The Dragon Awards Drop Mil Sci-Fi
The once-promising con's slow leftward slide turns peacenik with its category change announcements for 2023
Well that didn’t take long.
The Dragon Awards have only been around since 2015, having come into existence during a flashpoint in the culture wars. With Sad Puppies in full swing, Brad Torgersen had taken the baton from founder Larry Correia, and lead their biggest campaign yet, seeing 85% of their recommendations on the final ballot for the Hugos. The Rabid Puppies fared a bit better at 87%. Faced with having to consider the work of an unprecedented wave of authors based solely on merit, the Hugo voters did their thing and screwed over a bunch of worthy talent, handing out the largest number of “no awards” since 1977. If anybody had the slightest whiff of Puppy on them, their hopes for a Hugo award were dead in the water. The apple was officially rotten to its core.
Then 2016 happened and, well . . .
The Dragons, though, were supposed to offer hope with fan-based voting and an enormous nomination window. Slate voting wasn’t just allowed, authors were encouraged to stump for the ones they were on. Anybody could potentially find themselves on the ballot; when Nick Cole’s Ctrl Alt Revolt got him dropped from HarperVoyager for a single negative reference to abortion, he published it independently through Amazon, and fans made sure it got its due. The book won the 2016 award for Best Apocalyptic Novel. The Dragons made a massive statement - from Castalia House to Cat Rambo, politics were left at the door.
Fast forward to 2022. Grumblings about the notorious opaqueness of the balloting process came to a head when the final ballots were released; the variety of publishers on display prior to 2020 was noteworthy; a look at nominees for novel categories includes Castalia House, Silver Empire, Tuscany Bay, Baen and Tor along with plenty of appearances by small presses and independent author entries. But 2020 sees a tremendous homogenization of the publishers represented; it’s mostly Tor, Orbit, Bloomsbury and the like.
Last year’s entries for Best Fantasy and Best Science Fiction Novel were entirely made up of titles from either Tor or Orbit books, with Riverhead Press’ Moon Witch, Spider King being the sole exception. Suspicion that the fan-based integrity of the Dragons had been compromised seemed to be confirmed with the appearance of both John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society and Cat Rambo’s You Sexy Thing on the Best Science Fiction Novel final ballot. Scalzi’s TKPS was so excruciatingly mediocre I spent four posts roasting it in real time (start here - you won’t regret it!) and Cat Rambo’s You Sexy Thing - her best selling title by a country mile - likely hasn’t cracked a thousand sold copies since it’s publication.
Scalzi has his fans. Rambo does not. I have heard no one - no one - rave about a single thing Cat Rambo has written. Never heard anyone say Cat Rambo was their favorite author. I’ve read praise for Scalzi.
“Her most recent effort, You Sexy Thing has enjoyed comparative success, selling 719 copies since last November. But it’s a long list of zeroes and near-zeroes from there.”
People’s B.S. antennas were up. This month the DragonCon awards site announced changes to their categories, the most prominent of which was the doing away of the Military Science Fiction category. While at first this may seem mystifying, since Mil Sci-Fi is one of the most popular subgenres in SF/F, but upon closer examination it fits with the award’s apparent lurch leftward, I think.
The Military Science Fiction category, you see, is one that consistently featured nominations from the widest variety of publishers. Self-published authors made frequent appearances on its ballots alongside top-tier tradpub offerings. 2022 featured two alone, for J.N. Chaney and Terry Maggert’s Backyard Starship and Jeffery H. Haskell’s Against All Odds. It’s also where one usually found authors known to have right-of-center sensibilities. If I had to guess, somebody at DragonCon doesn’t like all these icky troglodyte indies and Cons at their lunch table.
It might be money. It might be ideology. But it’s the only way this makes any sense. The Dragons are drawing their line in the sand here. And something tells me they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into.
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