Clarke Comment

Rounding up the reactions to the shortlist (aside from those in the comments to that post): first, there’s been plenty of chatter on Twitter; second, Alison Flood in the Guardian has comment from Chair of Judges Paul Billinger and Gwyneth Jones:

The full panoply of science fiction – from space opera to parallel worlds to dystopian futures – is represented on the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C Clarke awards for the best SF novel of the year, announced this morning.
[...]
“It’s a very strong selection and quite varied, reflecting science fiction publishing in this country,” said chair of judges Paul Billinger. “There are novels from people well-known in the genre – Miéville, Robinson and Roberts – but what they have written is not perhaps standard SF; they don’t have space ships, but these books are clearly SF.”
[...]
[Jones] decided to write the novel, she said, because she’s loved Alexandre Dumas’s original since she was a child. “It’s definitely not the first time this has been done in SF, but I felt there was room for a 21st century version, with a female ‘Count'; and I had a lot of fun with that idea,” she said. “Space opera is also, ironically, a great place to showcase the big, strange things that are going on in real-world science. In Spirit that means the concept of information space, and the really ‘out there’ idea that you can get one set of information to end up somewhere else, somehow without traversing the space/time between. Admittedly, so far this has only been done in the lab with a photon or two at a time, but I did not make it up.”

The award was originally set up after a grant from Clarke himself, with the aim of promoting British science fiction. “It’s good to have a judged award,” said Jones. “It gives unlikely candidates, and outstanding works from small presses, a chance to shine, which otherwise they might not get. And it’s good, particularly for an inward-turned genre like SF, to have an award that brings in a breath of fresh air. When a highly regarded mainstream writer is ‘up for the Clarke’ (such as Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Amitav Ghosh, and this year Marcel Theroux) hopefully that inspires SF fans to take the bold step of reading something different.”

And there’s a guest blog from Award Administrator Tom Hunter on the SFX blog:

But how to know why particular books are chosen when the deliberations are kept secret and the shortlist left to float alone like an alien monolith awaiting the attention of SF fandom?

Well, the short answer is that the silent monolith is a deliberate big what if?

It’s a precursor to debate and an invitation to speculation. In other words, it’s the beginning of a shared conversation about our genre.

The conversation starts right here at SFX by the way, and thanks to the team for being our media partners and helping to spread the word.

If you’re lucky enough to be at Eastercon this weekend, then I also recommend checking out the infamous Not The Clarke Award panel where a team of pundits attempt to unravel the judges’ decisions and have a punt on the potential winner.

I can’t underline the recommendation of the Not the Clarke Award panel strongly enough, by the way; it’s always an Eastercon highlight. And if you’re wondering who the judges are, there’s a photo at SF Crowsnest: excellent pose from Francis Spufford.

Joe Gordon comments at the Forbidden Planet blog:

Theroux and Wooding are authors I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet, but China, Gwyneth, Adam and Stan are all exceptionally fine authors who I’ve recommended many times to readers searching for quality SF. Gwyneth Jones, China Miéville, Adam Roberts and Kim Stanley Robinson have all been nominated for previous Clarkes, with Gwyneth and China having won (Gwyneth in 2002 for Bold as Love, China twice, for Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005). I must say though that as with the BSFA shortlist I’m really surprised not to see a single author from Orbit (one of the biggest SF publishers) making the final list, but it isn’t an SF&F awards list until we have something to start debating, is it?

Orbit may be one of the biggest genre publishers, but I have to say I perceive them as stronger on the fantasy side than than the sf side. Checking the submissions, there were three Orbit titles in the running this year: Red Claw by Philip Palmer, Seeds of Earth by Mike Cobley, and This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams. Going purely by reviews (I’ve read none of them), I can’t say I’m hugely surprised none of them are on the shortlist. Meanwhile, as the Bookseller points out, Gollancz (not for the first time) nabbed half the shortlist slots.

Martin Lewis offers his odds:

The City & The City by China Mieville – 2/1
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones – 4/1
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts – 6/1
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson – 9/1
Far North by Marcel Theroux – 9/1
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding – 12/1

As I commented on the shortlist post, I think almost any of the books could win it (Wooding does strike me as the outside bet). Which means I think Martin underestimates the chances of Galileo’s Dream and Far North, in particular. Still, he’s not the only one to think Mieville the favourite.

Ex-judge Graham Sleight’s thoughts can be found at the Locus blog:

1) This is not one of the Clarke shortlists that occasionally emerges and prompts everyone to question the sanity of the judges. Though there are books I’d personally have argued should go on the list – most obviously Paul McAuley’s Gardens of the Sun – there’s no question that this is a pretty good representation of the best sf published in the UK.

2) The list does, however, underline the degree to which the sf published in the UK and the US has diverged. Unless I’m missing a trick, only three of these books (the Mieville, Robinson, and Theroux) are seeing US publication. And hardly any of the US-written books perceived as being the best of 2009 (eg Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Priest’s Boneshaker, Marusek’s Mind Over Ship – just for a start) are getting UK editions.

Both good observations (there are several more, if you click through).

Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books is planning to read the shortlist, as is James at Big Dumb Object, and David Hebblethwaite:

This is an interesting miz of books. I plan to read and review the entire shortlist (I’ve read three already; reviews are linked above, as will the others be), so I’ll have more to say as time goes on, but here’s an initial reaction:

The book I’m most pleased to see on there is Yellow Blue Tibia. It has met with mixed reactions, but I found it a stunning read. The City & the City is a novel which has generated much debate, and is very much open to interpretation (perhaps more so than any of Miéville’s previous works); I like it, but I don’t think it quite works. I didn’t like Galileo’s Dream as much, but I know there’s more to it than I was able to see.

And Nic Clarke, at Eve’s Alexandria:

The general feeling seems to be that this is a solid shortlist; I agree. It’s not the most adventurous list the Clarke has ever produced – but, on the plus side, there’s no obvious candidate for this year’s What Were They Thinking prize (see, previously: this, this, or – ack – this).

I’ve read three already: the Jones, the Mieville and the Theroux. All are strong contenders. I reviewed Spirit last year – a feminist The Count of Monte Cristo in space! – and longer considerations of the other two will follow in the next week or so. Post-apocalyptic loner-in-the-landscape tale Far North I liked a lot, once I got over the comparions with The Road; The City & the City, meanwhile, has a brilliant central conceit and provides much food for thought (and debate), but is let down by being hitched to an unremarkable thriller novel.

Of the rest – which, again, I’ll review here once I’ve read them – I’m most looking forward to Yellow Blue Tibia, which has had generally excellent reviews. Galileo’s Dream is a doorstep about intellectual history, although it sounds less of a slog than Anathem was last year; I’ve read two of Robinson’s previous novels (one rather good – review in the works – and one rather annoying), and I live with a die-hard Robinson fan, so that should be interesting, one way or another! The Wooding is apparently a fun romp with more than a passing resemblence to Firefly, which sounds like a perfectly acceptable way to round out a shortlist.

So it does indeed seem to be the case that the main Clarke Award controversy so far is an absence of controversy. We’ll have to see if that holds up once people have actually read the books.

EDIT: at Omnivoracious, Jeff VanderMeer has rounded up comments from Mieville, Roberts and Robinson:

Asked about the general response to The City & the City, also a Nebula finalist, Mieville said, “I’ve been incredibly happy about the response to the book for a bunch of reasons. It’s very different from my other stuff and one of the things, like loads of writers, that I’d like to do, is try writing in different styles and voices, traditions and forms, so to get good responses to something quite different, that there’s no reason my existing readers should have liked, feels like a real vote of trust in me, which I find moving. It makes me fired up to try all kinds of different things. I am increasingly excited by trying to write all kinds of different stuff in different voices, and hope readers have the patience to stick with me. Also because the book was a present to my mother, which makes it personally important to me, it’s affecting to have it received well.”

And some out-takes on his blog.

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5 Responses to “Clarke Comment”

  1. JonCG Says:

    Not sure if the lack of controversy means the judges did their job properly or not!

  2. Adam Roberts Says:

    Well I for one think you did an excellent job, Lenin.

  3. World Wide Wednesday: Scrying the Award Season | Fantasy Literature's Fantasy Book Reviews Says:

    [...] know the six novels that are shortlisted, and Niall at Torque Control has handily rounded up the various links and commentary on the books put [...]

  4. GUEST BLOG The Clarke Award is tonight! Says:

    [...] I have done though is spent a great deal of time hunting up and down the internet for every last scrap of comment, which I shall now try to distil into a pithy 300 words or [...]


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