…but I’ll write about it anyway.
There are a whole bunch of elements here and I thought I’d try and tease them out. I go on a bit.
Back to basics…
Firstly it is worth considering why anybody would bother with yet another book award. What ever their other motives may have been, it seems clear (although undocumented) that the Dragon Awards were inspired by the disenchantment with the Hugo Awards in some quarters, specifically around the Puppy Kerfuffle of 2015. While the exact motives for the Dragon Awards are unknown, some of the official statements about the awards reflect criticism aimed at the Hugos by Sad Puppies and others. (and that’s OK – the Dragons don’t get some sort of taint as a consequence).
Before I get into the specifics of those criticisms, I think it is worth considering that “not the Hugos (or Nebulas etc)” has been an unwritten mission statement for the Dragons. So it is worth considering what the Sad Puppies (ignore the Rabids and Vox Day for the time being) and a wider circle of people who have some sympathy for their cause might want a new SF/F award to be.
- An award for traditional, genre-conventional SF/F – a ‘nutty nugget’ award.
- An award for populist SF including tie-in novels and major pop-culture franchises, popular series, big sellers.
- An award for indies and self-published books free from influence of the big publishers that also provides a signal boost.
- An award were the broadest possible range of fans can participate.
- An award free from cliques.
- A prestiguous, notable award that helps market SF/F and boosts sales all round.
- An award for right-leaning or conservative writers.
- An award that is “politics free” i.e. an award where questions of diversity, identity, political leanings have little influence on the outcome. More specifically, an award where the “SJWs” have no influence and can’t gain any.
The last one is the most vague and the most troubling but it is where the broad commonality between the far-right and the far-but-not-as-far-right is forged. The Sads find common cause with the Rabids because Vox offers them a dream of making the left go away (yeah, it does the opposite but that’s a different question). This last notion is never coherently expressed but you find it as an underlying idea from Brian Niemeier’s recent Dragon meltdown to even more moderate voices who want a “politics free” award.
Of course, these notions of an award are not mutually compatible. There are pairings that can work together but many work against each other. There isn’t a way of having a level playing field between indy books and big-4 published books in terms of marketing. The populist award inevitably would be mainly non-indy. A ‘nutty-nugget’ award would only really work as a juried award as it would aim to circumscribe the style of work. The last one on the list in particular reflects a wish for the award to be a safe arena for one kind of fan.
With the collapse of the Sad Puppy campaign* many associated looked to the Dragon Awards and you can see elements of all of the above ideas in how the awards were described. A moments reflection would have helped people see that no award could do all of those things or even many of them. The point being the Dragon Awards can’t possibly satisfy all the expectations of postpuppyism**.
As things have turned out, the Dragons are claiming to be the big populist award, are mainly get nominations that are a rightwing-indy award, are an epitome of cliques and have found themselves to be even more political by trying to avoid being political.
How did they get into this mess? Partly by ignoring the disconnect between why the puppies disliked the Hugos and what the puppies said was structurally wrong about the Hugos. Specifically:
- The Hugos are membership based.
- There is a cost involved.
- There is only one novel category.
- There is no video game category.
- There are voting systems and rules
So the Dragons did the opposite:
- Any one can vote.
- There is no cost.
- There are multiple subgenre categories.
- There is a specific video game category.
- The voting is a simple tally.
The issue is that none of those approaches really get the Dragons to what they want. Just because anybody CAN vote doesn’t mean anybody WILL vote. No cost and no membership requirement makes stacking the vote trivial. The multiple categories are confusing for fans to know where to nominate things and encourage category shopping for vote campaigns.
The snarling hydrophobic canine in the room being a metaphorical elephant is, Vox Day. The Hugo Awards had a hard time because of his antics but the process was nearly self-limiting. The Dragons have none of the defences the Hugos had. Worse, Vox now has a buisness model that is overtly about trying to get the postpuppy community to buy Castalia House books *AND* a political strategy of stirring up controversy around SF communities as a quasi-Trotskyist recruitment-through-struggle tactic.
Vox’s inevitable and wholly foreseeable involvement allows him to co-opt the Dragon Awards and hence the Dragon Con name as a cheap marketing tool for both his publishing business and his propaganda. The side effect is the Dragon brand gets tainted by the toxicity of Vox’s brand – which is a good deal for Vox and a shitty deal for the Dragons. Mainstream authors aren’t going to want to be associated with anything Vox Day related OR open themselve up to the kind of manufactured rightwing trollish outrage we saw recently. Politics aside, Vox helps drive away the kind of talent that the Dragon Awards need on their list to maintain credibility and draw in voters.
Now because the Dragon Awards seem to have adopted the whole Puppy narrative they aren’t going to want to be seen to be anti-Vox because that was what the supposedly meany heads at the SFWA and Worldcon did. So not only have they set up a perfect environment for his antics, they can’t really even acknowledge the problem.
The best summation I can give is: ooops.
Stop digging and climb out
So friendly, unsolicited advice. Stop and reflect first.
- What kind of award do you want to be? (see my first list and thing of other possibilities)
- Which of those ‘not the Hugos’ elements do you really want and which support your intended purpose?
- What you going to do about Vox or future trolls/bad actors/griefers?
Those questions can really only be answered by the people behind the Dragons and they are interdependent. If they want the awards to be something other than Vox’s plaything then they need to take other steps. Intent alone won’t do anything nor will mission statements or principled language on their website.
However here are my suggestions.
What kind of award do you want to be?
The most obvious gap in the world of awards, that also answers a criticism of the Hugos that came from the Sad Puppies campaign is A POPULIST AWARD. It was this aspect that led to Brad Torgersen picking Jim Butcher and Kevin J Anderson for his Sad Puppy 3 slate. While their nominated books were a poor fit for the Hugos, the idea that these authors who shift substantial amounts of creditable SF/F deserve some acknolwedgement beyond their bank balance is a reasonable one.
That segues nicely to the other obvious thing about the Dragon Awards – there is no point to them unless they are actually something to do with Dragon Con. Currently the connection is unobvious, aside from the name and website. How do the awards reflect the con? They don’t. Worse, the arguments, debates and campaigns are still more closely associated with Worldcon than Dragon Con. By acting as the consolation prize for the losers of the Puppy Kerfuffle, the Dragons have defined themselves in terms of an argument unrelated to the convention they are named after.
The Dragon Awards should be an award that connects to the Dragon Con fans – or why bother at all. The TAIL SHOULD NOT WAG THE DRAGON.
Which of those ‘not the Hugos’ elements do you really want and which support your intended purpose?
Populist award? OK, then keep all those somewhat confusing sub-categories. They may need tweaking but if the Dragons have to have a thing, that can be their thing. It is easily the least worst problem with the awards and some positive outcomes to it.
Another easy one. Fix the eligibility period. Stick with a calendar year. The current one makes no sense and makes it hard to nominate stuff. Again, think like marketers! Do you want to make the product confusing and hard to use for consumers? No – SO MAKE IT SIMPLE!
Video games? Sure, why not. Again, not actually a structural problem. Maybe have some more categories. Likewise with tabletop games etc.
Simple count for a winner? Well you could have a kind of parliamentary system with constituencies using Single Transferrable Vote to nominate multiple works per consitutnecy plus knockout bracketed rounds to arrive at an eventual winner but…maybe not. Stick with a simple vote.
No, the big issue is WHO is eligible to nominate and vote. If the award is intended to connect with the Dragon Con membership then that really has to form the basis for eligibility. BUT you say you really want an open vote of everybody and you want it to be free? OK but in that case do the following:
- Have Dragon Con *attendees* nominate (i.e. attendees from the previous year and people who have bought tickets for the current year). This makes a LOT of sense. This way the long list is a way of showing what Dragon Con members are reading and loving. Heck, that’s smart market research for the con surely! Think that is too restrictive? Then make eligibility permanent for anyone who has ever bought an admission ticket. The voting base gets bigger incrementally.
- Have anybody vote on the final list. I mean, I’m not sure I’d do that myself but this a good way of comprimising with the universable eligibility idea.
Aside from anything else this is a good marketing strategy. The nominations then become a way of the brand interacting with its customer base outside of the actual convention. The voting becomes a way of interacting with POTENTIAL customers or people who will never attend because of geography but would like to interact with the brand.
What you going to do about Vox or future trolls/bad actors/griefers?
So, it’s a populist award, nominated by Dragon Con fans and voted on by everybody. Well done! It is already much harder for anybody to take over, vandalise or manipulate!
Now add some general rules to disuade PUBLISHERS from campaigning. OH, see what I did there? Yup it is a rule that foxes Vox a bit that you can also cast as a rule against whatever the Puppies think Tor et al are supposedly up to. Unlike the Hugo awards, it is easy for the Dragons to have strong, anonymous admins who can make decisions based on strong terms and conditions. Now that won’t prevent Castalia House books being nominated but it will take the heat out of some of the worst antics.
Would that be enough to stop any kind of shenanigans? No, becuase people will always find new ways of doing bad things. In particular there is still potential for vote stacking by nominees in the final vote – but with a risk of being banned as a consequence. However, it may be enough to help the award gain in reputation and avoid embarresment.
*[How collapsed is collapsed? Search “Sad Puppies 5” on Google and this very blog you are reading is the top hit (at least it was just now for me) – I’m the top Sad Puppy site now?
**[yes, that is a word now – fight me]