And the award goes to…

I’ve never been particularly fond of following award ceremonies or prize schemes, usually happy to instead meander along my own exploratory routes through culture old and new. By which I mean I tend to have rarely read more than one book on any given shortlist before voting season rolls up, and thus don’t feel particularly qualified to choose what I think is best. Nonetheless I’ve found the nominations and winners of various past awards interesting, and sometimes I’ve even gotten involved despite myself.

I sat in on the 2007 and 2008 British Science Fiction Association award ceremonies, having voted, and watched genre luminaries win endearingly DIY trophies. I have the blurred photos of Ian McDonald to prove it. Sometimes I’ve experienced the momentary flush of anger when it turned out that the views of the majority didn’t correspond with my own. The Interzone readers poll is one that I’ve sometimes participated in since I’m a subscriber who reads every story. Of course I’m also absent-minded with a poor long-term memory, so sometimes I opt not to vote as it would involve re-reading a half-dozen magazines.

It’s great to see friends do well with polls and awards – such as Gareth Powell’s excellent ‘Ack Ack Macaque’ topping last year’s readers’ poll – and the one time a short story of mine was nominated for an award’s longlist ranks among my warmest and fuzziest of writerly memories.

But for the most part I’ve not gotten involved and stood instead on the sidelines, as an observer. There are a lot of anecdotal reasons to be cynical about awards. The British Fantasy Award, for example, has a longlist that consists of just about every self- and vanity-published book released that year, and it gets tawdry hearing authors crowing about being on it when they were probably nominated by a spouse (or themselves). The indie novelist scene is not exactly short of relentlessly self-promoting hacks (and at this point I am compelled to point out that of course there are also many wonderful, dedicated, skilled writers being published by small presses, and astute readers will notice that I’ve reviewed a number of both categories).

Last year the Locus magazine readers’ poll unloaded both barrels of a shotgun into its own feet by changing the way it counted votes after the votes were in, a decision widely perceived as being taken to change the results so that they gelled with what Locus wanted to win. Whether that has any truth or not is irrelevant; the number of votes submitted to Locus in 2009 is less than two-thirds that submitted in 2008. The Nebula Award is (perhaps unfairly) regarded by some younger readers – among those that care, at any rate – as another arm of the back-slapping old boys’ club that is the SFWA, with the top spot going to novelists who are past their best work but who have never snared a Nebby in the past.

And, still speaking as an observer, I’m pretty sure that pulling shit like this is counterproductive.I know it can be painful when people criticise our darlings, but is swooping in to call them whiners and demanding they shut the fuck up really a course of action supposed to help achieve our stated goals?

I’d be quite hard to persuade into buying a supporting Worldcon membership just to vote in the Hugo, and I’ve not read anything on this year’s shortlist, but I do have half a finger resting gently on the pulse of the blogosphere and I know bad PR when I see it.

On the positive side of things at least most shortlists in SF can boast relevance to their field surpassing that of the Mercury Music Award. This year’s nominations have just been announced and, as usual, it is as predictable / laughable as ever to people who don’t buy their music from Tesco. I suppose this should come as some small consolation even if the Mercury is heavily-promoted, widely reported on, and can make a career. Albeit a short-lived one.

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