discussions genre stuff

Serious Fantasy Reviewing

I notice that Strange Horizons is getting to grips with some of the shortlisted titles from last year’s Gemmell Award:

The question that presents itself, obviously, is: how easily can any of these books be judged on their own merits? This, certainly, is what the DGLA administrators are aiming for, as noted on their website: “[P]lease remember the Award is for the Best Fantasy Novel of 2008—that one book that has been Nominated (whether or not it forms part of a series) and not the body of an author’s work as a whole.”

What do they mean by “in the spirit of David Gemmell”? According to the same web page, what they are looking for is something that grabs the reader immediately, with pace (“you know, books that you’re STILL reading at three in the morning!”), characters to root for, and convincing world-building. Stories, in other words, that take hold and won’t let go until the final page—the reason we all started reading fantasy in the first place.

Quality of prose goes unmentioned, but I’m afraid it won’t in this review…

This, it seems, is one of the only actual comparisons of the fantasy titles that were shortlisted. I made noises at the time that no one was talking about the content of the books, and so here we go at last.

I must admit to finding it bizarre that any award can have a shortlist where titles are barely compared to each other. How can you call a book the “best” without such an analysis? Getting as many people to vote online seems a spurious way to go about this, when clearly no one could have read so many titles.

I’m not being grouchy here – please don’t misunderstand.

This is where my arguments lie: we bitch and moan about why we – the fantasy genre – are not taken seriously. But when we’re not going to compare and contrast, and dig into the content of some of the big fantasy titles of the year, how can the fantasy genre expect to better itself year on year? How can it expect to gain more respect? (If you don’t care for respect, then I guess that’s the end to my argument.) But we all know that we posses rather self-conscious moments, we fantasy readers, if we’re honest.

As Niall Harrison remarked in an email to me, the UK fantasy genre is in dire need of at least one juried award. And, I suspect, separate to a convention (which is not something in itself that is a problem, of course) in order to make things interesting for the genre and for readers.

Still, at least it means people are talking about fantasy books, which is something. Right?

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

43 replies on “Serious Fantasy Reviewing”

I agree whole heartedly, the list of titles is so long that it acts as a catch-all so that everyone gets a chance to vote for something. It seems the idea is to be as inclusive as possible to the voters. The problem is that the result is so diluted that it becomes questionable at best.

Look at last years winner.

I’m not saying it wasn’t a good book or that it wasn’t well written – although I could argue for badly translated – but it definitely did not stand out as anything remotely resembling ‘best’ especially considering some of the other contenders.

After the event I wasn’t entirely convinced that the number of contenders wasn’t, in part, to help sell tickets for the dinner, and that’s no basis for the care and feeding of the fantasy genre.

The Gemmell award has a narrower purview, so a jury might help there, but overall, I don’t know that juried awards make any difference. Most juried awards are as corrupted by politics as internet voted ones are by sheer popularity. No matter how the judges vote, people will accuse them of getting it wrong.

I think of awards as a nice honor and a way to highlight some worthy writer or another amidst the chaos, but not something to put too much stock in. There is no right answer, after all. It’s easy to divide books into good or bad, but there’s a point where it becomes totally subjective to compare stories that are utterly different and call one better than the other.

As for whether or not the genre is “taken seriously”, well, what does that mean? That is garners the same gravitas of snooty literary fiction? Who cares?

There are millions and millions of SF nerds worldwide, and our numbers continue to grow. We don’t need anyone’s approval to love what we love.

Peter, thanks for stopping by. I think the benefit of those juried awards is that you get so much talk about the books because of that. If the juries rotated – like for the Man Booker Prize – you’d kind of stop a lot of the politics.

In this age, it’s those books that receive a decent marketing budget which perform – on average – better than others. It costs publishers money to put that in front of people, costs them to sell advertising, even to position it in bookstores – an incredible amount of money, in fact. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A juried award can, to some extent, put lesser known writers in front of a wider audience, perhaps against the grain. Is that bad?

As for the “who cares”, well I guess that’s fair enough. But there will always be a few who do, though. And maybe it’s a British, self-consciousness deep down. 🙂 But surely there’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve, or do better, or achieve different things, in any genre?

As long as there have been awards there has been controversy. Open it to all, and people get accused of not taking it seriously. Close it to a jury and people accuse the judges of being aloof and out of touch.

I worked out (a little too late unfortunately) that it would have been fairly easy to get my non-fiction book longlisted for the BSFA Awards, but then that’s the nature of awards.

I like what the DGLA is trying to do. One of the things that has surprised me is how ghettoised British Fantasy is. Even the BFS is predominately Horror writers (as nice as they are). This is at least trying to get fantasy recognised and create the genesis of a community. And yes, there might be a million nominations, but so what. Look at last year, everyone thought Abercrombie was a shoe-in, and look what happened. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, but if nothing else they got people talking about fantasy.

The answer then is to use your votes. It would be nice if we could get at least one ‘proper’ fantasy novel in the BFS novel shortlist, and next year also the BSFA awards. It would also be nice if there was a place ‘we’ could call home. There are some very well respected high traffic online horror and SF community sites, but I’ve yet to find any standout ones for British Fantasy.

Thanks, Adrian. Good point about getting people talking about fantasy. My point is, they weren’t talking about fantasy in the books. All the coverage was about who wore what, or how exciting it was to be there. Fine, all in all, but nothing to do with comparing the books…

A bestselling European author won, since he had a lot of fans online to vote. Which is fine, of course, if that’s the criteria you want to decide the book by which your genre is judged. There was no “this book was better than that because of x,y,z”.

And also – yes, you’re right – the BFS could do with some more traditional (I suppose) fantasy, but I suspect that’s been part of some debate for years.

I’ll bite.

Thinking about it if you were talking about pioneers in the fantasy genre maybe we could call it the Neil Gaiman Award? Now that is more my idea of fantasy – not saying that Gaiman is the best but is one of the most imaginative writers that we have.

And you could fit lots under that head of his.

Niall said on Twitter:

For hypothetical juried award I favour as loose as possible. “Best fantasy novel published in the UK in 2009” and let each year’s jury define “best” “fantasy” and “novel” as they will, and let readers debate whether they’re right.

I’ll go with that. I’d expect it to be quite diverse. Though the only merit in it would be if readers actually agreed on some level that it was the right choices. And in someway represented their own idea of fantasy. Maybe SF is easier because of the comparatively smaller author/reader base that it is easier to compare more the titles and compare them along similar terms?

The Gemmell as it stands is more a beauty pageant with the book that has the most admires winning rather than what you could critically argue is the best. It’s nice as a showcase but not helpful when looking at merit in the genre.

No matter how the judges vote, people will accuse them of getting it wrong.

But that is — or should be — part of the fun of the exercise. And more fun with a judged award than with a popular voted award, I’d suggest, since in theory the judges have read more of the relevant books in a given year than anyone else. That doesn’t mean they’re right, but it does mean their decisions are worth taking seriously: why did they pick X, and not Y?

Put another way, for me, one measure of the quality of a fantasy award should be the quality of the discussion it provokes: does it pick books that are worth talking about? Does it make people want to talk about the books that it picks? Equally, of course — and this is one reason why the review is appearing even so belatedly — I can’t shake the feeling that fantasy, particularly what you could call “core” or “popular” fantasy (not good labels, either of them, but you know what I point to when say it) doesn’t get the discussion it deserves. The Gemmell shortlist should have been an opportunity to have that discussion, but it didn’t happen. Why not?

What dinner, Robert? There was no dinner. There was wine and nibbles as part of the event. It might not have been your intention but you make it sound like some sort of self-congratualtory hoodwinking beanfest, which it was not. Money raised from attendees and the auction went to Médecins Sans Frontières (David Gemmell’s favourite charity and apt for a fantasy author who wrote books about strife and heroism in epic lands). Part of the reason the Gemmell Award was launched was because there was nothing in the UK that catered for fantasy specifically, THE fantasy (traditional heroic epic) fantasy especially. After David Gemmell’s death there were approaches to the British Fantasy Society to initiate an award in his name because he was so beloved of many in the community, his work had a characteristic heroic quality about it and he always gave of himself to young writers.

That little fracas caused more activity on the BFS forum than there had even been before and has been since.

I’m not even going to go there as to that business in any detail but suffice to say that the now old grumble still continues that the BFS in recent years was indifferent to fantasy, most of the committee were made up of horror writers or horror aficionados and there was a sense that some were, to put it mildy, sniffy about fantasy as a genre, especially THE fantasy. Also, this important distinction must be made: the BFS is a society for members and reflects the interests of those members. The David Gemmell Legend Award was created to award professionally published writers in the fantasy field, as a focal point, fantasy with elements of THE fantasy within it. (And like other genre awards there are specific criteria for being considered for an award).

A number of fantasy authors no longer felt that the BFS was the best place to promote published fantasy as a genre in its own right and wished to intiate a new award that would focus upon it, felt that it simply did not have enough of a voice to match its considerable presence in the publishing stables of genre titles.

There are two new Gemmell awards this year: the Ravenheart Award for Best Fantasy Jacket/Cover Artist and last but not least the Morningstar Award for Best Newcomer. The DGLA is in its early phases, the intention is to grow as it already has with the two new awards.

I think Deborah Miller and Stan Nicholls who are the co-founders of the Gemmell Awards can explain things far more eloquently (and cooler) than me. I’ll indicate the thread to them and maybe one or both might or might not pop by.

But for now: the avowed intention of The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy is:

The DGLA aims to:
• Raise public awareness of the Fantasy genre

• Celebrate the history and cultural importance of Fantasy literature

• Appreciate & reward excellence in the field

• Commemorate the legacy of David Andrew Gemmell and his contribution to the Fantasy genre

“The Gemmell shortlist should have been an opportunity to have that discussion, but it didn’t happen. Why not?”

Because quite simply there is no place to have that discussion. Or rather there are a million different blogs, which despite my lax attitude to work, I cannot check them all. The conversation is so spread out it gets lost in the noise.

I’m not sure I really accept that. The fact that the blogosphere is large doesn’t mean it has no focal points; traffic makes its way to some blogs more than others. I’m sure if someone had said, “I’m going to read and review the Gemmell shortlist”, they would have been quite linked-to. (This is not even to get into forums…)

Aside: @Niall – if I can get hold of copies I’m going to try and review the BSFA short list.

The reason is that I’ve not read any of them and all of them have some appeal.

Come think of it I have all bar one of the Gemmell Books:

ABERCROMBIE, Joe – Last Argument of Kings (Gollancz/Pyr)
MARILLIER, Juliet – Heir to Sevenwaters (Tor UK)
SANDERSON, Brandon – The Hero of Ages (Tor US)
SAPKOWSKI, Andrzej – Blood of Elves (Gollancz)
WEEKS, Brent – The Way of Shadows (Orbit)

(that’s the Abercrombie btw)

I could review those if I had time.

Lots of blogs attempt the Booker long and short list. I guess it’s something that bloggers in general don’t seem to do.

Maybe we should be encouraging more bloggers to attack the Award short lists and come up with their own judgments after reading the books mentioned?

For genre in general, I’d say yes (Your vector blog is a particularly good example). But for JUST Fantasy? Maybe I’ve missed them. Trouble is that as soon as someone starts talking Ender’s Game, I’m lost (Or perhaps I’m too much of a rebel rouser that people close the curtains, hide behind the sofa and pretend to be out).

There’s also the point (getting back on point) that there’s nothing stopping people setting up a juried Fantasy award. There is more than one SF award after all

P.S. Nor am I personally polarised against horror or SF, indeed will be doing my little bit for some horror writers, among them a few from these shores, in due course. My first and main love is fantasy and I for one do not think it is adequately represented in an awards sense in the UK and think it is a good thing, to use a phrase of Peter V. Brett’s (but in no way to suggest his comments are in tandem with mine) that there is an award out there for fantasy with a ‘narrower purview’.

Mark, I am with you in your desire to raise the status of the genre as worthy of serious literary discussion (it is being done now) but the gatekeepers of the broadsheets around the world and the drawing rooms and the Newsnight natters and the cultural radio reviews will continue to manage that rare feat of holding onto those keys and holding forth while having their pokers of pomposity stuck firmly up their arses.

There are classics in Western Literature certainly (I speak not of literature outside it because my knowledge doesn’t extend that far) that are either fantasy or SF or horror. It rankles, I know, but time is ultimately the gatekeeper. But there is certainly no harm in trying. We do indeed have to give voice to these movements in order to help them survive in time. They are not in opposition, they run in parallel and at times they intertwine. That was I think part of the reasoning behind the establishment of the DGLA award. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone and that happens if you do nothing about it or for it.

A separate UK fantasy award would just feed into regionalism and further tribalism. There’s already something called the World Fantasy Award, and frankly we’re living in an age where world awards can be made more relevant while yet another regional award just strikes me as small pond thinking. Sorry.

Hey, if you want to talk about tribalism, in the last five years, the “World” Fantasy Award for Best Novel has shortlisted all of one book that didn’t have a US edition at the time (The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce), and one book in translation (Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore). It’s a decent award, but its name is only marginally less silly than that of the World Series.

Anyone in the world can win the Gemmell Award, Jeff. The first one was won by a Polish writer. Only one of the shortlisted authors last year was from the UK. Do all the major awards in genres of the fantastic that really count have to be centred in the US, as if magnanimously allowing in ‘literary immigrants’? Hugos. Nebulas. World Fantasy Award. That must be an example of big pond thinking! It is true that writers here like actors here seem ever anxious to ‘make it’ in the US, partly because that’s where the dosh is. But shifting units and sales has never been a default measure of literary quality, which is what this thread is supposedly about.

I fear I have been partly responsible for shifting the direction of this thread, in which it was Mark’s intention, I believe, to raise the issue of serious literary criticism in fantasy literature.

There certainly are artistic criteria, collectively arrived at and which already exist and have existed for a good century or more in series acamdemic study, which can be applied to measure whether a book is good or bad art. Not everything is relative. But in an age of online relativism all too often good or bad simply becomes what you or I like and that is not a measure of good or bad art, regardless of genre (which in the measure of those criteria would be one element of many taken into account to judge it). But you wouldn’t believe it from many of the online forums.

There are more than enough authors in fantasy and SF and horror and so called ‘literary mainstream’ fiction who have not a basic grasp of the use of foreshadowing, thematic variation, a well wrought metaphor, credible characterisation, just to take some of the more traditional and recognisable tools and basic requrements of the writer’s craft. A lot of genre writing is awash with would-be disingenuous practitioners who say they don’t know about all that stuff, they just write to entertain. Very often ‘just writing to entertain’ is the cowardly refuge of a ham-fisted writer. Fantasy has more than its fare share but so does SF and horror (and thriller writing).

Take info-dumping for one. In a secondary world it is a knotty artistic problem to say the least but it never ceases to amaze me not only how brazen writers can be about it (I’m assuming they know they are being so) but just how many supposedly distinguished and discerning editors allow it through. Does that say as much about the readership of the genre as anything else? “When Raark decapitated Villen on the battlements at the end, that was awesome dude! Best EVER!” There’s your literary critique from the main body of the readership? It seems that info-dumping, which i would argue is bad art, is readily accepted by editors as a necessary piece of evil machinery in the ‘entertainment’. In the words of Pink Floyd: it can’t be helped, but there’s a lot of it about…

Now to write a novel which is a sophisticated work of literature with symbolic and thematic layers to it and in which the prose is distinctive, striking but not over-wrought, in which information is merged organically, filtered through with a considerable measure of skill, while creating an entertaining work of art that moves along at a compelling lick, a compelling story – Now that’s a work of art. That’s entertainment! It can be helped but there ain’t a lot of it about.

Nor is the debate about literary quality in a fantasy or horror or SF aided by the nepotism inherent in the genres. Far too many rave blurbs on book covers come either from authors within the same publishing house stable or simply, frankly, from professional friends. Just how much a measure of literary quality are those pronouncements? It is the way of the literary world in general I suppose and has ever been thus.

Typos, small ‘i’. Ive got about three days to complete my tax return so my mind is elsewhere! But a Would-be conscious of the need to self-edit, at least!

I’m going to defend the people who say “When Raark decapitated Villen on the battlements at the end, that was awesome dude! Best EVER!”

Why? Because they might not know the tools of literary criticism to dissect a book. And why should they? Do I have to dismantle everything I like? I don’t analyse the tunes I like on the radio, I just say that’s a cool song.

What’s more important is passion for the genre. We seem to forget that Fantasy is the story of adventure, and we can get all prissy and say it’s really about social commentary, but it’s not just that. if I want social commentary I can read the Guardian. We love fantasy for the imagined worlds, the weird creatures, the mythologies and the very, very cool decapitations.

I’m going to defend the people who say “When Raark decapitated Villen on the battlements at the end, that was awesome dude! Best EVER!”

And so am I, Adrian! Perhaps I wasn’t clear. There is great skill in a book operating (and it being deliberately encoded by the writer) on many levels. On one level it can exist as ‘cool decapitation’ but that doesn’t preclude it operating on many more levels. It can also contain subtly wrought social commentary (if it wants to). The two are not mutually exclusive. That’s where the art comes in. And there are people who will analyse it to determine that.

Readers certainly don’t have to have the tools of literary criticism to dissect a book, a fantasy novel included, but if more of them do it is likely that less sh** will be shovelled up in its name. It would help.

Some might have no desire to analyse it as literature but I for one do. It is also possible to view something with one eye open and one eye closed, as it were.

@Martin – Nobody is trying to claim ownership, the “we” is ambiguous. But whilst I agree it’s not a monolithic enterprise there’s something that makes Fantasy, fantasy. Maybe that can’t be defined by my over-generalisation. The point is that it’s as valid to someone who likes to dissect a novel as it is to the person who just plays trope-based videogames. There should be a “we” in fantasy, not to make it monolithic but to jointly celebrate all its diversity, variety of opinion and whatever commonality there is that make people who love fantasy love fantasy.

There is a market for serious, well-crafted fantasy that avoids the tropes, cliches, and cheap pulp style so prevalent in the genre. This market exists both among fantasy readers (like myself) who just put up with poor writing because I enjoy the genre so much *and* new readers who would be attracted to the fantastic if it weren’t for the poor style.

I’ve read very positive reviews of very dreadful books from very popular reviewers. Seems like serious literary criticism could be a good place to start these discussions, and hopefully enrich the genre’s offerings.

Lots of tasty comments then…

I feel that a publicly voted award is not having the effect on debate, however. Why couldn’t the Gemmell have been even partially juried, Nick? In all seriousness, how does rallying around a fanbase to vote on the internet add to the respect of the genre? Isn’t that the same as saying: the bestselling book will win?

I’m genuinely intrigued to know why that is the case. Because some of the comments here are right, in my opinion: juried awards generate debate. The Gemmells don’t. Which is a shame, and I’m not taking away from the efforts of the organisers.

As an aside, how would the Clarkes (as one example) feel about organising an award for fantasy alongside? Is that madness?

Martin: you’re right, but there are plenty of reviewers out there who export such an opinion.

I don’t know whether Serendip (the body that administers the Clarke Award) has ever thought in that direction. I’d be a little surprised if it’s never crossed their mind. But I imagine before it gets any further than a vague notion you’d have to have a pretty good idea where the money would be coming from. If a sponsor or other source of funding could be found, I hope they’d at least consider it … Of course, then you’d have to decide what to call it.

They’ll be at the SFX Weekender, Mark, as I believe you will be. Me too! There was debate about whether it was to be public voting or a shortlist judged by a panel. There is a panel on the DGLA during the SFX Weekender. You can ask ’em!

And maybe I’ll come to your panel and ask why you think SF is dead! 🙂

Meanwhile some more recent Elric offerings by Michael Moorcock are brought under some rough-house but witty and telling forum critiquing here.

Moorcock is not nearly subjected to enough criticism, serious or otherwise; often revered by writers coming via way of Peake. Famous for apparently pwning that (apparently unknowing, unthinking) cap-doffing Royalist apologist dolt, J.R.R. A torch taken up by China Mieville in an article about ten years ago, highlighting a seeming contradiction in Tolkien’s view of things in ‘On Fairy Stories’. (CM recently gave a more favourable view of Tolkien ten years on from that in the spirit of clear-eyed crticism.)

Back to Moorcock. A would-be knowing but worthy dose of political satire cannot excuse bad art. Even more inexcusable if it is bad satire. (Terry Goodkind doesn’t even know what the word means.) But usually, if it’s on behalf of the Left, all is quietly forgiven…

I’m neither right nor left by the way. Nor am I counted in the middle. As Hal Duncan once said about something else on his About Me MySpace page (it was actually about the ‘About Me’ bit): **** that ****.

Which brings to mind what Howard Jacobson – himself no stranger to charges of bias -wrongly in my opinion of being either a) an apologist for Israel – Jacobson is a non-worshipping Jew; b) a misogynist – if you are a male and write with the same merciless scrutiny about women in your novels as you do the men, that seems to make you one; c) both – once remarked about the critic Terry Eagleton, to the effect that nobody critiqued a text with more insight than Eagleton, but that Eagleton was a Marxist, not some of the time but all of the time and you can’t be something all of the time when it comes to art. Maybe that can only be understood if you try and do some. It lies somewhere in the realm of Keats’ notion of ‘Negative Capability’. If you don’t possess that you usually don’t get very good art.

Like the religious Milton creating in Satan in Paradise Lost one of the towering characters in literature.

Meanwhile, this is a response to a music critic’s outrage of the reality series ‘From Popstar to Operastar’ in itself apt when it comes to the subject of criticism on this thread:

‘In his polemic outburst, Christiansen questions the credentials of one panellist because she “has never sung a full opera in her professional career” and therefore “carries little authority”. I have always found this contradiction interesting: the majority of critics are usually not capable of singing real operatic notes, let alone performing entire operas on stage, yet they make their living by evaluating musical performances’.

Ken Hom once joked that ‘every Chinese person is a food critic’. If you have close associations with the Chinese you will know this to be true. Ditto *everyone* on The Net.

So would a panel judging a shortlist of genre titles generate constructive debate online. Sadly, Mark, the Slav in my tends towards the cynical conclusion that it will not.

It is my belief that what has become our main means of communication in a very short time is subject to Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics. An entropic babel of relativism.

If Godwin’s Law doesn’t get it first.


I think annual awards are part of the problem. Take the Booker: unless you’re in the trade and /or lucky enough to get hold of review copies, you have to shell out for five to ten hard-back books each year (never mind the rest of the long-list) and then find the time to read them quickly enough to be in any position to have an informed debate about their relative merits.

If it’s bad for the Booker it’s worse for fantasy awards, where the reader must not only have read the current release but also the previous books in each series. This possibly explains why the current awards boil down to glorified shouting matches between competing fan bases. How many of the voters have actually read more than a couple?

Much as I’d love to engage in debates about nominees for the Booker and David Gemmell prizes, I never buy hard back books – I get the occasional one for Christmas (NoV this year hurrah!). I also prefer to savour good books and mix up my reading: old, new, genre, non-genre; rather than be press-ganged through a load of new releases to someone else’s timetable.

Not everyone’s like me of course but I would suggest that few people have time, money and inclination enough to really keep up with awards year after year. Those that do (again ignoring the professionals) can only do so by allowing themselves to be sucked into the annual round of marketing / hype that surrounds the award, presumably to the exclusion of other stuff, older stuff and stuff that doesn’t have a huge marketing budget behind it.

So I say let’s forget about awards as a place for stimulating genuine debate. Instead, I’d like to see some kind of hub-site – as suggested by Adrian above – where reviews can be posted and discussions started, regardless of award timetables. The Guardian website is quite good at this, reviewers read old classics and blog about them, some proper debate follows. A dedicated fantasy site could do much more.


I won’t say time and money aren’ts issue but I do think they are relatively trivial. Inclination is the heart of it. I don’t buy hardbacks either and I like to mix up my reading so I’ve never especially had the inclination to read a shortlist. However, the fact remains that people do have the inclination to read the Booker and the Clarke lists but don’t appear to have the same inclination for the Gemmell. (I mostly follow genre blogs but two of the ones I read covered the Booker shortlist.) So, yes, discussing any shortlist requires commitment but that doesn’t explain the difference between these levels of interest.

As an aside, it is wrong to describe all shortlisted novels as having a “huge marketing budget behind” them, for juried awards at least (which ties into this whole conversation).

The question of infrastructure is interesting. Is there really a perception that there aren’t hubs for fantasy? What are the hubs of science fiction perceived to be?

I too follow a number of genre blogs, mostly fantasy related (can’t comment on the SF hubs). There’s plenty of activity but I see very little actual debate. Reviews can be of varying quality but most of the comments which follow say simply ‘nice review’ or ‘yes I loved this one too’.

The best conversations are usually on authors’ blogs (hello Mark, hello Joe). This isn’t a coincidence but such sites aren’t well placed to act as an independent hub for directing traffic. We converse here by default.

I’d like to see a site which supports a community of fantasy readers, allowing members to post reviews, link from reviews on their own blog, rate reviews, start discussion boards or direct traffic to discussions on other blogs.

Perhaps I’m just not following the right blogs?

Certainly the reason we introduced voting on the shortlist for the British Fantasy Awards was to encourage members to have a go at reading or watching them – I got through all the novels and films and all but one of the short stories.

The Gemmells were originally going to be juried at the shortlist stage, but the organisers changed their minds, I think because they gained so much traction as a popular award.

Hi guys
Just a quickie thought – if we all stopped discussing why there “appears” to be so little discussion of the Nominees, and erm… I dunno… discussed the Nominees – that would BE the discussion nes pas? 🙂

Also, Daniel – come on over to Wonderlands! – It’s exactly what you mention – a Fantasy “hub”

Yes, we DO want readers to have a go at reading the Nominated books – that is the whole point of the exercise. It would be nice to think that people discover NEW authors they had not previously considered too… at the end of the day we think reading is a very “good thing.” And we who are passionate about any form of literature, tend to forget that a surprisingly low percentage of adults read for pleasure. Awards are not really about the winners – although it’s obviously nice to win! Or about critics and bloggers – they’re just about readers.

Debbie – I have looming deadlines: I have no time to read all the books!

My question has always been of an online poll to represent “the best” (whatever that means). Really, it just means “those with enough of an active online profile – in all languages – combined with those who already sell well.

And what makes a book sell well isn’t merely down to authors – but marketing and advertising and placement in stores and the right book cover and… well, you get the picture. (I’m one of the lucky ones, but I’ve no problem in explaining the badness of what makes a book sell in the marketplace.)

But if you’ve read some of the comments here, you can see the benefits of juried awards and how they stimulate debate. Which stimulates reading, discussion, passion…

You are not the only writer with deadlines – in fact most of those in the industry whose opinions we might respect re judging an Award, have similar deadlines. Just try asking them to read a Shortlist of 5 novels, give up a couple of days of their time – for free – to be shut in a room to argue and debate.

And at the end of the day, what exactly makes a collection of such people – who we may well like and admire – the arbiters of what is ‘worthy’ or not? Do we need their opinions as to what we should or should not like? I think not. Do you rush out a purchase the Costa & Whitbread winners every year? (And I know we’re not going to agree on this point Mark! Let me just say, the DGLA is “unashamedly commercial/populist” & I have no issue with that.

“Really, it just means “those with enough of an active online profile – in all languages – combined with those who already sell well.”

If that were the case, what happened last year to Raymond Fiest, Steve Erikson, Ian Esselmont, RA Salvatore…? It takes more than an online presence & a previous track record, I would venture to suggest it takes readers who really care enough, are invested enough in your work, to turn out and vote. Last year’s Shortlisted Juliet Marillier, being a prime example of this…

Anyway, ’nuff said’ – hope to continue perhaps in a bar near you next weekend 😉

“If that were the case, what happened last year to Raymond Fiest, Steve Erikson, Ian Esselmont, RA Salvatore…?”

Well, you also have to take into account the age profile of many of those novelists’ readership – who bought the novels, from where most are bought, etc. Juliet Marillier – she’s got a big readership – the thing is, you have to look beyond the vocal minority. And who can tell where that leads, but essentially, it comes down to those things I mentioned above.

By far and away the most important thing, though, is that we’ve not once mentioned quality here. That’s what interests me the most.

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