What to Make of the 2016 Locus Awards YA Category

Somehow, the readers of Locus managed to vote four men into the five finalist spots for the Young Adult category in this year’s Locus Awards rather than include a single woman or non-binary person. It’s causing quite an unhappy stir among sci-fi and fantasy authors and readers who feel a significant portion of the field has been unfairly ignored or passed over. Here are the controversial finalists:

Half a War (Third in The Shattered Sea Trilogy), Joe Abercrombie

Half the World (Second in The Shattered Sea Trilogy), Joe Abercrombie

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory

Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older

The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett

If you’re not familiar with the Locus Awards, they’re organized by the Science Fiction Foundation (LSFF), an organization described on its homepage as a “nonprofit dedicated to the promotion and preservation of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.” LSFF also publishes Locus, which it proudly proclaims “the Magazine of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Field,” and the magazine’s associated website. The Locus Awards are designed to recognize “excellence in science fiction and fantasy,” and the finalists are chosen from Locus’s annual curated Recommended Reading List by a survey of readers reached through an open online poll.

Sounds great, you know, merit-based and democratic. But, I think we can all recognize that it’s pretty ridiculous that slightly over 50% of the population by gender is not represented among this category’s authors, especially considering that women authors write the majority of YA books.

I mean, it’s not exactly new information that authors who are not men have been slighted since the invention of the book, but YA? YA is the one category in which female authors receive a similar or slightly larger amount of the public recognition, publication representation, and critical and commercial success that their male colleagues typically enjoy in other genres. Just to give you an idea of women in YA, the first result of a Google search today for “young adult authors majority female?” is a 2012 article from The Atlantic, “Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young-Adult Fiction?” by Meghan Lewit. The article compares the results of NPR’s quest to find the “100 Best-Ever Teen Novels” to an analysis by a reporter at The New Republic on the “literary glass ceiling.” Lewit found that 63% of the 235 titles nominated as finalists in the NPR YA contest were written by women, a “parity that would seem like a minor miracle in some other genres.” Meanwhile, The New Republic reviewed catalogs from 13 large and small publishing houses and, after eliminating genre titles unlikely to be reviewed, found that “only one came close to gender parity, while the majority had 25 percent or fewer titles written by women” (Lewit).

If you’re still skeptical that there’s a problem in our Locus batch because, gosh, this analysis was from 2012, almost four whole years ago, and it was looking at all those chick-lit YA books, too, probably, not proper fantasy or sci-fi, here are the top ten titles from Goodreads.com’s  2015 “Best Young Adult Fantasy and Sci-Fi” list as voted on by Goodreads users:

  1. Queen of Shadows (Fourth in the Throne of Glass series), Sarah J. Maas
  2. Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
  3. Winter, Marissa Meyer
  4. Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard
  5. Heir, Kiera Cass
  6. A Court of Thorns and Roses (First in A Court of Thorns and Roses series), Sarah J. Maas
  7. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
  8. Firefight, Brandon Sanderson
  9. Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
  10. An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir.

That’s 9/10. In case you missed him, Brandon Sanderson is the only male author in that list of 2015 fantasy & sci-fi titles. These are all contemporaries, eligible competitors, of our 2016 Locus Awards finalists. If you keep going down the rankings, the trend generally continues with lady authors greatly outnumbering the dudes.

Now, this year’s Locus finalists may all be excellent books. It’s especially hard to fault voters for wanting to recognize Terry Pratchett, a beloved master of the craft who passed away last year, and his final Discworld book featuring the wonderful Tiffany Aching. However, it seems particularly absurd to me that Joe Abercrombie—who has probably written an excellent series—should receive two shots at winning this year’s Locus Award for books from the same trilogy, especially considering he already won last year’s YA Locus Award for the first book in the trilogy. It’s not that he can’t be nominated two years in a row; I’m picking on the trilogy because I wouldn’t be so rankled if his two books this year were from different series, because we know different stories will attract different fans and present different perspectives on and evidence of their author’s skills. Instead, an unregulated democracy seems to have permitted a Joe Abercrombie fan club to form a party and gerrymander the elections.

It’s not hard to imagine, either, that contest regulations to prevent authors and series from receiving overly advantageous representation might have made way for at least one female author like the field we had in 2015. That year’s awards pitted Gail Carriger’s Waistcoats & Weaponry against Abercrombie’s triumphant first Shattered Sea book, Paolo Bacigalupi, Ian McDonald, and Garth Nix’s anticipated (but personally extremely disappointing, I can’t believe it’s on this list, it’s affecting your credibility with me, voters) Abhorsen spin-off,  Clariel. The 2014 award finalists, by contrast, had the gender representation we would expect based on genre demographic numbers; Catherine M. Valente won over Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow, and Alaya Dawn Johnson.

The democracy may actually be the forge of the glass ceiling in this case, because it’s not as though Locus failed to offer comparably excellent books by women on the ballot. Voters chose from Locus’s 2015 Recommended Reading List, a list its webpage describes as “a consensus by Locus editors and reviewers…with input from outside reviewers, other professional critics, other lists, etc.” The YA category included these 19 candidates:

Half a War, Joe Abercrombie

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie

Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo*

Wonders of the Invisible World, Christopher Barzak

The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black*

Lair of Dreams, Libba Bray*

Harrison Squared, Daryl Gregory

The Lie Tree, Francis Hardinge [sic, name: Frances Hardinge]*

Magonia, Maria Dahvana Headley*

Shadowshaper, Daniel José Older

The Shepherd’s Crown, Terry Pratchett

The Deep Woods, Tim Pratt

Railhead, Phillip Reeve

Carry On, Rainbow Rowell*

Bone Gap, Laura Ruby*

Nimona, Noelle Stevenson*

The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma*

Zeroes, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan & Deborah Biancotti*

Hollowgirl, Sean Williams

That’s 10/19. That’s a much lower percentage than the women who dominated the Goodreads list top 10 and a percentage slightly lower than the 63% Lewit found in the NPR contest. But we still have slightly more books on this list authored by women or teams with men and women than we have books authored by men, and we still got four men for five finalists. What happened, Locus voters? Does this not seem slightly screwy to you? With the exception of Pratchett, I hadn’t even heard of the finalists before seeing the list, but I definitely knew Bardugo, Black, Bray, Hardinge, Rowell, and Stevenson. I doubt all of the voters read all of the books on this list, but did many of them just not read any of the books marked with an asterisk?

I’m speculating, of course. Without a detailed investigation into the voters and run-up to the Awards that we just won’t get, it’s impossible to say how, exactly, we got this result. It could be that Locus voters are generally Locus members and readers and last year’s Abercrombie win inspired them all to prioritize their reading time for the Shattered Sea Trilogy over other titles. Maybe it’s something more nefarious, like the crazy Puppies trying to break into the Hugo house so they can chew furniture and mess all over the floor. Maybe Locus suffered the same “literary glass ceiling” problem as the rest of the industry and didn’t talk up the women-written books as much as the others on the way to voting day. Maybe voters couldn’t find Hardinge’s book because the list spelled her name wrong, or they didn’t think Stevenson’s graphic novel should count because it has too many pictures, or they thought Suma’s award-winner had swept too many “best of 2015” contests already, or they never got around to Bardugo’s acclaimed best-seller because they were too busy trying to decide if a favorite Snowy crow was actually dead on Game of Thrones.

Like I said, I’m speculating. But something is off and very disappointing when women make up slightly more than half of the qualified candidates, their books already recognized for “excellence in sci-fi & fantasy” by a jury of industry professionals, their talents and abilities laid out on a ballot shoulder-to-shoulder with their male colleagues, and the voters give the five spots to four men. It wouldn’t even be such a big deal except for that incredibly long, widespread history we have of shutting people who are not men out of the literary world or treating their work like inferior commodities. I look forward to the day we won’t bat an eye at a finalist round full of books written by women or non-binary persons for anything more than the statistical rarity, or when our world is so genuinely fair and equal that we would know that the recognition of five men would be similarly coincidental.

To that end, I encourage you to read some of those books by women that didn’t become finalists. Nimona is a prime delight of my heart, glowing with raucous humor and sincere emotion; The Darkest Part of the Forest is a richly evoked exploration of old and new Faerie stories and heroes; Six of Crows comes positively recommended from positively everyone I’ve met who’s read it, and it’s on my “to be read” list. I encourage you to think of and read J.K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Robin McKinley, Tamora Pierce, Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia E. Butler, Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Lu, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others I have too little space to name. And, Locus readers and voters, I encourage you to keep up with all of this year’s upcoming literary stars, because otherwise you’re just missing out.

 

Citations:

Lewit, Meghan. “Why Do Female Authors Dominate Young-Adult Fiction?” The Atlantic. N.p., 7 Aug. 2012. Web. 6 May 2016.

“2016 Locus Awards Finalists.” Locus Online. Locus Science Fiction Foundation, 3 May 2016. Web. 4 May 2016.

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