Reactions to the 2020 Dragon Awards Finalists or the Sound of Puppies Crying

Considering that this year’s Dragon Awards ballot looks pretty good, I guess reactions from certain quarters of the genre community, who used to consider the Dragons their territory, were inevitable. And indeed, Mike Glyer has put up a round-up of Dragon Award reactions at File 770.

But if you want my take, here it is:

Catholic fantasy/horror indie author Declan Finn and former Dragon Award finalist, who to be fair has done a lot to promote books he likes for the Dragon Awards, is not at all pleased by this year’s ballots, for not only did very few of his favourites make the ballot, he also isn’t familiar with most of the finalists at all, though he somehow knows they’re crap.

I have to raise my eyebrows at Declan Finn somehow missing Martha Wells’ Murderbot books or Gideon the Ninth, one of the most heavily promoted SFF books in recent memory, let alone that he knows no one who watches Star Trek Discovery or Picard.

Nonethelesss, his post illustrates an issue I see a lot in the whole indie author ecosystem, of which Finn and the whole superversive fiction movement form a small subsection, namely that a lot of indie authors only read other indie authors, especially other indie authors in their specific niche, and don’t know what is going on in the wider genre world at all, because they don’t read anything except indie books in their specific niche (and the occasional traditionally published author they like) and don’t pay attention to anything outside their niche. Indeed, I’ve seen advice for indie authors telling them to read and study the Kindle top 100 bestsellers in their subgenre, but not to bother with traditionally published books at all, because there is nothing to be learned from traditionally published books about writing books that appeal to the Kindle Unlimited crowd.

Whatever you think about that advice, the results is that when a popular, widely read and discussed book wins an award or hits a shortlist, particularly a book which does not fit narrow conceptions of what the genre should be (I’ve had people argue with me that Becky Chambers’ books can’t possibly be space opera, because there is no spaceship on the cover, and that Jo Walton’s Among Others must be literary fiction, because the cover doesn’t look like a typical fantasy novel), the reaction is, “Who is this person? I’ve never heard of them, so they can’t be any good.”

This insularity works both ways, because a lot of people in the world of traditional publishing are not necessarily familiar with popular indie authors either, because they just tend to scroll past those books and all those carefully split-tested ads to get to the book they want to buy. And since indie books are rarely discussed or reviewed in the places where general SFF readers gather, a lot of SFF readers are simply not familiar even with very popular indie SFF books. There are a few cracks in the wall – projects like the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off or my own Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month round-ups – but they are still limited and affected by selection bias. As a result, you have situations where the biggest fish in the subgenre Kindle pond walks into Worldcon or the SFWA suite, expecting to be celebrated, because they are a six figure author and number one in their subcategory, only to be met with “And who are you again?” reactions.

I don’t even exclude myself here. Due to having a foot in both worlds, I am familiar with a lot of indie authors, but far from all. And I have to admit that I had to google several Dragon Award finalists, though less than in previous years, because those authors are either writing in subgenres I’m not that familiar with or exist in a different ecosystem. However, there is a difference between, “I don’t know who these people are, let’s google them and find out,” and “I don’t know who these people are, so they must be crap.”

That said, I do sympathise with Declan Finn’s frustration that his attempts to discuss and review books he likes that are eligible for the Dragon Awards met with so little resonance. Because I sometimes feel the same with regard to my own efforts with the Retro Hugos, when people complain about the winners they don’t like, but paid zero attention to the efforts by me and others to unearth, list and review eligible works.

Though I have to quibble with Finn’s claim that he compiled every Dragon eligible book, because frankly, that’s impossible, given the volume of books published every year. Declan Finn even missed several very popular and well reviewed novels with a lot of buzz, as his “Who are these people?” reaction shows, let alone the many, many lesser known books. What Finn seems to have done is compile and review eligible books from his little superversive corner of the SFF world and you know what? That’s great.

Because for an award with an eligibility period as weird as that of the Dragon Award, eligibility lists, preferably crowdsourced, are important. The Red Panda Fraction organised an eligibility spreadsheet for the Dragons last year and Finn seems to have done something similar for his little corner of the genre world.

Doris V. Sutherland has also found an interesting Twitter thread started by Declan Finn, in which Finn and several other names we may remember from the puppy years wonder what happened. Here are some highlights – you can read the whole thing by clicking through to the first tweet:

Here is another Twitter thread along the same lines, started by someone whose name I don’t recognise. Again, here are the highlights. Click on the first tweet to get the whole thread, including the original poster’s thoughts on the finalists for Best Science Fiction novel. They seem to think The Ten Thousand Doors of January is romance, BTW, since it’s apparently “misclassify this book” week.

These conversations are interesting, both since they hint at internal chasms inside the Superversive and Pulp Revolution movements and also because you see the growing realisation that the former puppies and their various offshoot movements are not the majority of SFF readers they thought they were, but instead a small group whose tastes are largely out of step with the majority. The resounding failure of the sad and rabid puppies in 2015 and 2016 should have brought this home, only that they chalked it up to conspiracy theories and declared that what happened was their plan all along. And now that the Dragons, the true award of the people that was going to replace the Hugos, is moving in the same direction, it’s a lot more difficult to ignore the fact that they are not the majority and never were.

ETA: At a blog called The Dark Herald, Cataline Sergius declares that the Dragons have fallen and that the ballot is a social justice warrior shitfest.

But while Declan Finn and friends are mostly still wondering what happened, Catholic SFF writer and Dragon Award winner Brian Niemeier knows exactly what happened and who is to blame, namely the corona pandemic. How? Well, you see, due to the corona pandemic all conventions including Dragon Con have gone virtual and so “normal people” (who Niemeier hopes would have nominated his Catholic mecha stoies) are no longer attending, because virtual conventions are no fun. As a result, the “Death Cult” – which to Niemeier means everybody who is not an ultra-conservative Catholic – took over and swamped the Dragon Awards with nominations for books Brian Niemeier does not like. For you see, it’s not Niemeier and friends who are in the minority, it’s all a conspiracy. I guess he believes it, too.

There is also some bonus ranting against John Scalzi, for of course there is. Though I wonder which book Niemeier is referring to, when he mentions lesbian vampire stories. I suspect it might be Gideon the Ninth, except that they’re necromancers, not vampires. They are lesbians, though.

Talking of John Scalzi, how does he react to his Dragon Awards nomination, considering he tried and failed to withdraw in 2017? Well, it turns out he is delighted to be in such excellent company. He’s not the only happy Dragon finalist either, as these joyful reactions from Chuck Wendig and Fonda Lee show. It’s also interesting that Scalzi says that the Dragon Awards had a rough few years as they started up, but that they seem to be figuring themselves out as they go along, cause this is also my impression. Also note that reports about the Dragon Awards finalists and asks people to vote, whereas they have ignored the awards before. Another clear sign that the Dragons are becoing respectable.

In yesterday’s Dragon Awards post, I mentioned a post by a “friend” of this blog who shall remain unnamed, because me linking to his posts bothers him and causes him to claim I’m trying to silence him (No, I don’t get it either). In that post, he contrasts the Dragon Awards and his own private awards as proper awards, which only judge works on their own merit without taking the author into account, with the Hugos and Nebulas, which he believes judge works mainly based upon the race, gender and sexual orientation of the author, for how else to explain that so any women and writers of colour are winning Hugos and Nebulas?

So I was of course very interested to see what he would make of a Dragon Award ballot that looks a lot like the Hugo and Nebula ballots of recent years. Thankfully, he has obliged us and let’s us know his thoughts about the 2020 Dragon Award finalists. In short, he thinks that the ballot is a dumpster fire, found nothing to vote for in several categories (hey, at least during the bad early years of the Dragon Award, I usually found at least one semi-decent book per category to vote for), but otherwise is fairly sanguine (well, more sanguine than Niemeier and Finn) about it, because off years happen.

Like Brian Niemeier, he also blames the corona pandemic, which somehow kept the right sort of people from casting an online ballot and therefore allowed the wrongfans reading wrongbooks to – gasp – nominate for their favourites.  There are also dark hints that “a publisher” might be influencing the nominations. Three guesses which publisher that would be. He also shares his own nomination ballot, which is heavy on several familiar names from the superversive movement and from Dragon Awards past.

One thing I noticed is that Finn, Niemeier and the unnamed “friend” of this blog are all upset that Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars tie-in Thrawn: Treason was not nominated. Now I have to admit that this is surprising. Okay, so Grand Admiral Thrawn never did much for me, even though I read the original Thrawn trilogy like pretty much every other Star Wars deprived fan back in 1991. But I know that Thrawn is a beloved character and the blurb for Thrawn: Treason actually sounds pretty interesting, so the novel’s absence from the Dragon Award ballot is unexpected. Maybe Timothy Zahn declined the nomination or maybe Star Wars fandom has simply moved on – after all, the original Thrawn trilogy came out almost thirty years ago. A whole generation of fans has grown up since them, for whom Thrawn simply won’t have the same meaning he had for someone who read the trilogy back in 1991, when it was the first new Star Wars in several years.

In his analysis of the 2020 Dragon Award ballot, Camestros Felapton also points out with lots of diagrams and data that the 2020 ballot did not happen in a vacuum, but that the Dragon Awards have been steadily moving into a more mainstream direction , as they became better known and people other than the initial supporters started nominating and voting.

In fact, the corona pandemic might even have exarcerbated this trend, because with Dragon Con going virtual, people may be paying attention, who would never have gone to the physical con due to it happening in Atlanta, Georgia. Dragon Con partnering with the Fulton County library system to promote the awards might also have helped.

So in short, there is no conspiracy. Just the award becoming better known, which is a good thing, for the Dragon Awards, Dragon Con and also for the early winners and finalists, because having won/been shortlisted for a respected award is certainly better than having won/been shortlisted for a failed experiment.

Would we still be talking about They’d Rather Be Right by Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, if it hadn’t won the second ever Hugo for Best Novel? Even if no one has anything good to say about that book and it’s generally regarded as the worst Hugo winner of all time, at least we’re still talking about it.

Which is probably why two other previous Dragon Award winners from the sad puppy camp, Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen, actually seem to be pretty satisfied with this year’s Dragon Award ballot (which apparently they’ve been telling the world on Facebook, where I can’t see it), even though I suspect that many of the finalists are no more to their tastes than they are to Niemeier’s or Finn’s. However, they know that as the Dragon Award becomes better known and gains more respect, it also positively reflects on their careers.

I’m keeping comments open for now, but if there’s trolling, I will shut them down.

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16 Responses to Reactions to the 2020 Dragon Awards Finalists or the Sound of Puppies Crying

  1. Paul Fraser says:

    Torgeson’s comment: “Nice to see some friends getting some well-deserved recognition on the Dragons final ballot. Even though there is no DragonCon being held in Atlanta due to Covid-19 panic, the Dragons roar onward. Good luck to Nick and Jason, Marko, Dave, and Chris! :D“

    I’m surprised, given that you seem to be particularly well across SF social media, that you don’t have the most minimal FB account possible to give you access to this ecosystem.

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the quote.

      I avoid Facebook, because it’s not just full of relatives and former classmates I don’t particularly want to talk to, it’s also problematic, if you’re a teacher and your students want to friend you.

  2. Something I noticed: by my count there are ten authors on this ballot who have been Hugo finalists. Compare that to seven Hugo finalists on the 2016 Dragon ballot, and eight on last year’s ballot (if we discount the authors who got Puppy-slated into the Hugos in both cases).

    Going from seven to ten over the course of a half-decade is hardy a vast expansion. Looks like the reports of a Hugo takeover are a little exaggerated…

    • Cora says:

      It’s like Camestros deonstrated, a trend that has been developing over time. Though I suspect that part of the problem is that the Hugo finalists on the Dragon ballot are no longer just male authors like Brandon Sanderson or the James S.A. Corey duo, whom the puppies like or at least tolerate, but also a lot of women and writers of colour.

  3. Laura says:

    It’s so odd that the “friend” thinks that a “group” has hated the Dragons and been out to sabotage them since the beginning. No, actually this group was at worst indifferent and mostly quite pleased. Also, the award that was supposed to be the epitome of fair and how an award should work is now vulnerable to being gamed. Because this small group and their favorite publisher figured out how to create extra email addresses and/or paid their employees to vote or something. This group wasn’t distracted by Covid or, you know, an entirely different online convention and their awards which were going on during the Dragons’ nomination period. But the Dragons weren’t being gamed when he liked who was getting nominated.

    I’m glad to know from his earlier post that he would demand to be removed as a finalist should he ever be nominated for a Hugo or Nebula. Quite the turn-around from bragging about his “non-finalist” Nebula nomination a few years ago!

    • Cora says:

      Heh, I’d almost forgotten that he considered himself Nebula nominee, because he persuaded one or two friends to nominate him.

      Anyway, I don’t think he’ll ever find himself in the position to have to decline a Hugo or Nebula nomination. Never mind that the Hugos always ask you, if you want to accept the nomination anyway, so you can decline, if you want.

      As for Dragon Award ballot stuffing, a few years ago I was able to nominate four times and I could probably have nominated more, if I hadn’t gotten bored. One nomination was serious, the other three ballots had only books that were extremely unlikely to get nominated under normal circumstances (one of mine and one of Cam’s) for control purposes. So it was definitely possible, though I’m not sure if the voting controls have improved since then.

      • Laura says:

        I thought even the Dragons had learned to ask after N.K. Jemisin (and others) requested removal a few years ago. But apparently not since Ursula Vernon mentioned in File770’s comments that she only found out when someone else told her.

        • Cora says:

          Yes, I saw that as well. So apparently they’re at least not asking all finalists, though they might be asking some. I also wouldn’t be surprised if N.K. Jemisin had declined again, since “The City We Became” was eligible and wouldn’t have been an unexpected finalist.

      • Laura says:

        Oh, and who knows if anyone actually nominated him at all. I think he was only saying that because someone put him on the Nebula Reading List on the SFWA forums.

        • Cora says:

          I’m not an SFWA member, so I don’t know how it works, but I doubt that nominations are made public. Though it’s possible that he didn’t understand that the Nebula reading list does not equal a Nebula nomination, just that someone thinks this is worth checking out.

          And sometimes people do ask their friends to put their books/stories on the list. I’ve seen that among some self-publishers.

  4. James Pyles says:

    Oh God. TLDR. Need more coffee (the Sun has yet to rise in my little corner of the world).

  5. James Pyles says:

    Okay, I’m back, and I must say I am impressed that you chose to take on this topic, given the controversy attached. At the risk of being accused of unabashed self-promotion, here’s my response:

  6. Pingback: Some Comments on the 2020 Dragon Award Winners | Cora Buhlert

  7. Pingback: The Mandalorian finally finds “The Jedi” and Baby Yoda finally gets a name | Cora Buhlert

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