The Winner

The Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony, for those who don’t know, is currently held in conjunction with Sci Fi London at a central London cinema, most of which happens to be underground. This has a few consequences, the most notable of which are (a) the award reception tends to be noisy, crowded, and hot, and (b) there’s no reception for mobile phones, and no wi-fi network, which in this day and age means near-complete online silence for most of the event, followed by a sudden burst as people return to the surface following the award. I tend to find it an enjoyable draining experience — all credit to Tom Hunter, and Sci Fi London, and the cinema, for organising it — and invariably engage in half a dozen half-conversations, and don’t even see half the people I would have liked to say hello to. After the reception, everyone files into one of the cinema screens for the ceremony: speeches from Tom Hunter, festival director Louis Savy, and chair of the judges Paul Billinger, and the announcement of the winner

This year: The City & The City by China Mieville, who made a gracious speech. As the Guardian notes, this makes Mieville the first author to win the prize three times, and which instantly looks like one of those decisions that couldn’t have gone any other way. The Guardian refers to the quote I gave them when Mieville won the BSFA Award, saying that I thought it wouldn’t be the last prize the book wins this year. I didn’t actually have the Clarke in mind at the time, and in fact The City & The City becomes only the fifth book to do the double; I was thinking of the Hugo. I’m less certain about the Nebula, and will be fascinated to see if it makes the running for either the British Fantasy Society awards or the World Fantasy Awards later this year — or, indeed, any crime awards. All of which is horse-race stuff, and less interesting than the book itself; but I think I’ve pretty thoroughly said my piece about it at this point, and I don’t think I can face another discussion about whether or not it’s sf.

Here’s a thing, though: the Arthur C Clarke Award winners for the first decade of the twenty-first century:

2001: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
2002: Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones
2003: The Separation by Christopher Priest
2004: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
2005: Iron Council by China Mieville
2006: Air by Geoff Ryman
2007: Nova Swing by M John Harrison
2008: Black Man by Richard Morgan
2009: Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod
2010: The City & The City by China Mieville

That really makes clear just how impressive Mieville’s achievement is, I think; at least two of his wins, Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, are for books that undeniably caught the imagination of the field. (And you wouldn’t want to bet that The City & The City will be his last win, either.) Is it a good list of winners, overall? I’d say so. Most of those books are ones I would recommend without hesitation to almost anyone. You could argue, perhaps, that the complete absence of space opera looks a little odd — although neither the Hugo nor the Nebula recognised any in the same period — given the attention that subgenre has received over the last ten years. And Gwyneth Jones looks rather lonely; as the release of the submissions lists over the past few years has made clear, the relative absence of women writers from the UK sf field is a structural problem that just isn’t getting any better. But there is at least a reasonable diversity of protagonists and, increasingly over the course of the decade, of settings; after three books at the start of the decade that draw very strongly on British locations and ideas of Britishness, the winners range increasingly widely, and are probably all the better for that. I wonder what the Award will throw up next year?

10 Responses to “The Winner”

  1. Paul Graham Raven Says:

    And I’ll tell you what – I’ve got £10 right here that says Kraken will be shortlisted next year. It’s that damned good.

  2. Nick Hubble Says:

    I’m going to teach TC&TC next year but also probably Yellow Blue Tibia on ‘Post-Millennial British Fiction’ (3rd year BA) – the module will aslo include past Clarke-short-listed Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army.

  3. Gary Couzens Says:

    There will be an interesting test case for next year’s jury: Newcon Press have just published the first English-language edition of Ian Watson’s Orgasmachine – originally published 1976 in French translation. I do hope Newcon submit it for next year’s Clarke…

  4. Niall Says:

    Paul: I look forward to the jury that attempts to justify a squid god as sf. (Or to finding out whatever it is about the book that qualifies it as sf…)

    Nick: that sounds fun!

    Gary: Well, in one of my years we got Michael Coney’s I Remember Pallahaxi, published posthumously by PS (although I believe available on a website for a certain amount of time before that). Or was it specifically that it’s a work in translation that you meant? I can’t see why that would be an issue; the award is for works on their first publication in the UK.

  5. Gary Couzens Says:

    Someone (Kev?) mentioned here that one year in the 1990s Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren was eligible because it had had its first long-delayed UK publication. I was wondering how a novel like that, with a certain reputation preceding it, could be judged against novels which are brand new.

    This is an issue that might come up more and more. Over the last decade, it’s notable how many US books – including a good few Hugo and Nebula-winners and nominees – haven’t been published here. It happens in the other direction too: Michael Marshall Smith won the Dick award for Only Forward in 2000, six years after the novel’s British publication.

    As for Orgasmachine, it’s the infamous “lost” Watson novel, which I’ve been curious to read ever since I heard about it in the first edition of the Nicholls/Clute Encyclopaedia (so that’s thirty years ago). A few years ago, I suggested to one independent publisher (who is no longer active as a publisher) that he try publishing it. But now I can read it. But I’m curious as to how a novel written in the 1970s could be judged against one written in the 2000s – quality apart, all sorts of things will be different, stylistic, thematic, genre-positional and so on. (Wordcount is one thing – Orgasmachine is about half the length of today’s novels, as are indeed many other 70s SF novels.)

  6. Nick H. Says:

    On the subject of books receiving a (much) delayed publication in the UK, don’t forget that Robert Sawyer’s “Flashforward” was submitted for this year’s Clarke Award, as it was only published here following the TV series.

  7. Martin Says:

    As for Orgasmachine, it’s the infamous “lost” Watson novel, which I’ve been curious to read ever since I heard about it in the first edition of the Nicholls/Clute Encyclopaedia

    I think an extract was published as a short story in the Cybersex anthology from the Nineties (can’t remember who edited it but it had an intro from Will Self). I seem to remember it featured a ginger dwarf having his penis split like a banana through excess pyschosexual energy.

  8. Paul Graham Raven Says:

    Niall: harder to justify, perhaps, but the rigour of sf is in Kraken in a way that a lot of sf never achieves. But yes, there should be plenty of arguments. Who’ve you got doing K for <Strange Horizons, BTW?

    Martin:

    I seem to remember it featured a ginger dwarf having his penis split like a banana through excess pyschosexual energy.

    Yup, sounds like Ian Watson all over. :)

  9. Niall Says:

    David McWilliam, although I would not be averse to turning it into Two Views. You can even have Orgasmachine as well, if you want. Of course, you already owe me one review…

  10. Rich Horton Says:

    Indeed I suppose Ian McDonald’s ARES EXPRESS (a novel which I particularly love) is eligible for the PKD Award next year, having just been published for the first time in the US, and in paper, by Pyr.


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