Sunday, 21 September 2014

Thoughts on the British Fantasy Awards

I've been thinking a bit about awards lately.

And barely two weeks ago I was attending the ceremony for the British Fantasy Awards, in the  slightly professional capacity of having been one of the judges.  Now I've been pretty damning about the British Fantasy Awards in the past, specifically right here, and I stand by what I said then: the 2011 awards were a train wreck, not even only for the reasons that found their way as far as the national press, and the 2012 awards were only better in that they didn't produce any obvious and massive embarrassments.  But in the end that's only the difference between being attacked by an angry bear and an angry dog, and I'm one of those people who would rather not be attacked by any enraged carnivorous quadruped, thankyouverymuch.

Wait.  That metaphor got out from under me.

So, hey.  I've been thinking a bit about awards.  What I've been thinking, in a nutshell, is that awards are both inherently stupid and inherently useful.  In the absence of god or a godlike supercomputer, it's absurd to suggest that any body could judge the thousands upon thousands of novels, short stories, films, comic books, anthologies or microwave ovens brought into existence in any given year and declare meaningfully that one of them is the best.  However awards are also inherently fun, in the way that any fundamentally arbitrary competition can be fun.  And when it comes to genre fiction they're handy for drawing fringe readers into the camp and guiding those of us with limited time on our hands.  So in that sense, any award that represents a broad consensus and rewards works with widely acknowledged merit - a best novel award that goes to a book that the majority of people would consider amongst the best works of that year, for example - has pretty much done its job.

Which brings me back to the British Fantasy Awards, which in the past have had a habit of failing conspicuously to do that thing I just described.  In a nutshell, the problem was that they'd tended to represent the specific interests of the organization of which they were a part, or perhaps even rather just a percentage of that membership, whilst in so doing showing a startling lack of attention to what was going on in the wider world.  I think the word I'm looking for is provincialism ... although to take an example I brought up a couple of years back, calling a situation whereby three out of five nominees for an award are the same person who also happens to be a significant figure in the body behind the award provincialism is being awfully damn polite.

Thus it was that when Stephen Theaker approached me to ask if I'd like to judge the British Fantasy Award for best short story I was somewhat hesitant.  But Stephen is a mate and he's still accepted more of my work than any other editor, and there was a malicious little voice in the back of my brain pointing out that if it all turned out to be yet another horrid shambles then I could at least snark about it here on the blog.  Because I won't lie to you, when I'm mean about stuff I get about a thousand times as many hits.

Which makes this post just slightly frustrating to write, for, while I had some doubts in the early days - which I'll come back to next week - I've got to admit that on the whole I think we came up with a thoroughly solid result.  An excellent story walked off with the prize, one I hope most people would recognize the inherent quality of, and I'm happy to call that a win.  And, (this being the point I suppose I've been working towards throughout this whole post), that goes for all of this year's British Fantasy Awards as well.  There were a few eccentric nominations, but a little eccentricity shows character rather than, say, craziness or ignorance or nepotism.  A lot of good work was nominated.  A lot of good work walked away with prizes.  Nothing stood out as being egregiously stupid.  For the first time in my experience, the British Fantasy Awards actually felt like something worthwhile, sensible and internationally meaningful.  Which, given the state of play a mere couple of years ago, is nothing short of a miracle.

Okay.  That'll do for the moment.  If only because all this positivism is surely losing me readers even as we speak.  Next week I'll get to what it was actually like judging a British Fantasy Award, and perhaps suggest some refinements to the criteria and process that I think might help smooth off a couple of remaining rough edges.

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