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Notes from the Current Silly Season: What's Your Favorite SF/Fantasy Award, And Why?

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‘Tis the season for Science Fiction/Fantasy award announcements—either the at times dizzying lists of finalists or the winners themselves.

First off, the juried Shirley Jackson Awards recently announced its slate of finalists, including, for best novel, Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, A Dark Matter by Peter Straub, Feed by Mira Grant, Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, and The Silent Land by Graham Joyce. Of these novels, your loyal correspondent has read the Straub, Bennett, and the Joyce, and found all three disturbing in the best way, but the Joyce the strongest by far (see my Washington Post review).

Not to be outdone, the venerable voted-on Hugo Awards revealed its nominees, including the Best Novel category: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Dervish House by Ian McDonald, Feed by Mira Grant, and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. How to make sense of this somewhat traditional/non-trad list? Willis is a perennial Hugo favorite, and no one would have bet against her or Ian McDonald and his sprawling future-Turkey tale. In a similar vein, the inclusion of Bujold shouldn’t come as a surprise, given her popularity, but she wasn’t on the radar in any pre-Hugo’s awards talk.

On the newbie side, some have dismissed Grant’s novel out-of-hand in comments about the Hugo nominations, but this seems unwise given that it also appears on the juried Jackson Awards list. Finally, the Jemisin novel (a first) is very good, with its sequel even better. Perhaps most notable, for once the novel ballot is dominated by women. Is it a particularly adventurous list, however? Check it against the Amazon and Amazon UK best-of lists from last year.

Meanwhile, the Philip K. Dick Award and Arthur C. Clarke Award, both juried honors, announced their respective winners: The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. The PKD Award is for best U.S. Science Fiction paperback original and the Clarke is for best Science Fiction novel published in the United Kingdom. Although Hodder’s intricate Steampunk novel was published in the UK in 2010, it did not make the Clarke Award finalist ballot, while Beukes’ rather amazing Zoo City was published so late in 2010 in the US that it may be eligible for the PKD Award next year and possibly for the Hugo. (Your loyal correspondent awaits correction.)

Awards_silentland

In addition to representing different foci and constituencies, all of these awards have their quirks and foibles. The fairly new Jackson Awards does a good job of ignoring literary/genre boundaries and its novel nominees often constitute a Required Reading List for dark fantasy/horror. But it may be hampered, as it becomes established, by the fact only publishers can submit eligible works. Does, for example, three nods to (the excellent) Laird Barron in a single story category mean that: (A) dark fantasy and weird fiction wasn’t very robust in 2010, (B) Barron is simply the Kodiak bear of horror right now, (C) the jurors didn’t have access to everything, or (D) none of the above?

The Hugo Awards continue to lurch along as a kind-of SF combo of the People’s Choice Awards and the Oscars, albeit not as well-known. Although considered a readers’ award, the Hugo’s actually tend to be voted on by a combination of readers, industry professionals (writers, editors, publishers), and booksellers who buy memberships to the World SF Convention—and not very many of them at that. About 1,000 ballots were received this time, with only about 100 to 200 people voting in some categories. And, even though Hugo voting patterns seem to be changing, in certain categories it’s a bit like being an incumbent politician: it’s much easier to get voted in again reflexively.

The PKD Award was originally created to spotlight mass market paperbacks traditionally ignored by awards juries, but the market has since changed and the rise of the trade paperback—which isn’t disdained by awards juries—has diluted the purpose of this awards over time. Perhaps as a legacy of the original purpose, the PKD Award disallows any paperback for which there has been a limited edition hardcover in the same year, but doesn’t mind a SF Book Club hardcover edition with a potential print run of thousands.

The Clarke has a particularly bizarre “loop-hole”: because the book need only have been printed in the UK for the first time, Tim Powers’ decade-old Declare made the finalist list. Thus does time travel work—although it didn’t work for Charles Yu, whose brilliant How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is from the same imprint as Declare but got no love from the Clarke jurors despite existing in the present of what’s going on in fiction. (The nascent absurdist in this correspondent hopes some irresistible 25-year-old classic of US science fiction is published in the UK this year, just to observe an even more discombobulating time warp.)

What awaits the awards-watcher yet this season? The announcement of the Nebula Award winners as well as the World Fantasy Award finalists and Locus Award finalists. With each new slate of nominees and winners the perception of quality and relevance will shift again, and with that shift new conversations about fiction will arise on the blogosphere.

But that’s quite enough verbiage from your loyal correspondent. Let’s hear from you.

  • What do you think of the various SF/Fantasy awards?
  • Which is your favorite? And which finalist list should reign supreme?
  • What was your favorite SF/Fantasy novel of last year? And what novel was criminally overlooked in these awards? (Maybe we’ll feature it here on Omni.)

Full Disclosure: Jeff VanderMeer contributed heavily to Amazon’s SF/F 2010 best of list and his story collection The Third Bear is a finalist for a Shirley Jackson Award. His wife, Ann VanderMeer, is a finalist for a Hugo Award.

Comments

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I noticed the omission of the third installment of the online-voting awards, the Gemmell Awards? Could its exclusion be due to the rather risible format or was it just an oversight?

As for my own award preferences, I'm more of a juried award partisan, since I've noticed that most fan-voted awards tend to lead to "safe," if at times decent, fiction being chosen over those works whose experimentalism tend to limit exposure and mass appeal.

As for books overlooked, leaving aside non-English language books that I thought were outstanding in 2010, I'd say there is a lack of representation for the epic/heroic fantasies. Paul Kearney's Corvus is an excellent example of this style of genre fiction and yet it hasn't received any awards consideration. I haven't yet finished it, so my opinion might change, but Adam Levin's The Instructions is the sort of sprawling work that might appeal to those readers who enjoy those self-aware fictions that touch upon several SF/F tropes. But the most overlooked for awards consideration would have to be Michael Cisco's The Narrator for its prose, its thematic elements, and its beautiful narrative structure (if such structures can ever be "beautiful").

Good overview of a whole bunch of different awards. I'd never heard of the Shirley Jackson but it sounds like my type of thing. I agree with your comments about the Hugos being like the Oscars of SFF... The winners/nominees tend to be a decent list of books to check out. There are always good years and bad years (like 1970 or 2002 - good years!)

And yes Connie Willis + Time travel = hugo

Hi, Edward! Thanks for the comment. What I wrote above, with context: "Willis is a perennial Hugo favorite, and no one would have bet against her or Ian McDonald and his sprawling future-Turkey tale. In a similar vein, the inclusion of Bujold shouldn’t come as a surprise, given her popularity, but she wasn’t on the radar in any pre-Hugo’s awards talk."

"In a similar vein"--i.e., to Willis and McDonald. Re "wasn't on the radar"--I don't recall seeing any discussion of this novel as a possible Hugo nominee at any of the main SF/F sites. That's no reflection on the author or the novel, simply an observation.

All the best,

Jeff

It seems sort of dismissive of Bujold to base her nomination only on her popularity. She has won this award four times, as many as Heinlein. She has been nominated many times more. She has won Nebulas, WFA awards. It could be said, based on her awards being in both fantasy and science fiction, that she is a Master at writing both genres.

Maybe, the dismissive attitude towards Bujold is that she is not a new writer or a trendy writer. No Vampire Squid from her.

In regards to Cryoburn, it is a book that happens to be a rollicking adventure. It has better plotting than most works depending more on the story than self indulgent asides of the author. Yes Bujold works everything elegantly in to the narrative line. This book is written in such a way that a person in left thinking about the world, plot, and characters and not the post-modern word choice of the author. It is a book that is a complex rumination on death and life extension and how technologies that are being developed might effect those people that live with them. A book that is reasonably SCIENCE fiction not future fantasy. Further she actually has built up from her other work to provide context and emotional payoff. Yes, she may have gotten a little showy with the hundred word afterwords but I would be impressed in how many other authors could pull so much emotion in more of a series of prose poems than anything else.

I suppose it might be that many people when thinking about awards are looking for the next big thing. They look for flash. They look for what is hip for today. Maybe someone will write the great classic florrid Vampire Squid tale. But I doubt that will be Bujold. It is not her style.

Would I vote for Cryoburn? I probably would go with Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to spread the award wealth and is a great book in different ways in its own right.

That being said, maybe the lack of there being talk about Cryoburn says more about the qualities of Jeff Vandermeer's community than the qualities of Bujold's book.

I don't know which awards I like the most. I'm most familiar with the Nebula and the Hugo. I dig that Zoo City won the Clarke, but as much as I love Powers, I still kind of can't believe Declare got nominated. I wouldn't mind there being an award that won the prestige, but OTOH, I kind of appreciate the patchwork diversity of it all. It's pointed me to some books I might've passed on otherwise.

My favorite of the last year would be Jemisin's books: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms.

I really thought Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe would be one of the books to beat this year, and am surprised it didn't get nominated for any of the awards. I also thought Miéville's Kraken was way underappreciated for having too much fun. That's okay, though, 'cause I had fun anyway!

Actually, re the Shirley Jackson Awards, you're missing one option: (E) All of the above

Nice article, thanks for the information.

I do like what Audible (an Amazon property) does: lists the award a book has received. Ex, Lew Shiner's Glimpses, 1994 World Fantasy winner:

http://www.audible.com/pd?asin=B004QOJRVO

But there's no such designation on Amazon.com, and on Audible it's not in a well cross-referenced clickable map/tree, as, say, the Locus awards database is. Reading the finalist lists for the awards has long been a "reading list" for me, particularly for books which appear on multiple finalist lists and/or are winners. A local bookstore keeps a specific "SF/F awards" section, which is quite nice when I am having choice paralysis when facing the full shelf. "Oh yes, indeed, I do mean to read The City & The City." But have fun drawing the line on what awards are "major" enough...

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