Saturday, February 21, 2015

I am propped up in terror, thinking about prizes

There are three short stories nominated for the BSFA this year:
Ruth E J Booth for "The Honey Trap," published in La Femme, Newcon Press
Octavia Cade for "The Mussel Eater,"  published by The Book Smugglers
Benjanun Sriduangkaew for "Scale Bright," published by Immersion Press
I guess that's why they call 'em shortlists. Then again, the novel category has eight nominations (because of a tie for fifth place), so I kind of wonder how it happened. Why have only three stories made it onto the shortlist?

Either short fiction had a big tie for fourth place, which would have produced a hugely unwieldy list, so the BSFA went with a list of three rather than a list of fifty squillion, or (and I guess this is more likely?) only three stories managed to get up to the minimum of three nominations.

In a way that's not too surprising, given just how much short fiction is out there -- the nominations are going to be scattered pretty thinly. If so, it could suggest two things:

(1) I think this is the first year BSFA nominations have been restricted to four per member? Maybe if it had been, like, six nominations, then one or two more stories would have snuck onto the list (and perhaps the fifth-place tie for novel would also have been broken). That's assuming we think five is a good-ish size for a shortlist, and are kind of aiming for that size.

(2) It's perhaps an argument for authors who have published a lot in a particular year to go ahead and say which story they think is best to mitigate nominations-splitting. This may of course rub some readers up the wrong way ("how dare you tell me what to vote for!"). Those wrong-way-rubbed-up readers probably have a point, and they are free to punish any annoyingly bossy author by taking their nominations elsewhere. But if you're anything like me, you would probably prefer to see the author of your favourite story get nominated, even if it's for a different story, than for prolific and consistently good authors to receive split nominations and not even make the shortlist. (Lots of readers chatting about what they like could also do the job). Yoon Ha Lee wrote ten stories last year.

I could be completely wrong and confused about all of that.


I'm pretty interested in these prizes at the moment. I didn't used to be, and I don't know how long it will last. One thing which is quite striking is that the mechanisms for pinning rosettes on speculative fiction are so un-speculative themselves. Fandom could administer these prizes in any weird way we choose. There could at least be weird categories: most prophetic use of existing tech, most deniably fascist, best social justice war song, reflexive award for most contempt for receipt of this award. Hmm: go on, you think of some. Or there could be liquid democracy. Or there could be #nanowrimo-style tie-breakers, or Gladiators stuff.

If you are at all interested in avant-garde politics of any kind, you perk up whenever you spot a space where something new might be tested out, however heavily booked up that space is.

Here's another great idea: what if we all agreed to forego genre prizes for a year? No Nebula, no Hugo, no BSFA, no Kitschies, no World Fantasy Award, no Clarke, and maybe no Booker and no James Tait Black either, nope, nope, nope. Let's give some folks who probably deserve a rest a rest. Let's detox and see how it feels.

OK, maybe that's unfair to the authors who've worked hard on something snazzy, which happens to be coming out in the Year of No Prizes. But that's pretty easily solved: just let them be eligible in the following year (or perhaps shoogle things around, so that you have three or four slightly larger pools battling it out over three or four years, rather than one vast pool following the Year of No Prizes).

Why? The only way I can ever imagine it happening would be some kind of superviral campaign, filled with Big Name Authors, to donate all the prize money toward setting fandom's house in order in some way, or perhaps to some pressing cause. But that wouldn't be the real reason, for me. I'd just like to see what would happen.


Seriously was it just me and Ian Sales who nominated Tim Maughan's "Four Days of Christmas"? I feel like Ian Sales is stuck in a lift with me, and we are both wearing those elf hats.

The non-fiction complements to Tim Maghaun's story are worth reading. "Yiwu: the Chinese city where Christmas is made and sold." "The invisible network that keeps the world running."


Cecily Kane's blog post "The Drama Around" seems to me to contain some very smart, clear and constructive thinking about identity politics in short fiction. It opens up questions about tensions among the diverse hopes and aspirations of diverse fiction, particularly in the context of prizes.


Who called it the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer rather than the Noobula?

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