Memories of the Silly Season

Matt Cheney writes about current awards-complaining in the context of just being named a judge himself.

It brought back memories of being a World Fantasy Award judge. I still remember when they announced our consensus winner, Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore I was sitting in the banquet room with a prominent NY editor for a genre imprint right in my line of sight. As Murakami’s name was announced her face twisted into a mask of anger and disbelief. Which along with some general muttering made me worry about getting out of the room unscathed.

Later, another editor generously tried to rationalize the decision by finding six degrees of separation between Murakami and the genre subculture, as if membership in that subculture was a prerequisite for receiving the award. Someone else told me it wasn’t right the award had gone to someone who wasn’t one of us—again, referring to the subculture. I then had to sit through a lecture from a fellow writer about how Kafka on the Shore wasn’t the best Murakami, and ergo wasn’t worthy of the win…despite the fact at the time I’d read everything Murakami had ever written and thus could at least be said to have some perspective on it all…and definitely not in need of the lecture. Later still, some stuck the “blame” for that choice on me, even though it had been a book put forward by another judge and the decision had been unanimous.

All I know is…that year we read thousands and thousands of pages of material and also exchanged over 5,000 emails as judges. We gave it all our undivided attention and debated all of it, and dealt with it all honestly.

There is always plenty of room for debate and for honest differences of opinions, and it’s important when looking at finalist lists and the winner lists that for judged awards most of the time the judges spend hundreds of hours reading and re-reading and agonizing. And there’s no way to get it completely right. But for most judges, the process is one that creates a further love for fantastical literature and a determination to be as fair as possible.


  1. says

    It can appear to an outsider that genre awards are only given to folks that are connected to the subculture. It’s an easy correlation to make. As many high school science teachers drilled into me, correlation doesn’t mean causation.

    In this case? It does, but not for any reason the kinds of folks making this complaint could accept.

    Take any “great” writer and toss him or her into the genre pond. The result is most often a book the author believes to be groundbreaking and innovative, but the community finds hackneyed. It can’t even be called “derivative” without going back to the tired old crap that was never going to be a classic. It’s kind of like a Paris guidebook by someone whose whole experience of France is Eurodisney. It’s no wonder those works are never recognized by the community.

    It’s always a shock and joy finding a “respectable” writer who has a clear and deep love of genre that nobody knew about, an understanding of artistry and craft and character and storytelling. Those are the authors who come out of left field and win genre awards when nobody expects it, anti-snobbery be damned.

  2. says

    For what it’s worth, I read all of the 2006 WFA novel shortlist and found it to be a damn good one. When McKilip was one of the lesser ones on that list for me and I found Od Magic to be quite good, then belated kudos to the judges.

    As for the Lauren Miller diatribe that Matt mentions in his post, I’ve now read all of the fiction shortlist and it’s a very good shortlist, much better than I found this year’s Booker Prize finalists.