Okay, so I started with the Hugo, added the Nebula, then the Locus, and now a couple of other awards have popped up in my post titles. This is thanks mainly to the great nomination layout of the site Worlds Without End, which uses a very fun interface to show the history of ten major speculative fiction awards. Looking through that history, a few more books popped up that I want to read/talk about. My goal here is, after all, to get a chronological sense of the development of speculative fiction.
So here's my policy: I will always review the winning Hugo Award, and I think I am committed to the Nebula as well. I’ve already mentioned that I’ll check in on Locus at times. In 1970, the British Science Fiction Association Award started giving out awards for best novel from across the pond. In 1973, a jury began to award the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. I’ll look at these award winners when I’m interested as well as the eventual Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick Awards.
I do want to take a second to justify my addition of the major fantasy awards as well. Running parallel to the Hugo awards and WorldCon, the WFA is given by the World Fantasy Convention. Unlike Hugo, the WFAs are decided by a jury of top fantasy writers (a different group every year) and convention goers only get to choose a few of the nominees. The freaky-looking statuette is modeled on H. P. Lovecraft. I'll be covering the first WFA winner tomorrow.
So, why fantasy awards? Fantasy and science fiction have an odd relationship – most people would probably group them together, and most fans of one of the genres has at least read a sampling of the other. At the same time, there are a lot of purists who adore one and have no time for the other.
I personally think they have a lot in common. Not only do the readers overlap, so do the writers, and every piece of science fiction, no matter how “hard,” has an element of the fantastic in it. Most importantly, I think science fiction is at its best when it is doing at least one of two things: 1) Evoking a sense of wonder by describing something truly amazing and original, and 2) Reflecting something about contemporary society of the human condition through metaphor. Good fantasy has the same characteristics. And, frankly some works are hard to categorize. You will find more than a few science fiction fans who will tell you that Star Wars belongs in the fantasy genre.
The most important reason that I am including the WFAs is that they will eventually compare more directly with the Hugos. Fantasy books are eligible for the Hugo and have always been so. Fantasy books were occasionally nominated, but none won before the year 2000. Since the year 2000, however, fantasy books have won the majority of Hugo awards. I think this is the function of a variety of factors including the rising popularity of fantasy and the growth of urban fantasy as a new subgenre that echoes trends in sci-fi. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that you can’t talk about the Hugos and ignore the fantasy genre.
My one reservation about adding a fantasy category is that sword and sorcery stories can get a bit old. The biggest problem with fantasy as I see it, is that so many authors simply recapitulate the seminal fantasy work: J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings (which I will get to talk about when we get to the films). Looking at the winners of the WFA though, it seems that they don’t award Tolkein’s imitators too often. I don’t see any David Eddings, Terry Brooks, or Robert Jordan books in the mix.
In the late 70s, the Locus award breaks its novel awards into separate fantasy and science fiction categories, so that will give us one other award to compare. We also have the August Derleth Award from the British Fantasy Society (an offshoot of the BSFA).
To summarize: I'll always review the Hugo film/tv winners and Saturn (sf) film winners, and I'll occasionally do Saturn fantasy film winners too. I'll also always review Hugo and Nebula novel winners. From there, I'll play it by ear with the other big eight novel awards, though there is a rough hierarchy - I'm probably most likely to cover Locus winners, and least likely to cover Philip K. Dick award winners. If anyone out there sees an award-winning book that you want me to include, let me know.