Subjective Honour

Literary awards are funny things. I mean, how can you measure literary merit? Literature is an art form and as such, its appreciation is subjective. Therefore a literary award is a subjective honour. That’s not to say that having a literary award bestowed upon you is worthless. It most certainly is not. It’s a recognition of your work. As a writer, knowing that someone out there is reading and liking your work, is pretty fantastic. A subjective honour is, after all, still an honour.

Recently, at this year’s National Science Fiction Convention (Swancon 36), the 2011 Ditmar Awards were presented. The Ditmars are the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards, with categories for both amateur and professional writing and art. Winners this year included:

Best Novel: Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Voyager)

Best Novella or Novelette: The Company Articles of Edward Teach, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story: “All the Love in the World”, Cat Sparks (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press) and “She Said”, Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes From the Second Storey, Morrigan Books)

Best Collected Work: Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Artwork: The Lost Thing, short film (Passion Pictures), Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan (based on the book The Lost Thing)

You can check out a complete list of winners here.

There was a bit of a hoo-ha this year as some people complained that too many of the winners had an association with the organisers of Swancon 36. A rather ridiculous accusation given that almost everyone on the ballot could have been linked to the organisers in some tenuous way — the science fiction community in Australia is not that large, and the organisers of Swancon are very active. Frankly, as an Australian spec fic writer, it would be hard not to be linked to them in some way. I could be linked to them, and I wasn’t even on the ballot. The whole thing smelled of sour grapes and is best not given any further publicity. But it did get me thinking about literary awards.

Awards fall into two categories — popular vote and juried. Each have their advantages and disadvantages.

Popular vote awards are democratic and represent the voice of the readers… but only those readers motivated enough to nominate and vote. These awards will sometimes be representative of a very small percentage of the reading public. And there is always the strong possibility that voters may not have read all the nominated works, voting simply for their favourite authors.

Juried awards are decided by a panel of ‘experts’ who read all the nominated works. But what constitutes an ‘expert’? These awards are based on the opinions of a small, select group of people.

No award system is perfect. Does that mean we should stop giving out awards?

My advice, for what it’s worth, is to embrace the systems for what they are, rather than berate them for what they are not. If you get nominated or win… Fantastic! If you don’t… be gracious and don’t sour it for the people who have won. There is, after all, the distinct possibility that the winners actually deserved the accolade.

The Chronos Awards for excellence in Victorian Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror are coming up. They are the state-based, Victorian version of the Ditmars, to be presented at Continuum 7 (check out my post about C7).

I won a Chronos Award last year for Gamers’ Quest. I was rather surprised, but extremely pleased. None of my writing made it onto the ballot this year. And that’s okay. This year’s ballot contains some awesome writing from some very talented authors. I am pleased for each and every one of those nominees. I have put in my vote and I look forward to seeing the results. It’s a popular award and those I voted for may or may not win… but I will cheer the winners and acknowledge their talent and be pleased that we have this award to celebrate the pool of spec fic writing talent in this state.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter.

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George Ivanoff

LITERARY CLUTTER: Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff. George is the author of the YOU CHOOSE books, the OTHER WORLDS series, the RFDS Adventures and the GAMERS trilogy.

2 thoughts on “Subjective Honour”

  1. I think that the key there is that the nominees are all worthy, or at least the majority of them.

    As such the awards are as valid as they are, all voting is open to rigging ala “Get Stuffed” Ditmar advertising and spruiking at it’s most playful, and I would guess that it has gotten a lot worse over the years.

    But I think they are more valid still, if your statement that the nominees are all/mostly worthy is true/accurate, unlike the likes of the Logies which have deteriorated to a large extent and are now mostly irrelevant.

    So I guess we need to be mindful and on guard to ensure we don’t sink to that level at all times, and know that there will always be someone who does not like a decision.

  2. You raise an interesting point, Glen, about advertising and spruiking. Publishers like to be able to put awards stickers onto books… so authors will often spruik their list of eligible books/stories prior to awards. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It’s as legitimate a form of promotion as any other. I certainly Tweet and FaceBook when award nominations open and tell people which of my stories are eligible. Whether people take any notice is another matter. 🙂

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