The sci-fi movie of the year. Like, next year. IMDB

We know the movie is helmed by Oscar-winning director Bong Joon-ho (of Parasite, Snowpiercer, The Host; you know this, we won't elaborate). Which is pretty damn exciting, given its futuristic, off-kilter plot. Unfortunately, we also know its release date has been pushed back to from the end of this month to early 2025. So until we see Robert Pattinson as clones, you now have some time to catch up on the book it was based on (Mickey7, in this case, by Edward Ashton).

For those who have already done that, here are five other science fiction novels to consider putting on your reading list.

Ascension by Nicholas Binge

Stephen King called it “old-school creepy" and "a five-star horror novel”, so what more convincing do you need? More on the thriller side than horror, the book follows a group of scientists recruited to investigate the sudden appearance of a mountain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It cleverly sets the scene from an outsider's point of view before diving into the heart of the action. And yes, plays with the trope of time.

You'll like it if you like: Arrival, Prometheus

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Okay, we kinda cheated with this one. It already has an upcoming adaptation featuring Ryan Gosling. Not surprising considering Weir's other novel starring Matt Damon. Still, the personable first-person tone makes a breezy read for an otherwise extensive storyline of waking up amnesiac in space and befriending a bizzare alien.

You'll like it if you like: The Martian (duh), Edge of Tomorrow

The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester

Not to be confused with Demolition Man, this first Hugo Awards winner is vintage sci-fi at its peak. Published well over 70 years ago, the world-building of a society where mind-readers (or peepers) exist effortlessly takes you in with easy pacing. And its demonstration of telepathy on a text medium is surely experimental for its day.

You'll like it if you like: In the Shadow of the Moon, Minority Report

The Employees: A Workplace Novel of the 22nd Century by Olga Ravn

The book rolls out in proses translated from Danish. The witness accounts come from a crew of six-thousand, human and otherwise, written as part of workplace commission of sorts. As they find themselves attached to the strange objects the ship takes on, it's a simultaneously peculiar yet haunting way to experience a distant memory of earth.

You'll like it if you like: Solaris, Moon

Foe by Iain Reid

Laying thick on the suspense, this plot (also adapted in a film with Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal) by author of I'm Thinking of Ending Things has a similar deeper exploration of human psyche and relationships. Great if you prefer a quietly unnerving read than loud action and adventure.

You'll like it if you like: Annihilation, Under the Skin


A thousand miles west of Shanghai, on a vast plain between two mountain ranges teeming with giant pandas, it looks like an alien spacecraft has landed in the fourth-largest city in China. Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects to resemble a star nebula, this is the 59,000-square-foot Chengdu Science Fiction Museum, constructed at lightspeed over the course of a single year to host the 81st World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WorldCon. For writers and readers of science fiction and fantasy, it's like the National Book Awards, the Academy Awards, and San Diego Comic-Con all rolled into one.

On Saturday, October 21st, 2023, thousands of people gathered here for panels, parties, and the annual Hugo Awards ceremony, which celebrates the best works of science fiction and fantasy published or released during the previous calendar year.

In Hollywood, a Hugo Award for best film or TV series may not carry the same cachet as an Oscar or an Emmy, but in bookstores from New York to Moscow, a bright Hugo Award badge on the cover of a novel can help it stand out. “We usually make a display in the store for the nominees and winners,” says Matthew Berger, co-owner of the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego. In their early days, the Hugo Awards recognised writers who have since become genre legends, like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Frank Herbert; more recently, honorees have included modern masters like George R.R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and N.K. Jemisin.

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An aerial view of Chengdu Science Fiction Museum, the main venue for the 81st World Science Fiction Convention, on October 15, 2023 in Chengdu, Sichuan Province of China.

That evening in Chengdu, in a massive auditorium shaped like the belly of a whale, Dave McCarty—a middle-aged software engineer for an Illinois trucking company and lifelong sci-fi fan who was chosen by the convention’s leaders to oversee last year’s Hugo Awards—walked onstage to thundering applause. Within the WorldCon community, he’s nicknamed the “Hugo Pope” for serving on so many awards committees over the years.

“With the help of fans from all over the world, including many fans here in China participating for the very first time, we identified a ballot of 114 deserving finalists,” McCarty said behind a podium, wearing a black tux over a white waistcoat and bow tie. “We then asked the community to rank those choices as they saw fit.”

But that’s not what happened. Something had gone horribly wrong.

Three months later, the truth came out when McCarty shared the Hugo nominating statistics on Facebook: Someone had stolen nominations from The Sandman legend Neil Gaiman, Babel author R. F. Kuang, Iron Widow novelist Xiran Jay Zhao, and fan writer Paul Weimer. All four of them earned enough votes to be finalists—and therefore eventually winners—but for unknown reasons, someone had secretly marked their works as “ineligible” after the first rounds of voting.

Among sci-fi and fantasy fans, the uproar was immediate and intense. Had government officials in the host country censored the finalists? Did the awards committee make a colossal mistake when tallying the votes, then try to cover it up? Or did something even stranger occur?

To get to the bottom of the mystery, I spoke with more than a dozen past Hugo winners, finalists, and committee members, some of whom requested anonymity. But to understand what these insiders believe really happened —and what it means for the future of the Hugos and other literary awards—we have to utilise a science fiction trope and go back in time.

The Hugo Awards have courted controversy before. In 2015, a right-wing voting bloc led by Brad R. Torgersen dominated the ballot after he complained that the Hugos had become “an affirmative action award” for “underrepresented minority or victim group” authors and characters. In 2021, the voting process to select the host city for the 2023 convention became a lightning rod for conspiracy theories.

Each year, anyone who purchases a membership in the World Science Fiction Society can vote on where WorldCon will be held two years later. In 2021, voters could choose between Chengdu and Winnipeg, Canada for the 2023 convention. “There were concerns that a couple thousand people from China purchased memberships [in the World Science Fiction Society] that year to vote for Chengdu,” says Jason Sanford, a three-time Hugo finalist. “It was unusual, but it was done under the rules.”

While Sanford welcomed the participation of new Chinese fans, other people were alarmed that many of the Chinese votes for Chengdu were written in the same handwriting and posted from the same mailing address. The chair of the convention that year, Mary Robinette Kowal, says some members of the awards committee wanted to mark those votes as invalid. “But if you’re filling out a ballot in English and you don’t speak English, you hand it to a friend who does,” she says. “And the translation we’d put in could be read as ‘where are you from,’ not ‘what is your address.’”

Eventually, a few votes were invalidated by the committee, but most were allowed to stand. “China has the largest science fiction reading audience on the planet by several magnitudes, and they are extremely passionate,” Kowal says.

Later, when Chengdu was announced as the winning site for the 2023 convention, more than 100 authors—including N. K. Jemisin, G. Willow Wilson, S. A. Chakraborty, and Tochi Onyebuchi—signed an open letter “in protest of serious and ongoing human rights violations taking place in the Uyghur region of China.” Other authors were concerned about the Chinese Communist Party’s history of censoring LGBTQ content, as well as material that criticises the party’s government.

These concerns planted the seeds for this year’s crisis, which reached a boiling point on January 20, 2024.

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Dave McCarty, Division Head of The Hugo Awards Selection Executive Department, unveiled the trophy base of the Hugo Award during the opening ceremony of the 81st World Science Fiction Convention.

Compared with other literary awards, the Hugos are usually remarkably transparent and democratic. While the National Book Awards and the Booker Prizes are selected behind closed doors by a panel of judges, anyone can vote for the Hugos by purchasing a supporting membership in the World Science Fiction Society for each year’s convention.

Most years, the Hugo committee shares the nominating statistics later the same evening after the winners are announced, or a few days later, at most. This year, Dave McCarty didn’t share the statistics until January 20—91 days after the awards ceremony, with no explanation for the delay. “The World Science Fiction Society’s constitution says the statistics have to be released within three months, but it’s never taken that long before now,” says Sanford.

When McCarty finally shared last year’s nominating statistics on his Facebook page, authors, fans, and finalists were shocked. In the history of the awards, no works had ever been deemed ineligible like this. Many people who had expected Kuang to win for Babel were now stunned to see she very well could have, and McCarty’s refusal to explain what happened made everything worse. (McCarty did not respond to interview requests for this story.)

“Fandom doesn't like people fucking with their awards, no matter who does it or why,” says John Scalzi, a three-time Hugo Award winner who was a finalist last year in the Best Novel category: the very same category in which R.F. Kuang should have been nominated for Babel, according to the nomination count on page 20 of McCarty’s document. “The reason people are outraged right now is because they care about the award, in one fashion or another, and this lack of transparency feels like a slap,” Scalzi says.

Brandon Sanderson, another past Hugo winner, says this incident damages the reputation of the award: “To find out that the committee behind the scenes [overrode] the voter base without saying anything AND with possible political motivations is extremely unsettling.”

Neil Gaiman didn’t respond to my interview request, but he did comment directly on McCarty’s Facebook post: “Is there anyone who could actually explain WHY Sandman episode 6 was ineligible?”

McCarty responded: “The only statement from the administration team that I can share is the one that I already have, after we reviewed the constitution and the rules we must follow, we determined the work was not eligible.”

Since then, hundreds of people have asked McCarty to explain what exactly in the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) constitution or rules made these works ineligible, but his responses quickly deteriorated into insults, such as “Are you slow?” and, “Clearly you can't understand plain English in our constitution.” However, there isn’t a single rule in the WSFS constitution that could possibly explain why any of these writers were deemed ineligible.

“When I started seeing Dave McCarty’s responses, I was utterly unsurprised,” a former WorldCon committee member who asked to remain anonymous tells me. “That is very consistent with who he is, and how he’s treated other people. It’s incredibly disrespectful on every level.”

Xinhua News Agency//Getty Images
Visitors browsed science fiction books during the 81st World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu.

A few days later, McCarty apologised for his “inappropriate, unprofessional, condescending” responses, but still refused to explain the ineligibles. Without answers from McCarty, many Hugo enthusiasts have coalesced around two theories: either the awards committee miscounted early-round votes and realised their mistake too late, or the ineligible writers were censored under pressure from the Chinese Communist Party.

“If they had issued a statement saying there was a miscount and we’re deeply sorry about it, people would have been mad, but it would have been understandable,” Kowal says. Some fans have pointed to mathematical irregularities in the voting statistics compared to past years, and an additional former WorldCon committee member tells me, “I’m guessing someone made a mistake—probably more than one.”

Meanwhile, allegations of censorship have spread like Star Trek tribbles, especially because the protagonist of R. F. Kuang’s Babel is queer, Zhao is non-binary, and all four “ineligible” writers have criticised the Chinese Communist Party or its policies at some point in the past.

Gaiman, Kuang, and Zhao declined to comment on this story, but confirmed on social media that they were just as shocked as everyone else. Weimer says one of his Patreon posts from 2021, where he expressed concerns about holding the Hugos in China, may have marked him for censorship. “It's possible that the [Chinese Communist Party] took umbrage at my piece, or the [convention] felt that they might, and so I was rendered ineligible,” he says.

However, multiple former WorldCon committee members who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity do not believe the Chinese government—nor the Chinese members of last year’s Hugo Awards administration—directly or indirectly censored the awards. Rather, they believe that one or more members of the executive committee mismanaged this year’s awards—and failed to explain why four popular works were deemed ineligible.

On January 31, less than two weeks after McCarty revealed the voting statistics that kicked off the controversy, the California nonprofit that owns the Hugo Awards trademarks released a bombshell statement: McCarty resigned from the organisation, alongside the chair of its board of directors, Kevin Standlee.

Additionally, the nonprofit censured McCarty “for his public comments that have led to harm of the goodwill and value of our marks and for actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon that he presided over.” Two other members of the Chengdu awards committee, Ben Yalow and Shi Chen, were censured as well, “for actions of the Hugo Administration Committee of the Chengdu Worldcon that [they] presided over.”

Yalow and the rest of the 2023 awards committee did not respond to my interview requests for this story. None of my sources know why Yalow or Chen were censured, though as co-division heads of the convention, they would have been McCarty’s superiors.

Meanwhile, organisers of the upcoming 2024 Hugo Awards in Glasgow, Scotland, released a statement of their own to calm the waters: “We will also publish the reasons for any disqualifications of potential finalists, and any withdrawals of potential finalists from the ballot.”

Xinhua News Agency//Getty Images
Fans bought sci-fi themed merchandise during the 81st World Science Fiction Convention.

While this may be the last we hear about the Chengdu crisis, each year’s WorldCon and Hugo Awards are run by a different crop of volunteers, leaving many authors, fans, and finalists hopeful about the future, albeit insistent that permanent changes need to be made to the WSFS constitution that can’t be ignored by individual committees.

“At the very least, I think those [writers] who were removed should have their eligibility extended by a year, and perhaps it's time for a long hard look at the Hugo committee and overhaul how the award is managed,” Sanderson says.

Scalzi agrees. “The thing I would like to stress here is that the Hugos have been to this point pretty resilient: there have been major crises involving them before… and the [community] moved to address them,” he says. “So while this is a problem and needs to be addressed, quickly and comprehensively, I feel pretty confident the community will address it and the Hugos will come out the other side a better award.”

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that the transparent voting process makes the Hugo Awards special. “I love the Hugo for its unique method of walking the line between being a juried award and an open-voting, ‘who has the most fans’ award,” Sanderson says. “It's like an Academy Award, except if any person dedicated enough to the genre were able to join the Academy and participate.”

Perhaps in the future, other literary awards will be inspired by the transparency of the Hugos, if not the controversies that have occasionally accompanied them. Imagine the thrill and tragedy of finding out a book was one vote away from winning or becoming a finalist for the National Book Awards or the National Book Critics Circle Awards. Imagine the drama!

But when I reached out to those award organisations, they didn’t sound too wild about the idea. “The National Book Awards judges make their decisions independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors, and deliberations are strictly confidential,” says Ale Romero, communications and marketing manager at the National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards.

A rep for the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) says that privacy is part of what gives the award its personality. “Much like the Quakers, nearly every decision made at the NBCC is one undertaken by the entire group, [and] I believe it would be very difficult to persuade a majority of our board to vote for such a change,” says Keetje Kuipers, vice president of awards and diversity, equity, and inclusion for the NBCC. “Releasing a voting statistics tally would not be in keeping with the tenor of our traditional deliberation style, which favours passionate critical argument over all else.”

At the end of my Zoom call with Sanford, I see some emotion in his face around the eyes. “When I was young, science fiction and fantasy books literally saved my life,” he says. “I looked for books that were Hugo finalists or winners, and they showed me a way forward. They showed me there are other people out there who think like me.”

Whatever happens to the Hugos moving forward, one thing is clear: No one should have the power to erase books from the reading lists of future Jason Sanfords.

Originally published on Esquire US