The ballot for the 2020 Dragon Awards was published this week. The Dragons are a pretty controversial prize: although they’re ostensibly decided by a public poll, the opacity of the voting process, the sloppiness of the written rules and the fact that comparatively obscure writers have sometimes beaten considerably more popular finalists have all led to accusations that the awards are rigged.
Personally, I’m willing to give the Dragon Awards the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are, indeed, decided purely by public vote. Of course, it’s obvious that the Dragons have a history of failing in their stated aim of awarding the most popular works in SF/F, but this can easily be chalked up to a low voting turn-out rather than misbehaviour on the part of the administration.
Last year I caused a very minor online scuffle when I compared the Dragons unfavourably to the Goodreads Choice Awards, which are likewise open to the public but attract far, far more voters (in 2019 there were around 10,000 Dragon voters according to official stats, and roughly 100,000 Goodreads voters in the fantasy category alone). My stance was that, if the Dragons were ever to live up to their aim of representing public taste in SF/F fiction, then they’d start to look more like the Goodreads Awards.
Well, I’ve looked at this year’s ballot, and that’s exactly what’s happened.
If anyone wants to see the overlap in detail, here’s a comparison between the Dragons’ fantasy, SF and horror novel categories and the contenders for the most recent Goodreads Choice Awards. Note that the two awards have different eligibility periods: I’ve stricken out the Dragon finalists that won’t be eligible for the Goodreads Awards until later this year…
Best Science Fiction Novel
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: GR winner
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow: GR finalist
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: GR finalist
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig: GR finalist
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz
The Rosewater Redemption by Tade Thompson
The Last Emperox by John Scalzi
Network Effect by Martha Wells
(Note: The Testaments and The Ten Thousand Doors of January were nominated in Goodreads’ categories for general fiction and fantasy respectively, rather than science fiction).
Best Fantasy Novel
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo: GR winner
Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: GR finalist
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: GR finalist
The Burning White by Brent Weeks: GR finalist
Jade War by Fonda Lee
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer
Best Horror Novel
Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky: GR finalist
The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher: GR finalist
The Toll by Cherie Priest: GR finalist
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North
Scavenger Hunt by Michaelbrent Collings
Out of 16 eligible novels, 11 were also finalists at the Goodreads Awards. I also noticed that most of the five exceptions were published very close to Goodreads’ eligibility cutoff date — just three days before, in the case of the Claire North book — meaning that their absence may be at least partly due to this disadvantage.
So, it looks like change is happening at the Dragon Awards, with the lesser-known works that often appeared on the ballot in the past being squeezed out in favour of big-name books that overlap with other awards. Not everyone is pleased with this state of affairs – in fact, some people seem decidedly irate. But the only honest conclusion to make is that the Dragon Awards are finally shaping up.