Clarke Award shortlist, 2011

Paul Raven @ 04-03-2011

In case you’ve not seen it already, the shortlist for the 2011 Arthur C Clarke Award is out in the wild. The six titles that made the cut this year:

  • Zoo City – Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
  • The Dervish House – Ian McDonald (Gollancz)
  • Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness (Walker Books)
  • Generosity – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
  • Declare – Tim Powers (Corvus)
  • Lightborn – Tricia Sullivan (Orbit)

A pleasingly diverse selection, with a few of the inevitable surprises. I’ve only read one and a half of them, as it happens (I got halfway through Lightborn before being distracted by other priorities, though I do intend to return to it), but I read more of the complete list of submitted titles than usual this year.

Anyone care to call which way they think it’ll go?

What’s the Beef? On Faith and Food

Lavie Tidhar @ 06-09-2010

Just what is the relationship between faith and food? Nearly every major religion (and quite a few minor ones) have dietary restrictions of one sort or another – though they’re never the same!

Jews don’t eat pork or seafood. Muslims don’t eat pork either (and don’t drink alcohol), while Hindus don’t eat beef. Christians, it seems, will eat anything (including the body of the Christ) but otherwise frown on cannibalism, while traditional Melanesian practices don’t. And everyone knows Scientologists won’t eat thetans.

Here’s a handy list, courtesy of CNN.

Does the path to true enlightenment lie in the right meal? Could a new religion be founded on a secret teaching of sacred recipes? Is God living in my stomach?

I ask myself these sort of questions all the time. Why is bacon the Jewish Kryptonite? Why did David Blaine hang from a crane inside a glass box without food and water for forty days at London Bridge, and why did people have barbecues directly below?

Someone I know in Vanuatu once met a cannibal at a party.

“What does human flesh taste like?” she asked.

“Chicken,” he said. (I’m not, in fact, making this story up).

Why does everything taste like chicken?

It’s not like I have the answers. Are some foods holier than others? Are some foods evil? Is Nigella Lawson conclusive proof that there is a God?

And what do atheists eat? What do aliens taste like?

I suspect that, one day, we’ll go to the stars. We’ll find alien planets, and land on them and, most likely, we’ll eat what we find.

Remember when Arthur C. Clarke predicted the satellite? Well, pay attention now. I am going to make a science fictional prediction.

Lavie’s Law (formulated September 7th, in the very science fictional year 2010, at around 11am): Aliens taste like chicken.

Lavie Tidhar is the author of The Bookman (Angry Robot Books) and follow-ups Camera Obscura and Night Music, both forthcoming from the same publisher. His latest book, novella Cloud Permutations, is just out from PS Publishing in the UK. His story In Pacmandu is this month’s featured fiction on Futurismic.

Clarke Award administrator Tom Hunter on the trouble with shortlists

Paul Raven @ 26-04-2010

As mentioned a while ago, this Wednesday sees the Sci-Fi London film festival playing host to the Arthur C Clarke Award winner announcement ceremony. It’s my great pleasure to turn the Futurismic microphone over to the award’s administrator, Tom Hunter, and give him a chance to talk about the award (and sf awards in general), what they mean, and what they’re good for. Take it away, Tom…


Running a science fiction award is a strange old business.

Awards are by their very nature supposed to be somewhat controversial, or at least openly conversational. Well, they are if they’re doing their job well and intelligently, and if there’s people out there who care enough to get caught up in them, anyway.

Awards live and die by the art of conversation, after all, and I’ve yet to decide which I prefer least – those years when the internet seemingly catches fire in outrage at the latest Clarke Award shortlist announcement, or the ones where we singularly fail to ignite even the meekest spark of protest in the dustier corners of the blogosphere.

Google alerts are double-edged swords for us award administrators. They’re very handy for finding out what people are saying about you, but equally good at highlighting that vast echo chamber of nothingness where all of your hard-earned flame wars ought to be busily erupting.

Lucky for me, then, that the Clarke Award has always generated a high level (and equally high standard) of debate.

I don’t enjoy arguments much, but I know that one of the things I enjoy very much about the reaction to other people’s awards – the Hugos, the Nebulas, the Gemmells, the BSFA awards etc. – are the unfiltered and honest reactions that can be found gathering across the internet.

Which is better? Knowing that there are so many people out there passionate about books and science fiction and science fiction books to the point that they’ll spend many free hours discussing them online, or the fact that so many people brought together by this shared passion seem able to agree on so little?

For example, for the last couple of years I’ve taken to releasing the full eligible submissions list of books received for the Clarke Award in advance of our announcing the six shortlisted titles.

Mostly it’s a bit of a fun, and an extra chance to have a talk about which ones we think will make the cut – who are the dead certs, the outsiders, the literary interlopers guaranteed to enrage the genre faithful for daring to play tourist in our little corner of the bookish ghetto, etc. etc. – but what’s interested me most about this so far is the fact I’ve not seen anyone publicly calling all six shortlisted books correctly.

Certainly I’ve never managed to do it, so it’s clearly harder than it looks… which is interesting given the amount of commentary that hints at a certain inevitability around shortlist decisions. For instance: the judges always get it wrong; they don’t pick the books I like; they’re clearly under orders to make safe choices, popular choices, literary choices or deliberately wilful and controversial choices in order to generate a little extra press coverage; and so on and on.

Maybe award season would be a little more exciting if any of the above were actually true… but I doubt it, and unfortunately things rarely work out as well as us Machiavellian behind-the-scenes manipulators might hope anyway.

So, in lieu of spending time manipulating things behind the scenes, I figured the next best thing to do would be to use the invitation to contribute something on science fiction awards to Futurismic as an opportunity to discuss some of the more popular misconceptions that can beset even awards like the Arthur C. Clarke, starting with pretensions of literature. You don’t get this one much with the Hugos or the Gemmells, because their shortlists are drawn from crowd-sourced votes and hence victim to cries of populism rather than pretension.

Over on the side of a juried prize like the Clarke, though, this idea was one that I encountered fairly frequently back when I first took on the role of administrator four years ago. Thankfully it seems to have faded away somewhat, or at least mutated into a playful criticism with a knowing wink. For example, see the running joke that no shortlist would be complete without at least one outlier from the more ‘literary’ end of the submissions stack.

Somewhere along the line, though, a meme was spawned that claimed the Award was secretly striving to break free of the shackles of genre and sf fandom and escape into the glamorous and in-crowd world of the Booker or the Orange prize. You know, the sexy awards with the beautiful media friends, the acres of mainstream press coverage and the deliciously low-calorie canapés.

(BTW, Booker Prize, thanks to the Sci-Fi-London film festival we had Imperial Stormtroopers at the last ceremony. Top that, eh.)

More seriously, I don’t agree with this idea for a lot of reasons (not least because it’s just plain wrongheaded), but I can see how it could have got started.

The thing to understand first is that there’s a big difference between the Clarke Award as an administered entity and the Clarke Award as represented by its shortlists and winning titles, and the key bit to remember is that the people like me involved in the first bit have no say whatsoever on the decisions of the judging panel who get to decide the second bit.

The members of the judging panel aren’t even selected by the award administrators — rather, they’re nominated by our supporting organisations, currently the Science Fiction Foundation, British Science Fiction Association and the SF Crowsnest website. In other words, all organisations with very science fiction-friendly and -focused members, so the idea that this changing roster of sci-fi folk might suddenly transform into a collective hungry for the mainstream is rather absurd. Especially when any true fan (or watcher of Hollywood box office figures) knows that the Geeks inherited the Earth ages ago anyway…

It follows too that this motley collection of independent and free-thinking fans, academics and writers would be rather unlikely to pick up on my hints to steer their shortlist selections towards more PR-friendly titles or certain publishing houses… even if I was actually allowed into the judging room to make them.

When you get down to it, PR doesn’t really work that way anyway. You can’t engineer a real controversy in advance, in the same way that you can’t have a real conversation if only one person is allowed to do all of the talking.

At the end of the day, I just don’t buy into this idea of the Clarke Award secretly coveting some kind of mainstream literary endorsement. It’s simply not what we’re here to do – our mission is to promote awareness of science fiction publishing in the UK for a start – and, despite being simultaneously amused and appalled by Dave Langford’ As Others See Us round-up in Ansible, lazy journalistic shortcuts are hardly the place I’d start if I wanted to check under the hood and measure the rude health of our favourite genre.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the occasional trip outside of the usual genre haunts, of course, and I’m often very pleasantly surprised when I take them. I think there’s often a (unintentional) tendency to view the boundaries of science fiction only as far as one can personally see them reaching, and I’ve certainly been guilty of that in the past.

However, the walls of the sf ghetto are clearly becoming increasingly porous, and leakage is occurring from both sides. I see this in the across-the-desks conversations about movies at work, and in the number of people I meet outside of the genre faithful who excitedly tell me about their favourite sf novel when they find out what I do (glad at last perhaps to find someone else they can share with who ‘gets’ it?). And, of course, I greatly enjoy the way science fiction thrives in both the heartlands of popular culture and its experimental edges.

I’ve always been drawn to the idea of there being a toolkit for science fiction rather than a manual, but even more than this I’m drawn to the idea that, these days, the science fictional element is simply part of a much larger toolkit for the work of making art and unpacking meaning from our world.

Speaking of art, if there’s one award it might be worth comparing the Clarke too, it’s not the Booker but the Turner Prize that most interests me.

This isn’t just because the Turner Prize has had its own fair share of controversy over the years, by the way, but rather because I can see interesting similarities in the way that each year the Turner and the Clarke Award are required to continually redefine their notion of what art or science fiction actually are before making any kind of value judgement about any ‘best’ example of that form.

A lot is made of this notion of best and how it’s defined, especially when the collective wisdom of the jury doesn’t deliver a result that chimes with our own favourite choices. I get that, I really do, but for me a good shortlist isn’t necessarily one that matches up to my own preferences and tastes.

What if we all agreed to say that the judges got it different (rather than got it wrong) if we don’t agree with the line-up in any particular year?

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit idealistic… and equally I’m as happy as anyone with a good shout-down sometimes. That said, I can’t help think that you can’t enjoy the benefits of those times when a panel nominates your favourite book – hey, look, I clearly have superior taste! – if you’re not prepared to also take on board the idea that other decisions by the same judges are potentially as valid, even if you don’t agree with them and, especially, if you haven’t previously heard of the book that ended up shortlisted over your personal favourite.

In fact, for me a sign of a good shortlist isn’t that I agree with it or have read all of the books already, but rather that it spurs me to hop right over to Amazon so I can start wishlisting brand new titles.

For me, ‘best’ is another way of saying recommended. You’ve got to read this, watch this, taste this, right away: it’s the best.

I don’t think anything beats that feeling of discovering something amazing and new for yourself before anyone else you know has heard of it, but the urge to share surely comes a close second, and that for me is the underlying value in awards like the Clarke.

I’m writing this in advance of the prize ceremony for the Clarke Award 2010, and I am looking forward to the conversation that will follow the winning result as much as I am the announcement itself (and the chance for a big party of course). Whoever the winner, I’m pretty confident that the night will be one of my best. Good luck to everyone shortlisted this year!

2010 Arthur C Clarke Award shortlist announced

Paul Raven @ 31-03-2010

It’s that time of year again – the judging panel of the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction Literature have released the final shortlist for the 2010 contest. Here’s the six finalists, plus some statistical bits and bobs:

  • Spirit – Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
  • The City & The City – China Miéville (Macmillan)
  • Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts* (Gollancz)
  • Galileo’s Dream – Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperCollins)
  • Far North – Marcel Theroux (Faber & Faber)
  • Retribution Falls – Chris Wooding (Gollancz)

Gwyneth Jones, China Miéville, Adam Roberts and Kim Stanley Robinson have all previously been nominated for the Award and both Gwyneth Jones and China Miéville are previous winners.

Gwyneth Jones has been nominated five times, and won the Award once for her novel Bold As Love in 2002.

China Miéville has been nominated three times, and won the Award twice with Perdido Street Station in 2001 and Iron Council in 2005. If China Miéville wins in 2010 he will become the first author to win the prize three times in its twenty-four year history.

This is the first time Marcel Theroux and Chris Wooding have been nominated.

This year’s six shortlisted titles were selected from a long list of forty-one eligible submissions put forward by seventeen different publishing houses and imprints.

I’ve read one of the six (namely the Mieville, which I thought was excellent) – how about you lot? Care to cast the odds on the eventual winner?

I like the Clarke Award because it tends to highlight books I’m interested in far more reliably than the popularity contest awards (e.g. the Hugos), but to some people its selection process seems elitist – do you tend to agree more with juried awards or open-voted ones?

[* Regular readers will be aware that Adam Roberts thinks SF awards are rubbish, of course. So I kind of hope he wins, just in case the dichotomy makes him disappear in a puff of self-deprecatory puns. Not that I want the fellow to disappear; of course (unlike some aging but certainly-not-po-faced prog fans) – I just think it’d be a jolly fun way to end the ceremony. 😉 ]

Loopy space elevator concept

Tom James @ 27-05-2009

rotatingspaceelevatorsIn the same general theme as Keith Loftstrom’s launch loop concept [via Speaktomanagers] we have the Rotating Space Elevator:

Golubović and Knudsen have introduced the Rotating Space Elevator (RSE), a rotating system of a floppy string that forms an ellipse-like shape. Unlike the traditional Linear Space Elevator (LSE) made of a single straight cable at rest, the RSE rotates in a quasi-periodic state.

“The idea came by itself,” Golubović told “I was thinking how to make things move easily and quickly up the traditional Tsiolkovsky-type space elevators. In my kitchen, I was mixing coffee in my cup too vigorously and the centrifugal force on the rotating coffee won over gravity to make some of the coffee lift and splash out the cup. This was my ‘eureka’ that lead to adding a similar conceptual feature to the old space elevator idea…

[via Next Big Future][image from Physorg]

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