Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Down With the Old (Awards) and In With the New

Fans of the blog (both of you but I wuvs you both) will note that I have in the past commented on the Hugo Awards/Sad Puppy controversy. For those that have not, I support the Sad Puppy side because I believe that Science Fiction and Fantasy  awards are a field that should not be dominated by a cabal of geriatric liberals. I honestly believe that a guy like me who has attended a WorldCon and honestly feels that he would be immediately asked to leave the premises should he ever go to one (I'm an open conservative) can be a fan. I further believe that WorldCon is not truly a fan convention at all, being primarily attended by people who work in the industry. I'm sorry folks, but fans are people from outside the industry who enjoy the product. Writers, publishers, artists, actors, etc, are insiders not fans. Hugo voters are primarily industry insiders in their sixties and seventies who don't want young whippersnappers such as myself (I'll be forty in December) attending their convention and ruining their good time. (Their loss. I know where to get good deals on Geritol and Efferdent.) My girlfriend will be attending MidAmeriCon this year. She's only thirty-six. I wish her luck.

Furthermore, I've often wondered when the old blue hairs who run and attend WorldCons will acknowledge that people under retirement age actually do consume and enjoy Science Fiction and Fantasy. The edgy, new-fangled Hugo category for youngsters is "Best Graphic Story." Guess what guys? Superman debuted in 1938. He may actually be older than one or two of you antiques that want to keep us young'uns out. Not only that, but there were actually comic books before that. There is nothing new or interesting about adding comics (I'm sorry, "Graphic Stories") as a category.

No, the Hugos have not shown any interest in attracting younger voters. Youngsters (a term I use loosely here, meaning basically forty-five and younger. IE Not necessarily in diapers but younger than the average Hugo voter) grew up playing video games. There are people in their twenties now who don't remember a time before Harry Potter. A quick Amazon search for "Young Adult Science Fiction" in "Books" turns up 44, 529 hits. Science Fiction and Fantasy Role Playing Games have existed since the 1970s. Card games like Magic, YuGiOh and Pokemon have flourished for over twenty years now. None of these have been acknowledged by elitist oldsters of WorldCon. But there's good news: Another organization will soon be issuing awards in the ares of Science Fiction and Fantasy on an annual basis and they're actually offering categories inclusive of the under seventy crowd.

Yes, my friends, the Dragon Award is a reality. Check it out at their website. Oddly enough you don't even have to pay in the new, inclusive system. It's almost like DragonCon is a big enough concern that they can afford to pay for their con based on the people who attend it instead of providing an atmosphere solely for aging relics on fixed incomes. It's a weird concept to some I will admit. Allowing the great unwashed to vote based on their love of the genre instead of limiting the franchise to people who pay to be part of the club is sure to offend those who have so zealously defended the gates against outsiders who haven't come to their meetings every year since 1939.

Check out the categories they're offering:

  • Best science fiction novel
  • Best fantasy novel (including paranormal)
  • Best young adult/middle grade novel
  • Best military science fiction or fantasy novel
  • Best alternate history novel
  • Best apocalyptic novel
  • Best horror novel
  • Best comic book
  • Best graphic novel
  • Best episode in a continuing science fiction or fantasy series, TV or internet
  • Best science fiction or fantasy movie
  • Best science fiction or fantasy PC / console game
  • Best science fiction or fantasy mobile game
  • Best science fiction or fantasy board game
  • Best science fiction or fantasy miniatures / collectable card / role-playing game
I stole those categories from this press release. I wanted to make sure I got them right. View them for yourself and make your own judgments about what's there, what's not there and what should be. Here's what I see though:

To being with, there is quite apparently a lot of overlap with the current Hugo setup. "Best Comic Book" and "Best Graphic Novel" sound a lot like "Best Graphic Story." "Best Episode in a Continuing Science Fiction or Fantasy Series, TV or Internet" sounds like a much longer way to say "Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)." "Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie" sounds about the same vis a vis "Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)." There is still a "Best Science Fiction Novel." Speaking of the awards for novels that's where one of the big changes occurs and it's one that I have mixed feelings about.

 Best novel still exists but has been broken up a bit for those fans who prefer to read in particular subgenres. This works for me because it gives more books a chance to win and not just because there are more awards. Many fans prefer to read only in a particular favorite subgenre or two (I'm big on Alt-hist and military SF personally) and a lot of them are going to have a chance to see one of their favorite books of the year nominated when they may not have otherwise. Seriously, I'm a huge Harry Turtledove fanboy. (If I ever meet you in person and you want to know how that happened buy me a glass of single malt and listen to my story. I may get a bit maudlin but it's worth your time.) I'd love to see one of his alt-hist works nominated.

Here's the thing though: For me, the Hugo for Best Novel will always be the WorldCon equivalent to the Oscar for Best Picture. I mean, I guess the award for Best Science Fiction novel covers that, sort of but I don't know if it goes far enough with the rest of the categories getting awards as well. I guess what I'm saying is that my spoiled ass wants to have my cake and eat it too. I guess I'll live. I may very well pout about it though.

What I really like though is something I alluded to earlier: This really is a  ballot that offers options to those of us who were born after 1960. Pong was released by Atari in 1972. Pac Man was released in 1980. Games like Space Invaders (1978) and Galaga (1981) have been carrying the Science Fiction banner in the gaming world for over thirty-five years. Yet the Hugos, which claim to be an award for all Science Fiction fans, have never given an award for Best Video Game. I played Magic: The Gathering when it first came out in 1993. Spellfire: Master the Magic (the Dungeons and Dragons game) came not much later. I'm not sure when Munchkin was first released (it won an award in 2001 so presumably then or earlier) but it's crazy popular and has been translated into fifteen languages. The Hugos have never acknowledged games that are not only frequently SF themed, but are wildly popular with the SF loving crowd.The Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set debuted in 1977.  The vast majority of role playing games since then have featured SF/F themes. It's about damn time we see some awards for that. I'm an old school Battletech fan. It's been around for over thirty years now. So have only God knows how many other SF/F board games (Anybody remember Hero Quest? I wish I still had my copy.) It's well past time they were recognized as part of the genre. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary next year. It's awesome to see the huge wave of Young Adult fiction it promoted and its young fans finally being acknowledged.

Now, I'm not saying that this is a perfect set up. I'd love to see a specific category added for Media tie-in novels. Games like Halo and Dungeons & Dragons have a rich literature attached to them. I have no idea precisely how many Star Trek novels have been written but probably not as many as in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. There are enough new entries every year with a big enough following that I'd love to see a special category for them. I'd also like to see a category similar to the "Best Related Work" Hugo. I believe that *AHEM* people who write about the genre deserve some recognition too. (For the record, no I don't think I'd win one if it did exist. I'd still like a chance to cheer for someone LIKE me.)

I also wonder if the Dragon Awards will be promoted well enough to draw in a truly representative crowd. As much as the old blue hairs want to paint their genre as dying without them that's simply not true. Science Fiction and Fantasy are growing. They're just not willing to admit that the SF/F genre is no longer limited to the way that they're used to consuming it.

Speaking of Munchkin, I have a question: If a game releases an expansion (whether it's the latest edition of Munchkin or Magic or even World of Warcraft) is that eligible? Or is it only original games? And what about when the next Halo hits? I'll be honest. I didn't read the FAQ and these answers might be there but for the moment I'm confused. At the end of the day though, at least I get to ask the questions. That's more than I could ever do with the Hugos.

All in all, I really think that this is a good thing. The WorldCon crew and their move to lock everyone out via E Pluribus Hugo is a clear indication that they're not willing to listen to anyone's opinions but their own. That's fine. Those of us who aren't part of the clique now have a place to call our own and this doesn't mean we have to give up our attempts to reform your award into something that includes other viewpoints. It's a good day for the Pups, the Fans and SF/F in general. I'll take it.

Various DragonCon related items are available at the links below:

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