Contest: Guess the Winner of the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award

This contest is now closed! The winning book will be announced on the evening of 27 April and a winning entry chosen at random from those who guessed correctly at some point after that.

In just over four weeks, we’ll find out which book has won the Arthur C Clarke award for the best work of science fiction published in the UK in 2010. The jury will meet for a second time, to whittle the six shortlisted novels down to a single winner.

The jury doesn’t yet know who will win. I don’t know who will win; but perhaps you do? Or at least have a hunch about it?

***

The Clake Award has a second contest for you this year! A month ago, we asked you to guess which six books would be on the shortlist. Three of you correctly guessed four of the six books. This time around, you need to guess only one book.

There’s a real prize for this contest too. It consists of two books, both generously donated by NewCon Press.

The first is Fables from the Fountain, the forthcoming anthology edited by Ian Whates from NewCon press. Fables is a collection of all-original stories written as homage to Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart and published in honour of the Clarke Award’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The volume includes new stories by Stephen Baxter, Ian Watson, Paul Graham Raven, James Lovegrove, Neil Gaiman, Colin Bruce, Liz Williams, Charles Stross, Eric Brown, Steve Longworth, Henry Gee, Andy West, David Langford, Andrew J Wilson, Peter Crowther, Tom Hunter, Adam Roberts, and Ian Whates. If you can’t wait on the off-chance you’ll win it, you can order a pre-copy of Fables here, with a share of profits going directly to support the Clarke Award’s current fund raising efforts. (A good cause!)

The second part of the prize is Celebration, an anthology of all-original stories published in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of the BSFA (which publishes Vector, of course), also edited by Ian Whates. It includes stories, original to this volume, by Ken MacLeod, Kim Lakin-Smith, Ian Watson, Tricia Sullivan, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, M. John Harrison, Molly Brown, Brian Stableford, Dave Hutchison, Liz Williams, Brian Aldiss, Martin Sketchley, Alastair Reynolds, Ian R. MacLeod, Christopher Priest, Adam Roberts, and Stephen Baxter.

To enter, comment on this post. Your comment must contain two things: the name of a single one of the six shortlisted books; and an explanation of why you think that book will win. No entry is valid without both parts.

Your explanation can be anything you like: your personal favourite, the one you think the judges will pick, a random guess, or a simple ‘because’. We want some kind of justification for the choice, whether minimal or essay-length.

You may not enter this contest if you are a current Clarke award judge, a family member of a current judge, or if you are on the board of Serendip or the BSFA. You may not enter the contest multiple times: only your first entry will be entered into the contest. You are welcome to enter from wherever you are: the prize can be shipped internationially.

The winner of the prize randomly drawn from among all the correct, valid entries. This contest will be judged by Tom Hunter, director of the Clarke Award, and his decision in all aspects of the contest is final.

Tom writes that

“The recent guess the shortlist competition with Torque Control was so much fun we thought we’d do it again. The secret aim with the last comp was to show that guessing the right shortlist combination is much harder than it looks, and with something like 25 million combinations of books possible, guessing 6 books from a selection of 54 you can see why.”

“Now the odds are shorter, but I don’t think that makes the choices involved any easier…”

The deadline for your guess and explanation, posted as a reply to this post, is Tuesday, 26 April 2011 at 23:59 BST.

On guessing the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

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


Here is what they chose:

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also comments on the shortlist from:

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

Clarke Award 2011 Eligible Submissions Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contest: Guess the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

This contest is now closed and no more entries will be accepted. The results will be posted on Friday, March 4th.

It’s that time of year. The list of eligible submissions for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award is out! And this year, in honour of the award’s twenty-fifth anniversary, we’re pleased to be able to run a contest with real prizes (not just glory) in conjunction with the list’s release.

The goal is straightforward: guess the shortlist for this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award.

The prize is quite a good one, thanks to the generousity of the Clarke Award and NewCon Press! If you win, you will receive copies of all six of the shortlisted works, plus a copy of Fables from the Fountain, the forthcoming, limited-edition anthology edited by Ian Whates from NewCon press. Fables is a collection of all-original stories written as homage to Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart and published in honour of the Clarke Award’s twenty-fifth anniversary.

To enter, comment on this post. Your comment must contain a list of six (no more, no fewer) novels from the full list of eligible submissions. Pingbacks won’t be accepted.

You may not enter this contest if you are a current Clarke award judge, a family member of a current judge, someone who has access to the currently-embargoed press release containing the shortlist, or if you are on the board of Serendip or the BSFA. You may not enter the contest multiple times: only your first entry will be entered into the contest. You are welcome to enter from wherever you are: the prize can be shipped internationially.

If no one guesses all six entries correctly, then the prize will go to whoever guessed the most correct winners. If there is a tie for the most correct winners guessed, then the winner will be picked from a hat from among the tied entries. This contest will be judged by Tom Hunter, director of the Clarke Award, and his decision in all aspects of the contest is final.

As Tom observes,

The idea behind releasing the full submissions lists is pretty simple. Every year we reveal our shortlist of the six best science fiction books of the previous year, as decided by our panel of independent judges, and every year we enjoy, well, passionate conversation around those choices.

For me this is exactly how things should be, but at the same time I’m keen for people to understand just how complex the judging process is, and how many different variants there can be when you have 54 great books in play and you have to narrow those down to just six of the best as it were.

Personally, I’ve never managed to correctly guess all six in advance, and I’m the Award Director, so just to warn you this game is harder than it looks, and good luck everyone.

The deadline for your six guesses, posted as a reply to this post, is this Wednesday, 2 March at 23:59 GMT.

An Open Letter From The Arthur C Clarke Award

Per the subject line, something a bit different for a Monday morning. Please do give Tom feedback on the questions he asks below, whether in a comment here, or by email or another route. And spread the link to this post far and wide! Thanks — Niall

The Arthur C Clarke Award

An open letter to all fans of Science Fiction from Tom Hunter, Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award

In 2011 we’ll be presenting the prize for the 25th winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

A lot has changed in 25 years, and the Award has not been immune to that change.

In many ways the Award is now at one of its strongest points ever. Its profile has never been wider, its organisational and community ties are strong, endorsement and support is high both within the SF community and the broader cultural sphere, and increased sophistication in electronic point of sale tracking is now showing direct correlations between Award announcements and increased book sales.

However the Award has also proven notably vulnerable to change at various points in its history, especially in terms of its reliance on volunteer governance and its historic lack of core financial stability in terms of assets, revenue generation or its ability to capitalise on far reaching fundraising or partnership opportunities.

Following the death of Sir Arthur and the subsequent winding up of Rocket Publishing (Sir Arthur’s UK company which funded the Award’s prize) the Award is now faced with an immediate and pressing need to change, adapt and re-evaluate its role and function as it moves into 2012 and its next quarter century.

This is a process that is happening now, and this letter to you all is a big part of taking my plans and those of Serendip, the Award’s governing body, to the next level.

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is built around three core values:

  • To recognise the best science fiction novels of the year published in the UK.
  • To promote science fiction and science fiction literature both within the UK and internationally.
  • To honour the memory and legacy of Sir Arthur.

I don’t believe that our current resources should define the pursuit of this vision, and rather I see our previous funding model slipping away as a necessary transition and the first step on the road to transforming the Award into a more deeply engaged social enterprise.

The good news is everyone involved with the Award has already been doing a lot of work in this area, looking at consultation, starting new conversations and setting up new partnerships, and the next stage of that process is to open up that dialogue more widely and start sharing our thoughts in places like this blog.

For me, the success of the Clarke Award and Serendip beyond 2011 means more connections with new and existing fans and organisations, and working with them to further raise the profile of the Award. We are also creating ways to quantify the value of the Award and assess its impact. The idea being that from this we can then meaningfully judge its success and demonstrate its continued significance as a key voice within the SF community, the publishing industry and beyond.

The questions we’ve been asking ourselves mostly look like this:

What value does the Award bring to the SF community and what role should it play in its future?

How important is a UK focused prize in an increasingly international and digital marketplace?

What more could the Award do as part of its broader advocacy remit to promote science fiction?

How much does the success and the credibility of the Award depend on it having a cash prize?

What new partnerships and opportunities could we create to generate seed funding for the future?

What do you think? What does the Arthur C. Clarke Award mean to you, how important a part of the SF landscape is it, and where would you like it to go from here?

I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and ideas here, and I’ll aim to answer every question as best I can.

I’d also invite anyone who wants to contact me to discuss these issues or to get involved to find me on Twitter, LinkedIn or drop me an email at ClarkeAward@gmail.com.

People are already asking how they can get involved, and all offers of help, advice or useful connections are greatly appreciated.

Three things people can do to get involved right now are help us show the size of our audience by Liking us on Facebook or following @ClarkeAward on Twitter, re-posting the link to this page and, of course, by letting us know your thoughts in the comments here.

Thank you for reading and for your continued support of the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Tom Hunter
Award Director, December 2010

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.

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.