Wrap-up of the 2019 Dragon Reviews

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The Dragon Awards are pretty much impossible to review before the vote because of the short time between the announcement of the finalists and the end of the voting period. However, I don’t want to neglect them in any way, so this year I’ve gone on to review the 2019 fiction winners. For a look at the whole list of finalists, see my blog on it here.

First, here are the winners again:
Best SF Novel: A Star-Wheeled Sky, Brad R. Torgersen (Baen)
Best Fantasy Novel: House of Assassins, Larry Correia (Baen)
Best Young Adult Novel: Bloodwitch, Susan Dennard (Tor Teen)
Best Military SFF Novel: Uncompromising Honor by David Weber (Baen)
Best Alternate History Novel: Black Chamber by S.M. Stirling (Ace)
Best Horror Novel: Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (Crooked Lane)

As usual in my analysis, here the diversity count of the finalists:
Best SF Novel: 2 women, 5 men, 2 LGBTQ, 2 Jewish (Note: James S.A. Corey is 2 men)
Best Fantasy Novel: 3 women, 3 men, 1 LGBTQ, 2 Jewish, 1 Hispanic
Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel: 4 women, 3 men, 1 Jewish
Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: 2 women, 6 men, 1 Hispanic
Best Alternate History Novel: 2 women, 4 men, 2 Jewish
Best Horror Novel: 2 women, 5 men, 1 Jewish.

Apologies if I missed anybody or mixed anybody up; it’s sometimes hard to tell about diversity from online biographies. There are other names in the list that look Jewish, for example, but I couldn’t confirm. The gender issue is complicated by the number of cowriters among the finalists, all men, as it turns out. Comparing on the numbers, the gender count works out to be 15/41 (37%) women and on the books 15/37 (41%). The minority count includes 3/41 (7%) LGBTQ, 8/41 (20%) Jewish and 2/41 (5%) Hispanic. I know there’s an argument about whether European Spanish/Portuguese should be considered Hispanic—this category in the US generally counts Latino writers, who are typically mixed race—but I’ve just noted the names here as Hispanic, as I’m not sure how they identify.

So, the ~40% gender count on female-written books isn’t bad, considering that the categories separate SF and fantasy and include a military SF category that you’d expect might skew the results. The LGBTQ count turns out very low compared to say, the Hugo Awards, but it’s actually sitting fairly close to the 4.5% self-identified US demographic. Like most of the awards this year, the count for Jewish writers is much higher than their US demographic of 2%. Other than this, the diversity count really sucks. I’ve had to really stretch for the Hispanic names, as Corriea and Cordova are both likely of European extraction, and there aren’t any apparent black, Arab, Asian, Native American, trans or non-binary writers in this list at all. It’s clear that white writers were strongly preferred by the voting population, leaning to men, especially in the winners (4/6 or 67%). This isn’t unexpected for a popular award; the Hugos, for example, also leaned heavily (75%) to white winners this year, only to women instead of men.

Because of the way the categories are set up, there’s more diversity in the subject matter and type of work in this award than some others, with science fiction getting equal standing against fantasy, and military SF, alternate history, young adult and horror each getting their own categories. There was more diversity in publishers in the Dragons than in some other awards I’ve looked at, too. Tor had the highest count of finalists 5/37 (14%), with Orbit and Baen coming in next, both at 3/37 (8%). Two of the finalists were self-published (5%). On the other hand, all three of the Baen publications came in as winners.

I notice there’s been discussion online about the “legitimacy” of the Dragon Awards, questions about how they are administered and suggestions they’re a vehicle for the Sad/Rabid Puppies faction of the SFF community. Although Vox Day and the Rabid Pups made a good showing in the first year (and actually brought greater diversity), at this point I don’t see any indication this group has any real control of the awards. The award administrators encourage campaigning and voting by avid fan groups, so organization by particular groups to try and vote their candidate in isn’t against the rules. The results strongly suggest a different audience is voting on this than the Hugos, Nebulas and World Fantasy Award, but given the nature of the convention and the categories of fiction, I think that’s pretty much to be expected. The Dragon Award does seem to be suffering from the widespread tendency of the awards voting populations to nominate the same names every year. James S.A. Corey, Chris Kennedy, Mark Wandrey, David Weber, Kacey Ezell and S.M. Stirling were also finalists in 2018. James S.A. Corey, Becky Chambers, Larry Corriea and Mark Wandrey were also finalists in 2017.

As far as literary quality of the work goes, my reviews noted the same kind of wide variation I’ve seen in other awards systems. These novels are popular favorites, fairly straightforward, and only Little Darlings has the kind of strong subtext that I’d consider “literary” writing, though Black Chamber might be satire. The repetition of names from year to year suggests the voting population tends to vote for their favorite author, and maybe not for the particular book that’s up for an award. The short time between announcement of the finalists and the final vote likely encourages this, as there’s not really enough time to read and evaluate all the candidates.

Tribalism in the SFF community

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In 2015 Brad Torgersen wrote a an interesting piece about tribalism in the SFF community. According to Torgersen, much of what is taken for racism and sexism in the US is actually a form of cultural tribalism, where people from different cultural backgrounds distrust and disrespect one another because of their difference. He lists some fundamentally different groups as examples, including religious groups, regional groups, progressives and conservatives, and notes that even people who think they are the most open-minded often exhibit sharp limits, if not open hostility, which faced with opposing cultural viewpoints.

Torgersen goes on to discuss the current battle over the Hugos, noting that the organizers of WorldCon and the Hugo Awards are a very exclusive group of trufans who consider themselves the in-tribe of science fiction and fantasy. According to him, this explains the small size of the convention and the elitist title, which suggests its members represent all real SFF fans in the world. Torgersen’s explanation of the current situation is that the Sad Puppies represented a different tribal group which was seen as a threat to the convention culture by WorldCon insiders. Of course the situation deteriorated from there. This explanation makes me wonder what the small group of core WorldCon fans thought about opening up the membership to a broad swath of Internet “supporting memberships?” Doesn’t this dilute the trufan blood?

As a side note, Torgersen calls himself a perpetual out-tribe because of never fitting in anywhere. He may have written this blog in response to attacks on Twitter, where one poster called his African American wife and biracial child “racist shields.”

Has the Hugo Turned into an Affirmative Action Award?

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Another point that came up during the recent discussion at File 770 was how the Hugo Award winners are now regarded. There was commentary on this well before the 2016 awards cycle. For example, various bloggers have noted that the awards are increasingly dominated by women and minorities. In 2015 Brad Torgersen posted his  view of this trend, which is that the Hugos are being used as an “affirmative action award”. For anyone vague on what that means, affirmative action is defined as “an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination.” The fact that anyone sees it this way is another suggestion (see previous blog) that the award voting has become politically motivated. Of course, any reasonable exchange on the idea is impossible. As one poster at File 770 noted, it is “inherently racist” to discuss the results in this way.

This is not to suggest that the winning works are not deserving. The makeup of the SFF community has clearly changed over the more than a century that SFF has been recognized as a genre. This means that readers’ tastes have changed, as well. I tend to lean progressive, and I love the interesting and creative elements that diverse authors bring to the genre. I reviewed all the winners this year and pointed out deserving elements well before the awards were given (as well as undeserving ones). However, the political squabble tends to obscure the positives. For an idea of how the response to this year’s awards went, check this exchange on Twitter.

Because of the virulence of the politics, no one these days can be sure whether they’ve won a Hugo Award based on the quality of the works or because of the politics. It looks to be a damaging experience. The Twitter exchange is another example of Internet bullying of someone who had little to do with allocation of the awards. Regardless of the Hugo committee’s efforts, you have to admit the Puppies are now right about a taint in the awards system.

Note: Mike Glyer has asked me to note that discussions that take place at File 770 don’t necessarily represent his personal views.

More on how to separate bullying from activism

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55327_girl-writing_mdHere’s another article on bullying versus activism from the MacKenzie Institute, with no byline in this case. The author divides people into two categories, reformers and people who are comfortable with things as they are. S/he notes that sometimes these roles are identified with liberal and conservative views, but not always. The author also identifies situations that result in conflict about change. One is when it’s clear that some kind of change is necessary, but people disagree on ways and means. Another is in response to personal tragedy. Last is the division between activists and their “targets.”

According to the author, activists may or may not have praiseworthy goals. Activism becomes terrorism when the person is acting for personal gain and/or causes real harm to others. Terrorists tend to shop around for an ideology that permits them to engage in this kind of violence and then allow the ideology to shape their actions. The role of bullies in a social situation is to enforce conformity and defend the correct social order. They are generally people of low to middle status who expect this activity will raise their social standing in the group. For this reason, bullies tend to become the tool of dictatorial regimes. The author gives examples that include Nazi Germany, The Ku Klux Klan and the 19th century Temperance movement.

It’s fairly easy to fit some of the cases I’ve listed of author bullying into this model of how bullying works. When you accept that the role of bullies is enforcement, then it’s easy to understand that authors who get out of line somehow will be attacked. This suggests that there IS a reigning ideology in the speculative fiction field, although it may have come about without anyone realizing it was forming up. In the days where editors worked as gatekeepers, few stories or novels that challenged the reigning ideology would have slipped through. Not all editors are infallible, so Kate Breslin’s romance novel For Such a Time made it all the way to an awards nomination before being challenged as anti-Semitic. Given the recent attack on the Sad Puppy authors, they’re apparently seen as trespassing, too.

Men being bullied

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Edward LearSo, just as I was deciding that bullying of authors in the SFF community was something that happened mostly to women, an item hit the news about male authors being bullied. This came through a report on File770 which was picked up by Breitbart.

Apparently someone in Toronto approached independent bookstores to inform them about the alleged homophobic views of authors who were identified with the Sad Puppies movement. These included Larry Correia, John C. Wright, Brad Torgersen, Mike Williamson and others. The issue seems to be, however, that the Sad Puppies movement has not put forth any kind of platform that could be identified as an anti-LGBTQ agenda. None of these authors except John C. Wright seems to have made any statements about the LGBTQ community that could be considered questionable. So, either we have to believe someone made an assumption these authors will hold homophobic views because they have identified as being Sad Puppies, or this is another case of author bullying.

Of course, some people think there’s a war going on for the heart and soul of SFF. Maybe someone thinks they’ve done a good thing here.

The SFWA sexism scandal translates to the Puppy slate

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By April 2014, John C. Wright and Brad Torgersen had both resigned from the SFWA, citing the organization’s support of a “political agenda.” Larry Correia published comments to the effect that SF&F is currently in the grip of a “systematic campaign to slander anybody who doesn’t toe their line.” His response was to attempt to put together a Puppies’ slate for 2014 that featured “neglected” traditional authors.

Because of hard feelings left from the sexism scandal, this was not well-received. A more determined slate presented in 2015 was even less well-received. However, I can’t say the Puppies are wrong either about the political agendas advanced during the sexism scandal or the fact that many very talented authors are never considered for awards. Read through past blogs for a discussion of these points.

Their basic problem is now that the Puppies have set themselves up in an adversarial position to the main body of the SF&F community. Because of their responses to the sexism scandal, they are now pretty much outcasts. People are still hot about both the scandal and the Hugo kerfluffle, which means no one will really look at what the Puppies are saying. They are off the mark in a number of ways, but I think they have pointed out some real trouble in the SF genre.

Kneejerk nominations

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Apparent kneejerk nominations is one of the things the Sad/Rabid Puppy contingent was criticized for last year. I’ve already discussed this to some extent. The popular story is that Puppy management asked for works to put on their slate, but nobody in the group had any suggestions, so they all just nominated their friends. This is something of an uncharitable view of how it might have gone. I’ve already noted the difficulty of finding “traditional” SF that actually is SF and of suitable quality to submit for an award. I’ve also noted that the Puppies next step seemed to be picking well-known “traditional SF” authors and submitting their works on the slate. Unfortunately, this seemed to be without evaluating the SF content of the stories.

Do fans do this in the standard (un-slated) nominations as well? Are there certain authors who have a large enough and loyal enough fan base that their works are sure to get nominated? Previous wins certainly count for part of the tendency. I notice Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy is high up on the Nebula Awards’ suggested reading list, although I thought her latest novel was a definite fall-off in quality from the first two installments. I was actually offended by the direction this one took. Oh well, that’s what my opinion is worth.

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