A wise policy update for the Dragon Awards

Only just noticed this. It’s not a change in the rules as far as I can see because it is a policy regarding possible finalists whereas the ‘rules’ are terms and conditions for voters. However, it is a change in the FAQ for candidates.

The second to last clause in the old FAQ stated:

Is it okay to push my fans to vote for me?
Yes, the Dragon Awards are a fan choice, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to encourage your fans to vote for you.

https://web.archive.org/web/20181017150210/https://awards.dragoncon.org/faq/candidate-faq/

That has been amended and now states:

Is it okay to push my fans to vote for me?
Yes, the Dragon Awards are a fan choice, and it is perfectly acceptable for you to encourage your fans to vote for you. However, please do not offer anything of value as “encouragement.”

https://web.archive.org/web/20191019015925/https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/faq/candidate-faq/

I’m not aware of any body trying to induce people to vote for them by offering something. I assume it is just a precautionary piece of advice. Not sure what happens if some one did offer inducements.

Dragon Awards 2020

The mercurial Dragon Award website has been updated (at some point) and now announces that “Nominations will soon open for the 2020 Dragon Awards!” [archive link] This should be unremarkable because the nomination phase is supposed to open in November each year but for the 2018/19 period the nomination process was a bit broken [see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2018/12/13/dragon-award-nominations-are-open-sort-of/ ] This year the ‘rules’ appear to have already been updated [archive link]

Speaking of nominations, I had forgotten this quite direct statement about the nomination process when the whole thing began:

File 770 April 15 2016
“Dave Cody, Senior Director and Co-Chairman of Dragon Con answered —
We’re going to employ various tools to combat ballot box stuffing when the actual voting starts.
Also, for nominations, it won’t be possible to slate or overload the nominations for each category. We’re going to use experts in the various disciplines to create the final nomination lists after examining all the nominations.”

http://file770.com/dragon-awards-updates/

I hadn’t remembered that Dave Cody had been this direct and open about how the nomination process works — mainly because since then explanations have been at best vague.

PR material has used the phrase “The best and most popular of the nominated properties were elevated to the ballot.” However, the rules have always said (and still say) “The most popular Entries, as determined by number of nomination submissions during the Nomination Period, will be featured on the Website…” [my emphasis] I guess this can be true so long as the nominee with the most votes always gets shortlisted. The rule doesn’t say how many of the ‘most popular’ are listed nor does it say only the most popular are listed.

A bit more on Dragons and probabilities etc

I had some weird conversations yesterday about Dragon Award stats. One was a brilliant take down of my figure that 10 men out of 10 had won Dragon Awards from 2016 in the two headline categories. Aha! Four years and two categories is only EIGHT! Yeah but it really is ten men. James S A Corey is actually two people and, even harder to believe, apparently John Ringo and Larry Correia are different. Mind you…if I only count Larry Correia once (because he is the same person whichever year he’s in) then it is back to 8 again…You’ll note that however we count it the answer comes out the same: 100% have gone to men in the two headline categories.

The discussion does raise a relevant point about why statistics is hard. Even a basic stat like a count of how many out of how many requires engaging your brain and thinking carefully about what you are counting. It was suggested that I should have said 10 men out of 8 awards…which I guess makes it clearer what was being counted but is horrible arithmetically. It looks like “10 out of 8” i.e. 125% which is nonsense because we are diving two different things and creating a derived unit of men per awards.

I’ll point people back to this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/08/10/dragon-award-by-gender/ and this post https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/08/11/more-dragon-stats/ where I talked in more detail about what I counted and how.

To round off that previous gender post here is an equivalent graph of winners by gender in the book category:

Like the graph in the previous post of finalists, I’m using counts by gender which reduces the gender disparity by only counting two joint authors of the same gender as 1 but two joint authors of different genders as 1 each per gender. Same caveats about gender as a binary classification apply as with the earlier post.

Worst year was 2017 which was also peak Rabid Puppy influence.

A couple of conceptual questions have come up that are related. I was asked elsewhere what the chance was of so many authors on Brad’s list winning. A different question with the same kind of issue was asked by James Pyles – basically what was the chance of N.K.Jemisin winning a Hugo three times in a row.

Both questions aren’t something that can easily be answered and they sort of miss the point of the kind of comparisons against chance you might do with gender. With the Brad list these were people who were plausible winners, the outcome wasn’t surprising. There’s no expectation that the result of an award is a random event when looking at individuals – the same is true with Jemisin. We could say, well there’s 7 billion people on earth and one winner so the chance is 1/7 billion and the chance of winning three times is (1/7 billion)^3 and then concluding that everything is impossible but the comparison is silly.

Comparing with chance is there to test a kind of hypothesis: specifically whether the result is plausibly the result of chance. If the probability is tiny then we can reject that it happened by chance. We already know that somebody winning a Dragon or a Hugo isn’t by chance because names aren’t picked out of a hat.

So why compare gender of winners to chance events if we know winning isn’t a chance event? Good question. Because, we are testing another level of hypothesis. With gender, the hypothesis could be stated as ‘gender is an irrelevant variable with regard to winning award X’.

Consider this. Imagine if all Dragon (or Hugo) winners were born on a Tuesday. That would be remarkable. Day of the week surely isn’t connected to whether you win an award or not! We might reasonably expect only one-seventh of winners to be born on a Tuesday. We might do extra research to see if across all people if day-of-the-week is evenly distributed. We might fine tune that further and consider only English speakers or only Americans etc. The point being that if day-of-the-week departed from chance then we would reject that day-of-the-week is irrelevant.

If we did find that, it wouldn’t tell us why or how day-of-the-week was relevant. One response I’ve seen to producing gender stats is people saying that they don’t pay attention to author’s gender when voting. Even if we ignore subconscious influences and take that at face value, all that does is remove one possible cause of a gender disparity, it doesn’t make the gender disparity go away.

Another response is that looking at gender stats is ‘politics’. Well, yes, it is but it is relevant even if we otherwise lived in a gender neutral utopia. Again, imagine if Tuesday-born people won far more sci-fi awards than other people — that would be fascinating even though we don’t live in a world of Tuesday-privilege.

Review: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley

One way of looking at the ‘giants’ of science fiction is to see them as people who helped map out the conceptual space of the genre. The impact of past writers is often so much greater because we can associate easily types of stories with the prototypes that they created. That is not to suggest that modern writers are unoriginal, just that the broad spaces already have names attached to them. Nor is it that those ‘giants’ where even necessarily the first writers to map out the space, often they loom large in our minds because they were authors we encountered when we were younger or authors that our favourite writers cite as influences.

For me as a youthful reader it was Le Guin and Philip K Dick. Le Guin’s apparently uncanny ability to have written books that appealed to me at different ages still amazes me. P.K.Dick was more a case of a weird happenstance but I’ll tell that story another time. Learning later in life that they both attended the same school at the same time but didn’t know each other, still feels like one of those cosmic coincidences that must be loaded with some deeper significance.

Robert Heinlein I read mainly because I started reading science fiction more broadly and was intentionally looking for ‘classics’ of the genre. Stranger in a Strange Land was OK and I tried some others but I didn’t warm to them. Later, delving into the online world I was surprised to see that for many people Heinlein was THE ONE, the singular biggest shaper of how they engaged with science fiction. Partly that was encountering online American libertarians for the first time many of whom had a deep love for The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was surprised they didn’t have more love for P.K.Dick though, whose work is permeated at every level with a deep distrust of authority.

Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is just one point in the complex politics of his overall work. You can’t assess his politics on one novel, particularly given the length of his career and the complex dialogue of ideas between his books. You can see his works as being politically contradictory but at the same time those multiple strands and tensions reflect many of the same strands and contradictions within broader centre-right and libertarian politics within America. Stranger, Moon, Trooper work almost as a kind of astrological sign for strands of ideas about post-War liberty in the USA. P.K.Dick’s stories are more mercurial in plot but the question of liberty within them is much more singular: they are out to get you and they probably already have got you.

Starship Troopers maps out a template for war stories. War stories were not new obviously but Troopers helps codify a kind of war story but in a science fiction context. The arc goes from recruitment , to basic training, to career and it is one that has played out in non-science fiction stories before and many science fiction stories since. As a structure it provides ways for writers to innovate in other ways. Joe Haldeman’s Forever War in particular follows many of the same story beats but for a quite different impact.

What if though, Philip K Dick had written Starship Troopers? Or rather what if Heinlein had started writing it and after making a start Dick had taken over?

Kameron Hurley’s Light Brigade certainly starts as if it is an answer to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. There are multiple points including the nature of citizenship in the future Earth she sets out. Of course, the obvious inequities of the corporate society she describes suggest that the book will be more like Haldeman’s own war epic — it’s own story but also an answer to and a critique of Heinlein’s.

Dietz is a young woman* who enlists in the aftermath of a massive atrocity against Earth by ‘aliens’. The ‘aliens’ are breakaway Martian colonists who have become so seperated from Earth that their appearance and culture is utterly different. Dietz will also gain citizenship by enrolling which will help move on from the lower class ‘resident’ status of her family. The story follows her on basic training where we meet other members of her squad with whom she bonds in the face of the brutal reality of learning to be soldiers.

The massive tactical advantage the Earth corporations have over the Martians is access to a form of teleport technology. Soldiers are changed at a quantum level so that they de-corporealise into light and then re-corporealise onto a battlefield. This process is not without danger though, sometimes soldiers have a ‘bad jump’, other times they corporealise into ground or parts of buildings killing them horribly. War is hell but it is for a just cause…which as astute readers we naturally doubt. Even so, the arc of this story is set as it leads up to Dietz’s first jump.

But this is not a story in a dialogue with Heinlein and the arc is far from set. This is a conversation with Dick and Vonnegut and Le Guin. None of what Hurley establishes at the start can be trusted as Dietz discovers as soon as she makes (or doesn’t make) her first drop.

Dietz’s life becomes its own battlefield: disorientating, punctuated by violence and sudden moments of stillness. Dietz is the archetypal lost soldier looking for their platoon amidst a world blasted out of recognition. In Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim’s solution to his predicament caused by (and reflected by) war is an extreme fatalism in the face of his extraordinary situation. Hurley’s story takes a different direction. Dietz may be lost but the story shows us how she can eventually take control and set her own destiny.

It is a far more optimistic book than the broader dystopian setting suggests. Yes, it is set on an Earth ravaged by disaster and controlled by dysfunctional corporations fighting a brutal and often pointless war but amid that Dietz finds good people and in the end a clear purpose.

Time, will and identity fight each other throughout as Dietz searches for answers about herself, her friends and the war she is trapped in. This is a story that puts it central character through appalling situations but gives the same character a powerful voice.

Easily the best book I’ve read this year.

*[I think – late in the book we found out her first name is Geena. I listened to the audiobook version and so just assumed she was a woman but I’m not sure the story actually identifies her gender]

Dragon Award Winners

Red Panda Fraction has been live tweeting the results:

A summary – looks like no surprises or big upsets

  • A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad R. Torgersen wins Best SF novel.
  • House of Assassins by Larry Correia wins Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal),
  • Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard wins Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel.
  • Uncompromising Honor by David Weber wins Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel.
  • Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn wins Best Media Tie-In Novel.
  • Little Darlings by Melanie Golding wins Best Horror Novel.
  • Black Chamber by S.M. Stirling wins Best Alternate History Novel.
  • Avengers: Endgame by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo wins Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie.
  • Good Omens, Amazon Prime wins Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series.
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples wins Best Comic Book.
  • X-Men: Grand Design – Second Genesis by Ed Piskor wins Best Graphic Novel.
  • Harry Potter: Wizards Unite by Niantic, WB Games San Francisco wins Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game.
  • Betrayal Legacy by Avalon Hill Gameswins Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep Slipcase Set by Chaosium Inc. wins Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game.

Quick analysis:

  • Brad Puppies: 5 wins out of 10 (but multiple finalists in some categories)
  • Baen books: 3 wins out of 3
  • Chris Kennedy books: 0 wins out of 4
  • Tor books: 1 out of 5
  • Gender: Of 10 named winners (including co-authors etc) in books & comics 7 are men and 3 are women.
  • Of the two headline categories of Best SF and Best Fantasy for the Dragon Awards there have now been 10 winning authors (including two co-author pairs), all have been men.

Just for fun, some Dragon Award predictions

Time zone wise, voting hasn’t quite closed in the Dragon Awards. I believe the ceremony is 5:30 pm Sunday 1 September, which about 7:30 am on Monday for me because I’m a time traveller. There’s not a lot of time between voting finishing and the awards being announced (17.5 hours) and I want a bit of time to speculate, otherwise I’d save this for when there was no doubt everybody had finished voting.

I have no idea who will or won’t win. The standard Dragon Award disclaimer applies: the actual process is unclear and Dragon Con can legitimately give the award to whoever they like but let’s assume voting matters but we don’t know how many people vote or if there is voting stacking going on, although Survey Monkey should prevent more overt attempts.

There are no official slates this year from any group that I’m aware of. Brad Torgersen has been circulating a list of writers he would like to see win, which for the sake of simplicity and amusement I’m christening Brad Puppies. The inclusion of a name on Brad’s list does not imply the author or work is aligned with Brad etc etc.

  • Best Science Fiction Novel: A Star-Wheeled Sky Brad R. Torgersen Baen Books
  • Best Fantasy Novel: House of Assassins Larry Correia – Baen Books
  • Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: A Pale Dawn Chris Kennedy, Mark Wandrey – Chris Kennedy Publishing
  • Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Order of the Centurion Jason Anspach, Nick Cole – Galaxy’s Edge Press
  • Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Sons of the Lion Jason Cordova – Chris Kennedy Publishing
  • Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Uncompromising Honor David Weber – Baen Books
  • Best Alternate History Novel: Black Chamber S.M. Stirling – Ace Books
  • Best Alternate History Novel: The World Asunder Kacey Ezell – Chris Kennedy Publishing
  • Best Media Tie-In Novel: The Replicant War Chris Kennedy – Chris Kennedy Publishing
  • Best Media Tie-In Novel: Thrawn: Alliances Timothy Zahn – Del Rey Books

Both Brad and Larry Correia have been actively promoting voting, so it is reasonable to expect a strong showing for both writers. I think even without Brad’s list, many of Larry’s fans would be voting for several of the authors above anyway.

What is harder to know is what level of organic voting there will be. Prior to the finalists being announced, publicity for the award was very weak. After that, Dragon Con appear to have done a better job and the website and conference program are encouraging voting.

There are also many more high-profile mainstream published authors. I’ve not seen many of them regularly encouraging fans to vote for them but most have acknowledged that they are finalists. That will have drawn in more votes.

Organic votes should play out as better selling works getting more votes, although that is hard to measure. Contrarius has been collating Amazon ranks for many finalists and it will be interesting to see how that relates to winners.

Some things I’ll be watching for in each category:

Best Science Fiction Novel: A Star-Wheeled Sky by Brad Torgersen is a plausible winner. If it does then we can assume other works in the Brad Puppies list got lots of votes. I think Tiamat’s Wrath is a likely winner given the popularity of The Expanse TV series and the Dragon Con audience. However, Becky Chambers has a wide and devoted set of fans and I wouldn’t be astonished if Record of a Spaceborn Few won. If any of the others won, that would be interesting but I don’t know what it would mean.

Best Fantasy Novel: Larry Correia has both a strong voting bloc and good name recognition and hence House of Assassins is a very likely winner. I would be surprised if Deep Roots by Ruthanna Emrys won just on name recognition but I’ve heard lots of good things about the book and she is attending Dragon Con.

Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel: I’ll skip over this one.

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel: Is a fascinating category. There are six nominees, four of which are on the Brad Puppies list. Baen is represented by David Weber’s latest Honor Harrington episode — that would normally be an obvious winner but Uncompromising Honor has not been well reviewed among its target audience. The other books on the Brad Puppies list for this category have their own fan bases and voting blocks in the Dragons. The odd book out is Marine by Joshua Dalzelle which is holding the flag for self-published Dragon Award finalists. The most interesting potential winner is Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade, a book which is, in places, very conventionally MilSF and also, in places, very much NOT conventionally MilSF. Does it stand a chance of winning? A reasonably high organic vote may well result in a win for Hurley given the split vote between the other finalists. Ironically, if the Dragons had the same voting system as the Hugo Awards, I would say it didn’t stand a chance but this is a first-past-the-post system. If The Light Brigade wins I won’t be surprised but there will be some wailing and gnashing of teeth from some quarters. There’s a parallel universe where it is the first book to win a Dragon Award one year and a Hugo Award the next.

Best Alternate History Novel: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal is a likely winner based on name recognition but The World Asunder by Kacey Ezell or Black Chamber by S.M. Stirling may do well from being on the Brad Puppies list. I have no idea what it means if Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan wins.

Best Media Tie-In Novel: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn looks like the strongest candidate all round based on name recognition and it’s also on the Brad Puppies list. I think it is unlikely that The Replicant War by Chris Kennedy will win but if it does it would imply a strong voting bock for Kennedy at least in this category — as it stands it isn’t even clear what media it is a tie-in for

Other categories: I don’t know.

Thoughts, speculation welcome as always.

This is an interesting post about awards from Mad Genius Club

Not much commentary or analysis from me but I thought this post by Cedar Sanderson was interesting: https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/08/24/award-winning/

Minor quibble: in the section on the Dragon Awards I think she is getting 2017 confused with 2018 when she says “Last year they declaimed and protested any contact with the feelthy commoners” It makes no sense in terms of 2018 but could be a distorted account of 2017 when several authors asked to be withdrawn. In 2018 the Dragons shifted to a policy of notifying nominated authors in advance, giving them a chance to withdraw if they wished to.