Following the announcement by the Horror Writers Association of the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards covered earlier, I’m inclined to remark on the marked under-representation of an entire sub-genre of horror/weird/dark fiction from the shortlist, as well as certain conspicuous authors and editors. And I’m definitely not the only one who has remarked on this. And yes, I’m speaking on behalf of a certain constituency in the genre community, but it’s a constituency that appears to have next-to-zero representation in at least this year’s Stokers.
No one can accuse the Stokers of courting cheap popularity, mind, because I don’t see a single one of the shortlist for Superior Achievement in a Novel in Amazon’s current Top 100 Best Sellers in Horror Literature & Fiction. Nor any of the contenders for the Superior Achievement awards in Anthology or Fiction Collection. (And if I’ve missed any here, please could someone point them out.) And this is absolutely not to carp at the good works that are on the Stokers ballot, but it is all about those that aren’t. Of course, an award for literary achievement shouldn’t be about straight popularity, but if the benchmark is literary quality, then should that only include certain types of quality but exclude others? Because at #79 in the Amazon Horror Best Sellers list I do find Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. To my mind, it’s representative of all that’s missing from this year’s Stokers finalists. And waddaya know: it seems that readers like it too.
Broadly, I’m speaking on behalf of that sub-category of horror/weird/dark fiction that shades into the strange/cosmic/surreal/Lovecraftian end of the genre spectrum. Naturally, this isn’t the only way to write horror, and there are certainly some fine titles on the current Stokers shortlist that pursue other paths. There is also some representation of exactly that vein, but most conspicuously in the Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction category: S.T. Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition and Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. In the fiction Award shortlists, meanwhile, it’s a sub-category that the current Stokers voters seems to have trouble digesting.
In particular, horror is a field long dominated by the novella and the novelette. And out of the contributions to longer and shorter long fiction published in 2014, the Stokers shortlisters have marshaled three stories from the same collection for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction: Joe R. Lansdale’s “Fishing for Dinosaurs,” Jonathan Maberry’s “Three Guys Walk into a Bar,” and Joe McKinney’s “Lost and Found,” all from Limbus, Inc., Book II. That may be a great anthology, but so good that three of its stories have crowded out all other possible contenders in 2014 for this category? Or, just possibly, could someone be gaming the Stokers system?
All told, it’s a ballot distinguished by what it excludes as much as what it includes. I remarked earlier on the omission of Simon Strantzas’s Burnt Black Suns and Shadows and Tall Trees 2014. I could equally well add the Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume 1, which seems to sum up in its title as well as its content everything that’s not in this year’s Stokers ballot. Or The Children of Old Leech. Or Mercy and Other Stories. Or The Lord Came at Twilight. Or … or …
Full details of the rules for the Stokers are available here and here. Broadly, either “the HWA membership – currently “over 1250 members” according to the HWA website – recommends worthy works for consideration,” or “a Jury for each category also compiles a preliminary ballot.” I don’t know if it’s there, or in the Awards rule which states that “to be eligible for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement, a work of fiction must exhibit intrinsic story values that by general agreement identify it as a work of dark fantasy, horror, or the occult,” that the problem lies. But something seems to be going wrong.
As I argued before, horror may have reached its New Wave moment, where the genre is stepping up to a new level of literary maturity and social pertinence. Ursula K. Le Guin’s description of what went on in science fiction’s New Wave as “an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing,” seems to describe exactly what’s happening with modern horror/weird/dark fiction. And as with science fiction’s New Wave, certain Old Wave stalwarts seem to be trying, Canute-like, to resist the tide and deny that it’s there. No prizes for guessing who those might be.