Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

We imagine little fantasies for ourselves every day. Whether it’s illusions of grandeur, a tiny daydream about a cute classmate asking you out or gaslighting yourself into thinking you did well on an exam so you can get through the rest of the day, we wouldn’t be human without our imagination. That’s why fantasy is a universal element of the human condition.

The genres of science fiction and fantasy are thus not solely the playground of introverted children who would prefer to spend freezing Midwestern winter recesses inside. They are the last bulwark of free speech when others disappear. This is not only in authoritarian regimes, such as the communist Albania that Ismail Kadare criticized through the allegory of fiction. It can simply be a mask with which to express ideas that authors are not brave enough to say directly.

Fiction is not just free speech. It’s innate to being a human. And that’s part of why I’m so disgusted by what last year’s Hugo awards judging committee did. After choosing to hold the awards in Chengdu, China, the committee decided to unnecessarily self-censor by disqualifying certain authors — namely Paul Weimer, Neil Gaiman, R. F. Kuang and Xiran Jay Zhao — for reasons that boiled down to, “Hey, the awards are in China, we have to abandon all respect for free speech.”

The committee not only damaged the reputation of arguably the most prestigious award in fiction, they discredited the entire genre. Instead of being pathetic and racist, other institutions should continue to challenge the narrative that the basis for freedom of speech — the right to think and imagine — isn’t a universal trait.

Because ultimately, universal traits are not political values. This is not the same as disapproving of certain forms of governance or pushing against specific cultural values such as individualism.

Look, I understand an organization struggling to figure out what they can and can’t do to avoid getting canceled in a place with a different political climate. I’m not unsympathetic to the lack of clarity regarding what the government or other societal elements might eviscerate the Hugo awards for. This would normally be a great time to consult Google and maybe hire a public relations person.

But that’s explicitly not what the Hugo awards did last year. They had a committee of people from North America who couldn’t spell a four-letter name correctly and who didn’t know the difference between Tibet and Nepal trying to decide if any aspect of authors’ lives might offend. Additionally, two of the names on the “mysteriously disqualified” list, Kuang and Zhao, are of Chinese descent. I can’t tell if it’s incompetence or sheer audacity that led them to believe they had any business deciding which elements of these authors’ work tied into their cultural background or political views.

These actions are not only insulting by censoring Chinese cultural icons they trivialize the message that Western and international institutions claim to stand for. If the top fiction awards remove works according to organizers’ tastes, doesn’t that justify governments doing the same? And governments have the power to remove more than just words — people and ideas are in their domain of control. Companies claiming to promote fair rules-based commerce or democratic values hold no legitimacy if they act opposite to these claims by bowing to a stereotyped idea of what Chinese society will do.

Not that it matters. These are fiction writers. Free and fair selection of a fantasy and science fiction prize isn’t a political argument about whether people have a right to property. It’s a fact that people make things up. These awards merely crown the coolest made-up stuff.

The Chinese government didn’t ask the Hugo awards to censor themselves, but even if they had, the committee shouldn’t have bowed to pressure because fiction has the best pretense for not doing so. There’s a reason all those legal disclaimers say that books are the product of an author’s imagination and any resemblance to actual events is coincidental. It’s insane to censor made-up stories because they’re just that — made up.

If you censor fiction, then why should journalism, philosophy, memoirs, history or even academic research be spared? There is no value in truth if there isn’t any value in the opposite.

The Hugo awards royally screwed up. Their actions neither protected themselves from controversy, nor did they help those who really do suffer from a lack of free speech.

By over politicizing a universally and inherently non-political topic, the Hugo awards acted more like the dystopian villains in so many of its best works than some real authoritarian regimes. Thinking isn’t a crime. We don’t need Orwellian thought police in real life.

Jessica Ye is a senior economics and government and politics major. She can be reached at