all those who were watching. It was a gigantic “fuck you, you’re not welcome here.”

The proper role of an awards show host is to keep the audience entertained between awards and get the fuck out of the way of the people being honored. Martin did neither.

These were decisions that were made. Made by George R.R. Martin, made by Bob Silverberg, and made by the producers of the awards ceremony. The producers could have edited the pre-recorded statements for length. They could have demanded that Martin re-record all the segments where he mispronounced people’s names (people were asked how their names were pronounced, there is literally no excuse) and if he wouldn’t, they could have found someone with a modicum of respect for other people to present those segments of the productions.

CoNZealand has published an apology, in which they admit mistakes were made–including the decision to “provide an agnostic platform for all the participants, and […] not place restrictions on any speech or presentations.” That was a very bad decision. Editing pre-recorded segments for clarity and length is not a restriction or any kind of censorship. It’s professional.

I think that’s part of what’s getting me here–how unprofessional this whole thing was, from start to finish. I could deal with the jankiness of the livestream production (hey, it’s more than we got from Helsinki! not that I’m still bitter or anything and by the way it took me three years to get my fucking pin), but the jankiness of the content?

Would Martin and Silverberg have felt as free to be gross racist misogynist transphobes if there had been a live audience to contend with? I suspect not.

There was no need for Martin to put all the dolls he has of himself on display or to change his hat in every segment–he clearly put more thought into that schtick than he did into pronouncing people’s names (I am never not going to be mad about that). And the display of books he’d written on his desk in the pre-recorded bits? Well, at least it wasn’t an iPad with a slideshow of all his book covers. And that’s not saying much.

The Hugo ceremony didn’t have to be like this. I don’t know where the breakdown happened–I don’t know if CoNZealand didn’t get the pre-recorded segments in time to ask for re-recording, I don’t know if they didn’t feel like they could edit those segments for length and clarity (based on their apology, it looks like this may have been the case), I don’t know if Martin was just a giant asshole about the whole thing.

After all, he was infamously put out by Hugo losers being upset and angry about being excluded from a party which was ostensibly being thrown in their honor last year (in which he talks about a number of bad decisions made by his team, including not hiring a local event planner familiar with local occupancy regulations and contingency planning not that he admits these were bad decisions), and this whole mess just reeks of bad faith on his part.

In conclusion, let us shoot George R.R. Martin and Bob Silverberg into the sun where they shall bother us no longer.

One positive thing you can do is to use the works listed on voting stats data as the start to a really kick-ass a reading list.

I would like to give a shoutout to both Jay Wolf and Nibedita Sen for their inadvertent but essential assistance in clarifying my thinking; their commentary on this shitshow is well worth reading.

And if you’d like to watch the Hugo Awards ceremony with less George R.R. Martin bloviating, then TheReadingOutlaw has you covered:

P.S. Why wasn’t there anything about New Zealand SFF fandom? It was a weird and curious omission and I’d have loved it if there had been some segments about that instead of what we got.

P.P.S. This post is all Didi Chanoch’s fault. He encouraged me.


Corrections and addenda:

  • Olivia Waite points out in the comments that while McCaffrey was the first woman to win the Hugo for fiction, the first woman to win any Hugo was Elinor Busby in 1960 for co-editing Best Fanzine, Cry of the Nameless. So seven years.
  • Multiple people have pointed out that it wasn’t only BIPOC folks who had their names mispronounced, plenty of white folks did, too. As someone whose name is often mispronounced, I can’t believe I didn’t mention that.
  • While the convention claims to have provided an agnostic platform, at least one attendee had their Zoom background censored for showing support for Black Lives Matter and opposition to the Uighur genocide happening in China.
  • I am hearing rumors that George R.R. Martin was asked to re-record the mispronounced names and refused. Can anyone corroborate this beyond a comment on File 770 or a tweet?
  • My deepest apologies to Nibedita Sen for misspelling her name. It has been corrected.
  • I also managed to deny James Davis Nicoll two of his losses; he has lost four times, not two.

I’ve turned off comments as I’m tired of dealing with tone policing, personal attacks, and abuse (the latter of which I have not been putting through, but it’s a special kind of mean to wish death on someone who survived an illness with a 30% mortality rate).

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51 Comments

  1. Paul Weimer

    Didi encouraged you for *good*

    Thank you for writing and articulating this.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Thank you for the correction! Off to add an addendum to the post now…

  2. Catherine N.

    Apparently the captions also sucked, according to my Twitter.. which PRERECORDED. You could at least have decent captions. but no.

  3. Catherine Krahe

    A quick correction: not all the mispronunciations were BIPOC names. He mispronounced ‘Krahe’ (cray as in fish) as ‘Kaj’, which was certainly creative, and I’m white.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      It’s the random h’s that get ’em every time. My last name has often been well and truly mangled.

  4. Steph Herman

    Last year we put in clear phonetic pronunciation guides for the presenters and ran through them all at least once to minimize the issue. I also wrote the ceremony to be as tight and inclusive as possible. This year was put (as was the past tradition) into the hands of the Toastmaster – I think the 2018/19 style works better in a modern setting.

  5. RJ Johnson

    Thank you for this excellent summary!

  6. Droewyn

    “You could do no worse than to use the voting stats data as a reading list.”

    What? Why would that be bad?

    • Natalie Luhrs

      It’s not bad? I meant it as a positive, pro-active thing folks could do.

      I was also writing in the middle of the night, way past my bedtime and thoroughly exhausted. I’ll rewrite it to be more clear.

  7. redsquid

    Will be referencing Guhgorges Err Err Marteen writer of Fiyah and Eyes in the future. And Bub Silvermont.

    Sigh.

    Thanks for writing this.

  8. Daniela

    I believe you’ve misspelled Nibedita Sen’s name.

  9. David Crisp

    Looking quickly down the various lists of winners on Wikipedia, I think the first Black winner in any fiction category was Chip Delaney, who won the 1970 Short Story award for “Time Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones” (He’d been nominated numerous times over the previous decade, but had never won).

    After 1970 the next one is Octavia Butler 14 years later, who won Short Story for “Speech Sounds” in 1984 and Novellette for “Bloodsound” in ’85.

  10. James Davis Nicoll

    Have I been mentally mispronouncing Luhrs all this time? I thought it was Lurz.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      It has two-ish syllables, “leu-rs” kind of.

  11. Maya

    I’m finding it quite ironic that this article goes on about how mispronouncing names is racist and then blantly miswrite the name of the friend(?) at the end. It’s written חנוך, not צ’נוץ’.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      If you are speaking about Didi Chanoch (who is a dear friend), then I spelled his name the way he transliterates it into the Roman alphabet. I suggest you take your objections up with him directly.

  12. Peg Y

    Why not have video clips of the nominees saying their names and the title of their nominated work? That way you’re guaranteed it’s correct, and the audience gets to have a quick glimpse of authors they may not be familiar with yet.

  13. Didi Chanoch

    @MAYA

    This (Chanoch), as Natalie stated, how I spell my last name in English. Because English is terrible at dealing with ח sounds (including the soft כ), and there are no good options. It’s also derived from how the name was spelled in Russian, as my parents came here from the USSR.

  14. SaRenna Lee

    Your blind rage weakens your message.

    Your poor writing and repetition further weakens your message.

    How dare someone comment with fondness on the days of yore when Worldcons were small? To construe it as a subtle suggestion the world was better before women and people of color were writing science fiction is nonsense…

    It must be a strange world to live in where everyone is racist or trans-phobic, if they say something you disagree with… That broken viewpoint is why you will never be taken seriously… not because of your sex, gender, health conditions, or politics.

    To attack one of the kindest and fairest people out there to advance your own interests is shameful.

    Your entire article – to use the word you seem to love the most – is simply gross.

    P.S. In the future, at least try to get dates and facts straight. Your lust to be the first to post doesn’t outweigh the basic obligations of journalism to be accurate. Be professional, and the world might treat you as one…

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Hello there, first time commenter! Please refer to the commenting guidelines, linked at the top of this page.

      I hope you’re able to catch a ride with GRRM when he’s yeeted into the sun.

      Have a nice day and by nice I mean you’re not gonna comment here again.

  15. Dave Hogg

    Just for the record, W75 fired me long before the Hugo Awards disaster. I would have hand-delivered your pin.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Fran was my designated acceptor and they wouldn’t let her bring my pin home with her. Instead they insisted on mailing it, which took some time and I am honestly not sure if mine ever made it into the mail as it never arrived. And then I got sick and I wasn’t able to follow up and I kind of gave up and then Renay stepped in and saved the day, as it were.

  16. James Davis Nicoll

    Mental file updated.

  17. Layla A. Goushey

    Thank you for explaining this. Is there a transcript or video of what he said in full?

    • Natalie Luhrs

      There is supposed to be video of the livestream available, last I heard it wasn’t up yet.

  18. Jukka Halme

    Natalie, I feel I need to apologize to you about the way Worldcon 75 managed the delivery of your Hugo pin. This comes obviously far too late, but since I now finally heard of this, I felt the need to write this. I hope I understood you correctly, you did get it in the end?

    However, I need to ask from Dave: why are you saying that you were fired from the committee?

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Jukka, I did finally get my pin. I’m wearing it right now, in fact.

  19. Jukka Halme

    I’m very happy to hear that, Natalie. You deserved to be a finalist and hence, to have the pin. This piece above is a case for the future nominations. It’s passionate, well-written and hopefully part of the possibly painful, but hopefully quick process of going forward with the bringing of fandom and especially the Worldcon to this day and age. The winning Hugo Awards and especially the recent nominations prove that fandom can change its ways pretty quickly, if it wants to.

  20. Andre

    GRRM denies being asked to rerecord for pronunciations in that same thread (http://file770.com/2020-hugo-awards/comment-page-2/#comment-1205393). He also claims to not have received pronunciations for all nominees, only some. If I was feeling generous (which I am not), I could say that the nominees who were asked to provide phonetic guides and then had to hear their names mispronounced were hurt by an administrative mix-up in not getting said guides to GRRM.

    Even this explanation would show a lack of care on Worldcon’s part, as well as a lack of effort on that of GRRM’s. Asked in a professional capacity to write and host an awards ceremony, he should have had the professional respect to take time to look up the nominees, who in a lot of cases have pronunciations on their websites or in interviews with audio. As you said in the post, it definitely shows what parts of that presentation were deemed worthy of time and effort.

    I mean… “FEE YAH”.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      That’s a nice long winded self-justification that everyone will eat up with a spoon because why would GRRM lie to us?

  21. Andre

    It’s certainly the oddest place I’ve seen the good ol’ “I have received many supportive emails and texts” line, that’s for sure.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      The lurkers support him in email!

  22. nah thanks

    1. They didn’t care to set the time so Navah Wolfe could attend. All they needed to do is start ~an hour early and start with her categories. The time for Shabbath is well known. Also? What about setting the whole thing so it doesn’t overlap with Shabbath in the US? Because Bogi also could *barely* attend eirs. 2. Speak of em, it was me who edited eir wikipedia page *five hours* later. Noone cares? Wazzup people? Five hours??

  23. Harper

    Re: captions.

    A kiwi friend of mine worked on some of the other (non hugo) portions of worldcon. They took days off work to caption portions of the pre recorded speeches with 0 funding and very quick turnaround, managed to get it done. This was on their own initiative, no one else in the organisation spurred it (so not super surprised they didn’t have good captions for the hugos themselves)

    Then the con straight up didn’t use the (professionally done, this also happened to be their day job) captions in some of those segments (such as the opening).

    So yea apparnelty accessibility means so little to them that even when they have a professional willing to spend hours on captioning they won’t use it.

  24. Jon

    So I was all with you and every point you were making. All salad points and totally reasonable for anybody get upset about it however, you sort of went off the rails and got into the pandering zone and he started to mention his dolls and books. Martin is wildly successful and he’s proud of it. What’s The problem with somebody being proud of their success and showing off? Sure it’s poor taste to flaunt your wild success at an award show where you know most of the people there have nowhere near the same Amount out of success but it seems a petty thing we get angry about.

    I’ll say again I do agree with everything else you said. And I am not surprised by his actions. He’s a really old white guy who kept getting a lot of awards is a little upset not that him and his cronies are not getting all the awards.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Jon, it tells us what his priorities are. I don’t care if he wants to make his dolls make out with each other while they act out his fantasies on an elaborate play set in his home. Don’t care. But when you have taken the time to think about how you want to position the dolls and which of your books you want to display and how much of your silly hat collection you want to show off INSTEAD OF LEARNING HOW TO PRONOUNCE PEOPLE’S NAMES? Then I have a problem. For a lot of the nominees, they have no guarantee whatsoever that they’ll ever be back on that short list of nominees and for someone who has so much to think so little of them—well.

  25. Deirdre Saoirse Moen

    I was listening-by-proxy as Rick was watching in another room, and I heard the switch to Heinlein after N. K. Jemisin’s mention. My first thought was, “What the fresh hell does Heinlein have to do with science fiction in this millenium?”

    Which is really the problem, isn’t it?

    I mean, it’s not like Heinlein understood 53% of the species, anyway. Or…or…or…. (to include all the other aspects of humanity he didn’t understand at all)

    And, as someone with one of those frequently mispronounced sorts of names, I just can’t even with that. It’s a pride of workmanship sort of detail.

    On early Hugo nominees, of course there’s Leigh Brackett in 1956 in the Novel category and C.L. Moore and some guy who’s her husband in the Novelette category.

  26. lisa evans

    I just read GRRM’s non-apology for the Dublin Losers Party mess, and I was *appalled* by his lack of professionalism. I used to do event planning at my old job, and I called to check on venue size if registrations went even slightly over the room limit. That he didn’t do so is a failure on every possible level.

    Also? His speech sounds like the kind of hot mess that wouldn’t have even passed muster during the days when Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison alternated being the MC. Good God.

  27. Stevo R

    FYI Your post here has had a (deservedly) positive mention on PZ Myers’ ‘Pharyngula’ blog :

    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2020/08/01/sheesh-i-missed-the-worst-bit-of-the-hugo-awards/

    FWIW. I grew up reading the likes of Isaac Asimov, Clarke & Heinlein as a boy and loved their work then but can now see how problematic aspects of them esp their treatment of women and minorities were. I knew Campbell was racist from some of Asimov’s esays on him but I didn’t know he was an outright fascist too. Guess I’ll have to research that more & understand that Asimov had his blind spots and was biased in Campbell’s favour so, yeah. (Plus Asimov had own issues eg groping women without consent which, eww. No.) I agree the lack of taking the care and time to pronounce author names correctly is appalling. Also, yeah, GRR Martin was a massive douche here. Thanks for this.

  28. Danny in Canada

    Oh, and he said “Sarah Pinkser” instead of “Sarah Pinsker”.

  29. Deborah Laymon

    Thank you for this. I have to say I’ve never read GoT so I have no idea how good or bad it is. I was never interested in the books or the series. What an inappropriate loon to represent what was supposed to be the future — I never saw that Time Machine coming.

    Congratulations to all the winners — I am thrilled that so many POC won! That is our hope for the future — that people like He Who Shall Not Be Recognized and The Writer I Used To Like But Now Am Throwing All Of His Books Into The Dumpster (where they belong) become utterly irrelevant and forgotten.

    Thank you again. Did I say thank you? Thank you.

  30. Jay

    Really glad to have read this to find Robert Silverberg is in good health. We’ve lost so many of the classic authors!

    Sorry to learn you’re too young to have understood Heinlein’s contribution or appreciate tales from a lifetime of WorldCon Attendance.

    Or maybe you’re not too young, just mean-spirited

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Jay, honey. I’ve read everything Heinlein wrote. I am well placed to judge his current relevance to the genre.

  31. Alexander S

    The New Zealand fandom/SFF stuff got shoved into 15 minutes on the end of the Retro Hugos, and the Kiwis are pretty unhappy about it. Twitter thread that includes the wonderful phrase “dead racist power hour”:

    https://twitter.com/CaseyLucasQuaid/status/1289649003596886016

  32. V

    I certainly love to see when a journalist that has the option to edit and correct false statements choose to just add a footnote with it.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      I’m not a journalist, genius.

  33. Tsuf

    Hi Natalie. It seems like you and a lot of others were hurt, and that the ceremony was very poorly handled. I’ve also read the Con’s apology and Martin’s response to some of these allegations. However, I’m sorry to say the article is very presumptuous and inciting. To just bluntly assume that a 71-year-old man’s inability to pronounce these names, some of which are objectively difficult, necessarily points at his racist, transphobic nature is ridiculous and honestly just reads as biased. By the way, he wrote an apology about that, admitting that he regularly mispronounces the names of people he works with and characters he himself writes. You could have at least waited to get the facts straight in order to understand why it was that things went down the way they did, but I guess that’s not what this article aims to do?

    In short, while I agree that racism, homophobia and the like have no place in today’s world, this blind hatred – expecting the worst from other people’s behavior, does nothing to remedy that. I truly don’t see what in Martin’s mistakes tells you that they were specifically and intentionally aimed at BIPOC/LGBTQ people. If you can explain this more clearly then please respond, as I like to give people the chance to explain themselves. Again, I understand the feeling of hurt, but this just seems unnecessarily vulgar and unprofessional..

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Tsuf, his apology was a mealy mouthed pile of self-justification and blame shifting. And did I say fuck too many times for your liking? Too bad.

  34. Karim

    You know, most people can’t pronounce my name, and my father’s is a thicket of ع and ر that they cut themselves on. I don’t think it’s actually offensive, as long as they don’t do it deliberately. Which, I would argue, GRRM didn’t.

    This is a molehill, not a mountain.

    • Natalie Luhrs

      Karim, not caring enough to do the necessary work is a deliberate act.

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