Former editor at Science Fiction World, Chi Hui, reveals bullying, misogyny, stealing of wages and credits, and more at the magazine

Reading Diane Lacey's open letter about the (self-)censorship scandal of the Hugo Awards, the impetus of collusion/slating from Chinese publishers stood out. zionius actually dug further and presented evidence that the guilty party appeared to be Science Fiction World, which was involved in the Worldcon. So I thought I'd type up something adjacent to the matter.

SFW as a publication had been declining in quality for some time – the typical Chinese SF reader will remember their editors' failures to catch plagiarism while circlejerking pointless filler – and at one point actually blamed the planning of the Worldcon for taking up too much of their time. But this was far from the most mismanaged they had been, as one former employee exposed many more problems.

General incompetence

Chi Hui's relationship with SFW began with submitting short stories to the magazine Science Fiction World, eventually becoming an editor at the magazine when it already entered its period of decline, before departing about four years ago.

Due to the Worldcon 81 being highly-commodified and interest in the sci-fi industry, she took the opportunity to write an effortpost that delved into what it was truly like in industry. The gist of it was that as opposed to an actual "sci-fi industry", what investment went into it just made it a "Liu Cixin industry" — as much as a decade ago she noted the same about this "fairy ring", and now the "supply chain" is just as broken. Other authors in attendance, such as Han Song, concurred with this view.

Additional points in that initial post included specific details about the lazy and myopic initiatives at her former workplace such as:

  1. SFW defaulting to the assumption that its consumers are primarily young men without doing any readership surveys. They attempted to imitate the packaging of For Him Magazine, also popular among young men, only to fail thanks to the costs of printing in full-colour.
  2. SFW defaulting to the observation that its consumers are probably voracious readers, and since Zhihu and Qidian have young people that are voracious readers, SFW content should match Zhihu/Qidian webnovels. This project is still ongoing.
  3. Due to the popularity of web literature, SFW planned to create a site to host short stories and novellas. To increase engagement they planned to add gambling elements, except this fell through due to the illegal nature of the ideas.
  4. Since everyone wants to make SF movies, and successful western movies began from space opera, they wanted to fund IP development of space opera novels, except they had no budget to actually do this.
  5. Again without doing any readership surveys and assuming that its primary consumers are young men, SFW defaulted to the assumption that young men must like pretty ladies, so promoted and still are promoting attractive women authors for this reason.
  6. Without conducting any market investigations, and due to the scarcity of novellas, arriving at the conclusion that the market must clearly need sci-fi novellas. There continues to be heavy push to promote novellas while disregarding that no matter the length, they would have to be rewritten for an adaption.

Conversations among industry peers also involved them discussing:

  • They're not profitable
  • Having no work they can even commercialize aside from authors' names
  • Nothing that will sell in print
  • Intentionally leaning into works despised by actual SF fans but might attract more readers

Work environment

Yang Guoliang (aka La Zi) is a current editor at Science Fiction World, Chi's former boss, and previously defended SFW's deteriorating standards. He started making statements heavily implied to be directed at her that she "neglected and sullied" the efforts of everyone in the industry with her "impudent lies" and sought to sow division among writers.

In a follow up, Chi thought the accusations absurd, dissected Yang's arguments, and speculated perhaps she was too restrained in her criticism. She drew up an extensive list of her first-hand experiences of total unprofessionalism from 2017–2023 demonstrating which side exactly "neglected and sullied" the industry. Examples include:

  • Yang threatened that she wouldn't be allowed out his office unless she submitted to his demands
  • Relaxing editorial standards to publish a novel that had ripped off Liu Cixin, because Liu himself stopped writing
  • 20% of the staff's annual bonus were transferred to a random bank account to budget for event planning the following year and not reported to finance
  • Openly discussing Chi's bust size, and harassing other attractive female co-workers
  • Ordering editors to work on superiors' personal businesses on company time
  • Threatening to blacklist an author for publishing at rival Eight Light Minutes
  • A new employee had already finished working on an issue but hasn't been paid in 3 months, and after seeking payment, had her name removed from all articles she was credited on
  • A female employee's executive editor credit ended up going to a male employee and she wasn't given even a passing mention
  • Storing porn on company computers

That's just a sampling, and there were instances of toxic drinking culture, belittling women writers, blaming the SF community for poor performance that Chi also touched on. Implied was such an unreasonable workload that mental and physical health of workers were affected, such as requiring therapy or blood pressure medication.

So I guess this slots into the related discussion of writing SF, hope there's some illumination into the inner workings of one of the entities related to the scandal.

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