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.

Saying Good-bye to Jerry Pournelle

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Jerry Pournelle passed away in his sleep on 8 September 2017. Dr. Pournelle was a long-time fan and writer of science fiction. He won multiple awards for his writing, and served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1973. Wikipedia says he was noted as the first science fiction writer to publish a work typed on an electronic word processor. His most recent public appearance was as a presenter at the Dragon Awards last week-end in Atlanta.

Dr. Pournelle leaned to military SF and in recent years edited a series of anthologies published by Tor and Castalia House called There Will be War. As part of memorial activities, the first volume of this series will be free on Kindle for three days beginning on 10 Sep 2017. You can go here to download this from Amazon. You can also check in at Dr. Pournelle’s blog page here to leave a Well-Wishing message for his family and friends. RIP Jerry.

The Red Panda Faction

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It looks like there’s a new player in the 2018 Dragon Awards. A leftist group calling themselves the Red Panda Faction posted recommendations for voting during the last few hours before it closed. Here’s the description of their mission: “We are leftist fans of SF/fantasy/horror lit & film, gamers, & comic book nerds…who discuss & promote leftist, LGBTQ+, and feminist cultural works in SF/fantasy/horror.”

The Dragon Awards guidelines don’t discourage slates or campaigning, but it’s a little unusual for SFF justice warrior groups to clearly state their mission in political terms this way. Apparently there was a Facebook page, too, but when I tried to find it, it seemed to be down. Here’s the slate the Pandas posted:

Best Science Fiction Novel

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

Death’s End by Liu Cixin

Best Fantasy Novel

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter

Best Military Scifi/Fantasy novel

Allies & Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy

Best YA/Middle Grade Novel

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Best Alternate History Novel

The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Best Apocalyptic Novel

American War by Omar El Akkad

Best Horror Novel

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Best Comic Book

Monstress by Marjorie Liu

Best Graphic Novel

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris

Best SF/Fantasy TV Series

Stranger Things, Netflix

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Arrival by Denis Villeneuve

Best PC/Console game

Mass Effect: Andromeda by Bioware

Best SF/Fantasy Mobile Game

Monument Valley 2 by ustwo games

Best SF/Fantasy Board Game

Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games

Best SF/Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/RPG

Pulp Cthulhu by Chaosium

2017 Dragon Award Winners

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The Dragon Awards were presented at DragonCon in Atlanta this afternoon. Presenters included Jerry Pournelle, Kevin Anderson, Jim Vince, Larry Correia, Mercedes Misty Knight, Eric Flint, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Gil Gerard. Congratulations to all the winners!

Best Science Fiction Novel
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox

Best Alternate History Novel
Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove

Best Apocalyptic Novel
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

Best Horror Novel
The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Best Comic Book
The Dresden Files: Dog Men by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, Diego Galindo

Best Graphic Novel
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Wild Card by Jim Butcher, Carlos Gomez

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Stranger Things, Netflix

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
Pokemon GO by Niantic

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game

Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk by Avalon Hill

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
Magic the Gathering: Eldritch Moon by Wizards of the Coast

Review of Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli

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This book is a finalist in the Best SF Novel category of the 2017 Dragon Awards. It’s published by Tuscany Bay Publishing and runs about 325 pages.

Peter Childress and Charlie Womack are driving to an engineering conference in Phoenix where Peter is supposed to do a presentation. They get lost taking a backroad shortcut, and just as they’re about to run out of gas, they find the Infinity Hotel. It’s been a long, tiring day, so they’re happy to find a great place to spend the night. However, once they’re checked in, Peter starts to wonder about the hotel, which is seemingly infinite on the inside. The lobby is luxurious; the rooms are huge, and the entrance they came in seems to have disappeared. Not only that, but the guests seem to be dressed from different places and times. Charlie has located the casino, and Peter can’t seem to get him to focus on the problem. Instead, he finds an ally in the desk clerk Liz. Can the two of them figure out what’s going on? What will they do then?

This story is readable, old-fashioned, upbeat science fiction in the pulp style. It’s pretty much character driven, ending up light on the science part—on the hardness scale, it’s about on the level of the Star Trek series. Peter is the model of the nerdy engineer who finds adventure, along with a beautiful girl, and rises to the occasion when virtue, intelligence and a big heart are required.

On the con side, this requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. It uses standard SF memes like faster than light spaceflight, time travel, terra-forming, life-extension, etc., without delving into the science or adding any new insights. It has a utopian bent that’s very much counter to current trends, and I’d like to have seen some investigation of the consequences of godlike powers.

This is a good read for folks who enjoy positive stories, nerdy engineers and pretty girls. Interestingly, this is the second highly positive SF story I’ve read this year in connection with the awards–Chambers’s A Closed and Common Orbit read like this, too. I wonder if that means it’s a new direction in SFF taste.

Three and a half stars.

Update on the Dragon Awards Drama 2017

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On August 10, officials at the Dragon Awards reconsidered their policy of not letting authors withdraw their names from the competition, which resulted in Littlewood and Jemisin withdrawing. Scalzi, after consulting with the officials, decided to stay in the competition, but can’t attend because he’s booked somewhere else for Labor Day weekend. Interestingly, Littlewood and Jemisin both released statements that they were withdrawing because they didn’t want to be used as political pawns.

Littlewood’s position is easy to understand, as her novel The Hidden People was on Vox Day’s list of recommendations for the award. (Can you still call it a Rabid Puppy slate when he calls it recommendations?) Appalled at being targeted, Littlewood jumped to make it clear she didn’t want to be tainted by Rabid Puppy support. This pretty much mirrors similar behavior from authors in the last couple of years. But Jemisin’s statement is more interesting. “There’s a nasty tendency on the part of some organizations to try and use tokens,” she says on her blog, “— most often women and people of color — as ornamentation and flak shielding. It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey! Look! We’re diverse. We’re fair. [Person X’s presence] proves it!’ when in fact the fairness may be an unearned veneer and the diversity a reluctant afterthought.”

This suggests even Jemisin is noticing how often her name appears on awards ballots when plenty of other talented and deserving writers-of-color are out there. Evidently she suspected the Dragon Awards committee might have inserted her name, but it turned out to be fans after all (described as “justice warriors” by President of Dragon Con, Pat Henry). Whatever, these withdrawals reduce the gender diversity of the award even further, leaving the ballot at approximately 82% men.

In light of yesterday’s Hugo results where all the fiction awards went to women, there seems to be a growing split between male and female interests during the SFF awards cycle. Is there any chance this might improve in the near future?

Dragon Award Ballot

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I’m running a little behind on this, but here are the fiction finalists for the Dragon Award 2017, announced last week. Clearly this award runs on a different system than the usual SFF literary awards. For example, only Chambers, Liu and Jemisin also appear on the Hugo ballot, and only Jemisin appeared on the Nebula ballot.

Vox Day’s recommendations are marked in boldface. There’s already been a bit of a squabble, as Scalzi and Littlewood tried to withdraw but were refused by the awards committee.

Quick analysis: Gender diversity took a clear hit, with 46 of 58 being men (~80%). However, 5 of the works were co-authored by two men, which pushes up the count a little. Apparently 17 of 58 are racial minorities (~30%), and Hispanic/Portuguese/Native American scored much better here than on the Hugo or Nebula ballot with 7 of 58 (~10%). Apologies if I missed anyone.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL (1 woman, 7 men, 1 Asian)
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli
Rise by Brian Guthrie
Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier

BEST FANTASY NOVEL (INCLUDING PARANORMAL) (2 women, 6 men, 1 Asian, 1 Native American, 3 Hispanic/Portuguese, 1 Jewish)
A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Beast Master by Shayne Silvers
Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo
The Hearthstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta
Wings of Justice by Michael-Scott Earle

BEST YOUNG ADULT / MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL (3 women, 4 men)
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Firebrand by A.J. Hartley
It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett
Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan

BEST MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION OR FANTASY NOVEL (1 woman, 9 men, 2 Hispanic/Portuguese)
Allies and Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy
Caine’s Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey
Invasion: Resistance by J.F. Holmes
Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox
Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Starship Liberator by B.V. Larson and David Van Dyke
The Span of Empire by Eric Flint and David Carrico

BEST ALTERNATE HISTORY NOVEL (2 women, 6 men, 1 Asian)
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught by Eric Flint
A Change in Crime by D.R. Perry
Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli
Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler

BEST APOCALYPTIC NOVEL (1 woman, 7 men, 1 black, 1 Arab, 3 Jewish)
A Place Outside the Wild by Daniel Humphreys
American War by Omar El Akkad
Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz
Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
ZK: Falling by J.F. Holmes

BEST HORROR NOVEL (2 women, 7 men, 1 black, 1 Hispanic/Portuguese)
A God in the Shed by J.F. Dubeau
Blood of Invidia by Tom Tinney and Morgen Batten
Donn’s Hill by Caryn Larrinaga
Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn
Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells
The Bleak December by Kevin G. Summers
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

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