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!