Do readers of speculative fiction care about the many awards that are given to speculative fiction books every year? When they hear a book has won a Ditmar or Nebula award do they rush out and buy it? Does Hugo or Aurealis award winner on the cover of a book make the casual browser more likely to buy it? Or are they more like the contestants on American Jeopardy the other night who had no idea what the Hugo award was for?
While perusing the shelves in the local book shop a few years ago "George Turner Award Winner" caused me to purchase a book - I am a fan of George Turner's writing. The book was a disappointment, but I did enjoy reading another of the winners of that award in Michelle Marquardt's Blue Silence. Note: The George Turner award was for the best manuscript by an unpublished Australian speculative fiction writer and, as far as I know, was only presented three times.
Speaking of George Turner, I think his Arthur C. Clarke awarded "Sea and the Summer" is the best science fiction novel I have read. I went out of my way to find one particularly famous Ditmar winning novel only to be disappointed. I thought it the weakest of that particular writer's novels I had read. After hearing Margaret Attwood's Oryx and Crake was shortlisted for the booker I went and purchased it. It's a great book from an author whose words just flow off the page.
There are three Australian awards for speculative fiction that I am aware of: the Ditmars, the Aurealis Awards and the Tin Ducks. The 2007 Ditmars are to be voted on at this weekend's Conjure convention in Melbourne by anyone who pays to become a member or associate member. How many of them would have read all the books nominated in a category? How many would just vote for the one book they have read? Or for a friend? It wouldn't be a shock if a Melbourne author won. I looked at the nominated books and, to my surprise, I had read one, but I would not vote for it. If I had the time and inclination to go the convention, perhaps I would just vote to place it last. The Aurealis awards have more credibility to me because they are voted on by a panel of three judges, who I assume read all the nominated works. The Tin Ducks are limited to books published by Western Australian Writers – so the competition is smallish.
I thought the Hugo was the biggest and most prestigious speculative fiction award, but then I read that it too is decided by the participants of a science-fiction convention. The 2008 award will be voted on by people who attend this year's Denvention. Again, how many of those who vote will have read all the nomination books? The Nebula award is voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Ditto to the previous criticism, but at least there would be a much larger voter base than for the Ditmars, so there is more chance that the best books would attract votes.
I am left with the feeling that speculative fiction awards seem to have very dubious value.