Clarke Commentary 3

Posted by Niall Harrison

We're heading into the Clarke endgame for this year -- the winner will be announced this coming Wednesday. Among other things this means we're starting to get to the stage where people have read the books and we get actual shortlist reviews; with any luck I'll have time to do a full review-roundup next week. In the meantime, here are the other posts that have crossed my radar in the last few weeks. This covers quite a span of time, so I've added dates.

Charlie Jane Anders at io9 (4th April):

It's just a bit sad that when the Hugo Awards are making huge strides towards inclusivity, the Clarke Awards, which are juried and thus less subject to popular sentiment, are still so slanted towards male authors. One notable omission: vN by Madeline Ashby is a fine, challenging science fiction book — but maybe it wasn't published in the UK last year?

Yes, awards have a duty to reward the best books, regardless of the author's gender — but they also have a duty to reach far and to draw from lots of different places. Awards are partly about making a statement about the state of the genre — and having been on a few awards juries in my time, I know that jurors tend to talk about that sort of thing, especially in crafting a shortlist. What an all-male shortlist says about science fiction is, "it's an insular genre aimed at a monolithic audience." Which is not what I believe, or would like to hear.

Tom Pollock (6th April):

I’m not saying the Clarke list is a bad list, I’ve seen good cases made for every book on there. What I do think is that it would make much more sense, when selecting eligibility for an SF award, to judge the books on the presence of SF, rather than the absence of Fantasy, YA tropes or whatever other genre markers you might like to flag up. It would still be an SF award, in spirit as well as name, and you might even get a more diverse shortlist*. Just an idea.

*Or at the very least, you’d get rid of the ‘all the women write fantasy’ excuse, and force the conversation into different, possibly more uncomfortable, but probably more productive territory.

Cora Buhlert (8th April):

Indeed, my main reaction to the Clarke shortlist in comparison to this year’s Hugo controversy is the question to all the Hugo critics, “Is this really what you want?” An award shortlist chosen by a jury of qualified experts, which nonetheless winds up consisting entirely of white men and books which are far less diverse in theme and style (several of the nominees are basically reimaginings of hoary old SF tropes) than those on the Hugo shortlist, for all their flaws.

Martin Lewis (8th April):

In this respect, I was struck by something that Paul Kincaid said before the award: “If, for instance, Empty Space, Jack Glass, Angelmaker and Alif the Unseen are all excluded from the list, we will have very legitimate cause for concern.” Angelmaker did make the shortlist so hopefully he didn’t find cause for concern with the award this year (Kincaid has written his own dyspeptic piece on the Hugos and the Clarke). What struck me, however, was that you would be hard-pressed to change the ratio of authors and make this core proposition 75% women. If the judges don’t like a highly-rated novel by a man then there are plenty of other highly-rated options by men. If they don’t like a highly-rated novel by a woman then that can wipe out a lot of the available pool. Niall Harrison suggested in his excellent piece on the shortlist that the most plausible other contenders by women were The Method by Juli Zeh (which was shortlisted for a Kitschie) and Pure by Juliana Baggott. There is also vN by Madeline Ashby, a book that had much more mixed reviews but represents pretty much the only core science fiction contender by a woman). I am looking forward to reading these novels but I wish there were many, many more of them; as with the employment example above, I think the focus of fixing the problem needs to be on removing barriers for people who aren’t white men.

Chris Gerwel (9th April):

The fact that UK speculative fiction publishing seems to discriminate against women authors is notable, and worthy of discussion. The “controversy” that arises from this year’s Clarke Award does well to shed light on this fact, and to hopefully encourage publishers, authors, booksellers, and readers to change that (consider this comment from Farah Mendlesohn on the role of booksellers in this process, and this post from Martin Lewis about Clarke Award statistics). The Clarke Award also raises troubling questions for speculative fiction publishing across the pond (or quite frankly anywhere) in terms of our own (often troubled) relationship with gender. Any introspection that results from such controversy is valuable in that it fosters greater inclusion in the field while simultaneously presenting the field as mature and introspective.

Niall Alexander at Tor.com (11 April):

So was the reaction to this year’s shortlist basically a case of much ado about nothing?

No, it wasn’t. Absolutely positively not. There’s a very real problem in play that the subsequent back-and-forth has brought to the fore, finally. But I’d echo the thought that this alarming lack of diversity—at the very least vis-à-vis the overwhelming prevalence of penises amongst the authors of six of the best science fiction novels of 2012—can be traced back to the publishing industry rather simply set at the doorstep of a panel of individuals with autonomous opinions who announced an inherently subjective shortlist.

Jared Shurin (24th April):

Before I get further in, please understand that I think the Arthur C. Clarke Award is the most prestigious prize in science fiction and, without a doubt, it does an amazing job of promoting science fiction to genre and non-genre readers. I like the fact that, not only does it provoke conversations like this, but it also encourages them. If I come across as more critical of the Clarke than I am of other awards, it is because I hold it to a higher standard.

I have read - and appreciated - many of the arguments that have been presented. That is: publishers, agents, readers, reviewers, authors, editors and retailers are all to blame for the lack of a single female author on the shortlist.

Yet... I still hold the judges responsible.

Liz Williams (25th April):

There has been a lot of debate recently about the lack of women in SF - the general consensus, with which I concur, is that it's a buying issue, but quite what fuels that is debatable (promotion, or lack of it, in bookstores, buying habits, and self promo). It's a phenomenon of some concern, since women have been writing in the genre since its inception and the squeeze on the female presence in SF was highly noticeable in the Clarke submissions this year (I'm hoping that there'll be more of a balance next year, with some interesting work coming up). Most of the criticism that was got, as female judges, was from men: for being insufficiently feminist. There was finger-wagging on a number of male-dominated threads as to what I, in particular (as a result of the Guardian article) should be thinking and feeling, and there seems to be an assumption in some quarters that our primary issue, as female judges, should be gender. I need hardly point out how problematic this is.

           

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