(im)Perfections Launch and a Ditmar!

Well, if it was going to happen, it was going to happen with this book. We picked up the copies of Perfections for the launch late on the Friday afternoon before Continuum — the nick of time, thinks we — only to find that the second-to-last page was blank. BLANK. That’s right, my novel literally had no ending. Devious little book. Being too late to fix and reprint anything in time for the launch on Sunday morning, there was no small amount of panic and anxiety, let me tell you. But when life gives you lemons …*

(im)Perfections Launch

(photo by Cat Sparks)

After some truly motivated brainstorming and a couple of trips to a stationary store, a solution was determined: for the Continuum launch only, my novel would be known and sold as (im)Perfections. I amended the title on cover and spine with a pretty new silver Sharpie, folded over the actual last page — which contained half a dozen lines — and secured it with a “Spoilers” sticker, then hand-wrote a personalised vignette on the blank page for everyone who bought a copy. It may have been a slightly mad idea. Certainly, I don’t look entirely sane in the midst of it all. But it was lots of fun and lots of lovely people bought lots of imperfect books. There were also, as promised, lollipops!

Everyone who bought a copy on the day will receive a complimentary ebook once they are ready — very soon, I’m told — and will also have the option of a replacement paperback if they want one. Many people seemed happy to just get an ebook rather than have a second physical book crowding their shelves which makes perfect sense to me! (Ha. See what I did there?) I believe the wonderful Alisa at Twelfth Planet Press is in the process of emailing everyone about this now, as well as sending them the missing page so they can finish to book without needing to wait too long for a complete copy. 🙂 We’re fairly sure we have everyone’s details but if you did purchase a copy of (im)Perfections and don’t hear anything, please get in touch with with either Alisa or myself and we’ll sort you out.

A massive THANK YOU to everyone who came to the launch, offered congratulations and/or commiserations, bought a book, sucked on a lollipop and generally helped make what could have been a miserable situation into a glorious one-of-a-kind event!

If you couldn’t come along, you can of course still grab yourself a copy of Perfections in its perfect form from Twelfth Planet Press.

Ditmar Award 2014The other delightful news to come out of the weekend was that “The Home for Broken Dolls” won a Ditmar Award for Best Novellette or Novella! I was a little shocked — it’s a horrible, horrible story — but very happy. As I said in my acceptance speech, I really have Alisa Krasnostein to thank for this. Without knowing in advance that the novella had a predetermined home in my Twelve Planets collection, I’m not sure I would have finished it. The research was difficult and, at times, the writing even more so, and it would have been near impossible to place a 20K piece like this on spec. So many thanks to Alisa, to Twelfth Planet Press, and to the small press community at large. Work like this deserves a home and it finds one because of publishers like you.

And that’s about it for now. Back to the word mines!

* But you know, to make lemonade palatable, quite a bit of sugar is needed. Somehow I doubt that a universe insistent upon the forced provision of sour citrus fruit would also happily furnish the requisite sweetener to make said fruit into a delicious beverage. Proverbs, hey?

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And Ditmar Makes Three!

Late last night the 2013 Ditmar ballot was announced and, considering that Perfections was unexpectedly rushed into a pre-Christmas publishing date late year, I’m honestly quite surprised to see it in the Best Novel category. I wasn’t sure enough people would have had time to read, let alone nominate, it but I’m delighted that they did.

Of course, being as the Ditmars are not separated into different categories by genre, this nomination is all Perfections is likely to see — because MARGO LANAGAN and KATE FORSYTH. Honestly, Sea Hearts and Bitter Greens were two of the best books I read last year and if one — or both! a tie! a most deserved tie! — of those doesn’t take away a Ditmar, I’ll be flabbergasted to the point of hat-eating. If you’ve not read them, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice.  This is the contemporary fantasy genre at its very, very best. Just being on a short list with those two novels is a high honour indeed.

(And, oh look, there’s Jason Nahrung as well. Salvage getting another nod this time, which I tremendously proud to see. But still, you know, LANAGAN and FORSYTH.)

I’m also very happy to see The Writer and the Critic on the ballot for Best Fan Publication in Any Medium. I really love doing this podcast and, after the recent Moving House Hiatus, we’re about to get back in the saddle. A new episode has already been recorded and will be up in the next couple of days.

The full ballot for the 2013 Ditmar Awards is as follows:

Best Novel:

  • Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
  • Bitter Greens, Kate Forsyth (Random House Australia)
  • Suited (The Veiled Worlds 2), Jo Anderton (Angry Robot)
  • Salvage, Jason Nahrung (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Perfections, Kirstyn McDermott (Xoum)
  • The Corpse-Rat King, Lee Battersby (Angry Robot)

Best Novella or Novelette

  • ‘Flight 404′, Simon Petrie, in Flight 404/The Hunt for Red Leicester (Peggy Bright Books)
  • ‘Significant Dust’, Margo Lanagan, in Cracklescape (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • ‘Sky’, Kaaron Warren, in Through Splintered Walls (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story

  • ‘Sanaa’s Army’, Joanne Anderton, in Bloodstones (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • ‘The Wisdom of Ants’, Thoraiya Dyer, in Clarkesworld 75
  • ‘The Bone Chime Song’, Joanne Anderton, in Light Touch Paper Stand Clear (Peggy Bright Books)
  • ‘Oracle’s Tower’, Faith Mudge, in To Spin a Darker Stair (FableCroft Publishing)

Best Collected Work

  • Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Epilogue, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, edited by Edwina Harvey and Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)
  • Midnight and Moonshine by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter, edited by Russell B. Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Artwork

  • Cover art, Nick Stathopoulos, for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine 56 (ASIM Collective)
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for Midnight and Moonshine (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Illustrations, Adam Browne, for Pyrotechnicon (Coeur de Lion Publishing)
  • Cover art and illustrations, Kathleen Jennings, for To Spin a Darker Stair (FableCroft Publishing)
  • Cover art, Les Petersen, for Light Touch Paper Stand Clear (Peggy Bright Books)

Best Fan Writer

  • Alex Pierce, for body of work including reviews in Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
  • Grant Watson, for body of work including the ‘Who50′ series in The Angriest
  • Sean Wright, for body of work including reviews in Adventures of a Bookonaut

Best Fan Artist

  • Kathleen Jennings, for body of work including The Dalek Game and The Tamsyn Webb Sketchbook

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Alex Pierce
  • Antipodean SF, Ion Newcombe
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Snapshot 2012, Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung et. al.
  • Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus, Alisa Krasnostein, Tehani Wessely, et. al.
  • Galactic Chat, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Sean Wright

Best New Talent

  • David McDonald
  • Faith Mudge
  • Steve Cameron
  • Stacey Larner

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, and Tehani Wessely, for review of Mira Grant’s Newsflesh, in ASIF
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for ‘Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy. Let’s Unpack That.’, in tor.com
  • David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Tehani Wessely, for the ‘New Who in Conversation’ series
  • Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, for ‘The Year in Review’, in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2011
  • Rjurik Davidson, for ‘An Illusion in the Game for Survival’, a review of Reamde by Neal Stephenson, in The Age

The official Ditmar ballot paper, including postal address information, may be downloaded as a PDF format file.

Once voting opens, votes will be accepted via email to: ditmars@sf.org.au

However, if possible, please vote online at ditmars.sf.org.au/2013

Postal ballots will be distributed in the near future.

Voting for the Ditmar Award is conducted in accordance with the rules specified at http://wiki.sf.org.au/Ditmar_rules, and is open to members of Conflux 9 (including supporting members) and to members of Continuum 8 who were eligible to vote in the 2011 Award. Voting in all award categories is by the optional preferential system, and each eligible individual may vote only once. All ballots (including emailed ballots) should include the name and address of the voter. If you have questions regarding the ballot or voting procedure, please email: ditmars@sf.org.au.

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Ditmar Award Ballot Announced: Voting Now Open!

Ditmar Award 2011

The ballot for the 2012 Ditmar Awards has just been announced and what an impressive list it is! I’m particularly excited because this year I’ve actually read/heard/seen more than half of the nominees across the ballot, so I feel particularly informed. Not that I believe in the whole, “You have to have read/heard/seen everything in order to vote responsibly” argument, but it’s really nice to be in a position where I’ll have several hard choices ahead of me when I sit down to fill out that ballot. Hmm, I wonder how many of those gaps I can fill before before the voting closes …

The Ditmar Awards will be announced at Continuum 8, which serves as the NatCon for 2012. Hearty congratulations to all the nominees:

Best Novel

  • The Shattered City (Creature Court 2), Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperCollins)
  • Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres (Random House Australia)
  • Mistification, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot Books)
  • The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood (HarperCollins)
  • Debris (The Veiled Worlds 1), Jo Anderton (Angry Robot Books)

Best Novella or Novelette

  • “The Sleeping and the Dead”, Cat Sparks, in Ishtar (Gilgamesh Press)
  • “Above”, Stephanie Campisi, in Above/Below (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt”, Paul Haines, in The Last Days of Kali Yuga (Brimstone Press)
  • “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living”, Deborah Biancotti, in Ishtar (Gilgamesh Press)
  • “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “Below”, Ben Peek, in Above/Below (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Short Story

  • “Breaking the Ice”, Thoraiya Dyer, in Cosmos 37
  • “Alchemy”, Lucy Sussex, in Thief of Lives (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker”, Martin Livings and Talie Helene, in More Scary Kisses (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • “All You Can Do Is Breathe”, Kaaron Warren, in Blood and Other Cravings (Tor)
  • “Bad Power”, Deborah Biancotti, in Bad Power (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “The Patrician”, Tansy Rayner Roberts, in Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press)

Best Collected Work

  • The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, edited by Angela Challis (Brimstone Press)
  • Nightsiders by Sue Isle, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Ishtar, edited by Amanda Pillar and K. V. Taylor (Gilgamesh Press)

Best Artwork

  • “Finishing School”, Kathleen Jennings, in Steampunk!: An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories (Candlewick Press)
  • Cover art, Kathleen Jennings, for The Freedom Maze (Small Beer Press)

Best Fan Writer

  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, for body of work including reviews in Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus! and Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth
  • Alexandra Pierce, for body of work including reviews in Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus!, Not If You Were The Last Short Story On Earth, and Randomly Yours, Alex
  • Robin Pen, for “The Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar”
  • Sean Wright, for body of work including “Authors and Social Media” series in Adventures of a Bookonaut
  • Bruce Gillespie, for body of work including “The Golden Age of Fanzines is Now”, and SF Commentary 81 & 82

Best Fan Artist

  • Rebecca Ing, for work in Scape
  • Lisa Rye, for “Steampunk Portal” series
  • Dick Jenssen, for body of work including work in IRS, Steam Engine Time, SF Commentary and Scratchpad
  • Kathleen Jennings, for work in Errantry (tanaudel.wordpress.com) including “The Dalek Game”
  • Rhianna Williams, for work in Nullas Anxietas Convention Programme Book

Best Fan Publication in Any Medium

  • SF Commentary, edited by Bruce Gillespie
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Chat, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Sean Wright
  • Galactic Suburbia, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayner Roberts, and Alex Pierce

Best New Talent

  • Steve Cameron
  • Alan Baxter
  • Joanne Anderton

William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

  • Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene, for “2010: The Year in Review”, in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 (Ticonderoga Publications)
  • Damien Broderick and Van Ikin, for editing Warriors of the Tao: The Best of Science Fiction: A Review of Speculative Literature (Borgo Press)
  • David McDonald, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tehani Wessely for “Reviewing New Who” series, in A Conversational Life
  • Alexandra Pierce and Tehani Croft Wessely, for reviews of Vorkosigan Saga, in Randomly Yours, Alex
  • Russell Blackford, for “Currently reading: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke”, in Metamagician and the Hellfire Club

You might have noticed that The Writer and the Critic, the podcast I do with my dear friend Ian Mond, has been nominated in the Best Fan Publication category. This is a great honour considering the high calibre of the field we’re up against — three other fantastic podcasts as well as the venerable Steam Engine Time which sees Bruce Gillespie holding the line for print publications — and I can say with all sincerity that I absolutely do not care who carries away this particular Ditmar. It’s going to be such a great night!

The 2012 Australian SF (“Ditmar”) Awards recognise excellence in Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by Australians in 2011. Voting for the Ditmar Awards is open to all members of Continuum 8 (including supporting members) and to members of Swancon 36 who were eligible to vote in the 2011 Awards. You can vote online here or else download a PDF of the ballot to mail in.

All votes must be received by 11.59pm on 27th May, 2012.

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The Writer and the Critic: Episode 7

The latest episode of our podcast is now available for direct download and streaming from the website or via subscription from iTunes. Feedback is most welcome!

Here are the show notes:

This month’s episode of The Writer and the Critic sees your hosts, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond, discuss the results of the recently announced Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards and dissect the almost inevitable Great Ditmar Controversy of 2011 that exploded onto the interwebs soon afterwards. For those interested in reading further, Kirstyn has blogged about the issue here and here.

The books up for discussion on the podcast this month are The Resurrectionst by Jack O’Connell (chosen by Ian ) and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (recommended by Kirstyn ). Ian mentions a review by Andrew Wheeler when speaking about the O’Connell novel and Kirstyn vaguely remembers this online argument while arguing an Atwood tangent of her own. For those wishing to avoid spoilers and skip ahead, discussion of The Resurrectionist begins at 30:00, while Oryx and Crake starts around 47:00.

Oconnell_atwood

They then turn their attention to a book which was recommended by one of their lovely listeners — Tansy Rayner Roberts. Or maybe two books. Or possibly one book which has had a run-in with a guillotine: Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis. Ian steals his best lines quotes extensively from this review by his new Bestest Twitter Friend, Jonathan McCalmont. Ian also gets very, very frustrated and swears quite a bit. The discussion of Blackout / All Clear begins at 1:09:09

Willis_covers

Check back in at the 1:27:15 mark for some listener feedback and final remarks.

Next month The Writer and the Critic will hit the road once again to record their first episode live in front of an actual audience at Continuum 7 in Melbourne! Their very special guest will be the brilliant and awe-inspiring, Catherynne M. Valente, who has picked Embassytown by China Mieville for Ian and Kirstyn to read.

Ian’s recommended book for June will be Among Others by Jo Walton, while Kirstyn has chosen Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.

Read ahead and join in the spoilerific fun!

Ditmar Awards: random notes and musings

The prevailing theme of the discussions/debates/flamewars surrounding the 2011 Ditmars this past week has been that the awards process is broken and needs to be fixed. As I talked about yesterday, the productions and publications of one small press publisher (Twelfth Planet Press) accounted for 50% of the combined 2011 Ditmar/Tin Duck awards.  For the sake of this post, however, I’m only going to talk about the Ditmars. This isn’t intended as a slight against or dismissal of the Tin Ducks, but simply an acknowledgement that they do not always coincide with the national award, and that the recent discussions did seem to centre around Ditmar Awards past, present and future.

[An aside for those who don’t know: the Tin Duck Awards are the annual Western Australian Science Fiction Foundation (WASFF) Achievement Awards for WA writers and artists. The awards are always presented at Swancon — the regional WA convention — and only coincide with the Ditmars in years where SwanCon doubles as the National SF Convention (where the Ditmars are always presented). This was the case in 2011. Interestingly, the 2012 NatCon will be hosted by Continuum8 in Melbourne and will also result in a double act — the Ditmars and the Chronos Awards, which are the Victoria equivalent of the Tin Ducks.]

With the Tin Ducks removed from the equation, we are left with a total of 11 Ditmar categories (including the Atheling) over which 12 awards were presented in 2011 due to one category being tied. Of these awards, Twelfth Planet Press won 5. It’s still an impressive amount, but it’s well under 50% of the total Ditmars given out this year. It does make me wonder if such a fuss would have been made had this tally not been compounded by the additional Tin Duck wins, but that’s something we’ll never know. I suspect there would have been some fussing because a) Ditmars always seem to attract controversy; and b) other award winners were grouped into the TPP conglomerate by way of association, as I discussed in detail yesterday.

Personally, I do not think the fact that TPP won a significant portion of the available awards is indicative of a problem with the process itself. The high level of quality, diversity and visibility of the work produced by TPP in 2010 is undeniable. These factors will always get you noticed, will usually get you onto awards ballots, and will often get you shiny trophies. (It’s well worth noting that it wasn’t simply one work or even one type/genre of work that resulted in TPP’s success.) Does this mean I believe that no one else in 2010 was producing high quality work deserving of awards? Of course not — the full 2011 Ditmar ballot shows just how impressive the work being produced by spec fic community in Australia is these days. But that’s how awards operate. Sometimes they’re spread widely and far afield, sometimes they’re concentrated. Sometimes the people you vote for win, sometimes they don’t.

The fact that the Ditmars are awarded by a popular ballot taken from members of the NatCon was also a matter of heated debate this week. Unlike WorldCons and other conventions overseas, the Australian National SF Convention doesn’t attract massive memberships. We’re talking figures in the low hundreds here, not the thousands. And only a relatively small number of NatCon members actually vote for the Ditmars in most years. Sometimes, as few as a dozen people can determine the winner of an award. Seriously. Twelve people liked your work enough to vote for you, and that means you have a trophy and a “Best Whatever”. I don’t say this to denigrate the Ditmars but to point out that voter participation really is a problem that the Awards need to overcome. (I’d hazard a guess that regional awards like the Tin Ducks and Chronos would face similar problems on an even smaller scale.) It’s also useful to remind people that an apparently “lopsided” ballot where one person or publisher wins quite a few awards can happen quite naturally in such a small voting pool.

Any popular ballot has intrinsic problems. Someone might have only knowledge of a handful of works on the ballot and choose to vote for them regardless of comparison with the other nominees. Likewise, she might have only come across a handful of works and choose not to vote at all because she doesn’t feel sufficiently qualified to do so. Someone else might base his vote on the personality of the nominee rather than the work being nominated. Another might decide to vote for a friend or colleague, regardless of any other consideration. And so on, and so on. However, if your voting pool is large enough, and enthusiasm and interest is high enough, then hopefully all of these wrinkles will be smoothed out in the bigger picture. Also smoothed out will be voting “hot spots” which can skew a result based on geographic and/or demographic factors, as well as concerns regarding “extrinsic popularity” vs “instrinc merit”. (And no, I am not getting any further into that debate here. See those inverted commas? Consider them my equivalent of grains of salt.)

But I absolutely disagree with the suggestion by some — with varying degrees of seriousness and snark — to change the names of the awards from “Best . . .” to “Most Popular . . .” in order to better reflect the voting process. Such a proposal would not only undermine the Awards, but would also belittle the integrity and judgement of the voters themselves by accepting the whole ugly argument of “popular” vs “quality”. (Grains. Salt.) Moreover, there is an abundance of highly regarded and popularly voted awards — Hugos, BSFA, Stokers, Oscars, etc — which all use the adjective “Best . . .” to describe their categories. It’s such an accepted usage of the term that it would actually seem a churlish, backhanded compliment to declare your award winners to be otherwise.

Another suggestion has been to open the voting for the Ditmars to the general public — although just how “general” that public would be remains undiscussed. Literally any Australian citizen or resident, or only those  designated with the cryptically nebulous “active member of fandom” moniker? What about members of the spec fic community overseas who participate in the Aussie scene, or who simply hold an interest? Who gets to vote? Who doesn’t? Who decides? However the rules for such awards are worked out, one thing is clear: you couldn’t call them Ditmars.

The formal name for the Ditmars is “The Australian SF Awards” and they have been awarded annually since 1969 at the Australian National Science Fiction Convention (Natcon) to recognise achievement in Australian science fiction (including fantasy and horror) and science fiction fandom. They are voted on by members of the NatCon, in the same way that the Hugos are voted on by members of the WorldCon, the BSFA Awards are voted on by members of British Science Fiction Association (and, recently, by EasterCon attendees in general), and the Stokers are voted on by members of the Horror Writers Association (though in 2012 they will change to a partially juried award). As a result, the awards are given to the “Best . . .” as determined by the members of the group/organisation which presents them.

I’m not sure I see the point in removing NatCon membership as the defining voter attribute or indeed why this would make the awards more meaningful. If anyone — with or without a vested interest in the spec fic community — could vote, then this would surely leave the process wide open to wroughting and vote-wrangling from friends, family, work buddies and passing stray cats. The Ditmar voting rules have already been broadened in recent years to allow eligibility for the members of the previous NatCon to vote in the current ballot — meaning two years worth of NatCon members can vote if they wish to. The actual nomination process is open beyond the constraints of NatCon membership, which is intended to allow for the creation of a more inclusive and representative ballot. As far as rules and procedures go, the Ditmar Awards are both simple and solid. Sure, there might be cause for tweaks and amendments in the future, but changing the nature and identity of the Awards themselves seems a drastic measure — and not one that would even be likely to fix the perceived problems surrounding the “popular” vote.

[Note: For those unaware, supporting members of the NatCon are also eligible to vote in the Ditmars. This could be seen as operating as almost a defacto “general public” vote. You don’t need to fork out for travel and accommodation and a full NatCon membership, nor do you need to take time away from work, family or other commitments. If you are passionate about voting for the Ditmars but can’t make it to the convention, you can take out a supporting membership at a much cheaper rate and have the same voting rights as attendees.]

So what can be done to increase the size of the voter pool and enhance the reputation of the awards? Perhaps voting should be open to anyone who attended a NatCon in the last five years. Or ten. Or any NatCon, ever. But who gets the unenviable task of keeping, collating and cross-checking those records? And would someone who went to a NatCon ten years ago and never again have any interest in voting for the current Ditmars anyway? I suspect that increasing the eligibility pool probably isn’t the answer — mostly, because no matter how big your pool of eligible voters may be, it’s only the active ones who count in the endgame.

What we need are more active voters. And that means voters who are enthusiastic, involved and informed. There are a hell of a lot of people who do not vote because they haven’t read/seen all the eligible nominees on the ballot and thus feel they aren’t qualified to make a “good” decision. Personally, I think that’s a bit of bunkum. I certainly do not condone voting for something of which you have no knowledge, but I do think that it’s perfectly all right for you to vote — for example — for a work in the “Best Novel” category even if it’s the only one of the nominees you have read. As long as you loved it and think it’s worthy of an award, then your vote is valid. I know there are people who vehemently disagree with me on this point, but my belief is that everything tends to get smoothed out in a large active voter pool. There will be a lot of people who only read the works they have voted for and there will be others who read and critically analyse everything before coming to a decision; both kinds contribute to the resulting hivemind of the Ditmar voting body.

Perhaps incentive is also needed. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the provision of a digital voting pack containing the nominated works for the Hugo awards has lead to an increase in enthusiasm for and, hopefully, participation in the voting process. I know there was a Ditmar voting pack issued by the NatCon in 2008 or thereabouts but I think that’s been the only time — although I stand to be corrected. At the very least, such a voting pack will provide those people who need to feel fully informed with the material to be so — which will in turn hopefully lead to more active voting from that segment of the pool as well. However, this would all mean extra work for some poor soul in a community of volunteers which is already thinly stretched. Not to mention extra expense and possibly lost revenue for small presses — allowing one story from an anthology into a voting pack can be seen as promotion; packing in an entire novel or collection would most certainly result in lost sales. There are few easy answers.

Possibly most important of all is the need to actively promote Australian spec fic within the community and to encourage discussion and support all year round — not just at awards time. There are a lot of folks who already do this with great enthusiasm and they are to be commended. Sometimes, even, with awards!

Look, we all know that awards aren’t the be all and end all. They aren’t — or shouldn’t be — the reason to actually do any creative or critical work whatsoever. With the exception of a select few (usually those with generous purses attached) winning an award won’t do much for your career, happiness or general well-being. But they are a genuine sign of appreciation and admiration — whether awarded by your peers or via a jury panel — and it’s heartening to receive them. It’s equally heartening to see someone you admire and respect receive one, and possibly as disheartening when that same someone misses out. When it comes right down to it, awards are all about emotion.

One thing remains clear from the debates of the past week: the Ditmar Awards are far from meaningless. There are obviously a lot of people who care about the results and the reputation of the awards themselves — one way or another — and ultimately this is a good thing. It remains to be seen whether or not this translates into a greater increase in participation during nomination and voting for the awards in 2012. I’d certainly encourage anyone with an interest in Aussie spec fic to make note of your favourites over the course of this year so you can nominate them when the time comes around. If you weren’t at SwanCon36 and won’t be able to make it to Continuum8, then consider taking out a supporting membership. And vote. Vote. Vote.

Because in the end, as with so many things, the Ditmar Awards we get will be the Ditmar Awards we deserve.

[Addendum: On the subject of conventions and awards, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that voting in the 2011 Chronos Awards remains open until 15 May. If you are a member of Continuum7 to be held in Melbourne in June this year, then you are eligible to vote. If you are not a member but wish to vote for the Chronos Awards anyway, a voting membership is available from the Continuum Foundation for $5. The full Chronos ballot and further information can be found here.]

Ditmars Awards and Myth-Information

This is the first of two posts I plan to write about the latest Ditmar Awards controversy which ran rampant in certain corners of the internet over the past couple of days. I’m not going to name names or list a series of links. If you don’t already know what’s been happening — and you really care — it’s easy enough to dig around and find out. I’m writing this post first, because it’s the easy one.  Tomorrow I’m going to talk about the perceived problems surrounding the Ditmar Awards and hopefully contribute to finding solutions. But first, today.

As a lot of you will no doubt be aware, there has been some very heated discussion (to use the word loosely) over the results of this year’s Ditmar and Tin Duck Awards. If you’ve not yet seen the results, they are listed in full at the Locus website. A bunch of folks won multiple awards on the night and one small press publisher, Twelfth Planet Press (to be referred to herein as TPP), was very well represented indeed. The fact that Alisa Krasnostein (TPP owner and publisher) was also convener of SwanCon36/NatCon50 was pointed out as a possible conflict of interest and accusations of lobbying and unfair advantage were made. Some people defended the awards and the winners, others sided with those who felt the results were “embarrassing” and did not provide a true representation of the Australian spec fic community. I participated in the discussion on one forum and see little worth in hashing through it all it again here.

However, an aspect that I find particularly troubling is the grouping of a whole bunch of individual award winners into one homogeneous TPP mass, a grouping which has served as the basis of a lot of the recent argument and debate. The phrases “16 out of 18” (as a ratio of TPP wins to total awards) and “clean sweep” were repeated in various forums, and the concept seems to have become a slippery “fact” that even folks who were defending TPP from various insinuations no longer dispute. Twelfth Planet Press sweeped the 2011 Ditmar Awards; what remained to be discussed was how.

But let’s take a closer look:

Between the Ditmars (including the Atheling) and the Tin Ducks, there were a total of 20 awards given out over eighteen categories (two categories resulted in ties with joint winners).

Twelfth Planet Press was the publisher associated with a total of 10 awards. (Ditmars: Novella/Novelette, Short Story, Collected Work, Fan Writer, Fan Publication; Tin Ducks: Written Short Form, Professional Art, Professional Production, Fan Written, Fan Production.)

An astounding achievement, certainly, but hardly a “clean sweep”. So where does that phrase, and the 16/18 ratio, come from? The “18” part is easy — you discount the fact that two categories (one Ditmar, one Tin Duck) had joint winners and simply elect to count the categories rather than the actual awards given. But how does 10 awards turn into 16?

Watch closely kids, here’s some stellar prestidigitation for you:

  • The Ditmar Best Achievement was awarded to Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, Rachel Holkner, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts & Tehani Wessely for the “Snapshot 2010”. This was not a TPP production but because Alisa was involved, you can count it as one anyway. So were her fellow Galactic Suburbanites, Tansy and Alex, for that matter. Plus Tehani reviews for ASiF (and won a Tin Duck for her work). Both Galactic Suburbia and ASiF are TPP productions. Doesn’t matter that the Snapshot wasn’t — you can definitely count it. That’s 1.
  • Now, Tansy Rayner Roberts also won Ditmar Best Novel and the Atheling Award. Power and Majesty was published by HarperVoyager and  “A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who” appeared her own website. But it doesn’t matter, because she does work with Alisa and TPP as well, so these are obviously defacto wins for TPP. That makes 3 so far.
  • Then there’s Amanda Rainey, who won both a Ditmar (Fan Artist) and a Tin Duck (Fan Art) for her SwanCon36 logo. Nothing to do with TPP? No, but she has designed a lot of TPP book covers over the years. Sure, she’s also done covers for other small presses such as Ticonderoga and Fablecroft, but we’ll count these two awards for TPP anyway because Amanda does contract work for Alisa. There, now we have 5.
  • We can easily grab number 6 from the Ditmar Best New Talent, because Thoraiya Dyer has been published by TPP. Not exclusively, but enough that we can count her as part of the TPP conglomerate. That’s an extra 6 awards we can credit for TPP, which brings us to the magic number of 16. As in 16 out of 18.

And let’s take one last look at the number 18, shall we? As mentioned above, this was derived from counting categories rather than awards. In the Ditmar Short Story category, I tied with Cat Sparks. My story came from a Morrigan Books anthology, Cat’s from a TPP book. In the Tin Duck Fan Art category, Amanda Rainey’s SwanCon36 logo (designated TPP as above) tied with an artwork by Christina Lorenz. But if you’re making the case for a “clean sweep” then you simply use the number of categories for your total while counting any tied category with one TPP winner as win wholly for TPP. Sure, it’s not entirely accurate but does get rid of a couple of troubling non-TPP award winners when it comes to crunching numbers, and leaves only the winners of Ditmar Best Artwork (Shaun Tan) and Tin Duck Written Long Form (Juliet Marillier) standing apart from the Twelfth Planet Press crowd.

Quite a feat isn’t it? Of course Shaun Tan did supply cover artwork for Fablecroft, which is run by Tehani Wessely who won a Tin Duck for her ASiF reviews (a TPP publication) so perhaps we can count him as part of TPP as well. Then it would be 17 out of 18. I wonder if Julia has any connections with Alisa . . .

See how ridiculous it all gets? The Australian spec fic community is incredibly small, especially when you consider the wealth of creative talent and productivity to be found within its ranks. As I said somewhere yesterday, the famous rule about six degrees of separation is overkill when it comes to Aussie spec fic — two or three degrees would be enough to put you in touch with just about everyone else. To lump individuals, and their individual achievements, together in order to belabour a point or bolster an argument — just because they’re friends or have worked together on other projects —  is both unfair and unwarranted. It belittles the awards, it belittles individual achievement, and it belittles those who make such generalisations in the first place.

Regardless of which side you stand on the Great Ditmar Debate of 2011, and what outcomes you’d like to see in terms of rule changes or future voter encouragement (more on this tomorrow), I hope that at least you agree that care needs to be taken when talking about such potentially sensitive issues. Facts need to be correct, especially when you’re relying on said facts to argue a particular case. Moreover, I really do hope that the myth of the “TPP Clean Sweep” or the “16/18 ratio” gets put to bed. It’s not accurate, it’s not fair, and it’s not helpful.

And I thought this was the easy post.

[Disclaimer: Although I have not worked with Alisa Krasnostein or Twelfth Planet Press previously, I will be publishing a collection as part of the Twelve Planets series in 2012. I don’t believe this has any bearing on my opinions expressed either in this post or elsewhere over the past couple of days, but I’m happy to acknowledge the relationship.]

SwanCon, MegaPodcasts and Ditmar Awards

SwanCon36 was a wonderful convention and merriment was had by all. I was on a lot of panels and even managed to sit in the audience for quite a few that I wasn’t involved with — which doesn’t always happen, depending on how busy I am catching up with people and how good the bar is (and it was a very good bar). My program highlights were seeing Kaaron Warren interview Ellen Datlow — it was more of a friendly conversation — as well as being on a very lively discussion panel with Kaaron, Ellen and Paul Haines called “Darkness Beyond Borders”. Heaps of fantastic audience involvement and fascinating debate about horror and dark fiction, where the genre fits and how it bleeds into the mainstream. The live Galactic Suburbia podcast was also a lot of fun to watch and there were quite a few enthusiastic discussions over the weekend — on and off the program — concerning eBooks and social media. Much food for thought!

Speaking of podcasts, Jonathan Strahan from Coode Street, Helen Merrick from Pangalactic Interwebs, Alex Pierce from Galactic Suburbia and my own good self got together to record a live SwanCon MegaPodcast on the Friday afternoon. You can download or stream it from The Writer and the Critic, and the others will no doubt have their own links floating about the place in due course. It was a blast and gave me a welcome practice run for recording W&C with Ian live at Continuum 7 in June.

On Sunday afternoon Ticonderoga Publications threw a 15th Birthday celebration and launched their two newest anthologies, More Scary Kisses and Dead Red Heart. There were yummy cupcakes and fine wine and some heart-fluttery readings — I read an extract from “Frostbitten”, the story I have in More Scary Kisses, although I had to make a last minute switch when I saw there were kids in the room! Ticonderoga has been releasing some remarkable books in the last few years, with more exciting titles to come. I’m particularly looking forward to Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett, due for release later this year.

Ditmar Award 2011

Because SwanCon36 was also the 50th National Science Fiction Convention, the Ditmar Awards were presented on the Sunday night. I’m extremely proud to report that “She Said” (my piece from Scenes from the Second Storey) tied for Best Short Story with “All the Love in the World” by Cat Sparks. Cat’s story is brilliant and Sprawl, the Twelfth Planet Press anthology in which it was published, also won Best Collected Work. Twelfth Planet did extremely well at the awards overall which just goes to show what a powerhouse it has truly become in SpecFic publishing.  It’s worth pointing out that TTP doesn’t just publish traditional print books, but is also heavily involved in new media production, with Galactic Suburbia and the ASiF review website being well represented in the awards:

  • Best Novel: Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts (HarperVoyager)
  • Best Novella or Novelette: “The Company Articles of Edward Teach”, Thoraiya Dyer (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Short Story (tie): “All the Love in the World”, Cat Sparks (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press) & “She Said”, Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes From the Second Storey, Morrigan Books)
  • Best Collected Work: Sprawl, Alisa Krasnostein, ed. (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Artwork: “The Lost Thing” short film (Passion Pictures) Andrew Ruhemann & Shaun Tan
  • Best Fan Writer: Alexandra Pierce, for body of work including reviews at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Fan Artist: Amanda Rainey, for Swancon 36 logo
  • Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: Galactic Suburbia podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Tansy Rayer Roberts, & Alex Pierce  (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Best Achievement: Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, Rachel Holkner, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, & Tehani Wessely, Snapshot 2010
  • Best New Talent: Thoraiya Dyer
  • William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review: Tansy Rayner Roberts, for “A Modern Woman’s Guide to Classic Who”

Locus has published the full list of Ditmar nominees and winners, as well as the results of the Tin Ducks and the other awards presented at SwanCon over here. Congratulations to everyone!

Now I’m back home and very tired, but also very much looking forward to the next time I get to hang out with the fine folks that make up the Australian speculative fiction community. Enthusiasm! Creativity! Gin and tonic! What more can you ask from a long weekend?