One of the attractions at this year’s Dragon Con was the third iteration of the annual Dragon Awards, presented on Sunday to another fifteen works of science fiction and fantasy across a range of media.
Unlike Worldcon’s Hugo Awards—where voters require a paid membership—or juried prizes such as the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Dragons are conducted over a free online poll in which, theoretically, any fan of science fiction and fantasy can take part. The statistics made public last year indicate that the Dragon Awards have received a far smaller voting turnout than the comparably open-access Goodreads Choice Awards. However, the Dragons go some way towards making up for this with a heavier degree of glitz and excitement: the official guidelines actively encourage authors to campaign for votes, mobilising their fanbases on social media in the hopes of coming to the top of the latest poll.
This year’s Dragon Award for Best Fantasy Novel went to Oathbringer, the latest instalment in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series. Artemis, by The Martian author Andy Weir, won Best Science Fiction Novel. The winner of the Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel was Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.
The prize for Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel went to A Call to Vengeance, a collaborative novel by David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Thomas Pope; this was Weber’s second victory in the military category, as he also won in 2016. Another multi-author work, Uncharted, by Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt, won Best Alternate History Novel. Meanwhile, Sleeping Beauties, by the father-son team of Stephen King and Owen King, won Best Horror Novel.
Presented for the first time this year was the Dragon Award for Best Media Tie-In Novel, which replaces the Best Apocalyptic Novel category. Claudia Gray’s Star Wars novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan became the first book to win this award.
In the comic categories, Best Comic Book went to the conclusion of Jason Aaron’s run on The Mighty Thor, starring the female counterpart of the hammer-wielding hero. The award for Best Graphic Novel was taken by Dynamite’s White Sand Volume 1 by Rik Hoskin, Julius M. Gopez and—in his second victory of the ceremony—Brandon Sanderson. The moving image awards went to Game of Thrones for TV Series and Black Panther for Movie.
Both of the video game categories went to titles inspired by popular novel series, as Middle-Earth: Shadow of War won PC/Console Game while Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery won in the Mobile Game category. Finally, in the tabletop gaming categories, Red Dragon Inn 6: Villains was named Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Board Game and Magic: The Gathering Unstable won the gold in the Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role-Playing Game category.
The Bigger Picture
One noticeable thing about this year’s Dragon Awards is just how quiet they were. The awards made their debut in 2016, in the shadow of the right-wing Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies campaigns that had occurred at the Hugos. In their first two years, the Dragon Awards were something of a battlefield, with the Puppy campaigns inspiring multiple splinters and imitators—including the Red Panda Fraction, a left-wing group which, controversially, adopted the same tactics as the right-wing Puppies. Over time, however, the aftershocks from the Puppy campaigns quietened down, something that can be seen simply by comparing the ballots. The pro-Puppy authors John C. Wright, Brian Niemeier, and Declan Finn were finalists in both 2016 (when Wright and Niemeier won in their respective categories) and in 2017; and yet they are all missing from the ballot in 2018, despite each having at least one eligible novel.
This is not to say that pro-Puppy authors were completely absent this year. Most obviously Sarah A. Hoyt, a former leader of the Sad Puppies campaign, was amongst the winners. Also notable is that one of the Best Graphic Novel finalists, Brandon Fiadino and Djibril Morissette’s Chicago Typewriter: The Red Ribbon, was published by Rabid Puppies founder Vox Day. Day is one of the creators to have eagerly jumped aboard the current “Comicsgate” bandwagon—lending definite symbolic value to the female Thor’s victory in Best Comic Book.
By and large, however, the remnants of the Puppy campaigns had a negligible impact on this year’s Dragons. Fan blogger Camestros Felapton posted a comprehensive analysis comparing the final ballot with the various campaigns to give a quick impression of which books were the subjects of vote-lobbying, and which campaigns were successful; the clear conclusion is that politicised campaigns are dying out. With them has gone much of the hostility that characterised previous years of Dragon Award discourse; the sheer nastiness surrounding the award prompted authors John Scalzi and Alison Littlewood to request to be withdrawn from the 2017 ballot, but nothing on the same level occurred this year.
That said, while the Dragons have seen their least controversial year yet, they were nonetheless the subject of some disquiet. One cause for complaint was the introduction of the award for Best Media Tie-In Novel and the retirement of Best Apocalyptic Novel, which went down badly with some of the authors who had previously been nominated for the latter award. J. F. Holmes, the author of the 2017 Apocalyptic Novel finalist Falling, criticised the change: “why the BLEEP do you drop Post_apocalypse [sic] awards?” he asked. “‘Best Media Tie-In Novel’ is a huge slap in the face of indie authors. You have to be a big-time writer to get permission to write for a brand, like Star Wars or Halo.” Declan Finn, who co-wrote another of last year’s Best Apocalyptic contenders, was also unimpressed. Commenting on the 2018 Best Media Tie-In finalists, his assessment of the six novels was simply “Who cares?”
A later, slightly more heated dispute took the form of a scuffle between authors Cora Buhlert and Richard Paolinelli. Buhlert, a German writer who has frequently blogged about the Puppy campaigns and their aftermath, wrote a blog post in early August entitled The 2018 Dragon Award Nominees and the Rise of the Kindle Unlimited Writing Factories. As well as commenting on the relative obscurity of some of the finalists, Buhlert described the Dragon Awards as being “extremely vulnerable to ballot stuffing,” and stated that the Puppies, Pandas, and other groups had engaged in this behaviour. Speaking to Bookmarked, Buhlert clarified that she was using the phrase “ballot stuffing” in the broad sense of campaigning for votes, rather than the stricter sense of individuals submitting multiple votes each; the former is encouraged by the Dragon Awards, the latter forbidden.
Buhlert’s post received an impatient reply from Richard Paolinelli, a 2017 Dragon Award finalist and founder of the Dragon Award Books subreddit. In his post To Cora Butthurt [sic] In Germany, With Love Paolinell made a case for the superiority of Dragon-nominated fiction to “condescending, preachy” Hugo-nominated fiction.
“[R]eal fans read what’s on the Dragon’s shortlist and narrow-minded asshats like you read the Nebula and Hugo shortlists” declared Paolinelli in his response to Buhlert, a comment that overlooks the unwieldy nature of the Dragon shortlist. With less than a month between the publication of the ballot and the closure of voting, readers have precious little time to familiarise themselves with the books up for the award. Indeed, in 2017 Paolinelli himself admitted at his Dragon Awards subreddit that he had not actually read the majority of the year’s finalists.
A major flaw in the Hugos-versus-Dragons narrative propped up by Paolinelli is the overlap between the two awards. Brandon Sanderson and Andy Weir, two of this year’s Dragon winners, are previous winners of Worldcon’s awards: Sanderson won the 2013 Hugo for Best Novella and has been nominated in other years, while Weir won the 2016 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. A number of past Dragon Award winners—Naomi Novik, James S. A. Corey, Victor LaValle, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, G. Willow Wilson—are likewise no strangers to the Hugo ballot. Conversely, out of the six authors who competed for the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year, four have been Dragon finalists: John Scalzi, Ann Leckie, Kim Stanley Robinson, and N. K. Jemisin.
There are many disparities between the two awards as well, but this due is in large part to the significant differences between their categorisation systems. The Hugos have four categories for short fiction; the Dragons have none. The Dragons have seven categories for novels; the Hugos have just two, if Worldcon’s new award for young adult fiction is counted. The Dragons have no counterpart to the Hugo Award for Best Series, Best Fan Writer, Best Editor, or Best Semiprozine, and the Hugos have no counterpart to the Dragons’ various gaming awards.
There is no reason for the Hugos and the Dragons to exist as rivals. They are different awards that utilise different systems. The Dragon Awards are looser and flashier, but this should not be a deal-breaker to anyone who approaches a science fiction and fantasy award as just a bit of fun.