From roughly April through early November, the
science fiction and fantasy world speculates on the outcome of several
different prominent awards -- ultimately rejoicing or raging at the announcement
of the finalist and winners. (Milder emotions are not permitted.) So where are
we right now? How is it all trending?
As Omnivoracious previously reported, the Tiptree Award for
feminist SF went to The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan and Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam. Last month, Brian
Francis Slattery won the Philip K. Dick Award for best SF paperback published
in North America for Lost Everything.
Just this past week, in what must be
considered an upset, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, for excellence in science
fiction published in the U.K., was awarded to Chris Beckett for Dark Eden. Beckett’s novel beat out
favorites like Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker
and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.
The Nebula Award and Hugo Award finalists also were
announced in the last couple of months. The 2013 Hugo Award ballot for excellence in
science fiction was voted on by the members of the World Science Fiction
Convention. The winners will be revealed at the World SF Convention,
Lonestar Con, in early September. The finalists for best novel
By contrast, the Nebula Awards are voted on by
members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a writers’
organization. The Nebula winners will be announced in mid-May at a special
banquet in San Francisco hosted by SFWA. Their novel ballot looks like this:
Theoretically, the Hugos are
voted on by pure readers and the Nebulas by pure writers, but, of course, some SFWA
writers wear other hats, and the Hugo voters include a fair number of writers
and industry insiders in addition to avid readers. Certainly, a Hugo category
like Long-Form Editor, which goes to book editors, is not likely to be one in
which a general reader can have an informed opinion.
The Nebula and Hugo ballots share
two nominees: Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of
the Crescent Moon and Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 (also on the Arthur C. Clarke Award ballot). One is a Fritz
Leiber-style heroic fantasy tale of sorts, while the latter is an epic love
story and intergalactic SF story influenced by Dos Passos. Both have had their
admirers and detractors, but one thing is clear: something interesting is
happening in these narratives that energizes readers and writers.
As for predicting winners, with
the Arthur C. Clarke Award going to Dark
Eden, which beat out favorites like 2312,
but which isn’t even on either the Nebula or Hugo Award ballot, it’s hard
to say what will happen. But let me go out on a limb, even if it gets sawed off
while I’m standing on it.
First off, in the context of both
awards, Throne of the Crescent Moon
is a debut novel, and while it’s gotten some excellent press it hasn’t gotten
the run-away acclaim that might push a first effort into the winner’s circle.
That said, it is a significant accomplishment to have made both lists and that
can’t be discounted as a possible indicator. 2312, meanwhile, looms over both lists as a novel that can’t be
ignored because of its scale, and must be considered a front-runner for at
least the Nebula Award. However, even if it wins that award, I find it unlikely
it would also win the Hugo.
Looking over the rest of the
field for the Hugo, the predictive crystal ball becomes significantly cloudier.
Scalzi’s clever Redshirts is an
entertaining effort but trying to compare it to something like 2312 is (to be hyperbolic) like
comparing the movie Galaxy Quest to
the movie 2001. Why would you want to,
any more than you’d want to debate the comparative merits of P.G. Wodehouse and
Cormac McCarthy? Then you also have to take into account the fast-rising Mira Grant,
whose novels have hit a nerve with readers and some critics. It’s possible a
sheer, unstoppable wave of Grant appreciation will swamp the other contenders,
given that she has multiple Hugo nominations. But then there’s the wildcard to
consider: Lois McMaster Bujold. Bujold has been around for a while, has a
devoted fan base, and is seen by many as overdue for further recognition. In
short, if a time traveler appeared to me and said, “I have seen the future and 2312 doesn’t win,” I would say it’s anyone’s
race to win.
As for the Nebula, there’s a
similar issue of comparison of unalike things, but, as a writer (although not a
SFWA member), my personal preference would be for The Drowning Girl by
Caitlín R. Kiernan to win, because it’s just an extraordinary novel and because
Kiernan’s oddly never been nominated before. However, thinking in terms of the tastes
of SFWA voters, I find that outcome unlikely. Kiernan is an iconoclastic figure
who stands outside of the genre subculture, and a certain percentage of SFWA
voters are probably not as familiar with her work as a result. That leaves the
very real possibility that 2312 is,
as indicated, the frontrunner, and will outperform worthy novels by N.K.
Jemisin, Tina Connelly, and Mary Robinette Kowal. But if 2312 is the front-runner, it can’t be by very much.
So perhaps it’s best to move out
of the shadowy world of predictions and back into the Land of Facts. For
example, it’s worth noting that no writers from outside of North America are
nominated for the Nebula or Hugo in the novel category. Nor did any writers
whose work was published by non-genre publishers make either ballot. Both facts
no doubt are mostly due to the composition of the voting bodies in question. A
juried award like the Philip K. Dick Award included a wider range, and the
Tiptree, almost by definition, tends to cast a wider net as well. In future
years, with the rise of self-publishing, the issue of consideration of popular
self-published titles also may become part of the debate.
But the strength of the SF/fantasy
awards system lies in having this mix of juried and voted-on awards. It’s
further balanced on the fantasy and horror side of things by the half-juried,
half-voted-on World Fantasy Award, the finalist ballot for which won’t be announced
until August or September. The judges have had a strong tendency to throw hither-to-unhonored works into the mix. Also
aiding in this process is the Locus Award, in particular because its nominee long-list
contains a healthy mix of the popular and the less well-known.
One thing’s for sure: no matter
what happens, we’re in for some surprises. The SF/fantasy awards season is
your own take on the science fiction and fantasy awards? Do you have a
favorite? Or a favorite nominee for the Nebula or Hugo? What should have gotten
more attention than it did? Let us know.