Log in

No account? Create an account
Clarke Award shortlist - deep, deep thoughts... [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

[ website | My Website ]
[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Clarke Award shortlist [Mar. 10th, 2008|11:21 am]
[mood |infuriatedinfuriated]

I have a record of taking issue with Arthur C Clarke Award shortlists, and sometimes the winner. See that word, 'winner'. You'd assume it implied the judges thought it was the best SF novel of the year, wouldn't you?. But according to the Award administrator, Tom Hunter: "In many ways the Award isn't so much about picking the 'best' book of the year (although we are still very good at that too) and is more about pushing at the edges of our genre. "

To call that 'moving the goalposts' would be like calling the Hiroshima explosion a bit of a bang.

Here is the shortlist:

The Red Men
Matthew de Abaitua - Snow Books

The H-Bomb Girl
Stephen Baxter - Faber & Faber

The Carhullan Army
Sarah Hall - Faber & Faber

The Raw Shark Texts
Steven Hall - Canongate

The Execution Channel
Ken MacLeod - Orbit

Black Man
Richard Morgan - Gollancz

And here are more of Tom's thoughts:

"Featuring visions as diverse as a dystopian Cumbria and a future Hackney, time-travel adventures in 1960's Liverpool and an alternate world British Isles in the throes of terrorist attack, through to tech-noir thrillers and a trawl through subconscious worlds where memories fall prey to metaphysical sharks, the Clarke Award has never been so close to home and relevant to the British literary scene.

"The Clarke Award has always been about pushing at the speculative edges of its genre. It's one possible map amongst many, never the whole territory, and this year's shortlist stands as both the perfect introduction to the state of modern science fiction writing as well as a first tantalising glimpse of possible futures to come."

Well, I'd disagree with just about all of that. And this is, without doubt, the most insular Clarke shortlist ever.

I'll fly my colours from the mast: as far as I'm concerned, Ian McDonald's BRASYL is the best SF novel of 2007. I'm not involved in it, in any way, I say this personally. And I don't always expect my favourite to win. However, for that and some other titles that are wonderful SF novels not to even be shortlisted is ludicrous. But they are not set in the UK, so apparently they don't have relevance 'to the British literary scene'. Oh deary, deary me.

So farewell then, Arthur C Clarke Award.

[User Picture]From: autopope
2008-03-10 12:01 pm (UTC)
I've read just one of these -- "The Execution Channel". It's classic Ken, doing his cosy catastrophe thing, and in that respect it stands firmly in the tradition of pre-1980s British SF (while also doing something new). That title doesn't strike me as not belonging on the Clarke award shortlist.

Haven't read "Black Man" yet, but its presence doesn't surprise me.

The others, though ...? Hello?
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: iansales
2008-03-10 12:07 pm (UTC)
It's almost de rigeur for the ACCA to generate controversy with its shortlist. A cycnic might even suspect they do it deliberately...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: grahamsleight
2008-03-10 01:17 pm (UTC)
You see, I was going to say The Execution Channel was classic KM in that it furiously revises past sf... (To a fault, IMHO, at the very end.)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: swisstone
2008-03-10 12:35 pm (UTC)
John, I'm as surprised by the absence of Brasyl as you. But I don't think it, or any other novel, was left out because it wasn't set in the UK. I read what Tom says as him trying to find a thread that he can use to link the shortlisted novels, and talk about them in a press release. This is part of his job. What isn't part of his job (or of Paul Billinger's) is setting down criteria for the shortlist, beyond the obvious ones of first published in Britain in the relevant year, and submitted to the jury by the publisher. So I don't read what he says as an explanation for the absence of any novel that we might expect to be there.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-03-10 12:54 pm (UTC)
Take that as a minor point. But it doesn't explain this: "The Clarke Award has always been about pushing at the speculative edges of its genre. It's one possible map amongst many, never the whole territory..."

As various previous Clarke Award judges have already said to me, this does not mirror their understanding of the Award's remit over the past twenty years. Nor does it mirror the understanding of any of the senior SF publishers with whom I've spoken this morning.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: mevennen
2008-03-10 02:03 pm (UTC)
I can feel a little freer to comment this year, as I didn't have anything out and thus wasn't eligible for it. I have been on the shortlist before now. So I will ask a rather leading question - do you feel that this is analogous to the way that the Tiptree Awards have gone? (The last Tiptree winner I read (I won't say who) seemed to have very little to do with gender issues, which I thought was supposed to be the remit of the award).

My own standpoint as a pro writer is simply to ignore the awards and the hype (as awards, that is - I always enjoy the ceremony as I get to see so many people)m and just get on with the books. I suspect a lot of us are the same.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-03-10 02:06 pm (UTC)
It may be, Liz. I'm not wasting my money travelling to London for the award this year, that's for sure.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: martin_wisse
2008-03-10 02:33 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about Brasyl, but how is the shortlist insular, when half of the names on it are unknown to me at least and seem to be new(ish) writers?

Though yes, being close and relevant to "the British literary scene" raises alarm bells with me.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-03-10 02:43 pm (UTC)
I worry about most of these books being set in the UK - that's insular, as far as I'm concerned when we are dealing with a wonderfully wide genre like SF that takes in so many settings across the globe (let alone in out in the solar system, the galaxy and the universe, although perhaps I'm being old-fashioned in talking about that! Dear me, no literary soirees in outer space, nasty place. Poo), particularly when it's pointed up by the Award's Administrator in the same breath as talking about 'the British literary scene'.

The Booker has been mentioned so often over the Award's existence, as if anyone in literary publishing gave a toss about the Clarke. Those involved - going back to the opening Award - seem to hanker after the Booker Prize like enthusiastic puppy dogs.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: zer05um
2008-03-10 07:10 pm (UTC)
I agree with you about Brasyl - marvellous book. Black Man isn't bad though, it feels like Morgan's UN Protectorate universe, but earlier than we've seen before. H-Bomb Girl and Execution Channel are sitting on my desk waiting to be read. Once I finish Cryptonomicon... again.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: (Anonymous)
2008-03-11 07:59 pm (UTC)
Hi - Have you read The Red Men? I'll send you a copy if you haven't. Email me at emma@snowbooks.com.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: jamesb
2008-03-17 01:00 am (UTC)
John, great post, loads of interesting comments. I am afraid that I have learnt that the Clarke award is not really like the rest of the SF community/world. Nothing about it is for fans, I do percieve that occasionally short lists contain books which the judges feel are good and by some stretch may fit into the genre, but which regular fans either wouldn't class in the genre or would see in a lesser light.

Academic involvement and a high level attitude seems to pervade the award, that's just a perception, perhaps unfair, I know many of the judges are normal fans and I suppose the winners have mostly been what I class as genre SF with the few oddball's short-listed and fewer winning. Yet there is a strange 'mission' feeling about the award.

Personally, I think it also suffers from the Jury problem, who makes up the jury in any given year, perhaps that should shake up a bit, or the orgs who can place judges should have more variety.

Paul Kincaid made it very clear in an interview, that he actively sought out 'non-genre' works which he reckoned would fit the Clarke Award bill and had some sort of SF connotation or connection or was fantastic in some way even if it was being published and marketed as a mainstream novel.

He also at the same BSFA interview made it clear, that although he was happy to target certain books, and chase publishers and not always with success, as some authors/publishers refused, to the rest in the field, or books he didn't seem interested in, it was up to the publisher to send them in. I expect that he did send out general letters, but I did feel that this targeted action would skew the selection, BUT its obvious from Nialls post that a number of books were submitted, which just didn't and perhaps should have gotten through.

I am not so sure that its fair of me to say that there is a conspiracy to try and get the Clarke award recognised, and that by including mainstream books in the mix, it will gain credibility, rather for me, the award itself tries too hard to jam in non genre books, while perhaps missing genre classics in our midst. Bit thats only a fans opinion.


But even so the judges don't even get to read everything that is published as SF and there is implied an emphasis on getting non genre books. Of course Paul is no longer involved, but his goal was clear to me anyhow.

(gutted for Ian McD )

(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-03-17 08:59 am (UTC)
I've read all six of the shortlisted titles, and I can't see any one that deserved to be shortlisted ahead of BRASYL. Some of them are very well written, some (but not all) have fascinating ideas. But I wish I could point at one or two, put my hands up, and say 'Yes, objectively, I can see why that is here, when BRASYL isn't.' I can't do that.

Do I have a feeling that some judges on this year's jury had a specific agenda, relating to non-genre books being on the shortlist? Yes, I do. Do I think this is always the case with the Clarke Award? No. There are years when four or five of the shortlist have made absolute sense. I don't expect to agree with the entire shortlist. But I'd like to understand the thinking behind the majority of the titles...
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread) (Expand)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-04-18 12:40 pm (UTC)
Various chums, including two authors who have been shortlisted for or won the Clarke Award in the past, have asked me to post what I think of the shortlisted titles. I'll do that the morning after the award is announced. Well, about five of them, anyway. I started the sixth on five separate occasions, but never got beyond page 30 before losing all interest (here's a clue, it wasn't Richard Morgan's novel).

Keep watching the skies.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jjarrold
2008-05-02 09:16 am (UTC)
I'm obviously delighted that an SF novel won the Clarke Award. Thoughts on all six books to follow ASAP, when I have a moment - probably over the weekend.
(Reply) (Thread)