Friday 26 February 2016

The Kitschies and the BSFA shortlists

This is undoubtedly the best stretch of the year when it comes to prize shortlists: the Costas, the BSFA, the Kitschies, the Clarke and then the Baileys. I enjoy the Twitter coverage and the debates and love reading the shortlists so I can, in comradely fashion, and in good spirit usually, agree or disagree with the decisions made.

The BSFA look like this:

Best Novel

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

Best Short Story

Aliette de Bodard: “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” (Clarkesworld 100)
Paul Cornell: “Witches of Lychford” (
Jeff Noon: “No Rez” (Interzone 260)
Nnedi Okorafor, “Binti” (
Gareth L. Powell: “Ride the Blue Horse” (Matter)

The Kitschies look like this:

Red Tentacle (Best novel)

The Heart Goes Last: Margaret Atwood (Bloomsbury)
Europe at Midnight: Dave Hutchinson (Solaris)
The Reflection: Hugo Wilcken (Melville House)
The Fifth Season: by N. K. Jemisin (Orbit)
The Thing Itself: by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

The Golden Tentacle (Debut),

The Shore: Sara Taylor (William Heinemann)
Blackass: A. Igoni Barrett (Chatto and Windus)
The Gracekeepers: Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)
The Night Clock: Paul Meloy (Solaris)
Making Wolf: Tade Thompson (Rosarium)

See the full lists here and here.

These are excellent, exciting lists. 2015, it seems, was another good year for speculative fiction. Surprises? Perhaps that there is no room for Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora since it featured so heavily on best-of-year lists. I also note that many of the books picked out by Nina Allan on her blog haven't featured either. I DO trust her judgement.
[Do we also need a prize that celebrates short story collections? Kelly Link and China Mieville both published great collections last year - I'm sure there were plenty of others I don't know about.]

Anyway no gripes on content whatsoever and I'm really looking forward to all the reading. That said I have a major gripe about the Kitschies. The judges spend ALL that time and effort reading, discussing and deliberating and now I/we get 2 weeks to read them all. Possibly 10 books! I don't get it.  I thought the 3 weeks last year was just an aberration. I'm sure there are various commercial pressures and considerations that I don't know about and I suspect that the whole enterprise runs more on good will than anything else. But if it wants to succeed in ITS CRUCIAL ROLE of offering us a range of diverse speculative fiction then there has to be time for reading, discussion and debate. People can legitimately say of course that it doesn't stop anyone reading the books afterwards. Fair enough, it's just not very realistic when there aren't enough hours in the day to read all the things we want to anyway. Moreover having a say in the result when you've read all the books is fucking FUN - it's a buzz. The last thing I want to do is be miserable about the Kitschies, a prize I love and have been following from the start. Nor do I want to criticise individuals, but there has to be a better way...otherwise it will lose support, credibility and goodwill.

I've already read The Thing Itself (see here), Europe at Midnight (see here) and The Shore - a really, really brilliant novel that could have easily earned a place on the Red Tentacle list. I just blasted my way through The Reflection (see below). I started The Fifth Season last night. I hope to manage the Atwood and 2 of the others if I'm lucky before the Kitschies are announced on 7th March. Then I'll get stuck into the BSFA.

A few thoughts on The Reflection.

Hugo Wilcken's novel is right up my street - it reminds me of old loves - Auster, Hitchcock, noir, Pamuk, Murikami, Kafka and Priest.
It answers to an old need too - of solving mysteries and needing answers. Life was turning out to be difficult, dissatisfying and meaningless but that teenager who had just found 'literature' wanted to understand - anything, everything - and books were a mystery to be solved. Read enough criticism and I might just unlock the key to understanding Auster or Fowles. I'm not the same anymore but there's still enough of that young man, desperate for meaning, in me now.

That said, I can't decide after one reading. It makes me me want to reread The Glamour and New York Trilogy so I can contrast and compare and work out exactly what Wilcken is up to. John Self's enthusiasm is compelling - he has read it three times and was ready for a fourth. I have doubts - is it saying anything new? Is it a little overcooked? Is it as urgent as Hutchinson or as rich as Roberts? Not sure, but Auster, Priest and then a reread does seem like a fab and compelling way to spend a week. Let's hope the Suck Fairy doesn't pay a visit if I get round to it.

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