The 2022 Dragon Award Finalists Look Really Good… With One Odd Exception

As always this time of year, when you’re way too busy with other things, the Dragon Awards decided to drop their 2022 ballot. I sometimes swear they do this on purpose.The Dragon Awards are a fan award given out by Dragon Con, a massive SFF media con in Atlanta, Georgia.

This is only the seventh year of the Dragon Awards, but they have gone through quite a bit of history since then, as recounted here by Camestros Felapton. You can also find my previous posts about the Dragon Awards and their tangled history here.

Anyway, the finalists for the 2022 Dragon Awards were announced today and the ballot looks really good with only a single WTF? finalist (more on that later) and a lot of popular and well regarded works on the ballot. This confirms a trend that we’ve seen in the past three years, namely that the Dragon Awards are steadily moving towards the award for widely popular SFF works that they were initially conceived to be, as the voter base broadens and more people become aware of the award, nominate and vote for their favourites. It’s a far cry from the early years of the Dragon Awards, where the finalists were dominated by Sad and Rabid Puppies, avid self-promoters and Kindle Unlimited content mills with a few broadly popular books mixed in.

So let’s take a look at the individual categories:

Best Science Fiction Novel

This category not only looks very good, it could easily be a Hugo or Nebula ballot. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi, Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi and Shards of Earth by Adrian Tchaikovsky all could (and well may) be on the Hugo or Nebula ballot. Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey probably wouldn’t make the Hugo or Nebula ballot, because later entries in long series rarely get nominated in the Best Novel category. But given how popular The Expanse series is, I’m not at all surprised to see it here. Finally, we have You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo, which makes me very happy, because it’s a great novel that deserves more recognition.

Diversity count: 5 men (James S.A. Corey is two people), 1 woman, 2 authors of colour, 1 international author

Best Fantasy Novel

This category also looks very good and none of the finalists would feel out of place on a Hugo or Nebula ballot. Indeed, the excellent Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki is a Hugo finalist this year (though personally, I would have put it in science fiction rather than fantasy) and the also excellent Green Bone Saga, of which Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee is the final instalment, is a Best Series Finalist. The first book in the series, Jade War, was also a Dragon Award finalist. Ursula Vernon a.k.a. T. Kingfisher is both a Hugo and Dragon favourite and I would not be surprised to see Nettle and Bone on the Hugo ballot next year. Besides, it’s a great book. Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James is one of those books that sit on the borderline between genre and literary fiction and Marlon James did win the Booker Prize in 2015. It’s also a fine fantasy novel and I’m glad to see it on the ballot. Daniel Abraham’s solo work tends to get less attention than his collaborative work as James S.A. Corey, so I’m happy to see him nominated for Age of Ash. I was a bit surprised to see Book of Night by Holly Black nominated in this category, not because Holly Black isn’t a fine and highly popular writer, but because she is best known as a YA writer. However, Book of Night is apparently aimed at adult readers and therefore absolutely appropriate here.

What’s a bit surprising in this category is the absence of Larry Correia, either alone or together with co-author Steve Diamond, since Correia is a Dragon Awards favourite and had at least two eligible books.

Diversity count: 2 men, 4 women, 3 writers of colour, 1 international writer

Best YA/Middle Grade Novel

This category not only looks like an Andre Norton or Lodestar Award ballot, it actually is half of the 2022 Lodestar ballot, because A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger, Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko and Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao are all Lodestar finalists this year and very fine choices they are, too. Nnedi Okorafor and V.E. Schwab are always worth reading and so I’m not surprised to see Akata Witch and Gallant on the ballot. A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell is the only Dragon finalist in this category that’s unknown to me, but then I am not much of a YA reader. Judging by the number of Goodreads and Amazon reviews, it’s definitely a popular book.

Diversity count: 5 women, 1 non-binary, 4 writers of colour

Best Military SFF Novel

Once again, this category looks most like the early years of the Dragon Awards with several indie books and Baen books on the ballot. But then, military SF is dominated by Baen and indie writers, so that’s no surprise. The Shattered Skies by John Birmingham also got quite a bit of attention among people who are not hardcore military SF readers and is probably the finalist I will end up voting for. Former countryman Marko Kloos is popular with Dragon Award nominators, so I’m not surprised to see his latest Citadel here. Resolute by Jack Campbell is a book in his popular Lost Fleet series. Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first Dragon nomination for Jack Campbell, which is surprising, considering how popular he is. A Call to Insurrection by David Weber, Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope is connected to Weber’s hugely popular Honor Harrington series. J.N. Chaney is a popular and prolific indie author. He is nominated for Backyard Starship along with co-author Terry Maggert. Against All Odds by Jeffery H. Haskell is the first book in a series published by indie small press Aethon Books.

Diversity count: 9 men

Best Alternate History Novel

This category is a big surprise this year, because it does not resemble the early years of the Dragon Awards at all. There is not a single indie author on the ballot, instead all finalists are popular traditionally published books. She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan is also a Hugo finalist this year and a fine choice. Charles Stross has been nominated in this category for the Dragon Awards before and of course also has multiple Hugo nominations and even wins. Invisible Sun is the third book in his Empire Games alternate history series. When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill got quite a bit of buzz, though I wasn’t aware it was alternate history. The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley by Mercedes Lackey passed me by completely, though I usually like her work and Mercedes Lackey is of course a hugely popular writer. I’m a bit surprised to see no nomination for the late Eric Flint, though a book in the 1632 series he originated, 1637: Dr. Gribbleflotz and the Soul of Stoner by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright, is nominated. Apparently, Rick Boatright died last year, so it’s nice that he get s posthumous nod for his work.

Which brings me to this year’s WTF? finalist, namely The King’s Daughter by Vonda N. McIntyre. Not that The King’s Daughter is a bad book, in fact it’s excellent. But it also isn’t eligible. Now Vonda N. McIntyre died in 2019. Posthumous award nominations are a thing, of course, but The King’s Daughter is not a new novel, but was published in 1997, i.e. 25 years ago, and even won the Nebula Award under the title The Moon and the Sun. A movie based on the book was released earlier this year after many years in development hell and on the shelf. As a result, The Moon and the Sun was re-released as The King’s Daughter, but it’s still the same novel that won the Nebula in 1997. Honestly, does no one at the Dragon Awards check this stuff?

Diversity count: 3 men, 4 women, 1 author of colour, 2 international writers, 2 deceased writers

Best Media Tie-in Novel

There are no surprises in this category. We have two Star Wars tie-in novels written by fan favourites Timothy Zahn and Claudia Gray, two Star Trek tie-in novels by David Mack and John Jackson Miller and a Halo tie-in novel by Troy Denning.

Diversity count: 4 men, 1 woman

Best Horror Novel

This is another really good ballot full of fine and popular horror novels. Stephen Graham Jones is probably the best horror author currently writing. He is nominated for My Heart Is a Chainsaw. Grady Hendrix is not just a great horror historian, but also a very good horror writer and is nominated for The Final Girl Support Group.  Chuck Wendig is another Dragon Award favourite and is nominated for The Book of Accidents. Daryl Gregory is a frequent presence on Hugo and Nebula ballots. I haven’t heard of his Dragon finalist Revelatory before, but it sounds like something I should like. I enjoyed Caitlin Starling’s 2019 SF horror novel The Luminous Dead a whole lot. Her Dragon finalist The Death of Jane Lawrence is billed as gothic horror and should be right up my alley. Hide by Kiersten White got a lot of buzz, when it came out earlier this year and I’m not surprised to see it on the ballot.

Diversity count: 4 men, 2 women, 1 writer of colour

Best Comic Book

This is another very good ballot. We’ve got three mainstream superhero comics in Immortal X-Men, Nightwing and Devil’s Reign, a Marvel mini-series about Wilson Fisk a.k.a. Kingpin becoming mayor of New York City. Marvel is also represented by their (very good) King Conan comic, which I’m very happy to see here. Step by Bloody Step and Twig are two newish SFF comics by Image that I hadn’t heard of before, but that sound really good.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make comics.

Best Graphic Novel

This is another mix of old and new favourites. Both Monstress and Saga are perennial Hugo and Dragon favourites and also excellent comics. Though I’m surprised that Saga is nominated in Graphic Novel rather than Comic Book, because Saga was on an extended hiatus and only started up again recently and the next collection won’t be out until October. There’s also a Wonder Woman and a Dune graphic novel. Geiger is a post-apocalyptic graphic novel by Geoff Jones and Gary Frank, who was one of my favourite artists, back when I was still reading comics. Bitter Root is an Eisner Award winning series about a family of monster hunters in Harlem.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make graphic novels.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series

We have a whole lot of very popular series here. The Expanse and Stranger Things are long-time favourites and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the best of the three live action Star Trek series currently running. I have zero interest in either For All Mankind or Wheel of Time, but both are popular, both were Hugo finalists and Wheel of Time is based on a very popular novel series, too. The Boys is another popular and well regarded series. The only finalist in this category that surprises me a bit is Halo, for even though the TV show was based on a series of extremely popular videogames, neither fans of the games nor regular viewers seem to have liked it very much. I’m a bit surprised to see neither Moon Knight nor Ms. Marvel nor Obi-Wan Kenobi on the ballot, considering how perennially popular Marvel and Star Wars are.

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make TV series.

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Film

This category is a mix of expected and somewhat unexpected favourites. Marvel is represented by Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, its two most fan servicy films of recent times. The also eligible Marvel movies Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings did not make the ballot. In the case of Eternals, this isn’t surprising, because Eternals was as close to a dud as Marvel can get (though it’s getting a sequel), but Shang-Chi was generally popular and IMO better than either No Way Home or Multiverse of Madness. Dune is pretty much a no-brainer, because a) it’s Dune and b) it’s actually a good adaptation. Ghostbusters: Afterlife surprises me a little, because not even the fanboys who hated the 2016 Ghostbusters (which at least tried to do something new and was a lot of fun) seem to have liked this one very much and everybody else felt it was overly nostalgic and fan servicy. Free Guy was a lot of fun and I’m glad to see it nominated. And while I had heard of The Adam Project, I had to look up what it even was about (time travel), because it largely passed under my radar. Interestingly, both Free Guy and The Adam Project share the same director (Shawn Levy) and star (Ryan Reynolds), so are we maybe seeing the impact of eager Ryan Reynolds or Shawn Levy fans here?

No diversity count, too many people are needed to make movies.

The Gaming Categories

I’m still not a gamer, so all I can say is that I have heard of some of those games, so they must be popular. And something called Thirsty Sword Lesbians must be good based on the title alone. Apparently, two of the boardgames are not SFF, but then that’s nothing new for the boardgame category at the Dragons. One year, a (very good) game about tile-making won.

All in all, this is a very good ballot and shows that by now the Dragon Awards have gone beyond their initial niche of puppies and indie writers. Coincidentally, the Dragon Award ballot also proves that the Hugos and Nebulas are not in fact out of step with the tastes of “real fans(TM)”, because the same books and authors get nominated for the Hugos, Nebulas and Dragons these days, even if the Dragons tend to have more male finalists than the other two awards. Also, I find it amusing that authors like John Scalzi, Cat Rambo or Chuck Wendig, who are vehemently disliked by the Puppies, are all on the ballot as are a lot of women and writers of colour.

Of course, it would still help if the Dragon Awards administrators would at least do a cursory check to avoid things like a 25-year-old novel being nominated due to a re-edition. Nonetheless, the Dragons seem to have reached full mainstream respectability by now and are another addition to the spectrum of SFF Awards with a few unique quirks such as their odd category breakdown and eligibility period.

But of course the question is: How do the Puppies react to a Dragon Award ballot they’re pretty much guaranteed to hate? Oddly enough, the reactions in Puppyland are fairly muted. Everybody seems to be way too upset about the FBI searching Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate to worry about the Dragons. Even Declan Finn is oddly silent.

Below, you’ll find a few puppy-adjacent reactions I found:

So in short, it’s the usual “I have never heard of any of these books” along with the also usual “We hates John Scalzi” stuff.

For more Dragon Awards discussion, see also Camestros Felapton’s post.

ETA: Camestros Felapton has also analysed the gender breakdown of Dragon Award finalists and winners (short version: The Dragons still skew male, though less than they used to) and traces how the Dragon Awards went mainstream.

ETA 2: File 770 compiles the number of Goodreads ratings for each Dragon Award finalist in the novel categories and confirms that these are broadly popular books.

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5 Responses to The 2022 Dragon Award Finalists Look Really Good… With One Odd Exception

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  3. Peer Sylvester says:

    I watched The Adam Project and its fine Popcorn-time-travel-fair. I would like to write more, but honestly Ive forgotten most of it already. Its like Red Notice I think: Perfectly watchable, but nothing that sticks (even if I like the main actors), and pretty predictable after the premise (which is spoiled in the trailer)

    • Cora says:

      It struck me as exactly that. A movie with good actors that is completely forgettable. I know that I must have seen the trailer and reviews, because I linked them in the Speculative Fiction Showcase link round-up, but I couldn’t have told you a thing about the movie and briefly had it mixed up with another of those forgettable popcorn SF films starring Chris Pratt.

  4. The Phantom says:

    “So in short, it’s the usual “I have never heard of any of these books” along with the also usual “We hates John Scalzi” stuff.”

    DragonCon suddenly having their award nominations taken directly from the Nebula longlist after years of zero crossover between Dragon and Nebula nominations is…interesting. Personally I voted in one category, I’ve never heard of (or actively deplore eg. John Scalzi/Cat Rambo) the rest of the nominations. They are things I would never read voluntarily.

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but several Big Media Companies are cancelling stuff and firing people this month. Their accountants are telling them they are missing the audience.

    I strongly think the same is true of SF publishing and the awards generally, seemingly now including the Dragons. They seem to have worse accountants than Netflix and Warner though. No doubt they will catch on eventually.

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