The Hugos and Nebulas hold a very clear position at the top of the food chain when it comes to SF awards but that doesn't mean that the ones living close to them in their shadow aren't worth looking over. In my mind there's two different awards that are close but because of their narrower perspective can't quite reach the big two: the Locus Awards and the World Fantasy Awards.
The World Fantasy Award is handed out yearly at the World Fantasy Convention. Rather than being voted on by a general body like the Hugos and Nebulas it is a juried prize. A panel of five judges first form a list of three nominees and two more nominees are provided by the members of the World Fantasy Convention. Then this panel of five selects the winning novel. Surprisingly this has led to quite a few ties in the awards; presumably a 2-2-1 vote that becomes intractable.
A juried prize offers something different from the populist Hugos or the SFWA-driven Nebulas: the selection of something outside of the mainstream. With a jury of five you'll still find biases and blind spots but if the jury is doing their task correctly (and that's a big assumption) then they're more likely to locate the minor deserving books than the ones that needs the mass support of fandom or the attention of the members of an organization.
You'll note that when it comes to novels only one book has won both the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. There have been dual nominees between the World Fantasy Award and the two big awards many times but just that one crossover winner. I like to read that as the sign of a unique viewpoint.
The award itself is a bust of H. P. Lovecraft:
(That image is Zoran Zivkovic's 2003 World Fantasy Award with the ear of a second award just edging into frame; for some reason there are few images of the actual award around.)
For the time being I don't plan on pursuing the short fiction winners of the World Fantasy Award. I have nearly forty years worth of Nebula Winners to cover after all. I did want to point out two categories for the awards that stand out: best anthology and best collection. The difference between the two is that the anthology category is for original anthologies and the collection is for reprint, single author anthologies. Categories like this would not be a bad addition to the Hugos or Nebulas.
One thing that drew me to reading the World Fantasy Award winners next rather than the Locus Award winners was the fact that I don't read an awful lot of fantasy. I recognize that there are good fantasy books out there but sorting the wheat from the Tolkien-derivative-chaff is a painful task. Of the winners list on the World Fantasy Awards there's two books I had read before starting down this path and three on my "I'd like to read that sometime" list; so the list is very new to me. I honestly don't have a clue what I'm getting into for the majority of these books.
I'll be breaking down the list of winners in the next few days and reviews of the novels will start on Monday. Let's see what they have for me...