Andrew’s 2018 Pick: 2001: An Odyssey in Words

As part of our 2018 round-up, Andrew Wallace embarks on an odyssey of words …

An Alien Optic

2001: An Odyssey in Words, ed. Ian Whates & Tom Hunter (NewCon Press 2018)

2001: An Odyssey in Words was published to commemorate the centenary of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s birth. It includes new stories and features of exactly 2001 words by twenty-seven leading SF writers, all winners or shortlistees of the Clarke Award. At a scant 2001 words, the easy gag would be to say if you don’t like the piece you’re reading, there will be another one along soon. But really, this is an extraordinary collection, and there isn’t a duff piece in the lot.

Continue reading “Andrew’s 2018 Pick: 2001: An Odyssey in Words”

Submissions for the 2013 Clarke Award

This year’s 2012 Clarke Award Submissions (for the 2013 Arthur C Clarke Award) are now available in all their numerous glory at SFX. How numerous? The valiant, hard-reading five jury members read through 82 submitted books in order to filter them down to a shortlist of six, which will be announced on Thursday, April 4th.

There’s no contest this year, but guessing which six books from that long list will make the short list is still an interesting proposition, and SFX is requesting them.

The winning book will be announced on May 1st at the Royal Society, hopefully after a day’s Clarke Award symposium, “Write the Future”, for which there’s currently a Kickstarter going for fundraising. The fundraiser is already 3/4 of the way to its goal, with 25 days remaining, so there’s a very good chance indeed of this “new micro-conference on science, technology, communication and fiction” happening, also at the Royal Society.

2012 Clarke Award Contest Update

If entrants into the 2012 Guess-the-Clarke Award shortlist contest were voters, only half of the actual shortlist would have made the cut: Embassytown, The Testament of Jessie Lamb, and Rule 34.

Here are the six books which received the most guesses among all the books on the submissions list which were not on the shortlist:
By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS)
Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)
Savage City by Sophia McDougall (Gollancz)
Wake Up and Dream by Ian R. MacLeod (PS)

Six people guessed that The End Specialist would be on the shortlist; four guessed Hull Zero Three would be on it; and Amanda and John clearly have special insight or instincts, as they were the only two people who guessed that Sheri Tepper’s The Waters Rising would make it.

Forty-four people submitted valid entries to the contest, of which only two failed to guess any of the books which the jury chose for the shortlist. Thirteen people correctly guessed one book, sixteen guessed two books, and a very respectable ten people guessed half of the shortlist correctly.

Three people tied for guessing most the shortlist, with four correct guesses each. Which one will formally win the contest and its prizes? That will depend on Tom Hunter, the Clarke Award director. We’ll let you know shortly.

Meanwhile, the discussion about the award which began with the release of the submissions list and the contest continues with various posts and articles. (Here’s Abigail Nussbaum’s roundup of critical reviews of the books.)

If you’re going to be at Eastercon, you can participate in the conversation in person (in addition to online before and after that!) at the SFF’s Not the Clarke Award panel at 17:30 on Saturday, of which Maureen Kincaid Speller has written, “Clearly, *the* panel to go to at Eastercon will be the Not the Clarke Award panel. Hope it’s in a decent-sized room.” Come join the crowd and the conversation.

Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist 2012

The Waiting, Part I, is over, and this year’s Clarke Award shortlist is out. (Since it was released all of twelve hours ago, many or most of you reading this are already well-aware that it’s out.)

There are five members of the jury, which this year is comprised of Juliet E McKenna (BSFA), Martin Lewis (BSFA), Phil Nanson (SFF), Nikkianne Moody, SFF, and Rob Grant (SCI-FI-LONDON film festival), with Andrew M. Butler representing the Arthur C. Clarke Award as the Chair of Judges. The jury read the sixty books submitted to the award, ruled out the ones they considered to not be science fiction, and from the rest, chose what they collectively agreed (through however much argument and compromise) to be the best six works of science fiction published in Britain in 2011.

  • Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Gollancz)
  • Drew Magary, The End Specialist (Harper Voyager)
  • China Miéville, Embassytown (Macmillan)
  • Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
  • Charles Stross, Rule 34 (Orbit)
  • Sheri S.Tepper, The Waters Rising (Gollancz)

There’s plenty of commentary elsewhere about the items actually on the shortlist. I’ll be number-crunching all of the entries in the Guess the Shortlist contest in another day or so, although some of that analysis has already been done elsewhere.

There’ll be even more speculation available at the SFF’s Not-the-Clarke Award panel at Eastercon on Saturday, 7 April, at 17:30 (but only if you’re an Eastercon member this year; join now if you haven’t already and plan to attend, as they’re on course to sell out this week, before the convention.).

But meanwhile, speaking of the Clarke Award, have a look at its tasteful, newly-redesigned website!

Women and the Clarke

There’s an interview with Tricia Sullivan at Geek Syndicate that’s worth a look; it covers her new novel, Lightborn, but one of Sullivan’s longest answers comes in response to a question about the Arthur C Clarke Award:

8. I’ve just checked on the winners of the last ten years’ Clarke Awards and I must admit to being shocked. Nine male winners, one female winner. Something about this quota strikes me as wrong. I’ve double checked and female authors have been shortlisted, which is nice, yet no one else has won. I find this peculiar. Where do you stand on this perceived “unequality”?

I went and looked it up and here’s what I found: gender parity in the judges has been spotty over time, but in recent years there’s generally pretty good ratio of women:men on the juries. One would think this would mean more women on the shortlist and winning awards. Not so.

For the first ten years from the award’s inception in 1987 until 1996, the genders were balanced, five female winners and five male. Between 1997-2006 there were three female winners out of ten (Mary Doria Russell, Gwyneth Jones, and me) and between 2006-2010 there have been no female winners. The shortlist since 2000 has included Gwyneth Jones a whole bunch of times, Sheri Tepper, Sarah Hall, Lydia Millet, Jan Morris, Liz Williams, Audry Niffeneger, me, Elizabeth Moon, Connie Willis, Justina Robson twice, Octavia Butler, Mary Gentle, and Kathleen Ann Goonan. Yet, since 2003 there has been only one year with more than one female author on the ballot. What are the odds of a woman being chosen when the judges’s shortlist is 80% male or more?

I do not know why this is the case, but I wonder whether, with science fiction declining greatly in the US, there may not be enough women playing the SF game right now. Only the most successful writers can survive in this climate, and that probably means women are being forced out at a higher rate than men. Without much input from women in North America or Australia, the burden may be falling on UK SF writers.

I think this diagnosis is broadly accurate. Certainly we can say that the number of books by women being submitted for the award is pretty low. For the last award, 20% of submissions were by women; for the 2009 award it was 13%; and for the 2008 award, 13%. Before that the submissions weren’t published, but as a judge I can tell you that the submissions for the 2007 award were in the same ball park. My perception is that the first half of the decade was slightly better, although I don’t really know. Over the whole decade, however, 13 of 60 nominations, or 22%, have gone to women, which seems to be proportional.

That said, at that sort of rate you’d also expect to have had two women win over the decade, and there’s only been one, Gwyneth Jones in 2002. As Sullivan notes, I don’t think this can be attributed to an imbalance in judges, although there is room for improvement there; 34% of 50 judges over the period have been women. Women have made up the majority of the panel (i.e. 3 of 5 judges) twice in the last ten years, for the 2008 and 2009 awards; for the 2002 award, 2 of 5 judges were women.

Another way of looking at whether there are “enough women playing the SF game right now” is to consider how the boundaries are drawn, as Sullivan goes on to do:

We have a strong crop of men in writing SF in the UK now, and of course we have Karen Traviss and Jaine Fenn doing very well with commercial SF. But on the more literary side, only Gwyneth Jones has had recent recognition with many nominations and a win–and she’s achieved this despite the fact that she divides her energy with her alter ego, Ann Halam. Liz Williams’ work tends to be regarded as fantasy despite its cool SF elements; same with Stephanie Swainston. Sadly, Pat Cadigan hasn’t published an SF novel in nearly ten years. Justina and I have been dealing with pregnancies and babies and toddlers–I can’t speak for her, but for myself: been wrecked, for years. Brain and body and time, seriously drained. In this country we have women like Claire Weaver and Heather Bradshaw and I’m sure there are many others publishing short fiction, and abroad Aliette de Bodard looks like she’s going to be a major force. Still, in SF there aren’t enough women to fill in the gaps when one steps back for whatever reason.

And of course, since 2001 China Mieville has won three times. That does skew things toward the boys. But he has won with two fantasies and what is purported to be a crime novel, so that rather stretches the idea of what a science fiction prize is all about. I’m not sure why Stephanie Swainston’s work or Cathryn M. Valente’s Palimpset isn’t received as SF on the same basis as China’s, for example–or is it? I don’t know.

I’m guessing that literary novels employing SF ideas are more likely to be recognized than urban fantasy–which has loads of female authors–because science fiction ideas have wormed their way into the mainstream and now seep into literary fiction. The problem then becomes, where do the new ideas come from?

If we ask how many British women are publishing original adult science fiction with a major genre publisher in Britain, the answer is pretty bleak: with neither Liz Williams nor Gwyneth Jones having contracts at the moment, I think the answer may be just one writer, Jaine Fenn. [Edit: As of next year, thanks to a change in publisher, Sophia McDougall will meet these criteria; there is also the mysterious RJ Frith.] This is from one point of view a fairly restrictive way of drawing the boundaries, since if you drop out any one of those criteria you can easily think of more women, but in another sense it’s not strict at all, because it’s easy to identify a substantial cohort of male writers that fit the equivalent question: Neal Asher, Iain Banks, Stephen Baxter, Eric Brown, Ken MacLeod, Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Charles Stross, etc etc.

Of course, the Clarke doesn’t care about the nationality of the writer, or about who a writer’s publisher is. (Indeed, although the numbers involved are fairly small, I find it striking that “non-genre” books account for 1 in 3 Clarke Award nominations for women [4 of 13, or 31%] compared to 1 in 8 for men [6 of 47, or 13%].) It also already has a fairly flexible definition of sf, although not so flexible as to admit pure urban fantasy; but Liz Williams’ books have (I think) always been submitted, and shortlisted several times; Justina Robson’s recent fantasy/sf hybrids have also been submitted, although not shortlisted; and I’m guessing Gollancz will submit Sarah Pinborough’s near future supernatural horror A Matter of Blood this year. (Steph Swainston does not seem to be submitted, although I think Sullivan is right that she could be — some books more than others; The Modern World is her most sfnal, for me, this year’s Above the Snowline probably her least.) These factors account for most of the other submitted books by women. The Award could probably give broader consideration to YA fiction than it currently does; Gemma Malley’s books don’t seem to be have submitted, for instance, or Malorie Blackman’s. And there are, as Sullivan notes, some writers whose tie-in fiction who may be worth considering, such as Karen Traviss — her original fiction has still not been published in the UK. But I don’t think this would raise the submission statistics to parity, or anything like it, and it does not address the apparent imbalance in UK genre publishing.

The Clarke Award has not produced an all-male shortlist since its second year, but unless something changes, I imagine we’ll see another quite soon. To be positive, however, I don’t think it will be this year; here’s a list of all the books by women that I can think of that are eligible for this year’s award.

Candor, Pam Bachorz
Zoo City, Lauren Beukes
Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard
Alice in Time, Penelope Bush
Transformation Space, Marianne de Pierres
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Guardians of Paradise, Jaine Fenn
[The Nemesis List, RJ Frith?]
Feed, Mira Grant
The Carbon Diaries 2017, Saci Lloyd
The Birth of Love, Joanna Kavenna
The Returners, Gemma Malley
The Legacy, Gemma Malley
[The Folding Knife, KJ Parker?]
A Matter of Blood, Sarah Pinborough
The Dead-Tossed Waves, Carrie Ryan
Birdbrain, Johanna Sinisalo
2017, Olga Slavnikova
Lightborn, Tricia Sullivan
Our Tragic Universe, Scarlett Thomas
Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren

Who have I missed?

The Winner

As noted last night, the winner of this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award is …

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod

The Guardian’s write-ups are here and here. Obviously, I’m thrilled by the result and think it is the right decision. Congratulations to Ian MacLeod, and to PS Publishing! (From whom you should all now buy the book.)

Of course, in an ideal world, I would now like to see MacLeod find a UK (and, hey, US too, why not?) publishing deal that includes some or all of the following:

  1. A paperback edition of Song of Time (Preferably, much as I think PS did a great service in publishing the book, after giving the text a thorough proofread and commissioning a new cover).
  2. A new edition of The Summer Isles (it is really inexplicable that this book has only appeared in a small-press hardback edition in the US)
  3. His next novel, Wake Up and Dream
  4. A short fiction collection, probably pulling together the best stories from the two collections that have never been published in the UK (Voyages by Starlight — “Starship Day”, “1/72nd Scale”; Breathmoss and Other Exhalations — “New Light on the Drake Equation”, “Isobel of the Fall”) and the more recent, uncollected stories (“The Master Miller’s Tale”, “Elementals”)

Well, one thing at a time, maybe. But if nobody picks up the paperback rights to Song of Time, at least, I’ll be very disappointed, so fingers crossed on that front.

Notes on a Shortlist

It has not been hard for me to decide which novel I think should win this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award. There are, for starters, two nominees I neither particularly admire nor particularly like, one that I like more than I admire, and one that I admire more than I like. But differentiating the two nominees that I both like and admire isn’t hard, either: for there is one that lives more vividly in my mind, that I am more eager to reread, and more evangelical about pressing into others’ hands. So my preference is clear. But here, for the record, in advance of the announcement of the winner this evening, is a summary of my opinions of the whole shortlist.

I don’t think it’s a bad shortlist, per se; there are several books that spring to mind when I think about books I would rather have seen listed, but on the whole Adam Roberts’ judgement that “Solid is one word for it, which is another way of saying safe” is right, I think. It is a shortlist whose values are predominantly the core values of genre sf. There are a lot of spaceships; for all the talk about New Space Opera, only one other Clarke Award shortlist this decade has had as many.

There are also a number of recurring themes. Sherri S. Tepper’s The Margarets, which would be at the bottom of my list if I got a vote, incorporates a number of them. Like four of the remaining five shortlisted books (which is surely more than the average among the submissions), it is written in the first person, which immediately puts questions of identity front and centre. Like Reynolds’ House of Suns, it explores these questions through multiple narrators who are in a sense the same person (and physical cloning features in The Quiet War, while mental cloning is an important element of Song of Time). It is concerned with ecological questions (like The Quiet War, and to a lesser extent Song of Time); and in that Margaret’s multiple identities spring from her childhood imaginings, it invokes questions of youth and maturity that, I would say, resonate in every nominee other than The Quiet War.

Adam Roberts’ review, I think, gets to the heart of the problems with this book, although for a more sympathetic take see Nic Clarke and Sherryl Vint at Strange Horizons. The Margarets is a book in which the value of life resides in its fecund diversity, but this leads to a number of problems. There is a moral problem: as Adam puts it, it leads to Tepper prioritising forest over humans. There is a structural problem: the diversity, and the divergence, of Margaret’s lives is never conveyed as well as it should be; it’s all too abbreviated, or too clumsy. There is a a stylistic problem, in that Tepper has an absolute tin ear for names. Sentences such as, “We were shortly disabused of this idea when several humans in transit to Chottem from bondslave planets farther into Mercan space were also slain by the ghrym” are, to my mind, at least as wearying as anything Stephenson comes up with in Anathem; there is an absolute profusion of proper nouns, none of which seem to follow particularly well thought-out linguistic schema. (I think Tepper is winking at the reader at least some of the time — more, in fact, than many discussions of this book have given her credit for — but that does not excuse, for example, cat-people called Prrr Prrrpm and Mrrrw Lrrrpa.) And finally, there is the problem that Tepper’s stance seems to me a lie. Were she writing of just Earth — or a fantastical analogue of Earth, which is what she seems to want to be writing for most of the second half of the book, at least — her argument would be sound; but in the vastness of space, life’s value seems to me to inhere in its scarcity, in how fragile it is. The Margarets never conveys that sense; indeed, life in its galaxy is so commonplace that it is hard to care whether humans learn the error of their ways. The book has plenty of other problems — a distressingly Campbellian attitude to alien life, for example, as Edward James points out; and I can’t help thinking that a critique of humanity’s willingness to lean on comforting stories of magic instead of facing up to reality would carry more force if it didn’t co-exist with telepathy as a crucial plot element — and the result is a near-incoherent muddle.

Mark Wernham’s Martin Martin’s on the Other Side spends a good portion of its time being incoherent, but at least it does so deliberately; this, and the fact that it is just over half the length of Tepper’s novel, are the only things raising it above The Margarets in my estimation. It was over sooner. Jonathan McCalmont has noted that the book grew on him since he first read it, but I find it hard to imagine that happening to me; though there is an extent to which I admire, as Adam puts it, “the inadvertent eloquence of Jensen’s ‘fucking fucker’ laddishly limited register”, there is a much greater extent to which I simply found it tedious. I diverge from Jonathan, too, in that I don’t think it’s a novel about idiocy; it’s a novel, as Nic has it, about infantilisation, which is somewhat different. It means, for a start, that there were a few moments where I felt sympathy for Jensen Interceptor, trapped within the role his society has forced him into: the eternal puerile child There is also something inspired about the melding of PKD-style undermining of consensus reality with a cultural drive towards getting totally fucking hammered; but it is never elaborated coherently enough to sustain an entire novel.

The rest of the nominees I have already written about. Reynolds’ House of Suns is the book I like more than I admire, and a book that articulates the idea that we, the members of the human race, are all children, much more effectively than does The Margarets. I liked the expansiveness of the novel, and I found it rather more visual and well-paced than did, for example, Edward. I also think the flashback sequences are more effective, and better-integrated into the novel, than many other reviewers. But there’s no denying that it does have limitations: “Narrative, tick. Widescreen visuals, tick. Other stuff, hmm.”

Unlike the judges, I don’t have the benefit of a second read of the shortlist to give depth to my opinions; however, for the remaining three novels on the list — the three I could live with winning — I do have the benefit of time, in that it’s some months since I read any of them, and my opinions have accordingly had more time to settle. The Quiet War is the novel on the list I feel most out of step with the consensus on; Edward picked it as his favourite, as did Adam, and the Not the Clarke Award panel at Eastercon. But in Liz’s poll, at least at the time of writing, far more people think it will win than think it really should win; so maybe I’m not as out of step as all that.

Still, reading my review of The Quiet War now, I can’t shake the feeling that I didn’t get to the core of the novel, either in terms of its virtues or its flaws. I think Nic does that rather better in her post about the book, although Edward also inadvertently put his finger on it when he compared the book to Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy: “a cast of well-imagined characters, a mixture of political and scientific speculation, and a complete ease with the occasional infodump”. That is exactly right, and exactly my problem at the same time: I simply never felt the spark of life, in either The Quiet War‘s characters or its landscapes, that so distinguishes Robinson’s work. It is a book with few major flaws — its greatest virtue is its coherence of thought, although as the first volume in a duology, it is not quite self-contained — but almost by the same token, it is a book that never truly excited, challenged, or inspired me.

That leaves the two novels I both like and admire. Stephenson’s Anathem is an extraordinary book, there is no doubt of that; as Martin Lewis put it, “one part hubris to one part taking the piss to one part gnarly geek awesomeness.” As a vehicle designed to explicate and demonstrate a set of mind-expanding ideas, I have difficulty thinking of a recent, or even not-so-recent, work to match it. When I wrote my original review, however, I think I was perhaps too impressed by the overall architecture of the novel, that Stephenson had written something that worked as a novel, rather than (as I see The Baroque Cycle, or at least as much of it as I’ve read) an epic mess. It has not worn well in my mind; it’s still a book I will have no hesitation in recommending to (some) people, but I feel absolutely no need to revisit it. I am also, now, rather more sympathetic than I was initially to Abigail Nussbaum’s criticism of the novel for installing an intellectual homogeneity in its invented world. Or rather, it’s not the intellectual homogeneity per se that troubles me — I don’t want there to be a range of theories about how gravity works, or time works, or consciousness works; I want there to be single theories, that work — but that, as Nic explores, in setting up that intellectual homogeneity, Stephenson does away with cultural diversity. Perhaps the most telling indicator of this flaw is that while there are nods to equality of gender and sexuality — even if they are absolutely tokenistic — there is no equivalent nod to cultural diversity.

Which leaves Song of Time — or rather, doesn’t leave, since it is emphatically not the case that MacLeod is my preferred winner by default. Once again, and gratifyingly, I find that on the evidence of Liz’s poll, more people feel the way I do about the book than I expected. I think I came rather closer to getting to the bones of it in my review than I did with either The Quiet War or Anathem; although I have to say, although Nic’s review and Tanya Brown’s review are both very good, I don’t think anyone has yet fully captured what makes Song of Time so compelling. Adam Roberts’ criticisms of the book are largely reasonable, but don’t seem that significant to me when weighed against its virtues. On a shortlist which emphasizes the value of personal, subjective, human experience (as opposed to the kind of distanced perspective found in, most obviously of the novels not shortlisted, Flood), Song of Time offers unambiguously the best realised, most fascinating character; and for all the detail of McAuley’s colonies, for my money MacLeod offers the most vivid settings of any of the nominated authors. (Particularly, as Nic notes, cities; not because they are particularly “authentic”, but because the versions of their subjects that they construct feel so convincing.) It is the book that most productively challenged my sympathies; it is a novel saturated with science-fictional speculation, grounded in the emotions those speculations generate; and it is the only novel on the list, I would suggest, that engages with what it means to write science fiction in the early twenty-first century, both on a literal level, through the reflections of its characters, and stylistically, in how its voice refracts our understanding of some of contemporary sf’s common images and ideas. There is an irony, I’m aware, in asserting this in a week when YA novels have been awarded Nebula and Tiptree awards; Song of Time is about as far from the concerns of most YA fiction (and certainly as far from the narrative propulsivity of most YA fiction) as it is possible to get. But it is, I think, the best book on the list, and one of the best novels published in 2008. I hope it wins. Whatever does, I will post here as soon as I can, with a full update tomorrow. Let’s see, eh?

House of Suns

The Quiet War coverOn the one hand, coming to a novel this late, when numerous people have pretty much reviewed the heck out of it, makes life easier, in that I can point at what they’ve said; on the other hand, in the case of House of Suns, there isn’t much left that hasn’t been said, which you can take as an indication of the kind of genial, transparent book it is. (This may seem ironic, given the evident length this post has grown to, but really, it’s all just my variations on themes already identified.) In particular, Adam Roberts’ review says almost everything I would, give or take some differences in emphasis, and his summary judgment gets to the heart of the matter for me:

if it is your contention that the face of SF 2009 is Asimov’s mutton-chops and meaty NHS-style-but-presumably-not-actually-NHS-what-with-him-being-American glasses, and if you’re not bothered by bourgeois heteronormativity, then this is most definitely the book for you.

On the Asimov thing: Jonathan Wright also notes an Asimovian flavour to the proceedings and, though it doesn’t seem to have been deliberate, it was there for me, too. And I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing; specifically, there were times when I felt that House of Suns was doing salvage work on some of the more satisfactory aspects of Asimov’s late novels — even more specifically, Foundation and Earth (1986). The future history in House of Suns features a galaxy in which the only forms of intelligence are human or human-derived; the central characters are members of an organization that sets itself above or beyond the immediate, squabbling concerns of planetary and interplanetary civilizations; and there are some radically divergent posthumans wandering around, but the story’s ultimate focus is the relationship between humanity and robots, known here as Machine People. One of the main characters, Hesperus, is a Machine Person with some similarities of attitude to some incarnations of R. Daneel Olivaw (updated for the noughties, of course). If you squint a little, I think you can even see a deformed magus-figure shadow of Hari Seldon behind Abigail Gentian, the woman who establishes the primary clone Line with which House of Suns concerns itself, in the way she establishes rules, a preservational Plan that her “shatterlings” follow down the deep well of centuries.

Incongruously enough, my other touchstone while reading this book was Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who. Dan Hartland mentions Star Wars as a reference point, which captures the curious innocence of House of Suns; there is less New in this Space Opera than in the others that I have read by Reynolds. (Also, one of the Machine People looks like a slightly more sculpted C-3PO.) But Who has some of that innocence to it as well, and for all its inanities, I think it’s a better match, and not just because one of Reynolds’ posthuman races are called the Sycorax. First, what Reynolds brings to Asimov’s framework is colour, gleeful splashes of the stuff. In a science fiction novel like this, which essentially takes an infinite empty void as its backdrop, there is particular skill needed in choosing which bits to sketch in; Reynolds makes good choices, and goes about his sketchings with gusto. So although a fair portion of the book takes place in deep space, depicting voyages or chases (Reynolds does like his chase sequences, particularly interstellar ones that go on for tens of pages; fortunately the one that closes this book is rather better paced than the one that closed Century Rain [2004]), there are marvels at every waystation, from giants with faces to dwarf even the Face of Bo, to sleeping beauty awaking in a techno-forest of gold and silver cables. Sometimes these settings are handled off-handedly:

Ashtega’s world — shown beneath the map of the galaxy — was an outrageous confection of a planet: a striped marshmallow giant with a necklace of sugary rings, combed and braided by the resonant forces of a dozen glazed and candied moons. We were crossing the ecliptic, so the rings were slowly tilting to a steeper angle, revealing more of their loveliness. There was no doubt that it was one of the most glorious worlds I had ever seen, and I had seen quite a few.

But we had not come here to gawp at a picturesque planet, even if it was a spectacular exemplar of the form. (21)

Sometimes more attention is lavished on them:

Four stiff black fingers reached from the dunes, each an obelisk of the Benevolence, each tilted halfway to the horizontal. The shortest of the fingers must have been four or five kilometres from end to end, while the longest — one of the two middle digits — was at least eight. From a distance, caught in the sparkling light of the lowering sun, it was as if the fingers were encrusted with jewellery of blue stones and precious metal. But the jewellery was Ymir: the Witnesses had constructed their city on the surface of the fingers, with the thickest concentrations of structures around the middle portions of the fingers. A dense mass of azure towers thrust from the sloped foundations of the Benevolence relics, fluted and spiralled like the shells of fabulous sea creatures, agleam with gold and silver gilding. A haze of delicate latticed walkways and bridges wrapped itself around the twoers of Ymir, with the longer spans reaching from finger to finger. The air spangled with the bright moving motes of vehicles and airborne people, buzzing from tower to tower. (161)

This is not elegant writing; it is even a bit laboured (“… on the surface of the fingers … around the middle portions of the fingers”). But it’s trying to get us excited about something extraordinary. So my second comparison point is that, as in Doctor Who, the characters are not immune to wonder; dialogue like this, for example, would I think be entirely at home in that show:

“Sand grains start sliding downhill, just beneath the outer membrane of the dunes […] The membrane vibrates even more strongly and sets up excitations in the surrounding airmass. You get something like music.” After a pause, he said, “Wonderful, isn’t it?”

“Wonderful and a little spooky.”

“Like all the best things in the universe.” (172-3)

Comparisons with Who can only go so far, though. There is, for example, that whitebread heteronormativity that Adam mentions — not something Who can be accused of too strongly these days — which is for most of the novel a nagging annoyance, and a couple of times something more than that. [EDIT: Although there are also the orgies during the thousand nights, which suggest a certain degree of flexibility …] The projection of particular standards of beauty got me, too: the descriptions of how beautiful the Machine People were, in particular, felt very culturally specific, and while I’m fine with the shatterlings having retained the standards of beauty they started with (see below), I’m a little disappointed that the standards of beauty in Abigail’s time, which is already some way in the future from us, apparently hadn’t changed at all. What most irritated me, however, was the abuse of bioscience. Reynolds is scrupulous about stressing the physical constraints of the universe — say, the speed of light — yet is, bizarrely, happy to construct a scenario in which a female progenitor gives rise to a clone line containing both male and female individuals. If there’s a reason for this beyond Reynolds wanting to include more male characters, I missed it. If there’s an explanation given for how this miracle is achieved, I missed that, too; [EDIT: It could be, for example, that Abigail has a rare variant of Klinefelter’s syndrome, though I don’t recall such an explanation being offered in the text (though see discussion later regarding the flashbacks) and so] I’m left imagining that they imported a Y chromosome from somewhere else, which makes any male shatterlings less than an exact clone. (Indeed, I found myself defaulting to imagining the shatterlings as female until otherwise specified for just this reason, which led to a couple of interestingly disconcerting moments.)

A more global difference to Who (but a similarity with Asimov) is that Reynolds is in earnest. House of Suns never indulges in the sort of ironic nudging that Who — or a writer like, say, Ken MacLeod, in a novel like Newton’s Wake; or Banks in any Culture novel– so often enjoys. Dan Hartland put it this way: “Reynolds manages space opera that does not read like farce.” I will go a little further: one of the novel’s strengths is that Reynolds manages to keep a straight face almost all of the time. There are no knowing winks. There is some — not that much — snappy dialogue, but when Reynolds has one of his characters report that “The next three minutes passed like an age as I watched Hesperus streak forward and then slam past Mezereon’s position, missing her by barely half a million kilometres” (123), the deadpan delivery is essential, because on the face of it that “barely” looks absurd.

It’s this earnestness, also, that makes it possible to believe in characters driven by the search for wonder: a perhaps childish impulse (see Who, again; and Charlie Anders touches on this in a piece at io9 about childhood and sense of wonder that I’ve only just seen; and also see below) but one that, as the ending makes clear, is a function of civilizational youth as much as individual organism youth. The shatterlings are flung outwards by her at the close of humanity’s dawn age, explicitly in search of knowledge and experience. In each Line, each of a thousand clones is given a ship; each is then set on a different course, with instructions to rendezvous after completing a “circuit”, a trip around the galaxy. At the rendezvous they share experiences; then they do it all again. For the Gentian Line, these circuits now take two hundred thousand years each (the shatterlings spend much of their time in suspended animation, “tunnelling through history” as one character puts it), during which time they may interact with civilizations caught in “the endless, grinding procession of empires” (15) that the shatterlings call “turnover”. It is, at any rate, no surprise that Abigail’s rules have, by the time of the novel, some thirty-odd circuits down the line, hardened into commandments; no real surprise that maintenance of continuity is one of the book’s main themes.

Here is where I diverge slightly from most other reviewers of this book. House of Suns is narrated by two Shatterlings of Abigail’s line, Campion and Purslane, in alternating chapters. (At the start of each of the book’s eight sections, there is also a flashback chapter to Abigail’s youth; but all the Shatterlings share these memories — both Campion and Purslane refer to events that take place in the flashbacks as theirs, as happening to “me” — so there is no way of knowing which is narrating them.) And they do sound frightfully similar. As Adam puts it:

all the characters are pretty much the same character. Of course most of the characters in this novel are the same character, or clones thereof, but I don’t think this excuses it; they’re supposed to have been living separate lives, and developing separate personalities, for millions of years after all. They haven’t done so, though, on the evidence of this text. I was perhaps a quarter of the way into the book before I twigged that the narrative p.o.v. was alternating between the two twin-like deuteragonists (Purslane and Campion), and that’s not a good thing.

Or Paul Kincaid:

House of Suns is a novel with three narrative voices: Campion and Purslane narrate alternative chapters, while each section of the novel is introduced with a passage narrated by Abigail Gentian, the founder of the line (I will come back to her shortly). This is a technique that has a number of problems. For a start, Campion and Purslane spend most of the novel together, so that until the climax the alternating chapters don’t actually show us anything different. More seriously, the voices of male Campion and female Purslane are indistinguishable, and both are indistinguishable from Abigail Gentian. Is Reynolds making the subtle point that, as clones, these are all the same person anyway? If so, he actually does nothing with the idea, and the point could have been made as well without the exchange of narrative duties. I suspect, rather, that Reynolds has got hooked on multiple narrative strands, a technique he has used repeatedly before, and has followed it regardless of the fact that in some instances, as here, it can be more harmful than helpful to the novel.

I actually think the technical issue Paul identifies, that for most of the novel Campion and Purslane are sharing the same experiences (and thus that it’s sometimes only possible to tell which is narrating a chapter when they refer to the other), does the more harm. On the other hand, I can make an argument that the similarity of identity is deliberate; or at least, I feel I can construct a satisfactory rationale for embracing the confusion it causes based on what’s in the text, which is actually the more important thing. I’ve already mentioned that both Campion and Purslane claim Abigail’s memories as their own, but it’s also the case that they share their own memories with each other, and share memories with other shatterlings; indeed, at one point Purslane misremembers something that happened to Campion as having happened to her. So I don’t think they have been developing separate personalities for millions of years — I think, in fact, that they have been developing parallel personalities for millions of years. The point is repeatedly made that the differences between members of the Line are much less significant than the similarities, and I don’t think that is just clan loyalty.

At the time we meet them, just before a reunion, after hundreds of thousands of years apart, the shatterlings are as divergent as they will ever be; the point of the thousand-nights reunion is to celebrate sharing that experience. Before it can take place, the assembled Gentian Line is ambushed, and most of them are killed, so; yet they are still remarkably similar individuals. (One shatterling’s taste for torture, for instance, is merely out at the end of the bell curve compared to the rest of them; even those who object to the torture most are prepared to embrace its use in other circumstances, later in the book.) The differences between Line members — in particular, between Campion and Purslane, the former pruning regularly, the latter sentimentally hoarding — seem to arise in large part from differing choices about which memories to delete than they do from differing individual experiences. It is the presumed similarity between the shatterlings that makes Campion and Purslane’s romantic liaison anathema to the rest of their Line — it is rather worse than incest — and it is the need to maintain continuity that makes Campion’s decision to delete his “strand” (the archive of his memories) a transgression beyond the pale. Both actions threaten the stability of the Line.

This obsession with continuity has, I think you can argue, resulted in a kind of arrested development on the part of the shatterlings; it is emphasized more than once that near-baseline humans such as they are not perceptually suited to experiencing long stretches of “raw time”, and that their pride in their longevity is, in important ways, a delusion. But it’s interesting to think of them specifically as children, of a kind, who have not yet become full individuals; as Purslane says, shortly after the ambush, “now we are growing up” (99). You can even gloss the overall shape of the novel as being about humans learning exactly how young they really are in comparison to the depth and breadth of the universe. Coming to terms with being, in a sense, spoiled children. The Gentian Line is incredibly conscious of its fragility; for some of them, the worst consequence of the ambush is not that eight-hundred-odd unique individuals have been killed, but that as a consequence the Line may cease to exist. They take pride in their status as one of humanity’s strategies to maintain continuity over deep time, one way to rise above the churn of turnover (they would probably say, the most human such strategy). As Ludmilla Marcellin, creator of the first line, puts it:

“If [Faster-than-light travel] is developed, it will clearly be of significance to us. We’ll embrace it wholeheartedly, have no fear. But it won’t change the nature of what we are, or the reason for our existence. The galaxy will still be too big, too complex, for any one person to apprehend. Shattering, turning yourself into multiple points of view, will still be the only way to eat that cake.” (225)

If Ludmilla Marcellin’s shatterlings cease to be her, the whole point of the endeavour is lost; and as with Ludmilla, so with Abigail.

This doesn’t do away with the problems Paul and others have noted; but I think it suggests a way to reframe them as part of a more satisfactory reading of the novel. (I actually think more points of view — probably other shatterlings, though someone outside the Line would also work — would make the point more clearly.) Similarly, I think the flashbacks work better than many have given them credit for. They are there, in part, to emphasize the shared lineage of the line, but their real trick is that they turn out to be false memories, indicators of both a cargo of damage that must be common to all Gentian shatterlings, and of displacement of a specific, repressed act that stains the history of the Line. And perhaps more than that. Note that in the memories Abigail’s development is arrested in childhood for thirty years; this could perhaps represent a displaced consciousness of the thirty circuits the Gentian Line undergo before the ambush, before they start growing up; or perhaps is just a parallel to note as something that shapes the Line. [Equally, is the fact that Abigail’s guardian is “Madam Klinefelter” significant, a nod to Abigail’s genetic heritage? It’s rather a coincidence if it’s not.]

Certainly, though, my qualms didn’t bother me much during the actual reading. Back to Adam:

Reynolds is rather disgustingly skilled, actually, when it comes to plotting—not only structuring his story so that its build-ups and pay-offs are all in the right places, but pacing the whole, drawing the reader along, with only the occasional longeur. The first 200 pages hurtle by; the next hundred tread narrative water a little, but things pick up again around 300 and the reader is propelled nicely down the flume to the end-pool.

This is, clearly, not enough to make a truly good novel; but it’s not nothing, either. House of Suns is by some way the most satisfying of Reynolds’ novels that I’ve read (i.e. of those since Century Rain). I did sometimes feel that it became a touch genteel, a touch domesticating; although again, a concern with rules, the value of them as well as their limitations, whether set by Abigail or the universe, is a concern of the novel, and to manifest this as a kind of formality makes a certain amount of sense. Reynolds also falls foul of a personal bugbear, in that he fails to explain how or why his first-person narrators are relating their story. But as I was reading, only rarely were the problems severe enough to pull me up short; for the most part I barely paused for breath. I blasted through House of Suns in a little over a day and, while I wouldn’t give it this year’s Clarke Award, and am not even really sure it belongs on the shortlist, I don’t begrudge the time I spent with it one jot. A guilty pleasure is still a pleasure.

Clarke Commentary

Graham Sleight:

[A]lthough you could argue with some of the exclusions, I think all the shortlisted books have something to commend them, and a couple are really exceptional.

The wildcard is probably Martin Martin’s on the Other Side, a book not much noticed by the sf community so far — an exception being Jonathan McAlmont’s review. I may wind up writing about it myself, so won’t give too many spoilers here; suffice it to say that it’s a fizzing near-future novel with plenty to say about contemporary media culture. I don’t quite agree with Jonathan’s argument that it sits in his new subgenre of Barleypunk (defined here, with some NSFW language) – I think the near-future elements have more in common with something like A Clockwork Orange.

Predictions? I’m rubbish at them, and in any case they depend so much on the personalities and tastes of the jury, and the dynamic between them. From my own tastes, there are two or three books on the list I’d be very happy to see win, but your mileage may vary. Emergent themes? Well, it may be just coincidence, but there are several books on the list about selfhood, and what happens to it when split or cloned. (So there’s a lot about memory too.) The state of sf? From this showing, very healthy.

Jeff VanderMeer:

It’s an interesting and quality list, with the early frontrunner being the Stephenson, even though McAuley, Reynolds, and MacLeod are fully their equals (and then some) as writers. Tepper’s presence as a finalist is very welcome–she’s a severely underrated talent. It’s also good to see the judges reaching somewhat far afield in selecting the Wernham, which is a dystopian satire. (Although a quick scan of reviews indicates it didn’t fare to well in some quarters; for example, The Independent wrote last year that it’s “not half as cynical or radical as it would like to think.”)

Martin Lewis makes odds:

Anathem, Neal Stephenson – 1/2
Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod – 3/1
The Quiet War, Paul McAuley – 3/1
The Margarets, Sheri S. Tepper – 6/1
House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds – 6/1
Martin Martin’s on the Other Side, Mark Wernham – 12/1

In the past I have been right and very wrong.

Abigail Nussbaum:

Of the two novels I’ve read, The Quiet War is well-done but underwhelming (an opinion in which I am joined by practically no one, as it’s been lauded by most of its reviewers and has appeared on several best of the year lists). I enjoyed Anathem very much, though its spell has faded rather quickly. Only a few months after finishing it, I can more easily recall Anathem‘s flaws–its flat characters, its by-the-numbers plot, its frequent infodumps–than I can the qualities that made me enjoy it despite them. Also, as Jonathan McCalmont points out in the comments to the Torque Control post, giving the Clarke to Stephenson would be a safe and predictable choice, especially given that he’s already won it for the vastly inferior Quicksilver.

I haven’t heard much about the other nominees, but I’m not particularly inclined to read either Song of Time or The Margarets, having had previous bad experiences with both their authors. I found MacLeod’s The Light Ages stiff and overwritten, with barely an appealing character or an interesting plotline in sight, and none of the short stories by him that I’ve read since have shown an improvement on any of these counts. Tepper’s Beauty was preachy and hectoring, and Strange Horizons’s review of The Margarets suggests that she hasn’t backed away from that dogmatic tone. I’m also not terrifically interested in Alastair Reynolds, and I’ll hold off on reading the Wernham, this year’s off the wall literary selection, until I can get a better idea of whether it’s the 2009 equivalent of The Carhullan Army or The Red Men.

Jay Tomio:

I do wonder, was Harkaway not eligible?

io9:

Though the shortlist isn’t very diverse, all these authors are incredibly accomplished and have contributed a great deal to the genre. You should definitely check out all these books to see which one you’d choose as the winner.

David Hebblethwaite:

I had it in mind to blog about this year’s shortlist, though I’m a little put off by the great length of some of these tomes. I’ll see how far I get, and the titles above will turn into links as I post about the books.

I am not widely read enough to be able to judge whether these six novels represent the best science fiction of 2008 (though I have read two books from last year — one of which I have yet to post about — that I felt would be good nominees, and both are absent), and have read precisely none of the shortlisted books. But this strikes me as a shortlist which is very much weighted towards the ‘traditional’ end of the SF spectrum, in the sense that five of the books are by ‘name’ SF authors, with only the Wernham a ‘non-genre’ choice. (The novels themselves may be far from ‘traditional’ SF; I haven’t read them yet, so I don’t know.)

Ian Sales:

It’s not a list that makes me want to dash out and read the books. I’ve already read – and enjoyed – House of Suns, but I didn’t think it was good enough for the shortlist. (But then, I predicted Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World would be on the shortlist, but I’m currently reading it and not enjoying it at all….) I’ve only read MacLeod’s short fiction. Perhaps I should rectify that. I’ve read a few of Tepper’s novels, and they were all very much of a muchness – solid mid-list fare with a slight undercurrent of umbrage.

Nic Clarke:

I’ve already read two of them: The Margarets, a solid but not spectacular effort from Tepper that I reviewed for Strange Horizons last year (and so won’t do a separate piece on it here); and the excellent Song of Time, a review of which will be appearing here shortly. I’ve started a third, the intimidatingly mountainous Anathem, which (thus far at least) is managing to leaven its inherent po-facedness with some silly humour.

The other three are all from authors new to me (if not, in the case of both Reynolds and McAuley, new to my interminable TBR pile…), so I couldn’t possibly prejudge, except to note an entirely unfounded suspicion that the Wernham will be this year’s Red Men. I have to confess that, on first glance, none of them strike me as deeply unusual or intriguing – but I thought that about two of last year’s list, before I read them, and they both turned out very well indeed.

Joe Gordon:

Wow, no less than three nominees – half of the final shortlist – come from the respected Gollancz SF list, they must be pretty pleased this morning (and none of those authors is a stranger to awards list, all come with a terrific literary pedigree). I’m not surprised to see Neal Stephenson’s latest work on there; I haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself (its on the must get that list) but I’ve devoured most of Neal’s other (often massive) books and they are usually a real tour-de-force of imagination, clever ideas and well-researched, richly detailed history (they’re practically an education as well as good novels). And good to see another award nomination for the independent PS Publishing crew, who seem to increasingly pop up on awards lists.

Quite a shock though not to see any contenders from one of our largest SF&F imprints (and a damned fine one), Orbit – I’m especially surprised not to see their publication of Ken MacLeod’s Night Sessions on the final shortlist. But that’s the nature of awards shortlists and the fact it may get some of us debating why certain authors were or weren’t on the final list is a good thing, because it gets us talking and thinking about good books (and while there are some I’d personally have liked to see in the final, that’s my taste and I have to say I don’t envy the judges – just look at the long list they had to choose only six finalists from).

Adam Roberts:

Sometimes things don’t go so well. Yesterday my bike was stolen (the sort of thing that happened all the time when I lived in London, but which is something of a shock after six hitherto biketheft-free years of living in Staines). Today it seems that my car has died: unsurprisingly, since it’s a banger, but still. And this afternoon I discover not only that Swiftly has not been shortlisted for the Clarke, but that Graham Sleight, a critic whose opinions I respect enormously, doesn’t consider it a book he or anybody else might even have expected to see on the shortlist. [Update, 19.3: I spoke too soon, as you’ll see if you click the link] So it goes, of course, howsoever disheartening. I get the sense that the stuff I’m interested in and value, SF-wise, really aren’t the things SF as a whole considers interesting or valuable. The wisdom of crowds, and okham’s razor, suggests that SF as a whole may be in the right. Ho hum.

More Adam Roberts:

Rather startled, to be honest, that Niall has taken my earlier whinge as a commentary upon the Clarke shortlist as a whole — it’s really no such thing, and provides commentary only upon a writer’s individual crumbliness, which is presumably banal enough news not to need wider distribution. As far as Clarke commentary goes, I’ll instapundit thus: it looks, at first blush, a solid list, with some strong books on it. I’m not the only person to be a little surprised at the absence of Baxter’s Flood (his Weaver would be just as valid a title there), Harkaway’s Gone Away World or Ness’s Knife of Never Letting Go. But otherwise: Anathem‘s presence has the feel of inevitability; I thought The Quiet War a very very good piece of writing (and would happily see it beat Stephenson to the prize); House of Suns is not Al Reynolds’ best book, but it’s a perfectly good book for all that; and whilst I didn’t go overboard on Song of Time plenty of people were properly moved by it, so it clearly works brilliantly for some. I haven’t read the other two, but will remedy that soon.

Lou Anders:

I’m thrilled for Paul McAuley, whose novel The Quiet War, just made the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist. The Quiet War was one of my favorite reads of the past year. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I acquired US rights to it, and Pyr will be publishing it in September, with a new cover from the magnificent Sparth (who just turned in his illustration last week; I’ll debut the cover on the Pyr blog in a few.)

Meanwhile, the prize of £2009, along with a commemorative engraved bookend, will be presented to the winner on Wednesday, April 29th, at an award ceremony held on the opening night of the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival. Congrats to all the nominees.

(And yes, those of you in the US should wait for our edition, as I’d really like to be able to publish the sequel, Gardens of the Sun, which I’m about to start reading shortly. If you can’t wait, you could always read the UK edition, vote for it for the Hugo, then gift the US one when it comes out to that friend you’re trying to get into smart, literate, award-calibre SF. It’s just a suggestion…)

James Nicoll:

I notice 1: that all but one of the nominees is male and 2: nobody seems to have taken issue with this the way some people have with male-dominated Hugo lists. Is it just that someone has to be the first person to point the gender balance out and this time it’s me or have I been missing discussions? ObAcknowledgment of the excluded middle.

Looking at the short lists does suggest the short list generally has more men than women,

Of the twenty-two winners, eight were women (although none since 2002, which I think is the longest stretch without a female winner since the award was created).

And me? I think it’s a solid list for a very solid year; more than most years, I think there were a lot of justifiable possible six-book shortlists to be had. I’ve only read Song of Time, Anathem, and The Quiet War, but each of those strikes me as a perfectly valid nominee — though I’m willing to declare right now for Song of Time, which I still think is marvellous — and the balance of opinion of the other three seems favourable. That said, I find myself, for almost the first time ever, in sympathy with io9, when they say it’s not the most diverse shortlist ever. They may mean that in terms of diversity of authors — five white men (although it’s pretty representative of the demographics of the submissions, sadly, and it’s worth noting that the demographics of the protagonists are somewhat more diverse) — but I’m thinking in terms of types of sf. Flood is probably the one omitted book I would say really should be on the shortlist, and does modern disaster novel very well indeed; and I’d have welcomed the energy of something like The Knife of Never Letting Go or The Gone-Away World, or a more adventurous definition of science fiction represented by, yes, something like Swiftly, or perhaps Blonde Roots (a book of which my opinion has improved since I read it and which, as I noted yesterday, did make the Orange prize longlist). But I’m looking forward to reading Reynolds’, Tepper’s and Wernham’s books, nevertheless.

The 2009 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

Forty-six from seventeen publishers have become six from four. There are two previous winners among the nominated authors, and two first-timers (one with their first novel); one woman, and two Americans. One novel also appears on the BSFA Best Novel shortlist. There are, this year, quite a lot of spaceships.

Yes, the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist is upon us! This year’s judges — for the British Science Fiction Association, Chris Hill and Ruth O’Reilly; for the Science Fiction Foundation, Robert Hanks and Rhiannon Lassiter; and for SF Crowsnest.com, Pauline Morgan — have deliberated, and decided.

Paul Billinger, Chair of the judges, reports:

“It was a long and intense meeting to decide this year’s shortlist, with passionate debate from all of the judges. Although at times it seemed almost impossible, they eventually concluded that these six books were the ones that demonstrated to them what was best about the science fiction novels published in 2008.”

And Award Administrator Tom Hunter says:

“Speculation and active debate have always surrounded the announcement of the award shortlist, and earlier this year we took the unprecedented step of releasing the full long list of eligible submitted works from which this final shortlist was decided. Our aim was to highlight the strength and diversity of current science fiction publishing and to show the awesome task that faces our judging panel every year. I think they’ve risen to this challenge admirably and I’m greatly looking forward to the full range of reactions and conversations to come and, of course, to finding out the eventual winner at the end of April.”

That winner will be announced on Wednesday 29th April, at a ceremony held on the opening night of the Sci-Fi London film festival. They will receive £2009, and a commemorative engraved bookend.

Let the debate begin! I’ll be updating this post with links to additional reviews as they appear, but for now, here are the nominees:

Song of Time by Ian R MacLeod (PS Publishing)

Reviewed by Adam Roberts for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
An appreciation by Helena Bowles
Reviewed by Tanya Brown
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

The Quiet War by Paul McAuley (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Duncan Lawie for The Zone
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Niall here

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Dan Hartland for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Rich Horton for SF Site
Reviewed by Paul Kincaid for SF Site
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Charlie Jane Anders at io9
Reviewed by Lisa Tuttle for The Times
Reviewed by Eric Brown for The Guardian
Reviewed by Jonathan Wright for SFX
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Niall here

Anathem by Neal Stephenson (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Martin Lewis for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Gary K Wolfe for Locus
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Abigail Nussbaum at Asking the Wrong Questions
Reviewed by Michael Dirda for the Washington Post
Reviewed by Laura Miller for the LA Times
Reviewed by Tom Shippey for the TLS
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Jakob Schmidt for SF Site
Reviewed at The Complete Review
Reviewed by Niall here
Reviewed by Liz here

The Margarets by Sheri S Tepper (Gollancz)

Reviewed by Nic Clarke and Sherryl Vint for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by Annalee Newitz at io9
Reviewed by David Langford for SFX
Reviewed by Cynthia Ward for Sci-Fi Weekly
Reviewed by Adrienne Martini for Bookslut

Martin Martin’s on the Other Side by Mark Wernham (Jonathan Cape)

Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Edward James for Strange Horizons
Reviewed by Nic Clarke at Eve’s Alexandria
Reviewed by Jonathan Gibbs for The Independent
Reviewed by Cathi Unsworth for The Guardian
Reviewed by Saxon Bullock for SFX
Reviewed by Adam Roberts at Punkadiddle
Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite at Follow the Thread
Reviewed by Andrew McKie for The Telegraph

Roundups and miscellany
Edward James
Adam Roberts
Nic Clarke
Niall’s roundup
A poll
The winner

Previous shortlist roundups
2008
2007