Should the Clarke Award change?

In his column in the latest Vector, following on from the discussion about this year’s Clarke shortlist, Graham Sleight has a suggestion:

I’m thinking, in fact, that the Clarke should adapt the model of the World Fantasy Award: once the award is announced, the jurors should appear on a panel and talk about why they’ve done what they’ve done. Within pre-agreed bounds (civility, moderation by the chair of jurors), they should answer questions from the public. If they, as smart, good-faith people, have reasons why they didn’t think Brasyl was shortlistable, I think it enhances rather than detracts from the conversation to hear them. All I’m suggesting is that we need a forum where an issue like that can be debated transparently rather than guessed at.

Over on the BSFA forum, Martin has already started a thread (with a poll), so if you want to discuss Graham’s arguments for the change you can either comment there or here. Or, of course, you can send a letter to Vector.

37 thoughts on “Should the Clarke Award change?

  1. I’m away from home right now, and unable to log in to the BSFA forums from here. I’m very happy to debate the article with people who want to argue the issues. I’m sorry that Martin’s post doesn’t come anywhere near doing that.

  2. Since I can’t read the article (hint! hint!) I don’t feel like I can comment on it properly. (I admit from the excerpt, specifically citing Brasyl puts me rather against the idea rather than for it.)

  3. (to clarify, it’s not Brasyl in particular, but the idea that they should defend why a work didn’t appear on the shortlist, rather than clarifying why and discussing the works that do.)

  4. Chance, the whole article is online at the above link :)

    I am a terrible fence-sitter who can see arguments on both sides. Sometimes it would be nice to know why, exactly, the jury has picked a book which I think is awful, or why they have not shortlisted the best book of the year. A statement/panel would go a long way towards making the inner workings of the Clarke jury more understandable – we’ve seen that in the absence of any explanation, everyone will come up with their own theory as to why they picked the books, and I would imagine it is frustrating for the jurors to have such speculation about their choices and have to sit on their hands and not reply.

    On the other hand, one of the joys of the Clarke is that it does have some completely unexpected nominees, often books I wouldn’t have thought about reading otherwise, and I wouldn’t want to change the process to diminish that in any way – if the jury feel their decision-making process will be scrutinised by fandom afterwards, might that not influence their decisions? And there’s a sense that what happens in the jury room, stays in the jury room – I am happy to know that five well-read intelligent people debated, discussed, and came to a consensus decision, and I don’t particularly want to know what arguments and compromises they had while doing it.

  5. I’m more sympathetic towards the idea of a judges’ statement than a public querying of the panel. Ideally, such a statement would provide some insight into the decision-making process (perhaps helping to minimize instances of observers imposing narratives on that process) without exposing the judges to the gauntlet that, I feel reasonably certain, the open panel would become.

    All that said, I doubt that any measure could result in a completely open judging process. That’s what voted awards are for. In juried awards, there will always be an element of mystery, and of personal taste, impeding complete comprehension of the award’s shortlist and winner. As Graham notes, there’s a difference between decisions one disagrees with and decisions one finds incomprehensible – he gives the absence of Brasyl from this year’s shortlist as an example of the latter, but an even better one would be the nomination of Brian Stableford’s Streaking last year. No amount of transparency could ever make the decision to nominate this tedious, overlong, poorly written novel comprehensible to me, because it was the result of tastes completely foreign to my own.

  6. Hmm, I blame kobolds and not my own inability to work the internet. :) (I swear I clicked that link and it went to the vector link!)

    (I’m afraid upon reading this, I do find his fixation on Brasyl rather troubling – I don’t particularly recall any WFA panels or even the Tiptree panel after the mess where they longlisted the not very good fanfiction to be an interrogation, which is what I feel like he wants. He might as well suggest the jurors use binding scoring sheets which are published after the fact.

    Discussion I find good. A need for justifying a decision, I do not.

  7. No amount of transparency could ever make the decision to nominate this tedious, overlong, poorly written novel comprehensible to me, because it was the result of tastes completely foreign to my own.

    That is so the mystery of juries. Where a strong personality can sway the others in the heat of the moment or a consensus building compromise can toss up the ridiculous or the sublime?

  8. Abigail, I’m open to argument on the means by which you have the jury communicate with the public – panel as suggested above, statement, online debate, whatever. So long as – as far as possible – it shuts down the imposition of narratives-without-evidence on the jury’s choices. Panel is my preferred option at the moment simply because the WFAs do this (and have I believe for years) without the award imploding, and it seems to me the fullest way of airing the issues.

    Chance, I mentioned Brasyl partly because, as I make clear in the piece, I have strong feelings about its merits. But I’m not the only one: my memory is that other members of this years Not The Clarke panel were also bemused by its exclusion (more than by that of the Chabon), as evidently were the BSFA voters who gave it their award.

  9. So long as – as far as possible – it shuts down the imposition of narratives-without-evidence on the jury’s choices.

    I suppose I’ve yet to be convinced that this is such a crucial goal. I can see how it would be frustrating for a judge to observe this phenomenon without any recourse for correction (and as we all know, there’s nothing worse than someone being wrong on the internet), but that’s hardly enough reason to implement such a change, and I’m not sure how fans, readers, authors, or the award itself would be served by your suggestion.

    But I’m not the only one: my memory is that other members of this years Not The Clarke panel were also bemused by its exclusion

    I can think of very few commentaries on this year’s shortlist that failed to note the exclusion of Brasyl, and though at some point this became a self-sustaining phenomenon, surely it’s an indication of the intensity of feeling the decision aroused that the absence of this one book became synonymous with the shortlist.

  10. if the jury feel their decision-making process will be scrutinised by fandom afterwards

    But Liz, this already happens – it’s just at the moment the scrutiny is of a guess (and sometimes quite a straw man guess) of what the jury were doing. The jury don’t get to put their case, other than simply through the shortlist that is produced. I can see Graham’s argument, which is that he wants to kill off some of the unwarranted speculation and agenda-ascribing that goes on every time the shortlist comes out.

    I’m undecided, but will be watching the debate with interest.

  11. Chance, I mentioned Brasyl partly because, as I make clear in the piece, I have strong feelings about its merits. But I’m not the only one:

    Exactly my problem – you suggestion is framed within this desire and little other impetus for it is offered — frex the comparison with the Booker is about “what was the runner up” and not why such a discussion is interesting.

    You have failed to convince me that your desire for a discussion is other than calling the jurors on the carpet.

  12. Chance: where I’m starting from is that being on the Clarke jury is being in a position of power within the field; and I hold it as axiomatic – as I say in the piece – that power should always be exercised as transparently and accountably as possible. You could, if you wish, narrow the issue down to “calling the jurors on the carpet”, but that’s only a fraction of what I’m talking about, as the last para of the article makes clear.

  13. Abigail: I would have been happy to sit on a panel, with my fellow judges that year, and try to collectively argue the case for Streaking‘s presence on the list. Whether we’d have succeeded, I don’t know. But, as various people have said throughout this, often awards do wind up as awards-as-advocacy, and I think the fuller the advocacy we can give, the better.

  14. As I’ve said many times, there is only one award in SF – the Hugo. The rest are also-rans. The idea that the Clarke jury is in a position of power is silly to me. Sorry, just don’t agree.

  15. I’ve promised Niall a letter to Vector about this, so I’ll save most of my thoughts for that. Essentially, though, I can’t see any constructive purpose this would serve.

    Graham, do you really think people are going to stop imposing narratives upon the jury’s selection just because the jury has issued a statement or sat on a panel? Have you spent much time on the internet lately? If anything it will only *further* focus unnecessary attention on the jurists and their individual tastes and ‘agendas’, rather than on the books.

    Plus, it seems to me that any official statement/public discussion that centres on what got left off, as opposed to what was shortlisted and won, would set a negative tone that’s wholly out of keeping with the award – and devalue the result.

    They’re books. There isn’t a right or wrong answer about what should or should not have won, or even what should have been shortlisted, that will become shiningly clear if only the jury shows us its working-out. Different juries might have chosen different shortlists. So?

    Also, as Abigail said: no amount of public discussion or statements or even video footage from the jury meeting could convince me that ‘Streaking’ was remotely a worthy choice for last year’s shortlist. But, sadly, I wasn’t on that jury… :-)

  16. Chance:

    there is only one award in SF – the Hugo. The rest are also-rans. The idea that the Clarke jury is in a position of power is silly to me.

    Well, you won’t mind, whatever happens, then… :-p


    do you really think people are going to stop imposing narratives upon the jury’s selection just because the jury has issued a statement or sat on a panel?

    No. You could video the whole jury meeting, put it on Youtube, and people would still do that. But the more light you let in – to reuse the metaphor from my article – the more such discussion will be based on evidence rather than speculation. To my knowledge – can anyone provide a counterexample? – I’m not aware of any case when discussion of the WFAs or Tiptrees has wound up focussing on individual judges and purported agendas, as revealed in their statements or panels.

    Which is not to say that such public utterances don’t need to be couched carefully. Your next point raises an interesting issue: to what extent any panel/statement should be devoted to advocacy-for rather than argument-against. I don’t have a hard and fast answer here. I suspect each group of judges would have to play it by ear. But, at the very least, I would like it to be possible to have the question I raised in the article about the Chabon – was it excluded because it wasn’t good enough, or because you consider alt-history not to be sf? – aired in public. If nothing else, as my Bagehot reference indicated, I would like to demystify the jury process: it’s not stacked full of agendas, it’s not about “If you do X, I’ll do Y” deals, there is no “quota” for the Clarke to have a “literary” novel on the list. It’s just a bunch of people in a room trying to do the best they can.

    Nor am I advocating an objective standard of aesthetic goodness – to take your next point – which a statement/panel would give better insight into. Books are just books; jurors are just readers; we’re all trying to make sense, to work out what value is for us, as best we can. The panel, if nothing else, will have read more and thought in a more concentrated way about what they believe, than many people. Having them say what they thought and why adds more information to that conversation. Isn’t that a good?

  17. As a PS: I’m going offline now, probably till Tuesday morning. If there are more comments here when I get back to an internet then, I’ll do my best to address them – but please don’t think I’ve ducked out in the meantime…

  18. As a former World Fantasy Award judge, I did think it was useful to have the panel afterwards. There were more than a few people at the World Fantasy Awards who thought (1) only nominees clearly connected to genre should have won and/or (2) that I or someone had rigged the process toward the “literary” side of things. It was perfectly clear to any reasonable person attending the panel that we hadn’t given any thought to (1) but just looked at the work on its own merits and that (2) the judges had all agreed on most of the choices without there even being the need for much compromise, and genuinely thought these were the best works that year. This was especially important re the Kafka on the Shore choice, where it was insinuated I’d somehow gotten it the win (pretty insulting to the other jurists and to me, frankly), when in fact more supposedly conservative members of the jury had been pushing for it. Several people at the panel who had come in with a chip on their shoulder left satisfied that the process had been fair.

    I mention this specific example to serve up one general point: in terms of transparency–in terms of letting people have a chance to see part of the process, in a sense–I think a panel is valuable. As Abigail says, it’ll never convince someone who thinks something on a list is crap that it isn’t crap. But I do think for juried awards there’s often this paranoid “there’s a cabal” or “there’s an agenda” feeling generated by the disconnect between what is and isn’t quality in some readers’ minds. And a panel can take the edge off of that fundamental disagreement and promote a sense of the positive and a sense of the fundamental integrity of the award.

    Of course, the WF panel would be more useful if it were videotaped, so that it could be seen by more people, but I also wonder if that would make the judges less candid, knowing they were “on stage” so to speak, more than just on stage in front of a panel audience.


  19. I’m sharing Liz’s fence on this one.

    On the one hand, I think: People like to butt heads with juried awards, and no statement, panel discussion or open confessional will change that. The bitching and back-slapping that goes on after an announcement is one of the reasons (dare I say the main reason?) that prizes boast the following they do. (Look at the Orange Prize, riding the wave of the media’s disdain.) So I’m apt to agree with Nic that an open discussion with a jury would have no discernible effect on the opinion of the SF community. It wouldn’t generate understanding, only more controversy. There would be further cries of ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ – if you think the omission of a book is wrong, you’re unlikely to be convinced by an arguement for its exclusion – and nothing would be ‘resolved’. I doubt very much that a choice could be vindicated and minds changed, especially with opinions running high.

    On the other hand: I’m fascinated by juried awards, and by the personal dynamic of the judges involved. There is something to be said for the real pleasure of discussing the shortlist with the people involved in composing it. In the best of all possible worlds this would take the form of a measured, equitable discussion (which, of course, it could hardly be online – how quick people are to throw insults around on forums and blog comments!), with no question of proving any one position true or false. I would like to think that it is possible to admit a POV, even if the sensibility from which it originates is entirely alien. So, no, I don’t think anyone could convince me that last year’s choice of ‘Streaking’ was right, but, yes, I would love someone to give me a plausible, reasonable explanation for it. Besides which, there is the truth of what Graham says: that transparency is always preferable to secrecy.

    Perhaps the jury might adopt a system similar to archival closure. That is: recordings or minutes of their meetings should be held close for a period after the announcement of the winner (say, 12 months) and then released in full. On YouTube, if you like. Why not? That allows for both head-butting and the subjective purity of the judging process to be maintained, and gives the ensuing debate the added benefit of emotional distance and hindsight. At the same time it is entirely transparent.

  20. Tony: I think there’s a difference between knowing that fandom is going to look at the decisions you made and call you a wronghead, and knowing that you’re going to have to stand up and talk about how it actually went down. I think I’d feel the difference as a juror, anyway, your mileage may vary. This could be avoided by a well-handled and carefully-moderated panel, as Graham suggests, but I think I would favour a statement if there is anything released, along the lines of the one from the BSFA short fiction award judges a couple of years ago. I’m not sure whether the benefits of this, giving the judges a voice against the people imposing the narrative on them, would outweigh the negatives. *sits on my fence*

    Victoria: I am very uneasy about a recording of the meetings being made available after the fact, I think I would prefer it to stay private just so that no one feels inhibited by it.

    Graham: A possible counter-example is the Tiptree longlisting of a piece of fanfiction a few years ago, where I recall the particular juror who had argued for its inclusion having to defend her actions.xz

  21. Graham, my brief forum post was never intended to enter into a debate with your column. Rather it was intended to do two things:

    a) note my displeasure as a reader of Vector in the sense of entitlement on display in your column; and

    b) act as a barometer to see how widespread the desire for change was within the BSFA.

    It has failed at the latter but I think it was adequate for the former.

  22. Victoria: your suggestion of archived Youtube jury meetings is…very interesting, though it opens even more of a can of worms than my suggestion. And I’m glad that, despite your reservations, we agree that transparency is better than its opposite.

    Liz: that’s perfectly true re the Tiptree. And, in fact, it raises one of the practical problems with my proposal (I think mentioned by Niall first). By and large, in the recent past, it’s the Clarke shortlists that have raised controversy, rather than the results themselves, and most of the unhelpful narrative-imposing has gone on between the announcement of the shortlist and the announcement of the result – with the additional problem that at that stage many of the commenters haven’t read the books but just know them by reputation, eg “literary”. My proposal, at least as stated, is for a panel post-result – which still leaves a gap of, whatever, 6-8 weeks for the sort of speculation I’m trying to reduce. The least bad solution I’ve come up with is the release of a with-shortlist statement, but it’s not ideal. Any thoughts?

    Martin: well, any writer can’t be responsible for the interpretations their work creates for others, and if everyone felt I was acting entitled, this presumably wouldn’t be a debate worth participating in for others. From where I’m sitting though, it feels like an astonishingly partial misprision of the text, taking as its evidence “either way, I won’t know why the decision has been made” and ignoring the thousand-odd words of context around it, including the following: the phenomenon of narrative imposing which we’re all familiar with (cf also Jeff V’s comment); my explicit couching of the issue in terms of bringing the Clarke in line with other juried awards in the field; the detailed and specific example of the issue around Chabon; and such sentences as “by what right do I assert that my opinion about Brasyl is “right” and that of the jury is “wrong”?” Is that really the language of someone who can’t see further than wanting to know why his favorite didn’t win?

  23. As a former Clarke judge who was effectively forced to defend the judges choice on several occasions I can see both sides of this. A panel/statement of some kind could serve as a form of FAQ so that an individual judge didnt have to face the same accusations over and over again. On the other hand lots of people didnt believe me anyway and lots of angry words were spoken and written that year by people with a reputation in the field and hence a form of authority that they misused. That was not a pleasant experience and I don’t think opening the judges up to direct interrogation is conducive to fair discussion.

    Let me shift the question slightly. Why do we publish shortlists? Why not just announce a winner? In part the shortlist promotes debate, promotes a range of works and authors, and this is a good thing. Everyone of us I am sure has read and enjoyed shortlisted authors we might have never seen before the list was published. A post-Award panel could be part of this process but isn’t actually necessary for the process to occur.

    Back in the day Vector published several articles looking at the entire shortlist after the event (written by Maureen Kincaid Speller one year, I recall.) and gave John Clute a guest editorial to take issue with the result on another occasion. Now we have numerous blogs of varying credibility doing similar. Is this not enough?

    Finally, when and why did the Clarke Award stop announcing a runner-up?

  24. For what it’s worth, I’m against a panel, or any public discussion by the judges of the judging process.

    For a start, I firmly believe that what occurs in the jury room must stay in the jury room for the sake of the jury. Most of us know a fair number of the authors whose work is in contention in any year. The necessary candour of the jury room might be compromised if the discussions were made public, and since a decision for or against any particular book can easily rest on such candid moments it might be impossible to fully account for decisions without compromising jury secrecy.

    Secondly, there is rarely complete agreement between the judges on any book at any stage. But, at least when I was running the award, I asked the jury to present a united front from the moment they left the jury room. In other words, even if they disagreed with the decision, that disagreement should not be made public. This, I believed then and believe still, is essential for the integrity of the award. On a panel, therefore, jurors would well find themselves having to compromise their own beliefs, or else not be entirely candid with their audience.

    Third, leading on from that, there would be a severe temptation to re-fight the jury room battles in public. That would be unedifying at least, and could well become awkward or embarrassing for some of the jurors.

    Fourth, if people want to speculate about the thinking that went into the choice of one book over another, what on earth is wrong with that? One of the purposes of the award is to encourage discussion of science fiction, not to hand down diktats from figures of authority. Far better to let people engage with the book to try to work out what was considered good or bad about it, than to have authority figures (and the jurors are, in these circumstances, automatically authority figures) hand down pronouncements about why X is good and Y is bad.

    Finally, Kev, the runner-up was never a formal part of the Clarke set up and has only ever been announced sporadically, usually as an indication of jury indecision. The last time (and the only one I ever announced) was in 1995.

  25. Graham, I am aware that the sentence I quote is not the only one in your column. I took it to be particularly revealing and to exemplify my problem with your piece.

    You identify an issue and a meta-issue. Or, to put it another way, a substantive issue and an immaterial issue. You quickly say you believe the jury has acted in good faith. If that is the case then – with the substantive issue dismissed – that should be the end of the debate.

    Instead we have the immaterial issue: even though there is nothing wrong with the jury’s decision you believe that you are entitled to know more about how it was made. Why? When you were on the jury you knew why you made the incomprehensible decisions that you did and you want this privilege to continue. You seem to think this should be a democracy – hence overblown Bagehot reference – and can’t understand why your view as a reader is now less important than the view of the jury. All the talk of transparency and accountability is essentially talk of entitlement. This seems to be rather less than trusting that the jury has acted in good faith.

    You are right that I am ignoring your comparison to other awards. This is because you have failed to convince me there is anything wrong with the award that requires it to change.

    Tell me which came first: your belief that the Clarke should be made more similar to other juried awards or your belief that Brasyl should have been shortlisted? If you wanted to agitate for a panel would not the time to have done so been last year or the year before?

  26. Kev raises a point that Nic and Victoria have done in different ways, and that I don’t have a solid answer for. I am assuming – hoping – that debates about the Clarke will happen in a way that’s better (more civilised, more rooted in reality, etc etc) if they’re conducted on the basis of more evidence. The three of you, in various ways, disagree, with the unarguable proposition that there’ll always be someone willing to act like a jerk on the internet no matter how much you treat them like adults. I prefer to think – skiffy optimism at work? – that at least some people will behave better if they have more evidence, and that both they and the genre collective mind deserve as much information as possible. But I’m not a utopian about this idea, hence the point I’ve made throughout that whatever is done should be carefully managed.

    Paul: your point is an important one which I discussed a bit in the piece, but which in many senses is the core objection – that knowing the jury process will be observed/accountable in some sense will change the process. (You would say damage.) There are two prongs to this. The first is that people would be less than frank in the jury room if they new that comments about authors might be made public. I agree this might happen, and would be damaging, and so I don’t think I could endorse any version of this proposal which made the jury proceedings directly public – including, much to my regret, Victoria’s archived Youtube idea. The second (also raised with me by one of this year’s jurors, and addressed a bit in the piece) is that public statements of whatever kind might be used to try to drive a wedge between jurors. Couple of responses to this. The experience of other awards like the WFA seems pretty benign on this front; jurors are smart enough to be able to deal with such attempts; this may be an argument for making any change incrementally (ie reasonably full joint jury statement) and seeing how that works rather than going instantly for the full panel idea. Finally, you ask “if people want to speculate about the thinking that went into the choice of one book over another, what on earth is wrong with that?” Because, as I said above, it seems to me self-evident that the more evidence is out on the record, the better the quality of the debate.

    In parenthesis, I remember you explaining the reasons for not having runners-up any more, and they seem entirely sound to me.

    Martin, see my earlier comment about interpretations. If a writer writes “we” and a reader insists it’s really “I”, or writes “accountability” and the reader says it’s actually “entitlement”, then there’s very little that can be done to bridge the gap or engage fruitfully. In the light of quite how much of the text is about the community of readers as a whole, and about issues other than Brasyl – like my Chabon point, which you haven’t addressed – you have to efface a hell of a lot of it to reach your reading. (And, though these ideas had been swimming around in my head for some while, it was talking/thinking about the Chabon/Sheers issue that really brought them into focus.)

  27. I ignored the Chabon example because I didn’t see that it was anything other than an example. It might be “detailed and specific” but it isn’t unique or interesting. I don’t see, for example, any difference between the question “why didn’t they pick Brasyl?” and “why didn’t they pick Yiddish Policmen’s Union?”. Each jury will define SF in a different way, each jury will define best in a different way and each jury will define best SF in a different way. I am unable to find this problematic.

    It does seem the gap of interpretation is unbridgeable here. I do not accept that you are simply talking as a reader on behalf of the “community of readers”. The column is obviously not just about Brasyl and I don’t think I’ve suggested it is. However, I don’t think it is unfair to catergorise it as being about your personal relationship with the Clarke.

  28. Graham, I can see the attraction of what you are proposing, but I can see the problems too. Cabinet responsibility is not in place to hide the jurors from the public, but to protect the jurors, so they can have vigorous arguments during the judging process knowing that when a consensus is finally reached everyone in the room will come together and support that consensus. Exposing the discussions in any way will weaken the discussions. During SFRA I was part of a round table discussion on awards and this same subject came up independently. At that point Elizabeth Ann Hull said, very forcefully, from the floor that she did not want her contributions to the Campbell jury debates made public in any way. The fact that the discussions were not made public was what allowed her to contribute fully and freely to the process.

    If I was a judge and knew that immediately after the cut and thrust of the jury room I would be called upon, effectively, to justify my decision, it would cloud the way I reached that decision. I have lost count of the times in the Clarke jury when someone has said something to the effect that X would be more popular but Y is better. Removing the cloak of cabinet responsibility might tend towards the more popular choice. It’s all a matter of outside influences, however subtle, upon the judging process.

    I wasn’t party to the Chabon/Sheers decision you mention (for the record, I would have been delighted to see both these on the shortlist but feel no great sorrow that Brasyl did not make the grade), and as you say it might well have come down to a decision about what constitutes science fiction. Since the award deliberately does not define science fiction, this is an issue that comes up most years, mostly by default, and because they are always dealing with different books every jury seems to come up with a slightly different take on the matter. So your panel could easily end up endlessly repeating the ‘what do you mean by sf’ debate.

    I am less concerned by the idea that something might be used to drive a wedge between the jurors (though it is a concern) than I am by the idea that the jurors might drive a wedge between themselves, that collective responsibility might break down in the face of rehashing the arguments and give some jurors the chance to make the claim again for a cherished favourite. In fact, if that didn’t happen I would suspect the whole panel of being a sham; while if it did happen it would be disastrous for the award.

    And finally, ‘it seems to me self-evident that the more evidence is out on the record, the better the quality of the debate’. Actually, that isn’t self-evident to me. If you have the jury’s reasoning in front of you, the debate is about that jury’s decision. If you don’t have their reasoning, speculation only goes so far and at some point you have to go back to the books. Which is the better debate, one that argues the relative merits of Brasyl and Resistance, or one that argues over the minutiae of the jury’s reasons for excluding those books?

  29. Paul: Playing devil’s advocate for a bit, the jury presenting a public face isn’t incompatible with any sort of public statement on their decision – it would be possible to release some sort of statement signed jointly by all jurors. This wouldn’t be unlike the statements made by the administrators, which are often taken as if they are speaking for the judges. I agree that sort of solidarity would be harder to accomplish on a panel.

    But there are other objections; a statement at the time of the shortlist, for instance, would potentially straightjacket the jury’s final decision – I can imagine it’s not uncommon for one work to be in the lead after the shortlist is drawn up, but not to come out of the final meeting the winner. So would the jury have to justify why they changed their mind? But delaying such a statement to the final award won’t address the main period of the nuttiest narrative imposition on the jury’s actions.

    I also agree with Nic that any statement would need to restrict itself to explaining why certain books are on the shortlist, and cannot address why other books are off. That doesn’t seem to me to be constructive.

    And, as I say, I’m undecided – I can see both advantages and objections to a public statement.

  30. Paul: I have to run to a plane now, but two quick points:

    During SFRA I was part of a round table discussion on awards and this same subject came up independently. At that point Elizabeth Ann Hull said, very forcefully, from the floor that she did not want her contributions to the Campbell jury debates made public in any way. The sarcastic response to that is that, given some of the recent Campbell decisions (though not this year’s), I can understand that. Indeed, the Campbell might well want to look into a juror protection programme – you know, new identity, house in an anonymous suburb, etc etc… The less sarcastic reponse is to note that the Campbell does go a little way down the road I’m proposing with, eg, a statement in favour of Titan by Elizabeth Anne Hull here.

    Re your point about what good more information can bring, a quick real-world example. I’m one of the nominators for the Crawford Award for first fantasy book. This year, we spent a bit of time discussing Ekaterina Sedia’s The Secret History of Moscow, which garnered a good deal of interest. Relatively late in the process, we discovered that it wasn’t – as we, and apparently a number of others had thought – a first book. So we mentioned our reasons for excluding it in our press release. So far as I can see, everyone wins. The award does, for making clear a part of its working; Sedia does for knowing she’s not been dismissed on quality grounds; and the readers do because (awards-as-advocacy again) we still get to say we think it’s an interesting book.

  31. Surely the Crawford Awrd’s mention of Sedia is a different issue? It’s not explaining why books are on the shortlist, but explaining the technical reasons why some have to be kept off. There’s a big difference, I think, between explaining that, for instance, The Road wasn’t shortlisted because the publishers didn’t submit it, and explaining why a submitted and eligible book lke Brasyl wasn’t shortlisted.

  32. Graham, the statement from Betty Ann Hull that you point to is actually the award presentation speech. I was at the Campbell Award ceremony this year and saw it in action. Since the Campbell announces first second and third places, one person gets to make a speech about each book pretty much like the speeches I made at the Clarke ceremony, except that the speeches do not refer to any of the other shortlisted books. This year, for example, I got to make the speech announcing the winner even though I had not been part of the jury that chose it. It is not a statement about the judging process, and it is certainly not a statement that makes any reference to why books were not chosen.

    As for the Sedia example, that is a purely technical issue. As Tony says, the Clarke Award has always been ready to state publicly that books like The Road were not considered simply because they had not been submitted. Such statements make no judgement about whether the book would have been shortlisted, or whether it might be in any way better or worse than any of the books that were submitted. Similarly the Clarke jury in one of the years I was not involved made it known that Karen Joy Fowler’s Sarah Canary and M. John Harrison’s The Course of the Heart had not been shortlisted despite the fact that the jury considered them excellent novels because they were not considered to be science fiction. Again a technical issue. That is not the same as explaining why X or Y wasn’t considered good enough to make the shortlist. Such a statement would have to be about the process the jury used. And if you want jurors to have the freedom to say anything without fear or favour during the course of their considerations, then you have to allow that those considerations remain within the jury room.

  33. Hi Graham – it’s a good debate, but having read your article and the comments here, I have to disagree with your suggestion.

    You hope for the best in the larger reading public who might join in the debate, and you assume that jurors would be ‘smart enough’ to deal with opinions proffered, but the quality required there would be, more realistically, assertiveness coupled with selective hearing. I would hope that jurors are smart enough to get on with making a selection without worrying about what the wider world may think, but this remains more likely if individuals are not open to public scrutiny.

    In your article, you invite comparson with the Man Booker prize, which gets a lot of press attention, but then you say that the opinions of the judging panel are ‘leaked’, so that’s not really very open. The Booker people seem to embrace media speculation and outrage over ‘controversial’ decisions (keeps it in the press, so controversy is not always a bad thing), but they defend these from the chair.
    Have you read this?
    Interesting stuff! Names no names – or years, for that matter.

    The Clarke judging process itself is another matter, and I would agree with suggestions of a statement written on behalf of the jurors’ panel. Otherwise, what do you suggest? That once the shortlists are announced and justifications made, that a ‘debate’ could result in one or two to be swapped for more popular-seeming choices? I’m not entirely sure what you want to come about. As for your wishlist shortlist, it’s nothing to do with The Clarke Awards really, but you do have The Not The Clarke Awards Panel and the internet, and this is no bad thing. Debate happens.

    Apart from that, she said hinting, you have the splendidly democratic BSFA award! I’m all for hearing debate about that. Half the year has gone, so maybe you’ve already read something that you feel is good enough for nomination?

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