BSFA/Hugo nominee: “Exhalation”

I’m going to be lazy with this one, and quote other people. In the pro camp, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro:

And now for something quite extraordinary. If you’re looking for a single reason to purchase Eclipse Two then you may be out of luck, because Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation” is at least three of them. It is without a doubt one of the finest and freshest breaths of story I’ve ever come across. It is immediately compelling, a superlative example of a story that pulls on a seemingly mundane observational thread, and reasonably proceeds from it to unwrap the entire fabric of existence. Though time will be the ultimate judge, I have no reservation in calling it a masterpiece. The story is narrated in the first person by a character who appears to make a crucial discovery about air. What he is able to deduce from his initial and further experiments comprises the narrative’s unforgettable journey into expanding consciousness. The story’s execution, on the whole minimalist in approach, is flawless. It unfolds in gradual revelation, and every component fits as perfectly as those described in the character’s empirical forays into literal self-reflexivity. Of course, it also functions superbly on a metaphorical level and pays tribute to classic SF stories dealing with entropy and thermodynamics. The intellectual thrill of reading it might be compared to directly experiencing William Blake’s “world in a grain of sand” and “eternity in an hour,” except in this case contained in a few molecules of air.

Rich Horton also likes it:

“Exhalation” is quite as spectacular as last year’s Hugo winner, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, and yet completely different. It depicts an utterly unusual artificial world, apparently completely made of metal, whose inhabitants are likewise metal, and who breathe air supplied by replaceable lungs. It is told by one of these people, who discovers how their brains work, as it becomes clear that the supply of air is diminishing. The setup seems to imply some history that other writers might have exploited — is this a society of robots after humans have left, perhaps? — but Chiang’s interests are elsewhere, and the story explores deeper philosophical questions, and comes to a very moving conclusion. To make the obvious pun — it took my breath away.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation,” though a chilly thought exercise of a story, is a chilly thought exercise by Ted Chiang and therefore cooler, more inventive, and more interesting than just about anyone else’s chilly thought exercises.

But Martin Lewis is less keen:

If you had told me before I had read the stories that I would be rating the Chiang bottom I would have told you to pull the other one. Generally, it is much as you would expect a Chiang story to be: typically rigourous, taking a single idea and working it through. Unfortunately it is a lame idea. Chiang sits us down and explains the terrible beauty of, er, entropy. Great. Oh, and it contains no dialogue which must make it slipstream.

EDIT: And Ian Sales:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Chiang is one of the best writers of short science fiction currently being published. Which means every Chiang story is not only judged against all others published around the same time but against every other Chiang story. Which does him no favours. Especially in this case. ‘Exhalation’ is pretty much a thought experiment, with very little in the way of plot. It’s well-written, but it failed for me in several aspects. It lectures the reader… and the explanation for this doesn’t quite justify the up-front info-dumping. Further, the central premise isn’t actually that interesting, and all the story does is provide a slow and cumbersome vehicle for the narrator to figure out that entropy exists.

So: read the story (or listen), and while I’m driving home, post a comment to tell me which camp you fall into — and, most importantly, why. (Spoiler! I liked it. And my why will wait until later.)

Two Links

1. Voting for the David Gemmell Legend Award closes midnight today, March 31st. It’s free to sign up and vote, so why don’t you?

2. A sad one for the Angel fans: Lorne has died. I’m going to have to figure out which episode to watch in tribute.

(“Exhalation” discussion will get kicked off today, just somewhat later today.)

This week’s BSFA meeting — audio online

Yes, to complete this morning’s trilogy of BSFA-related posts, I’m pleased to be able to direct you to the BSFA website, where you can listen to a recording of Wednesday’s panel discussion of this year’s BSFA Award nominees. Enjoy.

The Rest of the Mailing

Really, never mind Vector, how ’bout the rest of that mailing?

It’s turned out to be a fiction-heavy mailing, but that’s no bad thing (and don’t worry, non-fiction fans, there are counterbalancing projects in the pipeline for later this year). We have:

  • Focus fiction special — presenting the winner and final shortlist of the BSFA’s 50th anniversary short story competition: “Nestbuster” by Roderick Gladwish, plus stories by Nina Allan, James Bloomer, Nigel Envarli Crowe, Gary Spencer, and Andy West
  • Postscripts sampler issue — a special issue of the magazine for BSFA members, featuring stories by Stephen Baxter, Joe Hill, Lisa Tuttle, Gene Wolfe, Paul McAuley and others.
  • BSFA Awards Short Fiction Shortlist — for the first time, we’ve been able to make all the nominees for this year’s BSFA short fiction award available to members. Many thanks to the authors and venues involved for making this possible; and to members, you’ve got just over a week to read them. Final ballots are due, by post, or by email to awards at bsfa.co.uk, by Monday April 6th

Given the latter of these, I’m going to postpone my planned Hugo short fiction reading for a week, and instead read the four BSFA nominees, then make discussion posts here. For those who’d like to play along at home, the schedule I’m going to follow is:

(EDIT: In the comments, Tony reminds me that anyone going to Eastercon will be able to vote there, until late Saturday afternoon; it’s only people who aren’t going, like me, who have to vote by April 6th.

And on an unrelated note, I meant to mention the details of this year’s BSFA AGM, as announced on the cover sheet of this mailing — Saturday 27th June 2009, at 12pm, in Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London.)

Review of 2008

The latest BSFA mailing should have been dropping through peoples’ doors this week, including Vector 259:

Torque Control — editorial
Letters — from Farah Mendlesohn, Bob Ardler, and Rich Horton
Vector Reviewers’ Poll — edited by Kari Sperring
You Sound Like You’re Having Fun Already: The SF Films of 2008 — by Colin Odell and Mitch LeBlanc
Progressive Scan: 2008 TV in Review — a column by Abigail Nussbaum
First Impressions — book reviews edited by Kari Sperring
Resonances — a column by Stephen Baxter
Foundations Favourites — a column by Andy Sawyer
The New X — a column by Graham Sleight
Celebrating 30 years of Luther Arkwright — Bryan Talbot interviewed by James Bacon

Enjoy, and send letters to the usual address; and, as ever, if your copy doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion, let us know. There is an updated website in the works, to be more fully incorporated with the main BSFA site; but if nothing else, I’ll put some content up on the old site next weekend.

London Meeting: BSFA Awards Discussion

A Very Special Meeting, tonight: instead of an interview, a panel discussion about this year’s BSFA Awards, featuring Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Alastair Reynolds, and Adam Roberts.

The time and place stay the same, though: turn up from 6pm for discussion from 7pm, in the upstairs room of The Antelope (22 Eaton Terrace, London, SW1W 8EZ. The closest tube station is Sloane Square, and a map is here). The meeting is free, and open to any and all; and there will be a raffle with books as prizes.

Further thoughts on Dollhouse

Episode six of Dollhouse was widely hyped as the point where the show kicked up a gear, probably so that the fans would hang in there through the opening episodes, which ranged from mediocre to mediocre with a side helping of exploitation cake. And surprisingly, while it doesn’t live up to the hype, coupled with the episode before it does give me hope that there’s something more to the series than I initially thought.

The first four episodes were hampered by a mission of the week which never convinced me that there was any need for a doll, rather than a similarly skilled person who would do the job for a lot less money. I wouldn’t mind an unconvincing scenario so much if it was entertaining. Episode five, ‘True Believer’, was the first sign that there was the potential for something better, with a more convincing need for a doll and a less predictable plot, as well as more scenes with a fully-clothed Eliza Dushku, but it still fell some way short of greatness.

‘Man on the Street’ is another step up in quality. In Joel Myner’s hiring of a woman to pretend, if only for a day, that the woman he loved is still alive and well, we get a situation I can see that someone would hire a doll for, instead of the non-active with the same skills who could do the job for a lot less money and a lot less hassle. It’s even briefly sympathetic, until Ballard punctures it with the difference between his fantasies and Myner’s – however unhealthy his fantasies about Caroline/Echo are, he isn’t using an innocent to make them come true. And the final scene, where Echo returns to complete the assignment cut short by Ballard, nicely conflicts our sympathy towards Myner with the inherent skeeviness of the dollhouses, and guest star Patton Oswalt pulls off a tricky role which could easily have been unredeemably loathsome. (Even if it was distracting when I spent the first scene wondering why he was so damn familiar.)

It’s also the episode where Ballard gets to be more than the cliche of FBI agent chasing the case no one else believes in, even if I suspect some of it is unintentional. It’s clear that while he might be a good investigator, he’s also obsessive about this case, and not afraid to use violence against anyone who he sees as standing in his way, although I think that what I’m supposed to take away from the fight scenes is how enjoyably badass he is, not how much he enjoys a fight. This being a Joss Whedon show, once he got to the happy post-coital scene with his neighbour it was inevitable that something horrible was about to befall her, and while the revelation of her secret active identity is not much of a revelation, I’d rather have that than have her end up dead, and it sets up the potentially interesting conflicts when Ballard realises what and who she is. And is an FBI agent really supposed to reveal the details of his cases to the woman next door, even if she does make him lasagne?

The third pairing, and probably the least satisfactory, is that of Sierra and her rape at the hands of her handler. Despite the red herring of Victor, her handler was so obviously dodgy that the identity of her abuser wasn’t a surprise, and it was deeply unsettling because of both the doll’s downtime personalities being so naive and childlike, and the speedy resolution of how Sierra would be just fine now he’s out of the way. My interest in this development is more for the character of Boyd – I want to see just how a character who feels so strongly about Sierra’s abuse that he punches a man through a plate glass window can reconcile that with working for the Dollhouse, which performs the same abuse on a wider scale, and how he fell so far from his presumably moral and upstanding past as an officer of the law.

The episode also delivers some hints about where the overall plot is heading, with the Dollhouse revealed to be an international organisation which does not necessarily exist just to provide the doll’s services. This makes sense not just because the Dollhouses themselves take some hiding, but because it gives them a purpose beyond the rather unconvincing mission of the week assignments. And there’s a mole in the Dollhouse, which I am hoping will be Topher, if only because I still find him to be creepy and arrogant and not at all funny.

Dollhouse stil has an uphill struggle to get past the problems inherent in the premise – it’s noteable that the best episode so far is one which keeps Echo and her assignment in the background for much of the episode. I still can’t see where it can go in the long-term, because the more they engage with the disturbing nature of the dollhouses, the less I want to watch them try and do a fun personality of the week episode. For now they’ve demonstrated enough potential to keep me watching.

Link Across The Sky

Posted in SF Links. Tags: , . 6 Comments »

Hugo Nominees 2009

It’s all awards all the time, at the moment. Taken from the Anticipation website:

Best Novel

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Saturn’s Children by Charles Stross
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi

You know what Adam Roberts said earlier about feeling that the stuff he’s interested in and value in sf are not the things sf as a whole considers interesting or valuable? That’s how this ballot makes me feel.

Best Novella

The Erdmann Nexus” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF Aug 2008)
“The Tear” by Ian McDonald (Galactic Empires)
True Names” by Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow (Fast Forward 2)
Truth” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)

On the upside, at least I should get to read “The Tear” now.

Best Novelette

Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Jan 2008)
The Gambler” by Paolo Bacigalupi (Fast Forward 2)
Pride and Prometheus” by John Kessel (F&SF Jan 2008)
The Ray-Gun: A Love Story” by James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s Feb 2008)
Shoggoths in Bloom” by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)

On the downside, I have to read another Mike Resnick story.

Best Short Story

26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” by Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Jul 2008)
Article of Faith” by Mike Resnick (Baen’s Universe Oct 2008)
Evil Robot Monkey” by Mary Robinette Kowal (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, Volume Two)
Exhalation” by Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
From Babel’s Fall’n Glory We Fled” by Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Feb 2008)

Two Mike Resnick stories! And a good year for Monkey stories, it seems.

Best Related Book

Rhetorics of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn (Wesleyan University Press) [Introduction online]
Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy & Arnie Fenner, eds. (Underwood Books)
The Vorkosigan Companion: The Universe of Lois McMaster Bujold by Lillian Stewart Carl & John Helfers, eds. (Baen)
What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction by Paul Kincaid (Beccon Publications)
Your Hate Mail Will be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)

Excellent to see Rhetorics and What is is We Do … there.

Best Graphic Story

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle. Written by Jim Butcher, art by Ardian Syaf (Del Rey/Dabel Brothers Publishing)
Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones. Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Fables: War and Pieces. Written by Bill Willingham, pencilled by Mark Buckingham, art by Steve Leialoha and Andrew Pepoy, color by Lee Loughridge, letters by Todd Klein (DC/Vertigo Comics)
Schlock Mercenary: The Body Politic. Story and art by Howard Tayler (The Tayler Corporation)
Serenity: Better Days. Written by Joss Whedon & Brett Matthews, art by Will Conrad, color by Michelle Madsen, cover by Jo Chen (Dark Horse Comics)
Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores. Written/created by Brian K. Vaughan, pencilled/created by Pia Guerra, inked by Jose Marzan, Jr. (DC/Vertigo Comics)

Excellent to see this category got enough nominations to form a ballot at all.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form

The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer, story; Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, screenplay; based on characters created by Bob Kane; Christopher Nolan, director (Warner Brothers)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola, story; Guillermo del Toro, screenplay; based on the comic by Mike Mignola; Guillermo del Toro, director (Dark Horse, Universal)
Iron Man, Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby and Art Marcum & Matt Holloway, screenplay; based on characters created by Stan Lee & Don Heck & Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby; Jon Favreau, director (Paramount, Marvel Studios)
METAtropolis by John Scalzi, ed. Written by: Elizabeth Bear, Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder (Audible Inc)
WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)

Scalzi is having a good year, I see.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form

“The Constant” (Lost) Carlton Cuse & Damon Lindelof, writers; Jack Bender, director (Bad Robot, ABC studios)
Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon & Maurissa Tancharoen , writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
“Revelations” (Battlestar Galactica) Bradley Thompson & David Weddle, writers; Michael Rymer, director (NBC Universal)
“Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead” (Doctor Who) Steven Moffat, writer; Euros Lyn, director (BBC Wales)
“Turn Left” (Doctor Who) Russell T. Davies, writer; Graeme Harper, director (BBC Wales)

I guess Abigail was right about the votes splitting for Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Best Editor, Short Form

Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Best Editor, Long Form

Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
David G. Hartwell
Beth Meacham
Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Best Professional Artist

Daniel Dos Santos
Bob Eggleton
Donato Giancola
John Picacio
Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine

Clarkesworld Magazine edited by Neil Clarke, Nick Mamatas & Sean Wallace
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
The New York Review of Science Fiction edited by Kathryn Cramer, Kris Dikeman, David G. Hartwell, & Kevin J. Maroney
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

No Ansible!

Best Fanzine

Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
Challenger edited by Guy H. Lillian III
The Drink Tank edited by Chris Garcia
Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer

Oho, Electric Velocipede? That makes things a bit more interesting.

Best Fan Writer

Chris Garcia
John Hertz
Dave Langford
Cheryl Morgan
Steven H Silver

No surprises here, however.

Best Fan Artist

Alan F. Beck
Brad W. Foster
Sue Mason
Taral Wayne
Frank Wu

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Aliette de Bodard [with fiction sampler]
David Anthony Durham [with novel excerpts]
Felix Gilman
Tony Pi [with links to online fiction]
Gord Sellar [with links to online fiction]

And that’s an interesting list to finish on; I look forward to seeking out the work of those writers I haven’t already encountered.

Clarke Commentary

Graham Sleight:

[A]lthough you could argue with some of the exclusions, I think all the shortlisted books have something to commend them, and a couple are really exceptional.

The wildcard is probably Martin Martin’s on the Other Side, a book not much noticed by the sf community so far — an exception being Jonathan McAlmont’s review. I may wind up writing about it myself, so won’t give too many spoilers here; suffice it to say that it’s a fizzing near-future novel with plenty to say about contemporary media culture. I don’t quite agree with Jonathan’s argument that it sits in his new subgenre of Barleypunk (defined here, with some NSFW language) – I think the near-future elements have more in common with something like A Clockwork Orange.

Predictions? I’m rubbish at them, and in any case they depend so much on the personalities and tastes of the jury, and the dynamic between them. From my own tastes, there are two or three books on the list I’d be very happy to see win, but your mileage may vary. Emergent themes? Well, it may be just coincidence, but there are several books on the list about selfhood, and what happens to it when split or cloned. (So there’s a lot about memory too.) The state of sf? From this showing, very healthy.

Jeff VanderMeer:

It’s an interesting and quality list, with the early frontrunner being the Stephenson, even though McAuley, Reynolds, and MacLeod are fully their equals (and then some) as writers. Tepper’s presence as a finalist is very welcome–she’s a severely underrated talent. It’s also good to see the judges reaching somewhat far afield in selecting the Wernham, which is a dystopian satire. (Although a quick scan of reviews indicates it didn’t fare to well in some quarters; for example, The Independent wrote last year that it’s “not half as cynical or radical as it would like to think.”)

Martin Lewis makes odds:

Anathem, Neal Stephenson – 1/2
Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod – 3/1
The Quiet War, Paul McAuley – 3/1
The Margarets, Sheri S. Tepper – 6/1
House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds – 6/1
Martin Martin’s on the Other Side, Mark Wernham – 12/1

In the past I have been right and very wrong.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Of the two novels I’ve read, The Quiet War is well-done but underwhelming (an opinion in which I am joined by practically no one, as it’s been lauded by most of its reviewers and has appeared on several best of the year lists). I enjoyed Anathem very much, though its spell has faded rather quickly. Only a few months after finishing it, I can more easily recall Anathem‘s flaws–its flat characters, its by-the-numbers plot, its frequent infodumps–than I can the qualities that made me enjoy it despite them. Also, as Jonathan McCalmont points out in the comments to the Torque Control post, giving the Clarke to Stephenson would be a safe and predictable choice, especially given that he’s already won it for the vastly inferior Quicksilver.

I haven’t heard much about the other nominees, but I’m not particularly inclined to read either Song of Time or The Margarets, having had previous bad experiences with both their authors. I found MacLeod’s The Light Ages stiff and overwritten, with barely an appealing character or an interesting plotline in sight, and none of the short stories by him that I’ve read since have shown an improvement on any of these counts. Tepper’s Beauty was preachy and hectoring, and Strange Horizons’s review of The Margarets suggests that she hasn’t backed away from that dogmatic tone. I’m also not terrifically interested in Alastair Reynolds, and I’ll hold off on reading the Wernham, this year’s off the wall literary selection, until I can get a better idea of whether it’s the 2009 equivalent of The Carhullan Army or The Red Men.

Jay Tomio:

I do wonder, was Harkaway not eligible?

io9:

Though the shortlist isn’t very diverse, all these authors are incredibly accomplished and have contributed a great deal to the genre. You should definitely check out all these books to see which one you’d choose as the winner.

David Hebblethwaite:

I had it in mind to blog about this year’s shortlist, though I’m a little put off by the great length of some of these tomes. I’ll see how far I get, and the titles above will turn into links as I post about the books.

I am not widely read enough to be able to judge whether these six novels represent the best science fiction of 2008 (though I have read two books from last year — one of which I have yet to post about — that I felt would be good nominees, and both are absent), and have read precisely none of the shortlisted books. But this strikes me as a shortlist which is very much weighted towards the ‘traditional’ end of the SF spectrum, in the sense that five of the books are by ‘name’ SF authors, with only the Wernham a ‘non-genre’ choice. (The novels themselves may be far from ‘traditional’ SF; I haven’t read them yet, so I don’t know.)

Ian Sales:

It’s not a list that makes me want to dash out and read the books. I’ve already read – and enjoyed – House of Suns, but I didn’t think it was good enough for the shortlist. (But then, I predicted Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World would be on the shortlist, but I’m currently reading it and not enjoying it at all….) I’ve only read MacLeod’s short fiction. Perhaps I should rectify that. I’ve read a few of Tepper’s novels, and they were all very much of a muchness – solid mid-list fare with a slight undercurrent of umbrage.

Nic Clarke:

I’ve already read two of them: The Margarets, a solid but not spectacular effort from Tepper that I reviewed for Strange Horizons last year (and so won’t do a separate piece on it here); and the excellent Song of Time, a review of which will be appearing here shortly. I’ve started a third, the intimidatingly mountainous Anathem, which (thus far at least) is managing to leaven its inherent po-facedness with some silly humour.

The other three are all from authors new to me (if not, in the case of both Reynolds and McAuley, new to my interminable TBR pile…), so I couldn’t possibly prejudge, except to note an entirely unfounded suspicion that the Wernham will be this year’s Red Men. I have to confess that, on first glance, none of them strike me as deeply unusual or intriguing – but I thought that about two of last year’s list, before I read them, and they both turned out very well indeed.

Joe Gordon:

Wow, no less than three nominees – half of the final shortlist – come from the respected Gollancz SF list, they must be pretty pleased this morning (and none of those authors is a stranger to awards list, all come with a terrific literary pedigree). I’m not surprised to see Neal Stephenson’s latest work on there; I haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself (its on the must get that list) but I’ve devoured most of Neal’s other (often massive) books and they are usually a real tour-de-force of imagination, clever ideas and well-researched, richly detailed history (they’re practically an education as well as good novels). And good to see another award nomination for the independent PS Publishing crew, who seem to increasingly pop up on awards lists.

Quite a shock though not to see any contenders from one of our largest SF&F imprints (and a damned fine one), Orbit – I’m especially surprised not to see their publication of Ken MacLeod’s Night Sessions on the final shortlist. But that’s the nature of awards shortlists and the fact it may get some of us debating why certain authors were or weren’t on the final list is a good thing, because it gets us talking and thinking about good books (and while there are some I’d personally have liked to see in the final, that’s my taste and I have to say I don’t envy the judges – just look at the long list they had to choose only six finalists from).

Adam Roberts:

Sometimes things don’t go so well. Yesterday my bike was stolen (the sort of thing that happened all the time when I lived in London, but which is something of a shock after six hitherto biketheft-free years of living in Staines). Today it seems that my car has died: unsurprisingly, since it’s a banger, but still. And this afternoon I discover not only that Swiftly has not been shortlisted for the Clarke, but that Graham Sleight, a critic whose opinions I respect enormously, doesn’t consider it a book he or anybody else might even have expected to see on the shortlist. [Update, 19.3: I spoke too soon, as you'll see if you click the link] So it goes, of course, howsoever disheartening. I get the sense that the stuff I’m interested in and value, SF-wise, really aren’t the things SF as a whole considers interesting or valuable. The wisdom of crowds, and okham’s razor, suggests that SF as a whole may be in the right. Ho hum.

More Adam Roberts:

Rather startled, to be honest, that Niall has taken my earlier whinge as a commentary upon the Clarke shortlist as a whole — it’s really no such thing, and provides commentary only upon a writer’s individual crumbliness, which is presumably banal enough news not to need wider distribution. As far as Clarke commentary goes, I’ll instapundit thus: it looks, at first blush, a solid list, with some strong books on it. I’m not the only person to be a little surprised at the absence of Baxter’s Flood (his Weaver would be just as valid a title there), Harkaway’s Gone Away World or Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go. But otherwise: Anathem‘s presence has the feel of inevitability; I thought The Quiet War a very very good piece of writing (and would happily see it beat Stephenson to the prize); House of Suns is not Al Reynolds’ best book, but it’s a perfectly good book for all that; and whilst I didn’t go overboard on Song of Time plenty of people were properly moved by it, so it clearly works brilliantly for some. I haven’t read the other two, but will remedy that soon.

Lou Anders:

I’m thrilled for Paul McAuley, whose novel The Quiet War, just made the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist. The Quiet War was one of my favorite reads of the past year. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I acquired US rights to it, and Pyr will be publishing it in September, with a new cover from the magnificent Sparth (who just turned in his illustration last week; I’ll debut the cover on the Pyr blog in a few.)

Meanwhile, the prize of £2009, along with a commemorative engraved bookend, will be presented to the winner on Wednesday, April 29th, at an award ceremony held on the opening night of the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival. Congrats to all the nominees.

(And yes, those of you in the US should wait for our edition, as I’d really like to be able to publish the sequel, Gardens of the Sun, which I’m about to start reading shortly. If you can’t wait, you could always read the UK edition, vote for it for the Hugo, then gift the US one when it comes out to that friend you’re trying to get into smart, literate, award-calibre SF. It’s just a suggestion…)

James Nicoll:

I notice 1: that all but one of the nominees is male and 2: nobody seems to have taken issue with this the way some people have with male-dominated Hugo lists. Is it just that someone has to be the first person to point the gender balance out and this time it’s me or have I been missing discussions? ObAcknowledgment of the excluded middle.

Looking at the short lists does suggest the short list generally has more men than women,

Of the twenty-two winners, eight were women (although none since 2002, which I think is the longest stretch without a female winner since the award was created).

And me? I think it’s a solid list for a very solid year; more than most years, I think there were a lot of justifiable possible six-book shortlists to be had. I’ve only read Song of Time, Anathem, and The Quiet War, but each of those strikes me as a perfectly valid nominee — though I’m willing to declare right now for Song of Time, which I still think is marvellous — and the balance of opinion of the other three seems favourable. That said, I find myself, for almost the first time ever, in sympathy with io9, when they say it’s not the most diverse shortlist ever. They may mean that in terms of diversity of authors — five white men (although it’s pretty representative of the demographics of the submissions, sadly, and it’s worth noting that the demographics of the protagonists are somewhat more diverse) — but I’m thinking in terms of types of sf. Flood is probably the one omitted book I would say really should be on the shortlist, and does modern disaster novel very well indeed; and I’d have welcomed the energy of something like The Knife of Never Letting Go or The Gone-Away World, or a more adventurous definition of science fiction represented by, yes, something like Swiftly, or perhaps Blonde Roots (a book of which my opinion has improved since I read it and which, as I noted yesterday, did make the Orange prize longlist). But I’m looking forward to reading Reynolds’, Tepper’s and Wernham’s books, nevertheless.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 90 other followers