Science Fiction Shortlist Season

Image from the Kitschies’ website

So not even awards season, but awards short listings season has begun. And with it the bickering. Blimey, Twitter was on fine form with the back-and-forth about these lists. Is there enough Sci-Fi in the BSFA awards? What is Sci-Fi anyway? Do particular awards speak to particular audiences? Are there enough women nominated and is that the fault of the publisher or the fans? Are the shortlists too UK-centric or not enough? There really should be a bickering award. However, under the surface of all this strife there are a number of important and interesting points:

  • They spark a debate, which is probably what awards in any field are really about (if only the squabbling could become real informed discourse).
  • They challenge the concept of what is a good book.
  • They are a marketing tool.

So, the BSFA (and that is the British Science Fiction Association) shortlist for best novel is:

  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
  • Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)
  • Intrusion by Ken Macleod (Orbit)
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley-Robinson (Orbit)

12875162Questions and comments? Three publishers – a couple of majors and an independent. Seems fine to me. All men. Not read any of them, which is a shocker. However, I’m a slow reader and am always behind the times. The Macleod and the Roberts are on my to-read list. I’m a fan of both authors. Not interested in the Harrison (read the first two of the series and both left me cold) or 2312. Not sure about Dark Eden. Again, it’s on my to-read list, but it’s a low priority. All fairly traditional science fiction tropes.

Now for the far cooler (apparently) Kitchies. First, best novel:

  • The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (Heinemann)
  • A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
  • The Method by Juli Zeh (translated by Sally-Ann Spencer) (Harvill Secker)

And their shortlist for debut novel:

  • vN by Madeline Ashby (Angry Robot)
  • The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan (Heinemann)
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (Doubleday)
  • Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • The City’s Son by Tom Pollock (Jo Fletcher Books)

Again, not read any of them, but many are on the to-read list, especially the Ashby, the Zeh, and the Pollock. I think it’s interesting that the best novel nominations are major publishers (Zeh’s excepted) while the debut are a mixed bunch of publishing houses. There are an assortment of genres and six women from the ten authors. Clearly, a much more eclectic selection. Adam Robert’s is the only consensus across the awards. In the bag for him then?

So, the big question is this: are the Kitchies more representative, or do they deliberately skew the nominations to be more inclusive? I couldn’t possibly comment, because I don’t know. To be frank, I don’t actually care. In both cases, some people come together, read some books and talk about the ones that they liked the best – regardless of how that process comes about. Who’s to say the most vocal decriers of the awards would come up with the same list or not? All I know is what makes a good story. I didn’t read very many books that were published in 2012 and those I did were mostly horror and fantasy (due to reviewing obligations and catching up with 2011 releases). Maybe I should try harder to read books as they are released.

Of course, the Arthur C Clarke award has yet to announce their shortlist, but thankfully, Christopher Priest hasn’t published a book this year so there might not be any public spats. I wonder if China Miéville’s Railsea will get a nod (not read it). For some reason, I always try to read these shortlisted books before the winner has been announced. Maybe I should try to read the above titles too?

I have my own views on genre and about what science fiction is and should be. This is developing as I work through my History of Science Fiction Literature Challenge. I like to mix up the books I read in terms of depth. So I will read a light urban fantasy and a challenging magic realism, then I’ll go for a werewolf followed by a near future science fiction telling me about societies problems. You can’t live on broccoli alone. Sometimes you need a bacon sarnie.

1738986I don’t think about the author too much when reading and choosing books. Let me qualify that slightly. Of course, I am a fan of particular authors and genres. However, I’m not at all interested in whether Mira Grant is American or George Orwell is male. Many years ago I read Tricia Sullivan’s Someone To Watch Over Me and Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite pretty much back-to-back. I had read short stories by both of them in an anthology and enjoyed their writing so hunted out their books. Turns out one is an American living in the UK and the other is from Yorkshire living in the US. One is gay, one isn’t. Guess what? Not interested. I enjoyed Ammonite more than Someone… although I prefer much of Sullivan’s later works. Did Griffith’s work speak to me on some level other than story-telling? I wouldn’t have thought so but then I’m not a physiologist. What I look for in a book is this: story, character, depth or lightness (broccoli or bacon) depending on my mood, entertainment, good writing, and sometimes to be challenged. I wouldn’t not read a book because of an author’s anything (gender, religious preferences, birthplace, eye colour, whatever). I don’t understand anyone who would.

As far marketing is concerned. We live in a capitalist society where competition is king. I don’t particularly like that, but I live little choice but to live in it. There is so much out there and so little time to read everything. I personally appreciate having the shortlists because they highlight books I may have ordinarily missed.

If M. John Harrison wins I still won’t read it. It’s not for me, but I appreciate why he has the acclaim that he does. I might give 2312 a go but I doubt it, as I have too much else I want to read. You know who I hope wins the BSFA award and the Kitchie’s? The most enjoyable and best written book that the panel have read, using a democratic decision to reach an agreement. End of story.

Image from BSFA website
Image from BSFA website

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