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.