I opened an email the other day from my publisher. Their note said they’d submitted my novel, Heart Land, for some book award. If they’d had asked me, I’d have told them not to bother. I don’t have much faith in awards. Wherever people gather, politics is likely to follow. Worse, awards usually come with entrance fees which the sponsors use to pay for the event. The practice is unscrupulous and no more absurd than asking actors to pay a fee when they try out for a play in order to fund the theater’s production.
Once, I confess, I did submit a piece to a local contest, largely because friends had been complimentary, and it had received some critical pats on the back. I neither won the award nor placed. My $40 entrance fee went to pay off the winner. If the book that won had been good, I might have been content. But it wasn’t. Pitifully flawed, it should have been committed to a bonfire along with other award winning atrocities, like The Orphan Master’s Son.
My complaints may sound like sour grapes but as Amy Wallace writes in her recent article, there is more grist to my objection than would first appear. Her essay takes a hard look at the Hugo Award, an annual celebration which, since 1953, has celebrated the best of science fiction, honoring greats like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. LeGuin, Arthur Gibson and the like. (“War of the Words,” by Amy Wallace, Wired, November 2015, pg. 96.) At the moment, a struggle is underway to determine who owns the genre — those who favor the super heroes of the past, created and dominated by white males, or the new, more inclusive characters which are the inventions of writers of different persuasions, including a growing number of women. (Related blogs, 11/11/2011 &, 11/30/2011)
Unique to the Hugo, the prize isn’t awarded by judges but by a vote of the majority of those willing to pay $40 to attend the World Science Fiction Convention. Both sides in the current debate have adopted a strategy to pack the hall with delegates of like mind in the hope of settling the argument. As a result, attendance at the 2015 convention increased by 65 percent over the previous year. (Ibid pg. 101) Both sides introduced slates of authors designed to increase the likelihood of someone from their ranks winning.
Sadly, the public believes the prize is for merit. The assumption is no more valid than the assumption that Barrack Obama, newly elected president of the United States, won the Nobel Prize of Peace in 2009 for his accomplishment toward world peace. Other than making a few heartwarming speeches, he’d had no actual record of accomplishment. The embarrassment prompted commentators to characterize the award as an intentional, backhanded insult to Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, who dragged the country into two Middle Easter wars. (Click)
So many good books lie unread and forgotten like lilies in a graveyard, and all for want of a prize that may or may not be the result of achievement. For those willing to wander outside their comfort zone, I recommend Dan Berne’s The Gods of Second Chances and Susan Stoner’s Sage Adair mystery series.