Million Writers Award and SF/F stories

Now that the 2008 Million Writers Award for best online short story is open for nominations, I wanted to touch on the subject of a recent e-mail I received: Why have science fiction or fantasy stories won the award for the last two years? Specifically, this e-mailer wanted to know if I was biased toward SF/F, and as a result had biased the award toward SF/F since that is the genre I write in.

As background, let's review the overall Million Writers Award winners for the last four years. These winners are "You Are a 14-Year-Old Arab Chick Who Just Moved to Texas" by Randa Jarrar from Eyeshot magazine (2004 award), "Toggling the Switch" by Alicia Gifford from Narrative Magazine (2005 award), "There's a Hole in the City" by Richard Bowes from SCIFICTION (2006 award), and "Urchins, While Swimming" by Catherynne M. Valente from Clarkesword Magazine (2007 award). That means half the overall winners, and the last two winners, have been writers of SF/F stories. So at first glance the e-mailer seems to have a point.

However, in my defense I should point out that the award's overall winner is based on a public vote. As a result, it's not possible for me to pick that winner. In addition anyone looking at each year's top ten stories will see a broad array of stories, authors, and genres represented. Finally, a few months back Scott Boyan completed a wonderful meta-analysis of the Million Writers Award. Basically, Scott crunched the numbers from the first four years of the award to see which online magazines placed the most stories in the notable and top ten listings. According to his analysis, Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld Magazine came in with a #9 and 11 ranking respectively. This indicates that while SF/F stories are well represented in the Million Writer Award, they are not all dominating.

I believe the reason SF/F stories have won the two most recent awards is because those two stories resonated with readers. One of the award's goals is to showcase top writing across genres; to show that great literature is not bound by genre conventions. As a writer and reader, I love all types of writing. I edit a journal of Southern literature. I read stories from every genre. I write science fiction and fantasy stories, along with so-called "literary" stories. So in response to this e-mailer's question, the award is not biased toward SF/F. But unlike most literary awards, the Million Writers Award allows all genres to compete against each other. In the end the best story wins, no matter what genre it's in.