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Worlds Without End Blog

2011 John W. Campbell Memorial Award Posted at 7:52 PM by Dave Post

Dave Post

The Dervish House

Irish author Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House won the 2011 John W. Campbell Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year and Geoffrey A. Landis’s “The Sultan of the Clouds” won the Sturgeon Award for the best short science fiction of the year in a ceremony Friday at the University of Kansas.

The Campbell Award was presented to McDonald by Campbell Award juror Elizabeth Anne Hull. The Sturgeon Award was presented to Landis by Noël Sturgeon, Theodore Sturgeon’s daughter, trustee of his literary estate, and a member of the Sturgeon Award jury.

The Awards are presented by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction during the Campbell Conference, a four-day event held annually at the University of Kansas. The Campbell Award is selected, from nominations by publishers, by a jury composed of seven writers and academics. The Sturgeon Award is selected, from nominations by reviewers and editors, by a jury composed of five writers and academics.

Mr. McDonald is on a roll now. That’s 2 wins out of 5 nominations so far with the Hugo Award coming up in August. Can he pull off the hat trick? I wonder, are multiple award-winning books a good thing for SF or is it better if the awards are spread around to more books/authors? What do you think?

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Kata   |   08 Jul 2011 @ 08:55

Yeah, Dervish House! I am a big fan.

Courtney   |   08 Jul 2011 @ 12:41

Very glad McDonald won. He’s far too under appreciated on this side of the Atlantic.

Mattastrophic   |   08 Jul 2011 @ 14:41

I’m in the middle of Dervish House right now and I definitely see the appeal. Typically, stories like that, the disparate characters who intersect on down the line, can annoy me but MacDonald paints such a rich and vivid picture tinged with that Near East allure that it’s hard to resist.As to whether or not its good that books win multiple awards, I think it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, it gives the feeling of SF readership as a coherent field with a similar sense of taste, but that can cut both ways and make it seem like only certain books that are already making huge waves have a chance.

Val   |   09 Jul 2011 @ 05:07

Well, you could argue that if one books sweeps up all awards that it has been a pretty poor year in terms of quality. I loved The Dervish House by the way, great to see McDonald get some recognition for this fine piece of writing. Not sure if he’ll get the Hugo as well but personally I’d consider it a good winner.

Mattastrophic   |   09 Jul 2011 @ 12:54

@Val: That’s a good point, having one book bag too many awards makes it look like the genre is stagnating a bit. I think something that might be interesting to see is a comparison of the stated criteria for each award. The Campbell committee states that unlike the Hugo and Nebula "The Campbell Award is selected by a committee small enough to discuss among its members all of the nominated novels." This, also, can cut both ways since, while they do get the chance to fully deliberate on each book, each individual’s taste, proportionally, plays a much larger role in determining the award. Perhaps there could be a WWEnd blog post with a more extensive compare/contrast of the award criteria?

Wintermute   |   10 Jul 2011 @ 06:52

In sports I am a fan of dynasties, meaning I prefer that one team win a series of championships than have a new champion each year. It is more interesting for historical, comparative purposes. It also generates a more passionate conversation because fans coalesce towards opposite ends of the spectrum, either despising the champion (Miami Hurricanes of 1980s) or loving it (Tiger Woods, pre systematic infidelity). Either way everyone respects the champion. Same thing with books, the more awards any single one book wins the more likely it will emerge from the pack of recent sci-fi winners and the more likely we will discuss it. The more awards Dervish House wins, the better.

Dave Post   |   10 Jul 2011 @ 21:46

@All: I’ve heard mostly good things about the book so far except for one friend that told me he thought the plot took too long to develop. I’ve got it on my list but its pretty far down the line. @Mattastrophic: There was a great podcast where they had some folks in the business discussing the various awards and the methods of selection and criteria etc. I’m trying to find it now but I’ve forgotten which show it was. I listen to a lot of podcasts these days. Perhaps somebody can jog my memory? I’m thinking it was SF Signal. In the mean time we have some tidbits on the awards pages but nothing comprehensive or comparative. That would be an interesting project.

Dave Post   |   10 Jul 2011 @ 21:55

@Wintermute: I know what you mean about sports dynasties and I suppose that applies to the award winners as well. I think it helps if you really love or really hate the books or authors that keep winning. Certainly leads to more impassioned debate which has to be good for the genre overall.

Emil   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 02:10

Great to see McDonald getting some well-deserved recognition. I’m starting "Dervish" very shortly. "Brasyl" was a stunning read and I hope that "Dervish" continues the trend. Generally, McDonald is not bedtime-reading. @Val makes a brilliant point. It’s very much like wine competitions where certain wine walks away with most prizes, making the consumer believe that it must be good because of the consistency in performance. Rarely is the view taken that it may allude to a stagnate state of affairs where other contenders simply aren’t good enough to compete. That’s very avewrage. You’ve certainly broaden my scope with that statement. It’s therefore enlightening to see different novels nominated across the various award-platforms and consistency would then be defined to see a repeat nomination and win for only a small handfall that obviously stands out from the crowd. To see one or two novels doing well (ie. Willis and McDonald) amongst a diverse selection is better than seeing them do well amongst the usual, expected bunch. I, for one, thought we’ll see the likes "The Quantum Thief" and "How To Live In A Science Fiction Universe" feature in these awards. It’s slightly disheartening to see most of the usual suspects nominated for the Hugo’s. The Campbell had a wonderful diverse selection of works, which to my mind represents a much "fairer" picture of the state of the genre than the Nebula and Hugo did. However, @Val’s comment makes me think the "Dervish" should rather not win the Hugo now *smiley* !

Val   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 02:35

I’ve only read two of the five books nominated this year but if I had to guess.. I think WIllis will take this one too. I’ve heard good things about Jemisin but I’d be surprised if another debut novel dragged in this award. The Hugo’s are usually a bit more conservative than that.

Allie   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 09:33

Books winning multiple awards doesn’t make me feel like the genre is stagnating, but I generally prefer to see different books recognized. Winning an award can get a novel a lot of attention from readers. It’s nice when many different books can benefit from the recognition of the different awards, instead of just one or two a year.I think "The Dervish House" deserves the attention it’s getting (it’s a wonderful book), but I kind of hope it doesn’t take the Hugo Award as well. I’d rather see a less award-laden book take it. Also, it might be a little awkward if the only Hugo-nominated book written by a man this year wins the prize.

Wintermute   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 10:33

Allie, your site is wonderful and I love your book reviews; I wish I could write as well as you do! So just know I really respect what you write before I say that I found your throw away comment at the end of your post off-putting. It might be a little awkward if a man wins the the Hugo because he’s the only man nominated? Really? Hasn’t the western world had a spectrum of people attain the highest levels of success in politics, entertainment, economics, science, law and religion for decades now? Does anyone keep track anymore? Does anyone care? I would find it perverse if the judges considered for one second the author instead of the author’s work. I would find it doubly sad that we would partially invalidate the eventual winner’s achievement because they are a man or woman.

Allie   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 17:10

I’m sorry, Wintermute. I certainly did not mean to say that I think considerations of gender should have any place in the determination of the Hugo Award. If McDonald does win the Hugo, it will be because "The Dervish House" is a great book, and it deserves it. It will have nothing to do with his gender whatsoever. To explain: Unfortunately, people do still keep track of and care about gender disparity in award-winning authors of science fiction. Science fiction often appears to be a pretty male-dominated genre, and the Hugos have generally been a pretty male-dominated award. Many of the discussions of this year’s Hugo Award I’ve read have talked about how remarkable it is that the ballot is dominated by female authors this year. When I wrote that last comment, I was thinking regretfully of the kinds of public discussions that might arise from the situation. I did not mean to imply that his gender was a reason he should or should not win the award, just that I’m afraid there might be some kind of unfortunate public reaction if he does. In closing, I apologize, and I see that my remark was offensive. I agree that I should not have said it. I did not mean to invalidate anyone’s achievements, male or female. Thanks for calling me out on that, and I will take more care in my comments in the future!

Wintermute   |   11 Jul 2011 @ 17:37

Uh, oh I disagree with you again! :-) But only in that you think you shouldn’t have posted what you did. Totally disagree! I am glad you did because now that we have talked about it I understand where you are coming from. I didn’t know about these discussions regarding the sex of the authors. Now I know that there will be some segment of readership that will tut-tut that the winner was, yet again, a man despite the odds being stacked against him (as if the award was random sampling or a lottery). Thanks for posting and filling me in, I am glad you did. (I still will roll my eyes at those that are keeping track if enough Catholic-libertine-aboriginal-females are winning awards. I wish nobody cared. At least in the West.)

Allie   |   12 Jul 2011 @ 15:32

Thanks :). It is a really frustrating attitude to encounter, and I do hope that kind of thinking disappears completely some day!

Dave Post   |   12 Jul 2011 @ 17:34

Women in SF/F getting their props has been a pretty hot topic of late. Take a look at the Mistressworks Project post down the page and the SF Mistressworks list that came out of it. It can be a touchy subject for sure so you have to tread lightly to not offend especially when so much subtlety is lost in a bare text post. I think it will indeed cause consternation among some if a man wins over 4 women. Right or wrong, that’s our world and people will read into it "Old Boy’s Club" if they want to.

Mattastrophic   |   12 Jul 2011 @ 23:52

I didn’t even think about how this year’s Hugo noms were dominated by women: does that make me cool or just insensitive? Anyhoo, it is a touchy subject, so props @Wintermute and @Allie for handling the discussion like they did. We want to break down some long-established barriers and recognize women and minority authors, but it can be off putting when it is done aggressively. @Dave, thanks for telling me about that podcast some posts back, I’ll root around for it. Also, Dervish House does take time to develop it’s plot, which almost seems to be an inherent quality of those kinds of books that employ multiple character threads that intersect down the line. Also, since it’s very much a book about the city, Istanbul, we have to see it in its different facets along the way, so it’s like the slow building of a panorama. If the atmosphere as McDonald crafted it was any less engrossing, I don’t think I could keep on reading it.

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