Monday 6 April 2015

The Gemmell Awards

The Gemmell awards have a shiny new website  and voting is now open, do it here! (2 clicks, no registration)

(here's a scroll-through of the covers to make choosing for the Ravenheart easier.

The award was set up in memory of fantasy writer David Gemmell, a favourite author of mine and giant of the UK fantasy scene, who died aged only 57. The award has been running since 2009. It's described as an award for 'pure' fantasy.

The award has three sections:

The Legend Award: Best Novel.

The Morningstar Award: Best Debut Novel.

The Ravenheart Award: Best Cover Art.

Authors short-listed for the Legend award get one of these fellows:

Various events take place to help fund the Gemmell Awards, and for the second year running an anthology, Legends, has been produced, featuring work donated by Award authors. I have a Broken Empire story in Legends II, featuring Sir Makin.

You can pre-order the book here and pat yourself on the back for supporting a worthy cause.

It hasn't been all plain sailing for the Gemmell Awards in gaining acceptance. Here a Speculative Horizons blog tells us why the Gemmells are bad for fantasy, albeit in the form of several terribly bad arguments that Joe Abercrombie rightly describes as 'bollocks' in the comments section.

The main argument against the Gemmells is that they might (heaven forfend) give an award to a (shudder) popular book. The shame of it. To prop this up we're invited to believe that bestsellers are bestsellers because of advertising campaigns. We're also invited to follow the rather feeble logic that because being well-written is not an essential requirement for bestsellers ... bestsellers are not well-written.

The idea that a voted award has no merit because it might reflect popular taste doesn't seem to have been extended to the other high profile voted awards.

It's not a function of the size of the voter-base. The Best Novel category in this year's Hugos had over 2000 voters (a record driven by highly political games being played with the award at the moment). Last year's Gemmell award for best novel was perhaps decided by 5,000 voters (16,500 votes from over 70 countries in total over three categories and two rounds, with the Legend Award drawing the bulk of the votes). The difference is that the Hugos are driven by cliques held together by shared politics, shared blogs, shared convention attendance. They talk to each other through blogs, they have their heroes to give them direction, they have their accepted aesthetic. They are a subset of the most passionate fandom. This closeness allows the Hugos to be something they can talk about, argue about, something they feel they can influence and control.

The Gemmells, on the other hand, are voted on by a demographic that's has very little to define it. Gemmell voters are fans of David Gemmell, people who follow the authors involved, their number includes passionate and extreme fans of the genre, but also plenty of casual readers with enough interest to click through and vote. The pundits don't know how to reach out to them, how to influence or persuade them. They don't feel ownership or control ... and that simultaneously scares some of them and bores others. Without that game of influence it's true that the vote moves away from the cliquey, quirky, volatility of the Hugos and does become a closer relation to the bestseller lists. It is more than that though. There is an aesthetic being applied here - not one Hugo voters may like very much - but even so. If there wasn't then Emperor of Thorns would have lost to The Daylight War and Republic of Thieves, which both sold significantly more copies, and all three of them would have been CRUSHED by A Memory of Light which heavily outsold the rest of the short-list combined.

Part of the "it's just a popularity contest" accusation seems to involve the idea that the people voting have only read the book they're voting for. This poll of Hugo and Gemmell voters (at time of publishing) shows an average of just over 3.0 books from the Gemmell short list read by Gemmell voters and an average of 3.0 books from the Hugo short list read by Hugo voters. Indicating that both sets of voters are similarly informed about the books they're voting on.

In conclusion: Hugo if you want to, I'm staying here with Gemmell.

(Additional facts: This year's long list has 40 titles, 10 of them by female authors. The titles are put forward by the authors' publishers, though I believe any member of the public can suggest titles and if they 'meet the bill', i,e epic fantasy for grown-ups, they'll be accepted).


  1. "Hugo if you want to, I'm staying here with Gemmell."

    Me to :D

  2. The Gemmells might get a bigger look this year, Mark, because of the Hugo ballot this year. Its a chance worth seizing.

  3. The Gemmell awards just reflect the slightly more "popular" stuff than the Hugos - aka they're read by the more common of us philistines who don't appreciate.......whatever it is :)

  4. I'd rather see half a dozen more awards in the style of the Gemmelll Award than those sad Hugo puppies. I've usually read at least half of the books on the Gemmell lists, but often don't even know the authors on the Hugo lists because I don't read those clique blogs.

    And in case one of those Hugo cliquers comes after me for bad taste in books because I've read those pesky bestsellers - on my bookshelves GRR Martin shares a place with Thomas Mann, Steven Erikson with George Eliot (and Kate Elliott), Stephen Deas with Dostoyevsky and Dorothy Dunnett, and that Lawrence guy one with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and Jack London. Though I think my favourite pairing is Abercrombie and Austen :-)

    1. "Abercrombie and Austen"

      Sounds like a new clothing line :)

  5. Agreed - the Gemmells mean more to me than most other awards do :)

  6. Does LEGENDS 2 have an ISBN? Looking for it on Amazon USA and not seeing it...

    1. Not that I know of.

      Legends (1) has and is listed on Amazon and Goodreads:

      so I'm sure Legends II will in time.

    2. So well said. Imagine, books tend to sell well if they're good. What a concept.

  7. >The idea that a voted award has no merit because it might reflect popular taste doesn't seem to have been extended to the other high profile voted awards.

    I think people were pretty harsh about the Goodreads Choice Awards, if I remember correctly.

    But I think there's a valid argument (if a truism) that popular awards to reward the popular books. Which is totally fine, but means that "best", in this case, means "most popular". That's not to say that the award is "without merit" (because that is a dumb thing to say), but that popular votes should be taken to represent popularity.

    So the "pundits" (who are the SF/F pundits? may not be to influence or persuade people, but any author with fans can get votes with a simple tweet. The low barrier to entry for the DGLA - literally, click a button to cast a vote - makes that even easier.

    >>I believe any member of the public can suggest titles and if they 'meet the bill', i,e epic fantasy for grown-ups, they'll be accepted

    I still have no idea how/when this works, but I'm fascinated by it. And I say that as someone that - as you know - kind of stalks the DGLA. But no idea when any sort of 'public nomination' took place. So maybe that's for future years or something, but I do really like that as an idea.

    Not that I'm totally jealous or anything, but you've picked a five year old blog post from a defunct blog as the voice of the DGLA critics. There are probably more current arguments. (Subtext: I'm jealous. Pick me.)

    1. I don't think 'best' ever means anything but 'most popular' with book awards. It's 'most popular' with 5 critics on a jury, or 'most popular' with the convention crowd on the Hugos, etc.

      I didn't say the Gemmell voters can't be swayed, just that its critics don't tend to have the right audience to do that swaying. They may feel uncomfortable without their "in-crowd" controlling things. That was my impression from a conversation apparently I'm not allowed to talk about :)

      I didn't think you'd been overly critical. Speculative Horizons are my go to for frothing nonsense, sorry. Perhaps you could be less reasonable about stuff?

  8. I'm going to feel like a dolt if the answer is obvious, but... I'm not finding eligibility/nomination guidelines on the website. Am I missing it?

    I assume the nomination window is closed for this year, but it would be nice to know the parameters for next year, and whether self-published works are eligible for nomination.

    1. I don't know where the guidelines are, but basically it's 'epic fantasy' which is hard to define but the Gemmell folk reckon that, like pornography, you know it when you see it.

  9. That's a primary reason I've often looked to the list for reading reccos. :)

  10. We’ll put our hands up to not making the process where readers can nominate titles plain enough. That’ll be a lot clearer next year.
    Yes, we’ll accept nominations from independent publishers and self-published authors. If the book’s published in the relevant year and meets our criteria, it goes in.

    Stan Nicholls
    The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy