Goodbye Military Science Fiction & Fantasy

There’s a lot of doom and gloom these days. I guess it’s that time of the year?

The biggest one I am hearing about right now is the removal of the Best Military SF & Fantasy Novel category for the Dragon Awards. There were other awards removed and/or merged with others, but this is the only one I really cared about. As a former finalist for this award, I’m a little bummed it’s going away. It was the one category where you could almost guarantee there to be some indie authors as finalists alongside typical powerhouses like David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Charles E. Gannon. However, unlike a few of my friends, I think I understand why it’s going away, and needed to.

The core issue is the category itself.

A brief scan over at Amazon for military SF novels show that even the giant Amazon has no idea what, precisely, military SF is. Is it massive space battles ala Weber — which we could successfully argue as being a small part of his expansive and richly-detailed space operatic “Honor Harrington” universe — or is it more along the lines of Starship Troopers? Which, in itself, is more a detailed introspection of modern society, of citizen vs civilian. Is it purely for Marko Kloos? He would tell you “no.” JN Cheney? Again, probably not only for his style. Hell, do I write pure military SF? (Short answer: no. Long answer? It’s so complicated I don’t think we have the time…) So classifying the category is difficult for both the judges, and those voting for it.

Then we have, well, you, dearly beloved reader. You, who love your favorite author’s latest work so much that you nominate it for a Dragon Award without any regard to what category it might actually belong in. Christopher Ruocchio fans, for TWO years, nominated two of his Sun Eater books as military SF — which they most assuredly are NOT. Space Opera? Yes. Military SF? No. Hard no. And it’s not your fault, really. The backlash authors have faced the past ten years when openly stating what books they think belong in what categories, and which of their own novels belong where, has made more than a few of us skittish.

Then there was the little backend of the award that NOBODY ever seemed to pay any attention to. You see, the Dragon Award was for the Best in Military Science Fiction & Fantasy. Yes, fantasy. However, with the exception of Django Wexler’s The Price of Valour (a great series, I’ll add… you should check it out), I don’t think any fantasy book was ever a finalist. So that right there hurts the category further.

I understand how a lot of you feel. You think it’s a direct attack on your books, your favorite authors, and the industry as a whole. However, one of your complaints have been the “watering down” of the Hugo Awards. Streamlining the Dragon Awards makes sense. Best in Science Fiction? Best in Fantasy? Easy. Boom. Done. It makes it harder to win which, in turn, makes it more valuable.

Come on, you took basic economics at some point (I hope). Hell, look around the grocery store. When supply is low and demand is high, it makes the product worth more. Too many subgenres and subcategories dilutes the worth of the award. I’ve seen people asking for them to have short fiction awards as well. They (wisely, IMHO) said “no.” Did you know there are more Hugo Awards for short fiction than novel? Oh yeah, look it up. Best Novel is for 40,000 words and up. However, there are three separate categories for Hugo Awards for short fiction. Is the market that good for short fiction? Judging by the lack of royalties a lot of anthologies pay out, I’d say “meh?” Yet three categories for fiction under 40,000 words for “the most prestigious award in speculative fiction?” A bit overkill if you ask me.

The Dragon Awards appear to be setting their value, and there are a lot of black-pilled individuals bemoaning this. That’s their right. Me? I’m of two minds. As an author, I look forward to the new challenge. As a fan, I’m interested in seeing how Christopher Ruocchio, David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Marko Kloos all stack up against one another now in a 1v1v1v1v1 scenario (and some poor random guy thrown in who’s just happy to be hanging around with them at the pre-awards dinner party).

2023 is already shaping up to be a strange year, and we’re not even in December 2022 yet.

4 thoughts on “Goodbye Military Science Fiction & Fantasy

  1. And yet, back in the 1980s SFWA voted to fold fantasy novels into their SF novel Nebula Awards category so that a Fantasy novel could compete with SF novels to win a Best Novel Nebula, because for a very few novels it was difficult to distinguish between SF & Fantasy. They _added_ fantasy to an SF category even though those few novels where it was hard to distinguish between SF and F were the exception and not the rule. I would rather they had left the SF novel category alone and handled the exceptions on a case by case basis. One of the results is that since then there is not one _major_ genre award devoted solely to SF novels. Looks to me that the Dragon Con people decided to scrap an entire category rather than tweak it to separate the SF from the F or vice versa to see how that might work. Just thinking out loud and offering a possible solution that wasn’t tried, instead of scrapping an entire category. Maybe it would have worked and maybe not, but we’ll never know now.

    **Edited by request: I would like to amend my comment. I said there were no major genre awards strictly for SF. I forgot to include the recently initiated Dragon Awards.

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