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April is the cruellest month

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And we’re only halfway through it…

  • The Hugo shortlists are announced and kick off the usual commentary – though this year it seems a little more critical than previously. Excellent posts on the subject from Jonathan McCalmont, Ladybusiness, Paul Kincaid and Maureen Kincaid Speller. There’s also a telling comment by a fan on Seanan McGuire’s complaint that she’s been accused of “too much self-promotion”: “If not for your self-promotion, I wouldn’t have found out about the Hugo Awards”. The Hugos have lost the plot, and while the shortlists are admirably diverse, that’s about the only positive thing to be said of them. Also, why do they still have the novelette category? Kill it.
  • The Clarke Award shortlist is announced and it’s all male. The judges are immediately blamed, but given the decreasing numbers of eligible books by women writers in recent years, such a shortlist was sadly inevitable. Happily, things are looking up, with sf novels by women published this year by Del Rey UK and Jo Fletcher Books. There appear to be problems with distribution, however; so there’s still work to be done.
  • Iain Banks announces he has terminal cancer and will likely not see out the year. Readers of science fiction and literary fiction are understandably very sad. He’s been a fixture of my reading – in both genres – since the late 1980s, so I will sorely miss him.
  • Margaret Thatcher dies and then is recast as some sort of 1980s economic and political messiah. Er, no. I lived through the 1980s, I remember what they were like. I’ve already been told she was “the best prime minster we’ve ever had”. No, that would be Clement Attlee. And he didn’t get a state funeral.
  • Damien Walter, prompted by the imminent announcement of the Granta 2013 list of Best of Young British Novelists, produces a genre-specific list of his own, although not specifically British. I’ve never really understood the purpose of the Granta list – if it’s to say, “here are some writers who are just starting out but we think will go on to have long and fruitful careers and write some important books”, then why the age cut-off? Why choose some authors more than once? Walter’s list contains some obvious choices, and some frankly bizarre ones. An author whose first novel is not due until September, and has had nothing else published to date? An author who’s had a successful 15-year career already as a novelist? Hugh Howey? I mean, Wool is a terrible book. Saladin Ahmed? Throne of the Crescent Moon promises much, but it’s also very rough. There are some notable names missing too: Lavie Tidhar, Kameron Hurley, Katie Ward, Jennifer Pelland, Ted Kosmatka, G Willow Wilson… And no doubt I’ve forgotten some excellent writers, and will probably kick myself the moment this post goes live. Of course, if you raise the age limit, then there are a lot more candidates…
  • Hugh Howey, author of the ultra-successful Wool, goes and posts an offensive screed on his blog railing against a young woman who was apparently less than flattering about self-published authors at the 2012 Worldcon. Howey fans immediately jump in to reinforce his sense of entitlement – Howey admits he enjoys playing “secret millionaire”, as if anyone would know who he is anyway – before the wider community rightly announces itself deeply offended. Howey apologises, then removes the blog post, but the backlash continues…
  • For the second year running, April is Women in SF & F month on Fantasy Café. Which is good. Some excellent posts there so far. Go look.

And there you have it, a fortnight’s worth of fun and games in the world of genre – with a bit of UK politics thrown in. I don’t normally post this sort of stuff, but I’ve not written anything here for a couple of weeks so I felt I ought to post something.

In other news, later this week I’ll be one of three speakers talking about science in science fiction to the University of Sheffield Natural History Society – my second time being an author-y type person in front of complete strangers. I’ll post my talk and slide show here afterwards.

The spike in sales of Adrift on the Sea of Rains caused by the mention in the Guardian earlier this month seems to have died down. I’ve no idea what impact winning the BSFA Award had on sales, but I suspect everyone who would have bought it because of the award already had done. Or got it free in the BSFA booklet. Don’t forget the second book of the quartet is also available (as are review copies). I’ll be starting my research for the third one soon. It will be… different.

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6 thoughts on “April is the cruellest month

  1. John Scalzi oozing into a position on the Hugo shortlist for REDSHIRTS is an embarrassment to the genre and yet another indication that fan-dumb still rules the field.

    And I continue to resent the hype K.S. Robinson’s 2012 is receiving when, to my mind, Alastair Reynolds’ BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH was, by far, the best SF novel I read last year.

    Haven’t checked the Clarke Awards yet but they always seem to have more aesthetic heft to them. (Crosses his fingers.)

    But, as far as the Hugo goes (this year and most others), once again the “average” SF reader has lived down to expectations. Not ready to move out of their parents’ basement, STILL clinging to their fucking action figures and wanking to the naughty bits in “Game of Thrones”.

    • Yes, well, the Hugo shortlist… Grant and Bujold are on there because they have enormous biddable fanbases (the latter certainly in the former’s case). In social capital terms, Scalzi is one of the genre’s ultra-rich. I’ve not read Redshirts but most commentary I’ve seen has described it as lightweight fluff – though I think Adam was impressed? 2312 I thought an excellent, if flawed, novel, but also one that did something really interesting and it could potentially be a future classic. Throne of the Crescent Moon has its good points, but it’s rough. Ahmed needs a few books under his belt before he really deserves to be on an award shortlist.

  2. BLUE REMEMBERED EARTH is a brilliantly accomplished piece of core genre, and may be Reynolds’ best book yet. Its almost complete absence from the awards shortlists this year is genuinely baffling.

    • I really enjoyed Blue Remembered Earth but, well, it didn’t excite me. It’s an accomplished piece of work, an amazingly smooth read – but it felt like a natural progression of Al’s body of work rather than something startling enough to stand out against the likes of 2312, Intrusion or your own Jack Glass… if I’m making any sense…

  3. 2312, 2012, 2131 – whatever it was – was overblown and disproportionately admired. It was OK but nothing very exciting. Wool, on the other hand, is a great read. It’s a classic ‘trapped indoors’ SF book, like Non-Stop or Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. I’m reading it currently and really enjoying it. It’s not perfect but why is it terrible?

    • You’ll have to wait for my review of Wool in the next Interzone to see, but, in brief, the writing is baggy, the world does not make sense, the premise of the original novella requires characters to act the way the author needs them to act and not plausibly, the constant jeopardy plot-engine doesn’t suit the bloated prose, and the whole thing is inconsistently paced.

      2312, otoh, contained some absolutely brilliant set-pieces, and some great ideas, but was disappointing plot-wise. But the fact that Stan Robinson tried something other than sf’s current penchant for technothriller narrative structures meant the book is a lot more interesting than ninety percent of the sf books published last year.

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