2017 Dragon Awards Reactions

I already posted my own reactions to the 2017 Dragon Awards, so here are some reactions from around the web:

At Women Write About Comics, Doris V. Sutherland offers a detailed summary and analysis of the 2017 Dragon Awards and the resultant drama, including lots of quotes by nominees, organisers and bystanders. She also declares that as of 2017, the Dragon Awards are no longer the puppy awards. This is probably the best summary of the Dragon Awards and the debates surrounding them I have seen, so if you read only one article on the Dragon Awards, make it this one.

George R.R. Martin has a brief post about the Dragon Awards, in which he congratulates the winners, particularly James S.A. Corey a.k.a. Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck who won in the best science fiction category with Babylon’s Ashes, the latest novel in The Expanse series, and Stranger Things which won in the TV series category. George R.R. Martin also expresses his pleasure at the increased numbers of votes cast and hopes that the Dragon Awards will eventually become the People’s Choice Awards (an American pop culture award voted upon by the general public) of science fiction and fantasy.

Daniel Humphreys, whose novel A Place Outside the Wild was nominated in the best apocalyptic novel category and lost to Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, offers a gif-laden reaction to his Dragon loss.

At Adventures Fantastic, Keith West says that he did not vote for the Dragon Awards this year, because he felt he hadn’t read enough of the works on the ballot (fair point). He goes on to says that he considers the Dragon Awards, the David Gemmell Awards and the Shamus Awards the only awards he pays attention to, because they reflect “the view of the readers” (TM), whereas he considers some other awards (probably the Hugos, though he doesn’t name them directly) anti-recommendation lists. There’s nothing wrong with ignoring awards that rarely award works you like – I don’t pay much attention to the David Gemmell Legend Awards, for example, because the books they honour are not to my taste at all. However, I find it funny that he believes that the Dragon Awards and the Gemmell Awards reflect the true taste of the readers, whereas the Hugos apparently don’t. Ahem, Hugo voters and nominators are readers, usually very active and engaged readers. That doesn’t mean that those who vote for the Gemmell Awards or the Dragon Awards are not readers – they simply are readers with a very different taste. Readers are not a monolith.

Keith West is also incensed that several authors decided to withdraw from the Dragon Awards, which he considers a slap in the face of their fans. This is a view I’ve heard a few times, usually from the puppy camp (not saying that Keith West is one, just that he shares some views with them), and one I don’t get at all. There is no obligation to accept a nomination for an award, if you don’t want it for whatever reason. The Hugo Awards had plenty of withdrawals over the years, both publicly or privately before the ballot was announced, for all sorts of reasons. At least once, a finalists who withdrew (Black Gate in 2016) was someone I nominated. However, I didn’t consider this a slap in the face, because it was their right and their decision. There have also been authors who have asked their fans not to nominate them in a particular year – most recently Charles Stross asked his fans not to nominate The Laundry Files for best series. And whenever someone asked people not to nominate them, I respect that (though I wouldn’t have nominated The Laundry Files anyway, since I don’t like the series). Because there is no obligation to accept a nomination or an award, if you don’t want it. And indeed that’s why the Hugo Award administrators contact finalists before announcing the final ballot, to give them a chance to withdraw or also to confirm eligibility. The Dragon Awards should have done the same thing, contact the finalists beforehand. I hope they will do so next year to avoid a repeat of the withdrawal drama.

Now let’s venture into puppyland and see what they have to say:

Larry Correia, who won the Dragon Award in the fantasy category together with John Ringo, talks about the Dragon Awards in the context of a general report about Dragon Con. Apparently, he enjoyed himself thoroughly, though he cannot help but get in a swipe at other “stuffy cons” and “snooty awards”. Correia also seems to believe that the Dragon Awards represent every group in fandom (no, they don’t) and that anybody who criticises the Dragon Awards automatically also dismisses Dragon Con and the crowd of 70000 fans it draws. There are quite a few people criticising the Dragon Awards, mainly because there still is a lot to criticise about them, even though they have taken steps to improve. However, I have heard absolutely no one criticising Dragon Con itself, at least not in connection with the Dragon Awards. I have seen discussion of sexual harrassment and of an incident where two women cosplayers were injured by chairs thrown from a hotel balcony.

At the PulpRev website, which is apparently the hub of the Pulp Revolution movement, a rabid puppies offshoot, someone named Bradford Walker is very happy about the 2017 Dragon Awards and declares that the winners did their best to please their audience and that the Dragon Awards are a boost for “fun fiction” (a.k.a. books Bradford Walker enjoys) rather than what he calls “Pink Slime SF” (I guess that would be what I like to read and what I write, even though I actually write pulp style adventure).

Bradford Walker also shows up at the Superversive SF website to declare that the 2017 Dragon Awards are a win for the superversive, which is something of a stretch, since none of the authors associated with the Superversive SF site won anything. However, if you read the post, it becomes clear that what Walker really means is that at least the people he dislikes didn’t win either.

Jon Del Arroz, whose novel Star Realms: Rescue Run was nominated in the best military science fiction category, is totally happy about the 8000 votes cast for the Dragon Awards, even if he lost out to Richard Fox. Del Arroz also praises his fellow nominees in the military SF category, though he seems to have forgotten Amy J. Murphy (or maybe her book has too many girl cooties for him). Oh yes, and Tor.com and Locus are so mean, because they won’t report about the Dragon Awards. Which is wrong BTW, because Locus did report about the Dragon Award winners, even if Tor.com didn’t. Coincidentally, the Castalia House blog didn’t report about the Dragon Award winners either, at least not yet. And yes, I checked.

Richard Paolinelli, whose novel Escaping Infinity was nominated in the best science fiction category, does not mind losing to James S.A. Corey and believes that the 8000 votes cast for the Dragon Awards, more than for the Hugos or Nebulas, means that the Dragon Awards are the premier SFF awards. Paolinelli also writes a follow-up post in response to “another blogger’s screed”, though he doesn’t tell us which blogger, in which he elaborates why he thinks the Dragon Awards are so wonderful, namely because he feels that they are the true representation of the best in science fiction and fantasy. If the Dragon Awards eventually work as advertised – and this year was an encouraging sign in that direction – they may offer a representation of what is popular in the various categories. But popular does not equal best.

Paolinelli also dismisses all the criticisms that the Dragon Awards process is vulnerable to ballot stuffing with a fairly lame, “I’m sure they checked IP-adresses” (even though there is no evidence they have done so and at least one person has said she was able to cast three joke nominations from the different e-mail addresses), and also accuses Hugo voters of casting multiple votes, even though that’s very difficult to do with the Hugos, not to mention expensive.

Kevin Standalee has an interesting theory about why the various puppy factions seem to have no problem with the almost complete absence of voting controls in the Dragon Awards and why they keep accusing the Hugo Awards of being rigged in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary. The reason is, so Standalee claims, because the puppy factions consist of the sort of people who believe that everything and everybody is corrupt anyway. And as long as their choice wins, they don’t care about the how.

Benjamin Cheah a.k.a. Cheah Kai Wai, whose novel No Gods, Only Daimons was nominated in the best alternate history category, doesn’t mind losing to Harry Turtledove, because Turtledove is a legend. He’s also not sad that none of his Dragon Awards recommendations actually won the award and then launches into the usual rant that the Dragon Awards are clearly superior to the Hugo Awards, because of the higher number of ballots cast, that the Social Justice Warriors are furious that John Scalzi did not win (I haven’t seen anybody upset that Scalzi did not win, not even Scalzi himself) and that the Dragon Awards are totally not sexist and racist, even though the winners are overwhelmingly white and male.

Brian Niemeier, whose novel The Secret Kings (sequel to last year not-a-horror novel Nethereal which won the Dragon Award in the horror category) was nominated in the best science fiction category, also jumps on the number of voters to claim that the Dragon Awards are clearly superior to the Hugos and the Nebulas. Niemeier is also very happy that John Scalzi did not win the Dragon Award for best science fiction novel (which Scalzi made pretty clear he did not want anyway), because Niemeier is still very confused about a photo of John Scalzi wearing blue lipstick. There’s also the usual rhetoric about SJWs, CHORFs and whatever who want to destroy science fiction, western civilization and mom and apple pie (okay, maybe not the last two).

I also honestly wonder just why some puppies are so hung up about John Scalzi that they seem to view him of all people as the representation of all that is wrong with SFF. I can understand why the works of Ann Leckie or N.K. Jemisin incense them, but Scalzi? A straight white guy who writes space opera that’s enjoyable enough, but also fairly nutty nuggetty, and whose political views would put him somewhere in the political centre in Europe (Scalzi reminds me of those CDU politicians who voted in favour of marriage equality). That’s your great enemy?

So far, the puppy narrative about the Dragon Awards seems to focus mainly on the number of votes cast (approx. 8000, a figure I have no reason to doubt), which was higher than the number of votes cast for the 2017 Hugo Awards (3319 valid final ballots). And since the number of votes cast for the Dragon Awards is much higher than the number of votes cast for the Hugo Awards, the Dragon Awards must therefore be superior.

There is only one problem with this narrative: There is no corelation between the prestige of an award and the number of people deciding who wins said award. The SFF genre award with the highest number of voters are not the Dragon Awards, but the Goodreads Choice Awards, which is open to every Goodreads member and has participation numbers in the six to seven figure range. Going by puppy logic, the Goodreads Choice Awards should therefore be the premier SFF awards. Which they obviously aren’t. Meanwhile, the most prestigious literary award in the world, the Nobel Prize for Literature, is decided by a committee consisting of four members and two associate members. So between four and six people (depending upon whether the associate members get a vote) decide who wins the most prestigious literary awards in the world. Other prestigious awards such as the Pulitzer Prize or the Man Booker Prize are also decided by fairly small juries. Because no matter what some people might think, there is no link between the prestige of an award and the number of people deciding over said award.

So let’s tackle the next puppy talking point, namely that the Dragon Awards represent the true tastes of fandom, whereas – that’s the implication – the Hugos and the Nebulas don’t. Well, for starters no single award can represent the tastes of all fandom, because fandom is pretty damn big and consists of lots of small subgroups with their own tastes, which may or may not overlap with those of other groups. That’s also why we have several awards with different focusses, simply because no one award can represent all of fandom. However, when the same work shows up among the finalists or even winners of several awards, it’s a pretty good indicator that this is a broadly popular work. But while there was some overlap among the Dragon finalists and the shortlists for other SFF awards, so far none of the 2017 Dragon Awards winners except for Stranger Things have shown up among the finalists and winners of other awards (part of which may be due to the odd eligiblity period). Make of that what you will.

So what part of fandom do the Dragon Awards represent? Based on this year’s results, it seems to be a part of fandom that goes for broadly popular and fairly middle of the road fiction, written by overwhelmingly male authors with brand-name recognition (but then, let’s not forget that there wasn’t much choice, since many categories were overrun by obscure niche candidates of various flavours). The Dragon Awards certainly don’t represent the puppies and their various offshoots, because while there were plenty of puppies and puppy-favoured authors on the shortlist, none of them won anything except for Larry Correia who has a broader fanbase that goes beyond puppy circles.

Nor are the 2017 Dragon Awards a win for conservative politics in SFF, since Cory Doctorow and the duo that makes up James S.A. Corey tend politically to the left. I have no idea what Victor LaValle’s political views are, but I’d be very surprised if he didn’t tend towards the left. The political views of Jim Butcher and Rick Riordan are not known. I have zero idea about Harry Turtledove’s political views. Richard Fox is a US military veteran according to his bio and veterans tend towards the conservative side of the political spectrum, but again I am not aware that he ever explicitly stated his political views. That leaves Correia and Ringo as the only outspoken conservatives.

Do the Dragon Awards accurately represent the tastes of Dragon Con attendants? The puppies seem to think so, but based on what I’ve heard about Dragon Con, I’d say that the Dragon Awards only represent a minority of Dragon Con attendants. Cause as I understand it, Dragon Con’s attendance skews younger, less male, less white and less straight than that of more traditional cons, including World Con (even though there were plenty of young people at World Con 75). But when I look at the Dragon Awards finalists and winners, those don’t really strike me as the choices young queer women of colour would make. The YA category is a good example. Sarah J. Maas is massively popular among young women and yet the Dragon Award in the YA category went to Rick Riordan, who is more of a middle grade author and appeals mainly to teenage boys. Furthermore, I also have trouble believing that the attendants of a media-focussed convention like Dragon Con would vote for two fairly unremarkable tie-in comics over the many excellent comics and graphic novels on the Dragon shortlist, including such fan favourites as Saga, Ms. Marvel and Monstress. Instead, the win of the two Harry Dresden tie-in comics strikes me as the result of people who don’t know a whole lot about comics, but really like Jim Butcher voting.

I’ve also heard (it’s somewhere in the comments to Camestros Felapton’s Dragon Awards post) that Dragon Con’s science fiction literature track skews older and more male than the con in general, plus Dragon Con is apparently a big gathering for Baen authors and their fans. And the 2017 Dragon Award results do strike me as fairly representative of what that group might vote for, broadly popular SFF by established white and male authors.

In fact, the heavily skewed gender ratio of the 2017 Dragon Awards, especially compared to the 2017 Hugo and Nebula Awards, is another point that often comes up in discussion of the Dragon Awards. A lot of puppy commentators seem to respond to an alleged claim that the Dragon Awards are sexist, because the winners are almost all men (except for Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins and one of the winning games, whose developer team includes Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian among others), by screaming that the Hugos and Nebulas are sexist, since pretty much all winners in 2017 were women. Now a lot of us did notice that the 2017 Dragon Awards were one huge sausage fest (it’s kind of hard to miss), but the only place where I’ve seen them called explicitly sexist is this Twitter thread. And even there the main point is that the Dragon Awards are out of touch with what is happening in the SFF genre right now, since some of the most highly regarded authors at the moment are women and writers of colour.

However, the puppies immediately jumped on these comments. Apparently the current narrative in puppyland is that mainstream SFF publishing is ignoring the poor widdle male authors, because some folks have got their knickers in a twist about “women only” issues of magazines that they don’t read anyway. There’s even some bad math to prove their point, of which P.Z. Myers offers a delightful takedown. Even worse, women and writers of colour are even winning awards (that are not the Dragon Awards, because those are safely in male hands). And let’s not even talk about all those female protagonists who aren’t even properly feminine. Honestly, if the puppies don’t want to be perceived as sexist, they’re doing an awfully bad job of it.

This brings us to the final puppy talking point, namely that those of us who criticise the Dragon Awards hate either the Awards or Dragon Con or both. Well, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t hate the Dragon Awards. And I certainly don’t hate Dragon Con – why should I? In fact, I want to see the Dragon Awards succeed, because they could fill a niche that other awards don’t cover. And in fact, pretty much every non-puppy post I have seen points out that the 2017 Dragon Awards have taken a big step towards becoming what they want to be, a popular SFF award. However, as we know from previous go-arounds, a lot of puppies tend to mistake criticism for hate.

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