Science fiction novel shortlists. Sigh.

There was a time when I enjoyed shortlist season. It was a time when I was young and innocent (and worked in a public library and therefore had first dips on many a new book before it hit the shelves – shocking but hey, everyone needs a perk). It was a time when I discovered new authors and new books (Lauren Beukes, Sarah Hall, Jan Morris and others, for example). As soon as the shortlists were announced I’d rush around the shelves gathering up those books I’d not yet read and ordering others from other libraries if they weren’t available.

I think Twitter has killed my enthusiasm for shortlisted science fiction books. Firstly, there’s the constant bickering and intense evaluation of the value or worthiness of each entry. Is it sexist? Is it modern? Is it safe? Does it represent fandom? What is fandom anyway? I’ve also been introduced to a whole bunch of new authors and books via Twitter, Goodreads and elsewhere that I’m less excited about discovering new books on the shortlists.

The big three in my eyes are the Kitchies, the BSFAs and the Clarke Award. I’m discounting the Hugos for reasons too boring to elaborate on. But blame Twitter on that too. So here are the 2014 short-lists:

The Kitchies:

The Red Tentacle (Novel) – selected by Kate Griffin, Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, Anab Jain and Annabel Wright:

  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth OzekiThe Machine
  • Red Doc> by Anne Carson
  • Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness
  • The Machine by James Smythe

The Golden Tentacle (Debut) – selected by the above panel:

  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Stray by Monica Hesse
  • A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock
  • Nexus by Ramez Naam
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

BSFA Best Novel:

  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
  • Evening’s Empires by Paul McAuley
  • Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell
  • The Adjacent by Christopher Priest

Arthur C Clarke Award:

  • Nexus by Ramez Naam
  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley
  • The Machine by James Smythe
  • Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie
  • The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann
  • The Adjacent by Christopher Priest

Not many books have been agreed on by the panels but the main titles that jump out are:

  • The Machine by James Smythe (2 appearances)
  • Ancillary Justice by Anne Leckie (3)
  • The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (2, and the only one I’ve read)
  • Nexus by Ramez Naam (2)
  • God’s War by Kameron Hurley (2)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki is about the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in Japan and was shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, which suggests some level of quality. It’s been on my to-read list for a while, but I’m not sure why. I will read it at some point soon. The Machine looks interesting, Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is on my to read list and there’s been a lot of positive noise made about Leckie’s debut, so while it’s not my usual bag (usually find space opera dull), I might give it a go. As for the rest? Meh. Nothing about most of them excites me.

Red Doc> – mythic boy-hero into the twenty-first century to tell a story all its own of love, loss, and the power of memory.

Bleeding Edge – crime and the internet from set in 2001.

More Than This – an afterlife mystery?

Stray – an artificial intelligence thriller.

A Calculated Life – genetic engineering, data and crime

Nexus – near-future nano-technothriller

God’s War – far future thriller on a war-torn planet (1st of a series *groans*)

Evening’s Empires – a far future tale of revenge, of murder and morality and a semi-intelligent space suit (I read about half a McAuley once, found it tedious at best)

Ack-Ack Macaque – is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey hero from WW2 who doubts his own existance

The Disestablishment of Paradise – problems on the planet of Paradise with man vs nature

Maybe the Powell stands out too as being different to raise an eye, but the rest, well, sighing, I wonder if I either don’t have any interest in SF any more, or that they shortlists are terribly uninspiring. The evidence suggests the latter, however, because while I really liked The Adjacent if you look at some of the books I’ve read in the last few months (going back into last year), I’ve read some terrific books that might make next year’s shortlists and others that should have made this year’s, maybe.

  • The Shining Girls by Lauren BeukesDog Stars
  • Lexicon by Max Barry
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux
  • Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson
  • The Method by Juli Zeh

So, I’m not rushing out to read the books on these lists before the winners of the Clarke Award and BSFA winners are announced (the Kitschie winners are already known). I would have added my opinion to those voices who picked their best novels in years gone by. Now, I’m more interested in picking up something different and new.

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