Stone’s Beau Geste

Sam Stone won two British Fantasy Awards last Sunday but is giving one back saying she has been “absolutely devastated” by people’s negative comments.  

No one would be surprised if it’s Stephen Jones’ criticisms she had in mind, although her announcement doesn’t name anyone individually.

I do not wish to be seen as the winner that tore the British Fantasy Society in two. The society means too much to me and I cannot allow this controversy to taint the integrity of those involved. Therefore, I am returning the award for Best Novel.

Those closer to the scene presumably understand why Stone would return only one of her two awards, and why she would choose the one for Best Novel. I hope someone will explain it to me.

In any event, Stone’s decision isn’t in response to any discovery of wrongdoing – she defends the propriety of David Howe, her partner who administered the awards. Stone also reminds everyone the winners were picked by popular vote:

I have seen the comments made concerning my receiving the August Derleth Award for Best novel on Sunday – I repeat again I had no knowledge I was going to receive it and remind everyone that the ballot is from the BFS membership and attendees of FantasyCon. It is their votes, not a Jury or an individual, that decide who wins the awards.

That last part is something Stone may not have fully considered in the high emotions of the moment. That the award was voted upon is not merely an exculpatory fact and a professional writer should be more worried about the risks in rejecting accolades voted by her fans than trying to silence her critics. The critics will only be encouraged by a choice that resembles an admission of guilt, while her fans may be confused or worse.

In fact, a few voices on the internet were calling for Stone not to give in, such as the reviewer at science42fiction who declared:

With regard to FantasyCon 2011, Sam Stone should keep her awards. Her work is worthy.

Stone might as well have kept it. People will honor the announced voting results – so long as nothing happens to overturn them. And if the British Fantasy Society passes the statuette on to the second place finisher how excited can that person feel knowing their name will be entered on the awards list followed by an asterisk?

In the meantime, Stone’s dream-come-true of winning a BFA has turned to ashes.

Along Came Jones

Renowned horror editor Stephen Jones went home from the British Fantasy Awards ceremony at Fantasycon and immediately wrote “Putting the ‘Con’ Into Fantasycon”, casting a pall of suspicion over the results.

He began with the nominating process:

I guess the “fix” was in months ago. The preliminary ballot was posted on the Society’s website before most of the membership had any idea that they actually could start nominating, and it was arbitrarily decreed by the present Committee—without any discussion with the membership—that for the first time ever only electronic ballots would be accepted and that any postal votes would be ignored.

Jones implies the deadline for British Fantasy Society members to nominate (February 14, according to the BFS website) was so early it restricted participation. Certainly the history of another award, the Hugos, shows an early deadline curtails voting — when there was a March 1 deadline in 2008, only 483 nominations came in, compared to hundreds more at the next several Worldcons.

On the other hand, Jones’ implication that eliminating paper ballots disenfranchises people isn’t supported by the Worldcon’s experience. In 2011, with both electronic and paper voting available, Hugo voters showed an overwhelming preference for electronic voting and cast only a trivial number of paper ballots.

Jones devoted his most savage comments to a pattern he observed among the BFA winners, implying several involved a conflict of interest between British Fantasy Society Chairman David Howe and Telos, a small press imprint in which Howe is a partner. Telos won the Best Small Press Award and published two of the award-winning stories. Jones also noted that Howe’s domestic partner, Sam Stone, won in yet another category.

Here are Jones’ key phrases along that line:

Early on, current BFS Chairman David Howe made it clear that he would take the awards ceremony away from the convention and run it himself (not all that surprising since the awards are actually presented by the Society, although they are voted on by members of both the BFS and FantasyCon)….

Simon Clark had already gone when it was announced that he had won it for Humpty’s Bones from small press imprint Telos (remember that name, it will be cropping up again soon)….

By now it was obvious that the awards were not being presented in their normal—or published—order. I’m sure that those conspiracy theorists amongst the audience must have wondered if this was to prevent a pattern from emerging . . . .

The Best Short Story award went to Sam Stone. She cried a lot, thanked her partner—David Howe—and told us what a surprise it was to win. Presumably, David had not told her over the washing-up, nor had she sneaked a peek at the plaques he had brought down to stick on the award statuettes.

But just when Jones hooked his readers with these hints of scandal he changed course and began blasting the bad taste of BFA voters, in the process undercutting his credibility. For the only reason to blame the voters is if they actually chose the winners, by the ordinary democratic process, which is contrary to the impression Jones had labored to create:

Of course, the members of the BFS and FantasyCon are absolutely entitled to vote for whomsoever they want to. Although I suspect it helps if, say, you restrict the voting process and possibly urge all your friends to vote for you and each other. That’s what happened to the HWA Bram Stoker Awards until they became such a laughing stock in the field that the nomination process has had to undergo a major overhaul.

To put it bluntly, this year’s results made a mockery of the British Fantasy Award and everything it has always stood for. Even if you ignore the embarrassing ceremony and clichéd platitudes, few of these awards actually reflected genuine quality or what is happening in mainstream genre publishing today.

Maybe that also reflects the tastes of the BFS membership? Perhaps the majority do not read outside the small press anymore? Maybe they no longer have good taste or any critical acumen?

In the end, readers must ask themselves whether Jones has proven anything besides his own dissatisfaction with some of the BFA winners.

2011 British Fantasy Award Winners

The winners of the 2011 British Fantasy Awards were announced October 2 at Fantasycon in Brighton, reports Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reiews:

BEST NOVEL (AUGUST DERLETH FANTASY AWARD): “Demon Dance” by Sam Stone (The House of Murky Depths)

BEST NOVELLA: “Humpty’s Bones” by Simon Clark (Telos)

BEST SHORT STORY: “Fool’s Gold” by Sam Stone (“The Bitten Word” edited by Ian Whates/ NewCon Press)

BEST COLLECTION: “Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton)

BEST ANTHOLOGY: “Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories” edited by Johnny Mains (Noose & Gibbet)

BEST NON-FICTION: “Altered Visions: The Art of Vincent Chong” (Telos)

BEST ARTIST: Vincent Chong

BEST SMALL PRESS: Telos Publishing

BEST MAGAZINE/PERIODICAL: “Black Static” (Andy Cox (ed.)/TTA Press)

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL: “At the Mountains of Madness” by Ian Culbard (Self Made Hero)

BEST FILM: Inception (Christopher Nolan/Syncopy Films)

BEST TELEVISION: Sherlock (Steven Moffat/BBC)

KARL EDWARD WAGNER SPECIAL AWARD: Terry Pratchett

SYDNEY J. BOUNDS AWARD FOR BEST NEWCOMER: Robert Jackson Bennett, for “Mr. Shivers” (Orbit Books)