Award season is in full swing now. The announcement of the BSFA Award winners is only a few weeks away. Hugo and World Fantasy nominating is open. And last night SFWA announced the finalists for this year’s Nebula Awards. There are some fabulous books on the list, and a number I’m now looking forward to reading. I’m particularly pleased for my Trini pal, Rhonda Garcia, who has had a pretty rough time of life recently and very much deserves a bit of happiness. You can find the full lists here.
But that’s not why I am writing this post. In the most recent issue of Salon Futura I commented on Hugo eligibility and noted that the Locus Recommended Reading List was sadly literal when it came to category boundaries. I don’t blame Locus for that, because it has always been their policy. The Hugos allow more flexibility, and I’d hoped that the Nebulas would as well. However, they have Spear by Nicola Griffith listed in the Novel category.
From one point of view I’m delighted that Spear got onto the ballot despite having to compete with novels. But I still think it has been disadvantaged. Let me explain why.
The category boundaries do not, no matter what award-haters say, exist solely to increase the number of prizes given out. They exist to try to avoid voters having to compare appples with oranges. I’m not convinced about the distinction between short stories and novelettes, but short stories, novellas and novels are quite different things.
A good way to think about it is to compare it with car classes in motor racing. If you were to send Max Verstappen or Lewis Hamilton out in a Grand Prix in a Formula 2 car, they could come last. That’s because a Formula 2 car doesn’t have the same power as a Formula 1 car. It simply cannot drive as fast. In the same way, in fiction, if you are limited in the number of words you have, then you are limited in the complexity of the story you can tell.
From a reader’s point of view, the difference between a novella and a novel is that the former generally has a single point of view and single narrative strand. Novels are much more complex. To me, Spear reads very much like a novella, though Nicola has very cleverly relied on the fact that her readers will all be familiar with the Arthurian cannon to make the story seem much bigger than it is.
As far as awards are concerned, it is probably unreasonable to expect voters to distinguish between categories based on such distinctions. A word count limit is much simpler to understand. But word counts can and do result in works potentially being put into a catgeory that doesn’t suit them. Which is why the Hugos allow some flexibility. By Hugo rules, Spear could be categorised as a novella.
Sadly, with Spear now having been categorised as a novel by both Locus and SFWA, I suspect that Hugo voters will mostly consider it as such. And I suspect it will fail to make the final ballot because voters will see it as much less sophisticated than the many other fine works in that category. If they vote based on the quality of the writing (which I suspect SFWA members generally do) then there’s no question it should be a finalist, but Hugo voters tend to have a wider set of criteria on which they base their choices.
I’ve already got 12 books I’m trying to whittle down to five for my Novel nominations. I’m grumpy about having to add Spear to that list. But add it I will, because it is one of the best books of last year.
Ah well, at least next year we’ll have an honest-to-goodness Nicola Griffith novel to vote for. Menewood is coming, and you can now feast your eyes on the cover.