It's interesting that the first new entry to appear for ages on Chris Barker's Horrorwatch site is a lengthy quote from Mark Samuels' blog where Mark criticises the voting process of the British Fantasy Awards. Like Mark, Chris Barker does, of course, appear to be a little obsessed with awards, even though he regularly disparages them. (What's that? He "doth protest too much, methinks"?)
Mark, though, does come out with some interesting points - points which I have sometimes thought about myself - mainly that so many of the publications which are shortlisted these days come from very small POD operations. That's so unlike when these awards were first created back in the 70s. Then the market was totally different. Anthologies of horror stories - even those devoted to new stories, not reprints - were fairly common and a number of paperback publishers were regularly publishing them in their tens of thousands - or more: Pan, Fontana, Sphere, Corgi, Tandem, and others. And these were just the UK. The novels and short stories that were voted on were all available in every town in all the multitude of small, independent bookshops that proliferated then; even most newsagents had racks of them, not to mention railway stations, market stalls, a whole multitude of places.One of my regular activities on my way home from work in Preston was to look in on a bookstall on Preston Ralway Station every Friday to see what the latest paperbacks were. There was always a really good choice.
The small press then only existed as companies such as Arkham House - a mammoth compared to today's.
So, when it came to awards, the books were easly available to everyone and were undeniably professional. Now most nominees seem to be published in their low hundreds - if even that in many cases.
Perhaps there should be a categorisation, dividing the professional from the non- or semi-professional? Perhaps any nominees should be stories or novels where the author was paid professional rates, not nominal amounts or by free copies of the publication. That, though, would exclude some superb work. Perhaps there should be a demand that any nominees have been published in minimum quantities. Of course, that would be hard to prove and open to abuse.
Or, perhaps, better still, we should treat the whole thing as a bit of fun and stop worrying about it. After all, how many of us could list the winners of these awards over the past few years without looking them up?
To my mind too much rancour has already been expended on this issue. I don't think M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood or most of the other greats in the past ever received any awards for their stories. I don't think that has affected their reputations.
Lets get a bit of perspective on this. And if someone wins whose book or story we didn't think deserved it, why rain on their parade? Is it really worth making ourselves sometimes look envious, whether we are or not? The only reputation that suffers then is our own.
By the way, if someone would like to comment on this there'll be no censorship providing other people aren't libelled. You can say what you like about me, of course; I don't care. I am in a position to defend myself if I want to. Others aren't. Please bear that in mind.