BSFA Review – Vector #274
When the shortlist of the Arthur C Clarke Award was announced earlier this year, most of the discussion was about what wasn’t on the list: namely, women. This is the first time we’ve had an all male shortlist since 1988 and the situation has arisen from a situation where only 17 of 82 submitted novels were by women. Of these, only four books were seen as potential contenders in the inevitable pre-award crystal ball-gazing.
The first was the dire Pure by Julianna Baggott. The sooner the axle snaps on the Young Adult dystopia bandwagon, the better. The second was Alif The Unseen by G Willow Wilson, which Nic Clarke reviews on page 40 and suggests it is “in reality about as science fictional in aims and spirit as Harry Potter.” That isn’t the only reason why the judges might not have considered it: “a marvellous idea let down by [Wilson's] determination to use her characters as vehicles for her argument and her apparent unwillingness to just let her protagonist be the immature idiot his actions would tend to suggest, rather than the saviour she would like him to be.”
The third was The Method by Juli Zeh but, unfortunately, I can’t tell you much about the novel as the paperback edition isn’t released until May 2014, two years after it was originally published. Come on, Vintage, sort it out. I can tell you it was shortlisted for a British genre award though: the Red Tentacle at the Kitschies. In fact, six out of the ten shortlisted titles for the Kitschies were by women, although they have the benefit of being able to include excellent fantasy novels (such as A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge) and excellent mainstream novels (such as The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan).
The fourth contender, vN by Madeline Ashby, was also shortlisted for the Kitschies and guess what? It is great. Not everyone was of this view, however; Andy Sawyer reviewed the novel in issue #271 and said: “The novel only takes us so far and like many SF futures, vN suffers from something of a lack of focus… some generic flattening undermines the interesting things Ashby is doing with the “robot” icon.” But I am an unabashed fan and could easily see it on the Clarke shortlist. In fact, it would make quite a nice companion piece to eventual winner Dark Eden by Chris Beckett; both novels provide interesting, accessible spins on long-standing science fiction tropes through coming of age stories that blessedly aren’t aimed at Young Adults (although they may be aimed at young adults).
The sequel, iD, is out now and whilst it seems unlikely to appear on this year’s Clarke shortlist, it is certainly strong enough. But she will have a lot more competition because, looking forward, one thing seems certain: the field of science fiction written by women and published in Britain is both broader and deeper than it was last year.
Some of these books are corrections of an unaccountable publishing asymmetry where both British and American authors (such as EJ Swift’s Osiris and Kameron Hurley’s Kitschie-shortlisted God’s War) cannot find a home in this country. Some are the product of the cycle of publishing and the return of big beasts, young and old (such as Mira Grant’s Parasite and Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam). Some of them are from genre-hoppers and dilettantes (such as Karen Lord’s The Best Of All Possible Worlds and Susan Greenfield’s 2121) and many of them are part of the continued Young Adult boom, again young and old (such as Cassandra Clarke’s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter and Malorie Blackman’s Noble Conflict – and yes, Baggott is back again too). And some of them represent the emergence of a new generation of female SF writers (such as Naomi Foyle’s Seoul Survivors and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice).
It is that last novel that has captured the imagination of a huge chunk of the SF commentariat. I can’t remember such enormous hype for a debut novel since Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and, unlike in that case, most of it seems to be word of mouth. When it came through my letterbox, word hadn’t reached me yet and it didn’t seem particularly special: just another space opera novel. Sad to say, the only thing that made it stand out was the fact it had a woman’s name on the cover. In some ways, my first impressions were right – it is the sort of accessible core SF you would expect from a book with a John Scalzi quote on the front – but it’s not just a “well-crafted crowd pleaser”, as Gwyneth Jones explains in her barnstorming review of the novel over the page. Ancillary Justice seems sure to appear on award shortlists in 2014.
- Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Gwyneth Jones
- Throne Of The Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Gollancz, 2012) and Alif The Unseen by G Willow Wilson (Corvus, 2012) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- The Green Man and The Alteration by Kingsley Amis (New York Review of Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Andy Sawyer
- Benchmarks Continued, edited by David Langford and Greg Pickersgill (Ansible Editions, 2012) – Reviewed by Dan Hartland
- Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America by John Cheng (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- Science Fiction by Mark Bould (Routledge, 2012) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- Vurt and Pollen (Tor UK, 2013) by Jeff Noon – Reviewed by Shaun Green
- Mindjammer by Sarah Newton (Mindjammer Press, 2012) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
- Down To The Bone by Justina Robson (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Patrick Mahon
- Starship Seasons by Eric Brown (Drugstore Indian Press, 2013) – Review by Ian Sales
- The Devil’s Nebula (Abaddon, 2012) and Helix Wars (Rebellion, 2012) by Eric Brown – Reviewed by Tony Jones
- The Mammoth Book Of Time Travel SF, edited by Mike Ashley (Robinson, 2013) and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins, 2013) – Reviewed by LJ Hurst
- Harvest Of Time by Alastair Reynolds (BBC Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Glyn Morgan
- 11.22.63 by Stephen King (Hodder & Stoughton, 2011) – Reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
- The Fictional Man by Al Ewing (Solaris, 2013) – Review by Gary Dalkin
- Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot, 2012) – Reviewed by Jim Steel
- Across The Event Horizons by Mercurio D Rivera (Newcon Press, 2013) – Reviewed by Karen Burnham
- After the End: Recent Apocalypses, edited by Paula Guran (Prime Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Nebula Awards Showcase 2013, edited by Catherine Asaro (Pyr, 2013) – Reviewed by Cherith Baldry
- Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy edited by Jonathan Strahan (Solaris, 2013) – Reviewed by Anthony Nanson
- Magic: an Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane, edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris, 2012) – Reviewed by Sandra Unerman
- Tales Of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg (Gollancz, 2013) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
- Savage City by Sophia McDougall (Gollancz, 2011) – Reviewed by Maureen Kincaid Speller
- Sharps by KJ Parker (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Liz Bourke
- Fade To Black by Francis Knight (Orbit, 2013) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- The Heretic Land by Tim Lebbon (Orbit, 2012) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin
- The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente (Constable & Robinson, 2012) – Reviewed by Sue Thomason
- The Devil’s Apprentice by Jan Siegel (Ravenstone, 2013) – Reviewed by Anne F Wilson
- Rebellion by Lou Morgan (Solaris Books, 2013) – Reviewed by Kate Onyett
- Angelfall by Susan Ee (Hodder, 2013) – Reviewed by Tony Jones