Monday, 22 June 2009

After-thoughts on the Gemmell Awards

Now the tiredness of attending the Gemmell Awards has faded away somewhat, it's interesting to reflect on what the first awards got right and what areas need improvement. The awards have generated some interesting commentary so far about what issues people think should be discussed.

First and foremost, the basic idea for the awards is very sound. The awards which are meant to incorporate all of speculative fiction, both SF and Fantasy, have tended to be very SF-centric, such as the Hugos, whilst there are many purely SF-focused awards (the Arthur C. Clarke, the Philip K. Dick etc). Fantasy is left with the World Fantasy Award and not a lot else. However, given that Fantasy outsells SF by a ratio of three-to-one in the UK, with a similar ratio apparently the case in the USA, it does seem odd that Fantasy hasn't got more awards of its own. So there was definitely a gap in the market for such an event.

However, at the same time there seems a slight fuzziness in the definition of the award. 'For works in the spirit of David Gemmell' is a bit lacking in substance, mainly as people will argue long and hard over what Gemmell's key defining points actually were (aside from 'badassery', as mentioned by one announcer at the awards). There's also the fact, rather under-reported during discussions of the award, that Gemmell himself wrote a variety of stories. As well as traditional heroic fantasy (Legend), he also wrote alternate history (the Macedonian duology), post-apocalyptic science fiction with fantasy underpinnings (the excellent Jon Shannow trilogy) and straight-up historical fiction (the Troy Trilogy), a diversity that was reflected more in the longlist (although that had its own issues, even bringing in some SF works) than in the shortlist. I think simply acknowledging the award is for Fantasy and making sure SF is ineligible is enough. Neither the Arthur C. Clarke nor the Philip K. Dick awards 'demand' that the winners are close to the patrons in style, and it seems silly to limit the Gemmell in that manner.

On the publicity front, the award initially generated a lot of online discussion, but it is interesting that this tailed off after the switch from a juried to an internet vote format, with the suggestion that since any author could now organise bloc-voting to get his book to win, its value was notably diminished. The fact that only 500 of the 10,000 votes came from the UK (allegedly) and that an author still mostly unknown in the UK and USA won will no doubt feed these conspiracy theories, although in this case it seems redundant. Sapkowski has outsold everyone on the list put together and his fanbase (which, thanks to his later historical novels, extends way beyond the traditional SF&F fanbase) is widespread enough to have gained him the win anyway. It will be interesting to see if next year - when Sapkowski doesn't have an eligible entry - the numbers drop off dramatically or not (although given that Robert Jordan could and very likely will be posthumously nominated for The Gathering Storm, probably not).

However, the lack of blog entries and forum discussions may also be down to the narrowness of the field. The SF award nominees are usually very different in character, writing style and can be very different sub-genres (a cyberpunk book can go up against an alternate history and a space opera, for example). Books that are ‘in the spirit of David Gemmell’ (assuming for argument's sake that currently means 'badass heroic fantasy things a bit like Legend,') are going to be, by definition, somewhat similar to one another, and I’ve seen the complaint that there’s not much to argue about between the nominated authors. You can certainly say you think Abercrombie is a better author than Weeks and Sanderson, for example, but in terms of general content and ideas, they are ploughing in the same field. I think broadening the definition more, as discussed earlier, could help generate more discussion of the nominees. However, I also expect discussion to grow simply as the award beds in and people get more used to it being around.

So the award has gotten off to a flying start and it'll be really interesting to see where it goes next. I think ensuring that no SF gets on the longlist at all will be a good start, and an argument could be made for more categories. Very interesting to see how it goes next year.


Longasc said...

Internet votes are so often skewed by zealous fans and whole fanclubs that it is not funny.

But you are right, it is great that there is one more promising fantasy award out there.

Anonymous said...

I love the whole idea behind the DGLA. I hope a way is found to keep it going and make it better each successive year.