The Ditmars are awarded in a wide array of categories. Anybody can nominate, and all members of the Australian National Convention can vote—just like with the Hugos, the Vogels and the BSFA Awards. Nominees must be Australian citizens or permanent residents in the year of eligibility, but the work can be published anywhere in the world. So this is an Australian fan award, and a great way for those of us outside Australia to see what Australian fans consider to be the best work produced by Australians. (Of course, as Worldcon is in Australia this year, some people from elsewhere might also have voted.)
The novel winner is Kaaron Warren’s Slights, published by Angry Robot and available everywhere. How interesting that a horror novel should win the major Australian award! I was about to say it’s hard to imagine a horror novel winning the Hugo, then I remembered that The Graveyard Book won last year. Still, how interesting and unusual.
The complete list of the Ditmar winners:
- Best Novel: Slights, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot Books)
- Best Novella or Novelette: “Wives” Paul Haines (X6/Couer de Lion)
- Best Short Story: “Seventeen” Cat Sparks (Masques, CSFG)
- Best Collected Work: Slice Of Life, Paul Haines, edited by Geoffrey Maloney (The Mayne Press)
- Best Artwork: Cover art, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #42, Lewis Morley
- Best Fan Writer: Robert Hood for Undead Backbrain (roberthood.net/blog)
- Best Fan Artist: Dick Jenssen for body of work
- Best Fan Publication in Any Medium: Steam Engine Time, edited by Bruce Gillespie and Janine Stinson
- Best Achievement: Gillian Polack et al for the Southern Gothic banquet at Conflux
- Best New Talent: Peter M. Ball
Though the work can be published anywhere, most of the short fiction awards this year have gone to work not only by Australians but published in Australia.
The complete list of nominees is at Locus Online. I thought I’d look at the novel nominees, because novels are what I mostly read, not to mention easiest for people to find.
So, we have five books:
- World Shaker, Richard Harland (Allen & Unwin)
- Liar, Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury)
- Life Through Cellophane, Gillian Polack (Eneit)
- Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld (Penguin)
- Slights, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot)
I haven’t read any of them. Three of them are YA, two of them are steampunk, two of them are fantasy, one of them is horror. That’s a very interesting group of books. Four of them are published by major publishers and are available in the U.S., one of them is published by an Australian small press.
Let’s look at Slights first, because it’s the winner. Warren says about it in an interview on Angry Robot’s webpage:
Slights is the story of a young woman who sees the afterlife as a place where anyone she’s ever slighted is waiting in a dark room to take a piece of her.
I wrote it as a short story first but was frustrated trying to cram all I wanted to say into 3000 words. The more I wrote, the stronger Stevie became as a character and the more she wanted to say. Once I started telling the stories of the people she slights, the novel grew and grew. I wanted to tell those stories, though. I knew that everybody in the room had a voice.
Fascinating creepy premise, and I can tell you she’s a very good writer, because I’ve read short works of hers. I haven’t read this and I’m not likely to, as it’s horror, but this is the work Australian fans think is the best thing produced by an Australian in 2009.
I’ve read lots of other things by Larbalestier, specifically the excellent Magic or Madness series. I’d say she has a fairly high profile—and of course Liar has had a lot of attention because of the cover controversy. It was already on my list of things I’m going to read when I get around to it. It’s Young Adult, and was nominated for the Locus Awards in the YA category.
I’d also heard good things about Westerfeld’s Leviathan, also YA. This won the YA Locus Award and the YA Aurealis Awards and was nominated for the Andre Norton Award (Nebula YA). I gather it’s awesome YA steampunk. Westerfeld is a very well known YA writer. (Larbalestier and Westerfeld are married, which must make for interesting conversations at the breakfast table when nominations lists come out and both of them have books on them.)
The other two writers I hadn’t heard of, and they both look really interesting. This is why I look at awards lists—I don’t want to get into a rut where I’m only reading the same writers I’ve always been reading.
Richard Harland’s Worldshaker is YA, and steampunk. Harland has won five Aurealis Awards in YA, horror and fantasy categories, so he seems to be very versatile. He’s published in the U.S. Worldshaker sounds fantastic. This is the blurb from the publisher’s website:
Col is a wealthy child of privilege. Raised to succeed his grandfather as the Supreme Commander of the juggernaut Worldshaker, he has lived a pampered life on the Upper Decks. He has never questioned his place in the world or his bright and illustrious future. But when a Filthy girl stows away in his cabin, suddenly nothing is clear anymore. Quick and clever, Riff is nothing like the Filthies that Col always learned about—the dumb, slow, less-than-human folk who toil away Below, keeping Worldshaker moving. Filthies are supposed to be animal-like, without the power of speech or the ability to think for themselves—but Riff is clever and quick and outspoken, and Col is drawn to her despite himself.
As Col begins to secretly spend more time with Riff, he begins to question everything he was raised to believe was true, and realizes that if Riff is right, then everything he was raised to believe is a lie. And Col himself may be the only person in a position to do something about it—even if it means risking his future.
I want to read this. And by the wonders of living in the future, I’ve just ordered it from the library!
Gillian Polack’s Life Through Cellophane is published by an Australian small press, so this is exactly the kind of thing I’d never have come across, so it’s great to see it being nominated and getting attention. As well as being nominated for this novel, Polack also won a Ditmar for a Southerm Gothic banquet she and others organized at a con—that’s very cool. (It’s cool that they did it, and it’s cool that Australian fandom sees that as award worthy.) The book seems to be urban fantasy. This is the description from the publisher’s page:
Liz Smith thinks she is boring. She knows her life is deadly dull. She is middle aged. She is a spinster. She has just been sacked. What else is left but being boring and leading a dull life?
Her life is about to become very, very different. Deadly, perhaps. Dull, never. Boring? She could only wish.
It starts with a simple redecoration job. A mirror. It starts with friends. It continues with ants and notes and far too many problems. If Liz isn’t careful, it may well end with the boss who sacked her, haunting her from a very particular hell.
This isn’t my kind of book—but it’s a very popular kind, and this is an example you might not have come across that discerning Australian fans think is one of the five best genre books of the year.
Congratulations to all the winners and nominees.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.