Thoughts on travelling through time without a time machine after reading Jeff Noon’s A Man of Shadows

timequakeI was planning to review Jeff Noon’s latest novel, A Man of Shadows, to tie in with my interview with him here. But the more I thought about it, and I’m a huge ponderer, the more I figured that it’s actually a hard book to review without any spoilers at all. Sure I could comment on the noir-ish plot, of hard-boiled investigator John Nyquist’s latest case, or the seemingly impossible murders committed by Quicksilver (no, not that one Marvel fans), or I could wax lyrical about Noon’s prose style, evoking both place (the city combining Dayzone, Nocturn and Dusk) and more importantly, a person’s sense of time. But in doing so, I would give away the joys of exploration to any given reader. I thoroughly enjoyed A Man of Shadows but it is hard to recommend it without giving away that experience of discovery.

So I thought about time and time travel. And minor spoiler alert…how Jeff Noon’s novelA Man of Shadows tackles time and his characters as they travel through it. But it is not a time travel novel in the traditional sense. There is movement through time at a rate not equivalent to our perceptions of moving at 60 seconds every minute, but there is no time machine at play. What Noon does, however, is describe those feelings of how time seems to pass differently for each of use depending on what we are doing at a given moment of the day or our life. As Matt Haig says: “How to stop time: kiss. How to go back in time: read. How to escape time: listen to music. How to feel time: write. How to KILL time: Twitter”. Time, and travel through it, is all about perception.

Now I’ve read a few traditional time travel novels (The Time Machine, Doomsday Book, Timescape, The Time Ships to name some) but to be honest, they are no really my bag. I enjoyed Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, for example, but to me, it is just an excuse to write a historical novel through the eyes of the Twentieth Century reader. But I have read a whole bunch of books that tackle time in a different manner, as Noon has done. No time machine. No timey-wimey science. Just character and story dealing with time; so here are my favourites:

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (1957)

In which Gully Foyle is an uneducated, unskilled, unambitious man lost in space who discovers the ability to jaunt (a form of personal teleportation) through space and time. He is on a revenge mission but locked in a prison, where he learns his trick. By the end of Bester’s classic, it is revealed that it is faith that is the driver of jaunting. Bester uses Foyle to examine society’s prejudices and misogyny. He was very much ahead of his time.

Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) / Timequake (1997) by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse 5In Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut’s Tralfamadorians have the ability to observe time as we observe distance. And so they can see their entire lives ahead and behind them. Death is just a part of what they can see. So it goes. Vonnegut tells his main protagonist’s story – that of Billy Pilgrim – out of order which highlights the idea that time is fluid; more like a river than a dimension. Meanwhile, Timequake sees everyone travelling back in time 10 years to live their lives again, but without the ability to change anything from the first run. In Vonnegut’s eyes, we are all victims of time with no free will. I tend to agree.

Replay by Ken Grimwood (1986)

The plot of Replay sees our hero – a 43-year-old man – die and wake up back in 1963 in his 18-year-old body. This happens repeatedly as his life takes different paths but he dies in the same manner on the same date every time. I suspect Grimwood had read some Vonnegut before writing this classic. We can’t escape our fate.

Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (2013)

The Shining GirlsIn which a more traditional time-travel tale is told, but without any obvious mechanism to drive the movement through time. Beukes story is a kind of serial-killer murder mystery, except the murder is collecting the life force from girls who ‘shine’, and the killer moves throughout the 20th Century. Set in Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens doors to other times. However, one of the girls that shine, Kirby Mazrachi, survives the attach on her, and starts investigating. Beukes provides no explanation on how or why time travel works. It is a MacGuffin for chasing a murderer through time.

The First 15 lives of Harry August by Claire North (2014)

In which North mirrors Grimwood in a way. Every time Harry dies he returns to where he began, as a child with the knowledge of the life he has already lived a many times before. During his eleventh life, however, something starts to change. North’s story is very different from Replay in that Harry August finds he’s not alone in his ability. Time is something that can be fought?

The Shore by Sara Taylor (2015)

Taylor’s novel reads like a anthology of short stories. On an island group off the coast of the USA, a number of family’s interlocking stories are told over 150 years. Stories of the past, present and future reveal the strength of Taylor’s female characters. She uses time to highlight relationships, and while there is no travelling in time as such, the chapters move back and forth in time, like Vonnegut, suggesting time is a mutable river.

The Gradual by Christopher Priest (2016)

The GradualWhile travelling through Priest’s Dream Archipelago, Alesandro starts to lose time. After returning home from a short concert tour he finds he’s been missing for a few years and his wife has moved on. Alesandro is also searching for his brother who disappeared when he was a child and his brother joined the army. Priest sees time as something that can be taken and given, and travelled through at different speeds. The novel is also about music, which is heavily influenced by moments in time.

The Rift by Nina Allan (2017)

In which Allan uses the separation of time to examine the relationship between sisters. Can close childhood sisters find commonality after 20 years apart, when one thinks the other has been dead for that time? Less a time travel novel, than a time-stands-still novel, the nature of sibling love is tackled alongside delusions. The classic puzzle for the reader to unravel is the question of reality versus all-in-the-mind.

Time travel is better served when there isn’t a machine or a doodad that transports protagonists hither and thither through time. I see time machines as an excuse to tell a story set in another time period through the eyes of the modern reader, but not giving the reader the credit to be smart enough to dive straight in. The novels described above are all interesting, daring, and tackle the subject of how humans relate to time with no holds barred. Spend some time with them…

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Best of the Arthur C. Clarke Award runners-up (those shortlisted but did not win)

In 1987, the first winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award was announced. Margaret Atwood won with the sublime A Handmaid’s Tale. In 2016, the 30th award will be handed out in August. The shortlist of 6 titles, announced at SCI-FI LONDON on 27 April, has been whittled down from 113 submissions. That’s a lot of books!

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

We know about the 30 great and well-deserved winners, but what about the others? The one’s that didn’t quite make it. There are some terrific books in the shortlists each year and this is a perfect opportunity to look at some of the best of the runners-up. Having not read all of the short-listed books over the past 30 years (I have a bit of a life) these are my favourites. These are the one’s I’d should about to those who haven’t read them. These are the ones that have great characters, complex plots, interesting sub-texts and just plain awesome science fiction [note, some spoilers ahead].

2006 Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me Go

My favourite of all those runners-up is without doubt Ishiguro’s classic dystopian novel. It’s an examination of class via the premise of organ-farming with a difference. The book is a study in childhood friendship in an oddly sinister boarding school, the discovery of love in young adults and how we care for each other as a society, when illness strikes. Ishiguro’s prose is hauntingly beautiful yet bleak; full of ominous doom. Society has rarely been as heartless, while characters so full of heart.

(2006 winner Air by Geoff Ryman – I’ve read and while excellent, not as good as Ishiguro)

1996 Christopher Priest The Prestige

If you’ve seen the film directed by Christopher Nolan, you might already know the plot, but not necessarily the source novel’s narrative. This is the best way to experience Priest’s wonderful tale of magic and science. I’m not usually a fan of epistolary novels, but the diary format works well here. We only know what is written by the protagonists, highlighting both the mystery and the illusions. There is genuine antagonism between the magicians and not just based on their stage show. The very real Nikola Tesla invents something not so real, which takes this brilliant book into the realms of science fiction.

(1996 winner Fairyland by Paul J McAuley – not read)

1994 Nicola Griffith Ammonite

Ammonite is a wonderful book, in a wonderful year for science fiction (see below). Set on a distant planet, it is the story of women (men are all killed by a virus), of myth, of tribes and family and what home means. It is an excellent relationship drama. It hits all the science fiction notes perfectly (planet, space ships, mysterious virus, what it means to be a human) but it is the characters’ motivations and the magnificent magical prose by Griffith that elevates this above many of its contemporaries. As the books says, “What’s life without magic?”

1994 Neal Stephenson Snow Crash

Stephenson’s 3rd book is as textually complex as all his novels, but I submit that this one is the most fun to read. Set in an ‘independent’ 21st century Los Angeles, Hiro Protagonist (deliberately named) learns that the new titular drug is being sold in nightclubs. So he seeks it out. Hiro can now experience the metaverse (next-level internet) and the real world simultaneously. Featuring hacking, sword-fighting, anarcho-capitalists, class-war, the power of information, religion and the Sumerian language. What’s not to love!

(1994 winner Vurt by Jeff Noon – one of my all time favourite books and more deserving than Ammonite, just)

2015 Claire North The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The complexity and imagination of North’s debut (but not from her other selves, Catherine Webb and Kate Griffin) is mind-blowing. It’s not that Harry keeps dying and being reborn, but it’s in the lives he leads and how they interconnect with all those around him. When a message comes from the future the plot, delightfully, thickens. Webb’s talent is immense and as North, her prose is eminently readable. While not a page-turner in the classic sense, you simply want to keep on reading to find out how the final web (pun intended) will be revealed.

(2015 winner Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – just about deserved)

1988 Ken Grimwood Replay

Proper classic science fiction from Grimwood, and similar on the surface to North’s recent novel. Our protagonist is a 43-year-old man who dies and is reborn in 1963 in his 18-year-old body, memories intact. This rebirth happens again and again, with different outcomes. It has more of the time-loop premise than North’s as he always dies the same way at the same age, on cue. The best science fiction addresses life and death and Replay is no exception. Thoughtful and appealing writing makes this a terrific read and well worth digging out.

(1988 winner George Turner The Sea and Summer – not read)

2011 Ian McDonald The Dervish House

Set in the near future, McDonald’s story is an engaging book about how disparate characters’ lives can affect each other, often without them ever meeting each other. Our world and McDonald’s is an interconnected and complex one. In 2027, a bomb goes off during a heatwave. Ordinary people are drawn into extraordinary events. The world is seen through the perspective of 6 main characters, all richly drawn and complex. This is thoughtful science fiction, but also dips into mythology and cultural identity in a region that has always been a melting-pot.

(2011 winner Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – a clear and deserved winner)

1993 Connie Willis Doomsday Book

Named after the actual 1086 book, Willis engages in a time-travel MacGuffin in order to take us back to middle ages. Most of this book is set there so feels less like a science fiction novel than a historical story of the coming of the Black Death. Only as it is seen through the eyes of the late-21st Century traveller, Kirvin, does Willis’ tale fall in the realms of speculative fiction. There are some lovely ideas in this book (a machine refusing to send someone back in time if it thinks the past will be altered) but it is the bleak history (the sense of dread is palpable) and personal tragedies the Kirvin witnesses that fascinates.

(1993 winner Body of Glass by Marge Piercy – not read)

Never

Honourable mentions: 2008 Sarah Hall The Carhullan Army; 2008 Ken MacLeod The Execution Channel; 2010 Adam Roberts Yellow Blue Tibia; 2013 Ken McLeod Intrusion; 2003 David Brin Kiln People; 1987 Greg Bear Eon; 2011 Richard Powers Generosity; 2010 Marcel Theroux Far North; 2014 Christopher Priest The Adjacent.

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.

End of term report: 2013, or The books I read in an arbituary time period.

Good year, I think. In that I was quite disappointed by most of what I read in the first part of 2013, but I’ve read some cracking books since.

So, what words have reflected light into my eyes this year?

Non-fiction up first, and not much read, I’m annoyed to say. I’ve been so engrossed in fiction and reviews, I’ve let the non-fic slip a bit (in no particular order):The Storytelling Animal

  • Heretics by Will Stor
  • The storytelling animal by Jonathan Gottschall
  • Nightmare movies by Kim Newman
  • The science of monsters by Matt Kaplan
  • Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre
  • Peter Cushing: a life in film by David Miller
  • How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world by Francis Ween
  • Monkeys with typewriters by Scarlet Thomas

8. Sheesh! Mind you, it took ages to read Nightmare Movies. I also read and reviewed the coffee table book Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections and Other Obsessions which was a study of the works of Guillermo del Toro. Plus I read a whole bunch of comics and graphic novels…

Since the summer, I’ve also not read any more short stories. So this year only saw The Peacock Cloak and The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself, as mentioned in my half-term report. Shocker!

So, now for fiction and here are my top 5 books that I read in 2013:

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce

17976979I found the writing so evocative and the story so enthralling, that I wanted it to be much longer. I also loved the ambiguity. Is it a ghost story? I remember the summer of ’76 (just) and so for me, this was a wonderful tale full of reminiscences and potential.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsI kept wanting to read this long after I’d finished it, which highlights just how good the writing is. The story of Kirby is so utterly engaging, and Beukes is such a good storyteller. I loved how the time-travel elements were never explicit. I often find books that bring in new characters every few chapters to be very annoying, but Beukes’ writing to appealing to me, I lapped the new characters up.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil GaimanA magical adventure with darkness and light and Gaiman’s awesome ability to scare and delight and awaken the child within. Can we have  longer book next time though, Neil?

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest

The AdjacentSuch an intriguing work of imagination and deliberate uncertainness. What this book is, what it is about and what it all means against Priest’s earlier work is open to much debate and interpretation. But in the end, it is the characters and his writing that keeps you wanting to read more and more.

Lexicon by Max Barry

LexiconA book about words and their power. Genius. Some great writing and interesting characters. I loved how the clues in the different timelines eventually came together in the reveal, and I’m pleased that Barry never gave away the bareword.

What I loved in particular about these five books is something I think genre fiction has been guilty of shying away from: breaking the rules. Beukes is writing a time-travel story that’s not science fiction. Joyce has produced a historical fiction that may or may not be a ghost story. I’m not sure what I tag Lexicon with. Urban fantasy? Supernatural? Certainly not science fiction. And while The Adjacent is SF, it’s not like anything you’ll have read (his other work outstanding). Only Gaiman’s work can be said to be traditional genre fiction, and even that could be seen as being about telling stories and hence a bit meta. These books that have defied genre and categorisation. These books that have teased and suggested they might be one thing before turning out to be something else. These books (and some others, see below) have surprised me. Thanks, books.

So, next 5 in my list are:

  • The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
  • Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux
  • Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson
  • The Method by Juli Zeh
  • The Chosen Seed by Sarah Pinborough

With the exceptions of Heller’s novel, which is pure post-apocalyptic fiction, along the lines of The Road, and The Method, which is classic dystopia, these other books mess with genre convention to some degree or other. Pinborough writes police procedural as urban fantasy. Wilson blends eastern mythology and science fiction. I’m not sure what Strange Bodies is. Victorian mad scientist and eastern European crime combined with literary detective. Whatever. Books I thoroughly enjoyed.

I also read two of my favourite books again this year: Vurt by Jeff Noon, and while lying on a beach, American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

Ok, so now we’re onto some honourable mentions just outside my top 10:

  • Hang Wire by Adam Christopher – another surprising genre-defying novelJasper Fforde
  • Beauty by Sarah Pinborough – great fun, alongside Poison
  • The Woman Who Died Alot by Jasper Fforde – a return to form!
  • Intrusion by Ken MacLeod – consistently great sf
  • NOS4R2 by Joe Hill – his best work yet, reminiscent of his Dad’s early work.
  • Dark Eden by Chris Becket – decent sf
  • Poison by Sarah Pinborough
  • The Shadow of the Soul by Sarah Pinborough – more crime based urban fantasy
  • The Good Fairies of New York by Mark Millar – Millar’s work is always fun, and this is no exception

And so to the rest, and in no particular order now, oh all right, from best of the rest to the worst:

At first glance, it looks like I’ve read a lot from female authors this year. However, Sarah Pinborough features heavily (as she’s only a recent discovery) and only 1 of my top 5 are women authors. I looked into all the books I’ve read, and only 30% of my favourite authors are women, which is annoying. On the other hand, I’m not going to just like an author because of their gender designation.

Putting the fiction I’ve read in the broadest possible categories then, this year has consisted of 14 science fiction novels, 2 horror and 22 fantasy. A closer look, however, shows clearly that the best books I’ve read this year defy specific characterisation. And I love that!

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest

In the 1950’s, Hugh Everett III postulated the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics, which basically suggests that every possible alternative The Adjacentpast and future are not only possible, but must be real. Christopher Priest’s latest slice of genius, which is a genuine puzzle of a piece of fiction, appears to embrace this branch of science. And while it’s a wonderful example of writing and imagination, it won’t be for everyone. It isn’t an easy book to describe without giving away the plot points which will spoil the reader’s enjoyment and discovery. It isn’t easy to categorise a novel which is set both in the future and the past and another place or planet entirely and features a cameo from HG Wells.

The main plot strand is set in a future where climate change and warfare have ravaged what is now the Islamic Republic of Great Britain. Tibor Tarent is a freelance photographer whose wife has recently been killed in Anatolia; the result of a mysterious attack. A similar, but incredibly larger attack has occurred in London too. Hundreds of thousands dead. Tibor is transported to a government facility to be debriefed and meets a mysterious woman en route. Meanwhile, it is the First World War, and a stage illusionist is sent to the front line to try to make aircraft harder to spot to the enemy. He meets the enigmatic Herb, with an equally perplexing mission. Later, in 1943, a Polish pilot who has lost her lover meets a young technician who reminds her of her missing fiancé. And there’s more. Today, or perhaps tomorrow, a physicist stands in his garden and makes some conch shells disappear. We revisit Tibor as his reality becomes increasing confusing and the authorities attempt to work out what is causing these unusual terrorist attacks.

The Adjacent is a potent blend of history and science fiction and speculation, covering many of Priest’s favourite themes: magicians and illusions; playing games with the reader; alternative versions of WWII; identity; coincidence and perhaps is favourite trope, the unreliable narrator. Indeed, a passage on page 97 (hardback) is so blunt that it reads “I mislead and deceive. That’s what I do’. This applies to the author as well as the narrator. So what do you believe is such as novel?

The characters are incredibly interesting and intriguing. Many might be the same person, or least that might be clever misdirection. Names are the same but different… What is particularly clever is that the characters appear to have some higher level of influence on the events around them: the photographer ‘sees’ (much to the chagrin of his wife before she dies); the magician is nothing but an ‘illusion’, maybe; the nurse ‘saves’ more than just the wounded. There is a theory in physics that the act of observation alters the outcome of the thing observed. Of course, to the casual reader, this may seem baffling. However, it is to Priest’s credit that he makes the whole experience of reading The Adjacent a rewarding one, thanks to his imagination, his skilled prose and his believable characters.

There are more answers than questions, but not in an annoying Lost way when it seems that the writers made stuff up as they went along. We never find out the fates of the WWI protagonists. There is no explanation of how the Polish pilot ‘disappears’. Mysteries compound mysteries. Priest appears to have planned everything out meticulously, leaving the reader puzzled but charmed and entertained. You can imagine his notes full of the answers and plot points coming to conclusions. He just didn’t put them in the novel.

The Adjacent is, in my opinion, a story about how people perceive the world around them. Or maybe the author has misdirected me into looking at his right hand, while the left hand produced the real trick. Either way, this novel is a delicious read.

8 gateway novels into speculative fiction

After reading a few lists recently concerning the kinds of books genre fans should get non-genre fans or people who might be new to science fiction and fantasy to read, I feel that people are missing the point somewhat. After reading Which science fiction book you would give to a first-time SF reader? from io9 people seem to think that just because they like a particular science fiction book, if they give it to non-genre fans, they would like it. I’ve read similar arguments elsewhere too. It’s not just that these people don’t know that The Blue Sword and A Canticle for Leibowitz exist. It’s the assumption that once they do, they’ll immediately be interested and hooked. The idea that someone who doesn’t like Science Fiction and would pick up Hyperion and love it is hilarious.

Missing the point.

I previously wrote about 5 books that the mainstream have already embraced. What I now present are 8 titles which I’d describe as gateway novels into genre. I’ve said away from the obvious, such as Pullman, Tolkien, Meyer, Rice and Rowling. These are novels which are, in some ways, half way between genre and non-genre. They are ghost stories, alien invasions, dystopian, vampire and more. Welcome. There are the books that people who might want to venture into the mysterious waters of science fiction and fantasy should read.

The Glamour by Christopher Priest (1984)

The novel: The glamour is true invisibility, bestowed on a few people. It has always been thus, but is almost completely forgotten, until now. The story follows three people. One of these people doesn’t know it, but has lost his memory after a bomb blast. One has the ability and uses it to pursue the third, who only has a partial control of the gift. As the  Glamourcharacter with the memory loss slowly becomes aware of the glamour, the reader joins him in understanding the reality of this invisible world.

The author: To describe Priest as enigmatic is to say that the sun is a bit warm. While generally regarded as literary, he frustrates as many readers as he delights. Many of his novels deal with delusions, perceptions and as a result, seem to play games with the reader. He presents puzzles, some of which, I assume, are not meant to be solved. Most are deeply speculative yet remaining charismatic. He cites HG Wells as a strong influence, although his prose is much warmer.

Why it should be read: Priest is a master of mystery, but not so much as you might lose faith in him or his characters. The Glamour is a character driven piece. The fantastical elements are not thrust to the fore, although they are the primary motivations for the protagonists. This is a work that is genre-defying, and yet wouldn’t work without the central concept. The Glamour is as close to both mystery and literary fiction as fantasy gets.

What to read next: The Invisible Man by H G Wells

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce (2013)

The novel: Set in 1976, the protagonist tells us of his experiences of working in the long hot summer of that year. He his struggling with the ghost of his dead father – but is it a real ghost? He gets a job in a holiday camp and becomes involved with a femme fatale and also a pretty dancer. He becomes involved with the National Front and some other dodgy dealings. Will his relationships end in tragedy and will he find the truth about his Dad? Feeling both noir-ish and yet intensely bright, Joyce explores both the nature of relationships and his own history.

17976979The author: Graham Joyce writes young adult and general speculative fiction, mostly described as fantasy. He has won the British Fantasy Award a few times and the World Fantasy Award winner in 2003 for The Facts of Life. You can’t really classify him, however. His stories feature ghosts, mysticism, folklore and fairytale. His prose seems to be effortless beautiful. He is also known for strong female characters. In The Year of the Ladybird, the dancer is called Nikki. For a young woman in 1976, she is especially vibrant and headstrong. Joyce calls his style ‘Old Peculiar’.

Why it should be read: If you take the idea that this is about ghosts of the past, and not real ghosts – and there is some ambiguity in its reading anyway – then this novel is pure contemporary fiction – albeit set in the 1970s. What it does, is take a snap-shot of history – the rise of the National Front, the very real plague of ladybirds, etc – and add some fictional relationship dramas. It may be a real ghost story. After reading this, you will almost certainly want to read more of Joyce’s beautiful prose, regardless of subject matter. After reading this, you will end up reading ghost stories, contemporary fairy tales and more.

Read the full review

What to read next: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

The novel: Meet Kathy. Kathy’s life is not all it seems. Her childhood at Hailsham, a boarding school in England, has sinister overtones. The teachers are known as Guardians. TheNever curriculum has no life skills. Her friendships are all peculiar, distant. In time, Kathy becomes friends with Ruth and Tommy, before they learn their bleak but inevitable destiny.  The novel moves onto a later time, when the protagonists are in the later teens. They begin to have contact with the outside world. Romance and sexuality are explored, all with a foreboding sense of doom. The final act reveals the full horror of the dystopia.

The author: Ishiguro, as an author, is a complex beast. The Japanese-born writer has published 6 novels to date, covering many ideas and themes: family drama, post-WWII, historical class-based drama, Eastern-European dream/surrealist, historical crime and dystopian science fiction albeit set in a version of 1980s/90s England. Most of his work, however, is about human failings and how life just goes on (or doesn’t).

Why it should be read: The writing. Plain and simple. It doesn’t get much better than this. Kathy’s first person narrative is as evocative and as gripping as any you’d read elsewhere. Of course, the characters are interesting and the relationships are complex. The mood is as bleak as you could imagine but the prose is so beautiful and so well thought out, it feels like these characters could have been friends of yours (if you’re a certain age, of course). Never Let Me Go is the best example of science fiction that examines our very humanity, and one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What to read next: Spares by Michael Marshal Smith

Under the Skin by Michel Faber (2000)

The novel: Set in Scotland, Faber’s debut features protagonist Isserley, who is not exactly a local. Turns out, in fact, that she’s not even from Earth. However, she still has a job to do. Her employer is the equivalent of a multi-national corporation. Her profession is farmer. She harvests hitchhikers who are then sent to her homeworld as a delicacy. This Undersatirical piece is about big business and the environment. Most importantly, however, it is about people and identity.

The author: While living in Scotland, Faber, perhaps best known for the novel The Crimson Petal and the White, is Dutch who was raised in Australia. Like Ishiguro, he writes a variety of genres about a range of subjects. His work has been described as, at the very least, informed by feminism. He also takes inspiration from Scotland, Dickens and mythology.

Why it should be read: No doubt that this is an alien invasion novel, although the invasion isn’t as Hollywood as you’d imagine. It is discreet and subtle. Nevertheless, this is as science fiction as they come. The aliens are ‘people’ too, however, with motivations, flaws and desires we can relate to. The writing is easy yet subtle and to be honest, it takes a while before you even notice that Under The Skin isn’t just a character study, but instead a satirical study of corporate greed. If your idea of aliens comes from Star Trek or Independence Day, this will surprise and delight you.

What to read next: Childhood’s End by Arthur C Clarke

The Radleys by Matt Haig (2011)

The novel: A vampire novel like no other, The Radleys is the story of a middle class family in middle England whose lives are over-turned when an outside influence is added to their mildly dysfunctional, but perfectly normal existence. The thing is, they are abstainers. The parents hide the truth from their children, but inevitably, the fact of the secret leads to inevitable chaos. While this is a novel about vampires and how they exist in England, it is really a family drama. It is about children growing up and fleeing the nest, and all the pain and trauma that brings. There are emotional truths found here that are not usually found in horror fiction.

The author: Haig is a journalist and so is well aware of human stories. His debut was published in 2005 and he’s been producing novels every couple of years since. His main theme is family life and how outside elements affect it. He doesn’t always write in speculative genres and is heavily influenced by Shakespeare. Indeed, his first and second novels are Radleysre-tellings of Henry IV, Part 1 and Hamlet.

Why it should be read: It would be easy to say that this is just like Twilight or the Sookie Stackhouse novels, but it isn’t. It’s so much more. This is a genuine novel about family and the pressures they face. It is witty and thoughtful and you think back to your own teens and relate to the situations the characters find themselves. And of course, it has elements of horror and vampire mythology, which aren’t too overblown for the novice. You start off interested about the lives of the family and end up wondering all about the lives of vampires.

What to read next: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Generosity by Richard Powers (2009)

The novel: Imagine a book about happiness. Imagine a book about tolerance and acceptance. Think about all those science fiction novels and films about post-humans and then imagine the story set just around the corner where all these begin. Professor Kurton has found the genetic key to happiness and wants to re-wire all of us. He found it in the DNA of Thassadit Amzwar, studying at Chicago University, who is otherwise known as Miss Generosity. Despite the many hardships in her life, she radiates bliss. Her writing teacher is determined to find a medical explanation. This is a witty examination of mental health, jealousy and medical ethics. It is also a work of near meta-fiction, as it examines the act of reading.Gen

The author: Wikipedia classes Powers as an exponent of literary fiction, and yet his work is intensely speculative and mysterious. A fan of the Greek classics, he trained in English literature and computer science. His novels reflect this, mixing arts and science, history and philosophy. Generosity is not his first foray into science fiction as he has previously delved into nuclear war, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. He was a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction finalist for 2006’s The Echo Maker.

Why it should be read: This book is the beginning point to a whole section of science fiction and yet it has no such pretensions. It is an engaging and intriguing human story. Sure there is some science that takes it away from a straight relationship drama, but it is no more off-putting than, for example, a forensic crime drama. If you are interested in what will happen next in human evolution, whether that is a speculative fictional version, or a more genetic/science-based curiosity, Generosity is a great place to start. Plus it has interesting characters with depth, and of course, it’s very well written.

What to read next: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

A Matter Of Blood by Sarah Pinborough

The novel: In the not too distant future, the recession has hit hard. The world is run by a mysterious company called The Bank, who seem to control everything, including the police in London. Cass is a dodgy detective who couldn’t care less about the bigger picture. A failing marriage, a serial killer called Man of Flies, the shooting of school boys and the suicide of his loving brother are more than enough to keep him busy. And who is Mr Bright and what does he want with his family? Hints of ghosts and other, bigger, supernatural goings on weave all these plot points expertly into a gripping climax.A Matter of Blood

The author: Before the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, Pinborough was known for straight forward horror and, young adult fiction and writing Torchwood spin-off novels. She expertly blends super-natural and the mundane. Taking only a few elements away from A Matter Of Blood would leave it to be a complex police procedural thriller. A prolific user of social media, Pinborough is clever, dark and very witty.

Why it should be read: Just read it. It’s great.

Read the full review

What to read next: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

 The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas (2006)

The novel: The initial glance at this story might but it in the same bracket as AS Bryant’s The Possession as the protagonist – Ariel – is a PhD student who’s research of a 19th Century writer seems to have a direct effect on her life. Set in an (un-named Canterbury), she finds a rare copy of this writer’s titular book, which is apparently cursed. Ideas in the book come to affect Ariel’s reality as Thomas explores homeopathy and quantum physics. The themes of exploring multiple realities are common to Neal Stephenson and William Gibson.

YThe author: Previous to The End of Mr. Y, Thomas, a Creative Writing lecturer at the University of Kent, had not written anything remotely genre-esque. Her earlier books explore youth culture and her most recent, Our Tragic Universe, is an examination of the story and the writing process, and how they affect by cosmology and physics. She is clearly interested in both the bigger picture and the smaller details. How the large affects the small and vice versa.

Why it should be read: Thomas has managed to put a whole bunch of disparate ingredients into a blender and come up with something rich, flavoursome and memorable. It takes a recognisable story and moves it to an unusual place. For an authority on creative writing, the plotting and characterisation are as great as you’d expect. I love the way that, although the name of the city is never mentioned, the descriptions of it are so accurate (and sharp) that it is a delight to read.

What to read next: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Honourable mentioned: On the Beach by Nevil Shute, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, Daughters of the North by Sarah Hall.

Sexism and Genre Fiction

I’ve been reading about sexism and SF a lot lately. Today I read Julie Crisp’s post ‘Sexism in genre publishing: a publisher’s perspective’. Interesting and probably a fair point. I thought that while I was more interested in the novel and the story than the author, I was fairly balanced in the gender ratio of authors I read. So I trish pub photo medlooked at my GoodReads list and looked at my favourite authors, and it turns out I’m a bit rubbish. Only about 28% of my favourite authorsportrait_pp or the authors of my favourite books are not male. These are my favourite female authors (or authors of favourite books): Atwood, Beukes, Brite, Clarke S, Friedman, Grant, Griffin, Griffith, Le Guin, Jackson, McKinley, Pinborough, Russell, Shelley, Sullivan, Thomas, Wilson G. W.

For the record, favourite male authors are: Adams, Barker, Bear, Bester, Bradbury, Burroughs, Card, Carroll, Clarke A C, Dick, Doctorow, Farmer, Fforde, Gaiman, Gibson, Goldman, Grimwood, Haig, Heinlein, Huston, Huxley, Ishiguro, Joyce, Keyes, King, MacLeod, McCarthy, Miéville, Millar M, Murakami, Niven, Noon, Orwell, Pohl, Priest, Pullman, Rankin R, Roberts A, Smith MM, Tolkien, Wells, Wyndham, Yamada.

I’d be interested in the gender balance of other genre readers.

Now. As a rule. No. As an absolute, I chose the books I read because

  1. I’m a fan of the writing of the author (ok, circular argument – my bad),
  2. I read a good review (usually in SFX, Geek Syndicate or Book Geeks),
  3. I seek out books from awards shortlists or
  4. I’m offered a book to review.

Of all the authors listed about, only a couple I’ve discovered by chance, and only a couple if sort out because I’ve read short stories. Sarah Pinborough is a good example of the former, thanks to Twitter, and Nicola Griffith being the best example of the latter, after reading a short story anthology (The Best of Interzone).

Only once or twice in my reading life, have I made choices based on the gender of the author (Griffith and Mary Doria Russell) so why is my gender split 30/70 in 4007favour of men? I’ve just looked at the SFX online book review site: http://www.sfx.co.uk/category/reviews/ and the first 10 fiction reviews are all male authors (on 11 Jul. 13). Mur Lafferty’s The Shambling Guide To New York City is the first female mention.

So, I think that yes, genre fiction is inherently sexist. Crisp says it’s not the publishers fault. That may be true. I follow a lot of agents and editors on Twitter and many are female. So do you blame SFX and the like? Do you blame readers such as me? Others are working hard to redress the balance, such as SF Mistressworks. So if I don’t look at the gender of the author before I read a book, why do I choose more men? I’d love to know…

Thoughts on Christopher Priest & the Arthur C Clarke Award

Three statements:

1. I love Priest’s novels
2. I hate awards (book, music, film)
3. I take a lot of interest in the Arthur C Clarke Award

Maybe that’s a contradiction, but it’s not a personal bias. I love independent film but hold no truck with Sundance or Cannes. I’m never influenced to listen to any music because it’s won a Mercury or a Grammy. I’m interested in the Booker, but only because I feel its not representative of what people read and oddly, I’ve no time for the BSFA award. Yet every year I try to read all the Clarke Award shortlist titles that I’ve not already read. I don’t know why.

Priest’s novels (those that I’ve read), are intelligent, original, well written and engaging. I’ve always thought of him as a progressive champion of speculative fiction.

Then I read his blog post. Harumph.
Pat Cardigan suggests on Twitter that it is tantamount to bullying and has sent a letter to The Guardian on the matter.

His argument, in my opinion, is disingenuous, and has led to a personal conflict. As mentioned in my previous piece, I was delighted that Lauren Beukes won in 2011 as I thought she was original and progressive. I was also disappointed that Priest’s The Islanders wasn’t included and Mieville’s Embassytown was. My argument was that the shortlist this year was less progressive. On reflection, however, I should have made more of the point that Embassytown just isn’t that good of a story and while clever, not so well written. From the shortlisted titles, The End Specialist was a decent story with entertaining characters.

Priest has condemned and criticized the authors represented on the shortlist. His argument is that 2011 was a poor year generally because of ‘genre orthodoxies’ and unambitious fantasies. I think that might be a fair criticism from someone like Priest about the general state of fiction, but I’m not so convinced, on reflection, that it matters in this case. Some of the most enjoyable books I’ve read over recent years have been full of clichés and genre orthodoxies. The Matthew Swift books by Kate Griffin spring to mind. How many books before these have a magical London hidden from view of the public? I’m guessing Priest would find them tedious, but they are, in my opinion, the best urban fantasy out there. He suggests that we want the best writer to win. Do we? I don’t think so. I think we want the best novel. The best story. The best book, regardless of all other considerations.

I’m not going to dally over his childish and frankly ludicrous assassination of other writers and, worse, his abuse of the Clarke Award panel. Pat Cardigan does that with greater dignity than I could ever manage. What I would say, however, is that I’m not convinced it’s sour grapes. The vitriol seems too harsh. I would welcome an explanation of his comments, however, as I’m not sure. He is known as a highly opinionated individual. Maybe his novels are only possible with that personality? In my opinion, The Islanders was the best books released in 2011 that I’ve read.

Surely, however, the point of an award such is this is not to promote new and progressive authors and novels just for the sake of it. Of this I’m changed my mind. It should be a simple case of the 6 (and then the 1) best and most enjoyable reads of the years. I don’t think that the shortlist for the year represents that, but hey, this in an opinion of mine. The opinion of the panel is different. I’m not alone in my thoughts either. Nina Allan’s well written piece has a similar point made by Priest and some others, but without the undue personal attacks. I think she is right, but for some wrong reasons. Or maybe I’m missing the point, and maybe that’s why I don’t like awards in general and should keep my nose out of this one too. Maybe its not for the best book, but it is for the most progressive or original or politically prudent book (although if that were the case, surely The Islanders would have been shortlisted?). Whatever the reason, it sure has stirred up a lot of comment, debate and publicity. Maybe that’s what the Arthur C Clarke Award is for?

Thoughts on the Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist 2012

There’s been a lot of chatter this year about the Clarke Award shortlist, and not only because of Torque Control’s Guess the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award Shortlist contest. Twitter and blogs have been non-stop with comment and guessing. There was even a feature in the Guardian once the shortlist was announced, focusing on China Miéville’s fourth nomination. It seems like a lot more coverage than in previous years. Maybe that’s a perception thing.

60 books were submitted for consideration this year. I haven’t read many of them, mostly because I’m a slow reader and I don’t like reading hardback books so I tend to read new releases late, but also because I read a lot of other stuff too. Of the 60 books, my top five, in order, would be:

  1. The Islanders by Christopher Priest
  2. The End Specialist by Drew Magary
  3. Hell Ship by Philip Palmer
  4. The Testament of Jesse Lamb by Jane Rogers.
  5. Hull Three Zero by Greg Bear

 

Last year I was delighted when Lauren Beukes won for Zoo City because it was original and innovative, and she wasn’t one of the traditional science fiction writers who win or get nominated. It felt like the award was progressive and forward looking.

 

 

So the short list is this:

  • Hull Zero Three by Greg Bear
  • The End Specialist by Drew Magary
  • Embassytown by China Miéville
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  • The Waters Rising by Sheri S.Tepper

I haven’t read the last two, but as soon as the shortlist was announced I ordered them from the library. From the other four, Magary’s is my favourite. I also think it would be another progressive choice. I hope Miéville doesn’t win; not because it would be his 4th award, but because I don’t think that, despite its technical genius, it’s not much of a readable story. I wouldn’t mind Rogers winning as again, it would be something new. I’m surprised that Osama by Lavia Tidhar didn’t get a nod. I haven’t read it, but it seemed to be a lot of people’s guess. I’m gobsmacked that The Islanders didn’t get the nod, as it was a true original. Maybe not science fiction enough?

What I love, however, is the debate and speculation and everything that surrounds the Clarke Award, and I’m glad it exists. Which is odd, as I don’t like awards as a rule.

Once the winner has been announced (and I’ve hopefully read the Stross and Tepper entries), I’ll voice an opinion of each of the titles.