Category Archives: Shadow Clarke 2017

Sharke-infested waters!

Paul Kincaid, Nick Hubble, Victoria Hoyle, me, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Helen Marshall. Photo by Will Ellwood – thanks, Will!

Just back from two days in London, where among other things I enjoyed a fabulous evening at the Clarke Award ceremony, where a sizeable Sharke contingent was strongly in evidence (see above). The conversation at dinner afterwards was – as I’m sure you can imagine – pretty lively. We were only sorry that Vajra, Jonathan, and Megan were unable to join us.

I’m still mulling over the whole Sharke experience, trying to get my thoughts in order not about the books in contention – I think we pretty much covered those – so much as the insights gained into the state of critical discourse within SFF, not to mention my own priorities as a critic and as a novelist. Being involved with the Sharke has affected me on many levels, and I hope to write about that at greater length in the not-too-distant future.

For now, I just want to thank my fellow Sharkes for their commitment, their enthusiasm, their passion, their insights and their company these past seven months. It’s been a privilege and the greatest of pleasures. Swim on.

The Sharkes are biting

I’m now at the half way stage with my personal shortlist for the shadow Clarke – three reviews down, three to go. I went into the process expecting it to be fascinating and I’ve not been disappointed. It’s not just my own selections, you see – at least half the pleasure to be had from this project comes from learning what my fellow Sharkes are thinking about theirs. Already there are several books I’m thinking I should definitely read before trying to come to any overall conclusions about what this year’s submissions might have to say about the state of science fiction. And that’s before we even start trying to second-guess what the official Clarke Award shortlist might contain.

I’m not normally in the habit of reading nothing but science fiction, and doing so now feels both exhilarating and strange. Exhilarating, because immersing oneself in a particular subject matter – deeply enough to acquire new knowledge – will always feel exhilarating. Strange because it forces one to focus upon just how artificial the idea of SF as a separate branch of literature actually is. Curiously, the act of concentrating solely upon science fiction has made me feel more or less indifferent to ‘SF’ as such. What it has done has forced me up against the writing, more than ever. Not: is this a good science fiction novel or is this science fiction even but is this novel actually any good?

Maybe not the result I was expecting but I’m going with it.

In my own reading of my personal shortlist, I’ve been deliberately alternating between genre and non-genre imprints, which again has been interesting, not least because the divide – certainly as regards the novels I’ve chosen – hasn’t been nearly as stark as I might have expected. I’m taking this as further evidence of the way the boundaries between genre SF and literary SF are increasingly becoming fuzzy to non-existent.

Have I found my personal winner yet? I don’t think so, and already I’m beginning to wonder if I might end up ‘no award’-ing my own list and poking around in the leftovers of someone else’s. If I have time, that is. There’s still a pile of reading and reviewing to get through before the official shortlist is announced on May 6th. One thing I do know: as our overall stock of reviews mounts up and more books are covered, the discussion can only become more complex and more surprising.

You can keep up with all our reading and reviewing at the ARU SFF Centre website. And don’t forget to enter the official Clarke Award ‘guess the shortlist’ competition here!

End of round one

Well, all nine shadow jurors have now revealed their personal Sharke shortlists – you can have a look at them here at the Anglia Ruskin Centre for SF and Fantasy website. Each post includes a personal reflection on this year’s submissions list, together with the how and why behind their own selection. They make for fascinating reading. Do feel free to join in the discussion in the comments, or post your own Clarke predictions at the ‘guess the shortlist’ page – remember you could win all six books if you turn out to be right.

There are some interesting points to note here, even before the main business of the shadow jury – reading and reviewing the books, that is – gets underway. Between the nine of us, we’ve chosen twenty-seven different novels, which is quite a spread, given that the usual number of serious Clarke contenders in any one year usually ends up being around the thirty mark. The divide between genre and non-genre imprints is also an even heat – I make it thirteen from genre imprints, thirteen from mainstream imprints, and one self-published – so in spite of some early anxieties in certain quarters that our picks might end up being rather light on heartland science fiction, the final list turns out to be a pretty decent survey of the different styles of SF in contention, which seems all the more remarkable given that there was no pre-planning or deliberate engineering involved.

And this is where the fun truly begins. We’ll each now read all our picks – rereading any we’ve previously read – posting detailed reviews of each at the ARU website as we go along. We’re all keen to read as many of each other’s picks as we have time for, too, in order that the discussion between us and our eventual conclusions be as wide-ranging and informed as possible. You can expect supplementary posts – on shortlists-that-might-have-been, books read but not selected, general ruminations on the state of the genre – as and when individual jurors feel moved to write them.

All in all, there should be plenty to keep everyone interested until the official Clarke Award shortlist is announced at the beginning of May and the third stage of our project begins.  Do please read along with us! You’ll find the complete list of books selected by the shadow jurors – think of it as the Sharke longlist – below:

Naomi Alderman – The Power

Chris Bell – Songshifting

Lily Brooks-Dalton – Good Morning, Midnight

Matthew De Abaitua – The Destructives

Don Delillo – Zero K

Emma Geen – The Many Selves of Katherine North

Matt Hill – Graft

Dave Hutchinson – Europe in Winter

Nora Jemisin –The Fifth Season

Joanna Kavenna – A Field Guide to Reality

Andrus Kiviruhk – The Man Who Spoke Snakish

Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit

Cixin Liu – Death’s End

Andrei Pelevin – Empire V

Martin MacInnes – Infinite Ground

Christopher Priest – The Gradual

Ali Shaw – The Trees

Johanna Sinisalo – The Core of the Sun

Matt Suddain – Hunters & Collectors

Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me

Steph Swainston – Fair Rebel

Lavie Tidhar – Central Station

Catherynne Valente – Radiance

Colson Whitehead –The Underground Railroad

Aliya Whiteley – The Arrival of Missives

Nick Woods – Azanian Bridges

John Wray – The Lost Time Accidents

A toe in the water

I went into Glasgow yesterday, to attend a couple of screenings at the Glasgow Film Festival. I was particularly keen to check out Olivier Assayas’s new movie Personal Shopper, and after having (finally) caught up with Local Hero last summer, the opportunity to see Bill Forsyth’s rarely screened adaptation of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping seemed too good to miss.

In the event, the Forsyth proved the superior movie by far – emotionally rich and beautifully photographed, it put the curiously affectless, all-surface Personal Shopper in the shade. After the Festen-tense drama of Summer Hours and the intense, dramatic weirdness of The Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas’s handling of the ghost story elements in his new venture seemed altogether too conventional, too trope-y, while the ‘sad lives of the super-rich’ plot strand that didn’t bother me overmuch in Clouds (because the emotional drama felt so convincing) here played out like a much less successful recapitulation of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (which did at least demonstrate a modicum of irony). The Neon Demon, only less in your face and therefore less gripping.

The weirdest thing for me about Personal Shopper was the music that accompanied the closing credits: Anna von Hausswolff’s ‘Track of Time’, the very same track that, with its accompanying video, directly inspired a recently completed short story of mine. More on that, hopefully, soon.

As much as the movies themselves, the best thing about yesterday was being in the Glasgow Film Theatre, the number one indie film venue in the country and a joyous early discovery for me in our new life here in Scotland. Taking the ferry and the train from Rothesay to Glasgow is made special precisely through being not special: this is a normal, regular commuter route, a well-worn connection between the island and the mainland that has existed and thrived for several centuries. Our two regular ferries – the MV Bute and the MV Argyle – were built in Gdansk and sail roughly once an hour in both directions. They are a constant and regular presence in our life here and one can’t help but feel a strong and immediate affection for them. 

Before moving here I’d not been in Glasgow for more than ten years and so had trace memories only. Since coming to live on Bute, I’ve been into the city twice already and the connection feels immediate and strong. What I place. There is enough here – of history, of psychogeography, of culture – to fill several lifetimes. I am already making notes on all manner of subjects – even notes about notes I need to make notes about. If there has been anything lacking in our time here so far it is simply hours in the day. There is so much to think about, to discover.

One of the (many) upsides to being involved with the shadow Clarke jury is that it’s the first thing that has made me feel normal – i.e like the world around me is something I recognise – since June 24th last year. While the planet’s most obnoxious internet troll continues to host his clowns’ tea party in the White House, and while the Westminster government continues hell bent on its mission to transport Britain back to the 1950s (a mission every politically literate person in the country – and a good few out of it – knows is batshit crazy), we can at least still read, we can still write, we can still cogently criticise what we read and write. (Abigail Nussbaum’s similar thoughts on nominating for the Hugos are well worth reading.)

We’ll start seeing the first of the shadow jury’s personal shortlist posts going live this week. And while you’re waiting to find out what we’ve picked, why not have a stab at guessing the official @ClarkeAward shortlist?  The award’s director, Tom Hunter, has come up with a competition: guess the official shortlist in its entirety and win copies of all six books! The contest is made all the more tantalising by the fact that to date, no one has ever managed to do this. So try and be the first. The competition is being hosted along with the shadow jury at the ARU Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. Just post your guesses in the comments to enter.

 

Ruthless Shadow

Here’s Jonathan McCalmont, on the state we’re in and his reasons for agreeing to be a part of the #shadowclarke jury:

“To be blunt, I don’t think that genre fandom survived the culture wars of 2015 and I think genre culture has now entered a post-apocalyptic phase in which a few institutional citadels manage to keep the lights on while the rest of the field is little more than a blasted wasteland full of isolated, lonely people. One reason why I agreed to get involved with shadowing the Clarke Award is that I see the Shadow Clarke as an opportunity to build something new that re-introduces the idea that engaging with literary science fiction can be about more than denouncing your former friends and providing under-supported writers with free PR.”

And in this spirit, I’m happy to report that members of the shadow jury are busily engaged in salvaging viable resources from that blasted wasteland, endlessly scavenging the Clarke submissions list in search of the ideal shortlist. Expect to see some of our thoughts on this go live in the coming week.

Paper Knife – or should that be Mack the Knife?

“But the other problem is that when the shortlists roll out, ‘what were they thinking?’ is a quick and easy response, because it’s really hard to come up with anything else, in the absence of prior debate. And too often this becomes a veiled attack on the competence of the judges, which is not fair on them. They were asked to judge and they did their best in the circumstances. The one thing I will say is that it has seemed to me in recent years that the organisations who nominate judges have tended not to nominate practising critics, which means that one particular approach to sf has been neglected. And that may look like special pleading, but critics have their place in the ecosystem too, alongside the readers.

Which is the other reason I’m glad to be a part of this project: the freedom it affords to have a wide-ranging discussion about the whos, whats, whys and wherefores of science fiction in 2017, and how they pertain to the Arthur C. Clarke Award. I can’t speak for anyone else involved, but I’m taking it as an opportunity to test everything I’ve ever thought or felt about science fiction, using the submissions list, and the shortlists (ours and the actual Clarke Award shortlist) as bench marks.”

As we await the unveiling of this year’s Clarke submissions list, here’s a great post from another of our #shadowclarke jurors, Maureen Kincaid Speller, on the problems of juried awards and the value of transparency. Her words here about using the shadow Clarke as an opportunity to test everything she’s ever thought or felt about science fiction feel particularly apposite to me, and indeed form one of the main reasons I wanted to set this project in motion in the first place. Maureen also provides a useful list of links to all the #sharke posts so far. Thanks, Maureen!

Eve’s Alexandria

One of our shadow jurors, Victoria Hoyle, offers a wonderfully cogent and lively summing-up of the process and rationale behind our #shadowclarke jury over at her Booktube channel. Thanks, Victoria!

 

Announcing the Shadow Clarke

We had some exciting news yesterday from Clarke Award director Tom Hunter, who unveiled the official timeline for this year’s award:

“Key dates for the Clarke Award 2017: Submission List: 14 Feb, Shortlist: 3 May, Winner: 27 Jul + Sir Arthur’s Birthday: 16 Dec.”

Not long to go then before we know for sure which books are in contention! Tying in closely with that announcement, I’m thrilled to bring you a bit of news of my own, something I’ve had simmering away on the back burner for some months and can now make public: this year, a group of writers, critics, readers and Clarke-watchers have come together to form a shadow jury. We will be following the Clarke Award right from the beginning, selecting our ideal shortlists from the submissions, reading and reviewing those books and picking our own winners. Then, when the official shortlist is announced on May 3rd, we’ll be reading and reviewing those books, too, before having our own virtual judgely huddle and selecting the shadow winner of the Clarke Award, to be announced, in the honourable tradition of most shadow juries, the day before the unveiling of the official winner.

To say I’m excited about this project would be putting it mildly. To survive and thrive, every branch of literature needs a robust, engaged and diverse critical hinterland. I’ve been concerned for some years that the discussion around science fiction literature in general and the Clarke Award in particular has not been as robust or as challenging as it might be, and it was with this in mind that the idea of setting up a shadow jury first came to me. The idea is not to ‘challenge’ the official jury in any way, but to bring more to the party: more readers, more critics, more books, more discussion. And the beauty of a shadow jury is that everything can be out in the open. Over the following weeks and months, you’ll be able to read along with us, find out which books we love and which we’re not so wild about – and more to the point, why. I’d bet there isn’t a single Clarke-watcher out there who hasn’t at some point found themselves completely at a loss over some jury decision or other. When it comes to the shadow jury, our whole process will be transparent. Argue back if you like – engaged discussion is an activity we’ll be actively encouraging.

We have some wonderful people making up our shadow Clarke jury in its inaugural year  – writers and critics who have already given substantial amounts of time, attention and enthusiasm in helping to get this project off the ground. I’m proud to introduce to you the band of soothsayers, poets and reprobates who, in addition to myself, constitute the members of our shadow jury:

MEGAN A.M has always loved reading science fiction, and started her blog with the aim of discovering and writing about more of the science fiction she loved. She began following the Clarke Award several years ago, and blogged the whole of the shortlist for the first time in 2016. She blogs at From Couch to Moon.

VAJRA CHANDRASEKERA is a writer of speculative fiction from Columbo, Sri Lanka. His short fiction has been published in a wide variety of venues including Lightspeed, Lackington’s, Nightmare Magazine and the Apex Book of World SF. He is a fiction editor and reviewer for Strange Horizons and posts essays on aspects of science fiction and genre at his personal blog.

DAVID HEBBLETHWAITE has been following science fiction and writing about books for many years. He has twice served on the shadow jury for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and his reviews and commentary have appeared in both print venues and online spaces, including Strange Horizons, The Bookseller, Fiction Uncovered, and Vector. His much admired personal blog is David’s Book World.

VICTORIA HOYLE is a PhD student and archivist at York City Archive. She reads widely across all genres and likes to record her ideas and impressions at Eve’s Alexandria. She has published reviews at various venues, including Strange Horizons, and has a sparkly new Booktube channel here.

NICK HUBBLE is reader in English Literature at Brunel University, London. He has written extensively on speculative fiction across a variety of venues and has been following the Clarke Award for fifteen years.

PAUL KINCAID is a writer and critic and previous winner of the BSFA Award (non-fiction). A stalwart of the British science fiction community, Paul was a founding member of the committee that set up the Clarke Award, as well as serving as award chairman from 1996 – 2006. His essays on science fiction are collected in the volumes What it is We Do When We Read Science Fiction (2008), and Call and Response (2014). His monograph on the fiction of Iain Banks will shortly be published by Illinois University Press as part of their Modern Masters of SF series. He blogs at Through the Dark Labyrinth.

MAUREEN KINCAID SPELLER is a writer and critic and lecturer in science fiction literature. She is reviews editor for Strange Horizons, and was a judge for the Clarke Award in 1993 and 1994. Her series of blog essays on the 2012 Clarke and BSFA Awards, The Shortlist Project, attracted wide notice and was nominated for the BSFA Award. She blogs at Paper Knife.

JONATHAN McCALMONT is a freelance writer, critic and film scout. His reviews of films, books, comics and games have been published across a wide variety of print and online venues. He writes a bi-monthly column for Interzone magazine, Future Interrupted, and blogs at Ruthless Culture.

Many of them are seasoned Clarke-watchers, others are newer to the game, but all are purveyors of excellent and incisive criticism, each with their own particular approach to science fiction, their own personal history within and in relation to the genre. It’s fantastic to have such talent on board, and I for one can’t wait to hear what they have to say about this year’s submissions.

Last, but by no means least, I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to Helen Marshall and her team at Anglia Ruskin University, who have offered us their brand new Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy website as the ‘hub’ for the project. Although most jury members will be posting material at their own blogs, websites and on social media, the ARU SFF Centre will be your one-stop shop for all things shadow-Clarke-related – you can read it there first. ARU are also planning to hold student discussion groups around the Clarke Award throughout the award’s season, making more readers and critics aware of the award and bringing more commentary and contribution to the table. Which is all fantastic news.

If you head over to the ARU website now, you’ll find the first shadow Clarke posts have already gone live:

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: a note from the Centre by Helen Marshall

ANNOUNCING THE SHADOW CLARKE 2017: an introduction and a manifesto by Nina Allan

INTRODUCTION from The Arthur C. Clarke Award: a critical anthology by Paul Kincaid

You can follow the Centre for SFF on Twitter at @csffanglia, and if you want to talk about the project on social media please feel welcome to use the hashtag #shadowclarke.

May the games commence!