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Aurealis Award from Sunny Britain

A few days ago I said I'd convince Martin Lewis (ninebelow) to post his views on some past winners of the Aurealis Awards, just to give you an idea of how the scene is viewed outside the country.

Well, here it is:

One problem is that the pool of Australian fiction is simply not large enough to credibly support such an award. There is no shame in this. There is shame, however, in falsely praising minor works, a process which merely serves to undermine the reputations of all involved. There are two issues involved here. Firstly, the major fan and juried awards of the much bigger markets of Britain and the United States are not closed to entrants from outside those countries (although, of course, native entries often win.) It is an understandable fear that such an open borders policy in Australian awards would leave little, if any, Australian fiction on the shortlists. Perhaps, though, only lauding that rare fiction that can compete on the international stage is preferable to the current situation. Secondly, and more troubling, is the fact that the award is split into five categories - science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult and children – further reducing the amount of fiction available. Even if the award is restricted to Australian fiction (and there is a clear case for this, especially given how liberally the judges interpret “Australian”) there can be no reason to sub-divide so excessively. Something has to give: together these two facts make the awards simply unsustainable.



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Jun. 24th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC)
What would be the point of another set of awards open to the same pool of work as existing, more established awards?

The point of awards open only to Australian work is to give recognition to the best Australian work, even if it usually is not on a par with the best of the best internationally.

If Campbell Primary School were to have short story awards and encourage its students to nominate their work, would you expect those awards to be open also to Neil Gaiman and Ted Chiang? Would it make the Campbell Primary School short story award a better and more credible award if it were? Would the students of the school be better off?

There is room for awards at different levels, and there is, and should be, kudos for winning an award at whatever level it is pitched. Not as much kudos for the Campbell Primary School writing award as for the Aurealis, and not as much for the Aurealis as for the World Fantasy Award, Hugo or Nebula. But that doesn't make it irrelevant.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)

the difference, i guess, is that the australian spec fic writers aren't children (though in some ways... ;)). they want to be seen as professionals, with a reputation that is equal to that around the world, and you can only do that when you're competing on an international stage. after all, aren't we pleased when an australian wins the world fantasy award? of course, because now they're an adult.

personally, it doesn't bother me that the award is australian only. to me, that's not the important part of lewis' comment: the important part is that the local scene doesn't have enough content to support so many divisions.

Jun. 24th, 2008 03:47 am (UTC)
> the important part is that the local scene doesn't have enough content to support so many divisions

But doesn't that then just support the argument for an award like the Golden Aurealis? You've said in the past, Ben, that it was silly to compare works across the genres but now you're saying the opposite.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:51 am (UTC)
no, what i said in the past was it was stupid to have five winners and then pick the winner out of the winners, thus making the divisions completely pointless, for you are judging divisions on what makes a successful horror novel, sf novel and so forth.

i have always said that you could do away with the divisions and just have a novel and short fiction category and a stronger award. i figure i've written it somewhere here one time or another.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:55 am (UTC)
When Australian Spec Fiction Writers are the equal to any in the world, they are eligible for the World Fantasy Award. The existence of other awards doesn't detract from that.

Perhaps instead of the Campbell Primary School award, I should have used the CSIRO Staff short story competition as an example, to remove the imp[lication of treating writers like children. (The CSIRO staff newsletter has run such a competition twice, fwiw. The first time, it was open only to scientists working at CSIRO, the second time, it was open to all CSIRO staff).

The number of categories isn't something I feel strongly about. If there are at least 30 eligible published stories to choose among, that seems enough to me, but if you wanted to combine the categories into one award, I wouldn't complain.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:57 am (UTC)
well, even the CSIRO comparison is a bad one. after all, the staff at CSIRO are not professional writers (or wanting to be, for the most part).
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:10 am (UTC)
Neither are many of the writers eligible for the Aurealis and Ditmar awards.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)
but a lot of them want to be seen that way.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:53 am (UTC)
Okay; so what if we had an award that was limited to non-professional writers in Australia. To allow hobbyists to have occasional lucky breaks, don't define that by SFWA standards, but use a definition something like "writers whose earnings from writing and editing [and teaching writing?] in the past financial year were less than the Australian poverty line." That might include a few struggling professional writers as well as the hobbyists.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
(I put forward the above just as an idea to play with. I actually prefer the current arrangements).
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC)
heh. yes, but you wouldn't be able to promote that to people, would you?
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:56 am (UTC)
"Writers of the Future" seems to be pretty well respected, and is limited to non-professionals.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:57 am (UTC)
yes, but it's hardly what the AAs wants to promote itself as, wouldn't you say?
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:09 am (UTC)
Well... The AAs are something in between. Always have been, from my POV. I admit I haven't been looking, but I haven't seen any promotion suggesting that they are a peak professional award on par with the World Fantasy Award. They're promoted as exactly what they are: an award for Australian spec fic.
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
yes, but implied in that is that aus spec fic is sub par to an international standard, and therein lies the problem.
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:33 am (UTC)
I daresay an award for American spec fic would also be considered a lesser award, even though it would include many of the top writers in the world. It's lesser simply because there are fewer eligible writers, not because those writers are necessarily less good.
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
hmm. there i'd likely have to disagree. i even think there are american awards, but i can't think of one off the top of my head. there are the brit ones, however, which get a lot of cred, tho.
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
But you do the exact same thing any time you agree to have a work published in a Year's Best Australian collection.

If your work can't make it into a Datlow/Link/Grant, Dozois or Strahan year's best antho does that mean its sub par because it's chosen for one of the Congreve or Challis Australian best ofs?

I note you haven't turned down the chance to be published in an Australian Year's Best when it has come your way. So, you tell me - is it okay to acknowledge Australian work as a subset of a broader set of writing through an Australian award or Australian year's best or isn't it?

Edited at 2008-06-24 05:49 am (UTC)
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:04 am (UTC)
well, there's a loaded question. within the context of that, you do manage to imply that the entire local scene is substandard to that of the international one. well done, man.

anyhow, me, i don't turn down the congreve and marquardt anthos because i support locally produced books, presses, and projects, especially if their goal is to be a professional project on par with everything produced world wide. bill and michelle's year's best books have attempted this from the start.

i have, however, turned down the challis and cummings year's best, which may surprise you. i do this because i find their personal opinion of me is of such that i simply won't associate myself with them or their product.

so, like, hey, i'm playing both sides of the fence--but in the latter case it is not because of what you would suggest.

however, i have (and do so) turn down local projects that i do not think are going to be of professional standard. if i don't think the world will be competing internationally, i don't participate. mostly, this is because to do so is good for myself as a writer, but whether or not you think that works relies entirely on your opinion of my work and reputation there.

so, to recap: if an australian produced work aims to be professional and up to an international standard, i will gladly particpate and support it. i want to see a strong scene here. my conversations about AAs and such relate to this. but if the book is going to be substandard, i turn it down, even if it is australian, because i do not want to be contributing to a piece i know is aiming beneath the bar.

(which, given the multitude of ways in which the independent press exists, is sometimes the prupose of smaller projects, to give authors a place to start. but that's a different thing.)
Jun. 24th, 2008 08:16 am (UTC)
Well said.

I think the AAs are supposed to recognise the best Australian work. Their job is to select the best out of what's available. Not to compete with the Hugos or the World Fantasy awards... that would be redundant.
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:14 am (UTC)
What would be the point of another set of awards open to the same pool of work as existing, more established awards?

As Peek has suggested I do not neccessarily endorse such a position and it is a response to the least important of the two problems I identify.

However, I do not find it hard to believe that if the Aurealis Awards had exactly the same entry criteria as, say, the Arthur C Clarke Award (again, I am not advocating this) then the judges would still pick a very different shortlist.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:19 am (UTC)
I was gonna stay out of this one... but you know me...

With great respect to Mr Lewis... Peek, your post reeks of cultural cringeism. Why do we need a Brit to tell us what our own country's awards mean? I don't believe that Australian spec fic awards mean any more to foreigners than, say, Lithuanian spec fic awards would mean to us. Why shouldn't Australians have an award for Australian spec fic? Why is everything only shiny when it comes from overseas?
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:42 am (UTC)
okay, here's the opposite: why is the opinion of someone overseas cultural cringeism? why is it not as valid as an australians point of view? why shouldn't he say that his opinion is?

the entire point of giving lewis' opinion was that it was someone outside the country. imo, that's what makes it interesting: it's the view outside, it's the one we don't see because we're in it. like it, dislike it, that's not the point. the point is that is it, and what can you do about it?

me, i don't particularly care that the award is for australians or not. i didn't say i agreed or disagreed. i simply said here was the view from outside. this is it, and whatcha going to do about it? ignore it? cool. doesn't change that's what some people are thinking.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:45 am (UTC)
Lewis's view is not the view from outside. It is a view from outside.
Jun. 24th, 2008 03:46 am (UTC)
yes, and? does that make it any less valid?
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:01 am (UTC)
is my opinion on the top prizewinners at Krufts valid? Or my opinion on New Zealand's Sir Julius Vogel awards? Or the Prize in Modern Letters? Of course it is -- if I wish to put the time into studying the works (or dogs) under consideration. But I have no wish to do that purely for the purpose of finding flaws. If countries want to celebrate their own cultural achievements, I say go for it.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:06 am (UTC)
well, why is your opinion less valid? if you've read the work in question, it's just as valid.

really, the idea than an opinion is less valid just because you're not from there is... well, kinda odd, y'know? i have opinions about all sorts of things outside this country. so do you. are they not valid now?

and i doubt lewis read the two books to find the flaws, but he can cover those qs if he wants.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC)
the opinion of someone who does not know or care about a subject is worth less than the opinion of someone involved, I reckon. Maybe not academically, but in practical terms. eg, my opinion as to the relief efforts on the ground following the China quake are of less value than those of someone who was actually there pulling bodies out of the rubble don't you think? I can make any kind of outrageous statements I wish to about things I don't know about but it doesn't change anything & doesn't achieve anything other than adding to background noise.

what is kinda odd is how you won't leave this old dead horse alone. You don't like the AAs. You've been saying this for years. Now you're scouring the Net for foreign experts to back you up. Why?
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:54 am (UTC)
you can't really compare the china quake and literature, though. it's not a valid comparison.

i didnt actually need to scour the net for lewis' opinion. he linked it in his blog, which i read. as for linking it? why not. i talked about the AAs a few days ago. it's all discussion, so why's it so bad to do?
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:58 am (UTC)
its a fine thing to do, darl. You just keep right on at it.
Jun. 24th, 2008 04:59 am (UTC)

i know a condesencding darl when i see one.
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:00 am (UTC)
I bet you five bucks that you're still banging on about the awards thing ten years from today.
Jun. 24th, 2008 05:10 am (UTC)
well, i have enjoyed this little trip down memory lane, so perhaps you're right. gotta have a hobby i suppose.
Jun. 24th, 2008 08:57 am (UTC)
I was sent a copy of the McArthur to review. When I returned my review to him, my editor asked if I wanted to review the Bedford as it had also won the award. So I didn't set out to find flaw in an award, I set out to review two novels. That they were both bad led me to look at the value of the award.
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:08 am (UTC)
A pretty weak sample on which to make such a definitve statement, Martin.
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:33 am (UTC)
That fact that Eclipse won a best SF Award is evidence enough that there is something fundamentally wrong with the award. I often disagree with the winners of awards, I don't often think that they are unpublishably bad. Since the previous winner was a mediocre novel it seemed to me that this was more than just a one off judging abberation but indicative of a wider problem. And that wider problem readily presents itself.

Look at the list of winners of the SF Award: Egan has won twice, Williams has won twice, McMullen has won twice, Broderick has won three times. Williams has also won twice for the Fantasy Award and there is a similar pattern in that category. It seems to me that this is objective evidence that the pool of high quality fiction available to the judges is extremely limited.

Can anyone here justify further limiting this pool in a way that the larger award do not?
Jun. 24th, 2008 10:19 am (UTC)
A weak sample and weak logic.

Harlan Ellison - 9 Hugos
Robert Silverberg - 5 Hugos
Connie Willis - 9 Hugos
Connie Willis - 6 Nebulas
Ellen Datlow - 7 World Fantasy Awards
Terri Windling - 7 World Fantasy Awards
Gardner Dozois - 15 Hugos

And I'll save you the embarrassment of counting the number of Hugos Dave Langford has won, shall I.

Did you stop to think that Williams, Egan, Broderick and others had won the award more than once because they were writers at the top of their respective field at the time. And that's probably why you see multiple awards for writers like Ellison, Silverberg, and editors like Dozois and Datlow.
Jun. 24th, 2008 11:05 am (UTC)
I'm not sure how my sample is weak. I thought it was pretty comprehensive since it shows that of the winners of the SF Award only two have not won it multiple times. This is telling and it is not reflected in the Hugos. Willis has won best novel twice, six years apart. Perhaps more helpful to your case is the fact that Bujold has won four times but that was over 13 years. And, of course, the Hugos are not juried awards and so make no attempt to be comprehensive or impartial.

Editor and Fan Writer are substanially different types of category to Best Novel but your supposed counter-examples of Dozois and Langford actually prove my point. These categories have little credibility simply because the same person wins ever year.

As Ben Payne points out elsewhere 80% of the 2006 Aurealis SF Award shortlist were also shortlisted the year before. You don't think that is suggestive?
Jun. 24th, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
I don't agree that an "unpublishable" novel (or even two) winning the award is a sign that there is something "fundamentally wrong" with the award... only with the decision.

I would agree with you that there is evidence that the pool of talent in terms of the SF and Horror awards are quite small (chiefly because so little of it is published in this country) and that recurring names are likely to occur, and that this could be seen as reflecting poorly on the competitive nature of those categories.

I don't believe it's conclusive that competition is not strong enough for an award; I think if you look at the potential for a year in which Broderick, Egan, Williams, McMullen and Dann are up for a SF award is enough indication that there is room for a contest... some years are gonna be stronger than others... them's the breaks.

I believe the rationale behind the different genre divisions was to avoid comparing apples with oranges. If awards function as a form of recommendation then it makes sense to recommend different works to fans of Sf than to fans of Horror (while allowing room for crossover). I don't believe the decision had anything to do with the competitiveness of categories (many years there is no award for Horror novel). Whether the awards would be stronger with only one category and potentially stronger shortlist or whether it would lose the value provided by its diversity is, I suspect, a matter of opinion.
Jun. 24th, 2008 09:21 am (UTC)
I quite often don't agree with the choices made by judges on awards panels, of both the international and local variety. But I'd be disinclined to dismiss the value of an entire country's genre award just because my personal taste didn't match that of the judges.
Jun. 24th, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
I think Lewis draws a long bow in attempting to judge the Awards and the Australian scene as a whole on the strength of two novels... much like Paul Kincaid's dismissal of Australian writing based on one CSFG anthology...

Even in that one category, he's ignored works by Sean Williams and Jack Dann... hardly a thoroughly researched position.
Jun. 25th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)

I must say, I am impressed at least with the tone of the debate here...
Jun. 26th, 2008 01:42 am (UTC)
classy, isn't it?

and what's with the link?
Jun. 26th, 2008 02:02 am (UTC)
I thought the poster's comment one of the signs of a city becoming great is when its citizens respond to criticism of their home with "Yeah, you're right, but here's what we're doing to fix it..." instead of throwing tantrums or projectiles. was interesting.
Jun. 26th, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
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