The Awards Must Flow
Posted by Niall Harrison
18 January 2013
First out of the shortlist blocks this year: the Philip K Dick Award for science fiction paperback published in the US:
Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot (Black Cat)
Harmony by Keith Brooke (Solaris)
Helix Wars by Eric Brown (Solaris)
The Not Yet by Moira Crone (UNO Press)
Fountains of Age by Nancy Kress (Small Beer Press)
Lovestar by Andri Snær Magnason (Seven Stories Press)
Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery (Tor Books)
I haven't read a single one of these titles, although I've been vaguely interested in the Boudinot and Slattery, and have read a fair few of the stories in Fountains of Age (which leads me to conclude it is not Nancy Kress's strongest collection). But taken as a whole, I don't really know what to make of this list. On the one hand, it is the good sort of list, in that it introduces me to interesting-looking books I hadn't even heard of before, notably the Crone and the Magnason; on the other hand, it includes an Eric Brown novel, which quite unfairly causes me to doubt the entire enterprise. I'm very curious to see what comes out as winner, in the end, because I don't have a clue where the judges are going to go.
Next up, the BSFA for science fiction or fantasy novel published in the UK, announced this morning:
Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (Corvus)
Empty Space: a Haunting by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)
Intrusion by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
... or just science fiction novel, as it turns out, pointing up probably the most obvious omission: Jo Walton's Among Others, which received its UK edition last November. Other books theoretically in contention: Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo, Catherynne Valente's Deathless, Paul Cornell's London Falling, Margo Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island (my personal pick for most significant omission), China Mieville's Railsea, and a few others we'll get to in a minute. Putting together a list like this points up the other obvious omission, which is anyone who isn't a white man. Such is the state of genre science fiction publishing in the UK (although it appears that's going to start to improve over the next twelve months), and the BSFA membership is a voting population that likes its genre science fiction.
Meanwhile, what we have is a list with two previous winners (Robinson and MacLeod), two multiple-nominees (Harrison and Roberts), and a first-time nominee who nevertheless has a two-decade career at this point, all of which I think makes it something of an establishment list. When Alison Flood asked me for a quote for the Guardian, I described it as 'a little safe', which is unfair to nearly all of the novels in one sense, since they're all the work of ambitious writers who do ask their readers to think; but it does look like a comfort-zone list, BSFA members sticking to writers they know.
Independent of all of the above, it's a list that includes some good books. I can only agree, and then some, with everything L. Timmel Duchamp wrote about 2312 in these pages earlier this week; Intrusion is one of MacLeod's sharpest; and while I have some quibbles with Dark Eden, it's imaginative and skilfully executed. I haven't finished Empty Space (because I decided I wanted to reread Light and Nova Swing first) or Jack Glass (because I was saving it as a treat, and ended up saving it too long), but reviews have been almost universally positive. Predictions? It feels to me like Harrison's year.
Last but not least for now, we have this year's Kitschies Red Tentacle finalists, for the most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works containing elements of the speculative or fantastic published in the UK:
The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington (Orbit)
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan)
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)
The Method by Julie Zeh (translated by Sally-Ann Spencer) (Harvill Secker)
All of these were eligible for the BSFA (and vice versa), which means that the absence of 2312 is both an outrage and an embarrassment to all concerned (I'm going to be saying that a lot this year, I suspect), but that aside, this is a fun list, featuring earlier-career writers than the BSFA, and generically the most varied of the three: fantasy and sf, YA, genre and mainstream all represented. The Kitschies are too new to have many previous winners, but they do have a previous nominee in the shape of Bullington: a writer whose work I haven't really got on with to this point, but may give another go on the strength of this shortlisting. Meanwhile, Harkaway's novel is rambunctious and sly, Zeh's is agile and spikey, and the Hardinge is hopefully up to her previous high standards. I'm going to guess that the judges will go for either Harkaway or Roberts, though, when it comes to it.
(Of course both the BSFA Awards and the Kitschies have other categories. On the BSFA front, the short fiction is a more diverse group of authors, and a good group of stories [though I do wonder if Mieville's short-short really earns its place], but perhaps like the novel list, without big surprises; and the non-fiction continues to be a selection of things that are all good representatives of their kind of thing, but almost impossible to compare. The Kitschies debut [Golden Tentacle] list, meanwhile, is strong: it includes Madeline Ashby's vN [the one genre science fiction novel by a woman that was both eligible and a plausible contender for the BSFA], Rachel Hartman's impressive Seraphina, Karen Lord's delightful Redemption in Indigo, Tom Pollock's assured The City's Son, and a fascinating-sounding novel by Jenni Fagan called The Panopticon. Both sets of awards have artwork categories, which Martin Lewis compares here. Other coverage: Kitschies in The Guardian, BSFAs at Tor.com, Nicholas Whyte runs the Goodreads numbers for the BSFA list here, and David Hebblethwaite discusses both here.)