Of Retro Hugos and Dragons

MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 WorldCon in Kansas City, is this weekend, which means that the Hugo winners will be announced. There has also been the first scandal involving a moderator misusing a panel as his personal pulpit and promptly getting kicked out. Jim C. Hines had more.

The winners of the 2016 Hugos will be announced on Saturday night, so expect a post on Sunday or Monday. My post discussing the Hugo and Retro Hugo nominees is here BTW.

However, the winners of the 1941 Retro Hugos have already been announced and it’s a pretty good selection.

Slan by A.E. van Vogt wins in the best novel category. Slan wasn’t my top choice and IMO it hasn’t held up well, but it was enormously influential for the genre and is an acknowledged classic. It was also pretty obviously one of the two likeliest winners in this category along with Grey Lensman and is also probably what a hypothetical 1941 audience would have picked. Plus, apparently van Vogt’s granddaughter accepted the award on his behalf and was clearly happy about the recognition for her grandfather’s work.

Robert A. Heinlein takes both best novella and best novelette with “If This Goes On…” and “The Roads Must Roll” respectively. So much for the canine claims that Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo in 2016, since he obviously still can, even with stories that are 75 years old. Both wins are well deserved, too, though IMO “If This Goes On…” was the weakest of the three Heinlein stories nominated in the novella category. I vastly preferred the proto urban fantasy novella “Magic Inc.” and even “Coventry” was stronger IMO. However, “If This Goes On…” is a acknowledged classic. Ditto for “The Roads Must Roll”, which is also a pretty good Heinlein story.

“Robbie”, Isaac Asimov’s first robot story, won in the short story category, beating out two Leigh Brackett stories, José Luis Borges and yet another Heinlein story. I’m very happy about this, though I would have been happy with anybody but Heinlein winning (cause “Requiem” was just a weak story, sorry) in this category. And though Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is probably the best story from a literary POV, I still ranked Brackett and Asimov above Borges, because much as I appreciate Borges’ literary skill, both Leigh Brackett’s and Isaac Asimov’s work mean more to me personally. As for “Robbie”, when I reread the story, I found that I still remembered many details twenty-five years after I first read it. So yeah, a most deserving win IMO.

BTW, for some background on the scene in “Robbie” with the talking robot and a teenaged Susan Calvin, which was a later addition, check out this video of Electro, Westinghouse’s talking and smoking robot, doing tricks for the audience at the 1939 New York City World Fair. If you’ve read the expanded version of “Robbie” (and I think that’s the one most people have read, since it’s in all the collections), the presentation of Electro will seem eerily familiar, since it’s an almost exact copy of the presentation of the talking robot in “Robbie”. I can clearly imagine a teenaged Isaac Asimov going the see Electro, coming away bitterly disappointed at the obviously scripted interaction with the presenter and then exerting a bit of literary revenge on Electro several years later.

On to the remaining Retro Hugo categories: Walt Disney takes both dramatic presentation categories with Fantasia and Pinocchio respectively, which is not really a surprise, though The Thief of Bagdad was also a very strong contender in the long category and Pinocchio only wound up in the short category due to being just under ninety minutes long.

The first issue (though not actually the first appearance) of Batman wins in the graphic story category. This is clearly a choice influenced by hindsight, since early Batman like most other early superhero comics wasn’t all that good. The shortlist included three other origin stories/first appearances of the Spirit, the Spectre and Captain Marvel respectively as well as Flash Gordon’s visit to the Ice Kingdom of Mongo. I voted for Flash Gordon, because here we have Alex Raymond at the top of his ability. But Batman is still one of the most famous comic characters, whereas Flash Gordon is a lot more obscure. Ditto for the Spirit, the Spectre and Captain Marvel a.k.a. Shazam, not Carol Danvers.

Virgil Finlay wins in the pro artist category. I was hoping for Margaret Brundage, especially since her work vanished from the pulps by the early 40s, so this was probably the last chance for her to win a Hugo. But Virgil Finlay is certainly a very good choice as well.

The fan writer and fanzine categories both go to Ray Bradbury. Again, I suspect that this is a hindsight win, though I’m not sure what an actual 1941 audience would have picked.

Finally, the best editor Hugo unsurprisingly goes to John W. Campbell. Now I’m not Campbell’s biggest fan and believe that he did as much harm as good for the genre, especially in his latter years. However, when I compiled my retro Hugo nominations I realised that the vast majority of the stories I nominated were from either Astounding or Unknown, both of which Campbell edited. Ditto for the actual shortlist, lots of stories from Astounding and Unknown. So whatever one thinks of Campbell, he clearly picked many of the best stories of 1940 for his mags, which makes him a very deserving winner indeed.

That’s it for the Retro Hugos, so let’s move on to more current awards. Back in April, Dragon Con, a big convention in Atlanta popular with cosplayers and held by puppies of all stripes as the ideal of what an SFF con should be (unless they are up in arms that one of the founders turned out to be a suspected pedophile, in which case it becomes a symbol for all that’s rotten in SFF) announced that it would give out its own set of awards, the Dragon Awards. The various puppies and friends were immediately all over this, proclaiming the Dragon Awards as awards for real fans of real SFF (rather than wrongfans having wrongfun) and predicted that they will eclipse the Hugos within a few years.

Outside the puppy sphere, the reaction to the Dragon Awards announcement was mostly something along the line of “Good for them” or “Nice. The more the merrier”. There was also some criticism of unclear eligibility periods, unclear category definitions and the lack of short fiction categories as well as worries that the fact that you only need an e-mail address to sign up could lead to the nominations getting swamped by avid fans and enterprising authors.

Since the initial announcement, the Dragon Awards seem to have been positioned as the puppy awards (by both puppies and non-puppies), though we don’t know who is actually organising them except for a vague affiliation with Dragon Con. Though the heavy focus on gaming (there are four different game categories) and the categories, oddly specific in some cases and oddly vague in others, seem to reflect puppy tastes.

Dividing up “best novel” into best science fiction, best fantasy and best horror novel makes sense and indeed the Locus Awards already have both a fantasy and an SF category. Having a YA category also makes sense and once again e.g. the Nebulas and the Locus Awards already have this.

On the other hand, the subgenre categories are odd choices. For example, the first thing I’d do if further dividing SF, fantasy and horror into subgenres would be to split fantasy into epic and urban. The Dragon Awards, however, have only one big fantasy category for epic and urban fantasy, including paranormal romance. On the other hand, they do have separate categories for military science fiction and fantasy, alternate history and post-apocalyptic fiction.

If you were about to divide up science fiction into subgenres, military SF and post-apocalyptic SF would come to mind, but so would space opera, hard SF, dystopian fiction, near future SF, etc… Alternate history, meanwhile, is a tiny subgenre that mostly consists of two authors regularly offering up new installments in endless series.

So in short, the Dragon Awards subgenre classifications are not the most logical. However, they just happen to map onto subgenres that are popular with puppies and rightwingers in general, since they just love military SFF and certain kinds of post-apocalyptic fiction, namely the sort where all the people they dislike die, while they alone survive because they have the bigger guns and the larger stores of ammunition and dried beans. As for alternate history, I guess it’s an attempt to hand an award to Eric Flint and/or Harry Turtledove, since Hugo and Nebula voters haven’t yet given an award to Flint and haven’t given one to Harry Turtledove recently.

The nominees for the 2016 Dragon Awards were announced with considerable delay on August 12. The list is here and as you can see it’s a mix of popular authors with big fanbases, indie authors with loyal fanbases, authors puppies happen to like, who are not necessarily puppies themselves, and outright puppies with some overlap between the different categories.

Beth Elderkin at io9 calls the Dragon Award nominations “mostly puppy-free”, but I think she is too optimistic there, because in addition to a handful of outright puppies, the shortlist is also full of the sort of authors and books that puppies happen to like. And while founding puppy Larry Correia has a big fanbase and it’s not unreasonable to assume he might get nominated for an award that deliberately positions itself as populist (plus, Correia campaigned for a Dragon nomination, but then that’s nothing new for him), some other puppies on the Dragon shortlist don’t have a big fanbase outside their movement. John C. Wright, nominated in the science fiction category, is an acquired taste to put it mildly and some of the indie authors who have deliberately attached themselves to the puppy movement in what I’d consider a rather stupid career move, are downright obscure. There are big names in indie SFF, but those are mostly not the names on the Dragon shortlist. Plus, a couple of the “Who the hell is this?” nominees turned out to be puppies as well upon closer investigation.

Now I don’t mind the existence of an award for action-oriented populist SFF or even one for books puppies like. Better they have their own award than that they try to mess up somebody else’s. And if the Dragon Awards help people who like Nutty Nuggets find what they want to read, then more power to them. There’s plenty of SFF awards for specific niches or subgenres, after all, usually started by fans and writers who felt ignored by the existing genre awards, and that’s a good thing. Who knows, maybe the Dragon Award shortlists might even someday become a good guide to popular action-oriented SFF, once they get their teething problems sorted out.

However, the problem with the puppies of both stripes is that rather than just celebrate the works they enjoy, they can’t help being jerks, as this gloating Dragon Award reaction and response to the io9 article from Larry Correia (who also links to another by Brian Niemeier) shows. There’s plenty more like that, if you feel like wading into a morass of the puppy blog sphere.

Talking of puppies, at the Guardian, puppy bete noir Damien Walter has taken a look at the fiction of some outspoken puppies and offers his verdict. He’s extremely harsh and rather rude, but then I was raised on the original Literarisches Quartett and always enjoy a critic channelling their inner Marcel Reich-Ranicki, whether I agree with the verdict or not.

On a gentler note, Alexandra Erin points out that the puppies get it wrong and that WorldCon or the Hugos are less about shiny rockets and more about making connections and friends.

Back to the Dragon Awards, voting is open to everybody and you can sign up to vote for the Dragon Awards here. There’s plenty of good nominees in addition to the not so good ones (and literary quality is subjective anyway), so what are you waiting for? Sign up and vote for whichever work in the respective category you like best, whether it’s a puppy or not.

Comments are closed, because awards posts bring out the trolls. See you back in this space for an in-depth analysis of the 2016 Hugo winners tomorrow or Monday.

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