This weekend saw the second iteration of the Dragon Awards, a cross-media celebration of science fiction and fantasy held by Dragon Con in Atlanta. Decided through a free online poll, the awards purport to represent the tastes of SF/F fandom as a whole.
Despite their recent vintage, the Dragon Awards already have a rocky history. Last year, the awards largely reflected the tastes of a very specific voting bloc: namely, supporters of the Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns that formed to counter perceived left-wing bias at Worldcon’s Hugo Awards.
This led to such ludicrous situations as Brian Niemeier, a Puppy-aligned author, campaigning for his little-known space opera Souldancer to be voted into the Best Horror category for tactical reasons — and winning. L. Jagi Lamplighter, who edited Souldancer and became a finalist this year for her YA novel Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland, acknowledged the Puppies’ influence on the Dragon Awards results in 2016: “Puppy fans were eager to vote in a new award and may have been more vigilant than general fans who didn’t necessarily know about the Dragon Awards ahead of time.” Other authors from the Puppysphere, meanwhile, insisted that the Dragons were evidence of their mass popularity with the wider fandom.
However, it seems the farce of the 2016 Dragon Awards can now be consigned to the dustbin of fandom history. The 2017 Dragons have received a much higher turnout of voters and, all in all, they have done a considerably better job of living up to their stated aim of offering “a true reflection of the works that are genuinely most beloved by the core audience.”
This year, the one victory from the Puppy circles was earned by Larry Correia and John Ringo’s Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, which won Best Fantasy Novel. Correia was the founder of the Sad Puppies campaign and is almost certainly the most popular author to be aligned with the movement, so his success here should not come as too much of a surprise.
The title of Best Science Fiction Novel went to Babylon’s Ashes, the latest installment in the space opera series The Expanse by James S. A. Corey (actually a joint pseudonym used by authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck).
Victor LaValle, who became a Hugo finalist earlier this year with his novella The Ballad of Black Tom, won the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel with The Changeling. This victory came in spite of Puppy-aligned finalist Declan Finn confidently predicting that his novel Love at First Bite Book 3: Live and Let Bite would win in the Best Horror category.
The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan won the Best Young Adult/Middle Grade category. Meanwhile, Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox was named Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel. Harry Turtledove’s Fallout: The Hot War took the award in Best Alternate History Novel. Finally, Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway rounded off the prose categories by winning Best Apocalyptic Novel.
Wonder Woman won Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie, while Stranger Things won Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series. Both of the comic categories went to titles based on Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, with The Dresden Files: Dog Men named Best Comic Book and The Dresden Files: Wild Card winning Best Graphic Novel.
In the gaming awards, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild won in the PC/Console Game category. The international sensation Pokémon GO became the completely unsurprising winner of Mobile Game. Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk won the Board Game category, while Magic the Gathering: Eldritch Moon was voted to the top of the Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role-Playing Game category.
The Campaign Trail
One new faction on the block was a group calling itself the Happy Frogs. Founded by Dragon finalist Jon Del Arroz — and sporting a logo swiped from Gab, the alt-right’s favoured social network — this movement sprang up during a round of Puppy in-fighting earlier this year. Within hours of the Dragon Awards ballot being released on 4 August, the Happy Frogs website published a list of recommendations focusing upon Puppy-affiliated authors.
The list, credited to the Happy Frogs Board of Trustees, was presented as an attempt to strike back against an “anti-frog” establishment:
“We at the Happy Frogs firmly believe that 2nd place is first loser. This is why we have to have a talk, fans and frogs alike. There are some categories where it will be very tough to get further than a nomination because of some big names and anti-frog individuals with loud microphones. It is IMPERATIVE that we throw our collective weights beyond one voice per category to give us the best odds to surpass some of these giants. This is David vs. Goliath v. 2.0 and we have to make sure we go to battle ready.”
Out of all of the Happy Frog choices, only the picks for Graphic Novel and Mobile Game actually won.
One of the finalists for Best Science Fiction Novel, and the nominee backed by the Happy Frogs, was Brian Niemeier’s The Secret Kings, a book that has prompted almost no online discussion outside of Puppy circles. Niemeier framed his campaign for the award as a battle against SJW forces, as embodied by his fellow finalist John Scalzi.
To Niemeier, this conflict is not merely literary, but also spiritual: he has argued that SJWs are actually being controlled by demons. “Though some members of the cultural Marxist/PC/SJW mob may indeed be possessed, to a great degree their warped thoughts and irrational actions can be attributed to the relatively less severe spiritual disorder called demonic obsession.” The fact that the award went to neither author forms something of an anticlimax to this cosmic drama.
The Puppy/Frog circle was not the only voting bloc, it should be noted. Last year, the podcast Sword and Laser — which has published books through the independent platform Inkshares — campaigned for novels by its members to be nominated for Dragon Awards. This campaign successfully pushed Jim McDoniel’s An Unattractive Vampire, J-F Dubeau’s The Life Engineered and G. Derek Adams’ Asteroid Made of Dragons onto the 2016 ballot.
This year, another crop of Inkshares novels became finalists for the Dragon Awards: Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards, Rise by Brian Guthrie, The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz, A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau, and It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett. The Inkshares readership, it seems safe to say, is keeping a close eye on the future of the Dragon Awards.
Also notable, despite arriving awfully late in the day, is the Red Panda Fraction. In a flurry of tweets the Thursday before Dragon Con, this group criticised the Dragon Awards voting process, called for “fans of leftist, LGBTQ+, feminist & radical cultural works in science-fiction, fantasy and gaming” to take part in the awards, and offered a full list of recommendations. Only two of these, in the Horror and TV categories, correspond with the winners.
Speaking to WWAC, the Red Panda Fraction explained that it has been active in private for some time now and took part in the Dragons’ nomination process. It informed us that it contains approximately fifty people, around twenty of whom took part in discussions about award nominees.
The group has also stated that it plans to put together a public recommendation list for the next iteration of the Dragon Awards. Although occupying a very different part of the political spectrum, the Pandas’ method is similar to that of the Sad Puppies and is thus open to much of the same criticism. “By naming themselves an animal group, they placed themselves in a direct battle with the ridiculous Puppy nonsense,” commented fan blogger Kat Goodwin. “It’s another clueless group of people trying to turn helpless authors into football teams with animal mascots.”
Some of the authors up for the Dragon Awards this year expressed dismay at the sheer sourness of the surrounding discussion. “As one of the other finalists, I couldn’t believe what I saw when I searched the hashtag for the awards,” said Rick Heinz. “Why is shit like this a thing?” R. R. Virdi, a two-time Dragon Award finalist, expressed similar thoughts: “This is getting crazy & makes some of us feel like we’re caught in the middle of a war.”
Small wonder, then, that multiple finalists opted to withdraw from the awards.
John Scalzi was nominated in the Best Science Fiction category for his novel The Collapsing Empire, but pulled out when he found himself being used by Brian Niemeier “as a prop, to advance a manufactured ‘us vs. them’ vote-pumping narrative based on ideology.” He later changed his mind and decided to stay on the ballot. Alison Littlewood, whose novel The Hidden People was Rabid Puppies founder Vox Day’s personal choice for Best Horror, also decided to withdraw. Finally, N. K. Jemisin asked for her Best Apocalyptic Novel finalist The Obelisk Gate to be pulled from the ballot. “The Dragon Awards voting process no longer seems fair or transparent to me,” she wrote. “There was no way to know if my book’s presence on the list was legitimately earned through individual, freely-chosen votes by a representative sampling of DragonCon members.” She expressed suspicion that, as an African-American woman, she was being used as tokenistic “flak shielding” by the awards organisers.
The decisions made by these authors prompted a round of jeering from the Puppysphere. Kai Wai Cheah, whose book No Gods, Only Daimons was a finalist for Best Alternate History Novel, wrote a blog post on the topic. As well as declaring that “John Scalzi cannot be allowed to win an award,” he dismissed the three authors as “writers who disrespected their fans” — an accusation obviously derived from an idealised image of the Dragon Awards as representing the unfiltered tastes of fandom. Cheah also claimed that, by leaving the awards, the authors were engaging in “classic social justice entryist tactics.”
Littlewood, who had hoped to drop out of the awards quietly and without drama, responded to such accusations on her blog. “It has been suggested in some quarters that I have something against fans and their votes, which is of course ridiculous,” she wrote. “It’s wonderful when people enjoy my books and I’m grateful for it. In this case, the award has become the focus of several campaigning groups… I am deeply concerned that I may be the unwitting beneficiary of unfair interference.” Her detractors, it has to be said, are ignoring the elephant in the room: the Rabid Puppies are often not fans of the works they vote for. Few authors would relish having their works implicitly bracketed with Stix Hiscock’s Alien Stripper Boned From Behind by the T-Rex, one of the Rabid Puppy choices for this year’s Hugos.
In the same post, Littlewood published a rather curious reply that she received from Dragon Con president Pat Henry. In his e-mail, Henry acknowledged “the rabid puppies and justice warriors efforts to effect [sic] the voting.” The Dragon Con Twitter account, in a tweet that has since been deleted, reaffirmed that “Justice Warriors is the name of a group with their own ‘Slate.'” As this was before the Red Panda Fraction appeared, it is unclear who this tweet was referencing.
But perhaps more significant is Henry’s revelation about the initial intentions of the Dragon Awards:
“The original purpose of the Dragon Awards was not so much as awards but as a quality reading list. The cost of reading current material has been rising steadily for years. Library budgets are not adequate to have all, or even a decent collection of the type of materials that Dragon Con fans enjoy.”
Here, we can see a glimpse of an altogether friendlier side of the Dragon Awards: not a battle for supremacy, but a reading list containing dozens of SF/F books that will appeal to a wide range of tastes. The Happy Frogs website declares that “2nd place is first loser,” but such an attitude runs contrary to the entire point of the awards as stated by Pat Henry.
How Many Voters?
The 2017 Dragon Awards also cleared up a longstanding question: the size of the voting base. During the ceremony, Pat Henry revealed that there were around 8,000 final ballots this year, and around half that number last year.
Those allied with the Puppy campaigns are fond of stressing that Dragon Con has upwards of 60,000 attendees, which they apparently take to mean that the Dragon Awards have upwards of 60,000 voters. “Their theory that two groups with combined total memberships of about 500 people controlled a direct democratic vote at a con with a minimum of 60,000 attendees that’s open to anyone with an internet connection reeks of desperation,” said Brian Niemeier after winning his 2016 award for Best Horror Novel. However, the revelation that 4,000 or so people voted across the 15 categories shows that it would have been entirely possible for 500 people to sway the results, and harder for them to do so this year with twice the turnout.
Online, the Dragon Con attendees have not shown themselves to be particularly interested in the Dragon Awards. The Dragon Con Forums have a brief thread about the awards from shortly after they were first announced in 2016, but discussion since then has been negligible. On the Dragon Con subreddit, the initial response to the awards was largely negative, while subsequent conversation about the topic has been both sparse and ambivalent.
“My worry is that the awards will fizzle out bc of lack of participation,” said Redditor “TookieDeLaCreme.” Another poster at the subreddit, “crystalisttwo,” expressed similar doubts: “I don’t feel like the awards will last long.” Meanwhile, “spaghetti_cello” commented that the Dragons are a small-scale award and they should embrace this as their raison d’être. “I wish the entries for each category were limited in a way to only smaller creators, like a smaller film festival… Doctor Who, Stranger Things, etc. have won real actual awards. As awesome as Dragon Con is, this award doesn’t really mean anything compared to the awards these creations have already won.”
A Facebook group called the Dragon Awards Collective exists, and multiple members have used it to suggest potential nominees. Yet the works named are almost exclusively films, TV series and video games rather than novels, the main focus of the awards.
It is unlikely that the Dragon Awards will ever match the size of the Goodreads Choice Awards, where the SF/F categories regularly attract around 100,000 to 300,000 votes each. However, they have clearly overtaken the relatively modest scale of the Hugo Awards.
Winners and Runners-Up
1. Best Science Fiction Novel
Winner: Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Death’s End by Cixin Liu
Escaping Infinity by Richard Paolinelli
Rise by Brian Guthrie
Space Tripping by Patrick Edwards
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
The Secret Kings by Brian Niemeier
2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)
Winner: Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge by Larry Correia and John Ringo
A Sea of Skulls by Vox Day
Beast Master by Shayne Silvers
Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter
Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi
The Heartstone Thief by Pippa DaCosta
Wings of Justice by Michael-Scott Earle
3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel
Winner: The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan
A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray
Firebrand by A.J. Hartley
It’s All Fun and Games by Dave Barrett
Rachel and the Many Splendored Dreamland by L. Jagi Lamplighter
Swan Knight’s Son by John C Wright
4. Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel
Winner: Iron Dragoons by Richard Fox
Allies and Enemies: Exiles by Amy J. Murphy
Caine’s Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
Cartwright’s Cavaliers by Mark Wandrey
Invasion: Resistance by J.F. Holmes
Star Realms: Rescue Run by Jon Del Arroz
Starship Liberator by B.V. Larson and David VanDyke
The Span of Empire by Eric Flint and David Carrico
5. Best Alternate History Novel
Winner: Fallout: The Hot War by Harry Turtledove
1636: The Ottoman Onslaught by Eric Flint
A Change in Crime by D.R. Perry
Another Girl, Another Planet by Lou Antonelli
Breath of Earth by Beth Cato
No Gods, Only Daimons by Kai Wai Cheah
The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville
Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler
6. Best Apocalyptic Novel
Winner: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
A Place Outside the Wild by Daniel Humphreys
American War by Omar El Akkad
Codename: Unsub by Declan Finn and Allan Yoskowitz
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin (withdrawn by author)
The Seventh Age: Dawn by Rick Heinz
ZK: Falling by J.F. Holmes
7. Best Horror Novel
Winner: The Changeling by Victor LaValle
A God in the Shed by J-F Dubeau
Blood of Invidia by Tom Tinney and Morgen Batten
Donn’s Hill by Caryn Larrinaga
Live and Let Bite by Declan Finn
Nothing Left to Lose by Dan Wells
The Bleak December by Kevin G. Summers
The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood (withdrawn by author)
8. Best Comic Book
Winner: The Dresden Files: Dog Men by Jim Butcher, Mark Powers, and Diego Galindo
Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eleven by Christos Gage, Rebekah Isaacs
Monstress by Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Motor Girl by Terry Moore
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa
Saga by Brian K Vaughan, Fiona Staples
Wynonna Earp Legends by Beau Smith, Tim Rozon, Melanie Scrofano, Chris Evenhuis
9. Best Graphic Novel
Winner: Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files: Wild Card by Jim Butcher and Carlos Gomez
Clive Barker Nightbreed #3 by Marc Andreyko, Clive Barker, Emmanuel Xerx Javier
Girl Genius: the Second Journey of Agatha Heterodyne, Book 2: The City of Lightning by Phil and Kaja Foglio
Love is Love by Marc Andreyko, Sarah Gaydos, James S. Rich
March Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
Stuck in My Head by J.R. Mounts
10. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series
Winner: Stranger Things, Netflix
Doctor Who, BBC
Marvel’s Agents of Shield, ABC
Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, Sky1
The Expanse, Syfy
Wynonna Earp, Syfy
11. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie
Winner: Wonder Woman directed by Patty Jenkins
Arrival directed by Denis Villeneuve
Doctor Strange directed by Scott Derrickson
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 directed by James Gunn
Logan directed by James Mangold
Passengers directed by Morten Tyldum
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story directed by Gareth Edwards
12. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC / Console Game
Winner: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by Nintendo
Dishonored 2 by Arkane Studios
Final Fantasy XV by Square Enix
Mass Effect: Andromeda by Bioware
NieR: Automata by PlatinumGames
Titanfall 2 by Respawn Entertainment
13. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Mobile Game
Winner: Pokemon GO by Niantic
Con Man: The Game by Monkey Strength Productions
Fire Emblem Heroes by Nintendo
Monument Valley 2 by Ustwogames
Sky Dancer by Pine Entertainment
Super Mario Run by Nintendo
14. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game
Winner: Betrayal at House on the Hill: Widow’s Walk by Avalon Hill
Gloomhaven by Cephalofair Games
Hero Realms by White Wizard Games
Mansions of Madness (Second Edition) by Fantasy Flight Games
Scythe by Stonemaier Games
Terraforming Mars by Stronghold Games
15. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures / Collectible Card / Role-Playing Game
Winner: Magic the Gathering: Eldritch Moon by Wizards of the Coast
A Shadow Across the Galaxy X-Wing Wave X by Fantasy Flight Games
Bloodborne: The Card Game by CMON Limited
Dark Souls: The Board Game by Steamforged Games
Pulp Cthulhu by Chaosium
Star Wars: Destiny by Fantasy Flight Games