Some Comments on the 2017 Dragon Award Nominees

Before everybody is focussed on Worldcon and the Hugos next week, the Dragon Awards have managed to present their 2017 nominees. The link goes to File 770, because the official Dragon Awards website hasn’t even been updated yet and is painful to read, too. ETA: It has been updated now, but is still painful to read.

The 2017 Dragon Awards nominees are a mix of popular authors and/or books with notable fan followings (Becky Chambers, John Scalzi, N.K. Jemisin, Liu Cixin, Faith Hunter, Sarah J. Maas, Rick Riordan, A.J. Hartley, Claudia Gray, Beth Cato, Cory Doctorow, James S.A. Corey, China Miéville, Victor LaValle, Allison Littlewood, Charles Gannon, Dan Wells, Eric Flint, John Ringo, Larry Correia, many of the film, TV, comic and game nominees), popular indie authors (Amy J. Murphy, Pippa DaCosta, Richard Fox, David VanDyke and B.V. Larsson), authors affiliated with the sad and rabid puppies or various puppy offshoot movements (Vox Day, John C. Wright, Declan Finn, Brian Niemeier, Jagi Lamplighter Wright, Jon Del Arroz, Lou Antonelli, Kai Wai Cheah), authors puppies happen to like but who aren’t puppies themselves (e.g. horror author Allison Littlewood who has since withdrawn) as well as a couple of complete unknowns, at least to me, with some overlap between the different groups. Coincidentally, Mark, a regular commenter at File 770 and Camestros Felapton’s blog, has traced some of the unknowns to Inkshares.

All in all, the shortlist looks better than it did for the inaugural Dragon Awards back in 2016 (for my comments on that, go here). I even found something to vote for without teeth gnashing in every category save the gaming ones (not a gamer, therefore I can’t evaluate them). Though for an award that has positioned itself as the populist SFF award, the 2017 Dragon Awards shortlist is still an odd mix between massively popular works/authors with big fan followings and works which appeal to various niches and can muster enough of a following to gain a nomination, but are little known outside their respective niches.

There are also some notable omissions. For example, the most notable alternate history novel of the year, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, a huge bestseller endorsed by Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama among others, is conspicuous by its absence. But then, The Underground Railroad has already won the Pulitzer Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award and is up for the Man Booker Prize, so Colson Whitehead really doesn’t need a Dragon Award. Coincidentally, I’m surprised to see another work of literary SFF, American War by Omar El Akkad, nominated in the post-apocalyptic category, since the Dragon Awards crowd (or rather crowds) doesn’t strike me as the sort to care for more literary SFF at all.

So how big was the influence of the sad and rabid puppies and their offshoot movements like Superversive SF, Pulp Revolution or Happy Frogs (at least the name is funny)? Mike Glyer at File 770 offers a colour-coded breakdown here, which suggests that there was less puppy influence than in 2016, though it’s still quite a bit. Also at File 770, Nick Pheas also noticed huge discrepancies in the numbers of Goodreads ratings between books nominated in the same category, while JJ expanded this analysis to also include the number of Amazon and Library Thing reviews, where the same pattern persists.

For more Dragon Awards neepery, Camestros Felapton offers a two part analysis of and baseless speculation about the 2017 Dragon Award nominees. Camestros Felapton also takes a look at the military SFF category, which is very dominated by puppies and their offshoots with a few generally popular authors thrown in. At The Verge, Andrew Liptak also offers some background and commentary on the 2017 Dragon Awards nominees.

From the puppy camp, we mostly see cheering that they and/or their choices have been nominated. Though Brian Niemeier, who won last year in the horror category for a book that’s not even a horror novel and who is nominated in the science fiction category this year, can’t resist making a crack against John Scalzi and complain that the dreaded social justice warriors (that would be everybody who’s not a puppy) are flooding the Dragon Awards with nominations to destroy fun SFF or some such thing. Uhm, the Dragon Awards are specifically open vote, so anybody can vote or nominee, and that includes people with very different taste than the puppies. They’re not the puppy awards, even if it sometimes looks that way. As for why John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire (or The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin or A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers or Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey or anything else that the puppies don’t like) were nominated, maybe it’s because they’re popular authors with big fan followings? You know, the sort of authors the Dragons were supposedly designed for.

So how are the Dragon Awards doing in their second year? A little better than in their first, though many problems still persist. The official Dragon Awards website is badly maintained, the nomination system is intransparent and easily gamed via using multiple e-mail addresses to nominate/vote and whoever is behind the Dragon Awards still hasn’t released the voting figures for 2016. What is more, the Dragon Awards are very little promoted by Dragon Con itself to the point that most of the info you can find about the Dragon Awards online can be found in the blogs of authors campaigning for one. ETA: Indeed, it seems as if the vast majority of Dragon Con attendants are not even aware of the Dragon Awards at all, otherwise the shortlist would look very different.

So as of 2017, the Dragon Award still does not really look like the populist SFF Award it claims to be and may yet become some day.

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