We were up in town yesterday, having lunch with colleagues and then taking part in the launch event at Blackwell’s for Simon Ings’s new novel Wolves (of which more here soon). Just before we left the house, I happened to see a discussion online (I forget precisely where now) about Hugo outliers, i.e those works that, in a saner world, should receive a strew of nominations but inevitably won’t. Someone mentioned Seiobo There Below by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. As his Satantango is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages now but still haven’t got round to, my attention was immediately engaged and I popped across to have a look at the Amazon preview.
It seems that Krasznahorkai could not survive without the semicolon. The first sentence of Seiobo There Below runs on, like the river it describes, for two-and-a-half pages. From the first words (“Everything around it moves, as if this one time and one time only, as if the message of Heraclitus has arrived here through some deep current, from the distance of an entire universe, in spite of all the senseless obstacles,) one finds oneself immersed in beauty, in mystery, in the presence of a master.
How much more terrifying life would be if there were not those of us climbing mountains, working to send people to Mars, fighting to save the snow leopard, playing music by James MacMillan and writing sentences like Laszlo Krasznahorkhai.
I was impatient to hear word of the Kitschies shortlists before we caught the train. I needn’t have worried – a mass email brought the news to us as we travelled. My excitement at the Red Tentacle shortlist has still not subsided:
- Red Doc> by Anne Carson (Jonathan Cape)
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
- Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (Jonathan Cape)
- More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker)
- The Machine by James Smythe (HarperCollins / Blue Door
Here at last is the kind of shortlist that one might dream of for SF, a shortlist for a genre prize (‘to reward the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic’) that offers a true indication of the power, depth and literary excellence of which speculative fiction is capable and for which it should strive. In its breadth of styles, its acuity of vision, its strength of purpose, this shortlist is easily the equal of last year’s (really pretty good) Booker shortlist and (I would argue) then some. These are the kind of novels SF should be discussing and promoting for itself and arguing over, that remind any that need reminding that literature is a vocation, a life’s project, not just an escapist pastime or the product of vociferous marketing.
Any set of individuals with the nous and ambition to shortlist Anne Carson might equally have selected a writer like Krasznahorkai. These are clearly people with an unbounded understanding of what SF is and how far it can go. Well done those judges. Congratulations on what you are saying about speculative fiction.
This has been the most exciting, progressive and imaginative Kitschies shortlist yet. I am predicting it will give the Clarke more than a decent run for its money. Let us hope, for the sake of the Clarke, that it doesn’t beat it bloodily into the ground…