for most people, this is a problem, but i think it goes both ways. awards serve not only to award a work that is worthy, but also to highlight political concerns. for example: giving an award to a well crafted book with strong gay characters in it not only rewards the craft under which it is written, but also sends a message to publishers and readers that gay lifestyles are as important as straight lifestyles and that they should be represented in literature, among other things.
the awareness of this is important, i think. literature (indeed, any form of art) does not exist in a cultural vacuum and it shouldn't be treated as if it does. (this doesn't mean that every selection will agree with you, or that your politics will be satisfied, but since when has anything ever agreed with everyone?)
that, of course, brings me to the aurealis awards.
the aurealis awards have always been crippled by the fact that they're trying not to be the ditmars. the ditmars, being a popular award with an open voting system, can be hijacked by a bus full of high school students during the nomination stage, and by the same bus load if they fork out money to go to the convention that they're handed out in. if they can't be bothered, the awards then fall into voting blocks and personal favourites and who wants to promote who and so on and so forth. a lot of people see it as a bad thing, which it is, but it also allows new voices to promote their work, which i think is an essentially good thing. (i should at this point mention i've been nominated three times for a ditmar and not once for an aurealis. if this changes the nature of my argument for you, well, welcome to the world of politics. if not, then cool.) the aurealis awards, however, are an answer to this voting style: a panel of judges for each genre, each voting until they reach an agreement about a winner. of course, since there is no money involved, and having a group of people agree on one books usually means it is the one that they didn't like the most wins, there's a real question in my mind of just how much credibility it does have when all things are said and done. i would probably say just a little, but i think in the end it's marginal, and the difference is found on the sticker that is placed on the winning novels afterwards.
(i read, somewhere, that actually having a 'hugo award winner' sticker on a book meant that less people actually bought the book. it's kind of funny, i reckon, though probably untrue, but it just popped into my head right then.)
and this, of course, brings me to the aurealis awards that were announced last night. it's a long winded way to get here, but that's the way i took.
The 2003 Aurealis Awards winners and shortlisted works are
DIVISION A: SCIENCE FICTION
WINNER Fallen Gods, Jon Blum and Kate Orman (Telos Publishing)
Wyrmhole, Jay Caselberg (ROC Science Fiction)
Terminator Gene, Ian Irvine (Simon & Schuster Australia)
Blue Box, Kate Orman (BBC Worldwide)
Orphans of Earth, Sean Williams and Shane Dix (HarperCollins)
Honourable Mention: The Earthborn, Paul Collins (Tor)
WINNER “Louder Echo”, Brendan Duffy (Agog! Terrific Tales, Agog! Press)
“Acquired Tastes”, Stephen Dedman (ASIM #9)
“Amy's Stars”, Sue Isle (Orb #5)
“Sigmund Freud and the Feral Freeway”, Martin Livings (Agog! Terrific Tales, Agog! Press)
“State of Oblivion”, Kaaron Warren (Elsewhere, Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild)
“Clockwork” (Trent Jamieson / Glimpses); “'Cross the Nullabor to the Sea” (Cat Sparks / Glimpses); “The Earth Equation” (Shane Brown / Glimpses); and “The Wall” (Grace Dugan / Glimpses).
DIVISION B: FANTASY
WINNER Abhorsen (Book 3 of The Old Kingdom Trilogy), Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Aware (Isles of Glory Book 1), Glenda Larke (HarperCollins)
Grass for his Pillow (Tales of the Otori Book 2), Lian Hearn (Hodder)
The Etched City, KJ Bishop (Prime Books)
Voyage of the Shadowmoon, Sean McMullen (Tor)
Honourable Mentions: Scrutator (Well of Echoes Book 3), Ian Irvine (Penguin/ Viking);
Lamplighter, Anthony O'Neil (HarperCollins)
WINNER “La Sentinelle”, Lucy Sussex, (Southern Blood – New Australian Tales of the Supernatural Sandglass Enterprises)
“In the Bookshadow”, Marianne de Pierres (Dreamhaven Books)
“Tireki and the Wind”, Lily Chrywenstrom, (Fables and Reflections #4)
“Hope Chest”, Garth Nix (Firebirds)
Honourable Mentions: “Storm in a Chandelier”, Tracey Rolfe (Agog! Terrific Tales, Agog! Press)
“Louder Echo”, Brendan Duffy (Agog! Terrific Tales, Agog! Press)
DIVISION C: HORROR
WINNER Born of The Sea, Victor Kelleher (Viking/Penguin)
The Lamplighter, Anthony O'Neill (Harper Collins)
The Autumn Castle: Europa Suite 1, Kim Wilkins (Harper Collins)
WINNER “Love Is a Stone”, Simon Brown (Gathering the Bones HarperCollins)
“The Wind Shall Blow For Ever Mair”, Stephen Dedman (Gathering the Bones, HarperCollins)
“Amy’s Stars”, Sue Isle (Orb #5)
“Kijin Tea”, Kyla Ward (Agog! Terrific Tales, Agog! Press)
“Blake’s Angel”, Janeen Webb (Gathering the Bones, HarperCollins)
DIVISION D: YOUNG ADULT
JOINT WINNER Dragonkeeper, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)
JOINT WINNER Abhorsen (Book 3 of The Old Kingdom Trilogy), Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)
The Silken Road to Samarkand (The Sinbad Chronicles Book 2), Janeen Webb (HarperCollins)
DIVISION E: CHILDREN’S (8-12 YEARS)
WINNER Mister Monday (Keys of the Kingdom book 1), Garth Nix (Scholastic)
Eustace, Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)
Max Remy Superspy: The Hollywood Mission, Deborah Abela (Random House)
Jumpman Rule 2, James Valentine (Random House)
Dragonkeeper, Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)
The Perfect Princess (Quentaris Chronicles), Jenny Pausacker (Lothian Books)
WINNER Lily Quench and the Lighthouse of Skellig Mor, Natalie Jane Prior (Hodder Headline)
Wolfchild, Roseanne Hawke (Lothian)
Tashi and the Royal Tombs, Anna and Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble(Allen & Unwin)
Lily Quench and the Magicians' Pyramid, Natalie Jane Prior (Hodder Headline)
Emily Eyefinger and the Balloon Bandits, Duncan Ball (HarperCollins)
The Lighthouse Secret, Penny Garsworthy (Word Weavers)
THE PETER McNAMARA CONVENORS’ AWARD
WINNER Nick Stathopoulos, for his outstanding contribution to the field of speculative fiction illustration.
short story wise, there was little surprise. brendan duffy's 'louder echo' has been picking up praise for a while, and will be reprinted in the hartwell years best fantasy (though it won the science fiction award). lucy sussex's 'la sentinelle' has likewise been praised, and picked up a horror nomination somewhere else, i think. (though it won the fantasy short story.) the only real surprise (and it wasn't much) was simon brown winning for 'love is a stone', which i do admit to not having read, but i though kyla ward's 'kijin tea' was going to scoop it for much the same reason as duffy's story. but, that said, brown is a strong author and has been around for a long time and produced fine work throughout that peroid, so it's not surprising that he did win.
however, short stories are not what make an award. it's the novels that give you the flavour of the year, that set the tone, and which give an award its standing.
this year, the winner for best science fiction novel was kate orman and jonathan blum's dr who novel, fallen gods, and for fantasy, garth nix's young adult novel, abhorsen. curiously, nix's novel also won for best young adult novel, and his new book, mister monday, won for children's novel. for horror, victor kelleher's born of the sea won.
now, to me, this list of winners reads like a political statement that says, 'we awarded based on craft only and not the politics of a book' which in itself is a statement is a political statement. this ideal for the aurealis awards has come riding out of last years awards, which caused a whole bunch of people to get upset about the quality of this, after the fantasy division decided that there were no eligible short stories for a fantasy award. the reasoning of the committee, from what i can recall, is that the stories they encountered with merit were not what they considered fantasy, and they were not confident in awarding a fantasy award to a piece of work that might be considered by some to be horror. which caused people to scratch and scream and mutter and murmur and then jump into this years system, and, by looking at these results, make a deliberate statement about genre boundaries, and how good work crosses everything.
good work is, of course, a matter of personal taste. so, for that matter, is reading a political statement into an award, but i'm going to it anyhow.
on the surface, the statement of 'good literature crosses all boundaries' is an idealistic one, but it doesn't work for me the more i look at it.
to begin with, there is fallen gods, the dr who novel. orman, by herself, has been writing them for years, and has quite the strong following; indeed, one of her solo novels was also nominated. however, whatever merits they have, the book is, at the end, a work for hire book, set in a shared world with rules that must be obeyed. the dr is also owned by a giant company, i might add. but, anyhow, by giving an award to orman and blum for their novel, you are sending two messages: one, that good work can be written in a work for hire gig, and two, that original, creator owned work, is not more important than the contract work you can do for a company.
you can argue the merits of work for hire and creator owned, but for me, in the end, an author (or authors) who create their own world, characters, events, narrative structure, thematic concerns, and so forth, have always worked harder and more admirably than the author who worked under a contract for a company, where the characters were provided, as was the world and the desired tone under which it was written. certain events and narratives can also be factored into this equation, too. by saying that both are equal, you are saying that the author of the creator owned novel might as well have not bothered with this extra work--which, in a genre where genre background setting is readily copied from book to book and is often the quick way of building a world and narrative, is not a sentiment that i would like to see encouraged by an award.
in the fantasy award, a similar thing exists. nix's book, abhorsen, is a young adult novel--it won the young adult novel section. by awarding it, you're sending out the statement that a good book will be for both adults and children, and will have things both can enjoy. but, in awarding it, you also continue the trend, in fantasy, towards an infantilism of the genre. already having taken a beating from tolkien's simplistic morals, fantasy has continued to trade a simplistic set of ideals with writers like feist, the eddings, pratchett, and gemmell--and now, having been joined to a bunch of young adult novels like rowling and nix's books, these simplistic right and wrongs and lack of adult themes continue. it's no surprise, then, that the majority of its readers of fantasy are young adults, and that when they get older, they move into different fiction, looking for adult situations and themes, as the ratings board says. (i've heard people ask the question: why does fantasy bleed readers when they reach their twenties? the answer, for me, has been that they've grown up, while the mainstream face of the genre hasn't.)
by award abhorsen, you continue to show the face of fantasy as being linked to a young adult audience. if you don't view this as a problem, that's fine, but for me, it is a problem. it limits the kind of novels that will be taken into the mainstream fantasy releases and ensures that the interesting and thoughtful work remains unpublished or pushed into the small press. which, of course, results in people bitching and moaning about elves and dwarves and princesses, as if those character descriptions were a problem--which, of course, they're not. they're a racial background in a character, and it's foolish to sit around and say, 'well, fuck, it has an elf and a dragon,' as if that explains the entire character and book. by that same logic, you might as well say, 'well fuck, it has an american and a dog.' but of course, this kind of thinking won't change if the kind of books awarded and shown to be the cream of fantasy are also, in fact, the best young adult novels of the day.
well, at least that's the way i think of it. of kelleher's horror novel, i can't say anything, and nix winning a children's award for a book that i thought was being promoted as a young adult novel doesn't leave me with thoughts either way. in the end, however, even my opinions about the books that won don't matter--the statement sent by the awards this year is that good work is important no matter where it comes from and it is a nice sentiment.
i'm just too cynical for it, i guess.