Some Comments on the 2017 Dragon Awards Winners

The Dragon Awards, a new “popular” SFF award handed out at Dragon Con in Atlanta, Georgia, have been plagued by controversy in their first two years. I blogged about some of it, though the vast majority of this year’s uproar happened, while I was enjoying myself at WorldCon 75 in Helsinki, so just read Andrew Liptak’s summary at The Verge.

Then, in the past week, the Dragon Awards plot thickened even further when a heretofore unknown group calling itself the Red Panda Fraction entered the fray, criticising the Awards and offering their own recommendation list. Camestros Felapton reports about the mysterious Red Panda Fraction here and also posts a response from one of the Red Pandas, wherein they explain who they are (left-leaning fans and Dragon Con regulars from the greater Atlanta area), what they want to do, how they arrived at their recommendation list, etc…

The Pandas’ recommendations actually overlap with my own Dragon Award votes in most categories and I agree with their criticism of how the Dragon Awards are run. However, in the space of two years the Dragon Awards have become a contest between competing parties (various overlapping Rabid Puppy affiliated groups, Inkshares, the Red Pandas) rather than individual fans nominating and voting according to their personal preferences, a fate the Hugo Awards have managed to avoid (with a few hick-ups, mostly notably 2015 and 2016) for more than sixty years. And with Rabid Puppies, Happy Frogs (Jon Del Arroz’ group) and the Red Panda Fraction all actively campaigning, the Dragon Awards are now beginning to look more like the Conference of Animals than an SFF award.

Just so you won’t get lost regarding which fraction is backing whom and who the various fractions are anyway, the tireless Camestros Felapton offers not just an overview of the 2017 Dragon Award finalists, noting which works are backed by which fraction, but also a map visualizing the various players in the Dragon Awards.

Tonight now, the winners of the 2017 Dragon Awards were announced at Dragon Con in Atlanta. But before we go there, let’s take a moment to look at the other SFF award whose winner was announced at Dragon Con, the Eugie Foster Memorial Award for short fiction. This year’s winner (highly deserved) is “The City Born Great” by N.K. Jemisin, which you can read here. “The City Born Great” was also a Hugo finalist this year. My Mom and I both ranked the story highly, because it really is a very good story (the concept behind which will apparently be expanded into a trilogy of novels). And indeed when I told my Mom today that “The City Born Great” won the Eugie Foster Memorial Award, she immediately said, “Oh yes, I remember that one. That was a lovely story.”

The Eugie Foster Memorial Award have no connection to the Dragon Awards beyond the fact that both awards are given out at Dragon Con and that both are in their second year. So far, the Eugie Foster Memorial Award has had a very good track record. By contrast, the Dragon Awards track record for their first year wasn’t so good. For their second year… well, let’s see:

The Dragon Awards website is still crap, so here is a list of the winners as well as a report about the ceremony from File 770. Camestros Felapton also offers an overview of the winners and some analysis. There are also some interesting discussions going on in the comments at both places.

More importantly, we finally have voting numbers according to which there were an impressive 8000 final ballots cast this year, supposedly twice as many as last year (though we never got the actual 2016 numbers and we don’t have any 2017 nomination figures either, let alone a breakdown). I’ve heard that Dragon Con started promoting the awards more in the past few weeks and it shows.

So let’s taken a look at the categories. Babylon’s Ashes, the latest Expanse novel by James S.A. Corey (a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) wins in the science fiction category. It’s an unsurprising and uncontroversial win, since both the novel series and the TV series based on the novels are highly popular. My own vote was for Becky Chambers BTW.

The winner in the best fantasy category is Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo. One could see this as a win for the puppies, except that as Camestros Felapton notes, only Declan Finn backed Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, while every other puppy-aligned fraction backed A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day. Besides, Correia and Ringo are popular authors and big fan followings, even if their work is not to my taste at all (To be honest, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by John Ringo, but Larry Correia’s work is definitely not to my taste). Larry Correia also repeatedly asked his fans to vote for him (which is not against the rules for the Dragon Awards). So this win is far from unreasonable. My own vote was for Faith Hunter BTW. Coincidentally, I find it interesting that the majority of finalists in the fantasy category are urban rather than epic fantasy.

The winner of the best YA/middle grade novel is The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan. Again, it’s a popular choice by a popular author. Though personally, I expected that A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas would win in this category, because Maas is hugely popular and writes YA, whereas Rick Riordan, while popular, is more of a middle grade author. I’d have expected the electorate to skew more towards the higher end of the YA spectrum. My own vote was for Sarah J. Maas BTW.

On to best military science fiction or fantasy: The winner is Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox. I have to confess that this was the first winner I had to look up, but then military SF is its current form is not really my genre. Turns out Richard Fox is a popular indie science fiction author (and come to think of it, I have come across his name in that context) and judging by the blurb, Iron Dragoons is the sort of Starship Troopers inspired military SF novel that is popular with the Amazon military SF crowd. I’m somewhat surprised that Richard Fox beat popular Baen authors Charles Gannon and Eric Flint, but again his win is neither unreasonable nor puppy-backed. My own vote was for Amy J. Murphy BTW.

Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove wins in the alternate history category. This novel was backed – sort of – by Declan Finn who couldn’t decide between Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint and Lou Antonelli, but I’m pretty sure he had little to do with the fact that it won. After all, Harry Turtledove’s name is pretty much synonymous with the alternate history subgenre by now, so he is a logical winner, even though I voted for Beth Cato.

Walkaway by Cory Doctorow is the winner in the best apocalyptic novel category. Now Cory Doctorow is a writer whose fiction does nothing for me (though I like his non-fiction), but he is also very popular, probably the most popular author in this category. My own vote was for N.K. Jemisin and then, after she withdrew, for Omar El Akkad.

The Dragon Award for best horror novel, finally, goes to Victor LaValle for The Changeling. Coincidentally, this was also my choice. Besides, we finally have a genuine horror novel winning in the horror category rather than a space opera with horror elements like last year.

Both comic categories go to the Harry Dresden comics/graphic novels by Jim Butcher and different artists. Now I have to admit that these wins surprise me a little, since The Dresden Files is primarily a novel series with the comics more of an adaptation. Besides, there were some very fine and popular comics and graphic novels nominated and Dragon Con is more media and comics oriented than e.g. WorldCon. However, The Dresden Files is a masively popular series with a huge fan following, so this is not an unreasonable win. The Dresden Files graphic novel was backed by Jon Del Arroz’s Happy Frogs, but I doubt they had much of an influence. My own votes were for Saga and Genius Girl respectively.

Stranger Things wins in the TV category and Wonder Woman in the film category. Again, both are extremely popular choices, even though Stranger Things relies a bit too much on 1980s nostalgia for my taste and while there was a lot to love about Wonder Woman and Gal Gadot is fabulous in the role, the anachronistic World War I setting and some of the choices connected with it (e.g. German bad guys once again or choosing a real historical figure like Erich Ludendorff and killing him off 20 years before he died) left a bad taste in my mouth. My own votes were for Lucifer and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 respectively.

I’m not gamer, so I don’t have very much to say about the four gaming categories. But Magic the Gathering and Legend of Zelda are both highly popular franchises and Pokemon Go! is a genuine phenomenon, so none of those wins is unexpected. I have never heard of Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk, the winner in the boardgame category, but that doesn’t mean anything, since I haven’t played a boardgame in ages.

So for their second year, the Dragon Awards managed to do exactly what they set out to do, reward popular works and authors with big fan followings. There are still points to criticise, of course, such as the easily manipulated nomination and voting system or the flat out odd subgenre choices. I also can’t help but notice that the winners are one massive sausage fest with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins the only woman among a sea of men. At least they’re not all white – I spot at least three writers of colour among the winners. However, the massive sausage fest that is the 2017 Dragon Award does match what we see in some other SFF popular vote awards such as the David Gemmell Legend Awards. It’s still a sad truth that books (and other creative works) by men get more promotion than books by women, so popular vote awards with a large voter base often default to male winners and nominees, because the average fan is more likely to be familiar with them.

ETA: Annalee Flower Horne also noticed the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of the 2017 Dragon Awards and launched into a rant on Twitter to point out that the Dragon Awards do not accurately represent the state of the SFF field in 2017. I agree with her that today’s SFF is a lot more diverse than the 2017 Dragon Awards winners would let you believe (though two of the winning authors self-identify as Hispanic, so there are three winners of colour instead of one). Besides, there were popular and high profile female authors among the 2017 Dragon Award finalists such as Becky Chambers and Sarah J. Maas and yet none of them managed to win. However, does anybody honestly look solely to the Dragon Awards of all things as a measure of state of the SFF field in 2017? Well, I suspect puppies and their offshoots might, but I hope everybody else is better informed.

Will the Dragon Awards become a valuable addition to the SFF Awards spectrum? Time will tell, though things are looking better than they did last year. Will they eventually supplant the Hugos or Nebulas? No they won’t, if only because the Hugos and Nebulas tend to award more innovative works, which expand the scope of the genre and push it forward, whereas the Dragon Awards tend towards the tried and true (and currently male and white). But that’s what they’re trying to do and in that respect, they succeeded. Okay, so the Dragon winners and nominees are less to my taste than the Hugo or Nebula winners and nominees of the past few years, but that’s okay. Not every award needs to mirror my tastes and in fact, many of them don’t.

And more importantly, the 2017 Dragon Awards have managed to rise above their vulnerability to small interest groups (the various puppy offshoots, but also the Inkshares crowd), probably due to the vastly increased voter base. To put it more succinctly, the puppies resoundingly lost even the award they believed was theirs.

So far, there is only resounding silence from the puppy camp except for this surprisingly gracious (by his standards) post by Vox Day. His commenters are their usual unpleasant selves, rant about the fact that Rick Riordan has LGBT characters in his books now and also claim that this seals the Hugos’ demise, because… well, it doesn’t really make any sense to me, either, but apparently it has to do with the bigger voter base.

Meanwhile, John Scalzi has the following message for the various puppy fractions:

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