At Futurismic, Adam Roberts accuses Science Fiction book awards of being rubbish, arguing that only the distance of time can indicate the best:

But awards lists and best-ofs are rubbish [...] The problem is timescale.

It is a convention, no less foolish for being deeply rooted, that the proper prominence from which to pause, look back and make value judgments, is at the end of the year in question. This is wrongheaded in a number of reasons. One has to do with the brittleness of snap-judgments (why else do you think they’re called snap?). Take those fans and [awards-panelists] of the 1960s and 1970s who really really thought that the crucial figures of the genre were the often-garlanded Spider Robinson or Mack Reynolds rather than the rarely noticed Philip K Dick. They weren’t corrupt; they just spoke too soon.

He also indicates that you cannot indicate the “best” unless you have comprehensively read all books. Furthermore, to read many books in succession is to dilute the effect of all of them:

When enough novels are read in a short enough time, they all blur into one another. A universal greyness covers all, and only very strong flavors become discernable-very pungently bad writing, very striking originality, or more often very flashy style or content, no matter how specious. I’m not telepathic, and can’t claim to read the minds of last year’s Clarke judges, but I’d wager a quark to a boson that this is why two jangly but not really very good novels (Raw Shark Tales, Red Men) made the 2008 Clarke shortlist when a number of much more accomplished and notable fictions (let’s say Brasyl and Yiddish Policeman’s Union) did not.

Meanwhile, James at Big Dumb Object responds and takes issue with some of Adam’s statement:

I think that the value of these awards and shortlists is vastly underrated by the Science Fictionarati, who seem to never stop moaning about them. To someone who is a casual fan of Science Fiction or even, shock horror, not even a fan, it provides a good starting point. A casual fan can look at the BSFA Award or the Clarke Award and see not only what fans but also what an exhaustive jury process suggest.

Personally, I have a hit-and-miss experiences reading award-winning fiction. I think it basically boils down, like many things, to personal taste. Declaring a “best” is, by it’s very nature, a subjective exercise. I likes James’ comment about a winners list being a list of suggestions. There are flaws with any system of voting and ultimately you have to take what you can get from it. In this case, it’s a suggested reading list.

What do you think?

  • Are sf/f/h book awards completely useless?
  • Do you find any value in them?
  • Are they accurate indicators of…anything?
  • Are you tired of this topic resurfacing yet again?

Filed under: Awards

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!