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(Since I'm sure you're all dying to know...)

The winner of the 2008 Arthur C Clarke Award is Black Man by Richard Morgan. So you should all go and read it.

I have some photos from the party and ceremony up here.
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This is it. Today is the last day of my duties as an Arthur C Clarke Award judge. Once I've posted this, I'll head off to London to sit down with the other judges and decide this year's winner. And then that will be that!

As a reminder, that shortlist in full:
The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua
The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter
The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod
Black Man by Richard Morgan

I've been collecting reviews of all the books, and other relevant links, here, but I'd particuarly direct your attention to:

Go, read, argue, enjoy!

(Alternatively, look what the postman delivered to Nic this morning. I fully expect there to be more comments about that than about the Clarke.)


Apr. 27th, 2006 01:15 am
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What an odd feeling: the right book won. Except it's more than that: everyone else seems to think it's the right book as well.

Look, I guess the first year I really paid attention to the Clarke shortlist, as opposed to just the winner, was 2003. I'm pretty sure it was because that was the first time I went to Eastercon, and so the first time I saw the Not The Clarke Award panel discussion. (For those who haven't seen it, a panel of former judges consider the award shortlist in a ruthless balloon-debate fashion.) That year, everyone seemed to agree, it was a very strong shortlist; but there was still a big split at the top, between those who thought The Separation should win and those who thought Light should win. However it went, there was going to be a certain amount of reaction afterwards.

The 2004 shortlist seemed to be all over the map. Only two standalone novels, several big omissions (Justina Robson's Natural History, for instance) and two novels that were arguably not science fiction at all--one of which went on to win. And of course last year everyone seemed to be expecting or hoping for either River of Gods or Cloud Atlas; Iron Council looked like an outsider until the award was announced.

And I understand that this is what the Clarke is, this is what the Clarke does, this is why the Clarke is so exciting. But this year, things were different. Although a number of the shortlisted titles had their champions, there was always the sense that Air was the front runner. The final judging meeting clearly wasn't a formality--by all accounts it was the longest deliberation on record, over three and a half hours, and in all honesty I'd just about convinced myself we were in for a similar situation to last year--but as much as I love (say) Accelerando (and I do love it) you couldn't help feeling that, just for once, the best book, and the book everyone wanted to win, and even the book that felt the most like "Clarke Award material", were all one and the same. And so it proved. And so Air won--its third award so far this year, after the Tiptree and the BSFA Best Novel, with one more to go, the Nebula. And it was absolutely the right decision.

And yet somehow, for some bizarre reason, I'm left thinking, "is that it?" Because there doesn't seem to be much else to say this year. And yet ... perhaps what I'm feeling is that this is, in a way, old news. The first draft of Air was written in the late nineties, it was published in the US in 2004, and I read it eighteen months ago (warning: that link is not my most coherent writing ever). The experience of having read it has bedded down in my memory; I can't quite get my head round the idea that in terms of awards, it's still current, still now. Maybe it's just one of those one-in-the-morning feelings.

Of course, next year I'll be seeing all this from a very different perspective, because next year I'll have been one of the judges, which at the moment is just about the most exciting thing in the world ever. The novelty will no doubt wear off at some point, but for now all I can think to say is: bring on the books!
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Adam Roberts' feature review of the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist is up at Infinity Plus. I think [ profile] immortalradical might enjoy this one:
Can the novel still be novel, in this age of ours? There are times when, traipsing through the marshlands of silver-age fiction and derivative slush that constitutes the mainstream novel in the early twenty-first century, a reader might be forgiven for despairing. But surely SF isn't like this. Surely Science Fiction, of all genres, is one place where not only intellectual but formal newness would be welcomed? A literature of ideas, an imaginative entry into alien-ness and unfamiliarity, a canvas that apprehends the entire continuity of space and time rather than just the emotionally fraught goings-on of middle-class people in multicultural London or Chicago -- surely we can hope, surely expect, to encounter newness in SF?

I'm being heavy-handed. Of course we all know how much of the SF backlist is worryingly conventional, unadventurous: written in functional grey prose (or worse, in Thoggish cliché); structured according to a frankly 19th-century model of set-up, linear or interleaved plotline development and climax; populated by cookie-cut 'characters' that barely deserve the name, feeble types from Joseph Campbell's cardboard supply. If a novel doesn't make new in some sense, what good is it? Why read a third-generation retread of a classic original when you can, you know, just read the original?

This year's Clarke shortlist is a good list, not least in the sense that no obviously standout SF title published in the UK in 2005 has been omitted (with the possible exceptions of Justina Robson's challenging but brilliant Living Next Door To The God Of Love and James Lovegrove's witty Provender Gleed). But I find myself wondering: how many of them are doing anything conceptually, formally, tonally new? That, in Hamlet's once-new, now hackneyed words, is the question.
All that and a rant about cats, too.
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Good lord:
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is excited to have entered into a new relationship with Sci-Fi London, which means that Britain's premier science fiction literary award is now associated with Britain's premier science fiction film festival.

As a consequence our Award ceremony has a new home, the prestigious Apollo Cinema on Lower Regents Street, just off Piccadilly.

Important note: the new date for the ceremony is:

Wednesday 26th April 2006
This sounds like a cool and exciting thing for the award, so three cheers! But also--talk about worlds colliding. My spring schedule of sf-related events for the last couple of years has roughly been:

End of January - SciFi London
Mid February - Picocon
Late March - Eastercon
Mid May - Clarke Award

Normally, I think of these things as fairly separate, but next year, three of the four will be happening in the space of the same fortnight. (I also note that the 26th April would under normal circumstances be a BSFA meeting.) That's almost too much sf-related activity in one go even for me. Almost.

Also: at Sci-Fi London screenings, festival chairman Louis Savy has a habit of turning up with a bag of merchandise and throwing the contents into the audience with some gusto. I only hope we can expect the same committment to audience participation from the chairman of the Clarke Award.
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As with China Mieville, Richard Morgan is a new author to me. The difference is that I've been meaning to get around to reading Mieville, but more-or-less actively avoiding Morgan. None of the reviews of Altered Carbon or Broken Angels made those books sound at all like my thing. Market Forces may or may not be of a piece with those books; I found I liked it both more and less than I expected to.

In the near future, rapacious capitalist economics dominate the business world. Chris Faulkner is headhunted by Shorn Industries to work in Conflict Investment, which does more or less what you'd imagine: fund small wars around the globe on a strictly for-profit basis. Competition within Shorn is as brutal as it is between companies. New contracts and promotions both are decided by road battles, violent motorway duels that end with the death of one or other of the combatants. If all of this sounds to you like some kind of insane mix of Mad Max and The Space Merchants, well, you're not too far wrong.

Matt Cheney lays out some of the problems with the book:
The characters are cartoons, the central concept of Road Warrior-meets-The Apprentice is ridiculous, the book could stand to lose at least a third of its pages, and much of the dialogue is little more than an excuse for awkward exposition or tedious speechifying.
I'd add to that that the plotting is almost entirely predictable, and that the structure of the book, though readable, is clumsy.

He also points to Cheryl Morgan's review, which spends more time than I think is really necessary dismantling the economic and political basis of the book. It's a satire; of course it's a ludicrous exaggeration. Of course it doesn't entirely make sense! In point of fact, I found it completely impossible to take it seriously--every time I was almost there, another ultraviolent, ultramasculine confrontation would distract me.

But. Adam Roberts points out that:
Violence is the idiom of this sort of book, and objecting to it on principle (as it were) is as daft as objecting to a space opera because it has starships in it. The point is what does the author do with the violence, how does s/he use it, and Morgan uses it very deftly indeed. Violence, in its various forms, is the currency of Late Capitalism: the violence that maximises profit, small wars, the destruction of consumer durables like cars so that people have to replace them more frequently, the fuck-you-over ethos of globalised life. Exploitation and oppression are violence, first and foremost. Market Forces expresses that polemical ideological truth more potently than any number of sociological tracts.
This is true. There is no doubt that the unrestrained brutality that permeates Chris Faulkner's life is dehumanising. The car duels are as horrific as they are exhilarating, and participating in them (and everything that goes with them) costs Faulkner almost everything that's worth having.

So I'm left conflicted. On the one hand, I have major problems with the way the book is put together; on the other hand, I feel that there's a sharpness to the ideas presented that makes them stick in the mind. There's a note saying that Market Forces was once a screenplay. I think it shows; and in a curious way I'm sad that it never made it to the screen, because I think what Morgan was trying to do might have worked better there.
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On the train home this afternoon I finished Iron Council: China Mieville's fourth novel, his third set in Bas-Lag, his second set in New Crobuzon, and the first of his that I've read. In Iron Council, revolution comes to Mieville's city-state.

I haven't decided how I feel about it yet; it hasn't had time to settle in my mind. But I think I think it was impressive but uneven; there were many sections I liked or loved, but probably an equal number that left me stone cold.

I will now be thoroughly lazy and tack my other thoughts onto other people's reviews.

Geneva said:
As well as reigning himself in stylistically, Mieville has also reigned himself in imaginatively. I don't mean to say that Iron Council is unimaginative - it's very far from that and Mieville is still the most creatively inventive writer around - but that Mieville's inventions in this latest book are inventions that substantially contribute to the story he's telling. In earlier works I sometimes got the feeling that his imaginative creations were almost gratuitous; fancies for the sake of fancies. That's not the case in Iron Council, where the flights of fancy and creative world-building are all instrumental to the tale being told.
Oh dear. I thought Iron Council was fairly full of gratuitous imagination. At times it just got a little tiring, like reading through a D&D bestiary in one sitting; at times I thought it genuinely clogged up the storytelling. The first 125 pages or so, in particular, seemed to drag immensely (Adam Roberts felt the same way, it seems). But then we get the Anamnesis, a long flashback that is almost a complete story in itself.

Matt Cheney said:
The anamnesis section of the book is a minor masterpiece, a story that is emotionally affecting, philosophically interesting, well written, inventive, and gripping. It is a pastiche of various types of writing -- most clearly tales of the Old West -- which also manages to maintain its own integrity. It echoes much labor history, utilizing archetypes from strikes and union battles past. (I couldn't help thinking of the role of railroads in the Mexican Revolution, and I'm sure other readers will think of various parallels.) It is, appropriately, filled with the excitement of underdog stories, of good guys versus bad guys, fueled with a naive (but necessary) belief in wondrous progress.
I agree with all of this, and then some. I found the anamnesis an order of magnitude more engaging than the rest of the novel; perfectly paced, extremely well-drawn, and with the restraint I thought was lacking elsewhere. It helps that I found the Iron Council itself fascinating, whereas New Crobuzon (surprisingly) didn't do a whole lot for me. It is perhaps the only time that I've wished a fantasy novel had a map inside the front cover.

Dan said:
Fittingly, the characters in Iron Council are almost all more human than some of the best in The Scar - there is no superhuman Uther Doul here, no preternatural Brucolac. Instead, we have a jealous and lonely shopkeeper-turned-adventurer, an uncertain and easily led, but genuine and ultimately tragic, political dissident, and a menagerie of other flawed but identifiably 'real' characters who struggle to tackle important issues in a way different to the one in which they are told to deal with them.
I found most of the characters remarkably hard to engage with. I have no real sense of who Ori and Cutter are; the only person in the book who stands out as truly memorable is Judah. This is probably not unrelated to the fact that the anamnesis, in which Judah features proiminently, is my favourite section of the book.

Norman Spinrad said:
You think you know how such a story must end, especially within a political and passionately revolutionary novel, but it doesn’t. Far be it from me to give away the ending even if I could, which I can’t, for it involves magic so convoluted and abstract that I can’t even understand it, not that I really believe Miéville intends me to, but the thematic confusion of it at least must be danced around.


Maybe Miéville has adopted an apocryphal slogan from the Irish Republican Army: "Now is the time for a futile gesture." Maybe this is Mao’s notion of the permanent revolution, that it is the process and zeitgeist of this neverending story that is the true revolution, not the end product.
Whatever my misgivings about the rest of the book, I thought the ending was pretty much perfect--thematically and emotionally right.

a digression )

Lastly, there is a 'virtual seminar' on Mieville and Iron Council available at Crooked Timber (or at least there was, and I hope there will be again when the site comes back up).
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The Arthur C Clarke Award is given annually to the best science fiction novel first published in the UK in the previous year. The first recipient of the award, in 1987, was The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. At the time, I didn't pay much attention; I was six.

Read more... ) And this year's winner (instantly blogged by Andrew, of course) is:

Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson

Read more... )
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The winner of this year's Arthur C Clarke Award is apparently The Separation by Chris Priest. So much for my skills as award-result predictor...

Report from [ profile] flyingsauce here. My thoughts here.
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The Separation is the latest novel by Christopher Priest. It's been sitting on my to-be-read pile for a while; inspired by its BSFA award win, yesterday I finally got around to reading it.

The Separation is an alternate history, but an atypical one. Most counterfactuals posit a point of change in world history, then show us the world that results from that change and explore how it differs to our own. Priest's novel, like many before it, explores an alternate outcome from World War II - but focuses almost exclusively on the moment of change, asking how it could arise and what effect it might have on the people involved.

In this case, the people are twin brothers: Jack and Joe Sawyer (this is a book strongly about dualism and reflection, mirrors and doubles). They row together in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, then are separated by the war. Jack becomes a pilot in the RAF, Joe a member of the Red Cross.

Priest's prose is clean and uncomplicated. which is just as well; there's enough complexity in the structure and thematics of the book as it is. This is a dense novel. It is perfectly balanced throughout, however; the level of detail is astonishing, yet you somehow never lose sight of the big picture. And whilst Jack and Joe both have a significant impact on the course of history, you are always reminded that on another level they are small men, caught up in large events. Only Kim Stanley Robinson has previously portrayed this contradiction in the nature of history with such subtlety.

It becomes hard to write much more about The Separation without spoiling it. The joy of the novel is in putting the clues together, and solving the mystery surrounding the Sawyer brothers. Suffice it to say that this is one of the best novels of the year, and it fully deserves its award-winning status.

(The other notable thing about The Separation is that it's on this year's Arthur C Clarke award shortlist. I don't think it will win, despite the BSFA result - and I don't think it should win, either, despite what I said above. It's an unfair comparison - were it not for the fact that they share a shortlist, the two novels would have nothing in common - but when it comes down to it, I find that whilst The Separation impresses, Light dazzles.)

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