On guessing the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

Thank you for all your enthusiasm in trying to guess what the jury would choose for the Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist!

Out of the six most-voted for novels, only two of them were on the shortlist the jury actually chose which just goes to show, yet again, that it is a challenging award to second-guess. Of the actual list, The Dervish House received 40 guesses, Zoo City 30, Lightborn 14, Monsters of Men 4, Generosity 3, and only one person thought that perhaps Declare, originally published a decade earlier in the US,  might make it onto the shortlist. I suspect that most people didn’t necessarily vote for what they would personally have nominated for the award (based on what they have read in the last year) but the books which, thanks to buzz and pre-existing awards and nominations, seemed most likely to be respected by other people. Not that there isn’t overlap between the two categories!

Of all the entries in last week’s contest, no one guessed the whole shortlist. No one even guessed five out of the six books. Three different people, however, submitted guesses which correctly identified four of the books which were on the actual shortlist: Niall, Lal, and Kev McVeigh. Good instincts, all of you, and congratulations on getting more right than everyone else who entered the contest!

With a three-way tie and only one set of prizes, our contest judge, Clarke Award Director Tom Hunter, put all three names into a hat and had an independent assistant blindly pull one of the slips of paper out of it.

And that is how we now have a winner of copies of all six of the short-listed books, plus a copy of the forthcoming anthology, Fables from the Fountain, edited by Ian Whates and being sold in honour of the Clarke Award’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The prizes were generously donated by the Clarke Award and NewCon Press.

And so – congratulations to Lal, our contest prize winner! Tom Hunter will be in touch with you soon if he has not already done so to arrange for prize delivery.

Vector 265

Saturday morning’s post brought with it Vector 265, at long last. Not just Vector: the mailing includes a booklet in memory of Rob Holstock, edited by Niall Harrison; the BSFA Awards booklet, with all of the shortlisted short stories; and a ballot for voting on the BSFA awards.

Vector 265 is the last one edited by Niall, and it’s a hefty one, a rich tribute to Stephen Baxter, plus book reviews, edited by Martin Lewis. For those of you not currently BSFA members, here is what you’re missing out on:

Table of Contents
“That Cosmological Feeling: An Interview with Stephen Baxter”
“Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Cycle: No Coming Home”, Jonathan McCalmont
“The Settee and the Stars: Stephen Baxter and the Dilemma of Scale”, Gary K Wolfe
“An Atomic Theory of Baxter’s Fiction”, Adam Roberts
“Three Colours NASA: Reflections on Stephen Baxter’s ‘NASA’ trilogy”, Simon Bradshaw
“Putting the Past into the Future: The Time’s Tapestry sequence”, Tony Keen
“Foundation’s Favourite: Stone Spring”, Andy Sawyer
“Baxter’s People”, Niall Harrison
“Giant Killer Rodents in Space Armour, With Guns: the other side of Stephen Baxter”, Graham Sleight

“First Impressions”, Martin Lewis
Book reviews edited by Martin Lewis
Orgasmachine by Ian Watson (Newcon Press, 2010) – reviewed by
Justin Robson
Shine, edited by Jetse de Vries (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by
Anthony Nanson
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz, 2010) –
reviewed by Paul Kincaid
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 2010) – reviewed
by Tony Keen

The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Orbit, 2010) – reviewed by
Michael Abbott
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Orbit, 2010) –
reviewed by Martin Potts
Escape From Hell by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Tor, 2009)
– reviewed by Dave M Roberts
The Turing Test by Chris Beckett and The Last Reef by
Gareth L Powell (Elastic Press, 2008) – reviewed by Dave M Roberts
The Holy Machine (Corvus, 2010) and Marcher (Cosmos
Books, 2008) by Chris Beckett – reviewed by Jim Steel
Inside/Outside – Chris Beckett interviewed by Paul Graham Raven
Major Carnage by Gord Zajac (ChiZine Publications, 2010) –
reviewed by Shaun Green
Nexus: Ascension by Robert Boyczuk (ChiZine Pubications, 2010)
– reviewed by Graham Andrews
The Nemesis List by RJ Frith – reviewed by Ben Jeapes
The Noise Within by Ian Whates (Solaris, 2010) – reviewed by
Stuart Carter
Brave Story and The Book Of Heroes by Miyuke Miyabe
(Haikasoru, 2007 and 2009) – reviewed by Cherith Baldry
WE by John Dickinson (David Fickling Books, 2010) – reviewed by
Donna Scott
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Penguin, 2010) – reviewed by CB Harvey
Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2010) – reviewed
by Anne F Wilson
The Iron Hunt, Darkness Calls and A Wild Light by
Marjorie M Liu (Orbit, 2008-10) – reviewed by Amanda Rutter
The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan (Orbit, 2009) – reviewed by
Alan Fraser
Shadow Prowler by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster, 2010) –
reviewed by Sandra Unerman
The Office Of Shadow by Mathew Sturges (Pyr, 2010) – reviewed
by AP Canavan
Lord Of The Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier (Orbit, 2010) –
reviewed by Lynne Bispham

BSFA Awards Shortlist 2011

Anyone who joined the BSFA recently may end up with the wrong impression as to how frequently mailings occur, inasmuch as we expect the next one to be sent out within the next month-or-so. It’s all still quarterly, however.

Vector welcomes letters of comment, or feedback on the forum.

The 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

The shortlist for the Arthur C Clarke Award is, gratifyingly, never quite what anyone thinks it will be in advance. I doubt even any given juror could have correctly guessed what their consensus would determine when they met to collectively choose the shortlist for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the award.

Here is what they chose:

  • Zoo City – Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • The Dervish House – Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness (Walker Books)
  • Generosity – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
  • Declare – Tim Powers (Corvus)
  • Lightborn – Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)

The Arthur C Clarke Award is a juried award for the best work of science fiction published in Britain in the previous year. It’s judged from the works submitted by publishers so it’s theoretically possible for the award to miss out on options they would have liked to consider had they only been submitted. The “published in Britain in the previous year” is why an award-winning novel published in 2000 made it onto the shortlist this year: Tim Powers’s Declare only had its first UK publication in 2010.

These are six books from six different publishers (out of the twenty-two which submitted books this year), by four men and two women, one culmination of a trilogy, and five standalones. As more than one has already commented, the list features four authors of American origin (although some of them have lived in the UK for years) and one South African, Lauren Beukes. Only one of them, Ian McDonald, has been British and lived in Britain for the majority of his life. This is a point worth mentioning because the Clarke Award is specifically a British award, albeit for what’s published in the country rather than where those authors come from. In more trivial statistics: one-word titles make up 50% of the shortlist, but that’s not too disproportionate – they made up 27% of the list of eligible submissions. It was also a good year to have the last name “Powers”.

The shortlist was chosen by this year’s judging panel: Jon Courtenay Grimwood and Martin Lewis for the BSFA, Phil Nanson and Liz Williams for the Science Fiction Foundation, and Paul Skevington for SF Crowsnest.com. Paul Billinger chaired the judges on behalf of the award. They will all be busy re-reading the shortlist in the coming weeks, in preparation for the jury’s final meeting to choose the winner.

I’m looking forward to reading this list too; from the reviews I’ve read and initial reactions to the shortlist, it looks like quite a good one. I’ve only read Lightborn so far, although conveniently, I started Zoo City yesterday and have The Dervish House handy since I’m reading the BSFA novel shortlist, and those three books (but no others) overlap with the Clarke shortlist.

In the weeks between now and the 27th of April, when the jurors, having reread the shortlist, will meet again to decide on the winner, and the award will be given at the SCI-FI London Film Festival, I look forward to reading all the discussion, speculation, and guesswork about just which of these books will take the prize and why it’s worthy of doing so.

See also comments on the shortlist from:

David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Cheryl Morgan at Cheryl’s Mewsings
Graham Sleight at Locus Roundtable
Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Amanda Rutter at Floor to Ceiling Books
Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons

Clarke Award 2011 Eligible Submissions Data

If, instead of guessing the shortlist, entries in the contest which closed last night were voting on it, here’s what it would be. (But this is not the shortlist, so far as I know.)

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Orbit)
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (Corvus)
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi (Gollancz)
Kraken by China Miéville (Pan Macmillan)

Tomorrow, I’ll post the actual Clarke shortlist. It’ll be interesting to see how closely – or distantly – this year’s Clarke jury’s choices matches up with those of the contest entrants!

Martin, Vector‘s reviews editor, over at his own blog, has been number-crunching this week from the Clarke Award eligible submissions list. He’s one of the judges this year, so his data isn’t just drawn from titles-authors-publishers, but from surveys of the contents of the fifty-four books on the eligible submissions list, since he has read them all.

His statistics are at their most interesting, for me, when he’s dealing with the content of the books, in part because he’s on surest ground there, and in part because it’s data which is a payoff from having read all those books. (His statistics on the race and sexuality of the authors may be approximately right, but it’s data that no author should need to publicly share, and thus it’s very easy to assume wrongly for those numbers. Still, the idea of seeing how much representation there is in these kinds of diversity is an important one.) Specifically, he’s looked at how many of these books show killing, whether of the protagonist or of other characters, compared to how many of them show sex scenes. Descriptions of death far outweigh descriptions of sex. (This is why at least one blogger notes that she’s increasingly drawn to the romance hybrid genres: she generally prefers sex to death, given the choice.)

More broadly, Martin also looked at the setting of the books and the nature of the narrators. Thus, I can report that that only 54% of the novels passed the Bechdel test, 30% of the books are written in the first person, and that 33% of them were not set in the future.

His examination of how many of the books were parts of series and their length features the chart I keep coming back to: length of book by page count. I’m not sure why I’m finding this so interesting. Perhaps it’s the reassurance that the largest number of books are a physically manageable 250-300 pages long. Series do not dominate the list – standalones comprise 57% of the list, and genre imprints are more likely to submit series titles for consideration in the award than non-genre imprints are.

It’s not a full snapshot of the state of British science fiction publishing in 2010, but it’s a fairly broad one nevertheless and worth taking a look at.

March: Speed of Dark

I’d like to invite you to join us in reading Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark this month, part of a year-long chronological reading of the novels nominated as the best science fiction novels written by women in the last ten years.

Published in 2002, Speed of Dark went on to win the Nebula Award the following year, and it was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke award. Elizabeth Moon was long-since well-established as a science fiction author, with several series under her belt. She’d been published for fourteen years at the time it came out.

I mail-ordered my copy a few weeks ago, and when it arrived, I found a UK mainline rail train ticket tucked into it, a long-forgotten book mark. It’s an open single from London Terminals to Stansted Airport for the 7th of March, 2003, bought the same day. I wonder if it was a domestic flight that ticket-holder was on with his or her full-priced single ticket. Wherever they were going, I can envision them sitting on that train, reading while en route to further-flung places. I love knowing that this book went somewhere, all those years ago.


In 2002, Astrid Lingren died. Gwyneth Jones won the Clarke Award for Bold as Love, her fifth time being nominated for the award. The Euro came into use, and the Mars Odyssey probe found signs of water on Mars. In the US, criminal proceedings against Enron began, the Department of Homeland Security was established, and WorldCom went bankrupt.

Appropriately enough, given the book’s topic, the UK designated 2002 as Autism Awareness Year.

Niall will, again, be leading the book discussion in the later part of March.  I hope you will join us in reading and discussing it.

Bold as Love: Recap

So that was 2001.

Bold as Love is a high-paced meander through several years of England’s potential future after the dissolution of the UK, as shaped by rock n’ roll. It’s not quite quest, and it’s not quite romance. It’s a thought experiment, it’s a tour of England, it’s about the messiness of change. It’s not a book which put me in the main characters’ heads: they might have known how the rest of the world was getting on, but they only shared in the ways it impinged directly on them. It’s not nearly as much Arthuriana as I feared, based on reading reviews. (It’s not that I dislike Arthuriana per se. It’s that I’m a medievalist, so it makes me picky.)

Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love was the first of the poll-topping best science fiction novels written by women in the last ten years that we’ll be discussing here at Torque Control over the course of this year. It was the only one of them published in 2001.

Niall hosted the discussion February discussion, and, speaking of 2001, he noted that the book could not really have been written any later than it likely was. After 9/11 that year, “terrorism” could no longer be conceived of the way it is in this book. But that’s not much of a distraction in the scope of such rich, intense, focused world-building. Much of the intensity it has is in the music, the festivals, the performances. Music is a central focus because, in this book, “what’s significant is the potential of music to be a vehicle for belief, at a moment when belief in all other systems of the world has been shattered by catastrophic cynicism.” Ax Preston, the guitarist/leader of the book and cultural icon, curates concerts as a means to his end of making the best of a difficult political situation. I can’t quite bring myself to call him Counter-Cultural, as the movement within the book is called because, cynical as the book is, it knows full well that this is just a label, and that the Counter-Culture are mainstream cultural avatars, in effect.

My thanks to Niall for hosting the discussion, and to all the commenters who joined in reading (or re-reading) the book.

Niall’s Discussion: Part I: Context, Part II: Characters, Part III: Music, Part IV: Utopia
Overview of Bold as Love and some of its reviews from December
Abigail Nussbaum on Bold as Love and other of Jones’ books.