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Writing: Awards From a Canadian Perspective

Creative Commons: The Bram Stoker Award

 

Like every profession, those who excel or are the tops in their field will often receive an award or some form of recognition. How those awards are meted out tend to differ. For writing, the various top awards are given by means of voting by the readers, by members or colleagues or through juries and judges. All of these have merits and flaws. Here is a partial list of some of the awards given out in speculative fiction:

  • Hugo Awards
  • Nebula Awards (works published in US voted on by SFWA members)
  • James Tiptree Award
  • John W. Campbell
  • Philip K. Dick
  • Theodore Sturgeon Award
  • Arthur C. Clark
  • World Fantasy Award
  • Bram Stoker (voted on by HWA members)
  • Sunburst Award (Canadian works)
  • Aurora Award (Canadian writers)
  • British Fantasy Award (British)
  • Aurealis (Australian)

The list actually goes on, and a full breakdown can be found on the Locus magazine site. Descriptions of each are given as well. My curiosity about visibility of Canadian writers and awards came about because the Horror Writers Association sent me and invitation, saying I was eligible. I’d actually been eligible years before when I could have got full pro membership (before they raised the rates) but never did anything about it. Than I found they’ve created a supporting member category for those who are selling but not at a pro rate of which few magazines offer (.5 cents or more per word). Yes, you do not get rich writing speculative fiction,k in most cases.

I was more interested in whether a story/novel published by a small Canadian publisher would ever be noticed enough to be nominated for bigger awards. Obviously some awards, such as the Nebulas, for works published in the US, or the Aurealis for Australian works, might limit this, but then again there are many Canadian authors published in or distributed in the US. I posted my question to our writers’ list and here are some of the opinions.

Gemma Files, published by Chizine Publications, is up for this year’s Bram Stoker for first novel. Other Canadians have won or been nominated for this award in the past, such as Edo Van Belkom, John Little , Nancy Kilpatrick, Robert Sawyer, Sandra Kasturi, Brett Savory, David Nickle, Don Hutchison, Charles de Lint and probably a few others that I missed. Many of these publications were from the US but some were Canadian. Some of the publishers were Canadian as well, while the authors were American. So it looks like, as long as the publications are known of or distributed far enough, Canadian representation is there in the Stokers.

The Hugo nominees, voted on by fans at the World SF conventions, are supposedly from all countries. However, since most World SF cons are in the US and there majority of publishers are there, there will be a tendency to have more US oriented works. But, that doesn’t mean a Canadian isn’t nominated, especially if they’re published by Tor or some other big US publisher. Charles de Lint is a good example and has been nominated over 45 times for Aurora, Sunburst, World Fantasy, Nebula and British Fantasy awards among others. And he’s Canadian.

However, looking back quickly over the last 11 years of Hugo awards it seems there are very few small presses and  none that aren’t American though in fact they have no restrictions on language or country. (I could also be wrong about small presses from outside the US–someone please correct me.)

But when an award is voted on by attending members of a convention or on fans it is a smaller spectrum of the writing avaialabe. It is first limited by a name the fan recognizes or the books they’ve read. This also runs true for member-voted awards of associations such as SFWA or HWA. There is a limit to how much a person can read or what they like. Some people will vote for someone based on the popularity of their name, even if they have’nt read the work. It happens all the time.

Canada’s population is much smaller than the US, and even if all Canadians were published in the US there would be a smaller percentage and a smaller number nominated for awards. Canadian publishers are less likely to be seen by American readers, which also limits the range of available works. But I doubt there is anyone who has read all that is published in a year though I have to give people like Gardner Dozois and Ellen Datlow huge kudos for the sheer volume of stuff they go through. I’d almost say the Year’s Best anthologies are a more accurate collection of written works than any award.

But truth be told, no award will ever really have all of the best authors or stories or publishers. There is always a limiting of the field by various means. But Canadians don’t do too badly, considering, and are holding their own. As we have more digital formats and the universality of the internet we are likely to see more and more authors from all parts of the world.

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Writing: The Ghettoization of Speculative Fiction?

CBC, ghettoizing SF, bad science fiction, badly written fantasy

From a 50s B-movie. Unfortunately some people think SF novels are still like this.

Yesterday on CBC Radio’s Q, Jian Ghomeshi talked with Clive Thompson about the ghettoization of speculative fiction or whether William Gibson was the next Tolstoy. Thompson was extolling the virtues of SF, sort of. Or damning with faint praise. Below is the response that I sent, which I also put here in case CBC decides they have moral rights on my opinion.

Dear Jian,

 

I’m not quite sure what to make of the speaker Clive Thompson you had on talking about SF, science fiction, or speculative fiction since it encompassed both science fiction and fantasy works.

 

I write here as an individual but also as the president of SF Canada whose members consist of professional writers and others in the speculative fiction community. I missed the first part of Thompson’s conversation but I also express here views of the members of SF Canada.

 

Although Clive was supposed to be regaling the virtues of SF, he sounded uninformed in many ways. As a reader he seemed to exhibit huge gaps in knowledge when he said that most SF is badly written, misogynistic, dominated by men. And he gave Heinlein and Dick as examples. Robert Heinlein and Phillip K. Dick were in their heyday in the 60s and 70s; that’s at least 30-40 years ago. Taken in context, Heinlein was no different than many authors (whether SF or not) of the day, and some of his views on relationships were far reaching for the time.

 

Thompson did mention Cory Doctorow, who is a Canadian but there was a huge gap in between. (Doctorow’s book has been nominated for this year’s Nebula awards.) Some of the bigger names in speculative fiction may be men but there are many women writing and of merit: Ursula Le Guin, Kij Johnson, Pat Cadigan, Pat Murphy (of old, Andre Norton, James Tiptree, Anne McCaffery), Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Kris Rusch, Nalo Hopkinson, etc.

 

If he was talking Canadian speculative fiction, then he was all over the map with his observations so I must presume this was about SF in general. There is very little that is published these days that would be misogynistic unless it was showing a particular culture. Much is extremely well written and if you ask Michael Chabon, winner of both SF awards and the Pulitzer, he places more value on his SF awards.

 

Basically Thompson picked some of the worst or most dated examples for his points. It would have been better to see more current knowledge that goes beyond Margaret Atwood.

 

As for ghettoization, well there is good and bad writing in all genres. He spoke about the issue of whether one would place Oryx & Crake on literary or SF shelves and how it was confusing for publishers. I spent 20 years in the book industry as book rep and book buyer (for a store). This doesn’t confuse the publishers as they are the ones that came up with the categories through their marketing departments. A book will be marketed to the group that they think will buy the most copies. The cover will be changed accordingly. So in essence it is the publisher that has ghettoized all genres.

 

As to the attitude toward SF, well it depends. What sells the best in movie theatres, and is often based off of a book? There is indeed a snobby attitude that only literary is real writing and many of those writers who do write speculative stories adamantly say that it is not of that ilk. My creative writing degree did not include speculative fiction because of the attitude at the university that the only good writer was a dead white man. I would argue that erotic fiction and romances have a lower spot in the old world thinker’s eyes of “genre” and ghettoization, even though they may sell better. Harlequin romances have some of the highest sell-through rates of any books. Are they good? I don’t know as I haven’t read one.

 

Thompson also mentioned that SF is doing quite well. On one level yes, on another, not so much. Fantasy still outsells science fiction and in many cases editors are begging for science fiction stories. But sales of speculative fiction? Yes, the Harry Potter series can speak to that.

 

Next time, when talking about SF and whether William Gibson (an expat American living in Canada) is the next Tolstoy, it would be great to have someone up to date on current speculative fiction trends. Heck, try Neil Gaiman who you talked with a couple of weeks ago, or contact SF Canada and we’ll send you a boatload of opinions by Canadians.

 

Regards,

Colleen Anderson

President

SF Canada

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Writing: The Sad State of Poetry in Speculative Fiction

Waaay back, when I first started to get serious about writing, I wrote poetry. Okay I started writing poetry at the angst-ridden edge of twelve, and shelved much of it until my twenties. Eventually though, my poetry grew up and ventured into the world.

My first professional sale was for a whole $1.45 and yes it was a science fiction poem to Star*line. I continued to sell a poem here and there for usually five bucks and a copy of the magazine/book. Then I hit it big and sold a poem to Amazing Stories; $36 USD. Wow! And from that, I was invited (they actually contacted me) to join the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), THE professional organization for science fiction writers throughout North America. (I  don’t think I’d ever heard of SF Canada way back then.)

Thirty-six dollars and SFWA membership. SFWA works on a third of the pie idea. Three pro sales makes you a real writer. One or two-thirds makes you an Associate. You still pay the same amount but you get fewer privileges and can’t vote for the board or the Nebulas. What does it get you? That may be a different post but there is a wee bit of prestige, a very wee bit if you stay Associate forever.

I’ve sold more poems and stories since then, but everything must be speculative obviously for SFWA’s requirements. The publication that your piece appears in must meet the demands of a high production number, be a long running publication, pay pro rates, be American (and a few, very few Canadian magazines), etc. for membership qualification. Oh and poetry, well SFWA decided to drop it like a hot potato. No longer can you become a member on poetry alone. Not even if you’re the best poet in the world. Bruce Boston is probably the best Speculative poet out there. Certainly the most well-known. Canada’s own Sandra Kasturi is no pale shadow either. And there are numerous more.

But here’ is thesad state of the beleaguered poem. Someone got it in their head that because a poem is a hundred words or a hundred lines then why, it’s gotta be easy and fast to write. I’ve spent days, even months writing a poem (in some cases, years, but not constantly). I doubt it was any poet who said, scrap the poems from SFWA. And if three measly poems were just too few for a full membership, then why not make it six or nine or a dozen? Nope, SFWA allows stories, novellas, novelettes, books, even flash fiction in the right circumstances (though I hear that’s iffy) but poetry. Ick. That stuff is for intellectuals pontificating down their noses. Who reads it?

And really, that is part of the problem, isn’t it? Who reads poetry? There is a small point here that I believe poetry is part of the old bardic tradition and really is meant to be heard and seen. Look at poetry slams (a discussion for another day). Many people read it…sometimes, for it to still be bought in some places. But enough? And poetry, well it’s unfathomable, bizarre, esoteric. And spec poetry has just gotta be worse. Doesn’t it? I mean aliens in a story gives you time to paint an elaborate picture, but a vignette? Well, we don’t have time to look at that.

Sigh, there was an era where everyone was taught to read poetry. And what is “The Cremation of Sam McGee” if not speculative poetry? Poetry doesn’t have to be unfathomable or above people’s heads though I’ve had the most straightforward poems rejected by editors who said their audience wouldn’t understand them. Say the poem is confusing but don’t lower the intelligence of your readers, please.

Oh and did I mention that speculative fiction is the worst paid genre out there (except, would you believe, erotic fiction)? Yes, I can write a poem and receive $100 for it from Descant, or a story for a lit mag and get anywhere from $100-$1000, or I can write an article for anywhere from thirty cents a word to a dollar and more. Sure ,there’s a range but if you’re writing poetry and speculative poetry, well you really are the dregs of society. Not even as good as the tentacle waving scum of speculative story writers. No sirree. You’re filler on those pages that don’t have a story long enough.

That is the sad sate of speculative poetry. Alas. And this attitude is often held by those who have never written it or tried to understand it. SFWA has some pretty old-fashioned ideas that makes me wonder on the value of continuing to be a member when I’m a small time Canadian writer.

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