Today’s award-related post: a roundup of reviews of the nominees for the BSFA Best Novel Award, leading off with the Vector review in each case. For two of the Vector reviews, this is their first appearance: the reviews of End of the World Blues and Nova Swing will be in V252.
Note that the voting deadline is fast approaching: if you’re going to Eastercon, you can vote there, but if not you need to vote by post or by email in the next two weeks. Don’t worry, this won’t be the last reminder I put up.
So, the nominees are:
End of the World Blues by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, reviewed by Claire Brialey:
Depending on where you’re standing, Grimwood’s novels could appear to be noir-ish thrillers in a science-fictional setting, or science fiction novels with all the ambience of crime. Here, each story – complete and, by comparison, straightforward in itself – effectively compliments and lifts the other. The science fiction may be in another dimension, but it’s intruded directly into this world; now the plot can’t be resolved without it.
Nova Swing by M. John Harrison, reviewed by Gary Dalkin:
As Harrison’s The Centauri Device parodied space opera, so Nova Swing parodies the hard boiled detective novel. A second introductory quote offers the idea that “Nostalgia and science fiction are spookily close” (A. A. Gill in The Sunday Times). And this is a book filled with nostalgia, set-dressed with retro recreations of the past. With old forms of fiction, with old objects, old music. Detective Lens Aschemann is nostalgic for New Nuevo Tango. The band in the Surf Café play BeBop. The radio in Len’s 1950’s style Cadillac plays Radio Retro. So much of the novel transpires in a trio of drinking joints it might be called Three Bar Blues. Except Nova Swing isn’t a form of music, but the name of the spaceship Irene the Mona dreams of buying to escape the planet and live her dreams.
Icarus by Roger Levy, reviewed by Paul Raven:
The core theme of Icarus is the concept of history, and also the mutable and viral nature of truth. The characters all have dark secrets and real human flaws – there are no paragons among them, and this makes it easier to sympathise with their often desperate actions. The echoes of Orwellian dystopia resonate with today’s world of governmental deceit and doublespeak, but have a timeless lesson as their axis. In the societies portrayed and in the writing itself, certainty is a fleeting thing, all the more precious for its scarcity. Near the end of the book, Marten experiences this in a revelatory moment; “Memory and knowledge were two different things, he realised, and neither was necessarily the truth.” (p408) Perspective is everything, and judgements made in a vacuum of information are frequently revealed to be dangerously false. The truth must be mined, dug out from its grave of lies and obfuscation.
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow, reviewed by Dave M. Roberts:
There is a significant cast of real historical figures, whose role is much expanded by our knowledge of these people and what they stood for. We are reminded, for example, that while Newton was the father of modern science and the champion of reason, he never abandoned his religion. The juvenile feud between Newton and Robert Hooke can be seen as triggering the events of the book, the unreasonable behaviour eventually leading to the spirited defence of reason. The historical characters are not there merely as place-markers, but as real people loaded with historical and intellectual resonance.
Darkland by Liz Williams, reviewed by Penny Hill:
The depth of the presentation of sexual politics across the four different cultures would make this novel suitable for consideration for the Tiptree award. There are disturbing and provocative messages here about manipulative and destructive sexual relationships and the power they can exert long after the events are over. The history of Vali’s previous damaging relationship with Frey, a Vishtie adept, is gradually revealed to us in flashback. The influence this still has on her psyche permeates the narrative. Her urge to self-harm and the placebo she has found to contain this craving are shown to be coping mechanisms, that hint at the depths of the damage and make it clear that there will be no simplistic healing process available. Likewise Gemaley’s sexual power over Ruan reduces him to the status of an addict unable to reject the source of his desire even when he becomes aware of its destructiveness.