It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

… it just has to sound plausible


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Clarkes announced

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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Life slowly returns to normal…

… or something like it. It’s back to the day job after the past fortnight’s frenzied festivities. I spent Christmas in Denmark with relatives, where it was very cold and very white. Happily, Denmark is a nice country, and so much more civilised than the UK. I spent the New Year at home doing absolutely nothing. Which is the way it should be spent. I hope everyone else had an enjoyable Christmas and New Year spent in fit fashion.

But now it’s back to the day job. And, outside that, time to start thinking about writing projects for 2011 – most of which will be continuations of stuff from 2010 that I failed to finish…

It is also awards nominations time, and it is customary – apparently – to point out what a person has had published during the past year that is eligible. But I’m not going to do that. Actively touting for nominations a) makes a mockery of the award because quality becomes irrelevant, and b) is the sort of toadyish behaviour I dislike. Yes, I know: awards are just popularity contests, but quality should factor into it somewhere. My own stories from 2010? If you liked them enough to nominate them, you’ll know what they are. Myself, I shall only nominate novels and stories I’ve actually read, and that I think are worthy of nomination.

In the coming weeks I hope to finish my write-up of Gwyneth Jones’ Bold As Love Cycle, post two pieces on L Timmel Duchamp’s Marq’ssan Cycle, read and write about Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos Archives quintet, continue my reviews of “British SF Masterworks”, post monthly reports on my new reading project, and continue to write the sort of stuff which seems to demonstrates only that my taste in sf appears to be diverging more and more from what everyone else likes and is writing…

Let’s hope 2011 proves a good year.


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To Put Away Childish Things?

So Ursula K LeGuin’s Powers, a YA novel, has won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, also a YA novel, has co-won the Tiptree Award. Not to mention the two YA novels on the Hugo shortlist – Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Seems a bit silly complaining that science fiction needs to grow up when YA novels are all over non-YA sf awards.

Or is it?

John Scalzi thinks this is cause for celebration – or rather, not cause for commiseration – because, he writes, “how horrible it is that some of what is being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives“.

Which doesn’t exactly address the “genre growing up argument”.

There are other sf awards, of course. And one book on the Arthur C Clarke Award short list is Ian R Macleod’s Song of Time. Of which, Helena Bowles wrote, “This is the point at which Science Fiction left adolescence behind and grew up”.

Perhaps science fiction is like a suspension bridge, a catenary between two poles. One pole is YA and the other is adult literary sf. The saggy bit in the middle, where the curve nearly touches dirt, would be those interminable and derivative military sf series churned out by publishers like Baen. Or the populist stuff.

Except… sf-as-a-bridge implies a journey from YA to literary sf… which does sort of fit. But it also means you’d have to pass through the middle, where Honor Harrington and her ilk lurk. Which is not necessarily true….

Or is it?

An example: a new reader to sf has devoured all the good YA stuff – Ness, Le Guin, Philip Pullman, Ann Halam, (the Arthur C Clarke Award nominated) The H-bomb Girl, etc. – and moves onto the populist adult sf. And then it’s a long hard uphill slog to the literary end of the genre, a slog that not everyone makes. After all, gravity alone means most will gather in the middle, where the curve is at its lowest.

Perhaps this metaphor isn’t so silly after all….


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Clarke Award Shortlist Posted

Oh well. It doesn’t much resemble the shortlist I predicted in this post – I guessed The Quiet War and Anathem, but not the others. The shortlist goes like this:

The Quiet War, Paul J McAuley
Anathem, Neal Stephenson
Song of Time, Ian R MacLeod
House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds
The Margarets, Sherri S Tepper
Martin Martin’s on the Other Side, Mark Wernham

It’s not a list that makes me want to dash out and read the books. I’ve already read – and enjoyed – House of Suns, but I didn’t think it was good enough for the shortlist. (But then, I predicted Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-away World would be on the shortlist, but I’m currently reading it and not enjoying it at all….) I’ve only read MacLeod’s short fiction. Perhaps I should rectify that. I’ve read a few of Tepper’s novels, and they were all very much of a muchness – solid mid-list fare with a slight undercurrent of umbrage.

I’m not going to try and predict the winner. I think most expect Anathem to take the prize. I’ve yet to read it – I probably never will, since I disliked Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle so much.


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Guessing Games

Niall Harrison on Torque Control has posted the long list for this year’s Arthur C Clark Award. It’s the first time they’ve done this. I think it’s a good idea.

I’m not going to repeat the list, nor am I going to turn it into one of those “memes” – you know the sort, the titles you’ve read in bold, those on the TBR pile in italics. I will point out that, of the list, I’ve read Matter, Iain Banks (blogged about it here); Kéthani, Eric Brown; Template, Matthew Hughes (reviewed it for Interzone 218); The Night Sessions, Ken MacLeod (blogged about it here); Debatable Space, Philip Palmer; and House of Suns Alastair Reynolds. Sitting on my book shelves and waiting to be read are The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness; Going Under, Justina Robson; Halting State, Charles Stross; Necropath, Eric Brown; and Omega, Christopher Evans.

What I thought might prove an interesting exercise would be to try and predict the short list. That’s six from the forty-six on the long list. And here are my guesses…

I’ve not chosen these titles because they’re the ones that would make my own personal short list. I’ve picked them because they’re the ones I think the judges will choose – based on reviews I’ve read of the books, comments on various blogs and sites, my general feeling of each book’s reception, and previous short lists for the Arthur C Clarke Award.

We’ll find out how close I was in about a month’s time…

EDIT: by “long list”, I mean the list of books submitted by the publishers for consideration. These are not novels the Award jury has chosen.


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BSFA Award shortlist

It’s that time of year again. The shortlists for the 2008 BSFA Awards have been announced. And they go something like this:

Best Novel

I’ve not read any of the four, although I do have The Night Sessions and plan to read it soon. I’m a bit behind on my Baxter reading, although eventually I would have got to Flood. The Harkaway I’ve heard good-ish things about, but not enough to make me want to shell out for a new hardback by an author I’ve never read before. Anathem…. Well, I hated the Baroque Cycle, so I’m certainly not going to buy Stephenson’s latest brick in hardback.

And yes, I know there are such things as libraries. But I already have enough unread books of my own to keep me reading for several years, so why would I join a library?

Um, it seems The Gone-Away World is available in A-format paperback already. I might well get a copy, then…

Best Short Fiction

A new Chiang. Nuff said. I hope they make it available online. The others are already available to read on the tinterweb. I don’t read enough short fiction each year to judge how the above stack up against everything else published. Annoyingly, you have to sign up for a 7-day trial for some online business information service to access the Rickert. Which requires you to enter a credit card number. Dumb move, F&SF.

Best Non-Fiction

I have Paul Kincaid’s book, and I plan to read it. I am less interested in fantasy, or superheroes. Clute’s piece, as it is online, I will read.

Best Artwork

Judge for yourself…


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Award Frenzy

Gosh. I’ve been a member of the British Science Fiction Association for nearly twenty years. And… they’ve just announced their shortlist for the 2007 BSFA Awards. Plenty of others have already repeated the lists below, and/or commented on it. But I thought I’d do it anyway.

Best Novel:

Pretty much all of the above I’d planned to read anyway. The Execution Channel and The Prefect I’ve already read. My sister gave me Black Man for Christmas, and I bought her Alice in Sunderland. The rest… I suppose I’ll have to buy copies before Eastercon. I was going to buy them anyway.

Could this be the first time I’ll have actually read all of the BSFA shortlisted novels before the award is handed out? I’m not sure what that says about the sf novels published in 2007. Normally, I’ve heard of every title on the shortlist, but there are one or two I’ve no desire to read.

Best Short Fiction:

And, bizarrely, I have all of the stories on this shortlist except Ian Whates’, which was published online anyway. I suspect Chiang will win, although I thought ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate’ was weak for him. But that may have been because I read it after finishing Robert Irwin’s The Arabian Nightmare.

And uniquely this year, there is also:

BSFA Fiftieth Anniversary Award: Best Novel of 1958:

I believe I’ve actually read all of these, although many years ago. Three of them, I notice, are in the SF Masterworks series – A Case of Conscience, Non-Stop and A Clash of Cymbals (as part of the Cities in Flight omnibus).

Having seen what else was published that year (see here), I think the best was shortlisted. I mean, half a dozen pseudonymous novels by Robert Silverberg, and the same number under his own name… Eric Frank Russell’s The Space Willies (!)… The Languages of Pao is not one of Jack Vance’s best. Mind you, Equator is one of my favourite Brian Aldiss novels – it’s a fun sf thriller with little or no pretensions. It’d probably make a great film. Wilson Tucker’s The Lincoln Hunters was, I thought, well-regarded, although I’ve never read it. Given some of the names on the BSFA list of eligible novels, I suspect there are either a few hidden gems there (Edward Eager? Hugh Walters? Mervyn Jones?), or a lot of deservedly obscure novels. Now, there’s a reading challenge for another year…

Update: Interzone have now made Alastair Reynolds’ ‘The Sledge-Maker’s Daughter’ available on-line, so I’ve added the link.