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.