2017 Judging Comments

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Panel members: Nola Cavallaro, Stephanie Gunn (convenor), Chris Lampard, Carol Ryles

Number of entries: 44

Judging criteria:

The Best Science Fiction novel panel judged the entries against several criteria. Of utmost importance was the literary value of the work and quality of the writing. Originality, especially in terms of use of science fictional tropes, was also valued, along with strong characterisation and interesting world building.

Overview of nominations:

The entries in this category were diverse in terms of sub-genre, representing alternate futures and histories, space opera, dystopia and romance, amongst others. Dystopia was strongly represented, especially Australian dystopias. Works were split between those published by traditional publishers and small presses and those which were self-published. The general quality of the works from larger and small presses was high, but the quality of the self-published works was uneven, especially in terms of writing quality. It is of especial note that the shortlist contained several debut novels.

Shortlist:

Closing Down, Sally Abbott (Hachette Australia)

Terra Nullius, Claire G Coleman (Hachette Australia)

Year of the Orphan, Daniel Findlay (Penguin Random House Australia)

An Uncertain Grace, Krissy Kneen (Text Publishing)

From the Wreck, Jane Rawson (Transit Lounge)

Lotus Blue, Cat Sparks (Skyhorse)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL PANEL

Panel members: Yvonne L Barrett, Astrid Edwards, Deb Gates, Russell Kirkpatrick (convenor), Ali MacGregor

Number of entries: 56

Judging criteria:

This year’s Fantasy novel shortlist is of an exceptionally high standard. We would have been happy to see any of the shortlisted novels declared the winner. The panel felt the eventual winner told a powerful and entertaining story with a great deal of skill.

We also noted the welcome incursion of literary novels into the genre, though a number of the panellists felt many of these lacked enough genre elements to be seriously considered. The entries also reflected greater diversity, both in the gender of authors and in characters and subject matter. What constitutes a fantasy novel is increasingly up for debate, and occupied much of our discussions.

BEST HORROR NOVEL

Panel members: Paige Belfield, Matthew R. Davis (convenor), Christine Yunn-Yu Sun, Thomas Woodward

Number of entries: 10

Judging criteria:

First and foremost, we were looking for works that provoked an emotional response in the reader – dread, unease, psychological discomfort, outright terror.  It’s highly unlikely that any such novel would be poorly written, so we were also looking at the standard of the craft itself.  We were less keen to consider cross-genre works, as they were more likely to dilute any inherent horror with the trappings of other fictional fields – so paranormal fantasy or romance, for example, would have to really pull out all the stops in order to make an impression; unfortunately, a number of entries had to be struck from contention for leaning too far in another direction.  Horror is incredibly flexible and fluid, and works very well in combination with other genres, but we wanted to keep in mind that this is a horror award – and to have a chance at the shortlist, works had to bring the scares.

Overview of nominations:

As is usually the case, nominations for Best Horror Novel were a mixed bag.  We had entries from all across the publication spectrum, top end to essentially self-published, and the selection proved once again that horror is fit and well but still generally regarded as the disreputable member of the fiction family unless it’s dolled up in more acceptable duds.  Some entries barely met the qualification stated in the title, with many being paranormal romance or urban fantasy with a gloss of horror on top or seeded in the foundations; some of these were quite enjoyable in their own right, but nonetheless, we had to put them aside.  And, of course, the low levels of craft and originality in some entries had us shaking our heads and wondering why on Earth anyone thought them worthy of a national award, but I’m happy to report that these were few in number.  In the end, few of the novel-length works evoked the kind of unease and dark interest befitting a work of true horror – but in our shortlist, we feel we have captured the best and strangest work submitted for this category, and look forward to further works by these authors.

Shortlist:

Aletheia, J S Breukelaar (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Who’s Afraid Too?, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)

Soon, Lois Murphy (Transit Lounge)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Panel Members: Lorraine Cormack, Jenna O’Connell, Abigail Nathan, Cathie Tasker (convenor)

Number of Entries: 20

Judging Criteria:

Panellists were looking for anthologies with literary merit and which presented a cohesive collection of high quality stories. Production values were also highly important; those works which showed consistently high quality production, proofreading and editing were given more weight.

Individual stories were considered for their adherence to the aims of the anthology, age level, sophistication in writing and story development, and the degree to which they engaged in immersive world-building.

Overview of Nominations:

There were a few stand-out anthologies but there was a gulf between those and the other submissions. Only a very few anthologies presented a consistent and coherent range of strong and engaging stories.

A weakness in many submissions was thematic. Many did not provide a thematic link between stories, sometimes resulting in a group of stories which lacked cohesion — they did not have a strong reason to be together.

Some submissions had a low proportion of speculative fiction stories but  the judges considered a high proportion important in an award for speculative fiction.

The quality of editing and production of some anthologies was also patchy, with only a handful of works presenting consistently well edited and produced work.

Having said that, many submissions contained individual examples of excellent writing.

Shortlist:

Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony Ferguson (eds.) (Australasian Horror Writers Association)

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene (eds.) (Ticonderoga Publications)

Dimension6: Annual Collection 2017, Keith Stevenson (ed.) (coeur de lion publishing)

Infinity Wars, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 11, Jonathan Strahan (ed.) (Rebellion/Solaris)

BEST COLLECTION

Panel Members: Lorraine Cormack, Jenna O’Connell, Abigail Nathan, Cathie Tasker (convenor)

Number of Entries: 16

Judging Criteria:

Panellists were looking for collections with literary merit and which presented a cohesive collection of high quality stories that represented the full range of the author’s work and, ideally, provided insights that wouldn’t be apparent if read individually.  Production values were also highly important; those works which showed consistently high quality production, proofreading and editing were given more weight.

Individual stories were considered for their adherence to the aims of the collection, sophistication in writing and story development, and the degree to which they engaged in immersive world-building.

Overview of Nominations:

The standard of submissions was very good on the whole, with a few books creating genuine excitement among the judges.

While judges were aware that they had seen many individual stories before, drawing them together in a collection of the author’s work enabled them to be seen in a new light.  It had the potential to illuminate an author’s thematic pre-occupations, while also showcasing their range and talent. A few submissions suffered from the focus on a particular thematic interest at the cost of fully exploring an author’s range.

The best submissions gave the sense that they included stories which had been drawn together for a reason that went beyond being written by the same person(s).

Shortlist:

The Birdcage Heart & Other Strange Tales, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)

The Silver Well, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (Ticonderoga Publications)

Beneath the Floating City, Donna Maree Hanson (self-published)

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)

Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, Tansy Rayner Roberts (self-published)

Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST ILLUSTRATED WORK / GRAPHIC NOVEL PANEL

Panel members: Lyn Battersby (convenor), Kimberley Gaal, Emilly McLeay, Jacqueline Wheadon, Cassandra White

Number of entries: 18

Judging criteria:

The Illustrated panel judged the entries against four criteria – originality, plotting, characterisation, and the balance between writing style and illustration quality.

Overview of nominations:

Despite the relatively few number of nominations, the entries in this category were incredibly diverse both in style and in quality. The shortlisted finalists rose to the top of the score sheet as they, by and large, managed to provide the judges with an entertaining plot, a modern approach to characterisation, an original way of retelling common tropes and themes and, most importantly, by finding a way to balance prose and illustrations. In the final judging, the difference within the six shortlisted works was marginal. The panelists would like to commend the six finalists for their contribution to Australian speculative fiction.

Shortlist:

Action Tank, Mike Barry (Mike Barry Was Here)

Changing Ways book 3, Justin Randall (Gestalt)

Dungzilla, James Foley (Fremantle Press)

Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts, Craig Phillips (Allen & Unwin)

Home Time, Campbell Whyte (Penguin Random House Australia)

Tintinnabula, Margo Lanagan & Rovina Cai (ill.) (Little Hare)

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION 

Panel members: Kerry Armstrong, Caitlin Chisholm, Miffy Farquharson (convenor), Sharon Smith.

Number of entries: 34

Judging criteria:

The Children’s Fiction panel judged the entries against four criteria – originality, plotting, characterisation and writing style. Although these four elements were the primary criteria, consideration was also given to suitability for a Children’s audience.

Overview of nominations:

Entries in this category were exceptionally strong, and much robust discussion was had to decide the winner and the shortlist. The final list represents strong and entertaining work of an excellent standard of writing, and reflects a broad range of stories within the speculative sphere, from post-environmental disaster through to fantasy adventure, via traditional fantasy and contemporary speculative fiction. It is noted that there were a number of entries that did not meet the speculative brief, which excluded entries from consideration for these awards.

Shortlist:

How to Bee, Bren MacDibble (Allen & Unwin)

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)

The Shop at Hoopers Bend, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Australia)

The Exile, Jo Sandhu (Penguin Random House Australia)

Accidental Heroes, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Nevermoor, Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Panel members: Laura Birch, Nicole Gosling, Jessica Harvie, Belle McQuattie (convenor), Kirsten Reim

Number of entries: 57

Judging criteria:

This year the panel looked for entries that pushed the boundaries of genre through their exploration of various themes and character development. Engaging and distinct writing styles were also highly regarded.

Overview of nominations:

The panel were very impressed with the overall strength of submissions, particularly those leaning towards science fiction. The majority of submissions were engaging, accesssible and not afraid to dive into some heavy topics, which continues to be a strength of Australian Young Adult fiction. While none made it to the shortlist, there was also a strong showing from self-published authors, and that was really great to see.

Shortlist:

In The Dark Spaces, Cally Black (Hardie Grant Egmont)

Ida, Alison Evans (Echo, Bonnier Publishing Australia)

Frogkisser!, Garth Nix (Allen & Unwin)

This Mortal Coil, Emily Suvada (Puffin UK)

Psynode, Marlee Jane Ward (Seizure)

The Undercurrent, Paula Weston (Text Publishing)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

Panel members: Laura Birch, Nicole Gosling, Jessica Harvie, Belle McQuattie (convenor), Kirsten Reim

Number of entries: 50

Judging criteria:

Stories that were original, complete stories in themselves, and had an engaging writing style were highly regarded by the panel.

Overview of nominations:

The overall quality of short fiction was a little disappointing, with many stories failing to have a clear or believable plot, or were unable to resolve the storyline by the end of the work. That said, those works that did tickle the fancy of the panel were excellent examples of short form writing, and give great hope for the future of YA short fiction.

Shortlist:

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology,HarperCollins Australia)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“Competition Entry #349”, Jaclyn Moriarty (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“First Casualty” Michael Pryor (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY AND NOVELLA

Panel members: Imogen Cassidy, Mark Fazackerley, Anna Hepworth, Fergus McCartan, Gene Melzack (convenor)

Number of entries: 37 (Novella), 131 (Short Story)

Judging criteria:

The judges were looking for a well-constructed story with good pacing that pulls a reader in, with strong characters, and a satisfying ending. They wanted originality, inventiveness, emotional and intellectual depth, humour, and some good rollicking fun.

Overview of nominations:

Entries to both categories came from a diverse range of publication modes, from magazines to anthologies to standalone publication. They were delivered by a variety of publishing models, from self-published to small press to big publishing houses. While there were exceptions, overall the anthologised works, particularly those whose publishers invested enough to fund hardcopy print runs, tended to be of higher quality. This speaks to the value of editors and the editorial process in tightening and honing shorter length fiction. A number of the strongest entries in both categories this year were YA fiction.

Shortlists:

Novella

“This Silent Sea”, Stephanie Gunn (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 6)

“I Can See the Ending”, Will Kostakis (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia)

“The Wandering Library”, DK Mok (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

“Island Green”, Shauna O’Meara (Ecopunk!, Ticonderoga Publications)

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie (Peggy Bright Books)

Girl Reporter, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Book Smugglers)

Short Story

“The Missing Years”, Lyn Battersby (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #66)

“A Little Faith”, Aiki Flinthart (Like a Woman, Mirren Hogan)

“Cards and Steel Hearts”, Pamela Jeffs (Lawless Lands: Tales from the Weird Frontier, Falstaff Books)

“One Small Step”, Amie Kaufman (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology,HarperCollins Australia)

“Conversations with an Armoury” Garth Nix (Infinity Wars, Solaris)

“Hurk + Dav”, Arthur Robinson (Breach Issue #01)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY AND NOVELLA

Panel members: Paula Boer, Maureen Flynn, Rob Porteous (convenor), Andrei Seleznev, Shel Sweeney

Number of entries: 123 (short story); 51 (novella)

Judging criteria: The panel looked for strong writing with beautiful use of language, efficiently supporting stories that pleased and surprised us. We liked stories with a satisfying resolution and appreciated the novelty of ideas or a clever twist. We wanted our hearts and minds to be engaged by characters whom we cared about and vivid, interesting worlds, economically rendered with a strong integral fantasy element. Above all, we were looking for stories and novellas that left us with a lasting impression.

Overview of nominations: The short-form fantasy nominations were diverse, spanning the wide range of fantasy sub-genres from traditional mediaeval adventure and fairy-tales through to gritty urban thrillers and alternate histories. The entries connected with their readers through a variety of media, from traditional publishing houses and magazines through to on-line sites and electronic self-publishing. The field of novellas was much larger than in previous years and included many works published stand-alone as well as those within collections and magazines.

The best stories were a pleasure to read, creating new worlds or taking a fresh approach to familiar settings. A very few broke out of the mould of European-centric settings to give us stories with a more Australian or Asian feel. However, for a genre that embodies imagination, the judges found too much repetition of standard fantasy tropes and story arcs. We would have liked to see more risk-taking and imagination, especially in the short stories.

Shortlist:

Novella

The Book Club, Alan Baxter (PS Publishing)

“Remnants”, Nathan Burrage (Dimension6 #11, Coer de Lion)

“The Cunning Woman’s Daughter”, Kate Forsyth & Kim Wilkins (The Silver Well, Ticonderoga Publications)

In Shadows We Fall, Devin Madson (self-published)

“Braid”, Kirstyn McDermott (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 24 Issue 1)

Humanity for Beginners, Faith Mudge (Less Than Three Press)

Short Story

“Hamelin’s Graves”, Freya Marske (Andromeda Spaceways Magazine #69)

“The Curse is Come Upon Me, Cried”, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Please Look After This Angel & Other Winged Stories, self-published)

“The Little Mermaid, in Passing”, Angela Slatter (Review of Australian Fiction Vol 22 Issue 1)

“Duplicity”, J Ashley Smith (Dimension6 #11)

“The Rainmaker Goddess, Hallowed Shaz”, Marlee Jane Ward (Feminartsy)

“Oona Underground”, Lili Wilkinson (Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology, HarperCollins Australia).

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

Panel members: Holly Harper, Talitha Kalago, Emma Kate (convenor), Durand Welsh

Number of entries: 122

Judging criteria:

The Horror Short Story panel were looking for stories that were creepy, weird, and unsettling. We wanted to read stories that left us feeling uncomfortable and ones that stayed with us long after we had finished reading.

Overview of nominations:

The very large number of entries meant that we received a wide variety in settings, characters and monster/horror elements. It was great to see some Australian monsters get their own stories, as well as Australia itself used as a setting, both urban and rural, for a large percentage of the entries. We were also impressed with the number of truly excellent stories. Our long list was long, and we had a lot of discussion around narrowing it down and wished we could have had twice as many in the final shortlist.

The large number did mean, however, that we encountered some problems. There were more than a few stories that had no horror element to them at all. On a more aesthetic note, being mostly electronic copies, if the formatting was not right it made the story almost unreadable.

Overall, however, we were amazed at how many great stories and authors producing said stories there were. The breadth of talent in Australian horror writing right now is wonderful.

Shortlist:

“Reef”, Kat Clay (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“Outside, a Drifter”, Lisa L Hannett (Looming Low, Dim Shores)

“Angel Hair”, Deborah Sheldon (Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“The Endless Below”, Alfie Simpson (Breach Issue #02)

“Old Growth”, J Ashley Smith (SQ Mag 31, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“On the Line”, J Ashley Smith (Midnight Echo 12, Australasian Horror Writers Association)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

Panel members: Paige Belfield, Matthew R. Davis (convenor), Christine Yunn-Yu Sun, Thomas Woodward

Number of entries: 30

Judging criteria:

We were looking for darkly imaginative, interesting works that avoided cliché and contrivance.  A certain level of craft was expected, as well as the ability to draw in, engage, surprise and reward the reader.  Despite the shorter nature of novelettes and novellas, authors must still ensure they do not bore the reader or bog their work down with too much excess detail, so we were looking also for an innate sense of balance.

Overview of nominations:

The overall standard was gratifyingly high, even amongst works that we didn’t feel qualified – the panel had to push aside a number of fantastical tales that we all really enjoyed but didn’t believe could reasonably be called horror.  A few poor tales limped in on lame legs, somehow expecting to be taken seriously, but by and large, competition for the shortlist was strong – we could easily have expanded it to twice the number of works without including any weaker entries as padding.  The level of craft, originality and imagination was impressive, with only a handful of works failing to satisfy the base criteria.  As with Novels, we would have liked to have seen more outright horror stories, but the half-dozen we selected for consideration cover a broad spectrum that shows just how capable, supple and ubiquitous a field Horror is and always has been, and every one that didn’t win was only a hair away from doing so.  After this intensive course of reading, we are reassured that Australian short horror fiction remains in a state of rude health.

Shortlist:

The Mailman, Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)

Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull (Vermillion Press)

“Grind”, Michael Grey (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Books)

“The Stairwell”, Chris Mason (Below The Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Things In The Well)

“No Good Deed”, Angela Slatter (New Fears 1, Titan Books)

“Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams Volume 7, Cemetery Dance)

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