More Reactions to the 2015 Nebula Award Nominees

I already shared my thoughts on the 2015 Nebula Award nominees in my last post. At the time, I also mentioned that I couldn’t find a whole lot of other analysis and reaction apart from discussion in the comments at a few genre sites.

There are a few more reactions now, though a lot of places are still conspicuously silent.

Chaos Horizon, who pretty accurately predicted this year’s Nebula nominees based on the SFWA suggested reading list, engages in some analysis of the Goodreads and Amazon ratings of the seven Nebula nominees for best novel.

At the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, Joel Cunningham shares his thoughts about the 2015 Nebula nominees and is particularly impressed by the diversity of the nominees, both with regard to gender, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, but also with regard to style, subgenre and subject matter.

Meanwhile, Nebula nominee Amal El-Mohtar shares her pesonal favourite reaction to the 2015 Nebula nominees, courtesy of former Locus reviewer Lois Tilton:

Personally, I’m more inclined to agree with Joel Cunningham than with Lois Tilton, but then I’ve found that Ms. Tilton’s reviews rarely match my personal impression of the stories in question.

At Inverse, Lauren Sarner tackles one particular Nebula category, namely the Ray Bradbury Award for best dramatic presentation and points out that the Nebula nominees kick the Oscars’ arse in that respect.

The only problem with the post is that the Ray Bradbury Award and the Oscars aren’t really comparable at all, because the Oscars are for all motion pictures, regardless of genre, released within the eligiblity period, whereas the Ray Bradbury Award is for dramatic presentations, regardless of type, in the science fiction and fantasy genres, released within the eligibility period. Hence, Jessica Jones can be nominated for a Nebula Award, but is not eligible for the Oscars, since it is a streaming video series and not a motion picture, whereas this year’s Oscar darlings The Danish Girl and The Revenant are not eligible for the Nebulas (or the Hugos, for that matter), since neither is SFF, even though the title of The Revenant suggests a horror film.

So if we remove any nominees that aren’t eligible, there is actually quite a bit of overlap between this year’s Oscar nominees and Ray Bradbury Award nominees. The Martian, Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out are all nominated both for the Ray Bradbury Award and the Best Picture or respectively Best Animated Feature Oscar and are also nominated in several other categories, both technical as well as Best Screeplay, Best Actor and Best Director. Since Jessica Jones is not eligible, this means that of the Ray Bradbury Award nominees only The Force Awakens (Ryan Britt takes exception to this at Tor.com) and Ex Machina have been snubbed by the Academy, though The Force Awakens has been nominated in a couple of technical categories, while Ex Machina has been nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Special Effects. And even though the original Star Wars was nominated for Best Picture back in 1978 (and promptly lost out to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall in one of the great WTF? decisions of Oscar history), Star Wars isn’t really the sort of movie to win Oscar nominations, while Ex Machina was simply too obscure.

In conclusion, the Nebula and Oscar nominees don’t really differ all that much. However, Lauren Sarner makes an important point, namely that the Oscars tend to reward a particular type of movie – referred to as “Oscar bait” by many of us – that isn’t really all that popular among the general audience nor all that daring and innovative. If anything, the same sort of movies that used to win Oscars in the 1930s are still winning Oscars today (including the same appalling lack of diversity among the nominees), even though both film making and society itself have changed drastically in the intervening eighty years. And it’s very likely that today’s Oscar-bait “prestige” pictures will no more stand the test of time than those of the 1930s, whereas many of the snubs of today will become the timeless classics of tomorrow.

Finally, in his announcement of the Nebula nominees at Black Gate, John O’Neill makes a brief remark that 2015 was “a good year for Tor.com and Asimov’s, which in the comments turns into discussion of the conspiracy theory, quite widespread among the Sad and Rabid Puppy crowd, that Tor allegedly manipulates the Hugo and Nebula Awards in favour of its own authors and books. The discussion is surprisingly civil, given how contentious these debates can become, and Nebula nominee Charles E. Gannon even pops in to say that the fact that the alien antagonists in his nominated novel Raising Caine are called the K’Tor is not intended as a jab against Tor. And of course, K’Tor is pretty typical for the names of alien species in the space opera and military SF genres.

Regarding the supposed Tor domination of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, it is notable that the name Tor shows up a lot on genre awards shortlists. However, Tor is a big imprint and publishes a lot of books. What is more, Tor.com is a popular genre site, which publishes approx. one piece of short fiction per week. And then there is their new novella line. So in short, the reason why the name Tor pops up a lot on awards shortlists is because they publish a lot of stuff in several categories.

What is more, for short fiction, the traditional print magazines such as Asimov’s, Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction are difficult to access outside North America. For example, I have never seen Asimov’s, Analog or F&SF at a single newsstand in Germany. I have seen Asimov’s and Analog for sale in the UK – in London in the SFF basement of the late lamented Murder One – but that’s the only place in Europe where I have ever seen the so-called “big three” SFF magazines. As a result, I only ever see fiction from Asimov’s, Analog or F&SF when it is put online (which is how I read Eugene Fisher’s “The New Mother” and Sam J. Miller’s “Calved”) or shows up in a Year’s Best anthology. Meanwhile, I can read the various online magazines right here at my computer.

So if online magazines seem to dominate the genre awards shortlists of late, a large part of the reason is that they are more accessible to greater numbers of readers, particularly those outside the US. Now this is not that relevant to the Nebula, since I suspect that a sizeable number of Nebula voters subscribe to the print magazines (and note Asimov’s strong showing at the 2015 Nebulas). But it’s certainly relevant to the Hugos.

As for Tor.com, they don’t just publish a lot of good stories (though looking through my own list, I find that Lightspeed dominates, followed by Tor.com, Uncanny and Clarkesworld, whereas for novels, my list is dominated by Ace, followed by Orbit with Tor in third place), but they’re also pretty good at marketing them.

Years ago, I signed up for the Tor.com site. I haven’t posted there in ages and I’m not sure if I even still remember my log-in. However, I still get their newsletter every week with links to notable articles at Tor.com. This newsletter almost always also includes a link to a piece of short fiction. I usually click on that link and I often read the story. If I enjoy it, it goes on my personal “potential Hugo nominees” list. I doubt I’m the only SFF reader who does this and the result is that you see a lot of Tor.com stories on the various awards shortlists.

So you see, there is no conspiracy necessary, just a combination of wide market penetration, good works and clever promotion.

Meanwhile – just so they won’t be forgotten – a couple of other awards shortlists have been announced as well in the past few days. And so the nominees for the 2015 Kitschies, the 2015 Bram Stoker Awards and the 2015 Ditmar Awards have also been announced. Some very good and interesting choices are to be found on all three.

But then, 2015 was a strong year for SFF and at least so far, the various awards shortlists reflect that.

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