This is getting ridiculous. Recent winners of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award include Richard Morgan’s Market Forces (which beat among other things Geoff Ryman’s Air) and Robert J. Sawyer’s Mindscan (which beat among other things Charle Stross’ Accelerando, Ian R. MacLeod’s The Summer Isles, and David Marusek’s Counting Heads). This year, the shortlist included Nova Swing by M. John Harrison, Living Next-Door to the God of Love by Justina Robson, Glasshouse by Charles Stross, Farthing by Jo Walton, and Blindsight by Peter Watts. So what wins?
Titan by Ben Bova
The Campbell’s claim to be “one of the three major annual awards for science fiction” is looking increasingly tenuous, to put it mildly.
In fact, the list of results (the runners-up are announced along with the winner), according to Jo Walton, is:
1. Titan by Ben Bova
2. The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
3= Farthing by Jo Walton
3= Blindsight by Peter Watts
I admit, I have not read Titan. Nor, so far as I can tell, has it been widely reviewed; in fact, the only substantive review I can find is this one, which isn’t exactly encouraging. I disagree with many of the reviewer’s assumptions, but I’m still dispirited by the descriptions — “in essence, a re-working of Arthur C. Clarke’s and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey … The characterization and social dimensions are facile … there are authors turning out better space stories”. According to Amazon, Publisher’s Weekly said “The novel resolves the many personal conflicts in a flurry of silly political maneuvers as old as Aristophanes’ Lysistrata—bring ’em to heel by denying ’em sex—but the result is not half as entertaining or so thought provoking.” I will leave you the dubious pleasure of wading through the “search inside the book” excerpt yourself, but it seems representative of my previous encounters with Ben Bova’s work, and that’s not a good thing. I would be fascinated to see Tiptree Award-style statements from the judges explaining what value they saw in the book.
EDIT: Paul Di Filippo quite liked it — “Bova is intent on carrying forward the core mandate of SF: showing us a likely future we can actually attain” — though he still doesn’t make it sound like it’s in the same league as most of the rest of the nominees.
Coincidentally, Paul Kincaid has the first installment of a new column, Science Fiction Skeptic, at Bookslut today, and he writes:
All awards attract controversy; it’s what they do. If an award is worth its salt, it generates debate, and the usual controversy is just the more frenetic end of that debate.
He’s not talking about the Campbell Award, he’s talking about the Clarke Award. And to an extent, he’s right. And juried awards — of which the Campbell is one; the people responsible for this decision are Gregory Benford, Paul A. Carter, James Gunn, Elizabeth Anne Hull, Christopher McKitterick, Farah Mendlesohn, Pamela Sargent, and T.A. Shippey — probably invite it more than voted awards. But this result doesn’t look like a controversy; it looks like a joke.