Yesterday, the Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist was announced. And it goes like this:
Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
Sheri S Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)
Well, I didn’t see that coming. I was expecting a more literary shortlist, but this one is definitely more core genre. So much so, in fact, that at least half of the books harken back to much older sf. Hull Zero Three is a generation starship story (with, apparently, a resemblance to Pandorum), and The Waters Rising is a sequel to a book published in 1993. Embassytown I’ve read (my review here), and thought it somewhat 1970s in story and style.
The remaining three at least appear to be more relevant. I’ve read The Testament of Jessie Lamb and thought it very good – well, I thought the first half excellent, and the second half less good. Rule 34 I may try reading, but The End Specialist doesn’t appeal at all.
Anyway, once again the Clarke Award has confounded expectation, something it has done since it was first inaugurated. I am, perhaps, a little disappointed in the shortlist – there were, I thought, better books than some of the ones chosen. Interestingly, Nicholas Whyte guessed four of the six, and could have guessed five of them, simply from their popularity on Goodreads.com and LibraryThing.com. Does this mean the Clarke was looking for “readability”, just as the Booker judges foolishly claimed to be last year? I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, but I do think there was an attempt at narrowing the definition of science fiction after previous years’ occasionallly bizarre flexibility over the term.
And no, I’m not going to predict the winner. I just hope it’s not Miéville.
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March 27, 2012 at 10:05 am
Interestingly, Nicholas Whyte guessed four of the six, and could have guessed five of them, simply from their popularity on Goodreads.com and LibraryThing.com
Well, not quite. Even after taking out the fantasy, he still had to exclude Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis, Zone One by Colson Whitehead and Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey.
March 27, 2012 at 10:40 am
Eminently sensible exclusions.
March 27, 2012 at 11:33 am
In my self-appointed role as your affectionately-mocking Jiminy Cricket with avowedly proletarian taste, I find it significant that what I would point at as the only accessible, populist, fairly pure SF novel on the list is the only one I’ve read and the only one you haven’t.
/Rule 34/ is a loose sequel, too, to /Halting State/, which I think you wouldn’t like – it’s an exciting romp with a high-concept story and lashings of contemporary cultural references. Much as I like both books, I think the earlier is the stronger; it’s a work of true brilliance & possibly Charlie’s best.
The Miéville is the first of his books whose blurb and review does not actively and powerfully make me never, ever want to read it. That’s interesting in itself. Your review, OTOH, is somewhat dissuasive & hearkens to what I felt was some of the more egregiously self-indulgently wanky ’70s stuff. I *may* give it a bash.
/Jessie Lamb/ sounds *far* too worthy, depressing & bleak for me. OTOH, I do like the gimmick, a lot.
I used to almost venerate Bear as a writer who couldn’t put a foot wrong and occasionally touched greatness, as in /Queen of Angels/ and /Eon/… but the last of his I tried, /City at the End of Time/, was meandering directionless crap & I have given it away only one-third read. A crushing disappointment. This sounds like one of his shallower efforts.
Tepper has her moments but can sometimes be far too PC and hectoring for me to enjoy. It depends on which moral lesson she is lump-hammering into the hapless reader’s skull & cerebral cortex engraved on 6″ nails. If it’s environmental – /Grass/, /Family Tree/ – I can stomach it; if it’s feminist, I can’t. I’ve not read the earlier one to this, either.
/End Specialist/ sounds fun & appealing, which would fairly directly jar with your take on it. To me, it sounds engagingly light-hearted & like it’s asking an interesting question. This would, I imagine, put you right off; you’d rather have an unanswerable koan in 600 dense pages of verselike introspection, or something… ;¬)
March 27, 2012 at 11:52 am
I have a copy of Halting State somewhere, but I think it’s the second person more than anything else that puts me off reading it. I’m also not fond of sf novels based around computing – I see enough wrongness in that area in $dayJob 🙂 And so for Rule 34…
Not sure what you’d think to Embassytown. It’s very readable but it’s also a very reflective novel. And the plot hinges on something that Miéville keeps hidden for far too long (the nature of the Ambassadors).
The Rogers read a little YA-ish to me – especially the second half. If you don’t like The Handmaid’s Tale, or novels like that, you won’t like it.
I’ve liked some of Bear’s stuff in the past, but he was never a favourite. I might give Hull Zero Three a go though I’ve heard mixed reports on it.
I read quite a bit of Tepper back in the 1990s. I’ve read Grass but have zero memory of the story. Beauty I thought much better. The rest were all a bit meh – including A Plague of Angels, to which The Waters Rising is a sequel. Doubt I’ll read it.
The cover of The End Specialist actually puts me off it. It looks like a bad horror novel. And anything with a whiff of zombies about it, I will certainly avoid.
March 29, 2012 at 12:48 am
Hmm – didn’t get a notification of this.
I must try /one/ Miéville at some point, if only to justify my impression. (I’d be happy to be entirely wrong, too, natch.)
Handmaid’s Tale is in the TBR pile & not very close to the top.
Bear, for me, fluctuates between wonderful and merely decent, page-turning stuff. Some of his ideas are, literally & metaphorically, wonderful; some he pulls off, some he doesn’t.
The AI Jill attaining consciousness in deep space in /Queen of Angels/ would feature in my Top 5 Most Moving Moments in SF ever, for instance, and /Eon/ has the wonderful “the seventh chamber went on forever…” – and lives up to it. (The sequels don’t, entirely, but are still worthy.) One of the all-time great BDO SF novels, along with /Chaga/.
/Blood Music/ and /Moving Mars/ have plot devices that I just love – their ramifications are favourite daydream materials for me, *decades* later, far outliving the novels themselves. That is high praise indeed, for me. SF is above almost all else a literature of ideas; it is very rare for me to admire an SF novel that doesn’t have some great ideas, no matter how good the prose or the description.
So, yes, Bear is estimable. Then again, there’s /Darwin’s Radio/ or /Quantico/ which don’t read like the same author to me.
I can cope with some YA stuff, although it’s not a core interest of mine. Life-extension is a core modern SF concept though & I lap up good explorations of it, from /Watching Trees Grow/ and /Misspent Youth/ to /Holy Fire/.
It will be interesting. I predict enjoyable arguments. Chris Priest has kicked this off admirably, of course… http://www.christopher-priest.co.uk/journal/1077/hull-0-scunthorpe-3/
March 29, 2012 at 6:22 am
Yes, I’ve seen Priest’s piece. He’s not happy, is he?
March 28, 2012 at 9:19 am
I would point at as the only accessible, populist, fairly pure SF novel on the list is the only one I’ve read and the only one you haven’t.
Which one is that? I can see three accessible, populist, fairly pure SF novels on there, at the bare minimum.
March 29, 2012 at 12:50 am
Can you really? Gosh. Damned if I can!
I see two efforts from magical-realism/urban-fantasy merchants (not a style that’s ever appealed to me), one a sequel; one, a mainstream writer trying SF, which almost always pisses me off; one, a sort of SFnal horror; and an unknown quantity which could be fun.
March 28, 2012 at 1:09 am
This is a random tangent question, but, what’s your favorite generation ship novel?
March 29, 2012 at 12:51 am
Can’t remember if Ian likes or dislikes him, but Ken Macleod’s /Learning the World/ is my #1 in a few decades, FWIW.
March 29, 2012 at 6:23 am
I like Ken’s books a great deal, though I’d have said Learning the World was one of his weaker ones 🙂
March 29, 2012 at 6:24 am
I don’t know that I have a favourite of that type. I can think of several I’ve read, from Non-Stop to Approaching Omega. Richard Paul Russo’s Unto Leviathan wasn’t bad, iirc.
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