The Winner

The Arthur C Clarke Award ceremony, for those who don’t know, is currently held in conjunction with Sci Fi London at a central London cinema, most of which happens to be underground. This has a few consequences, the most notable of which are (a) the award reception tends to be noisy, crowded, and hot, and (b) there’s no reception for mobile phones, and no wi-fi network, which in this day and age means near-complete online silence for most of the event, followed by a sudden burst as people return to the surface following the award. I tend to find it an enjoyable draining experience — all credit to Tom Hunter, and Sci Fi London, and the cinema, for organising it — and invariably engage in half a dozen half-conversations, and don’t even see half the people I would have liked to say hello to. After the reception, everyone files into one of the cinema screens for the ceremony: speeches from Tom Hunter, festival director Louis Savy, and chair of the judges Paul Billinger, and the announcement of the winner

This year: The City & The City by China Mieville, who made a gracious speech. As the Guardian notes, this makes Mieville the first author to win the prize three times, and which instantly looks like one of those decisions that couldn’t have gone any other way. The Guardian refers to the quote I gave them when Mieville won the BSFA Award, saying that I thought it wouldn’t be the last prize the book wins this year. I didn’t actually have the Clarke in mind at the time, and in fact The City & The City becomes only the fifth book to do the double; I was thinking of the Hugo. I’m less certain about the Nebula, and will be fascinated to see if it makes the running for either the British Fantasy Society awards or the World Fantasy Awards later this year — or, indeed, any crime awards. All of which is horse-race stuff, and less interesting than the book itself; but I think I’ve pretty thoroughly said my piece about it at this point, and I don’t think I can face another discussion about whether or not it’s sf.

Here’s a thing, though: the Arthur C Clarke Award winners for the first decade of the twenty-first century:

2001: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
2002: Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones
2003: The Separation by Christopher Priest
2004: Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson
2005: Iron Council by China Mieville
2006: Air by Geoff Ryman
2007: Nova Swing by M John Harrison
2008: Black Man by Richard Morgan
2009: Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod
2010: The City & The City by China Mieville

That really makes clear just how impressive Mieville’s achievement is, I think; at least two of his wins, Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, are for books that undeniably caught the imagination of the field. (And you wouldn’t want to bet that The City & The City will be his last win, either.) Is it a good list of winners, overall? I’d say so. Most of those books are ones I would recommend without hesitation to almost anyone. You could argue, perhaps, that the complete absence of space opera looks a little odd — although neither the Hugo nor the Nebula recognised any in the same period — given the attention that subgenre has received over the last ten years. And Gwyneth Jones looks rather lonely; as the release of the submissions lists over the past few years has made clear, the relative absence of women writers from the UK sf field is a structural problem that just isn’t getting any better. But there is at least a reasonable diversity of protagonists and, increasingly over the course of the decade, of settings; after three books at the start of the decade that draw very strongly on British locations and ideas of Britishness, the winners range increasingly widely, and are probably all the better for that. I wonder what the Award will throw up next year?

Notes on a Shortlist

Almost everyone, it seems, agrees about at least one thing about this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award, the winner of which is announced tonight: that it’s a good shortlist. (That post now updated with more review-links, by the way.) I’m not about to break that hardening consensus, and may even raise the stakes slightly. I think the 2010 shortlist is one of the very good ones; for me, as a shortlist as a whole, probably the strongest since 2003, when Light vied against The Scar and the ultimate winner, The Separation. Two of the novels — Gwyneth Jones’ Spirit and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream — have been hailed as returns to form, two more — China Mieville’s The City & The City and Adam Roberts’ Yellow Blue Tibia — as their authors’ best to date; and the remaining two — Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls and Marcel Theroux’s Far North — are certainly not without their champions. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about the shortlisted novels is their variety. There are more and less straightforwardly science fictional works, set in times ranging from the seventeenth century to hundreds of years hence, and if you’re not calling them sf, you could call these books crime novels, Westerns, comedies, and adventure stories. (Or just novels, of course.) It’s a good showcase. But a novel is a prose narrative with something wrong with it; and so, though it’s harder to do than it was last year, we must look for what’s wrong with these offerings.

What it isn’t, for once, is very British, and the most British book on the list — if only for its blokeish humour — is the one most people throw out of the balloon first. Retribution Falls has plenty to recommend it, particularly pace and, in its retro-magical setting, colour, and is welcome on the shortlist as an adventure story, a form too often given critical short shrift that nevertheless requires considerable craft. I kick it out of the balloon first as well, though, not for being what it is, but for flirting with smeerpdom. It seems to me that the story Retribution Falls tells is not sufficiently specific to its fantastic content: that it could be retold in another time or place without changing much more than the vocabulary. (I’d say this is partly where the omnipresent Firefly comparisons are coming from.) And that’s not enough to be the best science fiction novel of the year, the book put forward as an example of what science fiction can be and can do. There’s also the question of the book’s female characters, which aren’t exactly depicted on equal terms with the men, although on that point I’m willing to give the novel more credit for self-awareness than, say, Nic or Abigail are (although this is not to mention the question of the book’s sole near-silent ex-slave character of colour, which is harder to excuse). Such factors must be considered when assessing the book, I’d argue; the political is as inextricable a part of literary judgement as the aesthetic.

An author usually impeccable on both fronts is Gwyneth Jones, whose Spirit — being a retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo — would seem to also risk smeerpdom, but which actually passes at least that test with flying colours. I haven’t read the original, but I know its outline, and Jones does not seem to be in thrall (and in the book’s last third, seems to revise her model quite inventively, if not, in the end, entirely convincingly); nor have I read the major preceding work in Jones’ own oeuvre, the Aleutian trilogy, but there to I didn’t feel the absence of context particularly strongly. That is: Spirit is a full, contained science fiction novel. It’s about that most speculative of subjects, identity, or at least is at its best, so far as I’m concerned, when it hews closest to this theme. There’s much here about what defines us, and what might define us, in an era when space travel that treats mind and matter as interchangeable information — the raw stuff of self — and much about individuals who are defined, usually as Other. The novel’s great weakness is a lack of consistency. It really is a bit all over the place, veering from political intrigue to action-led set piece to introspective periods of what is glossed as “poetic time”; the latter are the most reliably good, and a section half-way through the novel set in a prison is seriously impressive, but the quality is never as even as it should be. A lesser but still significant weakness, I think, is a lack of freshness, a sense of being a bit second-had. Sometimes this is to good effect. I can see how Jones’ Star Trek aliens play into her theme — the alien understood as an element of humanity; or, in this case, perhaps more accurately humanity understood as an element of the alien — and I don’t want to take, for instance, Jones’ playfulness with gender, which delivers plenty of welcome perceptual jabs, for granted. But on balance, even if some aspects of the book aren’t seen as often as we might hope, there seems to me too little here that hasn’t been seen before.

Which brings me to China Mieville’s The City & The City, whose central conceit has clearly already entered the canon of Really Neat Speculative Ideas. What is so very neat about it, it seems to me now, and the novel’s greatest accomplishment, is how successful it is at exposing readers’ assumptions. To talk about The City & The City in any sort of depth is to reveal with uncommon clarity how you think about the world, about people and about fiction: all of which are always worth doing. But it is for me a less satisfying novel — certainly a less satisfying science fiction novel; I do think it reads much more interestingly as fantasy — than it a political act. Its plot is seldom remarked upon, although I note that in general this aspect seems to pick up more praise from readers who spend more time with crime novels than I do; and its narrator contains no great depths, and to my ear just a bit of strain in his voice. It’s primarily for the neatness of its conceit, I’d guess, that the novel quite deservedly won the BSFA Award — and, not surprisingly, it’s the front-runner in Liz’s poll. (The BSFA Award is not a great predictor of success in the Clarke Award, though, with only four books ever having done the double.) Mind you, if it does win, it will be a remarkable event, making Mieville the first author to win the Clarke Award three times; and three times within a decade, no less.

Now it gets really hard. Is Yellow Blue Tibia Adam Roberts’ best novel? Well, that probably depends on why you read Adam Roberts novels. There is certainly something to the idea that it’s his most relaxed, owned novel — as Jonathan put it, the work that combines Roberts’ various hats, as a writer of novels, histories, spoofs and criticism, “into one magnificent red satin topper”. In the honorable tradition of sf novels about science fiction, it surely has a spot marked out for it; it is funny; it has things to say about totalitarianism as well; it’s as technically well-formed a novel as you could wish; and its science fictional conceit delights me. To date the major charge against Yellow Blue Tibia has been Catherynne Valente’s hard-to-ignore assessment of “painfully inept cultural appropriation” (on which Roberts lightly comments here). That is: it is hamfisted as a depiction of Russian-ness. To me, the novel seems much more about popular conceptions of Russian-ness than about the thing itself. As Dan puts it, River of Gods would have been both a poorer and less honest novel if it had been written primarily with reference to depictions of India, but I don’t see that Yellow Blue Tibia is trying to be River of Gods, and I’m a little baffled that anyone tries to take it as such. It seems to me far too ironic, too playful, to self-conscious to be taken as striving — as McDonald’s novel clearly does strive — for anything approximating that horrible concept, “authenticity”. (That, and cultural appropriation strikes me as most egregious when there is a severe power imbalance in favour of the person doing the writing; and I don’t see that between the UK and Russia.) That sense of play, indeed, is one reason I read Adam Roberts; but another is to be challenged, to have my expectations about fiction and the world in general confronted in some way or another. And on that score, Yellow Blue Tibia disappoints me, seems to have fewer edges not just than Roberts’ other novels, but than other books on this shortlist.

If The City & The City is a popular choice for the award, Far North is becoming something like the reviewer’s choice, with Dan, David, Nic and Abigail all leaning in that direction, and Martin revising his odds accordingly. And for all that it’s been a long time since “the mainstream book” went home with the Clarke Award — since The Sparrow in 1998 — my head thinks that this could be Far North‘s year. It has a purity of concept and execution matched by no other novel on the shortlist, save perhaps The City & The City, and Theroux’s offering is a substantially more interesting novel of character (which does tend to be, in the end, one of the things the Clarke goes for). In its pragmatic depiction of life after ecotastrophe it eschews judgement in a way that few other such novels are able to — as Abigail puts it, it shows The Road how it’s done — and its Zone is as provocative and memorably eerie a location as antecedents. (It is also, like the previous three novels, a work that draws on Eastern/Northern Asia for its affect — a huge region, of course, but there do seem to me to be some affinities between Spirit‘s Baykonur metropolis and Chinese-influenced culture, The City & The City‘s vaguely defined border location, Yellow Blue Tibia‘s Communist Russia, and Far North‘s Siberia. And, of course, the one novel I haven’t discussed has a European setting. This is not, as I said, the most British shortlist.) In all, Far North is a novel that’s easy to argue for and hard to argue against, which is why I think it will win: after all, my mostly strongly felt argument against it, like Amanda, is simply that I like Galileo’s Dream more.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, which ranges between Galileo’s lifetime and the medium-far future, is expansive and rough where Far North is contained and controlled. It is a long book and — like its protagonist — can be exasperating (although this does not mean that I agree with Rob Grant’s assessment that it is “written to impress rather than entertain“), but it nails the dismount. And more than any of the other books shortlisted, it’s the one I want to revisit. (Of course, the judges will have revisited it, and all the others.) This is partly just because Robinson’s model of human nature and culture is one I am quite strongly in sympathy with: that the world may not be sane, but that it behooves us to find as much sanity as we can, and struggle for more; that it is possible to be utopian without de-emphasizing the challenges to that position. And it’s partly because I want to explore how Robinson tackles the material that’s new to him — the alien — in more detail. But it’s mostly because I want to revisit the things that are specific to Galileo’s Dream that Galileo’s Dream does so extraordinarily well. The exploration of memory, of how human beings live in time; the science-fictional dreams that use the techniques of sf past to address the tropes of sf present; and most of all, the sophisticated analysis of what it means to write a biographical historical fiction, to intervene in the thoughts of a past life as a future traveller (or writer). You can feel the tension — can in fact see it develop over the course of the novel — between that idea of Galileo as we can imagine he might have been, and Galileo as we (as Kim Stanley Robinson) would like to be able to imagine he was. At the end of a decade that’s given us quite a lot of historical fiction novels about science, for me Galileo’s Dream stands as the best of them: and of the books on this shortlist, I think it contains the most beauty, and the most truth. And so I hope it wins this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award.

Retribution Falls

Ark coverINT — STORE ROOM. ANGLE on a BULLET, over which a VOICE: “Just imagine. Imagine what this feels like, going through your head.” Our heroes (Darian FREY and Grayther CRAKE) have obviously been captured by a BAD GUY — who now puts that bullet into a REVOLVER, spins the cylinder, and puts the revolver to Crake’s head. Crake seems unsettled, indeed properly upset. He carries himself, we notice, in a manner at odds with his scruffy appearance, not to mention out of place in this room. Captain Frey is unmoved. The bad guy pulls the trigger. There is a loud CLICK from the gun, and quiet WHIMPERING from Crake. “You’d let him die”, the bad guy says, “rather than give up the Ketty Jay? That’s cold.” Frey shrugs. “He’s just a passenger.” In a WIDER ANGLE, as the bad guy paces the room, we can see some THUGS. Bargaining ensues — on Frey’s part, at least. Then, after a bit of clever trickery involving Crake’s GOLD TOOTH — there should be a CLOSE-UP here — our heroes get loose! A MELEE ensues, during which Frey acquires a SHOTGUN. Charging down a nearby CORRIDOR towards some shuttered WINDOWS, Frey leads with said gun, and then we’re EXT — ALLEY, with an OVERHEAD SHOT on the pair of them falling out of a shabby wooden building towards a COBBLED LANE. Crake lands awkwardly; Frey, of course, is poised. “I feel a sudden urge,” he says to Crake, “to be moving on. Open skies, new horizons, all of that.” Crake looks at him for a beat, perhaps listening to the SHOUTING in the background, probably thinking that this man was, in the very recent past, willing to let him get shot if it would save the ship. “I have the same feeling,” he says. They start running, and off their disappearing forms we SMASH CUT to —

MAIN TITLES: TALES OF THE KETTY JAY

And we’re off. This much — allowing for some elisions, and some obvious stylistic liberties in my version — is covered in the first chapter of Retribution Falls, and it very neatly sets the tone for what follows. Chapter two is a meet-the-crew, as Malvery, the ship’s surgeon, introduces Jez Kyte, a navigator and the new recruit, to pilots Artie Pinn and Jandrew Harkins, and the silent, ex-slave engineer, Silo — only to be interrupted by the return of Frey and Crake, and the firefight they bring with them. After the crew’s escape (aided by the ship’s golem, Bess), and a bit of scene-setting explanation — the Ketty Jay “looked as if she couldn’t decide if she was a light cargo hauler or a heavy fighter” (11); Frey’s crew mostly do black-market work, or “sort of anything, really, if the price is right” (12), largely because he won’t work for the ruling Coalition — our heroes are hired, in what looks like the opportunity of a lifetime, to steal a shipment of gems. But — wouldn’t you know it — the heist goes wrong, and pretty soon everyone and their mother (or at least Frey’s ex-fiancee, now a pirate captain) is after the Ketty Jay, leading to inventive set-pieces, well-judged reversals of fortune, some reasonably convincing character growth, and at least one thrilling sky battle. It is, in other words, a romp, and really a very well paced one: only in the final third, thanks to one too many backstory-revealing sidebars, are there any glitches in the pacing. For the rest of the time, the pages fly by.

So Retribution Falls is perhaps the smart solid action-adventure sf recently sought by Dan Hartland and Jonathan McCalmont, and for that reason welcome as a Clarke Award nominee, even if I wouldn’t give it the prize. It succeeds, in part, as the opening of this review should suggest, by following the narrative model that has come to dominate genre television. It is not at all a surprise to find that it inaugurates a series of books: the characters are established as ongoing entities, which means their arcs in this novel are rather limited things, interesting as much or more for where they will go next as what happens now; and its themes are broad, “universal” ones, the challenges of leadership and loyalty, not particularly inflected by the book’s sfness. Following a specific narrative model, indeed, that may seem overly familiar to fans of contemporary genre TV; which is a roundabout way of acknowledging that if there’s one thing people know about Retribution Falls, it’s that it’s a bit like Firefly.

It would undoubtedly be unfair to Chris Wooding to dismiss his book on such grounds, since not only has he (I gather) never seen the series, but there are important differences. The setting is probably the most obvious. As with Wooding’s rather good previous novel, The Fade (2007), Retribution Falls can be understood as fantasy or as science fiction, which means the furniture is rather different to Firefly’s many moons: in their stead we have one large continent on one planet, airships lifted by electromagnets that turn “refined aerium” into “ultralight gas”, and are powered by “prothane thrusters”; “daemonists” like Crake who can entice “little sparks of awareness” into artefacts (such as a mesmerising gold tooth, or the handily magic sword he gives Frey in payment for his passage); and a deity, the Allsoul, whose worship wiped out the “old religions”, and who is believed by its devotees to be a kind of “sentient, organic machine … they believe our planet is alive, and … vastly more intelligent than we can comprehend” (104). To get the sf reading you have to assume this is all post some kind of singularity, in other words, although Wooding is careful never to finally confirm or deny this reading, and thus avoids his tale degenerating into a frictionless pocket-universe escapade along the lines of Karl Schroeder’s Virga books, and preserves some joy and mystery in his setting. As much as Firefly, actually, I was put in mind of the techno-magical beauty of some of the Final Fantasy games. More than this, the most prominent character dynamic, that between Frey and Crake, is much more central than its Firefly equivalent (that between Mal Reynolds and Simon Tam), and really as much or more reminiscent of that between Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey and Maturin. All the characters, indeed, are pretty familiar types, and none are unique to Firefly.

That said, the similarities are real. You might say, for instance, that this particular constellation of character types is strongly reminiscent of that found in Firefly, pace certain differences, such as the on-the-run noble (Simon/Crake) being more prominent, and the taciturn but intensely loyal friend (Zoe//Silo) less prominent. Or you might say that the situation within which these characters operate, as the crew of a small and very grey-market trading ship in the shadow of a large and resented central authority, is more than a little comparable. And you might suggest that the tone of the whole enterprise, the mix of humour and action and drama — battles punctuated by one-liners, and yet willing to take a moment to understand Crake’s shock at seeing death, for the first time, up close — could almost be a variation on a theme of Whedon. But for fairness, if you were going to go down that road, I think you’d have to point out that if Retribution Falls is read as echoing Firefly, it can’t be read as doing so uncritically: this is a version of the story in which Mal is genuinely a bastard, in which Simon is directly responsible for the terrible things done to River, and in which Kaylee is in the process of turning into a Reaver. Or, as a friend put it, it’s like Firefly, except everyone is a bit more dickish.

It’s also a version of the story in which women get a rather less good deal. Not only are Frey and Crake always the central duo — making for a rather bloke’s own adventure — the crew’s two women are, not entirely metaphorically, different kinds of dead, and as a result set distinctly apart from the menfolk. Each has the potential to become the centre of an enormously interesting tale, but in this novel you’d be hard-pressed to call either of them a success. Better done, if less interesting, are Amalicia Thade and Trinica Dracken, both of whom serve as romantic foils for Frey, and both of whom emphatically escape his expectations of their weaknesses. They do this in a feisty action-fantasy way, no doubt — the former by, for instance, kicking Frey in the head after he “rescues” her, the latter by showing absolutely no compunction about shooting her ex when the moment calls for it — but that’s the idiom of the whole novel, and arguably Wooding goes further than most in encouraging us to dislike his protagonist. Frey does, inevitably, start to Learn Better, but even then he’s not so much a charming rogue as an infuriating one. The extent to which he sees Amalicia and Trinica primarily as reflections of his own inner turmoil is foregrounded by the longing of Pinn to return home to his (alleged) sweetheart Lisinda; she is, in so many words, “the heroic conclusion to his quest”, and

… the promise of home comforts after his great adventure. But what if she wasn’t there when he returned? What if she was holding another man’s child? Even in the dim clouds of Pinn’s mind, the possibility must have made itself known, and made him uneasy. He’d never risk the dream by threatening it with reality. (84)

You don’t put that in a novel and then unknowingly recapitulate the same sort of self-centredness elsewhere; you put it in as a signpost. In this case it’s a signpost doing double-duty, not only foreshadowing Frey’s complete bafflement when confronted with an idea of Trinica that contradicts his existing conceptions — “his position was so fragile that it fell apart when exposed to the reality of an opposing view” (298); although the new position he constructs for himself is still steeped in denial — but also the men’s general disillusionment when they reach the legendary pirate hide-out of the title, only to find that it’s somewhat of a dump. “This place was better as a legend,” a clear-sighted Jez tells an upset Pinn. “The real thing doesn’t work” (280). It’s the closest thing Retribution Falls offers to a unifying argument, and as I’ve suggested, does undercut some of the book’s more cliche moments. In the end, of course, the Big Damn Heroes save the day. “They were happy,” we’re told, “and free, and the endless sky awaited them. It was enough.” But, you know, sometimes it is.

Clarke Comment

Rounding up the reactions to the shortlist (aside from those in the comments to that post): first, there’s been plenty of chatter on Twitter; second, Alison Flood in the Guardian has comment from Chair of Judges Paul Billinger and Gwyneth Jones:

The full panoply of science fiction – from space opera to parallel worlds to dystopian futures – is represented on the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C Clarke awards for the best SF novel of the year, announced this morning.
[…]
“It’s a very strong selection and quite varied, reflecting science fiction publishing in this country,” said chair of judges Paul Billinger. “There are novels from people well-known in the genre – Miéville, Robinson and Roberts – but what they have written is not perhaps standard SF; they don’t have space ships, but these books are clearly SF.”
[…]
[Jones] decided to write the novel, she said, because she’s loved Alexandre Dumas’s original since she was a child. “It’s definitely not the first time this has been done in SF, but I felt there was room for a 21st century version, with a female ‘Count’; and I had a lot of fun with that idea,” she said. “Space opera is also, ironically, a great place to showcase the big, strange things that are going on in real-world science. In Spirit that means the concept of information space, and the really ‘out there’ idea that you can get one set of information to end up somewhere else, somehow without traversing the space/time between. Admittedly, so far this has only been done in the lab with a photon or two at a time, but I did not make it up.”

The award was originally set up after a grant from Clarke himself, with the aim of promoting British science fiction. “It’s good to have a judged award,” said Jones. “It gives unlikely candidates, and outstanding works from small presses, a chance to shine, which otherwise they might not get. And it’s good, particularly for an inward-turned genre like SF, to have an award that brings in a breath of fresh air. When a highly regarded mainstream writer is ‘up for the Clarke’ (such as Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, Amitav Ghosh, and this year Marcel Theroux) hopefully that inspires SF fans to take the bold step of reading something different.”

And there’s a guest blog from Award Administrator Tom Hunter on the SFX blog:

But how to know why particular books are chosen when the deliberations are kept secret and the shortlist left to float alone like an alien monolith awaiting the attention of SF fandom?

Well, the short answer is that the silent monolith is a deliberate big what if?

It’s a precursor to debate and an invitation to speculation. In other words, it’s the beginning of a shared conversation about our genre.

The conversation starts right here at SFX by the way, and thanks to the team for being our media partners and helping to spread the word.

If you’re lucky enough to be at Eastercon this weekend, then I also recommend checking out the infamous Not The Clarke Award panel where a team of pundits attempt to unravel the judges’ decisions and have a punt on the potential winner.

I can’t underline the recommendation of the Not the Clarke Award panel strongly enough, by the way; it’s always an Eastercon highlight. And if you’re wondering who the judges are, there’s a photo at SF Crowsnest: excellent pose from Francis Spufford.

Joe Gordon comments at the Forbidden Planet blog:

Theroux and Wooding are authors I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet, but China, Gwyneth, Adam and Stan are all exceptionally fine authors who I’ve recommended many times to readers searching for quality SF. Gwyneth Jones, China Miéville, Adam Roberts and Kim Stanley Robinson have all been nominated for previous Clarkes, with Gwyneth and China having won (Gwyneth in 2002 for Bold as Love, China twice, for Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005). I must say though that as with the BSFA shortlist I’m really surprised not to see a single author from Orbit (one of the biggest SF publishers) making the final list, but it isn’t an SF&F awards list until we have something to start debating, is it?

Orbit may be one of the biggest genre publishers, but I have to say I perceive them as stronger on the fantasy side than than the sf side. Checking the submissions, there were three Orbit titles in the running this year: Red Claw by Philip Palmer, Seeds of Earth by Mike Cobley, and This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams. Going purely by reviews (I’ve read none of them), I can’t say I’m hugely surprised none of them are on the shortlist. Meanwhile, as the Bookseller points out, Gollancz (not for the first time) nabbed half the shortlist slots.

Martin Lewis offers his odds:

The City & The City by China Mieville – 2/1
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones – 4/1
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts – 6/1
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson – 9/1
Far North by Marcel Theroux – 9/1
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding – 12/1

As I commented on the shortlist post, I think almost any of the books could win it (Wooding does strike me as the outside bet). Which means I think Martin underestimates the chances of Galileo’s Dream and Far North, in particular. Still, he’s not the only one to think Mieville the favourite.

Ex-judge Graham Sleight’s thoughts can be found at the Locus blog:

1) This is not one of the Clarke shortlists that occasionally emerges and prompts everyone to question the sanity of the judges. Though there are books I’d personally have argued should go on the list – most obviously Paul McAuley’s Gardens of the Sun – there’s no question that this is a pretty good representation of the best sf published in the UK.

2) The list does, however, underline the degree to which the sf published in the UK and the US has diverged. Unless I’m missing a trick, only three of these books (the Mieville, Robinson, and Theroux) are seeing US publication. And hardly any of the US-written books perceived as being the best of 2009 (eg Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, Priest’s Boneshaker, Marusek’s Mind Over Ship – just for a start) are getting UK editions.

Both good observations (there are several more, if you click through).

Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books is planning to read the shortlist, as is James at Big Dumb Object, and David Hebblethwaite:

This is an interesting miz of books. I plan to read and review the entire shortlist (I’ve read three already; reviews are linked above, as will the others be), so I’ll have more to say as time goes on, but here’s an initial reaction:

The book I’m most pleased to see on there is Yellow Blue Tibia. It has met with mixed reactions, but I found it a stunning read. The City & the City is a novel which has generated much debate, and is very much open to interpretation (perhaps more so than any of Miéville’s previous works); I like it, but I don’t think it quite works. I didn’t like Galileo’s Dream as much, but I know there’s more to it than I was able to see.

And Nic Clarke, at Eve’s Alexandria:

The general feeling seems to be that this is a solid shortlist; I agree. It’s not the most adventurous list the Clarke has ever produced – but, on the plus side, there’s no obvious candidate for this year’s What Were They Thinking prize (see, previously: this, this, or – ack – this).

I’ve read three already: the Jones, the Mieville and the Theroux. All are strong contenders. I reviewed Spirit last year – a feminist The Count of Monte Cristo in space! – and longer considerations of the other two will follow in the next week or so. Post-apocalyptic loner-in-the-landscape tale Far North I liked a lot, once I got over the comparions with The Road; The City & the City, meanwhile, has a brilliant central conceit and provides much food for thought (and debate), but is let down by being hitched to an unremarkable thriller novel.

Of the rest – which, again, I’ll review here once I’ve read them – I’m most looking forward to Yellow Blue Tibia, which has had generally excellent reviews. Galileo’s Dream is a doorstep about intellectual history, although it sounds less of a slog than Anathem was last year; I’ve read two of Robinson’s previous novels (one rather good – review in the works – and one rather annoying), and I live with a die-hard Robinson fan, so that should be interesting, one way or another! The Wooding is apparently a fun romp with more than a passing resemblence to Firefly, which sounds like a perfectly acceptable way to round out a shortlist.

So it does indeed seem to be the case that the main Clarke Award controversy so far is an absence of controversy. We’ll have to see if that holds up once people have actually read the books.

EDIT: at Omnivoracious, Jeff VanderMeer has rounded up comments from Mieville, Roberts and Robinson:

Asked about the general response to The City & the City, also a Nebula finalist, Mieville said, “I’ve been incredibly happy about the response to the book for a bunch of reasons. It’s very different from my other stuff and one of the things, like loads of writers, that I’d like to do, is try writing in different styles and voices, traditions and forms, so to get good responses to something quite different, that there’s no reason my existing readers should have liked, feels like a real vote of trust in me, which I find moving. It makes me fired up to try all kinds of different things. I am increasingly excited by trying to write all kinds of different stuff in different voices, and hope readers have the patience to stick with me. Also because the book was a present to my mother, which makes it personally important to me, it’s affecting to have it received well.”

And some out-takes on his blog.

The 2010 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

So. This year’s judges — for the British Science Fiction Association, Chris Hill and Jon Courtenay Grimwood; for the Science Fiction Foundation, Rhiannon Lassiter and Francis Spufford; and for SF Crowsnest.com Paul Skevington — have deliberated and decided. Forty-one titles have become six. Among the six nominees for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award there are two previous winners, and two first-timers; five Brits and five men. Two of the novels also appear on this year’s BSFA Best Novel Award shortlist. Settings range from seventeenth-century Italy to twentieth-century Russia to worlds distant in time and space: which is the sort of variety you want from a science fiction award, isn’t it?

The winner will be announced on Wednesday 28th April, at a ceremony held on the opening night of the Sci-Fi London film festival. Get reading!

Spirit by Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Paul Kincaid, for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Dan Hartland, for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Karen Joy Fowler, for The Guardian
Reviewed by Nic Clarke, for SFX
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle, for The Times
Reviewed by Duncan Lawie, for The Zone
Reviewed by Cheryl Morgan
Reviewed by Ian Sales
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books

The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan)

Reviewed by Michael Moorcock for The Guardian
Reviewed by Dan Hartland, for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Robert Hanks for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Spectator
Reviewed by Martin Lewis for The SF Site
Reviewed by Thomas M Wagner for SF Reviews.net
Reviewed by Helen Zaltzman for The Observer
Revieed by Eric Gregory for IROSF
Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum
Reviewed by Adam Roberts
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books
Discussion between Dan Hartland and Niall Harrison

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Reviewed by John Clute for Sci-Fi Wire
Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum and Michael Froggatt for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Dan Hartland, for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Adrienne Martini for Locus
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Adam Whitehead
Reviewed by Catherynne M Valente
Reviewed by Rich Puchalsky
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
Reviewed by Cheryl Morgan
Reviewed by Shigekuni
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books
Reviewed by Niall Harrison

Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager)

Reviewed by John Clute for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Adam Roberts for The Guardian
Reviewed by Roz Kaveney for The Independent
Reviewed by Robin Durie for ReadySteadyBook
Reviewed by Paul di Filippo for Barnes & Noble review
Reviewed by Greg L Johnson for the SF Site
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling Books

Far North by Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber)

Reviewed by M John Harrison for The Guardian
Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Lydia Millet for the Washington Post
Reviewed by Brandon Robshaw for The Independent
Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont for The Zone
Reviewed by Tim Martin for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Jeff VanderMeer for The New York Times
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Niall Harrison for IROSF
Reviewed by Shigekuni
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Michael Levy for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Alice at Sandstorm Reviews
Reviewed by Adam Whitehead at The Wertzone
Reviewed by Simon Appleby at the Bookgeeks
Reviewed by Joe Abercrombie
Reviewed by Tamaranth
Reviewed by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling books
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
Reviewed by Niall Harrison

Miscellany
Initial reactions
The trouble with shortlists by Tom Hunter
What do we mean by “best”?
Shortlist overview by David Hebblethwaite
Shortlist overview by Amanda at Floor-to-Ceiling Books
Shortlist overview by Niall Harrison
A poll

Previous shortlist roundups
2009
2008
2007

2010 Arthur C Clarke Award Submissions

Now we come to it! The shortlist for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award will be announced on Wednesday 31 March, and the award ceremony will be held on Wednesday 28 April, at the Sci-Fi London Film Festival. However, as last year, the Award is releasing the list of books that were submitted and considered and you heard it, quite literally, here first. Or rather, saw it:

clarke2010montage-small

Full-sized image to follow at lunchtime, but in the meantime, far be it from me to stop people trying to work out which book covers those are. (Amazing how distinctive some of them are even at this size, I think.) Note that this is not a formal longlist; it’s the books that were submitted by publishers and considered by the judges.

UPDATE: And now, the full list.

clarke2010montage-med

Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers (Solaris)
Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher (Tor)
Orbus by Neal Asher (Tor)
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury)
Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne (Tor)
Transition by Iain Banks (Little, Brown)
Ark by Stephen Baxter (Gollancz)
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
The Accord by Keith Brooke (Solaris)
Xenopath by Eric Brown (Solaris)
Seeds of Earth by Mike Cobley (Orbit)
And Another Thing… by Eoin Colfer (Penguin)
Makers by Cory Doctorow (Voyager)
The Babylonian Trilogy by Sebastien Doubinsky (PS Publishing)
The Wild Things by Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton)
Consorts of Heavenby Jaine Fenn (Gollancz)
The Stranger by Max Frei (Gollancz)
Concrete Operational by Richard Galbraith (Rawstone Media)
Nova War by Gary Gibson (Tor)
Winter Song by Colin Harvey (Angry Robot)
The Rapture by Liz Jensen (Bloomsbury)
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
Journey into Space by Toby Litt (Penguin)
The Age of Ra by James Lovegrove (Solaris)
Halfhead by Stuart B MacBride (HarperVoyager)
Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
The City & The City by China Mieville (Macmillan)
Red Claw by Philip Palmer (Orbit)
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager)
Chasing the Dragon by Justina Robson (Gollancz)
The City of Lists by Brigid Rose (Crocus)
Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer (Gollancz)
Wake by Robert J Sawyer (Gollancz)
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi (Tor)
The Island at the End of the World by Sam Taylor (Faber & Faber)
Far North by Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber)
Before the Gods by KS Turner (Ruby Blaze)
The Painting and the City by Robert Freeman Wexler (PS Publishing)
This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams (Orbit)
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding (Gollancz)

So there you are: the 41 books in contention for this year’s Arthur C Clarke Award. (The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt was also submitted, but ineligible due to SF Crowsnest‘s association with the award.) Does it look like a good year? What would you put on the shortlist?