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.