Articles Online

To round off a week of posts made up of other peoples’ words, here are some articles and reviews from the most recent Vector. If you’re a member and still haven’t received this mailing, plans are afoot to get you a copy, but we need to make sure we’ve contacted everyone who might be missing it first. Also, please note that the magazine website URL has changed slightly: it’s now (no hyphen), so update your bookmarks. On with the show:

Paul Kincaid considers the Clarke Award Twenty Years After:

We didn’t know what we were doing.

Or, to be fair, we knew what we wanted to do. We just weren’t too clear about how to go about achieving it.

The goal was to promote British science fiction. That was the aim laid down by Arthur C. Clarke when Maurice Goldsmith approached him for funds. What that might entail was less clear. A new magazine? But there was already Interzone. So, an award? But there was already the BSFA Award. Would a juried award be different enough? But if we are promoting British science fiction, should this be an award for British sf only? At the time that was unrealistic. Besides, how do you promote British science fiction by fencing it off from the whole of the rest of the world?

Andy Sawyer takes an in-depth look at the winner of this year’s Clarke Award, Geoff Ryman’s Air:

Air took the award, of course, and this means that the science fiction writer, as opposed to the “mainstream” writer with something which looks like science fiction, was the success. In what follows I am, I hope, going to suggest why I feel uncomfortable writing a sentence like that, but also why it’s good for both the Clarke award and that collection of extremely different texts that we point to and call science fiction that it was Ryman who won the award.

Kevin Brockmeier’s The Brief History of the Dead reviewed by Claire Brialey:

In the beginning is the city. Although you might not call it the beginning, or the end, or either customary combination of the two. But there is a city, and it is where people go when they die — at least for a time. Literally, at least, it is an afterlife, but it is not a mythic existence; in the city, people are still people and they still think and feel and behave and –— to all intents and purposes — live as people do in cities everywhere.

James Morrow’s The Last Witchfinder reviewed by Dave M. Roberts:

It is now almost seven years since James Morrow completed his Godhead Trilogy, which took on the death of God and its implications as its subject matter. The Last Witchfinder, his first novel since then, is no less ambitious, taking on the battle between scientific reason and superstition and fear of the unknown.

Robert Charles Wilson’s Spin, reviewed by Gary Dalkin:

One night a few years from now the stars go out. Or so it appears to three young people in the garden of ‘The Big House’ in Washington DC. Jason and Diane Lawton are 14, their father a pioneer in a fledgling communications technology and junior Washington power player. Together with Tyler, son of E. D. Lawton’s former business partner, the trio are inseparable. Narrated by Tyler, Spin chronicles the complex relationship between the three over the next several decades and three billion years.

Next week I’m on holiday, so I might have time to actually write some words of my own.

7 thoughts on “Articles Online

  1. Andy Sawyer seems to spend a lot of time apologizing for the fact that Air beat Never Let Me Go for this year’s Clarke. Granted, I’m biased by the fact that I think NLMG is a terrible, terrible book, but was there really an uproar (or the expectation of one) at awarding the Clarke to one of the best-reviewed, most lauded novels of recent years?

  2. Unlike the year before there was a lot of concensus that Air was the right book to win. And yes, NLMG is a poor novel. So I think Sawyer might be in a small minority on this one.

  3. I’m a bit confused by the suggestion that I “spend a lot of time apologizing for the fact that Air beat Never Let Me Go for this year’s Clarke.” I thought I make it clear that Air is a deserved winner. What’s to apologise for?

    My point was that (in my opinion) *both* novels were far superior to the others on the shortlist. I make my opinion of Air quite clear, I think, but I would not have been desperately unhappy if NLMG had won, although I would have foreseen the sort of “but this is not *really* science fiction” spat which rises up now and again with the Clarke. For which I responded “If Ryman wasn’t known as a science-fiction/fantasy writer but had written only his more mainstream works, Air may have been as outsider a text as Never Let Me Go,” which I still consider right.

    Of course all this does depend on my view that NLMG *is* a great novel, which I’m afraid I still hold to :-)

  4. I’m with Andy on this one. NLMG is a very good SF novel and in many years would have been a shoe-in for the Clarke Award.

  5. I’m in the camp that thinks Never Let Me Go is good and sf, though I wouldn’t put it on a level with Air — for me the two books that stood out from the shortlist were Air and Accelerando. But to go off at a tangent:

    “If Ryman wasn’t known as a science-fiction/fantasy writer but had written only his more mainstream works, Air may have been as outsider a text as Never Let Me Go,”

    This is probably the thing I’ve been thinking about most since reading your review, Andy, largely because I can’t make up my mind whether or not you’re right. On the one hand, I absolutely believe that Air doesn’t need the world of genre publishing to support it, it can stand on its own merit; on the other hand, I have real difficult imagining Air actually published as such an ‘outsider’ text. I like to think I don’t prejudge books too much depending on whether or not they’re published as sf, but that fact probably points up how deep my own assumptions actually run.

  6. Hi Andy,

    Yes, your review is very complementary to Air. Perhaps the word I should have used to describe (my impression of) its tone is ‘defensive’ rather than ‘apologetic.’ Reading the review, I get the impression that it was written under the assumption that the people reading it would want to know why NLMG hadn’t won, because their default assumption would be that Ishiguro’s novel should be the winner. Almost from the get go, the review raises the specter of objection to Air on the grounds that it is ‘the compromise choice.’ It then goes on to assure its readers that the reason for NLMG’s loss isn’t the rejection of ‘outsider SF.’ Given the raptures with which Air has been received by genre reviewers (and those genre outsiders who have deigned to notice it), I was left to wonder whether there truly had been a ruckus over the decision, or whether your experience with the award had led you to believe that one might be forthcoming.

  7. “I was left to wonder whether there truly had been a ruckus over the decision, or whether your experience with the award had led you to believe that one might be forthcoming. ”

    Ah, I see. No, I know of no ruckus and in this case I knew a number of people who were quite firm before the award was announced that AIR should win and who were presumably very happy with the result. I did not and still don’t know the opinions of any of the jury. My own guess was that AIR would win.

    But you can’t prejudge awards and there certainly have been cases where the “favourite” hasn’t won. There have certainly been cases where a Clarke winner has been a novel which has been seen (in some quarters) as being in some way not a proper sf novel — either because it’s “too good for sf” or it’s not “genuine” sf. I have problems with both those stances. If NEVER LET ME GO had won (which it might have) I’d have expected one or other of these issues to be raised. It didn’t, so they weren’t, but I wanted to suggest that they’re non-issues anyway.

    Again, the sentence that both I and Niall quote above is something of a non-issue, but I can certainly imagine a response to Geoff Ryman which emphasises works like 253, WAS, or LUST (or probably his latest THE KING’S LAST SONG, which I haven’t read yet) and sees him as almost as far from genre sf as Kazuo Ishiguro. Remember, we know Ryman’s sf work — the book reviewers in the mainstream press and the punters in the bookshop would not, necessarily. I see it as central sf, but then, unlike many reviewers of NLMG, I saw *that* as sf too.

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