Friday, 10 April 2009

Does the David Gemmell 'Legend Award' lack integrity?

With the shortlist for the new David Gemmell 'Legend Award' due to be announced (after a rather lengthy wait), I find myself starting to question the point/integrity of this award. 

As a huge fan of Gemmell, I thought the idea of an award in his name was a terrific idea. The fact that some of the folks involved in organising the award were friends of Gemmell lent it credibility, as did the logical voting system - a longlist of novels whittled down to a shortlist via online voting by fans, followed by a panel of judges assessing the shortlist and picking a winner based on a distinct criteria: the winner being the novel that most encapsulated the 'spirit' of Gemmell's own books. 

Great - no problems there. The fans get to vote, and the panel of judges get to add quality control and ensure the winner is worthy of the title. Sounds good. 

So why the judging panel was scrapped, is anyone's guess. Clearly there was some behind-the-scenes dialogue, and a decent explanation never materialised. Instead, we were just given some vague comments about how it was better for the fans and that Gemmell would have approved. 
"We are confident that Fantasy readers are passionate and well-informed about the genre" read the official statement - as if that justified making online votes the sole way of determining the winner.

Passionate, yes. Well-informed? Hard to believe that when a flawed, derivative novel like The Way of Shadows garners so much acclaim. Perhaps making online votes solely responsible for determining the victor makes the award more 'democratic' (whatever that means). Maybe Gemmell would indeed have approved. But I can't help but feel this change in the voting system has seriously undermined the integrity and worth of this award - it makes it nothing more than a glorified internet poll.

I'll put my neck on the block here - I think that Joe Abercrombie is a shoo-in for the award. Why? Not so much because Last Argument of Kings is a very good novel (which it is), but because over the last few years he's built up a huge internet presence. Hundreds of people read his blog - I know, because I get a large surge in traffic when he links to my own blog. This, to my mind, gives him a big advantage. Just by announcing that he was in the running for the award on his blog probably gained him at least a hundred votes. The same is probably true of Peter Brett, who surely is another strong contender (and who also has a very good internet presence).

Paul Kearney, by contrast, has a much more muted online presence. His novel, The Ten Thousand, would be a worthy winner of the award, but I can't help but feel his lack of online presence will hinder him - and that to me undermines the integrity of the award. The award is meant to be given to the book most written in the spirit of Gemmell, not to the author with the biggest internet presence (which is not at all indicative of quality). 

Sure, maybe an author's online presence isn't the crucial, deciding factor. But surely it's going to have an influence on proceedings. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. I hope I'm proved wrong, but doubt it somehow. I'm pretty critical of awards in general; there's always going to be some sort of bias involved. But I feel that the original voting system for the DGLA was far better than the one now in place.

As for having a formal, black-tie award ceremony (with rather pricey tickets) - that just seems totally over the top for an online award which has no quality control and is hopelessly open to abuse (nothing stopping the same person (or, dare I say it, author) from voting for themselves on different computers).

I hate to be critical, as the award is a super idea and I'm sure the organizers have worked really hard to get it all off the ground - kudos to them. But I'm just wondering whether there is any real integrity in this award.  


Hagelrat said...

I like it. I've filed it under "fan votes" in my head rather than "formal panel judging" and I think anything that encourages people to explore books they might not otherwise have considered or makes them think about the genre is a good thing. Maybe it doesn't have the most integrity of any award ever, but to be honest, I look at so many prize winning books and wonder who the hell thought they were worth the honour.

Adam Whitehead said...

Since I've signed up on the award site and will be attending the award ceremony (* needs to remember to get a suit *), I'm obviously in favour of the award. I also think it's worth pointing out that any 'new' award takes a few years to bed down and iron out the flaws in its make-up. I suspect next year we will see a tightening of the rules and over the next few years will see a more coherent system emerge to select the winners. However, the very fact that we now have a new British-based award for fantasy and it is being backed heavily and made into a high-profile event is important and worthy of support.

I am in agreement that the scrapping of the judging panel was possibly a mistake. This would have ensured that the book which wins is in the spirit of the award and not something completely unrelated. I also think the award needs to have its parameters tightened. Definitely no science fiction. There's the Hugos and the Arthur C. Clarke awards for SF. Fantasy is under-represented in the award stakes and having the Gemmell Award (an author whose SF works still featured lots of magic and fantasy elements) as a solely fantasy award would be an important statement.

I think the 2009 inaugeral awards are, to some degree, protected from the flak they might have gotten in other years as both popular pressure and critical acclaim makes Abercrombie almost a shoe-in for the award (although I suspect Kearney will end up ranking quite high). Next year we could very well see the Robert Jordan fanbase organising some kind of mass block-voting for THE GATHERING STORM, or a year or two back we could have had Goodkind fans doing the same for CONFESSOR (in a world where L. Ron Hubbard once got nominated for a Hugo, anything is possible). That is the key weakness of the popular vote system and something that I thing would have to be looked at carefully.

Otherwise I think this is overall a solid venture. Does it have teething troubles? Sure, but it's a new and fresh award that can be changed around to make it more credible over the next few years.

James said...

I'm not sure I share your optimism, Adam. I agree it's great to have an award for fantasy (specifically for heroic/epic fantasy that gets marginalised by other awards, but its sheer reliance on fan voting makes me uncomfortable.

As you say, perhaps in years to come it will bed in a bit, and will improve. Here's hoping.

Having a black-tie do for what is little more than a huge internet poll is taking it a bit far though. That's the sort of thing they should have done once the award had fully established itself. It almost feels like too much too soon.

ediFanoB said...

I signed up he award site. For me it is the first time to take part as voter.

To be honest I was dumbfounded when I saw the final long list for the first time. So many books. And my first thought was:"Who will read all the books before voting?"
Do you think all voters have read all books?
This would be the first prerequisite for a fair vote.
I voted and I have read only 10 books from the list. But it took me some time to decide whether to vote or not because of not knowing all the books.

Now I wait full of curiosity for the short list.

Joe Abercrombie said...

Like Wert, I think it's overall a great idea and should be supported - existing genre awards tend to focus on sf or the more literary end of fantasy. Naturally it will take a while to bed down, sort out its own processes and be taken seriously. We can only hope that happens with time.

I very much agree though that the original public vote followed by a panel idea was far better. That seemed to have a chance of getting the best of both worlds - ensuring a popular shortlist while making sure a book couldn't win on the strength of internet campaigning alone, and allowing a panel to steer the award in a Gemmell-like direction, if that was part of the plan. A panel would also have the advantage of actually having read all the books and deciding between them, rather than voting for the one they have read, or the author they particularly love, for that matter, and that would hopefully stimulate some debate on the shortlist itself.

I'm not sure I see the purpose of purely public voted awards, since you can calculate who's most popular based on sales, and sales are kind of their own reward. Plus internet voting is particularly susceptible to big fan movements - I'm put in mind of Fantasy Book Spot's usually rather literary-orientated yearly competition, which last year was inundated by forgotten realms devotees sweeping Paul S. Kemp to victory when he mentioned it on his blog.

Still you can't really avoid mentioning a nomination if you want to be involved, since everyone else probably will be, and since the organisers asked everyone longlisted to mention it as much as possible in order to publicise the award and get readers involved in the first place.

I hope they go back to the vote then panel idea in future, as awards are at their most interesting when they draw attention to shortlists, and throw up unexpected winners. Pure public voting would appear to do the opposite.

Though obviously I support whatever method heaps me in personal glory. Wish I could say I thought I was as much of a shoo-in as you guys seem to...

James said...

Good post Joe, and I fully agree with you on all the points you raise.

I ought to just point out that I was by no means criticising you for mentioning your nomination on your blog, as there's nothing wrong about doing that at all. And as you say, most other nominees have done the same. It's just that for those authors like yourself with a strong online presence, it might prove to be a crucial factor in determining the result (not that you can be blamed for that!).

Only time will tell, I guess.

Adam Whitehead said...

I think they're probably going to have to drop the 'in the spirit of Gemmell' thing as well, as it's not sustainable. This year we were lucky because we had The Ten Thousand, which is almost more Gemmell than Gemmell, but otherwise few of the authors have much in common with Gemmell at all really. You can honour the guy without insisting the winner has to be a copy of him. I mean, is Richard Mogan really stylistically reminiscent of Arthur C. Clarke, hence why he won the ACC Award last year? I don't think so.

James said...

I agree Adam. If we're looking for a novel that truly encapsulates the spirit and tradition of Gemmell, then The Ten Thousand should win hands-down. It won't though, I don't think, and so this kinda makes a bit of a mockery of that particular criteria.

There's also the problem, as you say, that few authors have much in common with Gemmell. Imagine if Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains won it! Doesn't bear much resemblance to Gemmell at all. I don't think the great man himself would have liked it much either.