Sharkelist

(This post originally appeared at CSFF-Anglia.)

catsharkTo honour old arguments over the 1992 shortlist, I began by ruling out all books with spaceships on the cover. Most of these I don’t regret losing, except Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, which I’m actually reading right now and enjoying very much—but not as one of my shortlist picks, alas! Rules are rules.

Second, I borrowed one of Megan’s rules and discounted books by everyone who’s won a Clarke before.

Third, I left out some books that I find intriguing but felt would be redundant of me to select, like The Underground Railroad, A Field Guide To Reality, Central Station, or The Fifth Season, which are already getting substantial attention from the sharkes. The fins are circling, as it were. (If time and circumstance permit, of course, I might write about these and other books that I’d read or considered anyway, even if briefly.)

Fourth, I ruled out all the books I’d already read, because reading new books is a big part of the fun of this project for me.

If this all seems a bit arbitrary, it certainly is. In my intro post I talked about the joys of freedom from responsibility in this project, and I’m exploiting that as much as possible.

My shortlist:

  1. Songshifting by Chris Bell
  2. The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk, translated by Christopher Moseley
  3. Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
  4. Empire V by Victor Pelevin, translated by Anthony Phillips
  5. The Core of the Sun by Johanna Sinisalo, translated by Lola Rogers
  6. The Arrival of the Missives by Aliya Whiteley

The six authors are from six countries: the books include four translations, a novella, and the only self-published novel on the submissions list. Obviously this is neither an attempt to predict the official Clarke shortlist (since there’s an official competition underway for that), nor even to imagine a plausible alt-universe official shortlist (there being several of those already via my fellow jurors, and some degree of consensus already forming via the overlaps in our selections) in that this selection mixes likely candidates with less likely ones. Rather, I’m using my shortlist to push the boundaries of that consensus a little bit and bring a few more books into the conversation. And perhaps to adopt a slightly orthogonal perspective of the field―in cross-section rather than a bird’s-eye view, maybe. This is also an acknowledgement that the shadow shortlists are fundamentally unlike the official shortlist in that ours are multiple by definition, which gives us interesting effects both in the points of overlap and in the lonelier spaces between them. The existence of multiple shortlists allows us to play off each other’s selections, set up resonances, compensate for absences, and most interesting of all, to choose different frameworks to read with.

So I’ve also tried to select books that I think would be interesting to read through the particular framework that I want to think and write through: the idea that the core tradition of science fiction is a literature of resistance to empire―a tradition with its early roots in, say, Kylas Chunder Dutt and Martin Delany―which refuses the hegemonic formal constraints of the mimetic novel, and eventually builds a toolkit of refusals against the three great constraints of realism: location, selfhood, and physics. And of course, the mirror-tradition with which it is inextricably entangled, the counter-science-fiction of using those same tools to magnify empire and domination instead. It seems to me that all six of these books (and not a few of the others, too) should be interesting, and hopefully entertaining, to read through this frame.

Resident Guest

(This is my intro post for the Sharkes, which originally appeared at CSFF-Anglia.)

My approach to the Sharkes is probably going to be less about the award per se―its Britishness, its ups and downs: I mean, I read and deeply enjoyed “Hull 0, Scunthorpe 3” like everybody else, but apart from that it’s all a bit distant and hazy from where I live, much like the various hullabaloos about the American awards—and more about using the award’s official submissions list as a frame for my reading.

Until relatively recently, the only SFF awards I knew were those mentioned on book covers: the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Clarke. The first Clarke winner I ever read was probably either The Handmaid’s Tale or Take Back Plenty, but those were older editions that didn’t mention it on the covers, so at that time I didn’t know. So the first time I realized there was such a thing as a Clarke Award was when I saw it on the cover of Paul McAuley’s Fairyland, the 1996 mass market paperback with the big blue face on the cover, with “Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award” on its forehead.

It’s almost funny that I hadn’t heard of the award by that time, given that Clarke was a local celebrity. If there were ever any local announcements of the original 1987 grant or of any of the subsequent winners, I missed it. I don’t think there were any, though. Things were a lot more disconnected in those days, and the award was firmly rooted somewhere else. And anyway, Clarke lived in a different version of Colombo than I did. A few years before I was born (and not long after Elizabeth II finally stopped being our head of state, nearly a quarter-century after independence from the Empire) the Sri Lankan government brought into law an entire new immigration status, the non-citizen Resident Guest, to accommodate Clarke personally. Apparently even as late as 1982 this was still being called “the Arthur Clarke Law,” which we might call that a fourth law on top of the better-known three already named for him (and the only one which is actual law.)

Looking back at the Clarke winners and nominees now, I recognize many of my fin de siècle favourites that don’t appear on the Hugo or Nebula lists of the same period: Eon, Use of Weapons, The Broken God, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Vurt. So in that sense, even though I didn’t follow any of the conversations at the time, it seems in retrospect one might say that my taste has always been closer to the Clarke than to the other awards.

But then this uncanny affinity is not mysterious. I read most of those books by borrowing them from the British Council library in Colombo, and it seems reasonable to assume their Clarke Award wins or nominations ensured that they were stocked. So perhaps it’s more accurate to say that my early taste in SFF was heavily influenced by the Clarke in the first place. Which seems a rather terrifying responsibility for those that end up on the actual juries. Who is to blame for me having read Vurt at seventeen, and everything that this led to? And so on. Which is why I appreciate that the shadow jury allows one the pleasure of reading and talking about books in public space, without being required to make terrible choices in camera that might affect the tastes of new generations of readers and writers to come.

The Shadow Clarke

The shadow jury for this year’s Clarke Award (I’m saying that like it’s been happening every year, which it has not because this is the first one) is David Hebblethwaite, Jonathan McCalmont, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Megan AM, Nick Hubble, Nina Allan, Paul Kincaid, Victoria Hoyle, and (surprise!) me. I’m very happy to play, and look forward to reading.

To survive and thrive, every branch of literature needs a robust, engaged and diverse critical hinterland. I’ve been concerned for some years that the discussion around science fiction literature in general and the Clarke Award in particular has not been as robust or as challenging as it might be, and it was with this in mind that the idea of setting up a shadow jury first came to me. The idea is not to ‘challenge’ the official jury in any way, but to bring more to the party: more readers, more critics, more books, more discussion. And the beauty of a shadow jury is that everything can be out in the open.

—Nina Allan, Announcing the Shadow Clarke

The full Sharkenado will be collected at the Anglia Ruskin Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy, who are @cssfanglia on Twitter. My posts will all show up here as well. I would apologize for the inevitable shark puns, except that one never apologizes for puns.