Thursday 12 April 2018

Clarke Award 2018

This year there are 108 books on the submissions list so first of all well done to the judges - that is a massive undertaking to read so much. I've only read a tawdry 24 and doubt I'll get round to too many more - with the Man Booker International and the Women's Prize long lists plus my own non-fiction projects there isn't enough time! For the record I've read Allan, Barker, Booth, Bradley, Campbell, Charnock, Doctorow, Hamid, Harkaway, Helle, Hunter, Jemisin, Kalfar, Leckie, Ha Lee, Lennon, McAuley, Mieville, Newitz, Palmer, Roberts, Robinson, Tea, Vandermeer. I hope to get through Kleeman, Robson and maybe Sullivan before I go to back to school.

OK, so I've done a quick search and I believe there is a 2:1 split with around 72 of the texts written by men. There were a couple of authors obviously keeping their gender from the publicity material and I didn't want to pry any further. Apologies if the number is out by one or two. I believe their are 5 BAME authors. Again, my search was relatively thorough but could be slightly out. Whatever way you want to think about those numbers you'd have to be somewhat heartbroken at the state of publishing and the state of the world. There are all kinds of initiatives in other realms and I would humbly suggest that everyone involved in SF and fantasy need to do more. 

     The good news however is that there are some brilliant books on that list. So many that my first request to the judges is to REBEL because I'm going to cheat and have a shortlist of 8: I think they should do the same too. Mwahahahahahahaha. Yep, don't care. Or rather, I do care.

First of all it allows me to contentedly keep to my own rules - at least a 50/50 split of men/women and at least 2 books by BAME authors in the shortlist; it also allows me to include all the books that I believe should be part of the discussion. That said I'm completely open to reading more of the books - if there is something like The Swan Book hiding in there I hope someone will let me know asap. I'm sure the Shadow Clarke discussions will persuade me to read more too.

There's one novel in particular that I love, but can't find a place for it on list - I would urge you all to read Spaceman of Bohemia. I'd also recommend Campbell, Lennon and Vandermeer - fantastic novels. It's nearly two years since I read Clade so it isn't imprinted in my mind like the other novels but it's a really important book and I'm hoping one of the Shadow Clarke writers will choose to think about it. I read The Real Town Murders last August and it suffered a little from my glum mood. I reread it again a couple of weeks ago along with Matha Wells's All Systems Red and I can easily say that it was the most joyful reading weekend of the year. Both novels are smart, funny and tense - a wonderful and unusual combination. Read them both.

More generally? There certainly is a lot of dystopian writing going on at the moment isn't there? I have to say that I find quite a bit of it irritating. What's most annoying is that some writers don't seem very interested in ideology or in the mechanisms of social and political change. It also seems as if many have bought into essentialist and determinist ideas about human nature. I appreciate that it's difficult - these are dark and absurd times. Our political leaders are venal and opportunistic simpletons. Their partnership with the ruling class makes for despair and fearfulness. I think it's genuinely difficult for people to imagine progressive political organisation and collective action unimpeded by a craven media and state bigotry. Yet I've been reading Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell desperate, perhaps, to remind me that humans are social beings that yearn for community, purposefulness and meaningful work too. Is there a way to throw off the muck of ages and the rank ideologies of capitalism? I don't know, but I do want my dystopias, utopias and SF to have some kind of interesting and searching political awareness. My suspicion is that too many are failing in this regard.

My now traditional (and provisional) list then:

The Rift - Nina Allan. Along with Jenny Erpenbeck's Go, Went, Gone, my novel of the year. It's sensational and fully deserves its BSFA and Kitschiest awards. A novel, like Central Station last year, to fall in love with.

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid. I read this almost a year ago I guess. There are lots of people in the speculative community that love this book. I have a reservation or two and so hope to read it again and join in Shadow Clarke discussions. Whatever my doubts it needs and deserves to be part of the discussion.

Gnomon - Nick Harkaway. Blimey! SO much to think about. So many notes. Mind blown.

The Stone Sky - N.K.Jemisin. I intend to read all three again before the Clarke is awarded and get my head around the full weight of the achievement.

Austral - Paul McAuley. Beautiful. McAuley is such a brilliant writer and this may be his best novel. Maybe his most important one too?

Too Like the Lightning - Ada Palmer. Copious notes and looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

New York 2140 - Kim Stanley Robinson. There is so much I need to say about this novel. I know that some think it too big and baggy, some think it too Keynesian and too liberal. I loved every second and I'm fascinated by the decisions Robinson has made and the (possible) effects they have. Essay on the way.

Black Wave - Michelle Tea. Weirdly for me, I've been listening to this when I run. It's brilliantly read by Tea herself. As pleasurable in its way as the Harkaway (which is saying something)

First of all this list is almost identical to one Adam Roberts posted on Twitter. I promise I'm not copying Adam! Ian Mond and Nina Allan have played the same game so take a look at their provisional lists too. Finally people will know that I am a big Nicola Barker fan and maybe surprised by the exclusion of H(A)ppy. Weirdly perhaps, reading Gnomon subsequently has made me revise my ideas a little but there is much I can't seem to forgive in it. More later...

Good look to the judges and everyone involved. Don't forget that rebellion is GOOD.

Looking forward to the Shadow Clarke discussions with much anticipation.

All twitter recommendations appreciated :-)