My annual witterings concerning SFF shortlists for best novel

a-closed-and-common-orbitLast night, the Clarke Award announced its shortlist for the 2017 prize. The Hugo Award shortlist was announced a few weeks ago to the least amount of irritating noise I can recall for years. The BSFA announced a shortlist and a winner a while ago. While the most progressive award in my opinion, the Kitschies, don’t appear to have a list out this year.

My motivation is low. In past years I’ve tried to read as many of the shortlisted novels as possible and pass an opinion on my favourite. This year, that isn’t going to happen.

Anyway, the shortlists are thusly:

Clarke Award

  • A Closed and Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee
  • After Atlas – Emma Newman
  • Occupy Me – Tricia Sullivan
  • Central Station – Lavie Tidhar
  • The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

Hugo Award

  • All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders
  • A Closed and Common Orbit Becky Chambers
  • Death’s End Cixin Liu
  • Ninefox Gambit Yoon Ha Lee
  • The Obelisk Gate K. Jemisin
  • Too Like the Lightning Ada Palmer

BSFA Award

  • Daughter of Eden Chris Beckett
  • A Closed and Common Orbit Becky Chambers
  • Europe in Winter Dave Hutchinson – WINNER
  • Occupy me Tricia Sullivan
  • Azanian Bridges Nick Wood

Ok, so from this list I wasn’t massively impressed by Sullivan’s Occupy Me. I’m quite a fan europe-in-winterof hers but I think this is her weakest book for a while, despite it being a quite an original concept. I really enjoyed A Closed and Common Orbit from Chambers. It was even better than her debut! And I really loved Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky! Europe in Winter from Dave Hutchinson – in fact the whole fractured Europe series – is excellent and it isn’t a surprise it won the BSFA gong. Haven’t read the rest. Probably won’t.

I quite fancy After Atlas from Emma Newman but it’s number 2 in a series and I haven’t read the first one yet. It is on my Goodreads tbr list, but whether or not I get around to it is another matter. I wasn’t massively impressed by Jemisin’s first in this series, despite about a million people seemingly loving it. Ninefox Gambit has a couple of nods to might be worth an investigation, but to be honest, I’m losing the will to give a shit. Tidhar’s book is on my tbr list and I’ve enjoyed his previous novels so I will read this. Eventually! I read Whitehead’s zombie effort a few years ago and hated it. I know and appreciate that The Underground Railroad has had some amazing notices, and I’m tempted, but I don’t think it’ll be my cup of tea. And science fiction? Doesn’t sound like it…

Anyway, I hope that Anders wins the Hugo and Chambers wins the Clarke!

all-the-birds-in-the-sky

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And the winner is…

Congratulations to Adrian Tchaikovsky for winning the 2015 Clarke Award for Children of Time, announced on 24 August 2016. Well done also to N. K. Jemisin for Hugo Best Novel success for The Fifth Season.

Now these winners have been announced (along with Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings -BSFA winner, The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood which won the Kitschies Red Tentacle and Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson, debut novel winner of the Kitschies Golden Tentacle), I can reveal the Forgottengeekmetaawardforbooks, after my shortlist was announced last week:

  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

And the winner of the inaugural Forgottengeekmetaawardforbooks is….

  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

The Thing Itself

For my review, see: https://theforgottengeek.wordpress.com/2016/01/31/the-thing-itself-by-adam-roberts/

 

ForgottenGeekMetaAwardForBooks Shortlist Announced!

With a week to go before the Clarke Award is announced it is time to reveal my inaugural major SFF meta shortlist. First, the nominations:

meKitschies Golden Tentacle:

  • The Shore by Sara Taylor
  • Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett
  • The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
  • The Night Clock by Paul Meloy
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

Kitschies Red Tentacle:

  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Reflection,by Hugo Wilcken
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

BSFA:

  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett
  • The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
  • Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
  • Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Clarke Award:

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Way Down Dark by JP Smythe
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

Hugos:

  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik

So I’ve NOT read: Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson; Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie; The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher; Mother of Eden by Chris Beckett; The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken (which I still hope to read at some point); and Blackass by A. Igoni Barrett.

So, and fanfare, drumroll and other such musical precursors, here is my top 7:

  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight,by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts
  • Making Wolf by Tade Thompson

What will be my book of the year? Find out next week!

Now, can someone make me an award?

Brum Radio Book Club – me on the radio again

So I was on the Brum Radio Book Club again, which was cool. You can listen here: https://www.mixcloud.com/BrumRadio/brum-radio-bookshow-featuring-joanne-harris-and-carole-and-john-barrowman-27516/

Or the transcript of my bit is here:

ArcadiaHowdy, this is the forgotten geek, otherwise known as ianjsimpson, back to report once more from the world of speculative and science fiction. The last few months have seen most of the major science fiction book awards announce their shortlists and in most cases, the winners too.

There was the usual who-ha regarding the Hugo’s in the US. For those who don’t know, these are what might be called the Oscars for science fiction. There’s always some controversy surrounding these awards, as some old fashioned, right wing fans and writers known as the rabid puppies try to dominate the shortlisting slates, much to the chagrin of regular fans. If you have a look on my blog – the forgottengeek.wordpress.com – there are links to some interesting analysis.

In the UK, the Kitschies announced their winners over Easter. Margaret Atwood won for best novel with The Heart Goes Last. In this wickedly clever novel, Atwood considers a social experiment, where desperate members of society are offered a stable job and decent housing. The payoff, however, is they have to spend every second month in prison. The protagonists house share with others who are in prison when they are ‘out’. We are in a near future dystopia here, and Atwood’s satire is biting. Featuring groups of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley impersonators, not only does Atwood comment on the commercialisation of the penal system, but on the dangers of role play and the nature of love. A worthy winner. Back to the Kitschies, and the debut novel award went to Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson. Set in a fictional African nation, the protagonist lies to impress old friends when returning home for his Aunt’s funeral. Investigating corruption, sexual identity and cultural mythologies, Thompson’s book is something a little different for those who like their fiction just on the speculative side.

The winner of the British Science Fiction Association award went to Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Shattered Wings. Which is odd, because it isn’t science fiction but a blend of religious and far-eastern mythology set in a future Paris. Dragons from the east and fallen angels conspire and plot in a post-apocalyptic Notre Dame. Ah, that’ll be the sci-fi element. The prose is a tad overwrought at times, but the plot is intriguing and the characters are interestingly complex. The delight, however, lies in how de Bodard weaves the various fantasies into a coherent and satisfying story.

The Clarke Award winner will be announced in August. Check out my blog for the full short list. Having read half of them thus far, and currently ploughing my way through Iain Pears beautifully written Arcadia, I wouldn’t like to call this, although I’d love it to go to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Beckie Chambers. Never has a story about a diverse bunch of characters on a space ship been so joyful!

Outside of the shortlists, and perhaps the most eagerly awaited book of the summer is Joe Hill’s The Fireman. Despite being a doorstop, this is a less epic, more intimate study of life in a cult during the apocalypse. The book I’m most intrigued by in the coming weeks, however, is The sudden appearance of hope. This is the third book – cough – by Claire North. It is the story of a girl who no-one ever remembers. Which makes her dangerous. If North’s previous – Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – are anything to go by, this will be an imaginative and brilliantly written page turner.”

Sci Fi Shortlist Update – Hugos and Clarke Awards

Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetLast night the Hugo Award short lists were announced, much to my amusement. I don’t quite get how people can get so worked up about what is essentially a good and kind message (what the bad guys call SJWs) in fiction that they sabotage an award. Nuts. Anyway, many more eloquent comments are available than could come from my brain, so check out HUGOPOCALYPSE II: Where Do We Go From Here? From Nerds of a Feather for example.

So the shortlist for best novel is:

  • Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (Orbit) – not interested after finding problems with the first one
  • The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Roc) – not read, but come on!
  • The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin (Orbit) – interesting and valid nomination, on my to-read list
  • Seveneves: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow) – ditto
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Del Rey) – not as good as most people claim. Weird!

For more on the Hugos: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/26/hugo-awards-shortlist-rightwing-campaign-sad-rabid-puppies?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

And so tonight, the Clarke Award shortlist was announced:

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Way Down Dark by JP Smythe – already read this one
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – already read this one
  • Arcadia by Iain Pears
  • The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson

This seems like a pretty good list, although I’m gobsmacked that Adam Roberts’ novel isn’t on it!

And as a reminder, the other awards I pay attention to which have been announced:

BSFA:

  • Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight
  • Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden
  • Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings – read this one, which won
  • Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon
  • Justina Robson: Glorious Angels

Kitschies Red Tentacle:

  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood – read, which won
  • Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Reflection, by Hugo Wilcken
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts – read

Kitschies Golden Tentacle:

  • The Shore, by Sara Taylor – read
  • Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett
  • The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan – read
  • The Night Clock, by Paul Meloy – read
  • Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson – read, which won

So, I still plan to read most of these that I haven’t read, and produce my own list and award!

So come the announcement of the Clarke Award winner later this year, I’ll be announcing the inaugural ForgottenGeekMetaAwardForBooks.

Watch this space.

Keeping my mind open: Genre-fiction short lists and awards update (2015)

At the end of February I appeared on the Brum Radio Book Club, talking about science fiction. I mentioned that it was science fiction short list season. For the full text that I recorded and to listen to the show see: https://theforgottengeek.wordpress.com/about/my-radio-debut

Since the recording, the BSFA and the Kitschies have announced their short-list while the Clarke Award have released their submissions list. This is a terrific time for me, as a genre reader, as I pick up book recommendations that I wouldn’t always come across from the likes of SFX or Twitter. I try to read as many of the short-listed books as I can, that suit my tastes (too many books out there to read something I know I won’t be interested it!).

Starting with the BSFA, their shortlist for best novel is:

  • Dave Hutchinson: Europe at Midnight
  • Chris Beckett: Mother of Eden
  • Aliette de Bodard: The House of Shattered Wings
  • Ian McDonald: Luna: New Moon
  • Justina Robson: Glorious Angels

I’ve not read any of these, although I might check out the McDonald especially as I enjoyed The Dervish House. The Hutchison is intriguing. I’ve tried reading Robson in the past and not got on with her and I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first in Beckett’s Eden books so I might give that one a miss. While The House of Shattered Wings appears to be the book most up my street, I naturally take against anything that declares itself to be book one in a series. Still, it’s on my to read list. Whether it makes the leap from the list to the shelf is touch and go. For more on the BSFA: http://www.bsfa.co.uk/bsfa-awards-2015-shortlist-announced/

Moving on to the Kitschies. These are my favourite awards. They always introduce me to new writers, as they have a debut novel category. In their main shortlist known as Red Tentacle, the books are:

  • The Heart Goes Last, by Margaret Atwood
  • Europe at Midnight, by Dave Hutchinson
  • The Reflection, by Hugo Wilcken
  • The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin
  • The Thing Itself, by Adam Roberts

I’ve already read the brilliant The Thing Itself. I waxed lyrical on the radio, and also on BookGeek. I’ve already got the Atwood on my shelf, and plan to read it before Easter. Both the Wilcken and the Jemisin are not books or authors I’ve heard of. They may have to wait in line, unless one beats Roberts to the prize.

The Golden Tentacle goes to a debut novel from this list:

  • The Shore, by Sara Taylor
  • Blackass, by A. Igoni Barrett
  • The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan
  • The Night Clock, by Paul Meloy
  • Making Wolf, by Tade Thompson

I’m half way through The Shore as I write. It is a hard book to love but an easy book to admire. I hope it all comes together as it promises. I’ve got the Logan and the Meloy on my shelf. I’ll be reviewing The Gracekeepers for BookGeek in a few weeks’ time. Blackass sounds interesting and I’ve added it, and the Thompson, to my to read list. The winners are announced tomorrow. For more information on these shortlists and awards see: http://www.thekitschies.com/the-kitschies-2015-shortlists-revealed/

I usually try to read as many of the Clarke Award shortlisted books as I can, although this has dropped off in recent years. To date, they have announced 113 books on their submission list, and while they make it clear it’s not a long list, I’ve only read or plan to read 19 of them. I certainly hope these make the short list:

There’s a very interesting discussion on the list over here: https://medium.com/@arthurcclarkeaward/the-arthur-c-clarke-award-complete-submissions-list-2016-eee27947f30e#.cxunoofpi It will be a while before the winner of the Clarke Award is announced although the shortlist is expected on April 27.

I expect the usual bickering once winners are announced. Such and such isn’t science fiction, or such and such only won because a woman wrote it or has a gay character. Nonsense and tosh of course. I can’t stand the social media bullshit that surrounds the awards, but it is a price to pay for the democracy of opinion and voice. All I know is that I will take some of these books, and some I’ll enjoy and some will inspire, and in some I might find new favourite authors. And for that, I thank all those involved in putting these awards together, for they help to keep my eyes open. Keep my mind open.

 

Image credit: Share Alike Some rights reserved by Eddi van W.

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.

Awards season stuff… in which I sit back and watch the squabbling over 2014’s awards season

Well, science fiction and fantasy awards season is almost upon us for 2014 and Twitter is already abuzz with gossip and backbiting. Some people Winners?claim that the awards are irrelevant and bias towards to old-school, unoriginal and predominantly white male traditional science fiction. As always, there is some hoo-haa about eligibility, authors pimping their books, withdrawing their books and other such goings on. Some people are claiming a whole lot of stuff in relation to eligible books and short-lists. To be honest, I’m not interested. In the age of Twitter, the loudest voices tend have the most extreme opinions, which they dress up as fact. They are mostly self-serving and wrong. I am, and always have been, about the quality of a story. Is it good, interesting and well written? And does it say something to me. In the past, the Arthur C Clarke award has always been a standard of quality and I have endeavoured to read all the shortlisted novels before the winner was announced. This didn’t happen last year. I think I was a bit peeved at the fuss surrounding Christopher Priest and awards in general.

As a recap, these are the shortlisted books from some of the awards in 2013 (in other words, books published in 2012)…

BSFA best novel: Winner – Jack Glass by Adam Roberts; Nominated – Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, Empty Space by M. John Harrison, Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Arthur C Clarke best novel: Winner – Dark Eden by Chris Beckett; Nominated – 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Intrusion by Ken MacLeod, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, Nod by Adrian Barnes.

The Kitchies best novel: Winner – Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway; Nominated – Jack Glass by Adam Roberts, The Method by Juli Zeh, The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington, A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge.

The Kitchies best debut: Winner – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord; Nominated – vN by Madeline Ashby, Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, The City’s Son by Tom Pollock.

Hugos best novel: Winner – Red Shirts by John Scalzi; Nominated – 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, Blackout my Mira Grant, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold, Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

To be fair to the critics who have read them all and have commented, it’s not a particularly diverse and representative list of speculation fiction. Karen Lord and Saladin Ahmed stand out a bit. But as I said, I’m less interested in the authors and the opinions of other critics, and more interested in the actual books. So, these are the books I’ve read from these shortlisted and winning novels, in order:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter HellerDog Stars
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
  • The Method by Juli Zeh
  • Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
  • Dark Eden by Chris Becket
  • The City’s Son by Tom Pollock
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington

(I still hope to read Vn, Redemption in Indigo and Nod, but not the others.)

Ok, from the bottom upwards then. I am gobsmacked the Bullington’s effort made any shortlist. It was just so dull and pointless. Not even sure what it was in terms of genre, sub-text, or anything else really. The only good thing about it was the quality of the writing and some interesting characters. Angelmaker has pretty much the same criticism. Not sure what it is. Ok, so it’s a golden-age fantasy spy thing and a fun-ish romp. But not particularly inspiring other than again the quality of the writing. Very surprised it won the Kitchies although it does fit their brief rather well in terms of having that indefinable quality to it. Even more surprised it made the Clarke shortlist. It is definitely not science fiction. Meanwhile, there is nothing special at all to be said of Pollock’s debut. More of the same in terms of Urban Fantasy, but nothing better than anything done by Kate Griffin or Ben Aaronovitch and the like. It was a fun but forgettable read.

Now time for some proper quality. I’ve enjoyed the writing of Chris Becket before and Dark Eden shows the potential coming to fruition. The idea of Dark Eden is something I’ve not come across before – an abandoned colony who almost deify its founders. While I enjoyed the message of Beckett’s The Holy Machine more, this effort is more wholly satisfying. Despite roots in traditional science fiction, I always enjoy Ken MacLeod’s fiction. And it’s interesting that in Intrusion he tackles similar themes to Juli Zeh’s entry. They are both, essentially, medical-based dystopias examining the individuals rights, especially over their own bodies. Great subject matter, great ideas and great writing from both (with a nod to the translator of The Method too).

I probably can’t separate Jack Glass and The Dog Stars in terms of the best read from the shortlisted books. I would say I enjoyed two-thirds of the former more than all of the latter, but I struggled to get into the first third. It was only once we were into part two, that part one came into focus for me. I think it iJack Glasss Roberts most enjoyable yet, and probably the best story he’s written too (although I think New Model Army resonated more). Meanwhile, Heller’s effort is probably one of the best new post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read in long while. It was everything you’d hope for in a story of survival and the demise of humanity. Interestingly, like the previous two books mentioned, they climax with a similar theme – motivation by love and not by hate or politics or anything else.

So, my award last year would have probably gone to Jack Glass from this list, followed by The Dog Stars, and then third would have been a novel not even short-listed; Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson. I thought it was a lovely combination of near-future science fiction and ancient mythology, with great characters, an interesting story and really good writing. I think maybe the fact it is almost genre-defying may be the reason it’s not represented in the science fiction or speculative fiction shortlists. But it is more science fiction than Angelmaker!

And thusly, it is time to sit back and watch the squabbling over this year’s awards season. No doubt shortlists will be decried, juries bemoaned, entrants bitched about and all the other nonsense will capture the headlines and the quality – or lack thereof – the actual books will all but be forgotten about. This year, for the first time in years, I won’t be trying to read all of the Clarke shortlisted books before the winner is announced, because this year, thanks to the internet, I no longer care.

Awards, shortlists and a good story

Congratulations to Chris Beckett, who last night won the Clarke Award for his second novel: Dark Eden. Congratulations also to Adam Roberts for winning the BSFA12875162 award with Jack Glass (and not forgetting Ian Sales with his short story win with Adrift on the Sea of Rains), and Nick Harkaway (Angelmaker) and Karen Lord (Redemption in Indigo) for their Kitchies.

Now, at this point, I usually review the Clarke shortlisted books and bemoan the fact that the Booker Prize is a snobby literary prize. But, I’ve been shockingly slow and behind and stuff so that’s not going to happen today. I’m also going to leave the poor Booker alone.

Let’s just check out the shortlists first:

BSFA:

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

Kitchies:

Novel

  • The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington
  • A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
  • Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
  • The Method by Juli Zeh
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway

Debut novel

  • vN by Madeline Ashby
  • Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
  • Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
  • Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
  • The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

Clarke:

  • Nod by Adrian Barnes
  • Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
  • Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ok, I’ve read a grand total of one of those. Scandalous. I read The Method a few months ago, and I’m now reading Dark Eden. I plan to read most of the above books in the near future, with the exception of the Harrison and Robinson (not a fan of either author) and the Hartman (doesn’t appeal). A couple of the others I may not get round too either, but Angelmaker and Intrusion are among the next on my reading pile.

You know what I love? A good story, well written and with interesting characters. Hopefully, it will speak to me about humanity and technology and society. Sometimes I want to learn something new and sometimes I just want to be amused and entertained for a few hours. I like to read the annual award shortlisted because they are chosen by a bunch of people who have some experience in these things, as they present what they think is the best of the year’s offerings. They are not the only books I read and I don’t always agree with their choices. And so I was on Twitter this morning to see the reaction to Beckett’s win, and the evening in general. The first thing I came across was a bunch of men discussing gender politics. How a bunch of women judges chose an all male shortlist and gave the prize to a book with regressive gender politics. (I don’t think it was all female judges, but it doesn’t matter one way or another to me). Do I need to say anything more? Fine, the winning book features a strong male lead character and also a strong lead female character. Some of the gender politics are interesting to say the least, but as I’ve not finished the book, I won’t comment further. What I want is that Beckett’s world makes sense; a book that follows its own internal logic. To be honest, I have more of a problem with Beckett’s perceived evolution of language than anything else I’ve read so far. The characters use yards for distance but call days waking. They remember a Landing Veekle, but also metal and plastic. I won’t comment further until I’ve finished the story.

There is always a lot of talk in social media about which gender wrote what book, and why they are or aren’t in a particular list. There is a place for it, for sure. See Nina Allen’s 101 #womentoread for example. To be honest, I don’t care, as a rule, who wrote a book. Sure I’m a fan of certain authors and certain writing styles. I like how different people write and see the world, but that goes for both men and women regardless of sexuality, nationality, politics and religion. I will read Orson Scott Card and Nicola Giffith and Lauren Beukes and Robert Rankin and Tricia Sullivan and Jeff Noon and Scarlett Thomas and Greg Bear and Mary Doria Russell and Aldous Huxley and Kazuo Ishiguro and a whole lot more. Greg Bear for example, has written some of my favourite science fiction (Blood Music and Darwin’s Radio) and some absolute stinkers (City at the End of Time). It doesn’t matter to me.

A whole bunch of people rightly or wrongly spend a lot of time debating these awards and the winners, but they seem to miss a fundamental point about reading. Or at least they fail to mention it in these public debates on social media. People like different things. And for different reasons. Not everything should be a lesson. Not every author can provide insight into characters of their opposite sex, or of a different political persuasion or whatever. I love broccoli and I love marshmallows. You cannot live on broccoli alone.

So, I will read most of the shortlisted books, and I will enjoy some and not others and I will report back later in the year. And I won’t be commenting on gender politics but on how good the stories are.

#clarkeaward

Broccoli

Science Fiction Shortlist Season

Kitschies
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