Yet more reactions to the 2015 Nebula Awards Nominees

I already offered my own reactions to the 2015 Nebula nominees in this post and collected some responses from around the web here.

Now, for the third post about the 2015 Nebulas, here are some more reactions from around the web:

At the Fangirl Happy Hour podcast (which is on my personal Hugo list for best fancast BTW), Renay Williams and Ana Grilo talk about the 2015 shortlists for the Nebulas and the Kitschies.

In many ways, their comments match my own, down to the fact that I have never heard of Hugo Wilcken whose novel The Reflection is on the Kitschies shortlist either and that all but one of the Kitschies’ best debut novel nominees are unknown to me.

Over the past few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Kitschies fill a void in the SFF awards spectrum, because they tend to recognise works that are often overlooked due to not being core genre. In spite of her well-deserved acclaim in the greater literary world, Margaret Atwood is a name you’ll never see on the Hugo or Nebula shortlist, not least because of that giant squid comment, which she has since repudiated and which I suspect was based on a misunderstanding in the first place, since it is impossible to find the source of the comment. And a writer like Hugo Wilcken, published by a small literary press that is mostly known for its regular rants against Amazon, is not on the radar of most genre folks at all.

I also liked getting Ana and Renay’s impressions on the shortlist for the Andre Norton Award for best YA SFF, since I’m not that plugged into the YA sphere and therefore several of the nominees were unknown quatities to me, in spite of apparently having gotten a lot of buzz in the YA world. In many ways, this is a positive development, because it means that the Andre Norton Award has gotten better at recognising what YA readers are actually reading, whereas in the past the nominees often included (male) writers of adult SFF’s forays into YA (see Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi or Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi), which got a lot of buzz in SFF circles, but not so much in YA circles.

Ian Mond also weighs in on the Nebula nominees, the Kitschies shortlist and notes a gap in the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards.

In particular, he notes that the Nebula nominations were rather predictable, largely because of the SFWA’s recommended reading list being made public. Coincidentally, Ana and Renay offered a good theory for the reasons behind this on their podcast, namely that given the ongoing uproar in fandom about secret and public slates and alleged or real awards manipulation, maximum transparency was probably the best answer.

Ian Mond is also pleased by the increased diversity of both the Kitschies and the Nebula nominees and notes a good gender mix as well as the presence of several writers of colour on both shortlists. It’s far from perfect, of course, and Ian Mond also notes that the same writers of colour keep showing up again and again, but it’s a start.

Ian Mond also notes that the Nebula nominees include several books that are part of a series, whereas the Kitchies tend to favour standalones. Given that the Kitschies also tend to favour works that are not core genre works, this isn’t all that surprising, since the prevalence of series is a genre thing (any genre, not just SFF), whereas literary fiction and literary genre works tend to favour standalones.

Unlike Ana and Renay (and me, for that matter), Ian Mond has also actually tried to read Charles E. Gannon’s Caine series and bounced off hard. In fact, Charles E. Gannon and Jack McDevitt are names that frequently pop up on the Nebula shortlist, but aren’t discussed a whole lot in the wider SFF sphere. Both strike me as authors that have a very devoted fanbase (which can be enough for an awards nomination), but not all that much impact outside their fanbase. There are a couple of other authors to whom I believe this applies as well. Small devoted fanbase, but little known or read in the wider SFF community.

In fact, I suspect this lies at the heart of most of the genre award controversies of recent years, namely that certain authors and/or their devoted fanbases simply fail to grasp that even though author X is massively popular in their circle, he or she isn’t all that well known nor highly regarded outside it.

To a certain degree I even sympathise. I have no idea why e.g. Ann Aguirre, Rob Thurman, Rachel Aaron/Rachel Bach or Simon R. Green – to name some core genre writers – aren’t more widely discussed in the SFF world and never show up on awards shortlists. Meanwhile, there are also authors whose names regularly show up on awards shortlists and whose every work gets a lot of buzz, even though I dislike their work so much that I’m not sure how it even got published in the first place, let alone landed on an awards shortlist. Coincidentally, I’m very pleased that this year’s Nebulas dodged at least three bullets of that sort and hope that the Hugos will dodge them as well.

However, where it gets ugly is when someone or a group of someones fails to grasp that the fact that their favourites are largely ignored is due to a discrepancy of taste and not to a conspiracy or affirmative action voting or any such nonsense.

Ian Mond also asks what the purpose of awards shortlists in general is (found via File 770), whether it’s a) to sell books, b) create buzz, c) honour the nominees, d) serve as a recommendation list, e) create a discussion about the state of the genre/literature or f) a combination of all of the above.

Personally, I choose option f), all of the above. a, b and c are obvious. d is rather obvious as well, since a lot of people – myself included – use awards shortlists as a recommendation list. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I will automatically read everything on a given shortlist (e.g. I won’t go out of my way to read Raising Caine, because it doesn’t sound like my thing at all), but I usually check out the nominees, particularly if they’re books I’ve never heard of. And if something sounds interesting, it makes me more likely to buy it.

As for option e, awards shortlists do create discussion, even in years that are not marred by one controversy or another. They also serve as snapshots about where the genre is going. Note how the Hugos went from only one woman (Naomi Novik) among the twenty nominees in the fiction categories in 2007 to nigh parity in 2013, though sadly the ratio has declined in subsequent years due to canine influence. Note how we are seeing more women and writers of colour on awards shortlists in recent years. Note how the Nebulas boasted only female winners for the first time in history in 2015. Note how some writers whose names frequently appeared on awards shortlists maybe ten years ago are no longer nominated, even though they are still alive and writing, because their brand of SFF is falling out of fashion. Note how the short fiction shortlists show the rise of the online zines and the decline of the traditional print magazines. Note how self-published works gradually make inroads onto the various genre awards shortlists.

So in short, awards shortlists offer a lot of material for debate, even if it is only, “How the hell did that crap get nominated?” and “Why was my favourite not nominated?”

Though Ian Mond is also correct in pointing out that the two weeks between the announcement of the Kitschies shortlist and the announcement of the winners are too short for any useful discussion, let alone to allow people to read the works (I presume the judges have already read them). But then, Ian Mond also points out that the Kitschies shortlist was usually announced earlier in the year, which suggests that there might be behind-the-scenes reasons at work here.

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