BSFA Survey Response: Richard Morgan

Survey coverRichard Morgan is the author of six novels: the cyberpunkish Takeshi Kovacs trilogy beginning with the Philip K Dick Award-winning Altered Carbon (2002); standalone near-future satire Market Forces (2004), which won the John W Campbell Memorial Award; Black Man (2007), which won the Arthur C Clarke Award, and fantasy The Steel Remains (2008). All are notable for their engagement with masculinity, and with forms of oppression; also for being violent, action-driven thrillers. He has also written two volumes of Black Widow for Marvel Comics. Morgan was one of more than 80 writers to respond to the 2009 BSFA survey, and his responses are reproduced below.

1. Do you consider yourself a writer of science fiction and/or fantasy?

Yes, I do. I can rattle on about noir crossover and slipstream with the best of them, but in the end, what I’m writing is quite recognizably SF (and more recently Sword and Sorcery), and pretending otherwise would just be deeply sad!

2. What is it about your work that makes it fit into these categories?

Well, take your pick – space travel, alien worlds, dystopian futures, jacked up gene engineered super-soldiers, exotic weaponry and tech … It’s all in there somewhere.

3. Why have you chosen to write science fiction or fantasy?

It’s funny because I don’t remember ever actually making that choice at a conscious level. I think it was simply a case of writing the kind of books I wanted to read. At the time I took my first tottering steps towards writing publishable material, I was also wedded well and truly to the SF&F genre. I just never thought to change. And to be honest, SF&F is still my first love, even now. There’s really no other type of fiction out there that gives you the same latitudes of discretion with regard to the reality you’re creating.

4. Do you consider there is anything distinctively British about your work, and if so what is it?

A pervasive sense of cynicism and despair, maybe?

To be honest, I think the overall flavour of my work probably owes far more to American templates than it does British. Noir is largely a US invention (with a little focal help from the French), violent anti-heroes have had their modern testing bed in American fiction since at least the thirties, and so really has science fiction as a mass market dynamic. And what’s often forgotten these days is how dynamically subversive all of that stuff was. Currently, we have this perception of American SF as a bit staid and conformist/conservative, while the UK is the powerhouse of brutal malcontent genre work full of edgy political and cultural content. But most of us included in that stable are actually mining the rich seams of style and subject matter laid down by former practitioners on the other side of the Atlantic – guys like Sheckley, Heinlein, Bradbury, Bester, Pohl and Kornbluth, and of course the whole cyberpunk crew, who in turn owe a huge debt to old style American noir. I don’t think there’s anything specifically British in my influences that can stack up against all that.

5. Do British settings play a major role in your work, and if so, why (or why not)?

No – though British protagonists have, a couple of times. I think my problem with British settings is that I find most of the UK just too comfy to be useful as landscape. An American once said to me, on the subject of wilderness, Yeah, you guys don’t really have any of that, do you. The whole country is just like this big park owned by the Queen. A little harsh, maybe, but I know what he means. Give me the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of the north Norwegian coast, Istanbul and the Bosphorus, the Peruvian altiplano or western Australia’s coral coast; there’s an exotic appeal to these places, a drama of place even before you start to tell a story located there. And then, of course, there’s off-world, which is even better because it can be anything you want it to be. What I’m interested in exploring in my fiction is human intensity, whether that be via a dynamic plot or desperate characters or both. And I find that intense landscapes or exotic cities work best as backdrop to that kind of story-telling. Of course, there’s no reason you can’t tell an intense, dynamic tale in a British setting – many authors do, and I’ve even done it once myself – but for me the inspiration of place just doesn’t hit as often or as hard on my home turf.

6. What do you consider are the major influences on your work?

In genre, William Gibson, Poul Anderson, Bob Shaw, M. John Harrison and Robert Sheckley, probably in about that order. Out of genre, the whole of the American hard-boiled crime writing tradition right back to Chandler and Hammett, but most notably Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder novels, James Ellroy’s LA Quartet and American Tabloid, and James Lee Burke’s early Dave Robicheaux novels. To that you’d also have to add the influence of cinema, but that covers everything from Bladerunner to Jesus of Montreal, and it’s very hard to play favourites.

7. Do you detect a different response to your science fiction/fantasy between publishers in Britain and America (or elsewhere)?

Not really – I’ve been lucky in both cases to get publishing houses and editors who are quite content to let me do my own thing and apply only the necessary minimum of professional oversight when the manuscript comes in. I keep hearing horror stories out of the US about massive editorial pressure to mutilate manuscripts so that they fit better into this or that template or demographic appeal, but I have to say from a personal point of view I’ve never suffered even the hint of that. Both Gollancz and Del Rey have always been behind me a hundred percent.

There was of course the briefly (internet) famous Black Man/Thirteen controversy, but what got lost in the flurry there was the fact that – though I was, and remain, somewhat bemused about the why of it – I really wasn’t bothered about changing the name; my books, after all, are often re-titled in European translation, and even the original UK name sometimes changes from the working title (Altered Carbon was originally called Download Blues, Black Man started life as Normal Parameters, and so forth…) so bitching about the US change would have seemed a little hypocritical. Thirteen was my own idea as an alternative title, and the conversations I had with my New York editor about it were very much along the same lines as the ones I had with my London editor about dumping Normal Parameters in favour of Black Man. My only real concern when my books are published is that the content should remain unadulterated, and in that, I’ve detected no measurable difference in attitude anywhere I’m published.

8. Do you detect a different response to your science fiction/fantasy between the public in Britain and America (or elsewhere)?

Well, yes and no. You do see some minor cultural hiccups sometimes when my work crosses the Atlantic – for instance, there were a number of comments criticising the amount of foul language used by the characters in my last novel, and these complaints were almost exclusively American in origin. The British (and Australians and Norwegians and French and Italians and just about everybody else) just took it in their stride. Ditto complaints about the explicit sex in my books, and bad reactions to the explicit political commentary in a couple of my nearer future scenarios. So it would certainly appear that, in general terms, there is within the US SF&F readership a group of people who are far more uptight and tender in their expectations than any you’d find on this side of the Atlantic. Sort of controversy virgins, I guess you could call them, going to the literary marriage bed in the expectation that it’s all going to be dewy-eyed candle-lit, air-brushed cuddles.

That said, I think my books have found a readership in the US which is very much at ease with the kind of fiction I’m writing and relates to it every bit as enthusiastically as my British readers. And it has to be said that it was the Americans who started garlanding me with awards first. I picked up the Philip K Dick and John W Campbell awards a long time before I got the Clarke. So clearly I was speaking at least as effectively to the American readership (or at least a portion thereof) as I was to anyone in the UK. And there is maybe a more whole-hearted, passionate enthusiasm in play across the Atlantic, which embraces new things in a way the rather more conservative British literati take longer to do. Maybe. Truth is, in the end, I think it doesn’t do to make too much of this cross-Atlantic cultural divide – there are, of course, substantial cultural differences between the UK and the US, and I think anyone who’s been paying attention is probably aware of them; but within both populations, there is also quite sufficient variance of taste and mindset for a writer to find his or her audience and flourish in both countries.

9. What effect should good science fiction or fantasy have upon the reader?

That’s a bit of a minefield question, to be honest. I’m extremely wary of making prescriptive templates for literature, cinema, drama, genre, what have you, not least because hard on the heels of prescriptive comes proscriptive, and after that we’re all just down to tribal fucking squabbling and beating our sad little chests for attention in our particular corner. I have an instinctive dislike of the kind of person who can turn on a dime and give you a cut-and-dried answer to questions of this sort – science fiction should do X, good fantasy is Y, literature must be Z, and so forth.

That said, the project of creating fiction requires a skill set, like any other activity, and like any other activity, you can do it better or worse. So it’s not unreasonable to lay out some broad guidelines for best practice, and I don’t believe in special dispensations for genre here. A good SF or fantasy novel must be, first and foremost, a good novel full stop. That means engaging characterization, convincing sense of milieu, compelling story – in short, the salients of any good fiction. I have no sympathy for (or, really, understanding of) the mindset that says sure, the writing style is for shit, the characters cardboard, the settings unconvincing, but hey it’s a cool concept or a good fast moving story, so who cares? To me that’s like ordering a meal and saying you don’t mind the fact the steak is burnt to a crisp, the sauce cold, and the salad unwashed, because, hey, the chips are good. I mean, come on, people.

As to what all this adds up to in terms of effect upon the reader, I quite like Kafka’s “a book must be an ice axe to break the seas frozen inside our souls”. Good fiction moves you, I think, forces you to feel something when the storm of experience and day to day existence very often dulls that ability in us, especially as we grow older. And then there’s Bradbury’s argument for “telling detail”, as specified in Faber’s speech in Fahrenheit 451: “The good writers touch life often….[books] show the pores in the face of life.” Those two quotes balance out quite nicely, I think – you’re looking for something that provokes emotional responses and engagement, but from a basis that’s anchored enough in reality to convince. Without the latter, you’re just not going to buy into the fiction enough to care, but without the former you’re not going to care enough to buy in. So, as regards genre writing, I’d say that if your imagined future or fantasy landscape and the characters that inhabit it feel real and emotionally engaging enough to care about, then you’ve done your job well.

10. What do you consider the most significant weakness in science fiction as a genre?

A preparedness to accept very poor levels of quality in fiction (as discussed above) so long as the gosh-wow factor is cranked up sufficiently high. Recently I was asked in an interview if I watched much TV and in response I cited The Wire as the finest TV drama around. This wasn’t what the interviewer was after, so he rephrased the question and asked me if I watched much SF&F TV. But the way he prefaced the remark was, I think, very telling. Of course they’re not in the same class as The Wire, he said, but have you seen the new Battlestar Galactica or Heroes?

Now my question is why isn’t there any SF&F TV drama in the same class as The Wire? There could be – look at movies like Bladerunner or Alien, novels like Geoff Ryman’s Air or Peter Watts’ Blindsight, comic-book work like Alan Moore’s From Hell or Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It’s not that the talent isn’t out there – it’s that the genre as a consumer demographic assigns negligible value to that talent. We would rather wallow in threadbare franchise mediocrity and clichéd visions thirty years past their sell-by date. So sure, Watts and Ryman are in print – but set their sales against those of the latest interchangeable pastel-shaded elf or magician-in-training brick or the interminable Halo/Star Wars-type franchises. There’s just no comparison. Moore, on his own admission, can’t make a living out of stuff like From Hell – he’s forced back time and again to the superhero template. There never has been another SF movie to touch Bladerunner, and the Alien franchise has degenerated, god help us, into Alien vs Predator Requiem. People would – apparently – rather watch the same old same old: Spider-man 5, Iron Man 3, Batman Again, and yet more bloody Star Trek and Star Wars. And the sci-fi channel can get away with cranking out product that HBO would blush to be associated with. To briefly paraphrase the movie Trainspotting it’s a shite state of affairs, Tommy, and all the CGI in the world won’t make any fucking difference.

11. What do you think have been the most significant developments in British science fiction and fantasy over the past twenty years?

Hmm – tough one. Would depend a lot on your defining parameters. In purely demographic terms, of course, you’re talking about the re-launch of Doctor Who and the advent of Harry Potter. Both of those have unquestionably sown the seeds for a massive influx of fresh, young readers and viewers into the genre, and we should all be very grateful for that. But taking a more quality-based and adult approach, I suppose I’d prefer to cite Iain M Banks’ re-invention of space opera in his Culture novels and China Mieville’s paradigm-shifting Bas-Lag fantasy trilogy – both those sequences have been a huge tonic for the genre in terms of imaginative power and reach; in many ways you could say that they were the base building blocks for the so-called British SF&F Renaissance.

Morgan and Hartland on Black Man

Further update to this week’s links: I see that an interesting discussion has developed between Dan Hartland and Richard Morgan in the comments to Dan’s review of Black Man:

RM: What if looking for some transcendental level to the narrative is in fact like going to see a production of King Lear and hoping that Gloucester won’t get blinded and Cordelia will be saved?

DH: Let’s ignore that the best productions of Lear achieve precisely that reaction in the audience! I’m more interested (for now! :P ) in why you imagine that anything that is not an out-and-out thriller will necessarily require a pretence that violence can’t be exciting? Because you’re right that thrillers achieve that effect very well (Black Man nails that side of itself, and I’d recommend it on that level to anyone) … but I’m less convinced that only pure thrillers can.

You were right earlier that ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction too rarely speak to each other. But what is the point of dialogue if, as you seem to be suggesting, to achieve a particular effect a book does indeed have to be one thing or t’other? To achieve an effect we use techniques, not forms; we need to understand those techniques and their contexts, for sure. But do we need to leave them where we found them to make them work, or can we create a new space for them, and even ally them with techniques from somewhere else?

RM: Hmm – let’s not [ignore the point about Lear], though. Because what makes Lear such a devastatingly powerful piece of drama is exactly the dynamic you describe, the fact that however much we long for those consolations from the play, we ain’t getting them! It’s the epitome of brilliant tragedy – Shakespeare basically gives you nowhere to hide. Similarly (ahem, not wishing to compare myself in canonical terms here, y’understand) Black Man is supposed to deny the reader the consolation of believing (or at least of being confident) that Marsalis is wrong and the human condition is susceptible to an altogether more reasonable and “truer” reading, with civilisation and peace for all at the end of it. Hopefully, that has a similarly tragic effect.

The Steel Remains

The Steel Remains coverHere I am back at the start, in a sense: it was Morgan’s acknowledgement of Elric and The Broken Sword as influences on The Steel Remains that made me seek them out. So the review that follows has a slightly tortured history, having been first composed back in June (or thereabouts), then revised both in light of having read the other books I’ve discussed this week, and having read Graham Sleight’s review, my reaction to which helped me to pin down how I wanted to say some of the things I wanted to say. And then, earlier this week, an interview with Richard Morgan was posted at io9, in which (among much, much else) apropos of some of the reactions to The Steel Remains he says:

In genre — and this seems to be the case more in science fiction — we cursed with a template-based form of appreciation. They always read in the context of what they’re already read. A book will be assessed on how much it seems to be like something else in the same … which seems to be a really old way to read to me. I don’t think it happens in mainstream fiction. […] an awful lot of reviews of The Steel Remains were measuring it against a fantasy novel by George R.R. Martin, a fantasy novel by Steven Erickson. I find that really strange. I am not George R.R. Martin and I am not Steven Erickson, and who’s to say that the book I’ve written is anything like those? There’s a constant blind impulse to find similarity and contrast.

I can understand his frustration; the tendency of some sf fans to dismiss new book X because author Y did the same thing in his book Z, twenty years ago drives me up the wall. (For a recent example, substitute “Paul McAuley’s Cowboy Angels” for X, “Michael Kube-McDowell” for Y and “Alternities” for Z.) It’s irritating because it’s usually a way of shutting down discussion – and even if it’s true, the fact that it’s true is not interesting, how and why it might be true is what’s interesting – and because it’s often a form of avoidance, a route to cheap, deceptive understanding. That said, I think Morgan is also being more than a little disingenuous. No two books are identical, but no book exists in a vacuum, either. How X is like (and unlike, of course) Z might well be useful information for someone reading a review: and done well, such comparison is another tool with which a reviewer can illuminate the specifics of X.

So I don’t feel any guilt about saying that, now that I’ve read some Anderson and Moorcock, their influence on The Steel Remains seems obvious. (There’s no danger of me making a similar claim for either George RR Martin or Steven Erickson, largely because I haven’t read the relevant books by either of them, but also because – from what I know about their work – such comparisons do seem to fall more towards the deceptive than the illuminating end of the spectrum.) From Anderson, I see a deliberate and forthright refusal of anything resembling a rose-tinted view of pre-industrial life; from Moorcock, a healthy dose of emo. The combination manifests as a worldview steeped in weary frustration: there are three main characters, all of them heroes who have outlived their war, and one of the strongest emotions afflicting each of them is a sense of waste, a sense that it could have been different. It’s not surprising that when the time finally comes to draw a line in the sand, one character does so because “I watched men like you piss it away again, the civilisation we’d saved […] And I will not watch it happen again” (370).

When the Scaled Folk invaded, Egar (called Dragonbane for a reason, now a clanmaster on the Northern plains), Archeth (dark-skinned half-breed, engineer, now advisor to the Yhelteth emperor), and Ringil (scion of a well-to-do family, leader of a last stand, now living in largely self-imposed exile) were in the front lines, but afterwards either they lost their way, or the world did. They all chafe at the situations they now find themselves in. Either there is no place for them (Archeth’s people have left the world; Ringil’s sexuality is illegal), or the place they’ve found is not enough (Ringil gets by as a hero-mascot for a tavern in small settlement, but resents it; Egar finds nomadic, tribal life unfulfilling after the intensity of urban civilization). All of them want to get back, into the world and what they do best, and on one level The Steel Remains is, straightforwardly, the story of them doing just that. Each of them needs a different shove to get going — Archeth is given a chance to put her expertise to use when she’s sent to examine the aftermath an attack on a Yhelteth port; Egar becomes a pawn in a godgame; Ringil is recruited by his (formidable) mother to track down his cousin, who has been (legally) sold into slavery by her husband — but thereafter their momentum carries them through their various investigations.

That plot structure is one important difference to the other books I’ve been discussing — Our Heroes don’t form a Quest Party, although of course eventually the threads do collide, and events reach a climax – but there are others. Apart from anything else, The Steel Remains is a modern novel, constructed as a novel from the ground up; there is none of the compression that marks out the Elric stories, for example. Other differences are obvious because I know some of Morgan’s previous work, in a way that’s not true with most of the other writers I’ve been talking about; for instance, where The Broken Sword is fairly relentless in its intensity, like Morgan’s other books The Steel Remains adopts what Adam Roberts aptly described as a sort of post-rock aesthetic, interspersing moments of quiet with moments of thundering loud.

The most familiar loudness in Morgan’s work is, of course, anger, which sometimes leads to the argument that there is a contradiction at the heart of his novels between style and subject that undermines their coherence. But it strikes me that such an argument is based on a slight misreading. There’s no doubt that Morgan’s books frame their physical, verbal, and moral engagements in high-stakes, high-contrast terms, but they shout with a purpose. Violence, for example, is as costly and terrible as it can be useful, or even necessary; above all, it is (rightly) seen as part of being human, or at the very least part of being human for the people Morgan is interested in writing about. Ultimately Morgan’s characters, for all their individual vigour, tend to be victims of a system. Black Man was venemously explicit about this towards its end – as one character sardonically put it, “Don’t ask, don’t ever ask who’s really making all this happen” – and while there’s no single comparable crystallizing moment in The Steel Remains, the anger at misplaced prejudice, the architects of injustice, and the mechanisms that encourage both frequently rings through.

The angriest character in The Steel Remains, and the axis around which the rest of the book is organised, is Ringil. (With three protagonists, and three books planned in the series, it will be interesting to see whether Egar and Archeth get their turn in the spotlight.) In a number of ways, Ringil resembles Black Man‘s Carl Marsalis: both are soldiers who appear to have lived longer than they were needed; both have an ironic sense of humour; both have a high sex drive; and of course, both attract hate and fear simply by being who they are. In other ways, they’re different. For all that Ringil is a veteran, he is younger than Marsalis, with less sense of himself, and all the hot-headedness and arrogance that condition brings; he thrills in battle in a way that would probably cause Marsalis to snort and shake his head. (It has that effect on the reader a couple of times, at least.) But ultimately the two of them complement each other as points on a spectrum of what men are allowed to be. Marsalis, allegedly a genetic throwback to the sort of Real Men who existed before wussy stuff like agriculture came along, was seen as too much man; Ringil, whose homosexuality marks him as a deviant, is seen as not manly enough. Which of course is nonsense; he’s in a Richard Morgan novel, so even while straining (and shouting) against the boxes his cultures put him in, Ringil is possessed of the sort of earth-shattering maleness that usually indicates a Lucius Shepard protagonist (although I can’t, offhand, recall any gay Shepard protagonists, or indeed any who are quite as nifty with edged weapons).

Because of his sexuality, from a distance Ringil looks like the same sort of intervention into the expectations of heroic fantasy as Alyx. In fact Morgan accepts more of the terms of engagement than Russ, in that Ringil’s personality is closer to that of Scafloc and Elric; but certainly Morgan is no less frank about Ringil’s fucking than he is about Ringil’s fighting (or indeed than he is about his straight characters fucking, both here and in earlier novels). Put another way, passion is another source of loudness in the book; and when it gets mixed up with anger, as it often does because of the way Ringil’s society treats his sexuality, you get passages like this:

[H]e couldn’t cloak it any longer, the leaking sense of loss, more fucking loss, soaking through into the same old general, swirling sense of betrayal, years upon pissed away years of it, made bitter and particular on his tongue now, as if Grace-of-Heaven [a lover] had come wormwood into his mouth in those final clenched, pulsing seconds. Pleasure into loss, lust into regret and there, suddenly, the same sick spiral of fucked up guilt they sold down at the temples and all through the po-faced schooling and lineage values and Gingren’s lectures and the new-recruit rituals of bullying and sterile manhood at the academy and every fucking thing ever lied and pontificated about by men in robes or uniform and– (59)

It’s the sort of anger that would in other hands be mere bluster: the sort rooted in frustration, that grabs you and becomes all-eclipsing while it lasts; the sort that often leads to violence, in this world and in Morgan’s, and then ebbs as quickly as it rose. (Or doesn’t: the rage at the execution of one particular gay youth remains undimmed throughout the book.) There’s a lot for Ringil to be angry at; his world is medieval in all the worst ways, thinned with no sign of recognition or recovery. In addition to the condemnation of homosexuality (it is punishable by execution), the post-war economy is in the toilet, and as a part-consequence slavery has been legalized; and religious fundamentalism is on the rise. In fact, about the only thing Ringil has going for him is that he’s not a woman. Reviewing Scott Lynch’s most recent novel — a writer whose mix of formal and informal language bears some comparison to Morgan — for Strange Horizons, Martin Lewis objected to the way in which (as he saw it) gender and other inequalities had been largely airbrushed away. Lewis was subsequently taken to task by some commenters for a lack of imagination, but if such it is then a similar lack attends The Steel Remains, in which prejudice and discrimination are endemic; Ringil’s only advantage is that he can hide his assumed inferiority (and in some cases, his fighting prowess might persuade people to look the other way). I’d say it’s something that elevates Morgan’s book above Lynch’s: better, to my mind, to engage with something than to sidestep it.

Part of that engagement is that, as much as any of the Elric stories, The Steel Remains is about the difficulty of claiming a new identity when the old one is taken from you by force or time. With a sense of waste, inevitably comes a sense of what was lost, and how loss leaves you adrift. It’s probably Archeth – for all that she gets relatively little action until late in the book, and spends relatively more time infodumping or being infodumped at for our benefit – who anchors this theme. She has the advantage of being close to the seat of power; she can see all too clearly how badly the empire she serves matches up to her dreams for society after the war. She has lost her heritage, and we eventually learn that her dark-skinned people left because they felt diminished by contact with human society. And, as an engineer with some access to technologies far beyond those of the people she lives among, she is the only one of the three protagonists equipped to argue with the world by any means other than force (though she is no slouch with her knives): to most people, science and sorcery are one and the same. But Ringil, too, is troubled by loss, or not so much troubled by it as assaulted by his memories — they sneak up on him, and once even literally stop him in his tracks. Nor is memory the only way the past breaks loudly into the present; there’s unfinished business of various kinds, returning enemies, several corpses that appear to have risen from the dead and one that actually does.

Such eruptions of the creepy and wonderful and strange are handled as confidently as good fantasy requires. They’re a different kind of loud for Morgan (as Graham noted in his review) but one that seems to me to sit comfortably, perhaps surprisingly so, with the more familiar elements of his aesthetic. Indeed, the final third of The Steel Remains is exhilaratingly full of discovery, without ever sacrificing either emotional intensity or the plot’s forward motion, and highlight another interesting link to Moorcock, Anderson and Russ, if not Leiber: there are several heavy hints dropped that Ringil’s world is in some way connected to our own. (Which brings me back to a question I raised in the comments earlier this week and didn’t get an answer to: when did full, separate secondary worlds become de rigeur in genre fantasy? I’ve heard it attributed to Patricia McKillip’s Riddle-Master trilogy (1976-9), but I really have no idea.) There are characters in The Steel Remains – Archeth is one – who know, for instance, that their world is part of a solar system that’s part of a galaxy; that the “band” that illuminates the night sky was probably once a moon; that their world has probably been visited by more than one near-human species. And Morgan’s fairies are to all intents and purposes worldwalkers, beings who can see and navigate through “a malestrom of alternatives” (and thus see the possibilities that are not; more loss, more weariness).

As in The Broken Sword and Stormbringer, in The Steel Remains, there is no guarantee in any of this that Ringil’s world can be saved, or that its future will be better than its past. But there is perhaps a little more optimism. If, you think, if Morgan’s heroes could see through their loss, if they could use their anger — if they could shout loud enough — then maybe they’d actually have a shot at healing some wounds. But it seems a pretty slim if. More likely they’ll keep fighting, because that’s what they do, because that’s what there is, because the system can’t be beat; and when they cry out, it will be with Egar’s battle-cry, in an “awful, no-way-back call for death, and company in the dying” (22). There are two more books to come, and I reckon that’s the way it will go; but if so, it’ll be a story worth telling, anyway. And reading.

The Winner

And the winner of the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Award is …

Black Man by Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan

Congratulations to Richard Morgan; and of course, it’s an excellent book, which you should all go and read right now. Or, if you prefer, you could look at my photos from the award party and ceremony, over here. Paul Billinger has some here, including a good one of the judges.

I haven’t seen many reactions around yet, but Abigail Nussbaum is pleased. Jeff VanderMeer also thinks it’s a good choice, and has a short piece up at the Amazon blog. Instant Fanzine considers it “the least slapfightlicious choice.”

UPDATE: Paul Raven’s happy (but it’s the only one of the shortlist), Joe Gordon is chuffed, and Jonathan and James report they enjoyed attending the ceremony, and the Guardian implies that Richard Morgan is a genetically-modified assassin. (They also — mistakenly — give the impression that Paul Billinger was a voting judge; in fact the Chair’s role, which Paul carried out very well, is to moderate the discussion.)

Over on the Guardian blog, Sam Jordison reports on a night in the new world of SF. Two things strike me about this report: first, it’s great to hear that the passion involved in the decision was visible to an observer; second, I really regret not knowing that he was there, because I’d have liked to thank him for his continuing series of Guardian blog posts on past Hugo Award winners. I very much hope he gets a chance to post about his reaction to Black Man.

Elsewhere, Joe Abercombie is pleased the award went to an unashamedly sf novel, Philip Palmer enjoyed himself, and the post-presentation Gollancz meal seems to have gone well. (As for the tiny trousers mentioned in both posts, I can only assume that Adam Roberts has been supplying Lilliputian assistants to his fellow writers, and is now running a premium clothing-replacement business.)

Sci-Fi London have footage from the ceremony here, while the text of Paul Billinger’s speech can be found here. And io9’s take: “Shockingly, Science Fiction Book Wins SF Book Award”.

2008 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist

It may look as if everything is normal, but actually, I’m in Switzerland, where I’ve just had an absurdly early breakfast in anticipation of a long day’s work. But I’ve found time (and some internet) to bring you the shortlist for the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Award anyway. (OK, I wrote most of this post at the weekend. But the principle stands.) Am I good to you, or what?

Tom Hunter, Award Administrator, says:

Featuring visions as diverse as a dystopian Cumbria and a future Hackney, time-travel adventures in 1960’s Liverpool and an alternate world British Isles in the throes of terrorist attack, through to tech-noir thrillers and a trawl through subconscious worlds where memories fall prey to metaphysical sharks, the Clarke Award has never been so close to home and relevant to the British literary scene.

The Clarke Award has always been about pushing at the speculative edges of its genre. It’s one possible map amongst many, never the whole territory, and this year’s shortlist stands as both the perfect introduction to the state of modern science fiction writing as well as a first tantalising glimpse of possible futures to come.

And those books? Read on.

Shortlist overviews
Abigail Nussbaum at Strange Horizons
Adam Roberts at Futurismic
Lisa Tuttle in The Times
Steven Shaviro
Tony Keen

A poll

The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter

The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod

Black Man by Richard Morgan

So. Run the numbers. Six novels, five publishers. Four stories set in the future. Three first-time nominees — two debut novels, in fact. One young adult book. What else?

(When everyone in the UK’s woken up, there may well be some discussion here, here and here.)

John Jarrold
Abigail Nussbaum
Paul Raven
The Guardian
Martin Lewis
Jeff VanderMeer