A Mixed Bag: Some Comments on the 2021 Dragon Award Winners

Dragon Con, a big media con in Atlanta, Georgia, is actually going ahead in person this year, though they require proof of vaccination and masks, much to the chagrin of the usual suspects. Therefore, the 2021 Dragon Awards had an actual in person ceremony, though most of the winners failed to show up, since a packed convention centre is not exactly the safest place to be during the current covid surge.

The full list of the 2021 Dragon Award winners may be found here. There were also a couple of other awards handed out at Dragon Con. And so the winners of the 2021 Eugie Award, the 2021 Mike Resnick Memorial Award for Short Fiction and the winners of the 2021 Julie Award and the 2021 Hank Reinhardt Fandom Award have been announced as well. All seem to be highly worthy.

The Dragon Awards have been chronicled at this blog since their inception in 2016. The Dragon Awards were conceived as an award for the sort of broadly popular works that tend to be overlooked by the Hugos or Nebulas. The Dragons also have categories for multiple subgenres as well as several gaming categories.

So much for the theory. In practice, the Dragons have a tangled history, because the Sad and Rabid Puppies and other far right SFF fans originally tried to claim the Dragons as their own. Then the big Kindle Unlimited content mills discovered the Dragons, so we saw a bunch of finalists from that corner. Finally, as the Dragon Awards became better known among the general Dragon Con membership and the wider SFF community, the ballot started to look more like the popular people’s choice type awards they were intended to be.

In fact, the finalists for the 2020 and 2021 Dragon Awards looked very much like a mainstream SFF award with hardly any of the WTF? finalists that characterised the first few years of the award.

So how do the winners of the 2021 Dragon Awards measure up? Let’s take a look at the individual categories:

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction Novel is Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Now I have to admit that Andy Weir’s brand of science fiction is not to my taste, though he is very popular and far from an unsurprising winner. My own vote was for A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine.

The 2021 Dragon Award for Best Fantasy Novel goes to Battle Ground by Jim Butcher, the latest novel in the Dresden Files series. This is an unsurprising win, because the Dresden Files series is hugely popular and there hadn’t been a new novel published in this series since Skin Game in 2014. Jim Butcher is also a Dragon Con regular and was one of the few winners who actually showed up in person to accept his award. Coincidentally, this was also my choice.

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel is A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. I’m a big fan of T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is a lovely novel, so I’m very happy that it won. This was also my choice in this category.

The 2021 Dragon Award for Best Military Science Fiction Novel goes Gun Runner by Larry Correia and John D. Brown. Now I’m very much not a fan of Larry Correia and find reading his fiction about as pleasant as a visit to the dentist, but he is very popular plus Baen Books has always had a strong presence at Dragon Con. My own vote was for Fleet Elements by Walter Jon Williams.

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel is 1637: No Peace Beyond The Line by Eric Flint and Charles Gannon. Now I have to admit that the popularity of the 1632 series baffles me. The basic idea is not bad, but the first book was so riddled with errors (and not errors introduced due to the jonbar point/Nexus event, but just plain old errors) that I abandoned it. Maybe subsequent books are better, though I’ve never gone back to find out. However, Eric Flint is another author with a strong fanbase at Dragon Con and was apparently also involved in the creation of the Dragon Awards. My own vote was for Charlaine Harris BTW, who’s exactly the sort of popular but overlooked by awards author the Dragons were made for.

The 2021 Dragon Award for Best Media Tie-in Novel goes to Firefly: Generations by Tim Lebbon. I’m happy for Tim Lebbon, one of whose original novels we featured at the Speculative Fiction Showcase. Though I’m surprised that Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy by Timothy Zahn didn’t take this one, but then the Thrawn character maybe isn’t as iconic for younger Star Wars fans as he is for those who read Heir to the Empire when it came out in 1992, ending a several year draught of new Star Wars content. Meanwhile, the MacGuyver people, who campaigned so hard to get a MacGuyver tie-in novel on the ballot, don’t have enough clout in the larger genre community to win. My own vote was for Penitent by Dan Abnett, by the way.

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel is The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher. This was something of a surprise, since The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones has won every other horror award there is this year (and well deserved, too).  However, it’s a pleasant surprise, because as I said above, I’m a big fan of T. Kingfisher a.k.a. Ursula Vernon, so this book was also my choice. Coincidentally, I think this is the first time that an author has won two Dragon Awards in the same year.

The 2021 Dragon Award for Best Comic Book is the current run of X-Men. This is hardly surprising, because X-Men is a popular mainstream superhero title and was Marvel’s bestselling title in the 1980s and 1990s, though it has fallen from those heights in recent years. My own vote was for Monstress.

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Graphic Novel is The Magicians: New Class by Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges and Pius Bak. This win surprised me a bit, probably because I never really connected to The Magicians. But both the novel series and particularly the TV series were very popular indeed. My own vote was for PULP by Ed Brubaker and Sean and Jacob Phillips, which pushed all my buttons.

The 2021 Dragon Award for Best TV Series goes to The Expanse, which I seem to recall has won in this category before. It’s also a very popular (and good) series, though I expected one of the two Marvel/Disney Plus series to win. My own vote was for WandaVision BTW.

The winner of the 2021 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie is The Old Guard. This is one win which makes me really, really happy, because I enjoyed The Old Guard a whole lot. I mean, how could I not enjoy an update on the Highlander concept (and I and my whole circle of friends were huge fans back in the day) with a badarse female lead and a sweet and deadly gay couple? And of course, this was also the film I voted for.

I can’t say much about the gaming categories, because I’m not a gamer. That said, I kept seeing ads for that Harry Potter mobile puzzle game on my phone for several months and they annoyed the hell out of me. But I guess Harry Potter is still popular, J.K. Rowling’s recent bad behavious notwithstanding.

All in all, the Dragon Awards increasingly look like the award for broadly popular works that they were intended to be. Not all the winners were my choice and there are a few I dislike intensely, but none of them were unlikely winners.

The Dragon Awards are still a lot whiter and a lot more male than the Hugos and Nebulas – and no woman not named T. Kingfisher won in the fiction categories – but then mass popular vote awards often tend male and white, because books by established and popular white male authors still get more promotion and attention.

So in short, the Dragons are on track to what they wanted to be in the first place. There are several very good winners, a few that are not to my taste, but none that are an embarrassment to the award.

So let’s see what 2022 brings!

ETA: Camestros Felapton weighs in on the 2021 Dragon Award winners and gets a sense of deja vu.

Doris V. Sutherland weighs in on the 2021 Dragon Award winners and notes that there are a lot of repeat winners.

ETA2: My fellow Best Fan Writer finalist Jason Sanford notes in his Genre Grapevine column that there were issues with the voting e-mails from the Dragon Awards arriving late or not at all. Meanwhile, I got the voting e-mail twice on different accounts. This is likely due to accidentally registering twice.

ETA3: Camestros Felapton notes that in a display of their usual competence, the official Dragon Awards website still hasn’t been updated with the 2021 winners five days after they were announced and neither has the Dragon Con press release archive.


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9 Responses to A Mixed Bag: Some Comments on the 2021 Dragon Award Winners

  1. Juan Sanmiguel says:

    Thrawn may not be unknown to the younger fans. He was a antogonist in the last 2 seasons of Star Wars: Rebels (takes place about 5 years before episode 4).

    This year the window to vote felt shorter. I do not understand why they kept it simple like other awards. Make it for the previous calendar year and get nominations early in the year.

    • Cora says:

      Come to think of it, Thrawn was also mentioned (though not seen) in The Mandalorian, so he’s definitely not an unknown. But then, two Star Wars novels were competing against each other and may well have split the Star Wars fan vote.

      Fixing the weird nomination period and a longer window between announcing the finalists and announcing the winners is one of the main things I would change about the Dragon Awards. This year, the voting period was less than a month. That leaves no chance to read most of the finalists, if you’re so inclined.

      In fact, I voted for Jim Butcher in Best Fantasy Novel by default, because I had read Battle Ground and kind of liked it (though the series has lost it’s luster a little). I don’t much care for Stross or Sanderson and while I like V.E. Schwab and Alix E. Harrow, I hadn’t read this particular book.

  2. StefanB says:

    I like Weir and Sanderson more than you so this as a disclimer.
    The book by Alix E. Harrow is good, I think a level up to last years Hugofinalist, so well worth giving a try.
    The X-Men run is interesting, it is definitly somethink that renewed interest in the francise.
    And it is funny that we had an award for Chris Claremont at the same night.
    At last my brother likes the Assassin’s Creed games and Vikings so he will be happy about it.
    I will just ignore military SF and than I am okay with the Dragons this year.

    • Cora says:

      I did enjoy The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but for some reason I never got around to reading The Once and Future Witches. I should probably move it up the TBH.

      I stopped reading US superhero comics fifteen years or so ago, when the X-Men were in the doldrums. However, I’ve been seeing more talk about them recently, so I’m glad to hear that the series has improved. And yes, it’s funny that Chris Claremont and the current X-Men creative team received an award not only at the same con and on the same night, but during the same ceremony, since Dragon Con hands out all awards in one go.

      I’ll have to ignore both military SF and alternate history, because the many errors in the 163X books set my teeth on edge.

  3. Lurkertype says:

    Thank you for sharing my irritation with the ads for that damn Harry Potter game. It’s just a Match 3 game like a million others; there was an earlier one where you actually learned spells and ran around Hogwarts, which had to have been better.

    My friends and I really liked the Highlander TV show back in the day. We even went to a con during its run. “Amanda” was very funny, and the biggest laugh was between panels
    when “Duncan” chased “Richie” around the dealer’s room with a fake katana. Not so funny a couple seasons later!

    On a few occasions, I feel better after a trip to the dentist, so that’s not a good comparison to reading Larry.

    • Cora says:

      I was honestly surprised to see that Harry Potter Match 3 game even nominated, because the ads (which were everywhere for a while) looked so very underwhelming.

      My friends and I were also big fans of the Highlander TV show and indeed it was considered something of a must-watch in my part of Germany, which is why I’m surprised that it is comparatively little remembered. I never got to go to a Highlander con, though.

      True, after a visit to the dentist the pain eventually goes away and you feel better. After reading Larry Correia, the pain lingers and I at least feel worse.

  4. Hyman Rosen says:

    You have a misnegation – “far from unsurprising” means “surprising”. That’s not what you meant to say about Weir.

    I don’t know the HP game, but I’ve been playing Magic the Gathering Puzzle Quest for some years, so I can confirm first hand that a gem matching game can have amazing depth given the proper supporting elements.

    Battle Ground suffers from the usual power creep of protagonists who have been in too many books. I was bored by it. It’s the equivalent of the CGI maelstroms that end every superhero movie these days. No matter how epic you try to make it look, it’s just a cartoon.

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