Tentacular Grapplings

This post is the first in a series here on Torque Control from Ian Whates.

***

The world of awards seems to be an ever-expanding one, with more and more accolades being presented in every field going. Genre fiction is no exception. In this country alone we have the BSFA Awards, the Clarke, the Gemmells, the British Fantasy Awards, the James White Award, and that’s not even considering global awards such as the Hugos, Nebulas, World Fantasy and Stoker awards, or those voted on by the readers of various magazines… So is there really room for another set of awards?

The Kitschies are the new kids on the block, and their organisers would argue that there certainly is. 2011’s winners were announced at a ceremony during the SFX weekender in February 2012, and, with an expanding set of categories and increasing prize money, the Kitschies are certainly hard to ignore. We asked the organisers, Anne Perry and Jared Shurin, to tell us a bit about the awards and to explain why they’re so different. In particular, they’ve focussed on the Golden Tentacle, awarded for best debut novel.

As a follow-up to this, we’ll be taking a look at each of the novels shortlisted for the Golden Tentacle over the next few months, to get an idea of what makes the Kitschies tick.

“The Kitschies’ shortlists are selected based on strict criteria: progressive, intelligent and entertaining books with elements of the speculative or fantastic. Within those terms, we try to err on the side of inclusivity, and allow each year’s judges the freedom to bring in their own perspective.

Although debut novels are judged by the same criteria (progressive, intelligent, entertaining), they’re a separate category for several reasons. The first is for the authors. There’s something warm and cuddly about discovery. We get to encourage new talent, authors who may not already have an existing audience or support structure. Bringing new books to readers’ attention: that’s the best thing that any award can do.

The second is for the books. This oversimplifies things terribly, but there are different expectations of a debut novel. These are new voices; writers who are challenging their categories in order to wedge their way onto crowded shelves. New authors have to work even harder to get readers’ attention – they need to be brasher, louder, more aggressive. The resulting books are often more raw: shoutier, less polished but, in many cases, also more daring.

The third is for the judges. This is the fun category. Everything is new; the expectations are different. With a debut novel, there are no middle volumes in long series; less predisposition, hype and (hopefully) scandal. In our oversaturated marketing environment, reading a debut is as close as we can get to judging in a vacuum. There’s just the text itself, and whatever surprises it may hold.

The 2011 finalists were an exceptionally diverse group containing (if you’ll pardon the labels): space opera, paranormal romance, epic fantasy, YA and splatterpunk horror. Of course, none of them fit neatly within the boundaries, and if there’s one thing that unites all five titles, it is the fact that they aggressively challenge readers’ assumptions. Several of these titles have gone on to be nominated for – and win – other awards, while others have crept along more quietly.

The Kitschies’ mission is not to dictate taste, but to encourage discussion. For that very reason (and others), we’re grateful to the BSFA for setting up this series. Whether or not you agree with our panel’s selections (and we expect that not everyone will), we hope you enjoy the conversation.” – Anne and Jared.

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