The Dragon Awards

The Dragon Awards, for excellence is speculative fiction, were awarded over Labor Day weekend. Depending on your point of view, you might say there were no surprises, or the results were a stunning surprise.

Here are the various Best Novel category winners.

Best SF Novel: The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Best Fantasy Novel: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Best Ya Novel: Finch Merlin and the Fount of Youth by Bella Forest
Best Alt History Novel: Witchy Kingdom by D.J. Butler
Best Military SF Novel: Savage Wars by Nick Cole and Jason Anspaugh
Best Horror Novel: The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher
Best Media Tie-In Novel: Firefly–The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove

That’s a lot of winners, which is fun for everyone, but also points out an area of complaint for the Dragon Awards. It has so darn many categories! I’m not even done yet. There’s short fiction, comic books,graphic novels, games, movies and TV adaptations. This is all in keeping with the DragonCon brand, but makes for an overwhelming ballot.

Scalzi winning for the final book in a popular series, books of which have been nominated before, was no surprise, although it outraged a vocal group of people who don’t like Scalzi and who supported Dragon mostly to try to escape Scalzi’s popularity. As far as I’m concerned, the best horror novel is a perfect fit; T. Kingfisher’s hill-country horror novel was scary, homey, folksy and funny. I hadn’t read any of the Military SF (MILSF), alt history, the media tie-in or the YA.

The Starless Sea was a surprise. The book is beautifully written and fulfills a lot of wish/fantasies; friends to the death and good cocktails being two. The plot meanders and the book is luscious, but slow. That was a feature for me, and I guess it was for Dragon voters too, but I wouldn’t have guessed they liked that sort of thing.

There are some real plusses to the Dragon Award, and some minuses. Some features end up in both categories.

Some plusses:

The Award itself is pretty! It looks like art glass.

By the stated intent of the Dragon Award committee (I guess there’s one?) the open voting, which makes it more like a People’s Choice award than either the Hugos or the Nebulas. The closest other genre award is the Locus Awards, I think.

The number of categories. (Plus and minus.)

Some minuses:

The Dragon Awards page insists that even though anyone with an email address can vote, each person can only vote once and they can control that. I’ve read several comments in various places about people who voted more than once, because they have more than one email. I don’t know how Dragon has addressed this or if it plans to. Right now they’re a fun award. If they want the kind of credibility that gets a sticker “Winner of 2020 Dragon Award” on a writer’s book for a marketing boost, they’ll need to offer better accountability around voting, I think.

Odd eligibility period, short gap between finalists and final vote date. The eligibility period can be managed. The short time period between the announcement of the finalists and the final vote means there is no way to read/watch/play everything that’s nominated. To me this is a bug; to them it might be a feature, because they expect people to just vote for their favorites and not bother sampling something new. If that’s the case, it’s a shame.

Too many categories. This is definitely meant as a feature, and you don’t have to nominate in every category, but still, it looks confusing and exhausting.

As I said in an earlier column, the Dragon Award is four years old. If it were a human child it would be toddling off to preschool, or at least sitting down in front of a tablet. They’ve got time to make necessary tweaks. And, as more people find out about it, more people may choose to nominate and vote. I’ll stay tuned.

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