Fantasy Clarke follow-up

Posted by Niall Harrison

In lieu of any proper Eastercon writeup (although see Liz Batty's impressive collection of con reports, I wanted to at least mention the outcome of one of the panels I was on and mentioned here beforehand, the fantasy Clarke Award discussion. To recap, the panel went through an approximation of the Clarke process, but for fantasy novels rather than science fiction; and after much debate (we really needed more time), settled on The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie as our "winner", narrowly beating out Helen Oyeyemi's Mr Fox (the discussion of which was very thought-provoking; maybe more about that in the future). And last week, Abercrombie posted an interesting piece on his blog reflecting on the panel and on fantasy awards in general:

The jurors were highly critical, which is to say they started from the viewpoint that these were a worthwhile shortlist and then were tough in their analysis. There was little gushing. There was at least as much discussion of weaknesses as strengths. Above all there was a wide-ranging and rigorous effort to compare. Which were more ambitious in their goals? Which were more successful in achieving them? Which were original? Which were better in terms of characterisation, prose, evocation of setting? Which were tight and which meandered? At least three books (including The Heroes) were challenged by various jurors on whether they really constituted fantasy. There was no clear consensus, there was sometimes quite impassioned argument on behalf of one book or another which sometimes swayed a juror one way or the other. The Heroes was the favourite of only one judge, and that very narrowly, but was the least favourite of none, and won in the end through relatively broad support and a sequence of 3 against 2 votes.

It was the rigour, analysis, and application of the same standards to all, that put me more than ever in favour of this type of method for judging an award, as opposed to an academy or public vote. Individual juries will always have their wrinkles, and I’m sure there will always be issues that can be taken with any result, but at least they’ve all read the books on the shortlist, considered them, compared them, argued over them, and made an informed group decision as to which one is the best, however they choose to define it.

Many thanks to Nic Clarke, David Hebblethwaite, Erin Horakova, Edward James and Juliet McKenna for putting in so much pre-panel work and reading time to make it a success; and fingers crossed that there might be something similar at next year's Eastercon.