2009 BSFA Awards Shortlists

Best Novel

Ark cover Lavinia cover
The City & The City cover Yellow Blue Tibia cover

Ark by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
Lavinia by Ursula K Le Guin (Gollancz)
The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan)
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Best Short Fiction
Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” by Eugie Foster (Interzone 220)
The Push by Dave Hutchinson (Newcon Press)
Johnnie and Emmie-Lou Get Married” by Kim Lakin-Smith (Interzone 222)
“Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (in Cyberabad Days, Gollancz)
The Beloved Time of Their Lives” [pdf link] by Ian Watson and Roberto Quaglia (in The Beloved of My Beloved, Newcon Press)
The Assistant” by Ian Whates (in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 3, ed. George Mann)

Best Artwork
Alternate cover art for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (art project), Nitzan Klamer
Emerald” by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
Cover of Desolation Road by Ian McDonald, by Stephan Martinière, jacket design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Cover of Interzone 220, Adam Tredowski
Cover of Interzone 224, Adam Tredowski
Cover of Interzone 225, Adam Tredowski

Best Non-Fiction
Canary Fever by John Clute (Beccon)
I Didn’t Dream of Dragons” by Deepa D
Ethics and Enthusiasm” by Hal Duncan [Note: withdrawn from consideration]
“Mutant Popcorn” by Nick Lowe (Interzone)
A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James (Middlesex University Press)

Congratulations to all the nominees! Note that there are only four nominees in the Best Novel category, and six nominees in the Best Short Fiction and Best Artwork categories due to ties for fifth place. The Awards will be presented at this year’s Eastercon, Odyssey.

54 thoughts on “2009 BSFA Awards Shortlists

  1. That’s a very respectable novel short-list.

    Glad to see Nick Lowe on the non-fiction shortlist (he should be on it every year), don’t have an opinion on the Clute or F+J nominations as I haven’t read either book but I’m not sure I agree with the two other nominations.

  2. Personally I’m glad to see them; I think the category should embrace many different kinds of writing about sf and fantasy, from many different sources, and this one does.

    As for the novel shortlist: time for me to crack on with Ark, clearly.

  3. True, but I don’t think that they’re particularly good examples of those different kinds of source. Duncan would be insightful at 2000 words but at 30,000 words he’s self-indulgent.

  4. Hmm, this could be the first time I’ve seen a major genre shortlist and have read all the novels on it. And, having done all that, this is a very strong selection. Any of these four would be a deserving win, and would be relatively exciting.

    Even better, I see that “I Didn’t Dream of Dragons” made the shortlist. That’s awesome. I haven’t read any of the other non-fiction stuff (although there’s a link to the Duncan that makes one of those easy to correct) but at present I’ll be rooting for this one.

  5. You’ve got a busy couple of months ahead of you, then. Not sure when Lavinia and Ark are due out in paperback (Lavinia seems to have been pushed back to May, and to have picked up one of the worst covers I have ever seen), but the other two should be in all good stores now! And surely this is the excuse to buy Cyberabad Days you’ve been waiting for… :-)

  6. I’m only really tempted by Yellow Blue Tibia (and Cyberabad Days).

    Haven’t read Flood, so reading Ark seems weird.

    Is the Mieville 3 million pages long?

  7. James:

    Haven’t read Flood, so reading Ark seems weird.

    Unless you read them both… ;-)

    Is the Mieville 3 million pages long?

    No, 500 in paperback, and frankly I think that’s deceptive — it was only 312 in hardback, so they must have played with margins and font sizes to get it to look that chunky. It’s also a *very* different style to his other books, to the point where I would not consider them a good guide to determining whether or not you will enjoy this. Read the first chapter in a bookshop and see if it grabs you, at least.


    Egads! That is a terrible cover.

    Shocking, isn’t it? The hardback isn’t brilliant, though I quite like it, but it’s an awful lot better than that.

  8. That can’t possibly be the final paperback cover for Lavinia, can it? I mean, I can see what they’re trying to do with it, but it doesn’t look anywhere near the finished article.

    I second what Niall says about the Mieville. It is a short, short book, and frankly I’m shocked to hear the paperback is 500 pages. It must be big print, double-spaced, large margins. In other words, the sort of paperback I often don’t buy on principle – I’m fine with a 250 page paperback, publishers! Stop padding them so!

    I keep forgetting Ark is out, I’ve been meaning to read it for a – well, since I read Flood, obviously.

  9. Hal Duncan is declining his nomination, with grace:

    With that in mind, now, admittedly I don’t think it has a hope in hell of winning, but then I didn’t think it had a hope in hell of making the shortlist, so on the off-chance that it does… I think it would be criminal for my exploration of modes of critique to be accorded more status and attention than the exploration of issues of representation and diversity carried out by Deepa D, especially when those issues are precisely born of a disparity of status and attention. It would, I feel, be validating the very situation that requires redress if the BSFA Awards were to valorise abstractions that bear only a passing relevance to the field over a commentary that bears directly on its practical, political realities, not least because of the disparities of privilege at play here. It’s awesome to have people take note of what I say from my platform, but in this case I’m going to use that platform to say, there are other voices you should be listening to first.
    So, with the utmost gratitude to those who put it there, and more than a little reticence because of course I’d fucking love a BSFA Award for non-fiction, I’d like to respectfully withdraw “Ethics and Enthusiasm” from the running, and leave the contest to those works which bear directly on the field.

    I’ll amend the original post.

  10. Can’t help but think much of the short fiction list is, well, curious … not precisely bad work, not bad at all really (except for the Watson/Quaglia stuff, which I have simply never cottoned to at all), but rather minor stuff … but that’s taste for you. Still …

    By contrast, I’ve read only LAVINIA of the novels, but they all seem worthy. I had a question though — why is the Novel list cut to four, presumably because of ties, but the short fiction list expanded to six, for the same reason?

  11. Rich, more works tied for fifth place in the novel category. We felt the shortlist would have been too large to give voters a reasonable chance of considering all works before Easter.

  12. If it’s not possible to do a short fiction booklet this year given the length of the nominees, any chance of a non-fic booklet instead?

  13. We’re still looking into the possibility of the short fiction booklet, but I fear that if novellas are prohibitive (either due to rights or cost or length), entire non-fiction books aren’t going to be any easier. And, personally speaking, I’m not sure it would be fair to represent either of those books (particularly the history) via an extract.

  14. Reading my way through an award shortlist is one of those things I’ve never managed to do, at least not in time for the award being announced. So I’m going to have a go – only four novels, and none of them are 900+-page behemoths. So I’ve just ordered all of them through Hampshire County Library – and Cyberabad Days as well. Let’s see how I get on.

  15. So that’s where our* copy of Ark went, and just before I was going to borrow it too! I did briefly wonder if someone was following the BSFA awards, but put it down to coincidence. I hope reserving “The City and the City” wasn’t too tricky. I’ve no idea which cataloguing genius decided it should be catalogued as “The City and & Ytic Eht”.

    (*I work for a branch of HCL.)

  16. [i]I hope reserving “The City and the City” wasn’t too tricky. I’ve no idea which cataloguing genius decided it should be catalogued as “The City and & Ytic Eht”[/i]

    I couldn’t find it by searching under the title, but found it on an author search.

    That’s the only one that isn’t sitting in Aldershot library waiting for me to pick up (tomorrow most likely, once the tennis final has finished). Which one should I read first? Decisions, decisions…

  17. Well, all four novels are here now. I’m reading something else at the moment and in the meantime deciding which of the four to read first. I may go with the longest first. (That would be the Baxter by my estimates – then in descending wordcount order it’s Roberts, Miéville and Le Guin.)

    It says something about my reading over the last nearly two decades that most of the SF (and fantasy) I’ve read has been in short form. I’m about to confess that while I’ve read short fiction by all four shortlisted authors, the only one I’ve read a novel by before is Le Guin. Reading these four novels – one group’s idea of the best of 2009 – would be interesting to see how much I’m in sympathy with modern SF.

    (To put that in context – started adult Sf with an Asimov collection out of my local library (which was Fleet then, hi Nick) at age 13. Read pretty much nothing else but SF for 3-4 years, lost interest in early 80s, read elsewhere for a decade, came back in early 90s but now read SF as one of many genres I’ll read, with the author being more important than the genre IMO. I’m fairly well read in SF from the 40s to around 1980, but very sporadic after that. One result was that I was “away” when cyberpunk happened, though I heard about it from a distance as it filtered outside the genre – but I’ve only just read Neuromancer, for example.)

  18. Looking forward to seeing what you make of them! Feel free to keep adding your thoughts to this thread, I’ll give it a bump when you post to give people the chance to discuss.

  19. Thanks, will do. By contrast, a large chunk of what I’ve read at novel length – both for review and for enjoyment – over the last few years has been YA (both SF/F and otherwise). I’m writing YA novels at the moment, so it’s market research as well. Incidentally, I can’t remember if it’s been mentioned here before, but Lavinia was published as YA, in the US at least.

    Another benefit of this exercise is that I stand a good chance of being in the audience of a Not the Clarkes panel having read some of the shortlist for a change!

  20. Reading the novels in descending order of wordcount seems as good a method as any, so I started with the longest. Stephen Baxter’s Ark is by my estimate around the 150,000 word mark and runs 457 pages in this trade paperback edition.

    A few years ago, I had a chat with a writer who was on that year’s Clarke jury, and the issue of series books came up. He said that even if a novel is Book N of a series, he wouldn’t go back to read the earlier volumes (if he hadn’t previously). Each novel that was eligible for the Award was judged as if it were a standalone, so I’m going to do the same. I haven’t read Ark’s predecessor Flood, but I found that Ark stood on its own very well.

    This is big widescreen SF, covering a span of about a hundred light years and fifty-six calendar years (2025 to 2081). Flood waters are rising on Earth – at the start of the novel they’re threatening the mile-high city of Denver. The President of the USA endorses plans to build a spaceship that will take a group of passengers, chosen for sustainable genetic diversity, to another planet to continue the human race there. The nearest candidate is some thirty light years away.

    Baxter uses a little handwaving in setting up his premise, as I’m not sure that sea-borne homes – or undersea ones – wouldn’t be more achievable than interstellar travel in twenty-plus years’ time. As it turns out these are being developed too. (What, by the way, would the effect on ultra-deep-sea life when the ocean depth effectively doubles?) But you sense that it’s the dream of interstellar travel that powers this book, and it’s achieved by warping space-time around the star ship so that it travels at three times lightspeed. But the chosen planet turns out not to be suitable, so the passengers face a decision: make the best of what they can with “Earth II”, return to the original Earth or go on to an Earth III. It’s a long journey, and children born en route rebelling against their parents and one character’s mental breakdown, are part of it.

    There’s a perennial argument that SF – or at least hard SF – should be primarily about the ideas, and that characters are secondary and prose should be transparent. Ark is a case for the defence of this argument. Baxter’s prose is efficient if functional, tab-A-in-slot-B stuff, with some lapses into bestsellerese (such as introducing characters by quick lists of physical characteristics). Characterisation is for the most part two-dimensional: we only know certain people’s age, race, sex, nationality and so on because we’re told them, not because they’re reflected in what the people do and say. One character who does change over time is Holle Groundwater. (If that surname’s on-the-nose, how do you pronounce her given name – Holl? Holly? Holl-eh?) We first see her as a small child, then as an eleven-year-old (who sounded like no eleven-year-old I’ve ever met) and by the end of the novel she’s in her sixties, having had to make some tough cold-equations-type decisions along the way. The novel is inevitably episodic given its timespan. But it’s that span which is important – character development and cliffhanger resolutions often happen in the gaps between chapters.

    I tend to be a style-and-character-driven reader, but it’s fair to say that once I realised all the above, I still enjoyed it. I don’t know if a sequel is planned, but there is scope for one, albeit one widely scattered in space.

    Next up is Yellow Blue Tibia, which I’m currently nearly halfway through. At the moment it seems like a case for the prosecution in the argument I referred to above.

  21. So Ark was the one book I managed to read during my holiday, and I have to say I was a little disappointed; interestingly, having read Flood, I didn’t think it stood alone very well (or not as well as I’d have liked), and I thought it was structurally somewhat unbalanced. Full post later this week, I hope.

  22. Excellent!

    Er, not that you were a little disappointed. That’s bad, obviously. Just that I’ve been holding off saying anything about the book until you’ve read it. In any case, I shall look forward to seeing your full post now.

  23. Some more brief comments, as time-crunched.

    Adam Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia, about 110,000 words by my estimate. That comment by me above was a little optimistic: this was a novel that I generally liked quite a lot up to the halfway mark but then it fell apart. (I’ll mention the comments about the accuracy of its use of Russian culture, but I’m not qualified to comment on those.) As has been mentioned, it’s a novel about irony, which is explicitly contrasted with the earnestness it sees as symptomatic of Soviet Communism. There’s certainly a lot of wit and humour in this novel – some on target, some quite heavy-handed – and an early nod to Philip Dick tips us off about its play with genre history.

    The novel also uses a device I last saw used in Christopher Priest’s The Separation: enclosing foreign-language dialogue in square brackets. However, this has a different effect. Priest simply used this device to indicate German dialogue. Roberts has written an English-language novel where most of the principals are Russian and the default dialogue language is Russian, so any English is highlighted and becomes “foreign” and perhaps ironised by use of this technique.

    However, while I have as much a grasp and love or irony as the next person, too much of it can result in a lack of weight and seriousness, and that’s the problem I had with this novel.

    China Miéville’s The City & The City, a comparatively svelte by its author’s standards 100,000 words by my estimate. Pedantic note: on the principle that a novel is called what appears on the title page, this one is actually called The City & eht Ytic, with the last two words mirror-reversed.

    My first Miéville, by all accounts very untypical, and one I’m still thinking about as I’ve just finished it. Mostly a police procedural in the divided city of Beszel/Ul Qoma, in that respect it falls apart towards the end. Strong on sense of place without a doubt, and strong ideas about divisions and seeing/unseeing. though Miéville occasionally uses thesaurus words which don’t sit right with his first-person narrator such as “machicolation” (which I had to look up) and “contumely”. (Okay, he’s not actually speaking English anyway.) As to whether it’s SF or not (I’d be happier calling it fantasy), considering that the imaginary city/ies are in this real world, could this be alternate history (or even alternate geography)?

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