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 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:
That which is not explicitly right-wing will be infiltrated and subverted by the left.
The only way to keep the Dragons neutral (never mind favourable towards us) is to consistently participate.
— Kit Sun Cheah (@thebencheah) August 12, 2020
That is a load of cancer. Looks like this won’t be the Baens this year.
— PulpArchivist (@ArchivistPulp) August 11, 2020
It’s Tor SOP to have the company vote in Hugos.
I guess it’s easier to get them to vote in the Dragons, since it’s free
— Finn, Declan Finn. Author (@DeclanFinnBooks) August 11, 2020
We are not reaching the audience. There must be some way we can all work together for a greater reach.
— L. Jagi Lamplighter (@lampwright4) August 12, 2020
Trying two new columns to try to branch out into slightly different audiences:
1) fandom and family–fun stuff, parents and kids stories, kind of focused at a wider audience than usual.
2) Evangelizing Fandom — a lot of people out there sinking without God. Let’s reach out.
— L. Jagi Lamplighter (@lampwright4) August 12, 2020
Wow, Sci Fi and Fantasy look like Hugo’s rehashed for the most part. No thanks.
— Bookwyrm 101???????????aka Fang McFrost (@Sandman_Slim101) August 11, 2020
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.
But I was told that the Dragons would save scifi awards from da es jay dubbyas!
— Cirsova: Mongoose and Meerkat Vol 1 Out on Amazon! (@cirsova) August 11, 2020
Ditto. Also, their definition for “Novel” is nearly twice the industry’s for length.
— Cirsova: Mongoose and Meerkat Vol 1 Out on Amazon! (@cirsova) August 12, 2020
Either we constantly show up where it matters or we cede ground to those would burn and salt everything we hold dear.
On the bright side, I should have a few entries of my own next year.
— Kit Sun Cheah (@thebencheah) August 12, 2020
Perhaps it’s just the tradpub marketing machine? If 100-200 indie titles, beloved by their readers, inspire 5-10 votes each; and 10 tradpub titles inspire 15-20 votes each, this would result even though indies in aggregate dominate the market.
— Justin M Tarquin (@JustinTarquin) August 11, 2020
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 Tor.com 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.