2018 Judging Comments

Best Children’s Fiction

Panel members: Kerry Armstrong, Liz Barr, Mim Crase, Miffy Farquharson (Convenor), Sharon Smith

Number of entries: 48

Judging criteria: Excellence in writer’s craft, suitability for the intended audience, editing, and publication.

Overview of nominations: Children’s fiction attracts a broad range of entries suitable for a wide variety of ages – from pre-school to upper primary – and this adds an additional level of complexity for the judging panel, which must make comparisons between picture books, illustrated, and text-only submissions. The panel employed robust and frank discussions whilst discussing the entries, and this has resulted in a very strong shortlist. As the target audience was born this century, creators and publishers should take note of the changing landscape of society, and the panel encourages seeking feedback and advice from appropriate organisations or associations about the correct use of language around diversity and inclusion. The shortlist reflects an encouraging trend to write books with strong, thoughtful protagonists, and also has a broad range of genres – from horror, through whimsy and adventure, to historical fiction. The Children’s Fiction panelists congratulate the shortlisted creators and encourage those not shortlisted this year to continue writing, illustrating and publishing.

Shortlist:

The Relic of the Blue Dragon, Rebecca Lim (Allen & Unwin)

The Slightly Alarming Tales of the Whispering Wars, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)

The Endsister, Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)

Secret Guardians, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)

Ting Ting the Ghosthunter, Gabrielle Wang (Penguin Random House Australia)

Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt, Rhiannon Williams (Hardie Grant Egmont)

Best Graphic Novel / Illustrated Work

Panel members: Lynne Lumsden Green (Convenor), Jess Howard, T R Napper, Justin Randall, Shel Sweeney.

Number of entries: 18

Judging criteria: The Illustrated Work / Graphic Novel Panel judged the entries against the criteria of originality, plotting, characterisation, setting, narrative, art style, and writing style.

Overview of nominations: The entries this year were of a generally high standard, but the three short-listed nominees were the clear winners in the category. One of the hardest virtues of illustrated and graphic works is marrying the art with the text, and every nominee did an outstanding job with this concept. However, some works were let down by the lack of plotting, originality, and/or characterisation in their narratives. Great artwork can’t overcome these lapses; the writing still must be of a high standard to win this category. All three winners had outstanding art and told great stories; congratulations on setting such a high bar.

Shortlist:

Deathship Jenny, Rob O’Connor (self-published)

Cicada, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

Best Anthology

Panel members: Dorothy-Jane Daniels, Deb Gates, Jessica Harvie, Ion Newcombe, Carol Ryles (Convenor)

Number of entries: 16

Judging criteria: The anthology panel judged the entries against the usual literary criteria, with an emphasis on originality, writing and editing quality.

Overview of nominations: Many included a mixture of horror, fantasy and science fiction, however most were were either horror and fantasy or pure horror, three of which focused on the Cthulhu mythos. Although there were many very good entries submitted, those shortlisted were chosen for having predominantly outstanding or excellent quality in the above criteria. These works were well edited at both the structural and line level. They included a diverse range of stories that did not perpetuate character stereotypes and also defamiliarised the human condition in interesting ways. Some included well-worn tropes, but made them feel fresh and original. As always, the number of small press publications dominated in this category.

Shortlist:

Sword and Sonnet, Aidan Doyle, Rachael K Jones & E Catherine Tobler (Ate Bit Bear)

Aurum, Russell B Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)

Mother of Invention, Rivqa Rafael & Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)

Infinity’s End, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)

The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume 12, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)

Best Collection

Panel members: Dorothy-Jane Daniels, Deb Gates, Jessica Harvie, Ion Newcombe, Carol Ryles (Convenor).

Number of entries:19

Judging criteria: The collections panel judged the entries against the usual literary criteria, with an emphasis on originality, writing and editing quality. Thematic linking was also considered where appropriate.

Overview of nominations: Fantasy and horror predominated here, with a small number of science fiction, weird fiction, erotica and slipstream representations. Many of these entries were of good quality and were enjoyable to read, however the shortlisted works were chosen for having predominantly outstanding or excellent stories that also added to the genre in interesting ways. They included a diverse range of stories that did not perpetuate character stereotypes, and contributed meaningfully to the understanding of the human condition. Well-worn tropes were made to feel fresh and original, while thematically linked entries maintained a diversity of ideas and did not feel repetitive. Most entries in this category were self-published.

Shortlist:

Not Quite the End of the World Just Yet, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)

Phantom Limbs, Margo Lanagan (PS Publishing)

Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

Best Young Adult Short Story

Panel members: Anna Hepworth, Heidi Kneale, Elspeth Lamorte, Linda Sengsourinho (Convenor), Caitlin Wardle

Number of entries: 78

Judging criteria: The panel judged stories based on the voice of the story being strong, character development, plot, worldbuilding and freshness. We looked for well-definied genre markers and an overall emotional response upon the conclusion of the story. Professional editorial standards were a factor.

Overview of nominations: The entries received this year ranged in theme. Most entries were received in eformat which made it reading accessible for all judges. The stories received were rich and varied in content and subject matter. From retellings of fairytales to stories that contained magical elements, to fantasy tropes and squeamish horror, the stories were well imagined and a very diverse reading field.

The works which made it to our shortlist represented a strong field of stories which delighted all the judges. Our winner was a clear standout for all of us; it was beautifully written and entranced us all with its strong voice, vivid characterisation and world building. It was well paced and used the genre innovatively and refreshingly in that it was not an outcome we expected.

Shortlist:

“A Robot Like Me”, Lee Cope (Mother of Invention, Twelfth Planet Press)

“The Moon Collector”, D K Mok (Under the Full Moon’s Light, Owl Hollow Press)

“The Sea-Maker of Darmid Bay”, Shauna O’Meara (Interzone #277, TTA Press)

“Eight-Step Koan”, Anya Ow (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)

“For Weirdless Days and Weary Nights”, Deborah Sheldon (Breach #08)

Best Horror Short Story

Panel members: Holly Harper, Emma Kate (Convenor), Glenn George, Michael Grey, Tom Woodward

Number of entries: 117

Judging criteria: The looked for stories that had a real horror feel, with engaging characters and worlds. We wanted to read stories that left us feeling uncomfortable and unsettled, that provided more than just a skeleton of a mystery, but gave us suspense, tension, and had real meat to the story.

Overview of nominations: Having such a large number of entries this year meant that the panel were treated to so many wonderful stories, with well-rounded characters, intriguing settings, and some new ideas on what horror entails. Australia as setting played a large part of many of the entries this year, both rural and urban. We read stories that played with themes and tropes brilliantly, and there were some fascinating concepts. Those that were able to walk the line between scary and camp were ones that stayed with us, as were those that gave us something new. There were a large number this year that dealt with loss in some form, and to us that showed that horror doesn’t need to be about a monster in order to be scary/creepy/unsettling.

Narrowing down both the long and shortlist was very difficult. The sheer number of truly excellent stories meant that we spent a great deal of time negotiating before we achieved our 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. Some stories suffered from being too short to effectively convey the horror. 

Overall, we were amazed at all the different interpretations of horror that Australian authors are producing, and are excited to see what future years bring.

Shortlist: 

“The Offering”, Michael Gardner (Aurealis #112)

“Slither”,  Jason Nahrung (Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“By Kindle Light”,  Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Antipodean SF #235)

“Hit and Rot”, Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Breach #08)

“Sub-Urban”, Alfie Simpson (Breach #07)

“The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)

Best Fantasy Short Story

Panel members: Georgina Ballantine, Paige Belfield, Paula Boer, Earl Livings, Rob Porteous (Convenor).

Number of entries: 124

Judging criteria: The panel looked for strong writing with effective use of language, delivering stories that pleased and surprised us. We particularly wanted stories that ended with impact, either through resolving the central conflict or by resonating with the theme. We wanted our hearts and minds to be engaged by characters whom we cared about, set in vivid, interesting worlds with a strong, integral fantasy element. Above all, we were looking for stories 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. Most were published through electronic magazines and self or small-press publication.

The best stories were a pleasure to read, creating new worlds or taking a fresh approach to familiar settings. Only a very few broke out of the mould of European-centric settings to give us stories with a more Australian or Asian feel. Many stories did not end effectively or even had no narrative arc at all. Overall, for a genre that embodies imagination, the judges found quite a bit of repetition of standard fantasy tropes and story arcs and we would have liked to see more risk-taking and imagination.

Shortlist: 

“The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)

“Crying Demon”, Alan Baxter (Suspended in Dusk 2, Grey Matter Press)

“Army Men”, Juliet Marillier (Of Gods and Globes, Lancelot Schaubert)

“Child of the Emptyness”, Amanda J Spedding (Grimdark Magazine #17)

“A Moment’s Peace”, Dave Versace (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG Publishing)

“Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring”, Suzanne J Willis (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)

Best Fantasy Novella

Panel members: Stuart Dunstan, Mark Fazackerley (Convenor), E E Montgomery, Rachel le Rossignol, Jennifer Rowland

Number of entries: 33

Judging criteria: The judging panel were looking for innovation, quality writing, characterisation and world-building.

Overview of nominations: We had a wide range of submissions, with several authors very prolific. There was a very tight grouping of quite diverse high quality stories that made selecting the final shortlist easy, but selecting the winner more difficult. The final shortlist was very diverse and interesting, with the winner selected by a majority decision on a very narrow margin; other excellent stories on the short list may well have been winners in another field of entries.

Shortlist:

“This Side of the Wall”, Michael Gardner (Metaphorosis Magazine, January 2018)

“Beautiful”, Juliet Marillier (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)

“The Staff in the Stone”, Garth Nix (The Book of Magic, Penguin Random House)

Merry Happy Valkyrie, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)

“The Dressmaker and the Colonel’s Coat”, David Versace (Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales, self-published)

The Dragon’s Child, Janeen Webb (PS Publishing)

Best Science Fiction Short Story

Panel members:  Fergus McCartan, Joanne Kasper, Lindsey Hodder, Edie-Brie Hawthorne, Zara Baxter (Convenor)

Number of entries: 125

Judging criteria: Panellists were looking for cohesiveness and literary quality. As a result, the judges valued stories that fleshed out their premise in full, inviting the reader in and welcoming them to a well-developed world. Originality was considered the minimum for a strong story, but on top of that, panellists wanted scene setting, a strong sense of place, confident and polished writing, interesting characters, nuance and, of course, genre elements. Our shortlist represents writers who take the reader on a journey with depth and poignancy.

Overview of nominations: 

The nominations this year were a mix of self-published, small press and magazine entries – both genre and literary.  While it was relatively easy to eliminate the majority of entries which either didn’t grab the reader or “didn’t stick the landing”, the top stories were hard to choose between. In the end, a lot of discussion produced the shortlist, with evaluation on their overall contribution to genre, literary strength, and extent of development of each element of storytelling.

Shortlist:

“The Sixes, The Wisdom and the Wasp”, E J Delaney (Escape Pod)

“The Fallen”, Pamela Jeffs (Red Hour, Four Ink Press)

“On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus”, Simon Petrie & Edwina Harvey (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)

“A Fair Wind off Baracoa”, Robert Porteous (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)

“The Astronaut”, Jen White (Aurealis)

Best Science Fiction Novella

Panel members: Zohal Arbabzada, Natalie Haigh, Chris Lampard, Gene Melzack (Convenor), Chloe Townson

Number of entries: 34

Judging criteria: As a panel we were looking for stories that made full use of the novella format. We wanted to see every word being made to count in building towards something meaningful, taking advantage of the novella length to explore characters and develop plot, without trying to pack too much into the story. We also considered the appeal of works to readers and sought to reward works that we would wholeheartedly recommend that readers seek out as the best novella-length science fiction reads of 2018. Features of stories that we as a panel gave weight to in our considerations were: fully rounded characters with emotional depth, tightly paced plotting that wound all story threads up in a satisfying conclusion, subtle and immersive worldbuilding, distinctive science fictional elements, universal themes of relevance to humanity, and the quality of being memorable and sticking with us after we’d finished reading.

Overview of nominations: The nominations this year were a mixture of standalone novellas and novellas published as part of anthologies of short fiction. The vast majority of entries were either published by Australian small press publishers or self-published. All entries this year were submitted electronically, though some are also available to purchase by readers as print publications. In general, as a panel we found that the novellas that had gone through an editorial process and been published as part of an anthology or through a small press publisher were of a higher quality this year, on average, compared to the self-published works.

Shortlist:

“I Almost Went To The Library Last Night”, Joanne Anderton (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)

The Starling Requiem, Jodi Cleghorn (eMergent Publishing)

Icefall, Stephanie Gunn (Twelfth Planet Press)

“Pinion”, Stephanie Gunn (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)

“Singles’ Day”, Samantha Murray (Interzone #277, TTA Press)

Static Ruin, Corey J White (Tor.com)

Best Horror Novella / Novel

Panel members: Eugen Bacon, Craig Hildebrand, Heather Iveson (Convenor), Christine Sun

Number of entries: 11 Novels, 31 Novellas

Judging criteria: The Horror Novel/Novella panel judged on criteria of originality, literary value, concept and writing style.

Overview of nominations:

There were a wide variety of entries in 2019 with very diverse themes and approaches to horror. Especially in the Novella category, significant discussion was needed to narrow down a shortlist, a testament to the quality of the entries. We were impressed with the quality of many entries, and there are others in which we saw immense potential and would encourage the writers – further editing and refinement would make many of them much stronger.

The final shortlists represent a high quality of work, and shows the strength of Horror writing in Australia today.

Novella Shortlist:

“Andromeda Ascends”, Matthew R Davis (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)

“Kopura Rising”, David Kuraria (Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, IFWG Publishing Australia)

“The Black Sea”, Chris Mason (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)

Triquetra, Kirstyn McDermott (Tor.com)

“With This Needle I Thee Thread”, Angela Rega (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)

Crisis Apparition, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

Novel Shortlist:

The Bus on Thursday, Shirley Barrett (Allen & Unwin)

Years of the Wolf, Craig Cormick (IFWG Publishing Australia)

Tide of Stone, Kaaron Warren (Omnium Gatherum)

Best Young Adult Novel

Panel members: Michael Barrett, Caitlin Chisholm (Convenor), Andrew Finegan, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Alexa Shaw

Number of entries: 60

Judging criteria: The Young Adult Novel section was judged based on originality, plotting, characterisation and writing style. Novels were also required to be both suitable and engaging to a teenage audience.

Overview of nominations: There was a wide range of novels in this category spanning across all three genres and plenty of subgenres. It was great to see books from period fantasy to dystopian future all written for a teenage audience. The majority of books submitted fell within the appropriate restrictions although there were a few books which we considered to be written for an adult audience. Our shortlist represented novels which brought something new to Young Adult whilst still remaining engaging to its readers. These novels were polished and well-crafted pieces of literature which explored the experiences of young adults in an interesting and thoughtful manner.

Shortlist:

Small Spaces, Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia)

Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

Catching Teller Crow, Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)

His Name was Walter, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Publishers)

A Curse of Ash and Embers, Jo Spurrier (HarperCollins Publishers)

Impostors, Scott Westerfeld (Allen & Unwin)

Best Fantasy Novel

Panel members: Kimberly Chandler, Jake Corvus, PRK (Convenor), Nathan Phillips

Number of entries: 67

Judging criteria: The Fantasy Novel panel judged the entries on several criteria, including plot, character development, world building, writing style, and overall enjoyment.

Overview of nominations: The 2018 entries were of a high quality and included a diverse range of settings and style within the Fantasy genre, including paranormal romance, urban fantasy, alternate universe  portal fantasy, regency fantasy and high fantasy. The judges struggled to trim the short list down to six works, and agonised over the selection of a winner. This short list reflects the diversity and good health of Fantasy publishing within Australia, and will provide readers many hours of pleasure.

Shortlist:

Devouring Dark, Alan Baxter (Grey Matter Press)

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)

City of Lies, Sam Hawke (Penguin Random House)

Lightning Tracks, Alethea Kinsela (Plainspeak Publishing)

The Witch Who Courted Death, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)

We Ride the Storm, Devin Madson (self-published)

Best Science Fiction Novel

Panel Members: Dianne De Bellis, Astrid Edwards, Lorraine Cormack. Cathie Tasker (Convenor)

Number of Entries: 43

Judging criteria:

The Best Science Fiction novel panel judged the entries against several criteria. Of utmost importance was the literary merit of the work. Originality, especially for SF themes, was also valued, along with strong characterisation and interesting world building. Another important factor was the extent to which science fiction themes were integral to the novel and the story being told.

Overview of nominations:

The competition for the top spots on the shortlist is tough this year.

The themes represented are varied, with several surreal works, space operas and genetic manipulation stories. Social issues are strong in fiction this year. The best of these avoid clichè and show strong understanding of how to present such issues in narratives that are compelling and challenging but in the end tell a good story.

The quality of the editing made a big difference and those on the shortlist show tight and accurate editing. Publishers and self-publishers should understand that typographical and spelling errors as well as superfluous and irrelevant prose throw the reader out of the story and work against some otherwise good ideas.

A number of excellent novels failed to reach the shortlist as they either were not genre novels at all, or had science fiction references that were incidental at best to the story being told. In others, genre elements were cliched or weak. It was positive to see many sub-genres represented, including surreal works, space operas, and hard science fiction. Many novels were strongly concerned with contemporary issues.

Books on the shortlist generally have strong plots, sharp characterisation, and a strong sense of place. There is a significant emphasis on the search for identity and what it means to be human.

Shortlist:

Scales of Empire, Kylie Chan (HarperCollins Publishers)

Obsidio, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills (Picador Australia)

A Superior Spectre, Angela Meyer (Ventura Press)

The Second Cure, Margaret Morgan (Penguin Random House)

 

 

 

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