Does anybody except for me and Camestros Felapton and maybe Doris V. Sutherland still care about the Dragon Awards? I don’t know, but the 2023 Dragon Award finalists have been annunced today. The full list of finalists may be found here or – in a less eye-straining format – at File 770.
The Dragon Awards are a fan award given out by Dragon Con, a massive SFF media con in Atlanta, Georgia. This is only the eighth year of the Dragon Awards, but they have gone through quite a bit of history in those eight years, as recounted here by Camestros Felapton. You can also find my previous posts about the Dragon Awards and their tangled history here.
The 2023 Dragon Award ballot looks pretty good overall with many broadly popular works and authors, which confirms the trend that the Dragon Awards are actually doing what they were designed for. There’s only one category that’s something of an exception, but more about that later.
So let’s take a look at the individual categories:
Best Science Fiction Novel
This category is populated by popular and also very good works and doesn’t look all that different from a Hugo or Nebula ballot. The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal and The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia are both Hugo finalists for Best Novel this year as is Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky in Best Series.
Translation State (which the Dragon Awards site misspells as “Translation Slate” in a very Freudian typo) by Ann Leckie is a 2023 book, but I strongly expect to see it on the Hugo ballot next year.
Neom by Lavie Tidhar is a bit of a surprise, but then Lavie Tidhar has been a Dragon Award finalist before in the Best Alternate History category, so he may well be popular with Dragon Award nominators.
The Icarus Plot by Timothy Zahn is also something of a surprise, for though Timothy Zahn is extremely popular for his Star Wars tie-in novels, The Icarus Plot never really appeared on my radar at all. Camestros Felapton notes that The Icarus Plot appeared on the recommendation list of the rightwing review site Upstream Reviews run by Declan Finn, disruptor of doors and unlikely story inspiration) as well as on a recommendation list posted on Twitter by someone calling themselves Aristophanes. Though I doubt these two recommendation are the only reason The Icarus Plot was nominated, because like I said, Timothy Zahn is a very popular (and good) author and previous Dragon Award winner in the now defunct media tie-in category.
Diversity count: 3 women, 4 men, 3 international authors, 1 author of colour
Best Fantasy Novel
This is another category full of popular books and authors. Martha Wells is a multiple Hugo and Nebula Award winner and I strongly expect to see Witch King (which acquired a stray article on the Dragon ballot) on several awards ballots next year.
Babel by R.F. Kuang is a Nebula and Locus Award winner and was on multiple Best of the Year lists. Its unexpected absence of from the 2023 Hugo ballot was a matter of much discussion and speculation. But if a Nebula and a Locus Award aren’t consolation enough, R.F. Kuang now also has a Dragon Award nomination.
I haven’t read The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake, but it was a popular and massively marketed book, so I’m not surprised to see it nominated, though I assumed it was YA for some reason.
Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson did show up on the Upstream Reviews recommendation list in a different category, but considering how hugely popular Brandon Sanderson is, I’m pretty sure he would have been nominated anyway.
Tower of Silence by Larry Correia was heavily marketed by Baen (though Correia himself did not campaign for a nomination for his book) and definitely appeared on my radar, though I’m very much not the target audience. Besides, Larry Correia does have a big fanbase. Tower of Silence also is the third book in a series where both previous installments won the Dragon Award in this category, so it’s not a surprising finalist.
The second Baen finalist Into the Vortex by Charles E. Gannon is more of a surprise, because I had no idea this book even existed (though again I’m probably not the target audience) and know Charles E. Gannon mainly as a science fiction author. That said, Charles E. Gannon has been a Nebula finalist several times and clearly has a fanbase. Larry Correia also apparently campaigned for Into the Vortex as well as Wraithbound by Tim Akers, which shows up in another category, and The Dabare Snake Launcher by Joelle Presby, which did not make the ballot. Plus, Baen always has a big presence at Dragon Con.
Diversity count: 3 women, 3 men, 3 authors of colour
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
Again, we have a lot of very popular authors and one surprise in this category.
Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn and The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (which awards voters seem to have decided is YA, even if some folks disagree) are also Lodestar finalists this year and not surprising choices at all.
The Scratch Daughters by H. A. Clarke got quite a bit of buzz, plus the previous book in the series was a Dragon Award finalist in the category in 2021. Justina Ireland has been a Lodestar finalist and World Fantasy Award winner in the past and Rust in the Root sounds fascinating. Chloe Gong is a very popular author of YA fantasy, though I’m not familiar with Foul Lady Fortune.
The one surprise for me in this category is Academy Arcanist by Shami Stovall, because I’ve never about either the author or the book before. A bit of googling reveals that Shami Stovall and her husband run an e-book small press. The book doesn’t show up on any of the recommendation lists from the broader puppy sphere, so it seems Shami Stovall has an eager fanbase who nominated her.
Diversity count: 5 women, 1 non-binary, 3 authors of colour, 1 international author, 1 indie author
Best Alternate History Novel
The biggest surprise is that this category survived the purge of the most of the smaller subgenre specific Dragon Award categories, especially since alternate history was always a small subgenre – military SFF and media tie-in are much bigger. Plus, alternate history already has a dedicated award with the Sidewise Award, whereas military SFF has none.
But whatever the reason, the category is still here and it’s still the category with the most “I’ve never heard of these books or authors” finalists. It’s also the category that most resembles the early years of the Dragon Award with a mix of indie authors, Amazon imprints (no Baen, oddly enough) and even the token literary writer.
A.G. Riddle started out as a hugely popular indie writer, though his nominated novel Lost in Time – which judging by the blurb seems to be a time travel rather than alternate history novel – was published by Head of Zeus.
Christopher G. Nuttall is another very popular indie writer. I mostly know him as a writer of military science fiction, but apparently he moved into alternate history, because his nominated novel The Revolutionary War is already book five in an ongoing series.
Dan Willis has written for the popular Dragonlance series, which probably put him on the radar of Dragon Con attendees. His nominated novel Hidden Voices appears to be self-published and is definitely alternate history.
Halcyon by Elliot Ackerman is this year’s “literary novel you’d never expect to see on the Dragon Award ballot in a million years” finalist (let’s not forget that Ian McEwan and Margaret Atwood have both been Dragon Award finalists). He is a (US) National Book Award finalist, decorated US military veteran and a staff writer for The Atlantic. His book is also very definitely alternate history.
The Mother by B.L. Blanchard was published by Amazon‘s 47 North imprint and is definitely alternate history.
Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, 1 writer of colour, 1 international writer, 2 indie authors plus 2 more who started out as indie authors
Best Horror Novel
The horror category has usually been the most mainstream category at the Dragon Awards with the exception of the first year, where the winner was an obscure religious space opera rather than an actual horror novel.
This year’s finalists continue the trend. The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias was this year’s Stoker Award for Best Novel, while Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste was a finalist. The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay and No Gods For Drowning by Hailey Piper were both Locus Award finalists in this category (as was The Devil Takes You Home). Paul Tremblay and Hailey Piper are also previous Stoker Award winners. Ursula Vernon a.k.a. T. Kingfisher is perennially popular and I strongly expect to see A House With Good Bones on many awards ballots come next year. I have heard of The Only One Left by Riley Sager, though mainly as a thiller rather than a horror novel.
Diversity count: 3 men, 3 women, 1 author of colour
Best Illustrative Cover
This category is new this year and also the weirdest category, because I’ve never heard of most of the finalists and the artists are not names that show up on other awards which have art categories.
Ashes of Man is a novel by Christopher Ruocchio, the cover by Kieran Yanner can be seen here. River of Ashes is a novel by Alexandra Weis and Lucas Astor, the cover by Sam Shearon may be seen here. Both covers are nice enough, though I wouldn’t call them the best of the year.
But Not Broken is an anthology edited by Cedar Sanderson who also created the cover. People may remember her as a member of the Mad Genius Club and puppy Hugo finalist for Best Fan Writer back in 2015, though Camestros Felapton notes that this book and its cover do not show up on any puppy adjacent recommendation lists. The cover itself doesn’t do much for me.
Titan Mage: Apocalypse by Edie Skye is a self-published novel billed as a harem fantasy adventure. The cover by Jackson Tjota may be seen here. It’s very cheese cake. This cover was on the Upstream Reviews recommendation list. Personally,. I find it very amusing that a review site founded by a conservative Catholic recommends the cheese cake cover of a harem fantasy book featuring a sexy witch, which was created by an artist from Indonesia, a muslim majority country.
Tower of Silence by Larry Correia is nominated in the Best Fantasy Novel and the cover by Kurt Miller may be seen her (sans typography). It doesn’t do much for me and I suspect it was nominated more on the base of Correia’s popularity than on its merits as a piece of art.
Wraithbound is a fantasy novel by Tim Akers, which was quite heavily promoted by Baen. The cover by Jeff Brown may be seen here. It’s pretty good and Baen’s typography – often a weakness with their covers – isn’t too intrusive either. This cover was also on the recommendation by Twitter user Aristophanes.
Now taste in art is subjective. Some of the nominated covers are quite good and none are eye-searingly terrible. That said, I still find most of these choices baffling. Neither the books nor the artists are huge names and while the covers are perfectly competent and the artwork is mostly good, I wouldn’t call any of them outstanding. I suspect that the nominations in this category were spread over a large number of covers, because tastes are very individual, and so recommendation lists had more impact than elsewhere.
Diversity count: 5 men, 1 woman, at least 1 artist of colour, 1 international artist, 2 indie books
Best Comic Book or Graphic Novel
X-Men, Wolverine and Dawn of DC: Green Arrow are all mainstream superhero comics and not exactly surprising finalists, though apparently the Green Arrow mini-series only had three issues out by the nomination deadline. Also, have the X-Men comics improved? Cause last I heard they had moved away from everything that once made the X-Men interesting.
Night Fever by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is a noir/horror comic published by Image and a most worthy finalist. Kaya by Wes Craig, another Image offering, wasn’t on my radar at all, though it certainly look promising.
Finally, we have Dune: House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert, Kevin J Anderson and Michael Shelfer, which fills this year’s “something or other involving Dune” slot. Now it’s quite possible that the Dune graphic novels are actually good – there is one on the 2023 Hugo ballot as well – but I’m very much over Dune.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make comics.
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Camestros Felapton calls this “basically a list of big name SFF shows” and that’s exactly what it is. Nothing here is remotely surprising.
The Star Wars universe is represented by Andor and The Mandalorian, the Star Trek universe by Strange New Worlds and Picard. The Last of Us, The Sandman and House of the Dragon round out the ballot. House of the Dragon was actually on the Upstream Reviews recommendation list, but I’m pretty that the show would have made the ballot anyway.
It’s notable that no Marvel show made the ballot, but then both Ms. Marvel and Secret Invasion fall into two different eligibility and besides, no one seems to have liked Secret Invasion very much. The only Marvel TV show that’s fully eligible for the 2023 Dragon Awards is She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which the usual suspects hated, even though I personally found it delightful.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make TV shows.
Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
This is another category that’s full of popular, big name Hollywood movies with almost no surprises.
Everything Everywhere All At Once has already won every award in the whole multiverse and can now add a Dragon nomination to its accolades. Honestly, is this the most awarded movie in history? I also really want to see the Daniels’ awards cabinet, because it must be incredibly impressive.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse were the two most popular and critically acclaimed superhero movies in what was otherwise a lackluster year for superhero movies. I expect to see both movies on the Hugo ballot next year. Though I’m a bit surprised that Wakanda Forever didn’t make the ballot.
I’m really happy to see Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves on the ballot, because it’s such a fun fantasy adventure and finally a good Dungeons & Dragons movie. I also strongly expect to see this film on the Hugo ballot next year. It’s also a movie almost everybody seems to have liked, though it’s apparently considered a box office failure, largely because it was flattened by the Super Bros Movie which debuted a week later and inexplicably became one of the highest grossing movies of the year. And yes, a lot of families went to see Super Mario Bros, plus it drew in the nostalgia crowd, but I find its massive success still baffling, especially considering that other animated films aimed at the family audience like Strange Days or Elemental, both of which were almost certainly better than Super Mario Bros, underperformed.
I had sort of forgotten that Puss in Boots: The Last Wish existed, probably because it was released during the holiday period and I’m also not the target audience, but it’s apparently a good film. Apparently, both this film and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves were recommended by Upstream Reviews and Aristophanes, but again both movies would probably have been nominated anyway.
The ballot is rounded out by Avatar: The Way of Water. As I’ve already said in my Hugo commentary, I disliked the first Avatar and didn’t even bother to watch the sequel and think that James Cameron made exactly three and a half good movies, all of them more than thirty years ago. Besides, the critical and popular reception of Avatar: The Way of Water was lukewarm at best and no one seemed to like the movie very much and the various tie-in toys are currently hanging out on the clearance table at Smyths Toys. Therefore, I’m surprised to see Avatar: The Way of Water on the Hugo and Dragon ballot. Maybe people did like the film more than they said. Or maybe the nomination is due to the small devoted fanbase that original Avatar still has.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies.
Best Digital Game
The formerly four gaming categories have been consolidated into only two, best digital and best physical game, which makes sense IMO.
This category is full of popular and big name games that even I as a non-gamer have heard about. And yes, some of these games were on the Upstream Reviews and Aristophanes recommendation lists, but if there’s one game that didn’t need any help it’s Legends of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.
The only slight surprise is Hogwarts Legacy, which attracted a lot of controversy due to being based on the work of noted transphobe J.K. Rowling and because apparently there were technical issues with the actual game as well. However, a lot of people still cling to Harry Potter and his world.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make games.
Best Tabletop Game
Magic the Gathering has been nominated and I think won in the former collectible cardgame category of Dragon Awards since their inception and so it’s no surprise to see the Lord of the Rings expansion set nominated.
Dorfromantik: Das Brettspiel (Romantic Village: The Boardgame) has just won the coveted Spiel des Jahres award for 2023, which continues the trend of Spiel des Jahres winners subsequently making the Dragon ballot. Of course, Spiel des Jahres is the world’s biggest boardgame award, so it’s not surprising that Dragon nominators will look to Spiel des Jahres for recommendations – after all, everybody else does. The Spiel des Jahres winners usually pops up under German Christmas trees that year – I have several of the winners from the early 1980s.
However a) Dorfromantik doesn’t even have an English language release as far as I know, so I’m not sure how many Dragon nominators were familiar with the game, and b) the Spiel des Jahres winner was announced only one or two days before the Dragon nominations closed, so it’s a very tight time frame. Finally, Dorfromantik isn’t even remotely SFF – it’s a game about building a village and planting crops. Another finalist, Earth, is not SFF either. Here is an interview with Dorfromantik co-creator Lukas Zach, who’s a local boy done good.
No diversity count, too many people are needed to make games.
So all in all, this is a very good ballot and shows that the Dragon Awards continue to move towards what they were intended to be, a people’s choice type award that honours broadly popular works.
So far, reactions to the 2023 Dragon Award finalists are quite muted. There were some neutral “These are the finalists” posts of genre news sites. On Twitter, I saw a lot of happy finalists celebrating their nominations and little in the way of grumpiness. The official Baen Books Twitter account congratulated their finalists, but didn’t weigh in one the ballot otherwise.
Oddly enough, neither Upstream Reviews nor Aristophanes felt the need to comment on the relative success or lack thereof of their recommendation lists. The Upstream Reviewers appear to be on holiday and Aristophanes’ Twitter feed was full of US rightwing stuff, some of it outright offensive, but nothing whatsoever about the Dragon Awards. I guess he forgot all about them and moved on to being outraged that trans people exist, that Mexican immigrants exist, that Hunter Biden exists and is not on trial, that Donald Trump on trial, etc…
Only Larry Correia apparently cannot manage to get through a Dragon Awards season without having a freak-out, as Camestros Felapton reports here. Basically, Correia claims that someone – most likely Cam and File 770, since my post wasn’t up yet – accused him and Baen Books of issuing nomination slates and that Correia promoted himself. Except that no one said anything like this. Cam explicitly noted that Correia did not ask for a nomination for Tower of Silence and a publisher mentioning which of their titles are eligible for an award is standard business practice. The only thing that might be considered an actual slate was the Aristophanes list, since the Upstream Reviews list usually recommended more than one work per category. And the Dragon Awards explicitly encourage authors and publishers to ask their fans to vote for them.
Plus, none of the Baen finalists in the literary categories are huge surprises, since these are all popular authors with big fanbases. Even the two Baen finalists in the Best Cover category are not that much of a surprise, since both books are popular and actually the least obscure finalists in that category. Plus, Wraithbound has a very good cover.
If more reactions show up, I’ll add them to this post.
Comments are open for now, but I reserve the right to close them, if commenters behave badly.